JANUARY, THE YEAR BEFORE
January. What a lovely month!
The month that brings with itself a fresh year.
The month in which are born new hopes, new joys, new ideas, new expectations, new resolutions, new everything.
The month which is as fresh as the early morning dew.
January. The month that brought her...
Now that we've arrived to this point in the narrative where I must unfold before you a most unique episode, I must tell you all,my readers, that I was once a sceptic, a ridiculer of this thing called Fate.
You may prefer to call it destiny or kismet or coincidence but since the mentioned episode I have known this entity as Mr. Fates.
Though guiding my life since birth and, no doubt, yours, his movements were all but obscure to my eyes, until he chose to show up and how!
Now, lie back, all you lovers and let your mind slip back to that fortunate accident, that ingenious stroke of fortune which enabled you to meet your love.
Do not talk about the moment you fell in love; no, talk about the accident, that singular coincidence, when he or she, not yet your love bumped into your life.
Now, forgive me, I ask you all to delete that incident from your life, though from it hinges your entire life, it is a scenario you shudder to contemplate, but do it; what remains is parantha without aloo.
So it was that Mr. Fate had planned a similar accident for me and had it been absent, no doubt, you would not be reading this book and I would still be a sceptic.
But now a believer, as I continue the story, I urge you to become a believer too in the strange workings of Mr. Fate – destiny, kismet, coincidence et al..
---in whose hands we are mere puppets.
It was the eve of my birthday, I distinctly recall.
Vineet, my dearest brother, was here on a vacation from U.S., along with our bhabhi (not Vineet's wife) and it was going to be a grand birthday, what with their presence gracing the event after a long time.
Although a character of significance in this story and my life,my brother
has only a guest appearance here and I will talk about him in detail later.
We were planning the morrow after my classes at bhabhi's place when she suggested going to a movie.
And, now, I shudder to contemplate the scenario if she hadn't done so.
Would someone else have? If not, then how would I have met Naina?
There are other ifs and buts – the cinema halls could have been different, the show timings…what not…
That it was meant to be is all that comes to my lips.
And so it was that bhabhi uttered:
"Let's watch a movie tomorrow. Is that SRK starrer out?"
"Yes; it is good, I have heard," I said.
"Great, we'll watch the eleven o'clock show and then head towards your home to celebrate your birthday with Chachi's yummy cakes."
My mom is famous for them.
"Raj, call Sameera and ask her if she can come tomorrow; it'll be fun if all kids get together. But Sherry will have school, I guess,"said bhabhi.
"Yes, Sherry won't be able to come, but I'll ask Sameera right away."
Time to start the introductions, I guess.
Sherry and Sameera are my younger sisters, and if you are curious about the whole real sister and cousin sister thing which interests me the least, you'll say that Sameera is my cousin and that Sherry is the real one.
For me both are sisters, dear and loving.
We are of the same age group being born within two years of each other.
As with all sisters, they are hugely possessive and do not approve of my uncivilized habits and frivolous nature.
Their ultimate aim remains to tame me into a presentable young man.
A pursuit which has borne no fruit and that despairs them most along with my mom and my didi, Dhara didi, who is another cousin sister, the only one older and seven years that.
There'll be more on her later. A lot more.
So I called up sameera without wasting any time.
She had been at odds with me and Vineet lately because we were spending most of our time roaming here and there, and not with her at
And well, God save a brother when his sis has drawn the sword.
"Hi sis! College over!"
"Yes, I just entered home. And you must be enjoying yourself," she said with sarcasm.
"Of course, you know I enjoy myself everywhere."
"Blah-blah… People like you and your brother, who have no other work in life but to hop from one place to another…"
"Like a cat on a tin roof…"
"Nothing, an English saying you may not be aware of. What was it that you were saying, dearest sis? That Vineet and me, who have no other work in life…"
"…always enjoy. At least you think you do. Mad nomads," she said, mocking.
"You mind that? and don't you be jealous."
"Please, jealous and me? I am enjoying break from you two. Stay there as long as possible and relieve me from the stress."
"But sis, so unfortunate, that we have to meet tomorrow again,for my birthday."
