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Journey’s End

Ananto Mozumdar knew he’d bought those 20-year government


bonds, way back in 1984, but for the life of him he couldn’t remember
where he’d kept them. The demand notice for the last balloon
installment for the poky little third floor DDA flat had arrived, and he
didn’t have enough in his bank account to meet it. He simply had to
find those bonds! The last date of payment was only a fortnight away.
So he reverted to daydreaming, which was his way of reaching
something beyond himself.
Long ago, he had stumbled upon the technique by accident,
when he used to daydream about her. He found that it also triggered
off the poems, screenplays, and stories he wrote. She was obviously
the catalyst, which was why he never claimed the credit for creating
his work, only acknowledging that he was the recipient of inspiration.
His tales came to him from another dimension of thought and
existence that he had found...thanks to her. He was simply a medium
for the words that winged their way to him from that other shore. All
he had to do was to hammer away at the keyboard as they wrote
their way out of him. That was why he always laid the credit for his
output—poor, average, or indifferent—squarely at her door. Things
fought their way out of him because she had chosen to release it
through him. He was less of a writer than a transcriber, an idea that
others took as a fantastic surfeit of modesty. But it wasn’t: it was
simply the truth. He didn’t care whether anyone believed it or not.
That’s the way it was.
He closed his eyes and relaxed, turning the problem of the
missing bonds over to his subconscious mind, relaxing his tense
trapezius and abdominal muscles. Then he concentrated at a point
between his eyebrows where, he had read, the third eye resided. The
Tibetan mystic, Lobsang Rampa, claimed to have succeeded in
opening his third eye, but Mr. Mozumdar had found his detailed
account highly confusing if not totally implausible.
Mr. Mozumdar had laughed heartily when he’d read that book.
But that had been long ago, in the 20th century. It was another
century now, and scientists had uncovered many mysteries about the
mind and the nervous system. Some even claimed to have found a
spot in the brain that, if stimulated, evoked visions of ‘God’ and
enabled conversations with him. One hardly knew the difference
between science and religion any more, thought Ananto Mozumdar;
the two appeared to over-lap more and more.
Scientific achievements at the cutting edge of research into the
nature of matter and reality were explained to laymen in the form of
mystical expositions studded with metaphors and unintelligible Zen
koans, while religious texts were interspersed with the symbols and
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the mundane prose of high-school physics. Many of the old


Einsteinian concepts of time and space had failed to withstand the
onslaught of quantum theory and had crumbled, along with the
Newtonian physics they had replaced.
As researchers dug deeper and deeper into the fundamental
nature of things with their tunneling scanning electron microscopes
and high-energy particle accelerators, they came across unexplored
worlds within the atom that seemed to exist only on some illogical
whim of an unlikely deity. It was all a huge paradox: the tangible
world at the macroscopic level was based on a microscopic universe
whose very existence was doubtful. It was as if everything was made
of nothing! The new god on the block was No Thing.
If we perceive something as existing, it exists, realized Mr.
Mozumdar. If we don’t, it doesn’t exist. Nothing has any real
existence independent of its being perceived. It was ‘perception’ that
made something real. It’s all in the mind, as the Buddha had told us.
You see a pretty girl and she exists; don’t see her and what do you
have? Zilch! How science had progressed! From something to
nothing! One hardly knew whether one was coming or going, any
more.
Thought and Light were alike inasmuch as they were simply
forms of energy and had no mass. In fact, all mass was merely
potential energy. The inescapable conclusion was that the universe—
one’s own self included—was evanescent mindstuff. It was a gigantic
hoax pulled off by a cosmic jokester par excellence. But that’s
precisely what the Upanishads had said, thousands of years ago.
As he drifted off into a reverie, Ananto Mozumdar was unaware
that the frequency of his brain waves had dropped from the wide-
awake Delta level of 20 cycles per second to the Alpha level of 8
cycles per second...the zone where the subconscious mind—the right
half of the brain, intuitive and all-remembering—achieved parity with
the prosaic and practical left side. It extended tentacles of thought
into the final repository of all knowledge and memory—the boundless
universe—accessing a reality beyond the reach of the conscious,
conditioned mind.
It went to work on the problem. In his trance-like state, Mr.
Mozumdar saw himself in the loft, pulling out a battered moulded-
plastic suitcase and opening it...

