I wrote the following story more than a decade ago, based on a real life incident. I just discovered it, somewhere far back into my hard disk and I am publishing it here just to prove to those people who think that I can not write mushy and romantic stuff... at least this proves that at some point of time I could. Read on and enjoy. The pictures accompanying this post are just random beautiful shots.
“Excuse me! Could you get me this book please?” A soft voice with crisp enunciation broke the afternooon torpor that the library always had when everyone retired for lunch.
Though Shruti stopped tallying the books with the catalogue held in her hand, she did not turn around. Finding books for members or issuing them wasn’t her job. One of the clerks would do it. She was about to resume her interrupted work when the erstwhile voice uttered again:
“Excuse me, madame! Could you please help me out?”
The persuasive tone made Shruti glance over her shoulder. Preoccupied as she was, she only discerned the pale outline with a head full of dark hair and the delectable fragrance of Drukk Noir. She approached the `Issue’ desk. Finally when she stood at the long desk and peered over the counter at the man standing on the other side, she could only catch her breath and feel her pulses quicken. Around six-foot, he had broad shoulders and a luminiscent countenance with sparkling brown eyes. Close-cropped hairs nestled coyly over the ears. His marine-blue shirt accentuated the fair skin. Both his hands rested easily on the counter and the right held a requisition slip.
As the coffee-hued eyes bore into him, Tushar dropped his smile abruptly. Amidst such learned sorrounding, so far away from the hustling world, on a commonplace Tuesday, he was gazing into the most alluring eyes he had ever imagined. But he recovered quickly.
“Oh! I am sorry. I thought you were a staff. As you see, there’s no one else around…” Tushar gestured helplessly with a disarming smile.
“That’s alright,” Shruti heard herself declare, “I am a staff.” Which wasn’t true actually since she was temporarily attached to Central Library for six months from her college for a project in Library Science.
“You are? But I have never seen you before? I know everyone.” Tushar said.
“When did you come last?” Shruti posed as she took the slip from him.
“A month back.” Tushar offered a generous smile.
“I joined after that. I must say you have rare taste.” Shruti held up the slip she had taken from him. “That book is out of print for over half a century. Are you into some kind of research?”
“Not at all. I just love reading these things. By the way—hi! I am Tushar. I have a little enterprise of my own.”
Shruti took the extended hand and felt the comforting grip.
“I am Shruti. I’ll get your book from the underground store.”
She left him in the hallway and hurried outside. She found the book in five minutes, then spend another ten in the bathroom putting her make-up back in place. Not that she needed it. At 170 cms with a perfect willowly figure, if Shruti was not into modelling then it was solely due to her scholarly inclinations. Luxuriant raven hair fell wave-like around her shoulders and a perpetual dimple rendered her face a childish charm that men found irresistable.
On returning, she found Tushar drumming lightly on the counter.
“That was fast. Thanks.” Tushar took the book and carefully dusted the covers. “I must go now. See you around.” Tushar departed. It was nearing two and he must be back at his office before the calls started coming from all over the world. Nearing thirty, Tushar was the CEO of Data Infosys, the fastest growing software firm in the country. The previous year he had entered into a 50 million contract with Microsoft.
After Tushar left, Shruti did something unethical. She opened the library computer and accessed Tushar’s account.
The next Tuesday, sharp at five to one Shruti took her post behind the `Issue’ desk. He visited the library every Tuesday and she remembered he had entered around one and stayed till two. She was smart enough to deduce that his office was close by with lunch hours from one to two and for some reason he spend that hour every Tuesday in the library. At least he has done so for the last three years.
At the precise hour Tushar entered the hall and headed for the `Return’ counter. As expected no one was in sight. Shruti quickly vacated her chair and came around to the `Return’ desk. Eyeing her supple frame draped in sheer chiffon of olive-green, Tushar beamed through his ears. This was a most pleasant surprise.
“Hello again! How are you? Do you work only during lunch time?” Tushar said, and added chidingly, “Don’t you take your meal, no wonder you are so thin.”
“Someone must work. You have finished the book?” Shruti said while accepting the thick volume. Tushar nodded.
“Cover to cover? Without missing a word?”