"I know, even I was getting depressed thinking about that. Anyways, I treat it as a part of life. Sorrow follows joy. But joy will follow soon. But yes, I am excited about tomorrow…"
"Precisely! You should be. After all, it is your dearest brother's birthday and it calls for all the zeal you can muster. So, good! But let me increase your excitement a million fold by I informing you that tomorrow we all are going for your favourite Khan's 'Kuch Kuch Hota Hai'. We'll pick you from home…"
"Excuse me. First of all, how did you get in that thick head of yours that you are my dearest brother? Sorry to dispel all your illusions for the millionth time; you are not," she thundered.
I could sense that her mood was such that she could break my neck and not feel sorry about it.
I thanked God I wasn't in her vicinity, "And sorry, again, to tell you that I an already gong for that movie. And not with you all. That is what I was alluding to when I said I am excited about tomorrow."
"What? Now with whom are you going for the movie! Got a boyfriend?" I bantered.
"None of your business that, but tomorrow I am going with my
"Wow! What preposterous planning is that," I said in anger, "You can go with your stupid friends anytime, sis. It's my birthday. Tomorrow all of us are going. So, you have to come and I won't take no for an answer," I ordered.
"Well, that is what you'll get from me. A flat no. and don't you call my friends stupid."
"But you can go with your highly intellectual friends later. Who can be more special to you than your brother?" I asked emotionally.
"Well as a matter of fact anyone would be. But yes, my best friend is here after a long time and so I got to meet her, and we all just planned a movie."
"May I ask which one of your best friend is this now? You change them as frequently as one changes socks. Is she someone I know of or have you got a new one again? Girls, the funniest creatures."
Now I was getting hot too and I decided to take her on.
"Shut up! I am talking about Naina. My school friend."
"Oh, the same girl that went off to Chennai? Leaving her best friend here, alone," I said agitated.
Inwardly I cursed her friend.
How idiotic of her to come to Delhi and meet my sister on the same day that she should be with me.
All of us were going together for a movie after such a long time.
And this girl had to ruin the celebration.
"Shut up and bye," She raged.
"Fine, bye. But just an advice: You better go to the movie with me than hop around with pseudo friends."
"But I am going to do exactly that."
"Fine", I said angry but saddened.
"Arre, wait a second. You are, you're not coming? We'll not book your ticket."
"Yes, I have my ticket in my hand."
"So which theatre and show?"
"At the Grand. Eleven AM show."
Jumped out of the sofa on hearing that.
We were going for the same show which completes the accident.
But Mr. Fate's job over, it is a man's duty to do his work and so I did.
I tried to recall what Naina looked like.
She was pretty, if I had placed her right in my head.
"Wow, we are going for the same show. How fortunate!"
"Most unfortunate. Don't you dare speak to me there. It'll be ignominious for me if my friends see that I have a cauliflower like you as my brother."
"On the contrary. It'll be most honourable. I can see your friends talking to you – "Your brother! How charming!! Can I have his number?"
"Yes, why not! Don't dream; get a mirror if you haven't got one."
"By the way, how many of you are going? Someone pretty?"
"Four of us. And what will you do if someone is pretty?"
"Change parties. I'll entertain you and your dearest friends."
"Thanks. But we are better off alone."
"Your wish. By the way, is Naina the one whose picture you showed me last time?"
"She seems interesting," I said full of hope and joy.
"Raj, don't you get ideas. If you come up and speak to me there, I'll kill you."
"I will not talk to you, of course. Naina will be enough. So don't be bothered."
"Don't you dare!"
"You know me, sis, I will"
"Good, make a fool o yourself in front of them. Your wish. Besides she has a boyfriend. So no hopes, Romeo."
"Well, not a worry for me, they come and go, boyfriends…
Day after I don't care
If she has any.
Sounds like a poem! Wow, I can speak in verse, sister. Wonder what Shakespeare would have said about that."
"Shut up! I'll warn my friends about you – what a flirt you are."
"Do that. bye for now, see you tomorrow."
"Bye, but behave yourself tomorrow."
"Let us see."
"Raj, hurry up!" shouted bhabhi.
"Coming," I shouted from inside the loo.
"Even girls don't take that long to get read. What's taking you so long?"
"Just a minute!"