The suitcase contained the bonds, alright. But there was


something else in it that pleased Mr. Mozumdar even more. It was an
old diary. And in it was the well-preserved colour photograph of a girl
in her early twenties taken against the backdrop of a yacht. She stood
with her weight on one leg and arms on her hips, a pose that
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accentuated her womanliness and flawless figure. Her exotically


beautiful face was framed by a halo of raven tresses that eddied
around it before falling to her straight shoulders, and laughter lurked
in the depths of the intelligent brown eyes.
She was smiling into the camera, and Mr. Mozumdar’s breath
caught in his chest for the millionth time as he looked at her. The
wide, generous lips—wonderfully curved as the rest of her—were a
challenge to the senses, so direct was their timeless appeal. The
nose, with its slim, flaring nostrils, was straight and perfect, bridging
the hypnotic eyes and the paralysingly lovely lips. The jawline,
aggressively sensual, was an ideal framework for the oval face in all
its mind-bending perfection.
It was a face that could have launched ten thousand ships and
brought a king to his knees, gibbering like an ape. It was a face that
Mr. Mozumdar had known well, back in the heady days of his youth.
He looked at the picture a long time, and the years rolled back...

It was spring, and he had gone with a group of friends to Naini


Tal. One day, out on the lake, their boat had been bumped by another
in which there were about five girls. On reaching the shore, one of
them, clad in a magenta bush-shirt and grey jeans had unleashed a
torrent of invective at him.
Though somewhat taken aback at the extensive vocabulary of
this extremely attractive girl, Ananto had decided he wasn’t going to
take it lying down. Not when he was sure that it hadn’t been his fault.
“Now look here, Miss—I presume it’s Miss because that’s as good
as a mile—which is what I’d rather stay from you...you can’t go about
bumping your boat into other people’s and then abusing them. While
I’m truly impressed by your command over the finer points of
invective...in two languages...I’d advise you to exercise caution. The
next person you abuse may not be as accommodating as us
gentlemen!”
“Why, you...! You couldn’t be further from being a gentleman
even if you tried a thousand years! By the way, are you threatening
me? I’ve a good mind to call the police and hand you over to them on
charges of eve-teasing! Now what do you think of that, Mr.....?”
“Mozumdar. Ananto Mozumdar”, supplied Ananto smoothly,
“Miss...?”
“Chakravarty. Supriya Chakravarty”, she responded reluctantly.
The dazzling eyes flashed daggers at him.
‘Jesus...she’s gorgeous!” marvelled Ananto. Her cheeks flamed
rosily and her eyes flashed like lightning. He watched her hypnotic
lips, fascinated, as they changed shape rapidly, uttering words he
never heard. She was a force of nature, beautiful and terrifying.
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“And I must remind you, Mr. Mozumdar,” she fulminated, “that


this is a decent hill station and louts like yourself aren’t particularly
welcome here. I suggest you either learn some decent manners or
move to Bhim Tal. You’ll find lots of your type there.”
Ananto emerged from his daze. It wasn’t done to squabble with
a female.
“I’ll keep your advice in mind, lady,” he murmured politely.
“Meanwhile, I have one small suggestion to make. This lake is ninety
feet deep. Either wear life-preservers or learn to row. The next
accident could find you in the water.”
Again the dazzling eyes flashed daggers at him and the jawline
thrust out even more truculently as she opened her mouth to deliver
another broadside. But Mr. Mozumdar had turned on his heel and
walked away stiffly. She’d never know the effort he’d had to make to
walk away from her...
*

