Thursday, February 05, 2015


"Love isn't easy", said Ghalib once. And yet, there's always a tenacity around it that helps it find its way through obstacles. This one's for all the romantics out there. A story of a tenacious love set in (where else) Mumbai. Pleased to share my publication in this month's Spark magazine. Their theme for the month was 'Romance'. Read on. 


“Love is in the air
Love is everywhere”

A gigantic hoarding screaming this message towered over the rail tracks as the Mumbai local train approached a bend. Two of the country’s most famous film stars were featured on the poster, advertising the upcoming film that was going to be released on Diwali. A saga of love, life, and a promise fulfilled was going to enter a thousand screens and the lives of millions across the country. The heroine, draped in a yellow colored sari, flashed her pearly whites and looked down. Embracing her and resting his neck over her shoulders was the heartthrob of the nation – a superstar nearing fifty, his face upheld by the prayers of millions and the magic of Botox.

To take that view, one would need to be cynical. Sunita wasn’t capable of it. She held on tightly to the railing of the train, well aware that her train station was approaching.

As the station arrived, she arranged her dupatta to the center, and just before the train ground to a complete halt, she landed on the platform with life and limb intact.

The sea of people washed her ashore, away from the railway station, through a phalanx of stairs. Sunita took in the air, the noise, the fast-dwindling light of the day, the heavy commotion of the rickshaws on the road. The evening was here. Two hours of commuting to get here and she still felt fresh and vibrant like a morning dew drop. She was ready.

“Love is in the air
Love is everywhere”

A towering hoarding stood 100 meters away and 30 feet taller than Sunil’s rickshaw, which was one among the many immovable objects stuck in the traffic jam. Sunil was fighting his impatience with distraction. He had been stuck in traffic for the past half an hour. The white shirt he had chosen for the occasion was being spray painted by black soot emanating from the exhausts of trucks that wouldn’t have passed a pollution check test. The sweat on his temples was beginning to drip down to his vest. The anxiety he was feeling was slowing down time. At least, to him, he had been sitting there for an eternity.

He had ample time to study the smug face of the hero. The curvaceous beauty of the heroine. The harmony of the picture.

The message was clear to him. Love elevated people out of their troubles. Their misery. Their challenge of existence. Love offered the promise of miracles.

Right then, a miracle happened. The traffic inched forward. A barrage of pointless honking over the past twenty minutes seemed to have jolted the traffic Gods out of their stupor. Sunil smiled to himself. This was happening. He was ready.

Sunita had enough time to ponder about the unfair romances Mumbai had to offer for its lesser mortals. She saw a young couple zoom past her auto rickshaw in a shiny blue car. The girl looked like she was straight out of the pages of the fashion magazine she often flipped through while stopping by A.H. Wheeler book stall on a local railway station. They breezed through with an air of confidence and ease she never experienced. What a comfort it would be for her to sit in the air conditioning of the car and repair the stressof the heat on her face and hair. No, there would be none of that for her while she headed to the rendezvous point. She caught a glimpse of herself in the rearview mirror of the rickety rickshaw and sighed. A deep long sigh of distress and anticipation.  An SMS arriving from a cell tower up close sent her phone into a tizzy of vibrations. “Stuck in traffic. Will be there soon”. She looked at her phone and let a shy smile escape her.

Sunil had already traveled nearly two hours in train, autorickshaw and a bus to get to where he was right now. He calculated that Sunita too must have spent an equal amount of time to get there. Why, he wondered, should an evening together be such a hassle to arrange? It was as if the city conspired against romance.

They had once decided to go sit near a promenade, to quietly enjoy the waves, and were chased away by a lathi wielding policeman. He had taken it upon himself to root out any indecent behavior. They would have watched more movies if Sunil could get himself interested in them. Eating out was a good choice, but they realized that the good places were heavy on the pocket and the time they had to wait to get into them. No, love is not easy, as Ghalib once said.

Not today. Today, they were not to be deterred. Today, the city would not defeat them. They were going to meet and hold hands and talk without the cacophony of the surroundings overpowering them. They were going to seek each other out with the assurance of the two movie stars on the poster of the movie without having to look over their shoulder to see who was watching.

He paid off the rickshaw driver and stepped out. He glanced down at his watch. 8.45 pm. She must already have reached. He rearranged the crumpled bouquet he was carrying in his hand. A fleeting thought crossed his mind. I must call my parents. They must have reached Kolhapur by now. And his younger sister too. She was off at their aunt’s for the night.

He walked into the building, taking the stairs two at a time, hurrying to his destination. The door was already open and a beautiful girl with a face still strained with beads of sweat was putting down her bag. Their timing was impeccable. Sunil smiled gently, entered the house and closed the door. Sunita ran to him and gave him a warm embrace. That little cozy house of theirs, which they shared with his parents and his sister, where space was so small that the adults bumped into one another while walking, was theirs. No other place in Mumbai would be romantic enough today. Sunil stepped back and in a flourish that would have made the movie heartthrob proud, handed Sunita the flowers and said, “Happy anniversary!”

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