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Ananto Mozumdar knew he’d bought those 20-year government bonds, way back in 1984, but for the life of him he couldn’t remember where he’d kept them. The demand notice for the last balloon installment for the poky little third floor DDA flat had arrived, and he didn’t have enough in his bank account to meet it. He simply had to find those bonds! The last date of payment was only a fortnight away. So he reverted to daydreaming, which was his way of reaching something beyond himself. Long ago, he had stumbled upon the technique by accident, when he used to daydream about her. He found that it also triggered off the poems, screenplays, and stories he wrote. She was obviously the catalyst, which was why he never claimed the credit for creating his work, only acknowledging that he was the recipient of inspiration. His tales came to him from another dimension of thought and existence that he had found...thanks to her. He was simply a medium for the words that winged their way to him from that other shore. All he had to do was to hammer away at the keyboard as they wrote their way out of him. That was why he always laid the credit for his output—poor, average, or indifferent—squarely at her door. Things fought their way out of him because she had chosen to release it through him. He was less of a writer than a transcriber, an idea that others took as a fantastic surfeit of modesty. But it wasn’t: it was simply the truth. He didn’t care whether anyone believed it or not. That’s the way it was. He closed his eyes and relaxed, turning the problem of the missing bonds over to his subconscious mind, relaxing his tense trapezius and abdominal muscles. Then he concentrated at a point between his eyebrows where, he had read, the third eye resided. The Tibetan mystic, Lobsang Rampa, claimed to have succeeded in opening his third eye, but Mr. Mozumdar had found his detailed account highly confusing if not totally implausible. Mr. Mozumdar had laughed heartily when he’d read that book. But that had been long ago, in the 20th century. It was another century now, and scientists had uncovered many mysteries about the mind and the nervous system. Some even claimed to have found a spot in the brain that, if stimulated, evoked visions of ‘God’ and enabled conversations with him. One hardly knew the difference between science and religion any more, thought Ananto Mozumdar; the two appeared to over-lap more and more. Scientific achievements at the cutting edge of research into the nature of matter and reality were explained to laymen in the form of mystical expositions studded with metaphors and unintelligible Zen koans, while religious texts were interspersed with the symbols and
3 the mundane prose of high-school physics. Many of the old Einsteinian concepts of time and space had failed to withstand the onslaught of quantum theory and had crumbled, along with the Newtonian physics they had replaced. As researchers dug deeper and deeper into the fundamental nature of things with their tunneling scanning electron microscopes and high-energy particle accelerators, they came across unexplored worlds within the atom that seemed to exist only on some illogical whim of an unlikely deity. It was all a huge paradox: the tangible world at the macroscopic level was based on a microscopic universe whose very existence was doubtful. It was as if everything was made of nothing! The new god on the block was No Thing. If we perceive something as existing, it exists, realized Mr. Mozumdar. If we don’t, it doesn’t exist. Nothing has any real existence independent of its being perceived. It was ‘perception’ that made something real. It’s all in the mind, as the Buddha had told us. You see a pretty girl and she exists; don’t see her and what do you have? Zilch! How science had progressed! From something to nothing! One hardly knew whether one was coming or going, any more. Thought and Light were alike inasmuch as they were simply forms of energy and had no mass. In fact, all mass was merely potential energy. The inescapable conclusion was that the universe— one’s own self included—was evanescent mindstuff. It was a gigantic hoax pulled off by a cosmic jokester par excellence. But that’s precisely what the Upanishads had said, thousands of years ago. As he drifted off into a reverie, Ananto Mozumdar was unaware that the frequency of his brain waves had dropped from the wideawake Delta level of 20 cycles per second to the Alpha level of 8 cycles per second...the zone where the subconscious mind—the right half of the brain, intuitive and all-remembering—achieved parity with the prosaic and practical left side. It extended tentacles of thought into the final repository of all knowledge and memory—the boundless universe—accessing a reality beyond the reach of the conscious, conditioned mind. It went to work on the problem. In his trance-like state, Mr. Mozumdar saw himself in the loft, pulling out a battered mouldedplastic suitcase and opening it... * The suitcase contained the bonds, alright. But there was something else in it that pleased Mr. Mozumdar even more. It was an old diary. And in it was the well-preserved colour photograph of a girl in her early twenties taken against the backdrop of a yacht. She stood with her weight on one leg and arms on her hips, a pose that
