Amrita-Imroze: Love Unconditional

Amrita Pritam was married at a young age. Married to a cloth merchant in Lahore, her marriage was a loveless one and she moved with her family to Delhi after partition.

Once in Delhi, Amrita began working with AIR on a radio programme of Punjabi poetry. She however soon fell head over heels in love with the famous poet / lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi. Theirs became a much talked about love story. Sahir and Amrita were truly in love. However the objection to an eventual culmination of this relationship came from Sahir’s mother. Amrita after all was previously married and had two young children. Sahir left her, but love never left Amrita. She continued to pine for Sahir hoping that one day he’d change his mind.

Meanwhile, at ten years younger to her, Imroze was besotted. Not just by her beauty, but her poetry as well. As he watched her walk to AIR from his terrace, he decided he would offer her a ride to AIR on his motorbike. Soon he also took the task of dropping her children to school. Once, after being booked for triple riding, he changed his scooter for a car. But his love for Amrita would never change.

Imroze’s love for Amrita was perhaps one of the most endearing and heart touching examples of true love sans any condition. There were no promises, no questions asked or answers expected. It was a love that blossomed in its purest form since there was no expectation of an emotional reciprocation. This was unconditional love at its deepest.

Amrita eventually moved in with Imroze. And gradually began to understand the depth and true nature of his love for her. Amongst her poems many were dedicated to him. In one poem she wrote that maybe she spent fourteen years of her life (with Sahir) only to wait for her one true love (Imroze)

Amrita and Imroze never married or formalised their relationship in any other way. They stayed together, lived together, loved together and were with each other in a very special way. Amrita was always conscious of the age difference between a Imroze and her. She once asked him to travel the whole word and see it and experience it before talking of love. Imroze merely walked around her seven times and told her he’d seen what he needed to. No one could ever love Amrita the way he did.

As their years together drew to its inevitable end, Amrita acknowledged his love and his presence in her life with one of her most beautiful poems Main Tenu Phir Milan Gi (I Will Meet You Once Again) where she talks of an eternal cosmic plane where the two of them would unite forever.

Today at a ripe old age of 93 Imroze still lives in the same house where spent time with Amrita. He brought her two children up and saw them settle down in their own lives. The day Amrita passed on was the day he wrapped up his canvas and brushes and never painted again. That chapter of his life was closed forever. However like Amrita mentioned in her final poem, he believes he’s still with her at some cosmic level. Till date she is mentioned by him in the present sense.

Maybe Amrita had a premonition about this as she wrote the following lines as her deepest expression and acknowledgment of his love for her and her reciprocation:

Kaise Iska Karz Chukaaye

Maang Ke Apni Maut Ke Haathon

Umr Ki suli si hai humne

Baat qufr Ki kee hai humne

A love like Imroze’s cannot be found in any age. A personality like Amrita is a rarity. Their story is one of unconditional love, which is a blessing not chanced by everyone.

The Window Seat

He always loved a window seat. Even if it meant sitting right behind in the bus. The jerks and bumps would be more he knew but he didn’t mind as long as he got to sit by the window. He loved gazing out in the open on a speeding bus. Meadows, fields, cottages, hillocks passing by in a blur of green and brown. Those images made him happy. He usually hummed to himself on such journeys. One song after another.

Today he had a mixed compilation playing on his headphone. It was a “‘my favourite love songs” mix he’d done a while ago. Cat Stevens, Joni Mitchell, Judee Sills, Van Morrison and a host of others. He hadn’t heard this in a while now. He was looking forward to listening to it as it’s playtime was almost similar to his journey time. A little under an hour.

As Charlie Rich’s soothing vocals sang “The Most Beautiful Girl” his mind started wandering. Going back to happier times he spent with her. SHE was the “most beautiful girl” to him. She meant everything to him. They had so many plans together. His thoughts took him back to the time when they were both struggling newbies in a new town. A chance meeting at a local supermarket had started it all. A love affair that was way too deep, intense and fulfilling to be called that. In a matter of a short time they were living together in a cramped studio which they shared. Life had looked promising ahead.

