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Twice upon a lifetime

The howl of the giant Pratt & Whitney engines of the Boeing died
away as the pilot throttled down, preparatory to applying reverse thrust
over Jamaica Bay. Losing altitude, banking in its descent towards
Idlewild, the big plane drifted out of the sky, falling as softly, as lightly
as a feather as it came down in its flight corridor.
But the mind of Sudip Sen was far removed from the beauty and
elegance of jet flight. He was meditating. As the jet had traversed half
the globe, from India to North America, overflying continents and
oceans, a vast paradox had engaged his mind. It was the puzzle of the
parallel universes that are said to spin off from every event.
Matter, knew Sudip, was comprised of (at least, as measured by the
tools so far developed by science) elementary particles. Massless, and

so short-lived that a second was as eons to them, it was sometimes

doubtful if they existed at all. All attempts to measure both their
velocity as well as their position simultaneously had failed.
If one measured a sub-atomic particle’s position, its velocity
remained a mystery: and vice-versa. They sometimes seemed to be
perceptions—indeed, mere creations—of the observer’s own mind, for
the ingredients of his measuring apparatus and his methodology always
so influenced the outcome that no two readings were exactly the same.
There was no concrete evidence of their existence apart from
discrete marks of their ‘passage’ left on light-sensitive plates. These
light-impressions could not truly be called marks; they certainly weren’t
proof of their existence. They were but interpretations of what the
human mind assumed was evidence of their motion, and hence their
Would they exist at all if there was no mind to ‘perceive’ them? In
that sense, thought created matter: or at least, what mind thought was
matter! And yet these elusive ‘particles’ were said to be the
fundamental building blocks of all things! So much for the material
Elementary particles (he recalled) such as electrons, collided with
each other and ceased to exist, forming, in their moment of annihilation
more massless, short-lived high-energy particles like themselves. These,
in turn, shot off to collide with others in more impacts, collisions that re-
created the original particles. There were even instances when more
particles resulted from a collision than the original number of
participants! In other words, matter seemed to be created out of
Before such collisions (or ‘events’, in the jargon of high-energy
physicists), there were an infinite number of possibilities in respect of
the outcome. But at the moment of collision, all the other possibilities
vanished, leaving only the one—the event that had happened to
From this fact of particle physics was drawn a theory that
postulated that the infinite number of lost possibilities also matured as
events—in an infinite number of parallel universes—all mutually
exclusive and unknown to the other universes. Everything that was
possible happened...somewhere or the other!
It was an intriguing line of thought. In some universe, far away, a
Napoleon had won the battle of Waterloo and subjugated England. An
Adolph Hitler, with the aid of his staunch friend Erwin Rommel, had won
World War II, and the Nazis ruled the some
distant, parallel universe.
And there was sure to be a world where Sudip Sen had found his
true love... if only one could opt to live in the parallel universe of one’s
choice, where everything came out perfect.
The story of randomly-colliding particles was itself a striking parallel
to the macroscopic world of humans, marveled Sudip. Two particles
(read ‘persons’), complete strangers (who didn’t exist for each other till

they met), would meet (read ‘collide’) by chance. This random collision
would produce more particles that were different from, and often more
in number than, the ‘parent’ particles...who were themselves
‘resurrected’ one or two generations down the line when many of their
genetically-transferred features and traits re-surfaced in their

