Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Part 1: A Caller

The sound of the doorbell was in shrill contrast to the soothing piped music playing in the house. Gayatri opened the door to see a boy of about 18. He’s not much older than a kid, Gayatri thought. “I am Jai.” “Yeah come on upstairs”, gestured Gayatri.

She led him into her cozy bedroom. There was something about this kid, Jai, which warmed him to her. He reminded Gayatri of herself, years ago. “Well,” said Jai, taking in the well laid out room. “What now?” He seemed like a decent boy. He was obviously doing this for the first time. He didn’t seem like the kind to seek out a prostitute. “Do you really want to do this?” Gayatri couldn’t help but ask. “No, I don’t. I am here because I lost a bet with my friends”. Gayatri felt like pulling him by the ear. A wager, indeed, what next?

Gayatri had always followed one rule. Never seek to learn your client’s reasons. Just do your job and forget about the whole thing. But now she thought she should stop Jai. Tell him he didn’t need this sleazy one night stand. “Let’s talk- I want to know you better,” tried Gayatri. Once she got him talking though, there was no stopping him. He was doing his B.Tech from a reputed college and turned out to be a really good student. Both of them intuitively clicked and it didn’t take him long to find out that Gayatri was from Lucknow. She had lived with her mother who was a prostitute. Her mother had forced Gayatri into the same profession. She came to Bombay on contract with a company executive and later, chose to stay on in this city which seemed so much more like home to her. There was a place for every kind of person here and she felt like she belonged. Gayatri sensed the honesty in Jai`s voice, as he spoke of his family. In his clear, steady gaze, she felt the youthful zest for life and the enthusiasm to achieve. The belief that thing always changes for the better. She wished she could tell him, she had been there before and knew they never did.

They had moved into an adjoining room now and Jai exclaimed at the paintings adorning the walls. “These are something. Why have you kept them locked up in this room? You should hold an exhibition. A lot of people would want to buy these. I should know, I have been around paintings all my life.” The sharp “no” that Gayatri uttered abruptly shut him up. Gayatri`s tone kept from prodding further and he was musing about her sudden negation of his suggestion, when he saw Gayatri hesitating before the bedroom door. He caught her look and smiled. “I don’t think we’ll need to go in.” She had been right. He was not the kind…Gayatri walked Jai up to her front gate. “It was nice talking to you…maybe you will like to drop in once in a while…..” Gayatri let the last few words trail away in the wind, as she realized the absurdity of her request. A quick wave and he was gone. Gayatri closed the door and leaned back against the nice, cold wood. For the first time in many years, she felt revitalized.

PART 2: Spring Blossoms

She was adding the finishing touches to her new oil on the canvas, when the phone rang. “Gayatri?” she was surprised to hear a strangely familiar voice ask. Before she could ask who it was, the caller said, “It’s Jai.” Surprises never cease, Gayatri thought as she tried to organize her thoughts. “I am free for an hour or so. Can I come over?” a client was due in half an hour. “Sure, come over. I am free all afternoon.” This was too good to be true. Finally, someone wanted to meet her not for sex, but for conversation. They decided to go out for walk, and that day forged a relationship both would cherish in their own way, for a long time. Their meetings increased in frequency, on weekends, when Jai didn’t have lectures, in the evenings. They shared a lot of things in common. Both liked the same kind of music, the same food and movies. Jai refused to believe her when she told him she was 30. And for once she was not apprehensive about unmasking herself. She felt like free never before. But she was careful never to let her reality touch their relationship. She never spoke to Jai about the kind of people she slept with. The deep wounds inflicted by half a lifetime in this hated profession were kept well hidden under her new found happiness. She was happy with him and saw no reason to mar his joyful zest with her sob stories. Gayatri became the anchor Jai was looking for. As a friend, a confidante he made her privy to all his deepest, darkest secrets. Over the next two years, Gayatri treated Jai to dinner at his favorite restaurant when he graduated with excellent grades…shared his frustration when application to a university in the US was rejected. Jai brought up the topic of her paintings quite often. “I think you should display them publicly. Why won’t you do it? I can arrange it for you, if you want me to. You’re good; you shouldn’t deprive the society of your work. You don’t have to earn your bread the you do, the proceeds from their sales would be more than sufficient.” He hadn’t anticipated the strength of Gayatri`s feelings about this. There was no changing her mind. “I will never put them up as an exhibit or for sale. All my life, I have sold my body, my soul…there’s no part of me today that’s not for sale. Except these. My paintings. They are the part of me that’s still untouched, pure. I want to keep it that way. Please don’t try to take this away from me…Gayatri`s voice wavered and Jai promised her he’d never ask her again. “Dinner’s on me tonight!” Jai`s exuberance was contagious. “So I guess you got the job,” said an equally excited Gayatri. She was referring to a job with an MNC, Jai had coveted for long. “I knew you would get it.” Over dinner, Gayatri sensed he wanted to tell her something. “Out with it now,” she told him midway through their meal. “Okay, here goes….I love you.” He waited to get Gayatri`s response. When she remained silent, Jai went on. “I have been in love with you for the past one year and I can’t think of anything better than to have you with me always. I was waiting for this job to materialize, so I could tell you this.” Gayatri felt tears pricking her eyes. She loved him. How could she allow him to ruin his life? Her past would always haunt them. And she was 10 years older than he was. No, she had to be firm. “Jai, you don’t understand. This isn’t like you think it is. You love me, but in quite a different way than you think you do. I will always be with you. I will be with you and the girl you’ll choose to marry one day. You’ll meet her someday soon and then you’ll know what I am saying is true.” Jai just shook his head, all the confidence of a 23 year old speaking for him. “I am sure about this. You’ll see for yourself.”

