Arjun Shankar had moved into one of the new complex in the suburbs of Mumbai. He had recently got a job with one of the multi national IT giants which were sprouting up all over Mumbai’s technology parks. He had completed his MBA from IIM and had been recruited from campus with a big pay packet and all the accompanying frills.
His parents were settled in Pune with his dad working in the defense sector. As he scouted for apartment to rent he decided to splurge and move in to an apartment complex with all facilities like gym, tennis court, running tracks etc. He had worked too hard for completing his education and decided to enjoy the comforts that it fetched in the market place now. His work kept him busy with constant travels all over the globe. One of the things he sought whenever he was home was to hit the gym or run.
It was late in the evening in December of his first year of residency, he was working out at the Gym and he had an inkling of someone watching him.
He turned and saw a man walking towards him. He looked to be in his early twenties, tall, muscular and dapper. He had a walk of someone who was aware of the shadow he cast on lesser mortals around him.
“Don’t you recognize me?” he said cheerfully.
“Jagdish” said Arjun as pictures flashed in his mind.
“Of course, who else” said Jagdish maintaining his cheerful disposition.
Jagdish Gupta was Arjun’s buddy from the military school they went to in Pune. Well Jagdish was more classmate than buddy but Arjun was happy to see someone familiar in an unfamiliar city he was trying to make home in.
They cut short the workout and walked out to catch up. Jagdish after completing school had gone to complete his MBA from one of the universities in marketing. He was working in a company as the regional sales manager. After School they had gone there separate ways and moved in different social milieu to bump into each other.
“So you completed MBA from IIM?” said Jagdish with admiration and sarcasm in his voice.
Arjun smiled. Arjun was one of the average students in school and his father was a low level officer in the armament factory. Jagdish was even then the dapper and smart kid in school. Jagdish’s dad was a senior officer in the army and hence the family was one of the movers and shakers in the society. The family lived in bigger quarters with servants at their beck and call. All these flowed into the school and decided the pecking order among the kids. Jagdish was always the cricket captain and class monitor.
They exchanged addresses and numbers before going to their respective apartments. After that two meet regularly either to work out or run or just to reminiscence the good old school days. Jagdish filled him with his tales of conquest at his work and in the field of romance. It was difficult to meet regularly as Arjun traveled abroad but over a period of time they had a semblance of friendship.
It was early summer of the following year and Arjun had just returned back from his trip to Europe. He had been gone for a few weeks and decided to follow on the few voice mails Jagdish had left him.
“So you are back” said Jagdish when they meet later that evening.
“You lucky dog” continued Jagdish. Arjun smiled.
“Meet any goris?”
“I was busy and did not have time to even see places”
They walked a few paces till they came around to the central place of the complex. This was where the gardens, pool and other amenities were located.
“Turn around slowly and look at the balcony on the first floor” said Jagdish.
Arjun did following Jagdish’s instruction. There she was; sitting in the balcony looking out to the garden and the activities around. The sun had still not set and the Mumbai summer was yet to show its true colors. There was a gentle breeze and the light cast by the Sun along with the shadows of the coming night had given the entire area an aura of golden hue. If it was a bollywood scene, Arjun would have broken out to a run in slow motion with a singing chorus in the background and his outfits changing in every frame. It was not to be, the gentle breeze seemed to caress her and he could see her shiver in its aftermath.
“Hey” said Jagdish shaking him.
Arjun turned and looked at Jagdish with a scowl.
“She is mine, stay away” said Jagdish.
“Do you know her?” asked Arjun with trepidation.
“Not yet but soon” replied Jagdish confidently.
Arjun had no heart in the gym or the run. As he ran he kept looking at the balcony and she was not there. He lay in the bed twisting and turning. Her beautiful face, those round eyes and flowing hair kept him awake late into the night. He knew he had no chance if Jagdish was to put his hat in the ring. Arjun was tall and lanky with curly hair. His various attempts at the gym not withstanding there were no serious improvements in his muscle mass. With six packs and eight packs being a popular item of discussion in the media and television, Arjun realized Jagdish the ‘he man’ could sweep her of her feet.
They saw her sitting in the balcony that weekend and Jagdish waved at her. She smiled and waved back. Arjun was too stunted to react. After the run he followed Jagdish meekly and stood below the building.
“Never saw you before” said Jagdish
She was leaning against the balcony.
“We moved in recently”
“I am Jagdish and this is my friend Arjun”
“I am Jaishree”
“Nice meeting you” said Jagdish
Arjun smiled casting fleeting glances at her. He stood transfixed by her beauty and serenity of her face. She looked more beautiful from close. He had nothing to say but admire her and bask in the glow cast by her beauty. He could hear the guitar and piano playing love notes in the background.
“Come down sometimes and hang with us” said Jagdish
“I will” she replied
Next week he had to take a short trip to Japan and work kept him busy. It was Saturday of the following week he had come home early from work. He decided to go for a walk. More than the perambulation he wanted to see Jaishree. He knew it was a lost cause but his heart yearned to see her. He passed her building and looked up. She waved at him.