Meanwhile in the same bus

Joni Mitchell’s Clouds was playing on her earphones. She was happy that the old gentleman by the window side had exchanged his seat with her. She hated aisle seats anyways. People always would bump into her, sometimes unwittingly and sometimes otherwise. Hence she jumped when the old man offered her his window seat. It’s easier for me to use the loo you see, he explained. Not that she needed any explanation.

Her mind was filled with all that was happening in her life at that moment. She had to sort out all the mess that her work and personal life had been in. A trip back home to her mom always revitalised her and now she was heading back to town, ready to face her struggles.

She was surprised Joni Mitchell was on her playlist. She was never much of a fan of “HIS” type of music. HE loved Joni, Van, and so many of those singer-songwriter types. She on the other hand preferred good old 80s pop. Madonna and Culture Club could seldom be topped in her books. She however didn’t skip the Joni song but heard on as she sang

“I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now,
from up and down, 
and still somehow it’s clouds illusions I recall, 
I really don’t know clouds at all”.

The song seemed to reflect her present state of mind.

She remembered those times shared with him. In that tiny studio apartment. It was cosy but they had so much of love filled in that space. They dreamed of making it big in the city together. For each other. With each other. How they naively believed all they’d ever need was love. Her mind got agitated when she remembered all those times when things went horribly wrong. The same cosy studio felt cramped and choking at the times when love flew out of the window. She couldn’t deal with his moods his tantrums his questions. She felt the need to move out. And breathe…

…………….

The bus carried on its journey towards its destination. Stops came and went. People got in and out. Kids were singing, men and women talking, discussing arguing. Everything was like always. Routine. Regular. Usual. And in the same bus sat two people, who lived in the same city but in different worlds. Moving on with time but still carrying an old memory, an old smile, an old love tucked somewhere deep in their heart. At times those memories would be stirred up by something like a song or a movie or even a line uttered by someone somewhere. Those memories made their hearts a little warmer in their cold world. The world is full of inexplicable coincidences. Sometimes we get to see and experience them. Most of the times we don’t.

They both got off at the same stop. The final stop and made their way to their respective directions to their respective worlds. They hadn’t seen each other in the bus. Both unaware that they occupied each other’s thoughts throughout the journey.

Copyright (c) Pratik Majumdar

Pani Puri

Tears kept streaming down his eyes. He was embarrassed by it. Especially since she was sitting right opposite him at the table. He knew her eyes were on him. But he couldn’t help it. The tears refused to stop. 

“Still can’t handle the spice eh,” she laughed as she looked at his hapless face. She knew the pani puri was way too spicy for him. Her trick had worked. 

“And yet you don’t go easy on them do you,” he countered, trying to mask his obvious embarrassment. “You load them up as much as you can, just to see me this way.” 

She laughed out loud, looking at him lovingly. It had been so many years since she’d seen him from so close. His crinkly eyes, all teared up, his salt and pepper hair, more salt now than pepper actually, his boyish expression. She loved having him so near after all these years. 

“I knew her way before I knew you,” he had told her husband. “We were in college together, you know.” He worked with her husband for about 3 years now and yet it was only a month ago when he came to know that she was his wife. 

“So how was she like in college,” her husband asked him, as the three of them settled on the rug on the floor after the pani puris. 

“She…she was amazing,” he wondered aloud, looking at her sparkling almond eyes as he reminisced. He spoke on and on about her, as her husband heard in rapt attention. She felt partly embarrassed hearing about herself from him. And yet another part of her remembered her old self lovingly, almost as lovingly as he seemed to remember. 

“Why are you such a fraud,” he asked her. “You step out of your Mercedes in a Khadi kurta and torn jeans and chappals, screaming hoarse about socialism. Do you realise how fake it sounds?” 

“I just don’t get your logic. Because I come to college in my dad’s car means I can’t talk about socialism? Do you even hear yourself to realise you make no sense whatsoever,” she angrily retorted. 