Tushar only smiled and blinked twice.
“I don’t believe it. One thousand sixty two pages!” Shruti remarked as she wrote out the reciept.
“Quiz me.” Tushar said lightly. Shruti opened three different pages at random and asked whatever came to her mind. After few minutes when she shut the book finally, she knew she confronted a genius.
“Which one can I get for you today?” Shruti asked coyly. She desperately wanted to fall in love with Tushar. Feel his hands around her and his lips on her.
“I’ll find it myself.” Tushar walked away towards the bookcases and shortly disappeared from sight.
The next Tuesday and the one after that too went uneventfully as Shruti tried in vain to draw him deeper into some meaningful conversation while Tushar maintained his normal buoyant self and conceded no further advantage to Shruti than his dazzling smile and the ocassional hand shake. The fifth Tuesday, Tushar slipped from the wooden ladder while exploring the topmost shelf of a tottering rack and with unusual deftness, Shruti managed to bring his bruised hand tantalizingly close to her bosom while administering first-aid to his elbow. By now Shruti was helplessly in love with Tushar, while he remained his normal friendly self. She thought of no one else but him and lived only for that hour every Tuesday, when the shadowy corridoors of the deserted hall palpitated with the vibrant joy of Shruti’s love and the mute volumes played Cupid’s sentinel, keeping an eye over the young couple. But in God’s own world if everything happened predictable then no one would ever have a story to tell. And the hero of our saga remained blissfully unaware of the whole affair. He only found her a nice company to talk to and never broached any subject other than books. Gentle bred, as Shruti was, the brazen attitude of a modern girl was alien to her. Silently she suffered the torment.
Two weeks later Tushar surprised Shruti by asking her to join him for a light meal at `Caribbean’. It was one of the most expensive joints in the city, around ten minutes walk from the library.
“Should we walk?” Tushar asked on stepping outside.
“Do you have a car?” Shruti knew he had to have one. Anyone who resided in Green Park and had two phones and a cellular would own at least a pair.
“There, that blue Porsche.” Tushar pointed at the parking.
Her heart almost jumped at her throat. Shruti had never seen anything as beautiful as that. “Let’s walk.” She said gaily.
As Tushar skipped alongside, she sensed his joyous mood. For some reason he was extremely happy and could barely contain his mirth. He stopped at a flower shop and bought her a yellow rose. Though disappointed, she accepted it with a deep inward sigh. How many Tuesdays more, before she got a red.
After the table was cleared and the waiter had departed with the hundred-rupee tip, Tushar placed his elbows on the table and leaned forward.
“This is a very special day for me.” He said contentedly.
“For me too…” Shruti stared deep into the brown pupils and felt her eyes watering. It was impossible to shield her emotions. Her lithe body was shivering in anticipation.
“You don’t understand. Today is someone’s birthday.”
“Whose?” Shruti managed to say.
“Someone who means everything to me. Whom I love the most, who has been with me at every step of my life. Without whom my life has no meaning…” Tushar trailed off merrily.
“And who is the lucky person?” Shruti asked casually. Had her senses been slightly alert she would have vaticinated something suspicious.
But before Tushar could reply, his cellular came alive. He spoke into it in a low voice. Finally he said, “I am on my way.” He stood up hurriedly. “Shruti I am sorry, some emergency has come up. We must leave immediately.”
After Shruti saw the Porsche take a U-turn and hit the main road, she remembered that for the first time Tushar had left without taking a book.
The succeeding three Tuesday’s Shruti waited in vain as Tushar did not show up. Her anxiety heightened each day. What could be the matter? Was he ill or out of town. Finally she decided to call up his home. Did she have enough right to do so? How deep were his feelings for her. Was she anything more than a mere acquaintance? She did not know anything about his family, or about him, other than his address and phone number that she had got from his library account. But if love followed logic then half the world’s literature including Romeo and Juliet would not be born.
“Hello!” A subdued male voice answered.
“Is this Mr Tushar Bhatia’s residence?” Shruti asked shakily.
“May I talk to him?” Shruti asked.
“He isn’t home. He has gone to the hospital.”