The plane’s landing lights blazed in the noonday sun as the lowered
undercarriage kissed sun-baked asphalt. Puffs of blue smoke spurted
from the huge tires as cruel forces scorched them out of their inertia.
The rumble of wheels vied with the whine of hydraulics as the pilot
applied the brakes hard to the speeding, bouncing machine. The
deceleration snapped his body forward against the seat belt.
He yawned to clear the pressure in his ears, and peeped out of the
window. The tarmac was a grey blur as it flashed past the shuddering
silver bird that had swooped out of the sun and now hurtled towards the
end of the runway. Just as Sudip was certain they were going to
overshoot, it was solidly under control again, and the pilot was giving
her gentle forward thrust, turning her around to smoothly taxi up to the
disembarkation point.
Clearing the press of humanity in the arrival lounge at JFK airport,
he went through Customs (he had only an overnighter and a suitcase)
and drew a deep breath as he inhaled the air of America for the first
time in his life. He flagged down a passing Yellow Cab and gave the
address of his hotel. The driver was a Pakistani, but here, on American
soil, they saw each other as allies drawn from a beleaguered sub-
continent that had been torn apart by historical forces.
They were of the same cultural heritage and in this foreign land
they gravitated towards each other in a kinship that went back to a time
long before Columbus (or even Leif Ericsson, for that matter) had
‘discovered’ America.
Sudip planned to spend a few days sight-seeing in New York before
he reported to the Dean at Boston University’s prestigious Roosevelt
College. Seeing that America had snatched from him the only person
who had ever really mattered in his life, he had decided to migrate
abroad, and the offer from Boston had been the most attractive. Not
that librarians from India were in hot demand anywhere, like computer
programmers and software engineers; quite the contrary, in fact.
The fact that he’d got the opening (six months probation, free ticket
and all expenses paid if they found him unsuitable) was in itself a
miracle of sorts. But it was undeniable that the Indian Diaspora had
made an impression in America, from couture, cuisine, and culture, to
economics, electronics and elegiac literature. The community, hard-
working, thrifty, and single-mindedly ambitious, had all the qualities that
had enabled the pioneers to carve out the greatest nation in the world.
Today, when an Indian applied for a job, his application was given
keener scrutiny than ever before.

As the taxi drove him past a park with some pine trees, Sudip fell
into a reverie about the possibility of the existence of parallel
universes...and his personal parallel universe. His mind floated back
over the happenings of the last five years...and those later years he had
never lived, a time he seemed to experience in a state of deep
meditation. In this dream-like state, these later years (and who can say
they were unreal?) had changed him forever.
Once upon a lifetime, Sudip, a chronic bachelor, had run into a
devastatingly-beautiful stranger and had fallen in love with her. A brief
summer of romance followed before she went to the United States,
leaving Sudip to spend the rest of his life alone. He had transcribed the
‘dream’ in his diary, in the third person, omitting the empty years (in
this other universe that existed within his mind) as he waited for the
end.He remembered his diary entry word for word…
“He glanced at his wristwatch. 7.45 PM. The library closed at 8.00
PM sharp. He could see, through the glass enclosure where he sat in the
center of the hall, the last of the stragglers as they gathered up their
notes. He pressed a buzzer that summoned Mohan Shetty, his assistant
librarian, to take over and make preparations to wind up. Shetty would
tally the cards of issues and returns, enter the figures into the Daily
Register, and reposition all books that had been returned. Sudip took a
last look around, and turned to leave, just as a girl came up to him.
He recognized her as one of the people who had left moments
earlier. She looked flustered.
“It’s raining outside, and I don’t have an umbrella today, Mr…Mr….
you’re the Librarian, aren’t you, Sir?” she enquired.
“Sen. Sudip Sen.” he said. “I’m the Deputy Librarian, Miss…?”
“Wadia…Shireen Wadia. I’m doing research for my thesis on plant
“Really?” murmured Sudip Sen politely. “I’m afraid we’re fresh out
of umbrellas, but…” He left the sentence hanging in the air.
“But…?” she queried back, a mischievous tinkle in her eye. The
twinkle got to him. It was the first time he would remember
acknowledging her as another human being and not just a member of
the library.
“Meaning…‘but if you’ll allow me to drop you home, Miss Wadia?’
Of course, you’ll have to bear in mind that librarians are the second-
most dangerous things in the world, next to werewolves…!” His eyes
twinkled back at her.
“Hey!” she thought to herself, “This guy’s human!” But she only
laughed. “Don’t I know that! They’re lethal! But somehow, ever since I
got my black belt in karate, they no longer hold any terrors for me.
You’re on, Mr. Sen!”
As he settled her in before going round to his side of his old Fiat
and easing himself a little awkwardly into his seat (for, at 5’ 11”, he
found the little car a bit of a squeeze), he found himself warming to this
person who could joke at the end of a hard day. She, on her part, rather