The Boat House Club in Naini Tal is the equivalent of the Vice-
Regal Lodge of colonial Delhi. Ananto and his friend Sridhar had
managed invitations to the Saturday dance party through a bit of
wire-pulling. Ananto’s uncle had once served as the secretary of the
Municipal Committee, and the old munshi still had recollections of his
former boss. He’d put in a word to the Governor’s aide...
Those were the days when people dressed up formally for
evening parties. Besides, Naini Tal is cold in April. Fortunately, both
Ananto and Sridhar had brought their suits along, and it was just as
well they had, because dance parties at the BHC were strictly a ‘black
tie’ affair. But the big surprise was that Supriya Chakravarty and a
friend had also been invited. There was nothing to be done but to
keep out of her way.
Had Ananto but known it, Supriya was as astonished to see him
as he’d been on seeing her. She had other plans, however. As Ananto
was sipping his first cocktail, she came over to him. He braced himself
for a repeat performance of the recent son et lumiere.
“Mr. Mozumdar...no, no, please remain seated!” she said
pleasantly as he rose to his feet politely.
She was looking devastating in a pink kurta-churidar outfit with a
mauve cashmere cardigan. Her hair was parted neatly down the
middle and pinned demurely on the sides behind her tiny, lobeless
ears with a pair of blue porcelain butterfly hair-pins. A thin gold chain
emphasized her lovely neck, and the filmy dupatta did nothing to
conceal the rounded swell of her full breasts. Kolhapuri sandals
adorned her small feet, and a faint perfume of exotic wildflowers
wafted from her.
He felt weak and dizzy, like the time Abbas slipped him that
vicious rabbit punch when the referee wasn’t looking. She looked
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good enough to eat. She was—as far as he was concerned—by far the
prettiest girl in the room...which meant ‘the prettiest girl in Naini Tal’
for all practical purposes, for the elite and the fashionable were all
here. This dance party was the first fixture on the season’s festive
calendar, and no one would intentionally miss out on it.
He realised he was goggling at her like a beached codfish, and
cleared his throat apologetically. “Miss...Chakravarty, isn’t it? Fancy
meeting you here! I hope you’ve forgiven my ineptness at rowing!”
He grinned to show he meant no offence. “After a recent censure
from an authority on the subject, I’ve been practicing diligently every
morning. Perhaps you’ll allow me to demonstrate my prowess with
the oars sometime, Miss Chakravarty?”
She laughed prettily, without rancour. It was the music a brook
makes as it titters its way over shingle and gravel to join a river. The
tinkling melody of it sent a thrill up and down his spine. Her small,
perfect teeth gleamed whitely through her incredible lips, magenta
coloured for the occasion.
Ananto wondered why nature had broken her rule in the case of
human beings. In every other species, the female was a drab,
nondescript creature as compared to the resplendent male. But
woman was a glittering thing, next to which a man looked dull and
colourless...as far as Supriya Chakravarty was concerned, anyway.
“Mr. Mozumdar...” she drew him aside. “I’m afraid I’ve wronged
you. Sorry! It was very rude of me...that day at the jetty. I sometimes
wonder why people put up with me!”
‘Because you are the most amazing thing that walks the earth’,
he said to himself. But he only made deprecating noises for her
benefit.
“No, no, Miss Chakravarty!” he protested, “You were perfectly
within your rights. It was our job to keep a sharp lookout...for enemy
vessels!” He came up with another disarming grin.
She giggled and his knees went all rubbery, like the time Negi
had got him with a thundering left hook during the semi-finals in the
welter-weight category.
“Oh, do call me ‘Supriya’!” she insisted happily. “And let’s make
up by dancing to this number...I just love it!”
He recalled little else of that evening. It passed in a happy daze
as he held her giddily in his arms. They danced on and on. She was
very light on her feet, and kept in step with him so beautifully, so
well-matched were they visually, that they got a standing ovation
from the watchers. She was flushed and breathless when they
returned to their seats. “Ananto, I’ve got an idea! Let’s go boating
after dinner!” she said enthusiastically.

