He looks at the watch. 7:45 am. The calendar. It’s the family’s vacation in Bali they had taken in June, exactly one year earlier. He smiles wistfully at the picture of his wife sitting on the golden sands, her hands trying to vainly avert the splash of a wave, beautifully blue under the radiant sun while his daughter, perched on her shoulders, is screaming out of sheer delight and fear. He looks out of his window and tries to , as he did every day since they moved in, in their new 4 bedroom penthouse on top of the city’s highest residential complex, he tries to absorb the sight of the city slowly coming alive. He tries hard to listen to the bustle of the 540 that should be coming along, anytime now, to ferry another platoon of suited up men and women to their workplaces but remembers he is too far away from it now.
Reverting his gaze, he absentmindedly flips open the newspapers and tries to make out the fine print of an array of figures spread out on the centrefold. But his attention wanders and his sight relaxes until his pupils indicate that he is looking not at the gramophone that sits right in the direction his eyes are pointing to but at something else, the past ,the future, the day ahead in office perhaps, we will never know.
“Abhi na jao chod kar ki dil abhi bharaa nahi”
The reverie is broken. The old gramophone, the last remaining possession of his mother, comes to life and he, sitting at the table, turns slightly to see his daughter put on the record. The tip of the needle plays out a melody he had not heard in a long long time. His daughter, like the forest nymph that she was, smiles mischievously in his general direction although their eyes haven’t met yet. She is still in her night clothes, a dazzlingly white summer frock, barely embellished with designs yet looking like an extravagant diamond as some errant beams of sunlight freed themselves from the billowing folds of the window shades and alighted on it.
And then, she starts to dance.
With an imaginary partner at her arms, she twirls gracefully with the rising cadence of the song, the frills of her simple frock following her every movement. With a gesture and that same smile playing on her childish face, she silently beckons him to join her even as her bare toes execute adorable gyrations on the rug-covered floor. She is glittering like the moon, and he feels the sun lose its intensity. He goes over to her and takes her arm. She has her arm on his waist and his hand rests lightly on her left shoulder. By his other, he clasps her tiny, delicate hands and they continue dancing, an incongruous sight to behold. As the song reaches its final crescendo
He looks around and he sees himself on a rickety old bus throttling along MG Road. He looks outside the windows and immediately catches a speck in the eye. The sudden blip catches him unawares and he frantically tries to get it out. And then he feels her hand on his fingers and time slows down. He squints through the blur to catch sight of her lush hair playing truant on her face even as she tries to give them a semblance of order. Taking his face in her hands, she gently upturns his face and with a zephyr of magic , rids him of the speck of dust lodged in his eye. The soft breeze of the evening is mildly accentuated by the unhurried gait of the bus on this long bare stretch of road. The overhead lights pass them in a staccato of alternating darkness and light, sometimes flickering with an unrequited passion quite unlike them under the ethereal shower of silver. The palette of the moment, this intermingling of silver with speckles of gold dust strewn and suspended in mid air is, however, paid no attention to by either of them. For them, the world has contracted into the black texture-less background of nothingness as their eyes drink the other in, in large gulps of that something which the dictionary so foolishly calls, love.
Which is surprising, the directness of the unbroken gaze, the smallest hint of a smile flickering at the edges of their eyes, eyes that had first met each other 3 months ago in the most incoherent of places, in a quaint little shop of old records, up a flight of stairs at the back of an odds-and-ends leather goods shop in Chandni Chowk. They had met again in a cozy old establishment off CP, Wengers , and continued over a chocolate shake in Keventers. And again, every week, sometimes in the Crosswords lounge, anon impulsively under her one storey balcony with the understanding, benevolent approval of her sister.
He can feel her tear herself away as the empty bus stops come and go. The conductor, sensing another day rapidly approaching its end, removes his vintage radio from under his seat and tunes in to the late night station on All India Radio. After a few seconds of white noise and intermittent, indecipherable chatter, it breaks out, thin, reedy but unmistakable
“Abhi abhi to aaye ho, bahaar ban ke chhaye ho...”
It was their old favourite and they smile involuntarily at the timing of the song. His eyes see longingly into hers and his lament echoes the tunes of the song. She replies but not in words. She takes his hands into her own and they both rise. She stumbles but he is quick to pull her close, keep her safe. The bus slows down for another stop and then they start to dance on the most bizarre of dance floors. The aisle isn’t very liberal in space but they swing back and forth lightly, tightly pressed against each other, comfortable in their own world. Another pothole throws her off balance but he absorbs the movement and the next instant finds her half reclining on a seat, with his strong hands balancing her in a perfect waltz pose. She laughs, throwing her face backwards, her luxuriant locks following suit and he lands a light peck on her bare neck. That very instant, he feels insanely happy. He doesn’t want the bus to stop. He wants it to move on forever, never reaching its destination, ever. He is happy and so is she.