liked the tall, soft-spoken man who had, in so gentlemanly a manner,

spared her the pressure of asking for a favour from a complete stranger.
Sudip was a Delhi man born and bred, and had never been able to
adjust to the local trains in which most Bombayites did their commuting.
Though he lived a good 20 kilometers away, he preferred to crawl that
distance under his own steam rather than straphang. Shireen seemed to
sympathize with him.
“I suppose you’re not a Bombayite by birth? I can guess, otherwise
you’d be going by local train. You know, I’ve always wanted a car of my
own…maybe some day…I hate local shuttles,” she added wistfully.
“I like driving, and there’s no hurry to get home.”
“You’re not married?” she asked, surprised.
“No!” he laughed. “Which girl would be crazy enough to marry a
librarian?…and a thirty-eight year old one, at that!”
She made no comment. “By the way, you turn left here, then go
straight down the lane. It’s the second-last house on the right.”
He was taken aback. This was a very exclusive address. She sensed
his surprise, woman-like.
“Oh! It’s just that the Wadias were wealthy about a century ago.
Then they went into academics…and now look at the mess they’re in
….oh! …I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean…it’s not as if Librarians are hard-up
academics, like Father and I, that’s a technical subject…I mean…. they
are into academics, but I was referring to teaching and research and all
that kind of stuff…” she covered up desperately, praying he hadn’t
misunderstood her and taken offence.
“Relax, Shireen, it’s OK, I’m with you there…no hard feelings…
though I guess we’re in the same boat. Books and money don’t go so
well together, right?”
“Wrong! At least, I hope so! I plan to disprove that…it’s my
ambition to write a book some day that’ll make me lots of money and
reclaim the mortgage that Father…ooops! Damn! That slipped out.” She
was mortified at having inadvertently revealed the exact state of her
current finances. Sudip’s heart warmed to her. She was bright, but very
innocent, very…very artless. Very genuine…there was nothing artificial
about her.
“I’m sure things will resolve themselves as you go along. I think a
cheerful attitude and love of one’s work…they have a way of making life
happier. Things happen, seemingly by themselves, that demolish
obstacles that once appeared insurmountable.”
She was gratified. “You really think so?” she asked animatedly.
“Yes, I can see that you do! But that’s exactly the way I feel, too!”
She had a way of speaking in italics that amused him no end. She
was a very charming and …and, yes…a very lovable girl. “Hey! Wait a
minute!” he yelped to himself, “Now she’s got me doing it, too!” He
didn’t quite know what to make of it.
They were good for each other. But he politely declined her
invitation to come up for a cup of tea. “Some other time, Shireen…I just
have to push along now.”

“Well…that’s too bad. Thanks awfully, Sudip. You saved me from a

rare soaking…and me prone to sinusitis.” They had been on first-name
basis for an hour now. She felt she’d known this man a long time. She
thought about him, long after dinner, long after she had turned in for
the night. He was such a nice man…so modest, so well bred…so…so
She dreamed she had written a best-selling novel on plants that
turned into werewolves, but a librarian always managed to arrive in the
nick of time to save the damsel from ‘a fate worse than death’. Was it
just coincidence that he was tall and handsome and drove an Italian

