“Doesn’t she look like Aishwarya Rai?” I said to Rajan.
She was gorgeous. I have always had this habit of falling in love with beautiful things, words, people and I fell for her on the first day I saw her. It was the first day of the sixth standard in school, back in 1996. The teacher was getting along with the introductions of the newly admitted students and she was one of them. I was waiting for her turn desperately, dying to know her name, looking for an excuse to ask her a question about her earlier school, or where she lived, or her hobbies, anything!
“Hello everyone, my name is Ananya”, she spoke in a soft, nervous tone and sat down on her seat.
This one line introduction wasn’t enough for me at all. As soon as the first period ended, I shifted the seat with a friend and sat exactly behind her. The teacher arrived in the classroom and started taking attendance.
“Hi!” I said.
She didn’t reply, didn’t say a word, didn’t even turn.
“Ananya, right? Hi!” I said again, calling her by her name and therefore, forcing her to give some sort of reaction.
“Hi”, she replied by looking slightly to her right.
I hadn’t seen any girl wearing golden earrings in school ever. I wanted to ask if the earrings were of real gold, but I didn’t want to make her feel that I was more interested in her earrings than her. She wasn’t responding at all and I wanted to befriend her as soon as possible. I began to think of something, something crazy, something unique, just like her.
An idea struck me. I took out the five rupee note, that my mother gave me to buy lunch, and dropped it near her school bag.
“Hey, look I found this five rupee note near your bag. Is it yours?” I asked her with a plain expression on my face.
“No, it isn’t mine”, she said and took the note from my hand, “but we should give it to the teacher”, and the next moment, she was on her feet telling the teacher that she found a five rupee note near her bag. I was wondering whether she was really that dumb or was trying hard to be one? Anyway, I realized I wasn’t going to get anything to eat in the lunch break.
“Were you in a girl’s school or what? You don’t talk to boys at all?” I asked her suddenly, while pinching her back with the tip of my sharpened pencil.
“Ouch!” she screamed.
“What’s going on there?” the teacher asked.
“I broke my pencil’s tip mam”, she said before I could say anything. Everyone in the class laughed.
“Thanks!” I said to her.
“Why are you bothering me?” she asked.
“Because I am interested in knowing you”, I replied truthfully.
I thought I heard her giggling before she said, “Mental case.”
I copied her giggles and thanked her again. I was enjoying any little attention that I was getting from her side. She was amazingly beautiful. She did look like Aishwarya Rai. I hadn’t told her that yet. I wanted to. I was waiting for the right moment.
Over the next few days, we became close friends. I told her one day that it was me who had put the five rupee note near her bag on the first day of the school to get her attention. She was surprised, I didn’t expect her to. She surprised me every day with something or the other. She surprised me when she took the responsibility to improve my handwriting that literally sucked. One could never tell the difference between my ‘l’, ‘p’ and ‘f’,, I always wrote these letters as |, I was always in a rush. She surprised me when she chose to sing “O Mere Sona Re Sona Re Sona Re” in the music class when told to sing her favourite song. It was unexpected because Nadeem-Shravan used to rule the music charts during that time, and she picked a thirty year old song. I wondered who would have made her listen such songs. She surprised me when she gifted me a set of six different colored pens before the semester exams so I could write my answers neatly. She surprised me when after winter vacations, she told me that she missed me. The year was about to end and we were inseparable. I still hadn’t told her that she looked like Aishwarya Rai. I always wanted to, but somehow, I always decided to tell her some other day.
Three years passed. She grew up to be the most beautiful young girl I had ever seen. I loved to be with her. We promised we would always stay in touch, even after school, even if we end up in different colleges. I liked the thought of it. I walked her home every day after school. She used to hold my arm with both her hands. I told her every day I am not going to run and leave her alone, I was serious. She laughed it off. She said holding my arm made her feel good. How I wished I could tell her that it was the best feeling for me too. I had told my female cousins countless times to hold my arm just the way Ananya did, no one was better at it than Ananya.
Valentine’s Day of year 2000 was about a month away. The millennium was about to end. There was a big buzz among the youth about celebrating the last Valentine of the millennium with their special ones. Everyone was desperate to find their ‘someone special’, Ananya wasn’t. Not that she hadn’t wanted to meet her ‘someone special’, she told me that she had already found hers and that she was going to tell her ‘someone special’ on this Valentine’s Day that she loved him. As long as I had known her, she hadn’t talked about any boy with me. An unbelievable thought crossed my mind. I wanted to know who the boy was, because I thought it was me. She could never hide anything from me. If there was someone else she was attracted to, she would definitely tell me. But she hadn’t, so it had to be me.
Next day onwards, I started asking her about her ‘someone special’. She said she didn’t want to tell me yet and that she had waited for so many years for this moment to come.
“But why wouldn’t you tell me?” I asked in an excited tone one day.
“But why wouldn’t you wait?” she replied.
Her eyes sparkled while she looked at me. It felt as if she wasn’t looking at my eyes, but she was looking at my entire being at once. My eyebrows, my eyelids, my nose, my lips, my forehead, my unshaved beard, my ears, my hair, everything, I could feel her gaze running all over my face. Somehow I controlled my urge to hold her face in my hands, tell her eyes to stop traveling my face and kiss her right there!
For the first time in three years, I was not sure what was she doing or thinking. She was anew every day. She would ask me questions like “What do you like to eat in winters?” “What places would you like to travel if you had money?” “Which books would you like to read other than course study?” In a sense, she seemed to want to know all about me. I was living the best time of my life. The feelings felt during those days are still afresh in my heart and I can feel her warmth in my breath even today.
Two weeks before the Valentine’s, she vanished. Just like that. Whoosh!
I don’t know where she went. Some girls said her father got transferred to a new city. Some boys said she was avoiding the Valentine’s intentionally and concentrating on preparing for finals due in another two weeks after Valentines. I waited for a couple of days before concluding anything. It was when my curiosity almost killed me, I decided to visit her home. It was locked at the main entrance.
After three days, it will be two weeks to Valentine’s. Every year she haunts me during these two weeks. It doesn’t matter where did she go, neither does it matter whether she loved me or not. What matters is that she could have told me that she did, but she didn’t. What matters is that I could have told her too, and I didn’t. Now it is too late to find her, too late to love her and too late to tell her that she looked like Aishwarya Rai. I wish someone told her, I hope she loved him. I just hope they didn’t name their daughter Aaradhya, which would be too filmy.