The train was still 2hrs behind schedule. I was waiting at the Matheran city station waiting for the train to arrive. I was on my way to Neral en route to Pune. It was the September rains. The Neral-Matheran railway had just started their scheduled service after a 2 month layoff due to the rains when heavy showers lashed the city causing the train service to be disrupted.
I cursed. I cursed heavily. I wanted a quiet place far from the din and bustle of the city. I was frustrated with the course of life. Work was not good; I was slogging day in and day out. I was desperately in need of a break. That’s why I decided to come to Matheran, ALONE. I wanted a complete holiday for myself, nothing to bother me for a weekend. The serene landscape and the tranquil hills brought in me a complete sense of joyousness. And when the perfect weekend was about to end on a perfect note, why did God choose to play the spoilsport? As usual I had no answers.
I could not go back to the hotel as I had already checked out. Though I did not have much of a luggage, even a small bag that I was carrying seemed irritating. Carrying luggage always was irritating for me. I carried my bag and sat under a shelter in the platform.
It was still raining. The waters gushed out of the vents, gurgled through the pipes and splashed into the drains nearby. The Matheran station is a small picturesque hilly station. The misty hills added to its charm. On the other side was the pathway that went down. It is an ecofriendly town. The only way to travel to this city is either by train or on horseback. Green foliage covered the entire area. I was petrified of horses. While coming up I had taken the dreaded horse ride and wanted to take the train down. The Matheran –Neral narrow gauge line is one of the most beautiful train journeys especially after the rains. In the rainy season, the Sahyadris look ethereal with lush green peaks sneaking out amidst the dense mist. Adding to the charm are the innumerable waterfalls that gush out and make their way down.
I needed a tea, a hot one. There were very few people waiting at the station. Hearing about the delay of the train, most of them had taken a horse. I located a tea stall. Carrying my bag I went up to that shop and asked for a tea. As I lighted my cigarette, I heard a sweet voice –“Bhaiya ek chai dena”. I turned back and saw a girl. She was wearing a white salwar and had kept her hair loose. She was wet due to the rains; her hair covered half of her face. She was trying in vain to prevent a small strand of hair from falling on her eyes. The wind also was not helping her cause. She seemed beautiful though I did not get a good view of her face. I personally liked long locks and had this prejudice that any girl with long locks of hair had to be beautiful.
A puff of smoke escaped my mouth. This seemed to have irritated her. She moved her hand vigorously to avoid inhaling the smoke. Peeved she stole a glance at me. She was beautiful. My premonition had been proved right. I stared at her for some time. Just could not get enough of her. She still had not given up on her earnest endeavor to prevent a strand of hair from falling on her eyes. I smiled. I noticed she too had a wry smile on her lips.
I took my cup of tea, paid him and started walking towards the bench on the platform. The situation had a sense of déjà vu. I had seen this smile, I had seen these eyes. After walking for a few seconds, I stopped and turned back. I could still notice the smile on her face and now she was looking at me directly. I walked up to her and was about to say something when she suddenly spoke “Sameer”?
I gave a half-confused half- customary smile and said “Yes”.
“Oh my God, it’s been seven years. How have you been?”
Still trying to figure out, I said, “Is it Priya?”
She said, “Yes I am”.
“Oh goodness gracious me, you have changed so much. You have put on weight and have also grown your hair”?
“Trying to look more girlish.” She burst into laughter.
She was Priya from my college. She was in the Arts department and I used to be in Electronics. She was a complete tomboy in college. She was more into elocution and writing. I used to be amazed at her skills with the pen.
She smiled and said “How have you been and where are you now?”
“I have been working with an IT giant in Pune and am settled there. I just came here for a weekend vacation. What about you?”
“I am with a newspaper in Pune.”
“Oh nice, so you are a journalist. You always had this penchant for writing.”
“Not bad Sameer, you seem to remember everything about me.” She smiled and I also could not help than smiling. She continued, “Actually, I am not a journalist. They are planning to take out a magazine and I am doing the editing stuff. It talks about the city of Pune. Some nice stuff obviously, initially to gain the mass appeal, but then we look to bring forth the problems that the people of Pune are facing.”
“Not bad Miss Editor. Oops sorry, or shall I call you Mrs?”
“Don’t bother, Miss is better. I haven’t married yet.” She chuckled. “And you?”
“Not yet, but soon will. Engagement is round the corner.”
“Oh really, it’s nice to hear that. Who is that lucky girl? “
“She is a school teacher. Her name is Riya. Its good that you are in Pune itself and you must come to my engagement. I am going to invite you.”