It happened again on Friday evening. She was stuck in the library

with a thunderstorm raging outside. She approached him, more
confidently this time.
“Hi, Sudip! Guess what? No prizes for guessing right!” she giggled.
He grinned. “No need to tell me…you want an umbrella!” he
teased. She pouted in response. Sudip grinned: “Gotcha! OK, hang on a
sec while I wrap up things”. He spoke briefly to his assistant before they
went outside.
It was blowing hard, and the rain hit them like big, warm rubber
bullets as they raced for his car. They were both soaked to the skin by
the time he had unlocked her door. As they drove away, he was
“Nothing like a little rain to get acquainted with the real woman
under the war-paint!” he teased.
“What war-paint, Sudip?” she asked with the smug satisfaction of a
beautiful woman who used minimal make-up.
He took a closer look at her, glad at the opportunity to study her
without having to stare. It was true! She wasn’t wearing any make-up.
There were laugh-lines around the corners of her wide, generous mouth.
That meant that those lovely, highly-kissable, recurved lips were
painted pink by Nature herself—not that he had anything against
lipstick. He rather fancied it, in fact. It also meant that the flawless skin,
the pink cheeks, the small, white, even teeth, were all natural! Then it
was equally possible, indeed, probable, that steel-wire and latex-foam
had nothing to do with that swelling bosom, those shapely, curvaceous
hips. He loved her pert little nose and her graceful hands and feet.
Human artifice had nothing to do with her stunning, virgin beauty, her
undeniable …Whoa! He applied mental brakes, surprised at himself. He
had never thought about any girl like this.
As if reading his thoughts, she teased him triumphantly in order to
neutralize the testosterone-driven thoughts that raced through his male
mind: “Is it true, Sudip, that librarians find their members …tee hee…
more acceptable when water-logged?”
It was pure sexual innuendo, artless and spontaneous. Sudip
recognized it for what it was: a sign of warmth, a natural, healthy

sexuality, a sense of timing and…yes…by God…a sense of humour! He

was amazed. He had never met a girl even remotely like her.
“I’ll try and rise to the occasion and confirm that your preliminary
postulates are quite accurate, Shireen!” he shot back.
She screamed with laughter. “Down, Rover…down, boy”, she
ragged him some more. Before they knew it, they were home. As Sudip
parked in the driveway, they both sneezed simultaneously.
“You know what that means?” she asked him seriously. He shook
his head.
“It means that someone very important is going to enter our lives
soon,” she said. “My maternal grandmother told me this. She swore it
was true.”
“Well, your visitor’ll leave your life just as fast… as a matter of fact,
he’ll shuffle off this mortal coil muy pronto if he doesn’t soak himself in
a hot bath and wrap himself around an omelet and a double brandy
pretty darn quick!”
She gave him a mock salute as she hurried off to draw a hot bath
for him and fix him something to eat and drink.

She had lent him her late father’s pajamas and an old bathrobe,
and she tittered deliciously at the sight of his hairy shins sticking out
from under them. The pajamas were two sizes too small for him.
“He was only 5’ 6”. Poor man, he hated being short”, she
reminisced. She herself wore a dainty little pink gown with a fluffy blue
shortie nightdress underneath. “I’ve got some goodies in the oven, but
they’re going to spend some time in there, so you needn’t nurse that
drink! Help yourself with refills as and when,” she invited.
The brandy warmed him, and he tore his gaze away from her lovely
dimpled knees and looked around contentedly. It was a large, oak-
paneled room, with an eight-seater sofa-set at one end, and a dining
table at the other. There was wall-to-wall carpeting, somewhat frayed
but clean, and the walls had bookshelves that stretched from floor to
ceiling. He was impressed.
“Someone sure does a lot of reading around here,” he remarked.
She was relieved he wasn’t intimidated by the books…some people got
really turned off by them. Not this man, though…he lived every day
surrounded by a sea of books. Somehow, the thought comforted her.
As they ate their dinner, she told him that most of the books were
her father’s. He had been an antiquarian and an Egyptologist of some
renown, and had done original work on Ramses the Great. “He told me
that every Pharoah named Ramses ensured that the epithet ‘Great’
formed a suffix to his name. But Ramses II, of course—the Biblical guy
who clashed with Moses—was the Ramses the Great…the only one who
really deserved the ‘Great’ suffix.”
Sudip had always been interested in Egypt. They kept the
discussion going even after dinner, over liquers (he chose a Sikkim
distilleries’ Cherry Brandy, while she settled for a crème de menthe).

