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It was during a common friend’s wedding. I was with my friend when I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned, it was him. His eyes glued on me as he pulled me away.
We played together, during days of the Festival of Color which in India we call “Holi” we used to sprinkle those colors of different shades at each other. We giggled, we laughed, we sang, and then we ran on the river bank where we used to try crossing the river together with our hands held tight, “Hey, slowly you will slip, then I will lose you forever.” And I used to refute “You silly, I am much stronger, this river crossing is nothing!” And then I used to slip and he used to pull me up. Then we tried fishing and both of us again skidded in the mud and him lifting me and saying “You are good for nothing.”
“I told you, you never listen to me,” he used to say looking at those stray dogs that he always pampered and fed those Parle G biscuits. “Why do you love dogs, huh?” I used to ask. He never replied but used to smile and pull my cheeks and say “One day I will marry you and we will have ten dogs to bite you.”
“Who said, I will marry you? You are so tall, I don’t like tall people! You play football and I like cricket and you sing and I love to dance, so we have nothing in common”, I used to say him always.
“Look, look I have got some red lipstick, let me apply on your forehead, let me see how you look as my bride” he used to grin.
He used to apply the red lipstick on my parted hair and say “See you are my wife”.
I didn’t know when we grew up, I remember his visits becoming infrequent, we no more played Holi, my parents cautioning me “Don’t be so disobedient, learn to stay indoors and concentrate on your studies!”
“Mum, why doesn’t Raj play with me anymore?” I asked my mother while she tried to comb my craggy hair. My mother continued with the red ribbons fixing my hair, forgetting the comb, and with no answers either.
We travelled in the same school bus. I could feel he angled at me; it was a strange feeling. I didn’t know I was gradually becoming an adult.
He completed the high school, we no more travelled together, he left for his medical school, and years later I too completed my school and went on the making of an engineer.
It was during my first semester my best friend whispered me “Hey, Raj looks like Bryan Adams! I am planning to propose to him soon. You are his very close friend, so will you pass my letter when he is back during his vacation?”
That was the first time I felt the stab of jealousy, but why did I feel so? I never had any feelings for Raj! No that’s not true, I told myself, it’s a crime to fall in love, I need to establish myself, I need to prove my worth to the world by climbing the corporate ladder, I need to compete with Raj – Hey I just said “I need to compete with Raj!” Why? Raj, come on, no ways, I will get a better suitor for sure, I told myself in a denial mode.
That’s when I started keeping a track on him. He came for the holidays. We used to have lunch together during invites, but instead of talking to him openly as I did during my childhood, I blushed. He used to look at me, he used to ask me questions. I couldn’t reply to him, and I used to turn red each time I looked at him.
I never exchanged the letters my friend gave me; instead I used to tear them.
And oh my goodness listening to the song!
“Standin’ on your mama’s porch
You told me that you’d wait forever
Oh, and when you held my hand
I knew that it was now or never
Those were the best days of my life
back in the summer of sixty-nine”
I felt he sang for me and each time I watched the video I ached for him.
I almost slipped just like those days when I used to slip at those river banks, when he took me in his arms. There was no one around, just the two of us. Cupping my face he stared at my kohl blended eyes with the touch of mascara when he asked “Is it the same lipstick you are wearing, which I applied on you, remember?”
Lowering his face, he touched my eyes kissing my lips he softly said “Will you marry me when I am back? I always loved you, and you know that, don’t you?”
Pushing him away I ran back to my circle of friends, my heart beating loud enough to silence those wedding songs playing while the newlywed couple exchanged their rings. I felt those hot flushes, my pulse was an all time high.
I returned home with a sense of euphoria, a sense of womanhood, a sense of being a special to someone.
I completed my graduation, moved to a different city. During the breaks when my parents came to visit my mother said “Raj was asking about you, he is so happy that you are doing good, he is very proud of you.”
I never replied to my mother, but I always wanted to hear about him. It was years later that my mother broke the news “Raj got married”. This time I blurted out “With whom, is it a love marriage or an arranged one?” “I guess his parents chose some girl, she is very good, a perfect match for him” my mother replied stitching a table cloth.
I ran downstairs, I could no longer hold my tears. Weeping bitterly, I told myself “I hate you idiot woman, Raj I loved you always, believe me but I couldn’t tell you. Why didn’t you run away with me? I always chose my career over you, for once come back please! I don’t love this city, I want to be in your arms forever. Leave your wife come back, that same lipstick, apply on my parted hair, I can’t love anyone else, believe me, I can’t!”
Yes I couldn’t forget him, I couldn’t get over him. I did meet him with his wife. I looked at her “Is she prettier than me?” I asked myself when Raj softly said “She is Rimli, my friend we played together, she is a good dancer and she sings very well. And Rimli she is Reshmi my wife, she wants to learn some songs from you.”
Swallowing a gradually growing lump in my throat I told Reshmi “Let’s sing Standin’ on your mama’s porch; You told me that you’d wait forever; Oh, and when you held my hand; I knew that it was now or never; Those were the best days of my life; Oh, yeah; back in the summer of sixty-nine.” That was the last time I saw Raj. He did come to my city and I too visited his I made no contact with him, neither did he.
Till day when I sit at my office desk I open my wallet where I still have a fading picture of us holding hands and smiling at the camera when his words rings in my ears “Will you marry me when I am back, I always loved you, and you know that, don’t you?”
I wish I told him that day, yes Raj it was only you I loved. It’s too late now Raj, I lost you forever.
Image source: is a screen grab from the movie Cocktail.
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