She smiled. We ran out of words. I looked at her eyes, they were really beautiful. To break the ice, I said, “Let’s go and sit there.” We walked up to the small bench on the platform and sat there. I had ordered for two more cups of tea to be delivered there. The shop owner was initially hesitant, but seeing me with a girl, gave a smile and agreed. Why does everything seem easy when you have a girl with you?
I was sitting in the college canteen after a sumptuous lunch, getting too lazy to go back to classes, when I noticed a chirpy girl entering the canteen. She was in her jeans and T-shirt and was with her friends. She sat on the table opposite to ours. I looked at her, her eyes were really beautiful. Although I always thought girls with long hair attractive, yet this petite young girl with hair above her shoulder did not seem to attract me any less. Her eyes spoke a lot and I immediately fell for her. I could not help but stare at her. She noticed me looking at her.
I asked my friend Ajay “Yaar, what is her name? I have never seen her.”
Disinterested he blurted out “Don’t know.”
She suddenly stood up and started to walk towards the canteen counter. I guess to get something. I stood up also and walked up to the counter. It had a small queue, I deliberately stood behind her. I was searching for an opportunity to talk to her. She ordered a cold drink and took out a hundred rupee note and gave it to the person at the counter.
“Please give me change.” And he returned her the note.
She argued, “I don’t have any. Please uncle, take this.”
The sweetness of her voice mesmerized me. Suddenly it dawned upon me to utilize this opportunity. I took out a twenty rupee note and handed it over to the man and asked for two cold drinks –one for me and the other one for her.
She was taken aback. “Why will you pay for me?”
“It’s ok. You repay me tomorrow. I have an inherent desire to help all beautiful girls.” I tried to be cheesy.
“Don’t try that on me. I will pay you tomorrow and thanks for the cold drinks.”
“You are welcome. By the way I am Sameer. What is your name?”
“Hello, I am Priya, Arts, first year.”
“Oh is that your full name?” I tried to be humorous. I was pathetic at it.
She gave a disgusted smile and asked “Do you always talk trash? “
“Oops sorry. Hi, I am in Electronics engineering second year. It was nice to meet you mam.” I walked out of it and went back to my table. The start was not that good, I had screwed up. I was disappointed that I could not create an impression. I hoped to utilize the next opportunity.
Taking a sip from the cup she asked, “So what brings you to Matheran?”
“Nothing special, just wanted a couple of days off. What brings you here?”
“We are on a holiday. I am waiting for my friend to come by the train.”
“Aha, boyfriend?” I put up a fake smile. I was mastering it.
“No, just a friend. We too decided to take a break.”
“Is it Rahul, your best friend from college?” I was sarcastic and curious as well.
“No, it is not him. We are not in contact any more. It’s my friend Pooja. I had taken a horse, but just could not coax her to take the ride. I came up early to make all the reservations in the hotel.” She was direct. I used to like her for this.
“Oh, sorry. But what happened? Why are you guys not in touch anymore?” I tried to be concerned. I was not, I was curious.
“Oh it’s a long story. Will tell you some other time.”
Taking a sip from my tea and adjusting myself in my seat I tried to be amusing, “I have all the time in the world. The train is yet to arrive.”
She smiled. “He had changed a lot. He had a girlfriend and then slowly snapped all ties with me. I became busy as the editor of the college magazine. I had tried to contact him a lot. On some occasions he didn’t pick up the phone and on others he said he was busy. Then one day we met at the canteen and he said that he wanted to reduce our conversations as it did not go down well with his girlfriend. I was pissed off and did not want to pester him with this. Relationships are never a responsibility of an individual.”
I was stunned, bemused and for some reason felt awkward. I wanted to empathize with her but could not. “Oh,” I could utter only. I respected her for she understood relationships better than anyone else. The small nuances of relationship mattered a lot to her. She understood the priorities in every relationship
She continued, “May be a girl and a boy can never be just friends. Problems galore will definitely arise. I guess you were right.” She nodded. Though she had a smile at the corner of her lips, I could sense that she very much disapproved of this.
I protested, “I had never said that.”
“Ya may be not directly, but that was the reason for which you had left me.”
I had screwed up our first meeting but as I had vowed to make our second meeting fruitful, I had made it count. And then, as they all say is history. Yes, we, Sameer and Priya were in a relationship in college. We had the best of times in college, bunking classes, catching up in the cafeteria or just aimlessly rambling in the college campus talking sweet nothings. We were a happy couple.