They talked of Amenhotep and Nefartari and Nefertiti and Howard

Carter and the fabulous Valley of the Kings.
Time rolled back and carried them away to a distant past, and when
their lips met, they went with the flow of the centuries. Nature swept
them away, unresisting, to a far-away place beyond the galaxies where
an ocean of bliss washed over them and bright lights exploded again
and again in a purple sky.

“Your sinusitis has gone!” he teased her over breakfast. “It looks as
if my therapy was successful! You’re blooming, Shireen.” She blushed
happily, and fondly ladled more scrambled eggs on his toast.
“Talk with your mouth full and you’ll choke, friend,” she warned. “I
need you alive for the plans I’ve got in mind for you”.
That scared him. She saw the hunted look and cursed herself
“It’s not what you’re thinking,” she reassured him hastily. “We’re
simply going to disappear for the next four days”.
“Disappear?” he asked her blankly, “disappear where?”
‘You’ll know soon enough. Eat up…you’ll need your strength!” she

The route to Daman was busy, but after Vapi there was little traffic.
The road was narrow but very well maintained. The scenery also
changed. The little Fiat now sped through a green, peaceful countryside
dotted with groves of mango and orange trees. “So in the 1880’s a
bunch of enterprising Parsis carved out this enchanting little getaway
from hot, humid, unsanitary Bombay, complete with seaside bungalows
and orchards?” he asked her.
She nodded. “They were a very fun-loving and enterprising
community, inbred even then, but very outgoing otherwise. Observe
what the Tatas did.” It was undeniable. Parsi enterprise, born of
innovation, guts, and vision, was legendary. “And they made for
themselves a little Shangri-la—an escape-route when the pressures of
business got too much too handle.”
‘This I gotta see” grumbled Sudip, unconvinced. The long drive was
telling on his nerves. Just then, they found themselves in a forest of
pines. Sudip braked sharply, stopped. “Pines!” he exploded. “At sea
level! Now I’ve seen everything!”
“I told you…they were very innovative horticulturists… apart from
being practical idealists. At the colony, the pines extend right up to the
sand. The sea is only a stone’s throw away!” She was openly proud of
what her people had accomplished.
“It’s impossible!” muttered Sudip, impressed…pines fifty yards
from the sea! “What manner of men were they?” he asked himself, as
they rented one of the well-maintained bungalows, number 21. All the

others were full of people, and even this one was available because of a
last-minute cancellation.
“The owners rent out these houses at this time of the year…but if
you aren’t Parsi, the chances are that you’ll get the stock reply: “House
Full!” she explained. So that was why she had come forward to sign the
agreement register and make the security deposit in her name. “No one
bothers you, they don’t mix unless you seem inclined to do so…it’s a
very private sort of place.”