Their college days were filled with such daily banter. Her left-leanings amused him more than it irritated him. He was an unabashed “commie-basher,” as he loved to call himself. His ambition knew no bound as he wanted to succeed. Success and speed. That was his only mantra those days. As they sat together in the college canteen, he’d be drawing up business plans for his own future company, whilst she’d sketch the couple next to them. Sometimes she would show him one of her writings. He’d dismiss them as “typical teen-angst a-la Sylvia Plath”. Naturally she’d be furious. But by the end of the day they were back to holding hands, whispering sweet nothings.  

She rushed to college that rainy day looking desperately for him. Her father had arranged her marriage with a friend’s son who had his own IT firm. The boy has a bright future, her father beamed, as he held her confused face in his palms. He will keep you very happy,” he added, without waiting for her answer. 

She couldn’t see him anywhere. Even their common friends hadn’t seen him the whole day. She kept wondering where he could be. And then it dawned on her that she had asked him to get ready to meet her father one of these days to talk to him about the two of them. “I’d rather run away than talk to him without having made a mark for myself,” he’d joked then. “Maybe he wasn’t joking after all,” she thought to herself as she waited the whole day alone in the college canteen. 

He wasn’t to be seen for the next few days. She waited, tried his home phone but got no response. Every time the phone rang at her place she’d run to pick it up hoping it was him. But he didn’t call. He didn’t come. Her father announced her wedding date on the day of her engagement. It was a short and sudden ceremony. She smiled throughout the evening, holding back the tears that were fighting to come out. She had never seen her father so happy. And yet all the while he didn’t call or arrive. 

He finally arrived on the evening before her wedding. They sat together in one corner of her room. Her house was filled with relatives and guests, everyone busy with last minute work for the big day. Her cousins were in the room with them, so they had to keep their voices down. 

She held his hands tightly as those tears found their way out of her sad eyes. “Why why why?” The only words she whispered in the middle of her silent sobs, her head bowed down. He was trying to tell her about an opportunity in the USA which he was working on and how he wanted to surprise her. But by the time he had come with his surprise, it was too late. 

“We can still run away you know,” he whispered, looking around to see if anyone else in the room had heard him. He knew it was a futile last attempt. 

“Go away,” she jerked his hand off hers, in a silent rage that was eating her up from inside. “Go, just go.” 

The beep of her mobile brought her back to the present day. 

Thanks for a lovely evening. Although the pani puri was too spicy for me as always, I loved being at your place. You’ve truly made it a beautiful home. And your husband is such a wonderful person. And I am not saying this because he’s my boss. I genuinely mean it. I didn’t take the USA contract after I left your house that day. My life didn’t turn out the way I thought it would. But I’m happy to see you’re happy. Always stay this way.

Tears kept streaming down her eyes. She was embarrassed by it. Especially because her husband was sitting right next to her. 

“The pani puris must’ve been really spicy,”  he consoled her, as he wiped the tears off her face and hugged her. She shut her eyes as she hugged him back right, and her tears still flowed. They had been held back for many years. 

NB: “Pani Puri” is a spicy tangy Indian snack

Copyright (c) Pratik Majumdar

Unbroken

He was sitting by his window when her call came. It had been cloudy all these days and finally the rains had come well and truly. He loved gazing aimlessly out his window watching the rain. He could almost feel getting drenched by them. He loved that feeling.

His moments of solitude where interrupted by the vibration of his mobile phone. He looked up and was surprised to see her name flashing. After all it had been 4 months.

He kept staring at the phone unable to decide whether to pick it up or not. He felt unsure. Because, he knew her. Once she’d decided it was over between them nothing and no one could change her mind. Hence he was surprised to see her call after all this time.

He finally did pick up the phone.

“Never thought I’d call again did you,” she sounded bright and cheerful. Once again he was taken aback by her tone. He was expecting her to sound grim, stern and stoic, not this cheery. “How…how are you,” he fumbled, his mind still confused with too many thoughts.