4 accentuated her womanliness and flawless figure. Her exotically beautiful face was framed by a halo of raven tresses that eddied around it before falling to her straight shoulders, and laughter lurked in the depths of the intelligent brown eyes. She was smiling into the camera, and Mr. Mozumdar’s breath caught in his chest for the millionth time as he looked at her. The wide, generous lips—wonderfully curved as the rest of her—were a challenge to the senses, so direct was their timeless appeal. The nose, with its slim, flaring nostrils, was straight and perfect, bridging the hypnotic eyes and the paralysingly lovely lips. The jawline, aggressively sensual, was an ideal framework for the oval face in all its mind-bending perfection. It was a face that could have launched ten thousand ships and brought a king to his knees, gibbering like an ape. It was a face that Mr. Mozumdar had known well, back in the heady days of his youth. He looked at the picture a long time, and the years rolled back... * It was spring, and he had gone with a group of friends to Naini Tal. One day, out on the lake, their boat had been bumped by another in which there were about five girls. On reaching the shore, one of them, clad in a magenta bush-shirt and grey jeans had unleashed a torrent of invective at him. Though somewhat taken aback at the extensive vocabulary of this extremely attractive girl, Ananto had decided he wasn’t going to take it lying down. Not when he was sure that it hadn’t been his fault. “Now look here, Miss—I presume it’s Miss because that’s as good as a mile—which is what I’d rather stay from you...you can’t go about bumping your boat into other people’s and then abusing them. While I’m truly impressed by your command over the finer points of invective...in two languages...I’d advise you to exercise caution. The next person you abuse may not be as accommodating as us gentlemen!” “Why, you...! You couldn’t be further from being a gentleman even if you tried a thousand years! By the way, are you threatening me? I’ve a good mind to call the police and hand you over to them on charges of eve-teasing! Now what do you think of that, Mr.....?” “Mozumdar. Ananto Mozumdar”, supplied Ananto smoothly, “Miss...?” “Chakravarty. Supriya Chakravarty”, she responded reluctantly. The dazzling eyes flashed daggers at him. ‘Jesus...she’s gorgeous!” marvelled Ananto. Her cheeks flamed rosily and her eyes flashed like lightning. He watched her hypnotic lips, fascinated, as they changed shape rapidly, uttering words he never heard. She was a force of nature, beautiful and terrifying.
5 “And I must remind you, Mr. Mozumdar,” she fulminated, “that this is a decent hill station and louts like yourself aren’t particularly welcome here. I suggest you either learn some decent manners or move to Bhim Tal. You’ll find lots of your type there.” Ananto emerged from his daze. It wasn’t done to squabble with a female. “I’ll keep your advice in mind, lady,” he murmured politely. “Meanwhile, I have one small suggestion to make. This lake is ninety feet deep. Either wear life-preservers or learn to row. The next accident could find you in the water.” Again the dazzling eyes flashed daggers at him and the jawline thrust out even more truculently as she opened her mouth to deliver another broadside. But Mr. Mozumdar had turned on his heel and walked away stiffly. She’d never know the effort he’d had to make to walk away from her... * The Boat House Club in Naini Tal is the equivalent of the ViceRegal Lodge of colonial Delhi. Ananto and his friend Sridhar had managed invitations to the Saturday dance party through a bit of wire-pulling. Ananto’s uncle had once served as the secretary of the Municipal Committee, and the old munshi still had recollections of his former boss. He’d put in a word to the Governor’s aide... Those were the days when people dressed up formally for evening parties. Besides, Naini Tal is cold in April. Fortunately, both Ananto and Sridhar had brought their suits along, and it was just as well they had, because dance parties at the BHC were strictly a ‘black tie’ affair. But the big surprise was that Supriya Chakravarty and a friend had also been invited. There was nothing to be done but to keep out of her way. Had Ananto but known