Real Hero7 mins 323 7 mins 323
‘Oh, my, how very different you look,’ said Jaya in surprise, ‘I remember you as a wishy-washy kid, holding Grandpa’s hands and playing very silently.’
‘And you,’ replied Jayant with a smile, ‘You were a sniffling dirty baby and now you are such a beauty,’ he ended with a look of admiration.
Jaya and Jayant had met after twenty years. They were just five years old when they were neighbors in Mumbai and used to be in and out of each other’s houses. They went to school together and played and fought together. Their families were friends but after his family moved to the US they had lost touch. Jaya’s parents had no wish to live anywhere other than their beloved Mumbai.
Now Jaya had come to do her Masters and they met again, by sheer coincidence in the University of Stanford in the Western part of the US where she was studying and he was visiting a friend.
She was in a hurry to reach her room while he had to return to his house. They had stood near each other and had hired the same cab. The driver was not sure whose call he had answered and Jaya and Jayant had frowned at each other and almost fought. It was late and it was cold and wet. They were both shivering and the next cab could be five minutes away or fifty.
Deciding to compromise since they were basically Indians they got inside and began a polite conversation. Very soon they found out that they were childhood friends.
‘Let’s meet again,’ said Jayant as they reached their destination. She looked around in surprise. She was a PG in an apartment while he lived just across in his palatial house. Another coincidence?
‘Here, take these ten dollars, my share of the meter,’ said Jaya.
‘No, I will bear it,’ insisted Jayant. They had their second fight (the first one being over the cab) and both turned their backs at each other and went home.
Jaya felt she should go over and meet Jayant’s parents whom she had known quite well in her childhood. His mother was her mother’s friend and so were their fathers.
‘Hello auntie,’ said Jaya a few days later as she bent over to touch her feet,’ Do you recognize me? I am Jaya Pai, and we were neighbours’.
Usha looked at her in approval. Good manners, beauty, and intelligence shone over her face. They asked about each other’s families and a fresh friendship was bonded between the two families over phone calls, emails, and facetime. Nostalgia for Mumbai forged a stronger bond. The Kinis had not gone to India for a long time since their entire families were in the US and there was no need to go back ‘home’.
‘Twenty years is a long time, dear’ said Usha emotionally, ‘I miss India. Though we have all the comforts here, there is no real warmth or closeness. Even a child has to take an appointment if he wants to play with his neighbor. In Mumbai, you and Jayant used to be in our house or yours all the time. I remember your mother’s tasty cooking. How I wish I could meet her.’
‘My mother has not gone anywhere abroad, auntie’ replied Jaya, ‘She is busy with her school, her kitty parties, functions, and festivals’.
‘Oh yes,’ said Jayant unexpectedly getting into the conversation, he was normally quiet as his memories of India were faint, ‘I remember auntie and her activities. She was always busy.’
They joined swimming and badminton and met often. They attended a literary meet in the library where discussions about books were held. They were at loggerheads over ‘Wonder’ by R J Palaccio. She was all mushy over Auggie, the wonder boy whose different face was made fun of by other boys of his class. Jayant felt that Auggie should have done his education from home if he was so sensitive about the remarks on his appearance.
‘He can’t help being how he is,’ argued Jaya, ‘The others should be more considerate.’
‘How many people can you control? Auggie knows he is different and if people comment he should take it in his stride,’ said Jayant. They argued endlessly and finally begged to differ.
Jaya had to complete many assignments and projects and had to often sit up till midnight. Jayant could see from his window that she was studying and would call on her the next day and try to make her relax. A strong bond was forming over which they both had no control nor did they wish to have.
Meanwhile, Jaya’s parents were happy that she had a family in the US whom she knew. They relaxed as they had been very tense on sending their darling daughter alone to a foreign land where she knew no one.
Jayant’s mother Usha was very comfortable since she could glean from Jaya what was happening in India. She often longed for the country of her birth but knew that there was no looking back. They had chosen to live in the US and had to accept it.
‘I want to see Niagara Falls’ said Jaya one day. Jayant and his parents agreed to join them but at the last minute Jayant’s father had an important meeting he could not miss. Usha too decided to stay back as she had seen the Falls many times and did not wish to travel so much again.
Jaya stood mesmerized at the continuous flow of gushing water. The sound, the swirling waters made her joyous. ‘Oh, what beauty,’ she gushed.
‘Yes’ agreed Jayant but he was looking at her face and not at the Falls.
Discarding their raincoats they made their way to Canada where she stood mesmerized for nearly an hour at the pavement very near the Falls. She felt like leaning towards the waters and playing with it. Jayant held her back asking her whether she was planning on jumping into the Falls.
‘No, stupid,’ she said,’ I am enjoying myself. It is so fascinating, isn’t it?’
“I have seen Niagara Falls many times but now I am seeing them afresh, through your eyes. I enjoy your enthusiasm, your delight.’ They climbed the Tower where they could see both the US and Canada sides of the Falls.
‘Two rooms please,’ said Jayant as they checked in at the hotel, ‘I am an Indian and will not take advantage of you,’ he confided which made him rise in her esteem. She had come across so many girls of her age in this country who had not bothered about their virginity or were in a ‘relationship’. ‘Over here it might be a normal thing but I cannot be like that and I respect Jayant for being so considerate,’ she thought.
Other things, like his chivalry, his macho look, his obsession with the gym, all made her go soft on him. Though they fought, and they did quite a bit since they were as different from each other as chalk is from cheese, they eventually made up. Most of the times they had a healthy relationship, enjoyed each other’s company. Jayant enjoyed showing her the sights, the culture of his adopted land who was very Indian in her thoughts and behavior.
Jaya and Jayant soon crossed the friendship stage and became ‘more than friends’. They were getting closer and though Jaya realized it, she did not say anything. Where would it lead? Was he having a fling with her? Would he just leave her for another girl at the first opportunity? He was not very articulate so she did not know his feelings.
They were in a restaurant having a light dinner when he suddenly got on his knees.
‘Have you dropped something, Jayant’, she asked.
‘No, stupid, I want to propose to you.’
And gallantly he put his left hand over his heart, and with his extended right hand he said with an adoring look, ‘Jaya dear, will you marry me?’
Jaya blushed a fiery red. Though she had an inkling and hope that this would happen, she had not realized it would be so soon.
‘I will not get up till you say yes’ insisted Jayant. Others were giving them a curious look and she felt the looks.
‘Yes, yes, now get up,’ she commanded.
Jayant delved into his pocket and brought out a beautiful diamond ring. He took her hand and put it on her ring finger.
‘How did you know my size?’ she questioned in surprise, ’What if I had said no?’
‘You would not have said no,’ he said smugly, ‘I can read the signs without words. And for the size, it is just guesswork. I knew it would fit.’
Jaya admired the ring and asked, ‘What if families don’t agree?’
‘Why shouldn’t they?’ he countered, ‘They know each other well even if they lost touch for twenty years. In the last few months, they caught up. My parents will certainly agree and I am sure your family will also agree.’
And with that, a childhood friendship turned into romance and a grand wedding. A fairy tale story in the making.