The sun was at it’s blinding best at the Golden temple. Proving everything everybody had said about it right, she kept staring awestruck at the gurudwara as her little girl squirmed in her arms.
‘Like it?’ Anshuman whispered into her ear. She turned to look at him, beaming in response. She was married into a Punjabi family for four whole years but she got a chance to visit the temple only now. ‘Oh.My.God’ she grinned back, as the baby squirmed some more. ‘Here, let me take her’ her husband offered, and she dutifully handed over the baby to him.
The wind kept blowing the dupatta off her head and she was having a hard time trying to not to get told off by somebody for leaving her head uncovered. She turned toward the direction of the wind trying to adjust the dupatta, and that was when she saw him. And her heart froze.
He looked just the same..maybe a little round around the waist. His hair had receded a bit, but he had the same disarming smile lighting his face up. The same that used to make her heart race, that used to make her feel warm and radiant whenever she saw it..from a different era.
‘Oh my, you are back in India!’ she managed to gasp.
‘Hello’ he grinned, looking at her so flustered. It had been long..too long.
Anshuman was pointing out crows to the baby when he noticed him. He had a mildly curious look on his face which turned to instant recognition when she said his name out loud. He discreetly touched the base of her back, and when she turned to look at him, gave her a reassuring smile and wink, and went back to showing crows to the baby.
‘So, long time!’ she gushed, ‘How have you been?’
‘Good..good! Is it a girl? What’s her name?’ his words came tumbling out, as if he had too little time to say too many things.
‘Gia’ she whispered, and smiled. ‘She is a Leo too!’
‘Beautiful name’ he paused, ‘All okay? Are you working? Where do you stay now?’
‘We stay in Mumbai..we came here to be with his folks for a while..no I don’t work anymore..and I am loving it’ she grinned again, ‘What of you? Pocketed all your big plans?’ she hesitated ‘Are you married? Engaged?’
He looked her in the eye, saying ‘No, No, and No’ and turned when somebody yelled out to him. She saw his family walking towards them and froze again. ‘I really don’t think this is a good idea..you know’ she muttered through gritted teeth behind her smile, which did not even reach her eyes.
‘Namaste aunty, Namaste Uncle’ she dutifully touched his parents’ feet, but all the while her head was resonating with his father’s words from a different lifetime. ‘A south Indian girl? ANYBODY but a south Indian girl!’ She was surprised at the swell of emotions that filled her, but it took her only two seconds to realize that though only a shadow of the love she felt once for him existed, the feeling of rejection she felt from his parents would never let her be.
The conversation naturally switched to Hindi, but she skillfully maneuvered it to Punjabi. Her inner goddess jumped with glee as she noted his mother’s expression switch from incredulity to amazement, as his father’s eyebrows raised high and his jaw dropped. She wanted to stay longer and show-off some more, but Anshuman was back by her side with the baby. She beamed once again and good-byes were exchanged. Whatever was left unsaid was made up for by her daughter’s gurgling laughter. No numbers were exchanged, no details were swapped. She was back to her old self once again, and Anshuman’s vapours of apprehensions instantly disappeared.
‘This was the girl you spoke to us about that time?’ his mother tugged his arm. ‘Haan’ he nodded. ‘Hmm..not bad..you never told us she could speak Punjabi..?..’ she stopped, looking at the expression on his face. ‘There, come let’s go for langar’ she patted his arm and shuffled away, as his eyes followed Anshuman and his wife disappear into the crowds.
She never once turned back.