“Hospital?” Shruti gasped. “Is he alright? Which hospital?” Shruti wanted to drop the phone and run outside.
“He is fine. He has gone to see madame, she is admitted. May I know who’s calling?” The man at the other end inquired politely.
Shruti was struck by lightening. Her legs buckled as she slumped to the floor. He was married! Oh my God! Let me die at this very moment. Holding the wall she managed to regain her feet. She felt like throwing up. The whole world blurred in front of her eyes as silent sobs racked her body. Dropping the phone she ran out of the booth.
That night, on returning to her hostel she shut herself in and cried tilll morning. Eventually when all her tears were spent, she stared at the pink dawn creeping through her window and remembered what her father had told her on his deathbed: that life must go on. And she knew that she would live. Wasn’t she happy before Tushar entered her life? She resumed her work in all earnest but despite her incessant efforts she could not, even for a moment, forget those kind eyes and the warmth of his body. She did not wish to meet him again and dreaded when Tuesday would come. But as each day passed she looked forward to the hour when she could see Tushar. To her utmost disappointment, Tushar did not show up for the next two weeks.
It was Monday morning, and the hour had just crossed ten. Shruti kneeled beside the rack of `Oriental Poetry’ when someone touched her from behind.
“Hi! Sorry, I couldn’t come for so many days. How have you been?” Tushar said playfully.
Shruti dropped the books on the floor and whirled around. She lost all color. Blood pounded at her ears. Her breath came out in short gasps and her limbs tremored uncontrollably. Though she wanted to scream and claw at his face, Shruti stood immobile, silent and stupefied.
“What’s the matter? Say something.” Tushar lightly touched her right cheek.
“Today is not Tuesday?” Shruti spoke in a trance.
“Yes I know, but things have changed. I need your help. Could you get me few novels—light and romantic ones!”
“You never read such books, or that has changed too?” Shruti managed to add some edge to her voice.
“Not for me. They are for Ritu. She is in the hospital, and she loves romantic novels.”
“Is she okay?” Shruti mumbled, as she pulled down a couple of modern romances.
“Of course, fine as a fiddle. The baby is expected any time. God, I am excited. To hold it in my arms, change nappies. First child in the family. If my parents were alive they would be very happy. Oh! By the way, Ritu is dying to meet you. I told her about you.” Tushar took the books from Shruti.
“Give my regards to her.”
“Sure. Thanks a million.” Tushar waved and bounded away.
Shruti went to the deserted Research hall and sat down at an empty table. The nightmare was only growing in proportion.
Three days later just as Shruti had completed her application to the Librarian for voluntary withdrawl of her project, Tushar entered her cubicle holding a bunch of freshly picked tulips.
“It’s almost closing time. I was about to leave. I am going away.” Shruti spoke harshly and strode towards the door.
Tushar blocked her way. “I know, that’s why I came. This is for you.” He gave her the flowers. The bunch was held up with a red silk ribbon.
“And this too.” Tushar brought out a tiny velvet box from his pocket. “But don’t open it now.” He cautioned.
Reluctantly Shruti took both the things. Anyway, after he had gone, she would throw them into the garbage-bin and leave the city for ever.
“I have come to take you home. The baby was born at five in the morning. The cutest creature in the world. It’s a boy and everyone said he looks exactly like me. Ritu is waiting for us. Let’s go.” Tushar clasped Shruti’s right hand.
“Leave my hand, I am not going with you.” Shruti hissed.
“What’s wrong?” Tushar stopped smiling. “Aren’t you happy?”
“Of course I am happy. I want to dance all night. Walk upside down. :Look at me, see! I am bursting with joy—“ Shruti pointed at her tear-laden eyes. “You are so selfish Tushar, wrapped only in your own world, you are blind to the misery of others. Please go away and let me die in peace.”
Shruti covered her face and started crying her heart out.
Tushar looked completely crestafallen. After a long silence he spoke.
“I don’t know what I have done, but I have hurt you terribly. Please don’t cry, I cannot bear your anguish. Give me any punishment, I will accept it gladly but please do not speak of dying. I have always considered you my best friend. Since I met you I shared all my happiest moments only with you. I am leaving now with the hope that someday you will let me know what my mistake was so that I could repent for my sin. I wish you all the happiness in the world. May God bless you.”