I looked one last time in the mirror.
And set my hair one last time with my hand.
Boys like me don't fancy combs. I should have had a hair cut last week, I thought, when mother was after my life and had threatened to chop my mop while I was sleep.
I had wisely slept with my door bolted for the entire week.
How I wished I had listened to her; for once she was right.
She is always too finicky about my hair and length and if she has her way, she will soak my hair in a gallon of oil and then comb them back, firmly adhered to my scalp, and then proudly announce me as her 'babu beta' or in simple terms her innocent, smart and ideal son.
A typical Indian mother.
And I, who have grown up admiring the dishevelled mane of Paul McCartney and co., naturally suffer irreconcilable differences with her on all hair related subjects, which have threatened to disturb the peace of our home, time after time.
But, today there was no doubt about it. She was right.
Blessed are the soul who say 'listen to your mother', I thought.
The more I looked, the more I felt like Conan, the famous barbarian.
Anyways, I gave up shaping the superfluous mass into something remotely civilized.
As dad says, one has to do the best with what one has. I gave one last fleeting glance at the other parts of my face which I had forgotten in the wake of the hair crisis.
I had three pimples on my nose. Bloody hell!
Hardly the sort of thing that cheers an already blighted soul.
What a birthday gift that was!
I was wondering at the injustice of God, when, again, shouts came from everywhere.
I shot out of the bathroom that very instant.
The movie theatre was a half-an-hour drive from home and we reached well before time.
The attendance in the morning show is thin and the moment we landed, I could see Sameera with two friends.
The others spotted her too and our group moved towards hers.
I finally saw her friends clearly. Naina was missing.
Sameera wished me 'Happy Birthday' again, this time in person.
Preliminary introductions revealed that the two girls were Nisha
Sameera eyed me with the dare-you-flirt look.
But I wasn't interested. Period.
"Almost half an hour to go, why don't we all\ grab a bite?", someone asked.
I was too lost to notice.
"Sameera, why don't you join us?" asked bhabhi I believe.
"No, not yet, bhabhi. One of my friends is yet to come. So we'll wait outside. We'll join you when she's there," ,Samera replied.
"Naina is always late," complained Nisha or Trishna.
I glanced at my watch.
There was about half an hour to go.;more if you take into account the advertisements and all.
Plenty of time to play around!
While entering the food court, I could almost have shouted, "Brilliant!" as my mind gave finishing touches to my plan.
I excused myself out of the group.
"I am not hungry, bhabhi. I'll look at the magazines and enjoy the sun for a while." No one complained.
"Bhabhi, give me your mobile; Vineet, give me a missed call when you are through," I said.
Back then I didn't have a mobile.
Bhabhi's mobile was of strategic importance as she had acquired a new sim-card and I was sure no one had her number.
I avoided the path where Sameera stood, still waiting.
I was relieved.
I chose a vantage point and dialed the number.
My heart was full of mirth.
It was a lovely morning and I was doing what I like to do the most.
Playing Mr. Holmes. Disguising, impersonating, plotting, conning…
"Hullo! Said a sweet voice.
"Hullo!" I changed my voice to a gruff one and drew immense
satisfaction with what I sounded. "Is that Sameera?"
"Beta, I am Naina's dad. I had some work, so she got late. Sorry for that. she just with the driver and will reach in ten-fifteen minutes."
"Oh, namaste uncle! No problem."
"Namaste beta. That main road leading to the hall has a jam. So she'll come via another. She told me to inform you to wait at the back entrance."
"And yes, she doesn't have her cell phone. That's why I called to inform."
"Beta, please wait at the back. She doesn't know much about the area. And doesn't even have a phone. So wait there only."
"Hope you are fine, enjoy the movie."
"Thanks, uncle, we will."
I saw them moving. Going, going, gone. I let out a breath.
Job well done.
I prayed that Naina would come soon and not call Sameera on her own.
And given the thin crowd, I'll figure out her figure easily.
Standing there, after successfully execution of the first phase of the plan.
I started feeling nervous. These girls always give you jitters.
It is no easy task dealing with girls under normal circumstances, and, today the circumstances being trying, it was depressing.
