I Couldn’t Say ‘I Love You’
I Couldn’t Say ‘I Love You’
She was not a classical beauty. A heavy eyebrow accentuated the eyes. Thick black hair made the forehead look small. At first sight, she personified a typical Indian middle-class girl. As she approached the Biochemistry department on that forenoon of July, taking care to lift her trousers a little bit protecting her steps from the puddles of water on the road, she walked briskly shielding her face from the soft drizzle. While she climbed the two stairs at the entrance of the department building, she certainly didn’t notice the gawky boy in brown corduroy pants and white shirt. However, I did find her beautiful.
This was the first day after the summer vacations and I was now a student of the final year M Sc. That day sitting in the classroom with friends, my thoughts wandered several times to the lingering image of the girl whom I had seen that morning. Later in the afternoon I again saw her as part of a group talking in hushed tones standing before the office of the Head of the department. I came to understand that this was the new batch of first year undergraduate students and today was their first day in the department.
A few weeks passed, I would try to go to the Department early and stand on the stairs keeping an eye on that beautiful girl while she walked towards the department, took the two stairs and passed without a glance. It became a routine and I became addicted to this daily exercise. After a few days I realized that while I stood on the stairs each day my heart beats became a bit louder. A strange sensation engulfed me while she approached and walked passed me.
Henceforth life became a bit different for me. She started coming into my thoughts even while I went back home. Cricket matches on the television now didn’t excite me. It was more pleasurable to think about her while I lay lazily on the bed. I started giving more thought to lyrics of romantic songs rather than humming the tune. My mind continuously played the everyday episode of her walking past me. I started dreaming about her.
Although the classes of first year undergraduate took place on the first floor, I could catch a glimpse of her several times in a day. Each glimpse now became a moment of joy for me. I found out her name. She was Neelu. Now my thoughts had a name to dream.
Something happened perceptibly but very slowly after a few weeks. I realised that while she walked towards the department, she was a bit conscious of her looks. The carefree approach was gone and her strides became measured. Her eyes were always on the floor and she walked in a hurry. I could not make out what this new turn of events signalled. A few weeks down the line, I figured out that she would gaze at me when I was not looking towards her, however her eyes would move away as soon as I looked at her.
After a couple of months, I confided my state of mind to a couple of my female batch mates. They counselled me to shrug off my shyness and talk to Neelu. Easier said than done, I could not muster the courage of walking up to her. Even if I walked to her, I did not understand what I must say. Every day my two friends would push me to talk to Neelu but all my valour would dissipate.
I now knew without a doubt that Neelu had full idea about my feelings for her. She would pass me in the corridor with a smile. She probably had an inkling that my two friends also knew about my feelings and were sometimes coaxing me to muster the courage of talking to her. At this moment I realised how difficult it was in the 1980’s to talk to a girl, far less to express feeling of love to her.
Two years passed in a flurry. I would see her, my eyes would follow her, she would gaze at me but be shy of meeting the gaze. I would wait for her at the entrance, she would now walk slowly. I would follow her behind her rikshaw when she went home and she would also give me a glance ensuring that I got the message.
The final exams heralded the end of the course. I never realized that the joy of completing the M Sc course would be accompanied with the sadness of losing Neelu. I did not see her again in the University. The first few weeks were difficult, she continued to come in my dreams but the harsh reality of choosing an academic career engulfed my mind and I became engrossed in research.
Time began to fly. The long years of research leading to Ph D were both exciting and difficult. The joy of research, the feeling of achievement after a research paper, the conferences, and the chance of going abroad were more than a handful for the mind to think about Neelu. She did creep into thoughts once a while but fleetingly.
Fortunately, I got an appointment just after completing Ph D and then got a chance to go abroad for postdoc. It was just after I returned that my mother one day brought up the topic of marriage. She asked me whether I had someone in mind and expectedly, to her satisfaction, I said I had no girl in mind. Customarily, she did ask me about my preferences and again expectedly, and to her satisfaction, I did not say a word. I now realize I was never smart enough in matters concerning mate selection. Else I would have at least spoken my mind to Neelu.
Marriage was a typical middle class arranged affair. I saw the face of my wife only after the wedding! This is something which makes the arranged marriages so durable. All the action starts after the marriage. My wife Uzma was a simple girl with typical Indian values. I enjoyed the after marriage scene with great pleasure. Everything was new and there was so much to discover. The long hours when we talked was more or less focussed on my Ph. D. days, experiences abroad and hobbies. Uzma listened intuitively to all my banter. It was in one of my candid moods that I told her about Neelu. My story probably had so much emotion that she expressed empathy with me. Neelu was now just a story.
We were married in November and the first year was a dream sequence. The first drops of rain in the month of July provided the perfect setting for cupid to exert its influence. Uzma looked prettier than ever. That afternoon, in the green ensemble she looked stunning. Overcast sky and the drizzle made a perfect romantic setting. As I returned from University, she asked me whether I would be willing to go to Civil Lines.
We had stopped at a famous footwear shop in Civil Lines, Uzma was window shopping and I was biding time in the corridor. Amidst the soft drizzle, there were few people on the street. My gaze wandered in forward direction and I stopped for a moment. At the end of the corridor, stood Neelu. She was wearing a maroon dress which made her look gorgeous. She was looking towards me. My trance was broken when Uzma prodded me that she was done with the shopping. I found it difficult to shake my gaze off Neelu. After a few moments, I spoke to Uzma and asked her whether she remembers the story I had told her about the girl who was my crush during M.Sc days.
Uzma asked me to go and talk to Neelu. I felt the same feeling when I was coaxed by my friends but could not find the courage. In reply I came up with a weird request. I asked Uzma to go to Neelu and ask the obvious question, whether she was the same Neelu? Uzma didn’t take a moment and to my surprise walked towards Neelu. She spoke a few words which I didn’t listen and then from the distance waived me to come to them.
This walk of thirty yards was perhaps the most exciting of my life’s moments. I gingerly walked thinking frantically what I was expected to say to Neelu, a bygone crush, in the company of my beloved wife. I reached the place where Neelu and Uzma were standing and as I was about to say something, my voice was drowned by the horn of vehicle just a few meters away. A car had stopped just beside the corridor. Neelu looked towards the car and immediately walked towards it. The man on the wheels opened the door next to him and Neelu slid into the companion seat. The car moved on.
Fortunately, Uzma did not understand my feelings. She took my arm and told me that she was feeling hungry. I looked towards the direction of the car and realized that I had lost Neelu once again. Would life give another chance to say: I love you.