it, Supriya was as astonished to see him as he’d been on seeing her. She had other plans, however. As Ananto was sipping his first cocktail, she came over to him. He braced himself for a repeat performance of the recent son et lumiere. “Mr. Mozumdar...no, no, please remain seated!” she said pleasantly as he rose to his feet politely. She was looking devastating in a pink kurta-churidar outfit with a mauve cashmere cardigan. Her hair was parted neatly down the middle and pinned demurely on the sides behind her tiny, lobeless ears with a pair of blue porcelain butterfly hair-pins. A thin gold chain emphasized her lovely neck, and the filmy dupatta did nothing to conceal the rounded swell of her full breasts. Kolhapuri sandals adorned her small feet, and a faint perfume of exotic wildflowers wafted from her. He felt weak and dizzy, like the time Abbas slipped him that vicious rabbit punch when the referee wasn’t looking. She looked
6 good enough to eat. She was—as far as he was concerned—by far the prettiest girl in the room...which meant ‘the prettiest girl in Naini Tal’ for all practical purposes, for the elite and the fashionable were all here. This dance party was the first fixture on the season’s festive calendar, and no one would intentionally miss out on it. He realised he was goggling at her like a beached codfish, and cleared his throat apologetically. “Miss...Chakravarty, isn’t it? Fancy meeting you here! I hope you’ve forgiven my ineptness at rowing!” He grinned to show he meant no offence. “After a recent censure from an authority on the subject, I’ve been practicing diligently every morning. Perhaps you’ll allow me to demonstrate my prowess with the oars sometime, Miss Chakravarty?” She laughed prettily, without rancour. It was the music a brook makes as it titters its way over shingle and gravel to join a river. The tinkling melody of it sent a thrill up and down his spine. Her small, perfect teeth gleamed whitely through her incredible lips, magenta coloured for the occasion. Ananto wondered why nature had broken her rule in the case of human beings. In every other species, the female was a drab, nondescript creature as compared to the resplendent male. But woman was a glittering thing, next to which a man looked dull and colourless...as far as Supriya Chakravarty was concerned, anyway. “Mr. Mozumdar...” she drew him aside. “I’m afraid I’ve wronged you. Sorry! It was very rude of me...that day at the jetty. I sometimes wonder why people put up with me!” ‘Because you are the most amazing thing that walks the earth’, he said to himself. But he only made deprecating noises for her benefit. “No, no, Miss Chakravarty!” he protested, “You were perfectly within your rights. It was our job to keep a sharp lookout...for enemy vessels!” He came up with another disarming grin. She giggled and his knees went all rubbery, like the time Negi had got him with a thundering left hook during the semi-finals in the welter-weight category. “Oh, do call me ‘Supriya’!” she insisted happily. “And let’s make up by dancing to this number...I just love it!” He recalled little else of that evening. It passed in a happy daze as he held her giddily in his arms. They danced on and on. She was very light on her feet, and kept in step with him so beautifully, so well-matched were they visually, that they got a standing ovation from the watchers. She was flushed and breathless when they returned to their seats. “Ananto, I’ve got an idea! Let’s go boating after dinner!” she said enthusiastically. *
7 It was a moonlit night, and Naini Tal Lake is an enchanted place especially on such nights. The moon floated along with them as Ananto plied the oars, and the faint peals of temple bells carried softly to their ears like lullabies across the dark waters. “I wonder how old the lake is,” mused Supriya. “Oh, probably as old as the end of the last ice age...that’s about ten thousand years,” replied Ananto. “But it was only ‘discovered’— according to local legend—in the early nineteenth century by an Englishman hunting a stag.” “Ten thousand years!” murmured Supriya wonderingly. “A hundred centuries! That’s a long time, Ananto. I wonder how many lovers have sat on its banks on moonlit nights, holding hands and watching the moon dancing on the waves...” “Zillions, I’d expect. Unless, of course, there weren’t any people living here. No one knows the early history of this place. No archaeological digs have ever been attempted.” “Good!” said Supriya firmly. “It would ruin the mystery.” She was silent for a while, letting the cool breeze fan her flushed cheeks. “Ananto... I wonder whether we were here, you and I, ten thousand years ago. Do you think it’s possible?” she asked shyly. “Sure, why not?” replied Ananto confidently. “They say souls of people we’ve known always meet up with