I was in the seventh standard when my brother went to college. Our paternal home had a courtyard in the centre with rooms around it on three sides. The fourth side had a huge wall connected to the house on the next street. The first floor had a corridor with a railing on one side that looked down into the courtyard, and the rooms opened into the corridor. Then there was a huge terrace on the second floor.
One summer afternoon I reached home from school and walked into the bedroom to find my brother and many of his college friends sprawled across on the bed, floor, and chairs, listening to the radio and chatting. I dropped my school bag in the corner and turned to leave when my brother called, “hey sis! No hellos?” I stopped, blushed, said hello to no one in particular, left the room in a hurry, and could hear the laughter behind me. I do not even remember if I saw him then.
I was at my maternal grandparent’s house one afternoon when there he was with my brother, sitting in the living room right next to the huge gramophone, with LP records playing. I played outside in the courtyard, but my eyes and thoughts were on him.
He stayed in college for only a few months, and joined the National Defence Academy (NDA) at Khadakwasla, after clearing the entrance test. However, his visits continued over the years. My brother was his very close friend, and every break he would pass through Delhi and spend a couple of days with us. I was only a baby sister of his good friend. He never forgot to bring a bag of chocolates in exchange for those countless tumblers of tea that I made for him on each visit. He finished his NDA training and was commissioned as an officer in the Indian Air Force (IAF). His each visit meant a big lunch at our place, with my brother inviting over all their other college friends.
I remember an incident of one evening when I was in the tenth standard. I was walking home from a visit to a friend and as I was about to cross the road, I saw him walking towards me. He had reached a couple of hours ago and was going for a stroll with my brother. We stopped to greet each other and he bent his knees slightly to look into my face. His hello was followed by comments on the colour on my cheeks and the crimson of my lips, deepening my blush further. My brother elbowed him a little annoyingly and asked him to move on.
His friends from the air force would also visit us often. I was in college when he brought home his girlfriend, a Mauritian. I had had a couple of infatuations of my own. Most of mine were long distance, the old-fashioned eyeing each other, watching from a distance, with not enough guts ever to form a friendship. I only remember one relationship that reached first base, when I was in college. It was around the same time when he was with this Mauritian. Perhaps, that is the reason I was unaffected and was a perfect host to the two of them.
He was ready to give up his career for her, as he could not be in the armed forces and married to a foreign national. She could not see a future for herself so far from home, not sure of parental and family acceptance, and decided to end it. There was too much at stake for him and she realised it too. She had finished her course she was in India for, and was ready to leave. I remember going with him to the market, on his motorcycle, to buy a farewell gift for her. I bought silver bangles. He was struck with a realisation at the time, which he confessed to a few months later. Goodbyes were said, and she left. Things changed thereafter. I started receiving more attention, and definite signals. My mom, brother, and to be sister-in-law were already secretly pairing us in their conversations; we were completely oblivious.
We had been writing regularly to each other for a few years. Those were the days of handwritten letters and snail-mail. Some days I would receive two or three letters. There were cards and letters almost every second day. Most of these were platonic. However, mom smelled something fishy. She decided to swipe a letter to confirm her doubts and unfortunately, that was the first ever love letter by him, which I did not receive. Mom confessed to this many years later and handed the letter to me. It was a lovely letter, in his beautiful hand.
I responded to those signals sent by him, and cannot remember how, but one day gave him enough courage to confess his mind. He started visiting as often as was possible, volunteering for almost all the flying assignments in Delhi. When he was newly posted to a region in Northern India, he left, only to return within a few days for the republic day parade he had volunteered for. He had come with a purpose and declared his intentions to my brother, who divulged them to my mother. I was summoned and asked if I wanted to marry him. I declined and ran away, scaring the hell out of him. My first birthday after this admission was two days before my final year exams. He was a man in love, and I was scared because of the showdown I had with mom. My welcome for him was lukewarm. Mom was upset with him too, and he could sense it. But, he was so much loved by all that mom’s little jibes were not even a deterrent. On this birthday, he tried to get into my father’s good books. We went to Connaught Place and he spent most of his time walking with papa. My brother teased him about trying to win over his future pa-in-law.
He took charge, and the same year by August his parents had visited, we were engaged, and married the following February. I had started my post-graduation degree during this time and was living in Lucknow in a hostel. I continued my PG for a while after my marriage and finished first year, only to give it up and run back to him at his base. We built a home in the station quarters and started a life together.
During our short engagement period, like any lovelorn pilot, he would do beat-ups over my house, in his helicopter, when flying in Delhi. There were times when there would be two choppers flying low over the house, with his friend in the other. His low flying always scared me, and I would run inside to discourage him from staying longer.
We had a telepathic connection. We would end up thinking the same things out of the blue, with no prior discussion, not knowing what the other is thinking. Many a times, we would not even be in the same room or location. Like in the love stories, we would be finishing each other’s sentences, talking the same thoughts at the same time, complementing each other completely. Our Writer was powerful, and He made sure that our destinies crossed paths.
On good days, when he was not on any detachment flying somewhere, we would spend quiet evenings at home playing cards, scrabble, or chess. I taught him the game of sweep in cards and never won a round thereafter. He did not like playing chess as much. Our all-time favourite, hence, was scrabble. Twenty-five years later, I still have the same scrabble board and all the coins that I have used numerous times to play with our children.
Both of us loved company and were very fond of inviting people over. We had constant parties and get-togethers. He loved watching cricket, and amazed me with his insight of the game. His comments would be followed by exactly same comments, word-by-word, of the expert commentators. And no, we would be watching live games and not recordings. When watching together, he would not blink even during commercial breaks and completely ignore my conversation. However, if I would be working in the kitchen, he would make a trip to me at each eventful ball bowled, with his running commentary for my benefit.
Birth of our daughter brought us even closer. They both doted on each other. My daughter was crazy for him and I would often call her papa-ki-chamchi (father’s pet) and she would be gleeful.
I remember the day in September of 1994, when an officer from the unit came to fetch me to SSQ (station sick quarters). I was told that he had hit his head against something and was a little hurt. He was laughing and talking to the commanding officer (CO) and others when I reached SSQ. He had to be taken to the military hospital for some checks and was required to stay under observation for a day or two. We came home to pack a few things for him and on the way home, he told me of the bullet that had grazed his scalp. He was flying with his CO in a district in Jammu and Kashmir, gone to pick up some police casualties, when the terrorists started shooting a volley of bullets at the helicopter from the surrounding mountains. One hit him. He started to bleed but was successfully and safely able to bring the casualties and the chopper back. He was lucky, and the wound healed in a few days. He received a wound medal and his name made the list for a gallantry award on Independence Day next year. He received the same at an investiture ceremony in March 1996 from the President. I was carrying our second child at the time.
No person has ever been loved so much or is remembered so fondly as him by all that ever came in his contact. During one of our shopping visits to the canteen, he started talking to a help in the store. We were trying to buy a sewing machine. Our daughter was a toddler and I needed something for constant repairs. He kept addressing this young boy as brother in his unassuming style. The boy helped in picking up the machine and loading it. When we tried to tip him for the help, he refused to accept, saying that this was not his job and he never does it for anyone. He helped us because my husband treated him as a brother. There are countless such instances when he would win over even the strangers with his gentility and genuineness.
Ours was a love story where one is able to live an eternity in a few years of togetherness. When you are lucky to find your soulmate, love transcends time spent together. Very few are so fortunate. And those who are, sometimes lose that love, and then love some more, understanding its worth, and cherishing it for many lifetimes.
||Sarvam Sri Krishna Arpanamastu||