Shruti heard the door shut after him. She opened her eyes and stared at the empty room. Suddenly an inner voice jolted her senses. What did she do? She turned away the only man she loved in the whole world, and made him feel guilty throughout life for no fault of his. He had never promised her anything. How could she be so cruel. She picked up the tulips and the velvet box and sped outside.
The Porsche had started. Shruti leaped across the road and stood waving her arms. Tushar downed the window.
“Tushar, I am sorry. I don’t know what got into me.”
“Never mind. Happens to the best of us.” Tushar grinned broadly and Shruti felt her knees wobble. “May I presume you are willing to accompany me home.” Shruti nodded silently.
“That’s my girl.”
Shruti never realized when the journey ended or when she entered the palatial bunglow or the people who came forward to greet her warmly. Suddenly she found herself in a dim-lit room painted in sky blue, comfortably cooled by a Carrier AC. The center of the room was taken by a four-post double bed and a baby swing close to it. A strikingly beautiful lady lay half-supine on the bed.
“You are Shruti! Please come here.” The lady spoke softly.
Shruti discovered that Tushar was nowhere in sight and she was alone with the lady in that room.
The lady took Shruti’s hand in her soft palm and laid her right hand on Shruti’s head.
“You are more beautiful than I imagined. Tushar was right, I am very happy for both of you. That’s my baby, doesn’t he take after Tushar?” The lady gestured at the baby swing.
Despite her wish, Shruti had to peep into the crib and what she saw melted her heart. A tiny semblence of human life, sucking his thumb through the pink mouth. All her maternal instincts welled up and her eyes watered on their own.
“God! This is a miracle.” Shruti looked at the lady. “You are Ritu, aren’t you? You are indeed very lucky to have such a marvellous family. In my whole life I have never seen anything so wonderful.”
“You like him?” Ritu asked brightly.
“Who wouldn’t?” Shruti gazed longingly at the sleeping child.
“Then you can have him for life.” Ritu cupped Shruti’s face in her hand and said, “Will you be my sister-in-law?”
For a moment Shruti’s heart stopped beating. She found herself falling endlessly through a vortex.
“What? What did you say?” Shruti stammered.
“Will you marry my only and younger brother Tushar?”
Shruti could only gulp and stare goggle-eyed. Faculty of speech had deserted her long time ago.
“Had our parents been alive they would have done the needful, but I am the only guardian Tushar has, and I know that despite wishing it dearly he would take ages to ask you the question. So tell me…”
“Where’s your husband?” Shruti asked the most irrelevant and inopportune question.
“He is in the merchant navy, presently in Cuba, and over the last one month Tushar has taken complete care of me. You wouldn’t find a better life partner than my brother, and he is madly in love with you. He has confided everything to me. But he was afraid to ask you.”
“At least he should have given some hint…” Shruti frowned. She knew she ought to spring in merriment and dance through the night but certain things needed to be clarified.
“Didn’t he give you a tiny velvet box? Have you opened it?” Ritu asked.
Shruti brought out the box from her vanity case.
“Open it.” Ritu suggested.
As Shruti lifted the top lid, she gasped in sheer delight. A solitary De Beer diamond, brilliant cut, with a dazzling fire within, reposed inside. Shruti knew that the gold ring would fit her right hand third finger perfectly.
“Do you want me to do the rest too, you idiot. Now come out from under the bed.” Ritu suddenly spoke looking downwards. Shruti jumped up in alarm.
A sheepish looking Tushar, grinning from ear to ear, emerged and stood facing Shruti. He went down on his right knee and pulled Shruti’s hand over his heart. “Will you marry me?”
“Yes. Oh yes.” Shruti spoke in a broken voice. Her streaming eyes brimmed with unbound happiness.
“The groom may slip the ring to the bride.” Ritu played the priest. Tushar followed her instructions.
He stood up and embraced Shruti with all might who reciprocated accordingly. Their lips met and they drowned in each other’s eye.
“At least wait till I say: the groom may kiss the bride.” Ritu mumbled blithely.
But the only two people capable of hearing her were lost in a world of their own.