“Wait I will come down”
Arjun waited near the entrance of the building. The elevator opened and she wheeled out. She was in a wheel chair. He stood shocked for a second. Then saw her smile. He smiled back.
“How are you?” she asked
They decided to do a walk around the trail. He walked slowly beside her as she manipulated the wheel with dexterity. After the initial shock receded, Arjun found her to be a good companion and he was able to relax. She was intelligent and sensitive to go with her beauty. She had just finished her masters in English literature and was looking for a job.
“What are you looking for?”
“I would prefer to work in a charity organization, if not then as a teacher”
He walked back home deep in thought. He liked her. They had exchanged number and emails. During the couple of hours they spend together he did not ask her about her handicap or she about Jagdish. They exchanged emails and Arjun responded to her in spite of his busy work schedule. She spoke about her ambitions and her desires.
He banged into Jagdish the following week, running on the trail. Arjun looked to see if Jaishree was around. He did not see her and was disappointed. They walked into the garden to relax and catch their breath.
“She is langda” said Jagdish
“She seems nice” said Arjun
“Did you hear me?” said Jagdish annoyed
“I did and don’t enjoy the tone in which you speak about her”
“You were always an idiot your IIM MBA not withstanding. They make mistakes too.”
Arjun just looked at Jagdish; astonished at the amount of angst he carried within him.
“You can have her” said Jagdish contemptuously.
“It is not about having her. It is about respecting people”
Arjun did not see her for a couple of weeks. He was about to go to gym and saw her sitting near the garden looking at the kids running around.
She looked back and smiled.
“Where were you?”
“Work and travel, just came in early this morning” he said
“It is like the pot calling kettle black” she said and they smiled.
“You want to go for a walk” he asked
“No too tired” she said.
He sat on a bench beside her, both silent and enjoying the cooling temperature brought on by the night and the impending monsoon. He had known her only for a few months but craved to be with her. He saw Jagdish pass by but both ignored each others presence.
“That is your friend” she said
“We had a small disagreement. He will get over it”
They were quite for some more time and then she spoke up.
“Don’t you want to know?”
“What?” he asked.
“How I became langda?” she said
Arjun was too stunned to open his mouth.
“I heard you guys, the other day”
Arjun looked at her and then stared out into the distance. He was too ashamed to look at her.
“It was an accident. I was sitting in the passenger seat.”
She was speaking in a monotone. He looked at her and knew she was reliving the incident.
“It was late at night during winter. We were returning from an office party. We lived in Dallas, Texas.”
Her voice was breaking. He reached out and touched her hands.
“My dad died and I was hospitalized. I broke my leg at several places” she continued haltingly.
Arjun sat silent holding her hands.
“It has been over a year and we could not live there anymore. I finished my remaining credits and we moved out to Mumbai”
He looked at her and felt a deep burn in his heart. His respect for her courage in terms of adversity, cast a new light on her character.
“I wanted to see you before we left”
“Where?” his asked in a high pitch
“We have a few things to settle in Dallas.”
It was dark and mosquitoes announced of their arrival. They were landing and taking off with speed and noise rivaling that of the planes landing at Mumbai airport.
“You can let go of my hand” she said with smile lighting up her face. He awkwardly let go of his grip.
“When are you going?”
“How long are you gone?” he asked
“Will be back next year”
He was supposed to travel again but managed to wriggle out. The following week they meet everyday. He would go to her apartment and they would either go out or sit in the balcony. He drove Jaishree and her mother to the airport.
“I will call or email you” she said.
He bent down gave her a hug and squeezed her hand.
They kept in touch almost every day either through email or she would call him. Arjun meanwhile was busy with traveling and work. He could not wait to see her again. Each passing month seemed to take years to pass. They would spend hours chatting on the net.
“I think I am in love with you” he typed
There was no response. He was worried that he mistook her friendship for love. Then his phone rang.
“I was worried would grow old waiting on you to say that” she whispered breathlessly into the phone.
“I was not sure how you would react”
“It is less than a month. We will be flying back in the first week of January”
He could not wait. Every day now felt like years. He was in a hurry for the year to be over. He would gaze at her pictures, laugh recollecting the silly jokes they shared. It was non stop songs, violin and flowers in full bloom.
Then the day came. He was at the airport hours before the arrival of the plane. As usual the airport was teeming with people pushing and jostling for space at the railings which separated the arriving passengers from the crowd. It was a classic Indian mela with crying kids, honking taxis and tired passengers pushing the huge luggage’s which was mandatory for any Indian coming from abroad. He stood gaping at the passing passengers straining to see her in the crowd.
He felt someone pull at his hand. He shook it off. The plane had landed where is she? This time it was a pinch and he turned around angrily.
“Hi” she said
He saw her standing in the crowd behind him with an impish smile. He gathered her in his arms and held her tight.
“I did not see you” he said still holding her in his arms.
“You were looking for lang….”
He kissed her.
Langda—lame but used in a derogatory tone