They bathed in the crystal–clear waters of a blue sea that stretched

away to embrace the distant sky. After sun-drying themselves, they
retreated to the aromatic shade of the pines. It was cool there, and after
their picnic lunch, they went into each other’s arms, their happiness
with each other welling up in them. Later, they would talk about
anything that came into their heads, and the craziest thing was that
everything made sense; everything fell into place so beautifully.
It was magic. They were completely engrossed in each other, so
much so that one usually knew what the other was thinking even before
it was voiced. Imperceptibly, like a flower opening, a great love, whose
bud had bloomed back in the dim, hushed library, now blossomed into a
mighty thing whose grandeur dazzled and humbled them.
It was bigger than them: much bigger and much, much older, an
elemental thing that knew no boundaries of space or time. It was a
Reality self-sustaining and immortal, deathless. Creation itself pulsed
steadily within it, and from it would one day spring their progeny. They
had only read of such a thing in books, and had skipped these portions,
dismissing them as mere hyperbole. Now that they had been given this
gift beyond price, they were awed at its all-encompassing sweep, its
Everything looked different, smelt different, tasted differently. They
saw beauty everywhere, and as they ingested it, imbibed its essence,
their love grew and grew and grew till they thought they would burst
from the sheer wonder of it.
They would spend the evenings on the rear verandah, watching the
moonbeams reflecting off the sea, framed by the purple velvet of a
starry sky that showed under the eaves of the sloping roof. They lolled
about on the huge deck chairs with the folding cross-arms for resting
one’s legs, holding hands and talking. Each felt so close to the other
that it was almost like talking to one’s own self. There was no ‘own self’
anymore, they realized. Their separateness no longer existed…they
were now one Being called ‘Myself’, and they knew it was a part of a
Greater Being that was all around them, indiscernible to all but their
finer senses.
They fell deeply in love with each other, something they had never
believed was at all possible. They loved each other’s bodies and as they
united on this physical bridge, their souls fused in a spiritual union they
could feel but never describe.

Her thesis was accepted. Now she could add the letters ‘Dr.’ after
her name. Then the offer came from Cambridge University,
Massachusetts: a three-year grant to do follow-up work, write a book,
perhaps even a lecture tour. It was a rare honour for one so young. They
both knew, with sinking hearts, that the tides of life were pulling them
apart. That night, they made furious, violent love, as if to forestall the
impending separation. A fortnight later, she was gone...”
The rest he hadn’t had the heart to write down. It was fantastic to
think that, in that parallel universe of his mind, he had spent the rest of
his life mooning over her.
Sudip smiled to himself. If she could live without him, he could just
as well live without her! She had not loved him. She was simply a
dream, an intangible, ethereal product of his fevered brain, a maid who
had charmed him briefly and then gone her way.
He had carried on with his life. Shipra Das was a great consolation
during this period. In time, he all but forgot Shireen Wadia. They were
two particles who had collided by random chance and gone off at a
tangent, magnificently ignorant of the fact that they were one and the
same, mindstuff masquerading as starstuff...

Thunder on four wheels! That was what the Indianapolis 500 was all
about! Speed, endurance, guts and glory. The open-wheeled, open-
cockpit, rear-engine cars hurtled round and round a 2.5 mile track,
heavily banked every quarter-mile turn, the crowds howling in support
of their local heroes. Sudip had been mad about racing cars as a boy,
and the Indy 500 had been an event he’d always wanted to watch. A.J.
Foyt had been his boyhood hero. The new champion was Bill Nowalski.
Sudip waited till the chequered flag saw the winner over the
finishing line, then got up to leave. He wanted to catch the first
Greyhound leaving for NY. He bought an ice-cream cone and was
admiring the coloured spirals in it when someone bumped into him. The
treat flew out of his hand to land in a squishy mess at his feet.
He spun around, choking off a cuss-word...and she was gaping at
him in open-mouthed surprise, gasping his name. Talk of chance
collisions! She was thinner, and the chubby roundedness had given way
to the svelte curves of maturity. The laugh-lines around the luscious,
recurved lips, the likes of which he had never seen, were still intact, and
so were the enchanting dimples. She looked leaner, more
sophisticated...she was more beautiful than ever. An old, long-forgotten
feeling lanced through him. It wasn’t just a stab of desire...then he
recalled that she’d run off to America leaving him high and dry. He
composed his features into a polite expression as he formally extended
his hand.
“Shireen!” he acknowledged with a nod.
“Sudip! What are you doing here?” she gasped. She released his
hand and brushed away a lock of hair that had strayed across her