*
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It was a moonlit night, and Naini Tal Lake is an enchanted place


especially on such nights. The moon floated along with them as
Ananto plied the oars, and the faint peals of temple bells carried
softly to their ears like lullabies across the dark waters.
“I wonder how old the lake is,” mused Supriya.
“Oh, probably as old as the end of the last ice age...that’s about
ten thousand years,” replied Ananto. “But it was only ‘discovered’—
according to local legend—in the early nineteenth century by an
Englishman hunting a stag.”
“Ten thousand years!” murmured Supriya wonderingly. “A
hundred centuries! That’s a long time, Ananto. I wonder how many
lovers have sat on its banks on moonlit nights, holding hands and
watching the moon dancing on the waves...”
“Zillions, I’d expect. Unless, of course, there weren’t any people
living here. No one knows the early history of this place. No
archaeological digs have ever been attempted.”
“Good!” said Supriya firmly. “It would ruin the mystery.” She was
silent for a while, letting the cool breeze fan her flushed cheeks.
“Ananto... I wonder whether we were here, you and I, ten
thousand years ago. Do you think it’s possible?” she asked shyly.
“Sure, why not?” replied Ananto confidently. “They say souls of
people we’ve known always meet up with us again and again, life
after life. That’s why some people are always special to us...even
after a brief encounter. It’s as if primal—subconscious—memory takes
over. We may fight it, and we may convince ourselves that it’s just
poetic fancy, but I, for one, think it’s true.”
“You do? Strange...so do I. I think we’ve known each other
before, Ananto, I feel so...so at ease with you. I’m not like this at all,
going boating with someone I met just a day or two before, blurting
out all kinds of stuff. Normally, I’d consider it very forward. Right now,
I think it’s so... perfect!”
He shipped the oars and crossed over from his rowing bench to
join her on the padded seat with the ornate back-rest. He caressed
her soft, wind-blown hair gently, a great tenderness welling up in him.
His heart had never hammered this way before. He slipped his arm
around her shoulders and hugged her. She did likewise, and rested
her head on his shoulder.
He cupped her face in his hands, admiring the mind-bending
perfection of it, seeing with his heart the lovely soul that lived within
the soft, beautiful body in his arms. His kiss, when it happened, was
so spontaneous, so genuinely loving, that she thrilled to its purity and
innocence. She kissed him back just as enthusiastically, running her
fingers through his hair.
The boat drifted down the silvery ribbon the moon had unrolled
upon the dark waters for ten thousand years...
*
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She had majored in foreign languages and had studied art. That
explained her relatively senior position in a foreign embassy. He was
a science student who had excelled in draughtsmanship and technical
illustrations, which is what he did in the advertising agency where he
worked. She wrote wild and wacky poetry that had been published
abroad. He had done a bit of trekking, hunting, and mountain
photography during his college days.
She liked the pre-Raphaelite schools of painting, and he freaked
out on Andy Warhol and Op Art in general. She read anything and
everything, and her taste in books ranged from classics to the bizarre.
He preferred westerns by Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour and was a
sucker for self-help books. Both were fond of continental food, action
movies, and vintage cars. Each found the other fascinating. It was not
surprising that they became friends before they became lovers...