us again and again, life after life. That’s why some people are always special to us...even after a brief encounter. It’s as if primal—subconscious—memory takes over. We may fight it, and we may convince ourselves that it’s just poetic fancy, but I, for one, think it’s true.” “You do? Strange...so do I. I think we’ve known each other before, Ananto, I feel so...so at ease with you. I’m not like this at all, going boating with someone I met just a day or two before, blurting out all kinds of stuff. Normally, I’d consider it very forward. Right now, I think it’s so... perfect!” He shipped the oars and crossed over from his rowing bench to join her on the padded seat with the ornate back-rest. He caressed her soft, wind-blown hair gently, a great tenderness welling up in him. His heart had never hammered this way before. He slipped his arm around her shoulders and hugged her. She did likewise, and rested her head on his shoulder. He cupped her face in his hands, admiring the mind-bending perfection of it, seeing with his heart the lovely soul that lived within the soft, beautiful body in his arms. His kiss, when it happened, was so spontaneous, so genuinely loving, that she thrilled to its purity and innocence. She kissed him back just as enthusiastically, running her fingers through his hair. The boat drifted down the silvery ribbon the moon had unrolled upon the dark waters for ten thousand years... *
She had majored in foreign languages and had studied art. That explained her relatively senior position in a foreign embassy. He was a science student who had excelled in draughtsmanship and technical illustrations, which is what he did in the advertising agency where he worked. She wrote wild and wacky poetry that had been published abroad. He had done a bit of trekking, hunting, and mountain photography during his college days. She liked the pre-Raphaelite schools of painting, and he freaked out on Andy Warhol and Op Art in general. She read anything and everything, and her taste in books ranged from classics to the bizarre. He preferred westerns by Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour and was a sucker for self-help books. Both were fond of continental food, action movies, and vintage cars. Each found the other fascinating. It was not surprising that they became friends before they became lovers... * The day they had dreaded was upon them at last; it was time to return to the plains. Tomorrow they went their separate ways, she to Delhi, he to Bombay. They clung to each other under the blanket, that last night under the stars at Tiffin Top. They watched Venus ascend, twinkling her old promise. But the Big Dipper spoilt it all by pointing the way home. They didn’t want to go. “Ananto, I didn’t want this to ever end. Do you think we’ll meet again?” she asked. There was a tremor in her voice. It was quite unlike her, to be so uncertain of the future. He felt a chilly hand close over his heart. He tried to convey to her a courage he hardly felt himself. “We’ve got to! But life is so uncertain, Supriya... we’ve met in the past and we’ll meet again. What’s important is the present; the future is always tomorrow’s present, never forget. I can’t bear to leave you, either, Supriya!” Ananto confessed. “Promise you’ll keep in touch?” she asked through her tears. A terrible premonition was upon her. “I promise!” said Ananto, with a lump in his throat. He didn’t earn enough as yet to ask for her hand. It was implicit; they never even mentioned it, taking it for granted, their marriage. Beyond the language of words, their hearts had promised themselves to each other. They made love for the last time, as if their physical union could forestall the inevitable. “Journeys end in lovers’ meetings, Honeybaby,” he quoted hopelessly, to comfort her, and to still the wild doubt in his heart. “We’ll always meet. You must be patient.” She nodded hopelessly, as girls in love have done for ages. She had to wait for her man to be ready to support her. Life was no picnic,
9 even if both were earning. The possibility of parental disapproval hung like a cloud over them. They both came from conservative families; an inter-caste marriage for love was a rarity, and had to be fought for, often in the teeth of fierce opposition from elders. Such was the fate of the young in the India of those days. * Mr. Mazumdar took one last, longing look at the photograph and shut the diary with a heavy heart…for they had never met again. They had written to each other, and kept in touch over the telephone whenever possible. There was no automatic trunk dialing or Internet then. Communication between distant cities was an expensive and time-consuming affair. Then her father, who was in the Indian Audit & Accounts Service, had been posted to Brussels. Supriya had gradually abandoned