perfect forehead. He remembered the gesture vividly, noticing, at the

same time that her ring finger was bare.
“Hey! Sorry about your ice-cream. Lemme buy you another.”
He shook his head. “Leave it, it’s not important. I came to the
States a week back. Landed in New York—with a job offer. Boston State
University. Deputy Librarian. Three-year contract. Six months probation.
Make or break.”
“But...but how come you’re here, at Indy? It’s 1,600 miles from NY!”
“You never got to know me well, Shireen. Fact is, I’ve always been a
racing fan, with Indy and Le Mans topping the list.” Sudip was cool,
“But I could ask you the same question!” he smiled. “What the heck
are you doing here? Indy’s just as far from Harvard University, if I’m not
mistaken,” he remarked. Touché!
“Harvard! A mythical place famous for its amnesiacs,” he added
sardonically. “And, on that poignant note...we part again. I’m afraid I
have a bus to catch.” He looked pointedly at his watch, being
deliberately stand-offish.
She didn’t want it to turn bitter; she was bigger than this. It was a
second chance they were getting, thanks to some divine intervention.
So she steered him quietly towards the parking lot. There was so much
he didn’t appreciate. Men were such babies, fragile and self-centered,
designed by nature as hedonistically-oriented, testosterone-driven
pollinating mechanisms.
Women were much tougher, had much wider perspectives. They
accepted the importance of love in their lives, they felt the same urge to
reproduce as men did; in fact, they felt it even more powerfully. But
they were more adept at sublimating the basic instincts to pursue their
priorities. In her case: the resurrection of the Wadia name and fortunes.
She was the last of the Wadias of Hamilton Road, Bombay, and it
was her primary responsibility. She owed it to the proud old name she
bore, as well as to herself. Sudip wouldn’t understand easily.

She went up to her car. It crouched in wait for them, a sleek, low-
slung, shark-like shape that no wind could ever catch. He whistled in
“A Citröen SM2! You must be into big time plant morphologising,”
he joked, impressed. “That baby’s got electrically heated seats,
electrically adjustable height/recline mechanisms, all settings
individually-memorized by the on-board computer,” he enthused,
forgetting his recent pique. “Automatic, hydro-pneumatic, self-levelling
suspension. Anti-lock ABS disc brakes on all wheels, fractured column
technology for the crankshaft; multipoint infinitely-variable fuel
injection, electronic ignition, a six-cylinder engine that performs like a V-
8 but sips gas like a 1,600 cc, a shape that comes close to the classic
paradigms of the Jaguar XKE and the immortal ‘E’ type. At 100 mph,

she’s just beginning to warm up!” he whispered devoutly. “It’s an

extravagance typical of you!”
She concealed her elation. He hadn’t forgotten that she’d
specialized, at one time, in plant morphology. Or that she loved cars.
She’d always envied Sudip his battered little 1100cc Fiat Millicento, back
in her poverty-stricken Bombay days. Her heart leapt within her, for she
was sure he still loved her. He was simply sulking because she’d been
compelled to choose between two opposing priorities...and the fall of
the dice had gone against him.
“Let’s grab dinner...the treat’s on me...oh, no, you don’t, macho
man!’ She held up an imperious hand as Sudip opened his mouth to
protest. “This is the US of A, Sudip. Here, he / she who has bread, shares
it with friends. Your turn will come.”

And then they were on the road. Next stop, New York, 1,600 miles
away. He was jubilant. Three whole days and nights...with Shireen! It
was too good to be true. Three days and nights in which the magic that
had once blossomed between them could revive...that awesome,
eternal thing that had blessed them, transformed them—all those
haunted years ago. For him, there was no one like her, nor would there
ever be. She was a twice upon a lifetime experience, unique in her
timeless beauty.
She hadn’t married, and neither had he. They were still free to
carve out their destinies. That was what the Great American Dream was
all about...the chance to mould your life exactly the way you wanted it
to be. Go about it right, and America never failed to deliver...
As she stepped on the gas and felt the automatic transmission shift
smoothly into top, she covertly admired the brooding profile of the only
man she’d ever loved. She knew what her dream was all about. She
would see to it that it came true.

© Subroto Mukerji