They had broken up four months ago. Fights and disagreements had been an integral part of their relationship. Tumultuous was the word he often used to describe what they shared, in his post-break up phase. They were both strong-willed egocentric individuals and like their love even their disagreements had a lot of passion. The fights had increased drastically towards the end. At one point it felt every time any one of them opened their mouths it would lead to a counter retort from the other, ending up in a bitter fight. It seemed as if they’d forgotten to be nice sweet and loving towards each other. After one of such many violent disagreements, she’d decided they split up. “It’s no use fighting like cats and dogs just to stay together. We hardly have fun anymore,” she announced. “We can always try,” he had tried to reason. But like always she overruled him. “I can’t stay with you any longer.” She had made her mind up. She had to move on.

“Are you still moping about for me, or have you moved on CB,” she chirped, knowing his response very well. She knew he was still pining for her. “I…I am single still but doing well,” he tried to sound chirpy too adding a false bravado to his tone. “My little Cry Baby,” she cooed on the other side, smiling it herself. “Ok so we fought again and this time it lasted four months. Can we be normal again,” as always, she was calling the shots. He nodded silently, the mobile stuck to his ear, not a word from his lips. “I can’t see you, you idiot, but I know that’s a yes,” she laughed out loud. She knew too well.

They spoke for hours that day. Cleared out a lot of things, misunderstandings, and a whole lot of unresolved issues. They both felt happy from inside. For all their fighting and disagreements they did share a love which they knew was special. It couldn’t end so easily. I’m not promising you no more fights, get it CB, she was still teasing him relentlessly. She called him Cry Baby as she knew he was a softie from inside. “Yeah right, as if I don’t know you,” he retorted with gusto. By now he was back in his elements, the happiness of having her back in his life, evident in his tone. “Let’s meet quickly instead of wasting our time on phone calls,” he said. “Our usual place. In an hour,” she was excited at seeing him after a long gap too. They both were.

“I don’t know why you had to do this,” the elderly gentleman told her, as she disconnected her mobile and struggled to get off her bed. She looked at him and smiled.”You won’t understand this doctor. You have to know CB to understand. If he finds out a couple of months later he will be shattered. I can’t make him go through that. No matter what happens to me.”

These four months had taken a toll on her looks. She was almost half her size now and her lustrous mane now reduced to a fashionable boy cut. She yanked the drips off her arm even before the elderly gentleman could take them off her. She put on a trendy cap and her favourite Armani shades. He had gifted them to her on her last birthday. She smiled as she saw herself in the mirror. “CB get ready to be bowled over again,” she cooed.

“Can I at least drop you,” the gentleman offered. “No worries doc, I can drive very well even now,” her eyes twinkled as she grabbed the keys from the bookshelf. As she sat in the driver’s seat she noticed the envelope from the nursing home in the passenger’s seat. The positive malignancy report from the oncologist still lay there. She folded the envelope twice over and put in her handbag. “Let me leave him smiling and happy. With happy memories of me,”  she said to herself as she turned on the ignition.

The car sped along, reaching its destination where he was eagerly waiting to meet her, to start a new life. And she was reaching there, just to be in time for a last happy goodbye.

Copyright (c) Pratik Majumdar

Summer Rain

Summer Rain

She looked around her in a wondrous mix of awe and apprehension. As she gazed at the tall buildings around her, she walked past the basketball court to enter the main campus. It was her first day in college and she was understandably nervous.

And then she saw him. The moment she saw him something inside of her lit up. “He’s the one I want to marry”, she said to herself. She didn’t plan to say it. The words just filled her mind. Spontaneously. Instinctively. She felt a sudden surge of happiness inside her.

As she reached the campus she began to check the timetable board to figure out where her classes would be. But even as she kept on searching for her classrooms, he was in her mind. “When will I see him again? I’m sure I’ll bump into him again. After all its college. I hope we become friends one day.”

 Her mind was racing ahead with thoughts.