PART 3: Autumn leaves

It was two years since that night and the memory of Jai`s words remained as fresh in Gayatri`s mind as if it had been the day before. They continued just as they had been. Jai never brought up the subject again. He didn’t need to. Gayatri could see in his eyes. His love for her was real. And as the months passed, Gayatri found herself melting. Maybe, she thought, just maybe Jai was right. Perhaps this was the silver lining to her dark cloud. Perhaps it was never too late to make new beginnings. She felt her spirits soar high, unfettered in the autumn skies. She would tell him tonight. She would tell him that she loved him too, when he called her. He didn’t call. The next day he apologized. He was calling from the airport. His flight to Delhi was due in 20 minutes. “I can’t talk right now. I have plane to catch. Surely you can tell me what you want to later? Yes, I am sorry I didn’t call last night. I was in a meeting. That’s when it was decided that I should go to Delhi. Some urgent work has come up….”his voice trailed away as he glanced at the flight schedule. “I have to hang up now. I’ll speak to you later. Bye.” The sharp click of the telephone left Gayatri holding a buzzing receiver in her hand. Well, she couldn’t have told him over a public telephone. She would tell him when he called from the hotel. “When did he say he’ll be back?” Gayatri couldn’t sleep. She hoped Jai was fine.

Jai didn’t call up the whole month. It wasn’t like him not to call her for over a month. Whatever could be the matter? “He’s probably just busy.” She chided herself. He said this was a very important break for him. One that he had had his eyes on for a long time. He’s probably working himself all out for the project. Anyways there was nothing she could do; she didn’t have his Delhi number. All she could do was wait. And wait she did for she had to tell him the news that would change their lives.

“It’s me. You busy?” It was Jai. “I was painting. Where are you? When are you coming down to Bombay?” now that she had heard his voice and knew he was fine, Gayatri could afford to sulk a little. “You are? You could have called. I would have picked you up at the airport!!!” he was calling from his house. He’d already been in Bombay for a day. “Hey, cool it. Ab phone kiya hai na…Why are you so angry? Are you free around lunch time? It’s been ages since we met.” “Sure, usual place.” Hell, she couldn’t even stay angry with him. They sat on marine drive, feet dangling, and the salty spray of the sea in their face. Gayatri let herself drown in his talk. This afternoon, she’d make him happy. He’d waited so patiently for her to tell him that she loved him. Gayatri also felt he had changed somehow. He seemed suddenly grown up. Mature. She laughed at her thoughts. He’d only been away for a month. What could have changed? “You were right,” Jai broke into her thoughts. “Huh?” she hadn’t been paying attention. “You were right that time in the Coffee House. About you and me. I love you and I love Megha.” Megha? Gayatri tried to fit this piece into the jigsaw. And as the words sank in, her world turned clockwise in slow motion. He seemed not to notice her expression of disbelief and misery. “I met Megha in Delhi. It wasn’t love at first sight or anything. But as I got to know her, I realized what you had told me was true. I love you in a very different way from Megha.”

And as Jai told her about Megha , Gayatri knew that autumn had set in her life even before spring could make its presence felt. She knew there would be no one like Jai ever in her life again. She couldn’t see Jai with another girl and Jai would never be hers.

That was the last time Jai and Gayatri met or spoke. She went back to the solace of her paintings, to a life of anonymity, never to let anybody else hurt her emotionally.

Part 4: Life comes full circle

There was chaos all around. The chief guest was just about to arrive and Gayatri was just making sure everything was in order. She had finally decided to hold an exhibition after a lot of coaxing from her agent. Gayatri had started freelancing some years back and the response had been tremendous. However, it had still taken her five years to do it. Today, her thoughts were just full of Jai. She never forgot him. She was just wondering what would he say if he saw her like this.

The exhibition started and the response was just as expected, astounding. As she was circulating amongst her guests, she saw someone looking at one of her paintings very carefully. It was her favourite painting one which had not been put for sale. It had the moment when she had met Jai for the last time. It captured the longing of unfulfilled love and she had not expected anybody to understand that moment.
She came face to face with Jai after nearly 17 years and what a moment it was. Jai had been frequenting exhibitions of all first time artists in the hope to see Gayatri somewhere. Hers was the only face that was scanned amongst the thousands of people he met at such exhibitions. Jai had almost given up his search for her when he tried his luck for the last time when he came to this gallery. As they faced each other, no words were needed as Gayatri melted in his arms even as everybody looked on. It was always meant to be. It just took them two decades to know that they were made for each other. Life came full circle as they went back to the same room where they met for the first time.


Mampi said...

Thanks for uniting them finally.
It would have broken my heart if they had not been...

Akansha Agrawal said...

This is beautiful...

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