But as usual, God decided to play a spoilsport then too. Her “intimacy” with her best friend Rahul was getting a bit too much for me. I just could not understand why the hell that guy did not mind his own business. I know he was her class mate, her friend, but calling her up for just about everything seemed ridiculous to me. Priya and I had long discussions about this a numerous times. Every time it ended with her convincing me that he was just a friend, a friend for whom she cared, her best friend. And as always the girls have the last laugh in any argument.
It was Valentine’s Day. I had decided to make it special for Priya, something which would become a part of her existence, something which would remind her of me, a sweet token of love is what you call it. I had been saving my pocket money for this. After a lot of deliberation, I had zeroed in on silver bracelet. For me the ring was a bit too early at this juncture. A chaste and sober bracelet seemed perfect.
On Valentine’s Day, we met during the lunch break. I tied it on her hand. She had tears in her eyes. For a practical girl like her to be so emotional was strange. I had never seen her cry. I understood what that bracelet really meant to her and the way she felt for me. It only increased my love for her and I started to believe we shared a strong bond of trust and love which no one could break. I gave her a small hug, “Its ok, I will be yours forever.”
“Promise and you promise me that you will always wear this as a token of our love.”
“I promise you.” A tear also escaped my eyes.
After a few months we broke off.
She had tied her hair neatly and adjusted herself on the seat. She looked at her watch. It had been almost 2hrs. She looked even better with her hair tied. As we helped ourselves to another cup of tea, I said, “I did not leave you. We broke off because that was the best for us at that moment. You had lost interest in the relationship. You were more involved with what was happening in Rahul’s life. I had always wanted your happiness so decided that if you were happy with him, then just let you be happy.” I tried to sound a bit generous. I had mastered the art of faking.
“Did you try to explore the truth? Did you talk it out?”
“What was there to ask Priya? It was evident. I call up at 11 in the night and find you busy over phone with Rahul for a week. What do I infer from that? My friends even told me that they have spotted you and Rahul together on a number of occasions. When I had asked you, you had said when the time comes you will let me know.”
“So you did not have the patience to trust me.” She smiled. And for the first time her smile did not impress me. It actually pierced me. “I would have told you.”
“Yes, perhaps you would have told me that, ‘Lets call it quits.’ Before you could do that, I did it and in a way paved your way for a better future. “It was sarcasm at its best.
“Male ego!! The truth was Rahul had fallen for a girl. But the girl was not ready to accept it. He was really down and didn’t want to share it with anyone. I being his best friend was there to help him out. He needed someone to stand by him and give him the courage to pursue her. So all the calls were related to their relationship and all the meetings with him mostly revolved around them. And guess what, the hard work paid off. She accepted his proposal after a few days.”
She put extra stress on “their”. “Oh, then why did not you tell me about it?”
“You never wanted to hear anything or gave me a chance. You had called it quits; you had broken the trust of our relationship. And you know relationships are like glass, once broken, even if you try to join them, the scar remains.”
I was dumbfounded. She had explained it perfectly.
Then she dropped the last bomb, “After the girl accepted Rahul’s proposal, my friendship with him was taken for a toss. As you know it did not go down well with his girlfriend. He chose to ignore me too.” The stress was on the last “too”. I could sense that she was on the verge of crying. I had again made a practical girl emotional. But this time, in a not too pleasant manner.
She steadied herself, “Then we hardly had any contacts and he was happy with that girl. I being her friend was very happy that he was happy. I did not try to contact you because you had broken my trust. Love is worship, worship with trust.”
As she finished I saw the train chugging in the station. The rains had subsided. The sun was peeking out. My mind was cleared; everything seemed so clear, so pure, so new as the sun slowly made its appearance in the distant sky. I had a sense of euphoria as well as a sense of dejection. I had committed a mistake by misunderstanding her and here she was paying the price for her belief in the purity of relationships. It’s a nasty world and now I started hating myself for doing this to her. I should have trusted her. God was hell bent on making my trip worse.
She stood up. “The train has arrived. I will have to leave. It was nice meeting you after a long time. Have a happy married life.” She put forth her hand. We shook hands. I could not utter anything. I just said, “Take care”.
I so wanted to invite her to my marriage but just could not muster up the courage to do so. Something was disturbing me. I was in a state of trance. My mind was wandering away to my college days. Then suddenly something struck me. I realized that while shaking her hand I had noticed something which I had seen earlier. It was not déjà vu.
Ah, it was the same bracelet that I had given her on Valentine’s Day, my last gift to her. She was still wearing it. My guilt became more pronounced. I turned around to find her, but she had gone away, far away. I wanted to set things right immediately but I was about to be engaged. This enraged me even more. I looked up at The Almighty and asked “Why me?”
Her words echoed in my ear. Love indeed is worship, worship with trust.