hope of ever seeing Ananto again. Slowly, as realisation dawned that he had to accept the fact that Supriya would never be his wife, Ananto too, realised it was a dream he had to let go of. He recalled a conversation on the eve of their departure, when she’d raised the subject of will and self-determination in relation to destiny. “Ananto, do you think we really can control our lives? I read somewhere that if we want something badly enough, the entire universe conspires to bring it to us.” “Yes, I’ve read that too,” said Ananto thoughtfully, knowing what was at the back of her mind. “But I’d like to qualify that with a rider: yes, the universe does conspire to give us what we want if we want it badly enough...provided it is for the Greater Good! By ‘Greater Good’ I mean the greater scheme of things, of which everything is a part. If we want something very badly, but it’s not in consonance with the overall plan, then I doubt whether we get what we crave. At least, that’s what I think!” he finished sadly. She was silent for a long time. “So if our getting together isn’t an integral part of the grand design, we don’t make it? Is that what you are trying to say, Ananto?” “Yes!” he said simply, aware of her frustration at trying to fit into some greater plan of which she knew nothing. She shook her head obstinately. “I refuse to subscribe to such an effete theory. I still maintain that Hannibal Barca was right: if you can’t find a way, make one. And he took his elephants over the Alps with him. Don’t be so negative, Ananto!” There was an undercurrent of something like panic in her voice. Ananto was touched. He hugged her. “You’re right, as usual, honeybunch! We just have to focus on the problem and work at solving it, right? After all, what can the universe
10 have against us two getting married? How could that possibly put a spanner in the Grand Design?” “That’s more like it, Nantoo! (She called him by his pet-name when she was especially happy about something). Keep thinking like that and we’ll be cutting the cake soon!” She was trying to lighten the mood. “And remember...I want to honeymoon here, in Naini Tal...where it all began.” Did she think it had been treachery on his part not to have caught up with her? Did she think she had just been a little diversion for him on a brief holiday to the hills? Did she feel he was guilty of pusillanimity for not having found her—by hook or by crook—and married her? Had their love really been durable enough to survive the long separation? And did she appreciate the magnitude of the obstacles faced by a mere technical illustrator in a small advertising company who had to go looking her in a foreign country and win her hand? Did she see now that some things—no matter how much we want them—just aren’t fated to be? How did it affect her faith in her ability to control her own destiny? These, and a myriad other questions, had spun through his brain for months and years. He was sure the answers would reveal themselves in the fullness of time. If they were not meant for each other, then the Grand Design had other uses for them. That was all there was to it. It was up to them to search for—and find—meaning in their lives in tune with their real destiny... Sometimes he wished he’d never met her. At other times, he felt he would never have really lived if hadn’t. She had illuminated his life like a meteor. Her sparkling wit, her keen intelligence, her disarming candour, her refreshing originality, her exquisite loveliness, and her irrepressible zest for life had left their indelible mark on him. She had sparked off something within him that had transformed his vision of life. Contact with her unique, effervescent personality had changed him forever. She had brought out the poet, playwright, art critic, and human being in him. He had long abandoned the demeaning rat race of the advertising world. Ananto Mozumdar—known to the world as the eccentric bachelor who had written the screenplays of a dozen major Bombay art films, the bearded hermit-poet with long, unkempt locks who went about giving away the money he earned as fast as it came in, who met the mass-wedding expenses of a hundred indigent couples every year from his own sources—was just a lamp for the timeless flame that was Supriya Chakravarty. That was his destiny. That: and the consequences thereof. *
