Srinivasan generally walked in quick steps, but there were times when his pace equalled that of a pregnant Rhinoceros wading through the water. Today was one such day.
He had woken up as usual and set out to get the day's supply of milk. On his way back, as he turned the corner of 3rd Cross, a voice called on to him,
"You should get a new bag, Sri".
Srinivasan stopped abruptly, only one person called him by that name. He wished he could walk away without turning back but he knew he couldn't. He turned around slowly,
"Hello Rohini, you seem to have come after a long time".
Rohini seemed to have just got up. She stood behind her gate with her arms over it and held her coffee tumbler in one hand. She smiled gently, "Yes, some or the other reason you see. In between my parents came over there so I didn'nt have to come here".
"Hmmm", agreed Srinivasan.
She went on, "Its been so many years and yet, the colony seems just the same". She looked around and Srinivasan followed her gaze.
"So, how is everyone ?", he ventured meekly.
"Oh, the same. We just put Ravi in school".
"Oh!", said Srinivasan in a teasing tone. Rohini grinned.
"What about you?"
"I teach music".
"Very good, very good. My sister Lakshmi's children are also learning now-a-days. My mother makes them sing when ever they come here. I don't make much out of it, you know how I was at music".
"What about you Sri ? What are you up to".
Srinivasan was a bit dazed. What was he up to indeed ?
"Oh, the usual routine..", he said dismissing her question.
"Nothing special?", Rohini asked suggestively.
He knew perfectly well what she was suggesting at. What she meant was- "Didn't you get married ?". This brought back unwanted memories and Srinivasan at once bucked up.
"Ah, well, I have set up a terrace garden in our house", he began, "I do some basic horoscope matching- nothing big, just for an initial opinion. I am a member of the Temple committee- you know, the old Rama Temple. Then....I passed the CA exam some time back and I have taken up some simple accounting work for some of the colony people- who ever has enough courage. Haha". There, those were his achievements and there was a reason he said it with so much vigour.
"Wow! You've been busy. Good".
"Till when are you here then ?", Srinivasan hurried to change the subject.
"Next week. Just came to pick up Ravi. My parents had brought him with them when they returned."
"Oh! Nice nice."
This time, however, the pause was interrupted by a terrible shriek from within the house.
"That must be Ravi. I better attend to him. Come by some time. Bring your mother too, its been an age since I saw her."
"Yes, yes, sure."
With that Srinivasan walked away and Rohini ran inside.
It was now,that, Srinivasan had assumed the pace of the pregnant rhinoceros.
"Rohini", he said that name aloud.
They had known each other for so many years. Her parents moved into Jayanagar when Srinivasan was eleven. They were in the same class and walked back home in the same group, not together, but in the same group. Ramesh kept Srinivasan engaged and Rohini walked with her own female friends. Apart from that, the only time he saw her was at the temple every Saturday.
Now that he thought about it, and he often did, he could not recollect the exact time or stage in which he fell in love with her. But he knew that his life had become very painful ever since. He had spent many sleepless nights, lying on his bed running conversations in his head. As soon as he came back from college he changed and stood outside, waiting for her. She came by that way, sometimes, to buy vegetables or to accompany her mother for her evening walk and he didn't want to miss the oppurtunity to speak to her, which, thankfully, she did.
However, he never said a word about how he felt to anyone, for he knew that it would not serve any purpose. Both of them belonged to very orthodox families. Added to that her father was highly ranked officier in the I.T department, while Srinivasan's father, when alive, was a clerk in the Postal Department; It was obvious that Rohini would get married to someone of equal stature. Moreover, he realized, as he sunk deeper into his thoughts that, Rohini was very smart- she was always first in class, she sung very well- she did so during every colony event and she played the Veenai. Srinivasan on the other hand was good only in History, much to the disappointment of his father, and could not deal with the raagas even if they were fed to him three times a day.
Nevertheless, he concluded that he could not go on living in this pain and decided that some thing had to be done about it. He would tell her, yes, he would tell her how he felt.
After considerable thought and lot of rehersal, preparing himself for all possible outcomes, Srinivasan fixed the Ramanavami day that year to drain his heart out.
"Lord Rama will bless me with the courage", he thought confidently.