The day they had dreaded was upon them at last; it was time to
return to the plains. Tomorrow they went their separate ways, she to
Delhi, he to Bombay. They clung to each other under the blanket, that
last night under the stars at Tiffin Top. They watched Venus ascend,
twinkling her old promise. But the Big Dipper spoilt it all by pointing
the way home. They didn’t want to go.
“Ananto, I didn’t want this to ever end. Do you think we’ll meet
again?” she asked. There was a tremor in her voice. It was quite
unlike her, to be so uncertain of the future.
He felt a chilly hand close over his heart. He tried to convey to
her a courage he hardly felt himself. “We’ve got to! But life is so
uncertain, Supriya... we’ve met in the past and we’ll meet again.
What’s important is the present; the future is always tomorrow’s
present, never forget. I can’t bear to leave you, either, Supriya!”
Ananto confessed.
“Promise you’ll keep in touch?” she asked through her tears. A
terrible premonition was upon her.
“I promise!” said Ananto, with a lump in his throat. He didn’t earn
enough as yet to ask for her hand. It was implicit; they never even
mentioned it, taking it for granted, their marriage. Beyond the
language of words, their hearts had promised themselves to each
other. They made love for the last time, as if their physical union
could forestall the inevitable.
“Journeys end in lovers’ meetings, Honeybaby,” he quoted
hopelessly, to comfort her, and to still the wild doubt in his heart.
“We’ll always meet. You must be patient.”
She nodded hopelessly, as girls in love have done for ages. She
had to wait for her man to be ready to support her. Life was no picnic,
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even if both were earning. The possibility of parental disapproval


hung like a cloud over them. They both came from conservative
families; an inter-caste marriage for love was a rarity, and had to be
fought for, often in the teeth of fierce opposition from elders. Such
was the fate of the young in the India of those days.
*

Mr. Mazumdar took one last, longing look at the photograph and
shut the diary with a heavy heart…for they had never met again.
They had written to each other, and kept in touch over the telephone
whenever possible. There was no automatic trunk dialing or Internet
then. Communication between distant cities was an expensive and
time-consuming affair.
Then her father, who was in the Indian Audit & Accounts Service,
had been posted to Brussels. Supriya had gradually abandoned hope
of ever seeing Ananto again. Slowly, as realisation dawned that he
had to accept the fact that Supriya would never be his wife, Ananto
too, realised it was a dream he had to let go of.
He recalled a conversation on the eve of their departure, when
she’d raised the subject of will and self-determination in relation to
destiny.
“Ananto, do you think we really can control our lives? I read
somewhere that if we want something badly enough, the entire
universe conspires to bring it to us.”
“Yes, I’ve read that too,” said Ananto thoughtfully, knowing what
was at the back of her mind. “But I’d like to qualify that with a rider:
yes, the universe does conspire to give us what we want if we want it
badly enough...provided it is for the Greater Good! By ‘Greater Good’
I mean the greater scheme of things, of which everything is a part. If
we want something very badly, but it’s not in consonance with the
overall plan, then I doubt whether we get what we crave. At least,
that’s what I think!” he finished sadly.
She was silent for a long time. “So if our getting together isn’t an
integral part of the grand design, we don’t make it? Is that what you
are trying to say, Ananto?”
“Yes!” he said simply, aware of her frustration at trying to fit into
some greater plan of which she knew nothing.
She shook her head obstinately. “I refuse to subscribe to such an
effete theory. I still maintain that Hannibal Barca was right: if you
can’t find a way, make one. And he took his elephants over the Alps
with him. Don’t be so negative, Ananto!” There was an undercurrent
of something like panic in her voice. Ananto was touched. He hugged
her.
“You’re right, as usual, honeybunch! We just have to focus on the
problem and work at solving it, right? After all, what can the universe
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have against us two getting married? How could that possibly put a
spanner in the Grand Design?”
“That’s more like it, Nantoo! (She called him by his pet-name
when she was especially happy about something). Keep thinking like
that and we’ll be cutting the cake soon!” She was trying to lighten the
mood. “And remember...I want to honeymoon here, in Naini
Tal...where it all began.”
Did she think it had been treachery on his part not to have
caught up with her? Did she think she had just been a little diversion
for him on a brief holiday to the hills? Did she feel he was guilty of
pusillanimity for not having found her—by hook or by crook—and
married her? Had their love really been durable enough to survive the
long separation? And did she appreciate the magnitude of the
obstacles faced by a mere technical illustrator in a small advertising
company who had to go looking her in a foreign country and win her
hand? Did she see now that some things—no matter how much we
want them—just aren’t fated to be? How did it affect her faith in her
ability to control her own destiny?
These, and a myriad other questions, had spun through his brain
for months and years. He was sure the answers would reveal
themselves in the fullness of time. If they were not meant for each
other, then the Grand Design had other uses for them. That was all
there was to it. It was up to them to search for—and find—meaning in
their lives in tune with their real destiny...
Sometimes he wished he’d never met her. At other times, he felt
he would never have really lived if hadn’t. She had illuminated his life
like a meteor. Her sparkling wit, her keen intelligence, her disarming
candour, her refreshing originality, her exquisite loveliness, and her
irrepressible zest for life had left their indelible mark on him. She had
sparked off something within him that had transformed his vision of
life. Contact with her unique, effervescent personality had changed
him forever. She had brought out the poet, playwright, art critic, and
human being in him. He had long abandoned the demeaning rat race
of the advertising world.
Ananto Mozumdar—known to the world as the eccentric bachelor
who had written the screenplays of a dozen major Bombay art films,
the bearded hermit-poet with long, unkempt locks who went about
giving away the money he earned as fast as it came in, who met the
mass-wedding expenses of a hundred indigent couples every year
from his own sources—was just a lamp for the timeless flame that
was Supriya Chakravarty. That was his destiny. That: and the
consequences thereof.