It is one thing when you are standing in the sun, abounding in your life's calm, when suddenly you sense a slap on your back and, turning, find yourself eye to eye with your childhood crush.
But the scale of enormities, when you have told a hundred lies to intercept an unfamiliar beauty, is a unique one.
You can still utter, in the first case, life-saving hi's and ya's while the mind holidaying. But the second case is hopeless.
All my inhibitions assumed the form of a giant demon and punched me in my face.
Bang! How messy I looked!
Bad hair, pimples… I began to feel like an idiot.
What a foolish plan I had devised!
The bright sun and the cool breeze gave no respite.
I was hardly aware of them.
I was about to give my plan a serious second thought when lighting struck.
Her majesty appeared.
Well… you must have read countless books, seen innumerable movies celebrating with fanfare the arrival of the heroine.
Strong winds start to blow, thunderstorms strike and as if this noise was
not deafening enough, loud music erupts and the tapori in the front row acknowledges it all with a sincere whistle.
Poets write lyrics heralding the Descent of the divine beauty from heaven.
One reads incomprehensible stuff about rosy cheeks, coral lips and starry eyes, entwined with the indecipherable thee(s) and thou(s) and thy(s).
I have neither the ability of the poet nor the flourish of the dramatist.
But I must admit that I was floored.
I pick up again from the passage where I mentioned that lighting had struck. I cannot explain it better.
She looked amazing.
She was like a painting, a song.
Everything about her was so graceful and fluid.
Like breeze, she flowed towards me, her hair flying and ear rings dancing.
She was the breeze with a whiff of perfume.
And I was stunned.
One can never say if it was love-at-first-sight or not but, admittedly the dent she left in my heart was a big one.
These beauties hit you like a storm and you never recover.
That was my case, entirely. I was completely lost, enraptured, mesmerized...
The moment will remain with me forever, framed and glided.
When I close my eyes, it all comes back to me, and my heart dances with delight; the perfect picture...
her glowing face,
her shiny, flying hair,
her smooth walk,
her dangling ear rings,
her mirror-work bag by her side,
her red pullover,
her blue jeans and
her searching eyes...
She looked around for her friends and looked confused.
I had to move before she took her cell phone out, if she had one.
I regained consciousness and composure.
There was no use worrying.
She'd not eat me; nor was she the last girl on earth.
I had to act, now, that I had planned so much.
Be a man, Raj.
I looked at my clothes again.
Nice jacket, nice sweatshirt, nice jeans.
Cool, I thought.
"Be a Man!" I said to myself again and walked towards the heavenly creature.
The close-up only enhanced her beauty.
Her searching eyes were innocent and beautiful.
She had a fresh, milky complexion, and her red pullover made her look all the more radiant.
Winters, oh lord! Girls, they have never looked better.
They look so fair and bright, and the skin seems flawless.
Their lovely, glowing faces peer out of the bright woolens so cutely.
Girls indeed blossom in winters.
And blossoming she was.
The red dress made her look so pink and lovely.
I could almost have kissed her cheeks.
Despite the heavy woollens, I could see she had a lissome figure.
She had shiny, black hair and was wearing silver ear rings.
She was simple and beautiful. Perfect.
I gave her a slight pat on her shoulder from the side.
She turned towards me drowning me in her sweet aroma.
And I was lost again in her brown eyes and light perfume.
Magic! She had a hint of kajal in her eyes.
"Yes?" she asked, breaking the spell.
"Talk, idiot!' I said to myself !!!
"Umm...Naina?" I asked.
"Yes," she said surprised, obviously.
"Hi! I am Sameera's brother," I said and forwarded my hand.
She shook it. Her hands were soft. It felt really good.
She smiled and returned the greeting.
She had beautiful chiselled pink lips with a hint of gloss.
I ventured into solving the puzzle for her straightaway.
"I can see you are surprised. Don't be. Sameera will be here soon. Actually one of your friends, Nisha, I suppose, had lost her way. So Sameera has gone to fetch her with the driver. I had come to drop her but your friend thought I should stay and keep you engaged till she comes back. So here I am."
God, I spoke too much.
"Well, thanks!" she smiled again. She had a lovely smile.
She didn't say anything else. Why don't these girls speak?