After her program she invariably stayed for some time to enjoy the proceedings. This was the time Srinivasan deemed right. Of course, he feared being slapped right in the midst of all the colony people, but it had to be done.
When the D-Day came, Srinivasan sat in the crowd nervously and waited for Rohini to finish her performance. He could never appreciate the music but he loved her singing and was more than glad to join in the applause. She wore a blue pavadai and a yellow davani to go with the border, and she looked more radiant than ever. If she accepted his proposal he would be the luckiest man on earth, thought Srinivasan.
Rohini finished her performance, came down and sat next to him.
"How was it ?", she asked.
"Oh! What can I say..", managed Srinivas.
He fidgeted around for a while.
Then is spoke.
"I have to say something",
"Try not to slap me",
Now he had her full attention.
"I love you Rohini", there, he said it. He had seen stuff like this only in the movies. The handsome hero confidently went up to his lady love and said those words with all charm. Srinivasan, on the other hand, was not handsome, or confident nor had any charm and was definitely not the hero.
Rohini blinked for a second. Srinivasan didn't say anything else. He forgot all his lines. He saw her from the corner of his eye. There was a smile on her face.
"Why is she smiling? Does it mean she likes me too ?", thought Srinivasan.
"I never thought you might have such feelings towards me Sri", she said. Srinivasan grinned hopelessly, "Besides, you know it won't work ".
"Yeah, my mother would most definitely die of a heart attack if I told her that I was in love with an Iyer girl", said he.
"And I cannot imagine what my father would do".
"Yes, yes....He might be having great plans for your future".
"I like your Sri. Let us be as we were. I am not going to say anything else."
"Yes, yes. Sure. I just...", Rohini seemed to have stopped listening, "...wanted to let you know", said Srinivasan to himself to complete the one line he managed to recollect.
After that day, Srinivasan's life was less miserable. He didn't have to wait near his gate every evening nor did he have to spend sleepless nights. He realised how much time he had spent or rather, wasted, waiting for or thinking about her.
"All this love nonsense is behind me, time to get back to life", resolved Srinivasan.
Sometimes, when he saw her in the temple, the bitterness of the thing came back to him. He closed his eyes and pretended to be in deep meditation. In time, he got used to the pain, of being rejected i.e., and resumed cordial talks.
He passed his B.Com in distinction, passed the Bank Exam in the first attempt and bought a Chetak as soon as he became permanent. Rohini on the other hand, completed her engineering and was married to a doctor in America. The wedding created quite a buzz in the colony. This was the first foreign mapilai in the colony. Srinivasan also attended the wedding, with his mother. He had gifted her a shiny envelope in which were present 101 rupees. Srinivasan's mother had objected strongly.
"Just because she studied with your for four years doesn't mean you pour out your fortune into her bridal purse. No one in the colony is giving that much", she said.
"Oh! Be silent mother. Its okay", he said. She grumbled to herself and went away. Just like all other guests, he too had had his picture taken with the new couple. Again, his mother was right beside him. Srinivasan often wondered, what Rohini did with those photos.
Years later, Ramesh, confessed, rather unceremoniously that he too had proposed to Rohini. Srinivasan was amazed. He was not the only one to have fallen for her.
"Is that why she smiled that day?", recollected Srinivasan. "Was she laughing at another "victim"? Every possibility that she was! Women take pride in the men they have managed to succesfully entice. Men might find pride in their job or in the car they drive or in the number people who saluted him, but a women takes pride in her family-her husband, her children, their success and status. Rohini. How inappropriate a name ? She should have been named Mohini, the enchantress", thought Srinivasan spitefully.
"Wait a minute", said another voice within him, "she didn't ask you to come and stand at your gate all evening. Don't blame her for your foolishness". Srinvasan agreed with this voice and felt apologetic towards Rohini. "After all, in astrology, Rohini is Moon's favourite nakshatram", he said, as if to complement for his bout of anger.
At this point in his recollections, he reached his home.
He went in and set his bag on the table. His mother had just finished her bath. She came in and took the packet of milk to make coffee.
"How many times did I tell you to get a new bag ? You never listen to me", she grumbled.
Srinivasan smiled at himself and buried himself into The Hindu.