Then she saw him again. And again. In fact he wasn’t hard to spot in college. As captain of the gym team he was a popular guy. Girls swooned over his looks. Over 6 feet, wavy hair kept short, clean shaven, a fit lean body, he was the veritable heartthrob of college. But, as she found out, he had a serious side to him as well. He was into debates and elocution and the couple of times she heard him speak, she was bowled over even more. And she particularly found him irresistible when he wore his black rimmed glasses. “If anything could make him look better than he already looked.”  She found herself swooning like most other girls in college.

She never got to know him though. There were friends who said they could introduce her to him, but she always backed out. A strange inhibition stopped her from wanting to know him. Deep inside her maybe, she didn’t want the bubble to burst. What if, he turns out different from what I picture him to be. Silly thoughts that kept hovering around her stopped her from ever getting introduced to him.

They say the best years of our lives also pass on the quickest. College breezed by her as she went through her share of crushes, heartbreaks, serious friendships and casual encounters. She couldn’t have asked for a better phase. Some of her best friends were made at that time. But despite all that she never forgot him.

He was senior to her. So on the last day of his college; she had this terrible urge to go and talk to him. The years had flown by and now it was time for him to leave. I should talk to him at least once, she thought to herself. She blushed at her own thought.

But she was invariably tongue-tied in front of him. She had practised what she would say to him, the whole day, but when the time came she developed the proverbial cold feet. She saw him sitting with his bunch of friends making plans post-college. He was wearing his glasses too.

In a matter of sheer impulse and exuberance of youth, she rushed to him and gave him a tight hug. It was so spontaneous that he was taken aback and she, when she realised her action, kept hugging him for a few lengthy seconds more, not knowing how to get out of this embarrassing situation. And yes. He smelt so nice! She released him from her hug and ran across the canteen in a delirious mix of adrenaline-flowing-thrill and embarrassment.

Present Day…

She leads a happy life now. She’s married to perhaps the best man she could’ve dreamed of being together with. They worked together and that’s where they both fell in love. He asked her out and a couple of meetings later they realised they wanted to marry each other. And now, 11 years of relatively married life and two wonderful children later, they are an ideal couple to most of their friends and family.

She usually loved driving. Especially when they went on long drives outside the city and back. However he insisted on driving that day. “Let the husband pamper his wife,”  he joked as he sat at the wheels accelerating on the highway. As they approached the city the traffic slowed them down till finally they had to stop at a signal.

She looked out of her window. And there he was. On the driver’s wheel of the car standing next to theirs. She was amazed that she could remember him after all these years. But she did. He hadn’t changed much actually. Just a few steaks of grey on his hair, the glasses now seemed as if they were permanently on. He had a lady sitting next to her, but she didn’t bother about her. She kept looking at him, ogling almost, as memories came flooding back to her. For once she was angry with her husband as he sped on no sooner had the lights turned orange. “What’s the rush? We’re only going home,” she muttered, as she lost sight of the car next to her.

She was a mix of inexplicable happiness and a tinge of sadness. The thing about memories is most of the time we don’t know whether they make us happy or sad. She messaged her best friend from college after a long time. She wanted to tell her who she’d seen today.

She woke up the next morning feeling really happy. She tried to remember her dream of the previous night but she could barely remember the events. She only remembered he figured prominently, almost solely in it. She lazily stretched her hand outside her window. It was raining. It was summer. It wasn’t supposed to rain at this time she thought. But somehow the rain made her happy. She felt a flush of happiness all inside her as the raindrops kissed her hand.

Copyright (c) Pratik Majumdar

A Cup of Tea

“It was the worst movie I’ve ever seen”, he complained as they walked out of the theatre. “Disgusting, propagandist, and pseudo to the core”. He couldn’t contain himself once he started.

“It’s just a movie. Why are you overreacting”, she asked, bemused at his reaction. “See it, enjoy it, forget it”.

“I can’t you know”, he said, still seething. “I feel strongly about these things”.