*
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He had no idea where she was now, but he knew she was always
in his heart. One day—somewhere, sometime, in some other age—
they would meet again. It was a celestially written certainty that he
didn’t doubt for a moment.
He shook his head with disbelief. Had so much time really
passed? Why, it was just like yesterday when he had met Supriya at
Naini Tal. Was it possible that a lifetime had gone by? He had never
returned to Naini Tal. He wanted to enshrine the memory of her
forever in his heart, with the hill station as a setting. He had no right
to disturb that sacred sanctuary. Nearly four decades had passed...
‘I must be an old man now!’ thought Ananto with mild surprise.
He had never given much thought to the matter. Time had stopped
ever since Supriya had gone from him. Now, for the first time, he
noted the warning signals of advancing years: the failing vision, the
breathlessness when climbing a flight of stairs, the poor sleep and
appetite. He leaned back in the easy chair and felt the cold touch of
winter at his door, although it was spring and the sun shone brightly
outside.
Time had got the better of him, he conceded. But he also
believed that the hand that had written every story in the world knew
what it was doing. With faith and with love, Ananto Mozumdar
welcomed his new coming of age as he surrendered to the will of that
eternal hand.
‘Next time, may the Fates be easier on Supriya and I...’ he
prayed, as he allowed the years to wash over him and inundate his
soul at last.

Captain Anand Mullick of the Corps of Electrical and Mechanical


Engineers didn’t feel like attending the regimental dance at all. He
had—after years of scouring second-hand bookshops—at last found a
copy of Louis L’Amour’s long out-of-print classic, Shalako, and was
dying to read it. Besides, he was in a rare bad mood. He’d been
boating on the lake that morning, rowing a light, single-seater scull,
when all at once a boat with three or four girls in it had come from
nowhere and hit his light craft, almost capsizing it.
After a heated exchange—an extremely vocal and belligerent girl
who seemed to be their spokesperson had been very rude to him—
they had gone their separate ways. It had left him feeling low,
because, as a rule, he wasn’t the type to trade insults with strangers,
what to speak of girls. But that ill-tempered virago in Levi’s and a
purple T-shirt had bugged the chivalry out of him.
But he doubted whether the C.O. would appreciate such an
unlikely excuse for skipping the get-together, which was why they
were at Naini Tal in the first place. Colonel Chanchal was as tolerant
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of his officers reading anything other than military and technical