11 He had no idea where she was now, but he knew she was always in his heart. One day—somewhere, sometime, in some other age— they would meet again. It was a celestially written certainty that he didn’t doubt for a moment. He shook his head with disbelief. Had so much time really passed? Why, it was just like yesterday when he had met Supriya at Naini Tal. Was it possible that a lifetime had gone by? He had never returned to Naini Tal. He wanted to enshrine the memory of her forever in his heart, with the hill station as a setting. He had no right to disturb that sacred sanctuary. Nearly four decades had passed... ‘I must be an old man now!’ thought Ananto with mild surprise. He had never given much thought to the matter. Time had stopped ever since Supriya had gone from him. Now, for the first time, he noted the warning signals of advancing years: the failing vision, the breathlessness when climbing a flight of stairs, the poor sleep and appetite. He leaned back in the easy chair and felt the cold touch of winter at his door, although it was spring and the sun shone brightly outside. Time had got the better of him, he conceded. But he also believed that the hand that had written every story in the world knew what it was doing. With faith and with love, Ananto Mozumdar welcomed his new coming of age as he surrendered to the will of that eternal hand. ‘Next time, may the Fates be easier on Supriya and I...’ he prayed, as he allowed the years to wash over him and inundate his soul at last. Captain Anand Mullick of the Corps of Electrical and Mechanical Engineers didn’t feel like attending the regimental dance at all. He had—after years of scouring second-hand bookshops—at last found a copy of Louis L’Amour’s long out-of-print classic, Shalako, and was dying to read it. Besides, he was in a rare bad mood. He’d been boating on the lake that morning, rowing a light, single-seater scull, when all at once a boat with three or four girls in it had come from nowhere and hit his light craft, almost capsizing it. After a heated exchange—an extremely vocal and belligerent girl who seemed to be their spokesperson had been very rude to him— they had gone their separate ways. It had left him feeling low, because, as a rule, he wasn’t the type to trade insults with strangers, what to speak of girls. But that ill-tempered virago in Levi’s and a purple T-shirt had bugged the chivalry out of him. But he doubted whether the C.O. would appreciate such an unlikely excuse for skipping the get-together, which was why they were at Naini Tal in the first place. Colonel Chanchal was as tolerant
12 of his officers reading anything other than military and technical books as he was of breach of protocol. With a sigh, Anand rose to his feet, showered, and carefully donned the neatly pressed uniform that his batman had laid out on the bed. The EME regimental centre at Malli Tal, the bus-stand end of the lake, was a stone’s throw from Government House—the Governor’s lodge—and was acknowledged as having the best auditorium in the hill resort. That went for the club, too, thought Anand, as he left the officer’s quarters and strode briskly to the huge indoor badminton and squash complex that had been converted into a ballroom and grand dining room for the evening. Sounds of the regimental brass band playing ‘Colonel Boogie’ came loudly from the building, which meant that the dance was about to start. He groaned inwardly as he stepped inside, wishing he was stretched out on his bed with his book. He hated dancing, though he knew the steps and the gyrations involved in the meaningless ritual. Dancing didn’t do anything for him. But he joked and exchanged pleasantries with his brother officers as he slipped smoothly into his assigned role. He was a soldier, and this was duty...of sorts. “Anand!” It was Mrs. Chanchal, the C.O.’s wife. “Where have you been? I’ve been looking all over for you! Come here at once; I’d like you to meet my niece, Sumitra.” Her vast, tank-like bulk (‘Oughtn’t the C.O. have joined the Armoured Corps?’ thought Anand for the umpteenth time) concealed someone very effectively. Anand braced himself. Mrs. Chanchal’s match-making efforts had not gone in vain so far. Almost all the eligible bachelors in his battalion had succumbed to her endeavours. ‘If she’d opened a marriage bureau, she’d have minted money!’ grinned Anand, amused at her targeting him. This was one bout she was going to lose, however. Anand had no intentions of marrying before he was promoted to the rank of Major. Two could not live as cheaply as one, even in the army. Then his grin froze as the girl stepped into view. * She wasn’t tall, but she was so well set up—so proportionate— that her elfin charm took his breath away. She was wearing a mauve kurta-churidar outfit, hand embroidered, and set with sequins that flashed and dazzled as they reflected the bright lights in the ceiling. Her small, shapely hands fidgeted impatiently with her filmy dupatta. Her amazingly recurved lips pouted sulkily as she looked down at her perfect little feet clad in light-blue party slippers decorated with beads. Her hair, cut short in a waif-like hairdo that caused his shins to ache with the wonder of it, haloed a face that was beyond description in its impossible beauty.