"I am Raj, by the way. Hi again. I hope this was a better introduction." I once again shook her hand she laughed.
"So, how much time will she take?" she inquired.
"Not much, I guess." What to talk about, I thought. Yes. "So, how
"Well, not bad, but yes, nothing like Delhi."
"Absolutely! Nothing like Delhi. This winter will be a pleasant change, I suppose, from boiling Chennai."
"Yes, a lot better. It is really hot there."
"And it is really cold here. I think I'll have something hot."
"What about you? Tea? Now don't be formal and all." I said like
an aunty, "I don't like that. Tea?"
"No, I prefer coffee."
"Oh, wow! Me, too. There is time; let us have coffee then." I hated coffee.
How much lying goes into impressing a girl!
An extremely tedious task.
I took her to a corner so that we were not visible. I bought two coffees.
And furthered to conversation. "I believe you are pursuing management. Sameera speaks a lot about you."
I hoped she would ask what I was doing, and then I could tell her about my
prestigious college. And she asked.
"Yes, I am. What about you?"
"Well, I am studying Industrial Engineering."
"IIT Delhi," I announced grandly.
I hoped to see an open mouth or a twinkle in her eye but there was noting.
Again, just her lovely smile.
She hardly seemed impressed.
I was running out of topics and time now.
She was not helping either with just her monosyllables and her smiles.
I hadn't expected her to be gregarious the very first time but I hadn't expected such reticence.
She took her time, I supposed.
Unlike the aggressive girls that one sees so often these days.
I liked that, but she should at least say something.
"So it must be really difficult… leaving all friends here and settling in a new city," I said, trying to strike a tender chord.
"Yes, it was difficult initially; but now it is better."
"Yes, one has to adjust. I saw some of the snaps you sent to Sameera the other day. You looked nice," I said, trying to compliment her in a subtle way. I couldn't say, "You look hot," straightway.
"Thanks!" she smiled again.
And it all went off again. There was a silence, an awful one.
It kills you. You feel so awkward. You feel so conscious.
It is so damned hard with strangers and harder still with stranger girls.
And you want to pull out your hair in agony when the girl is so indifferent.
You strain every part of your brain to search for a topic, yet you find none.
It is like the world is void of everything and nothing exists.
There is nothing in this damn world that can be talked about. Zilch.
As the strain was becoming a tad too much, she spoke.
"Hope they come soon. Just about fifteen minutes left. Let us have a look at some books in the meanwhile. You like reading"
she asked and proceeded towards the corner book stall.
"Yes, I love it. Nothing like books. So who's your favourite author?" I asked, happy that we had found a common liking.
"Well, no favourite as such. I haven't read that many books. But yes, I like Grisham and Eric Segal."
"Love story…" I said. Knowing that every girl loved it.
I had loved it too. Since, I had read many more Segal books.
I hadn't read any Grisham.
"Yes, it was amazing. In fact, that's the only one I have read of Segal."
"And that's his best. It is so touching. I almost cried in the end."
"Oh you did! Boys don't usually. I cried so much."
"Well, I am a little different. Being a little emotional is not bad, I guess. But yes, boys usually loathe such books."
She was impressed could see it in her expression.
"So, who's your favourite?" she asked, picking up a Grisham novel.
"Well, I love R.K. Narayan. Have read all of his books. He writes so close to life, about the simple joys of life."
"I guess I have read one of his too, Coolie."
"No, that one is by Mulk Raj Anand," said politely, trying not to be condescending, yet being impressive.
Her knowledge about books was poor.
Had read only one of Segal and yet he was her favourite. How funny!
I wondered if she had read only one of Grisham's as well.
"Oops. You are right. But yes, I saw Malgudi Days on T.V. I loved that."
"Same here. That remains my favourite serial. So real and subtle! And nowadays, you have these stupid, mindless and boring saasbahu-sagas. Those were the days… "
I sounded like an octogenarian, I thought.
"I swear. They are so yuk! I wonder how my mom watches them. And all of them are exactly the same."
"Yes... it's better to read books... so do you like any?"
"Yes, I think I should buy this one. I'd like to read more of Grisham."
"Right. After all he is your favourite author," I said teasingly,
"Like Segal. I bet you have read only one of his too."