books as he was of breach of protocol. With a sigh, Anand rose to his
feet, showered, and carefully donned the neatly pressed uniform that
his batman had laid out on the bed.
The EME regimental centre at Malli Tal, the bus-stand end of the
lake, was a stone’s throw from Government House—the Governor’s
lodge—and was acknowledged as having the best auditorium in the
hill resort. That went for the club, too, thought Anand, as he left the
officer’s quarters and strode briskly to the huge indoor badminton
and squash complex that had been converted into a ballroom and
grand dining room for the evening.
Sounds of the regimental brass band playing ‘Colonel Boogie’
came loudly from the building, which meant that the dance was about
to start. He groaned inwardly as he stepped inside, wishing he was
stretched out on his bed with his book. He hated dancing, though he
knew the steps and the gyrations involved in the meaningless ritual.
Dancing didn’t do anything for him. But he joked and exchanged
pleasantries with his brother officers as he slipped smoothly into his
assigned role. He was a soldier, and this was duty...of sorts.
“Anand!” It was Mrs. Chanchal, the C.O.’s wife. “Where have you
been? I’ve been looking all over for you! Come here at once; I’d like
you to meet my niece, Sumitra.”
Her vast, tank-like bulk (‘Oughtn’t the C.O. have joined the
Armoured Corps?’ thought Anand for the umpteenth time) concealed
someone very effectively. Anand braced himself. Mrs. Chanchal’s
match-making efforts had not gone in vain so far. Almost all the
eligible bachelors in his battalion had succumbed to her endeavours.
‘If she’d opened a marriage bureau, she’d have minted money!’
grinned Anand, amused at her targeting him. This was one bout she
was going to lose, however. Anand had no intentions of marrying
before he was promoted to the rank of Major. Two could not live as
cheaply as one, even in the army. Then his grin froze as the girl
stepped into view.

She wasn’t tall, but she was so well set up—so proportionate—
that her elfin charm took his breath away. She was wearing a mauve -
kurta-churidar outfit, hand embroidered, and set with sequins that
flashed and dazzled as they reflected the bright lights in the ceiling.
Her small, shapely hands fidgeted impatiently with her filmy dupatta.
Her amazingly recurved lips pouted sulkily as she looked down at her
perfect little feet clad in light-blue party slippers decorated with
beads. Her hair, cut short in a waif-like hairdo that caused his shins to
ache with the wonder of it, haloed a face that was beyond description
in its impossible beauty.
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Since she wasn’t looking at him, obviously resentful of the


compulsory introduction, Anand’s eyes went to the rest of her. He
almost wished they hadn’t. He had seen better figures, but he
couldn’t remember when. If nature had wished to make her curves
just that much better, just that little bit more right, she’d have thrown
in the towel in despair. It was the absolute best that she was capable
of. Then the girl looked up, bored, and Anand’s heart doubled its
tempo. He couldn’t understand why this was happening. It had never
happened before.
‘I never knew perfect eyebrows could be this perfect!’ he thought
wildly. More than just decorative, they were functional as well,
enhancing as they did the beauty of the lovely brown eyes. ‘Such
eyes,’ thought Anand—who was hardly the poetic type—‘must have
triggered off wars between nations and centuries of vendetta among
tribes.’ The eyebrows in question lifted quizzically as the eyes
recognized him, and the wondrous lips parted in a wicked smile to
reveal pearly teeth.
Deep in the mysterious whirlpools of her brown pupils, something
laughed and laughed...and laughed! Anand’s heart forgot to beat. She
was the stuff that dreams were made of. She was also the girl of the
boating incident that morning...
He didn’t realise he was staring until Mrs. Chanchal’s discreet
cough brought him around.
“Go and have a double scotch, you poor man!” she laughed gaily
as she sailed off triumphantly, leaving them together. She was sure
her score was still 100%. The poor fellow had gone down like a pole-
axed steer! As she’d known he would...

*
“Major, you’re one hell of a lousy dancer, you know that?” she
giggled.
He shook his head dazedly again. He wished she wouldn’t do
that...and smile at him at the same time. Every time she did, he felt
like someone had penetrated his guard with a one-two combination to
the stomach. He felt dizzy, out-of-sorts.
“It’s ‘Captain’, not ‘Major’,” he muttered groggily.
“Hey! Are you okay, ‘Captain not Major’? You look kind of unwell
to me!” she said with genuine concern. They had amicably sorted out
the misunderstanding of the morning, and were standing under the
eaves at one end of the long verandah of the club, enjoying the
uninterrupted view of the mile-long lake. He nodded wordlessly.
“I know! Let’s go boating!” she laughed gaily. “That should clear
your head!”