13 Since she wasn’t looking at him, obviously resentful of the compulsory introduction, Anand’s eyes went to the rest of her. He almost wished they hadn’t. He had seen better figures, but he couldn’t remember when. If nature had wished to make her curves just that much better, just that little bit more right, she’d have thrown in the towel in despair. It was the absolute best that she was capable of. Then the girl looked up, bored, and Anand’s heart doubled its tempo. He couldn’t understand why this was happening. It had never happened before. ‘I never knew perfect eyebrows could be this perfect!’ he thought wildly. More than just decorative, they were functional as well, enhancing as they did the beauty of the lovely brown eyes. ‘Such eyes,’ thought Anand—who was hardly the poetic type—‘must have triggered off wars between nations and centuries of vendetta among tribes.’ The eyebrows in question lifted quizzically as the eyes recognized him, and the wondrous lips parted in a wicked smile to reveal pearly teeth. Deep in the mysterious whirlpools of her brown pupils, something laughed and laughed...and laughed! Anand’s heart forgot to beat. She was the stuff that dreams were made of. She was also the girl of the boating incident that morning... He didn’t realise he was staring until Mrs. Chanchal’s discreet cough brought him around. “Go and have a double scotch, you poor man!” she laughed gaily as she sailed off triumphantly, leaving them together. She was sure her score was still 100%. The poor fellow had gone down like a poleaxed steer! As she’d known he would... * “Major, you’re one hell of a lousy dancer, you know that?” she giggled. He shook his head dazedly again. He wished she wouldn’t do that...and smile at him at the same time. Every time she did, he felt like someone had penetrated his guard with a one-two combination to the stomach. He felt dizzy, out-of-sorts. “It’s ‘Captain’, not ‘Major’,” he muttered groggily. “Hey! Are you okay, ‘Captain not Major’? You look kind of unwell to me!” she said with genuine concern. They had amicably sorted out the misunderstanding of the morning, and were standing under the eaves at one end of the long verandah of the club, enjoying the uninterrupted view of the mile-long lake. He nodded wordlessly. “I know! Let’s go boating!” she laughed gaily. “That should clear your head!” It was the music a brook makes as it titters its way over shingle and gravel to join a river. The tinkling melody of it sent a thrill up and
14 down his spine. Her small, perfect teeth gleamed whitely through her incredible lips, magenta coloured for the occasion... * It was only a short walk down to the lake. He commandeered a two-seater scull and cast off, feathering the oars with relish. She was right. The lake was a far better place to be than that stuffy ballroom. It was a moonlit night, and Naini Tal Lake is an enchanted place especially on such nights. The moon floated along with them as Anand plied the oars, and the faint peals of temple bells carried softly to their ears like lullabies across the dark waters. “I wonder how old the lake is,” mused Sumitra. “Oh, probably as old as the end of the last ice age...that’s about ten thousand years,” replied Anand. “But it was only ‘discovered’— according to local legend—in the early nineteenth century by an Englishman hunting a stag.” “Ten thousand years!” murmured Sumitra wonderingly. “A hundred centuries! That’s a long time, Anand. I wonder how many lovers have sat on its banks on moonlit nights, holding hands and watching the moon dancing on the waves...” “Zillions, I’d expect. Unless, of course, there weren’t any people living here. No one knows the early history of this place. No archaeological digs have ever been attempted.” “Good!” said Sumitra firmly. “It would ruin the mystery.” She was silent for a while, letting the cool breeze fan her flushed cheeks. “Anand... I wonder whether we were here, you and I, ten thousand years ago. Do you think it’s possible?” she asked shyly. “Sure, why not?” replied Anand confidently. “They say souls of people we’ve known always meet up with us again and again, life after life. That’s why some people are always special to us...even after a brief encounter. It’s as if primal—subconscious—memory takes over. We may fight it, and we may convince ourselves that it’s just poetic fancy, but I, for one, think it’s true.” “You do? Strange...so do I. I think we’ve known each other before, Anand, I feel so...so at ease with you. I’m not like this at all, going boating with someone I just met, blurting out all kinds of stuff. Normally, I’d consider it very forward. Right now, I think it’s so... perfect!” He shipped the oars and crossed over from his rowing bench to join her on the opposite one. He caressed her soft, wind-blown hair gently, a great tenderness welling up in him. His heart had never hammered this way before. He slipped his arm around her shoulders and hugged her. She did likewise, and rested her head on his shoulder.
15 He cupped her face in his hands, admiring the mind-bending perfection of it, seeing with his heart the lovely soul that lived within the soft, beautiful body in his arms. His kiss, when it happened, was so spontaneous, so genuinely loving, that she thrilled to its purity and innocence. She kissed him back just as enthusiastically, running her fingers through his hair. “Journeys end in lovers’ meetings, Honeybaby!” he whispered, and kissed her again. He was sure he’d said those very words to her, some other time...long ago. And this was journey’s end...at last. “We’ll always be together,” he said confidently. “Promise?” she asked through her tears. A terrible happiness was upon her. “I promise!” said Anand firmly, knowing deep within his heart that he was fated to redeem an old pledge. They clung to each other, delirious with joy. Déjà vu vanquished him and inundated his soul. A paean to love and human destiny rang out in his blood. The final piece of an ancient puzzle fell into place as they swore their vows to each other. The stars looked down in witness, relieved at the denouement. This time, the Fates would be kinder to them. The boat drifted down the silvery ribbon the moon had unrolled upon the dark waters for ten thousand years... ~*~
‘The mystery of love is greater than the mystery of death’. ~ Jackie Leven