"No actually two," she burst out laughing. And so did I.
Well we had struck a chord now.
The topics were coming naturally and we seemed to have some similarities. She was not indifferent now but a keen talker. And I loved that.
I was becoming too lost in her. And there were ten minutes to go.
Alas! She bought the book and I bought one too, of Sir Wodehouse.
I told her about his great humour and that she must read his books.
It was nice haggling for the books together.
Seemed like a work of collaboration. And what better than to team up with a girl!.
The topic shifted to likings and all.
She told me she loved dance. I told her that I was hopeless at dance and all I could manage was bhangra, which, therefore, I had to employ for western numbers as well. She laughed.
I told her that I loved music.
"Well, nothing like music. It is my life. For your information, by the way, I happen to play the guitar."
Thank God, she was at least impressed by this.
I was always told that nothing flatters a girl more than a guitar.
"Wow," she said. "I'd like to hear it sometime."
"Hmm, I think I should grant you the privilege. Not everyone is so
I must have said that about myself.
"Well, thanks. I am deeply honoured."
"So, when do you leave? I'll try and find you an appointment out
of my busy schedule."
"I am sorry, Raj, I leave tomorrow. Next time, perhaps. Don't forget then..."
"No, I promise I won't. But you should return the favour."
"Hmm, so what should I do?"
"Teach me to dance. I am pathetic."
"Only if you teach me to play the guitar…"
We shook hands again. Her soft hands. It had turned out to be wonderful.
My God! I thought… Learning dance from this angel.
I was lost in my dreams. Lost in her. Lost in her perfume.
Lost in the moment. I lost all sense of time.
I wished our meeting would never end. I wanted to talk on and on with her.
I could have never imagined that we'd gel so well and be so comfortable talking.
That such a pretty girl could be so affectionate with an imbecile like me.
My reverie was broken when I heard her say excitedly, "Hi Sameera!"
All I could manage to say through a few broken sentences was this:
"Hi... Sam... So you... Are back... Good... This is Nainaa, by the way... a good friend... I guess you two know each other... Naina... This is my dearest sister... Sameera."
I was dead...!!!!
"Hi Nainaa!", Sameera said, smiling at her.
Then she turned towards me.
"By the way, she is my friend."
"Oh! What a coincidence. I could never have thought that we'd have a common friend. Extremely gratifying to learn that."
Nisha and Trishna intervened saying a 'Hi' each and asking Naina what she was doing here at the entrance when she was supposed to be there at the back.
"What!??", Naina uttered, surprised.
"Yes, your dad called and said that you'll arrive at the back entrance. But we had waited for long, so we came back here to check again.", explained Sameera.
"My dad? Sam, he left yesterday. Mom and I will return tomorrow. How could he have called?" asked Naina, surprised again.
Well, the director of the scene would have wanted to me to quit the stage, now, and I itched to do the same.
"Sounds like a confusion to me. The movie is going to start soon. I better go. You also hurry up or you'll miss the beginning," I said and looked at Naina.
"Yes, we should move. Nice meeting you, Raj."
"The pleasure is all mine, Naina. And don't you forget the deal," ,I said smiling and she smiled back.
"Well, you are the one who is busy. I hope I get an appointment,"she said, teasing.
That killed me.
"Well, you will. I am always free for pretty girls. Bye."
I smiled at her and she blushed a little and said bye. I shook her soft hand again for the fourth time.
I wondered when I'd hold her hand again.
I hadn't the slightest clue that it would be so long.
I looked at Sameera. She gave me a dreadful look.
I smiled at her too. One of those i-won-you-lost smiles.
Nisha and Trishna looked disgusted.
But, I was on cloud nine.
They turned and moved away.
I faintly heard Nainaa asking them,"So, Nisha, where were you stuck?"
they proceeded and I watched her go.
Her silky hair and silver earrings and her petite figure.
I longed for her.
As they went farther, I noticed some unrest.
I could not make out their conversation but assumed it to centre round me and my antics.
Their battalion suddenly stopped and they turned around.
It was not unlike the synchronous about-turn of the jawans on Republic Day.
And 'about-turn' did I, and started walking in the opposite direction, when Sameera called out, "Raj, just a minute."