It was the music a brook makes as it titters its way over shingle
and gravel to join a river. The tinkling melody of it sent a thrill up and
14

down his spine. Her small, perfect teeth gleamed whitely through her
incredible lips, magenta coloured for the occasion...

It was only a short walk down to the lake. He commandeered a


two-seater scull and cast off, feathering the oars with relish. She was
right. The lake was a far better place to be than that stuffy ballroom.
It was a moonlit night, and Naini Tal Lake is an enchanted place
especially on such nights. The moon floated along with them as
Anand plied the oars, and the faint peals of temple bells carried softly
to their ears like lullabies across the dark waters.
“I wonder how old the lake is,” mused Sumitra.
“Oh, probably as old as the end of the last ice age...that’s about
ten thousand years,” replied Anand. “But it was only ‘discovered’—
according to local legend—in the early nineteenth century by an
Englishman hunting a stag.”
“Ten thousand years!” murmured Sumitra wonderingly. “A
hundred centuries! That’s a long time, Anand. I wonder how many
lovers have sat on its banks on moonlit nights, holding hands and
watching the moon dancing on the waves...”
“Zillions, I’d expect. Unless, of course, there weren’t any people
living here. No one knows the early history of this place. No
archaeological digs have ever been attempted.”
“Good!” said Sumitra firmly. “It would ruin the mystery.” She was
silent for a while, letting the cool breeze fan her flushed cheeks.
“Anand... I wonder whether we were here, you and I, ten thousand
years ago. Do you think it’s possible?” she asked shyly.
“Sure, why not?” replied Anand confidently. “They say souls of
people we’ve known always meet up with us again and again, life
after life. That’s why some people are always special to us...even
after a brief encounter. It’s as if primal—subconscious—memory
takes over. We may fight it, and we may convince ourselves that it’s
just poetic fancy, but I, for one, think it’s true.”
“You do? Strange...so do I. I think we’ve known each other
before, Anand, I feel so...so at ease with you. I’m not like this at all,
going boating with someone I just met, blurting out all kinds of stuff.
Normally, I’d consider it very forward. Right now, I think it’s so...
perfect!”
He shipped the oars and crossed over from his rowing bench to
join her on the opposite one. He caressed her soft, wind-blown hair
gently, a great tenderness welling up in him. His heart had never
hammered this way before. He slipped his arm around her shoulders
and hugged her. She did likewise, and rested her head on his
shoulder.
15

He cupped her face in his hands, admiring the mind-bending


perfection of it, seeing with his heart the lovely soul that lived within
the soft, beautiful body in his arms. His kiss, when it happened, was
so spontaneous, so genuinely loving, that she thrilled to its purity and
innocence. She kissed him back just as enthusiastically, running her
fingers through his hair.
“Journeys end in lovers’ meetings, Honeybaby!” he whispered,
and kissed her again. He was sure he’d said those very words to her,
some other time...long ago. And this was journey’s end...at last.
“We’ll always be together,” he said confidently.
“Promise?” she asked through her tears. A terrible happiness was
upon her.
“I promise!” said Anand firmly, knowing deep within his heart
that he was fated to redeem an old pledge. They clung to each other,
delirious with joy. Déjà vu vanquished him and inundated his soul. A
paean to love and human destiny rang out in his blood.
The final piece of an ancient puzzle fell into place as they swore
their vows to each other. The stars looked down in witness, relieved
at the denouement. This time, the Fates would be kinder to them.
The boat drifted down the silvery ribbon the moon
had unrolled upon the dark waters for ten thousand years...

~*~

‘The mystery of love is greater than the mystery of death’.


~ Jackie Leven