She took him by his hand and led him to the crowded food court. It was a weekend evening and the place was teeming with people. Ladies garishly dressed, men wearing clothes they ought not wear. Noisy children running about making pests of themselves whilst their parents obviously didn’t care. Thousands of plastic bags flaunting high end brands all over the mall. “It’s another way of making money”, he snarled. “If they were so concerned about the environment they’d make paper bags instead of charging for the plastic ones”, he fumed.

“Will you just relax”, she said looking right into his eyes, as she gently placed her hand on his.

She knew what ticked him off and what didn’t. He felt deeply about things and hence got affected by them more easily than most others. She knew him. Understood him. She knew when to keep quiet and let him rant, helping him vent out his feelings, and when to make him stop. She was the one solace he had in a tough unfair world.

He got up abruptly and walked towards the tea stall. His ginger tea and her latte. Constants in their lives, like each other. He carried both the cups and sat down opposite her. She looked at him and smiled. “Aren’t you hungry? Should I get some snacks”, she smiled at him and asked, whilst picking her mug up to take a sip.

“Naah. I overdid the popcorn bit in the theatre” he said, not looking at her but instead fiddling with his cup. She waited for him to say more, but he remained silent.

“Ok now, out with it. I know it’s not just the movie. There’s something bothering you and I want you to tell me. Don’t keep it bottled up inside”. She finally exploded, unable to keep her cool which she was finding hard to maintain all evening.

He was taken aback by the sudden change in her tone. He recognised the seriousness when she sounded like this. “I don’t know. I…I just don’t feel right. About anything. About everything”, he blurted. “I am unhappy. I can’t seem to find peace. I feel as if I’m sinking and taking you along with me too. And you don’t deserve this. To be stuck with me here in a meaningless relationship”. He knew he should have stopped a while back, but couldn’t do so.

“Did you just say meaningless”, she said, looking at him directly in the eyes as she slowly pulled her hand away from his. Her eyes did the rest of the talking, in the midst of that awkward long silence. Suddenly it seemed the food court too had become silent.

The noise in the food court which seemed to have abated started again as two people sitting there were involved in a life altering conversation. He realised he was losing her. She knew her level of patience had been breached. She couldn’t go on this way any longer.

She wiped her eyes swiftly with a tissue paper, placed it back on the table as she got up. She picked her bag up looked at him one last time and turned around. His head hung, looking vacantly at his tea up as he felt her walking away from the table. From his life. He knew he’d lost her forever.

He sat there for a long time after that. With that undrunk cup of tea. Half hoping she’d come back, half lost in his own thoughts.

“Come on darling let’s go, we will get late for the movie”, the voice startled her, bringing her back to the present day from her thoughts of the past. She looked up and saw the loving rotund jolly man she had married six years ago. He gave her no cause to complain,loved her selflessly, took care of her dedicatedly. Her life now seemed complete.

Love? That was a thing of the past. She now felt grateful. Her life was now about understanding and fulfilling. Sometimes we can love inexplicably without reason and without logic. And yet at times we are unable to love despite all the reasons being there. Today she realised what those lines, that she had once read in a book, meant.

She took his hand as she got up. “Let’s go for the movie”, she smiled, leaving her latte on the table just like that solitary cup of tea which was left behind at the adjacent table.

Copyright (c) Pratik Majumdar

Idle Cinema Musings #1

Dharmendra- The Story of a “Bhodrolok” who couldn’t be…

In 1966, in a what was to become an iconic scene from OP Ralhan’s Phool Aur Patthar, a young strapping Dharmendra took his shirt off to cover a shivering Meena Kumari. It was a defining moment in hindi cinema. A moment when the macho hero was born. True, there were heroes like Shyam earlier, and even Dara Singh who appeared tough and swashbuckling in their screen persona, but the brawny machismo that is oh so common in Hindi cinema today, came into being with the advent of Dharmendra. The first he-man of Hindi cinema.

Countless films over the past decades have gone on to reinforce and firmly establish Dharmendra as the quintessential “Mard”. The ultimate he-man, the evergreen action star. But somewhere down that tremendous road of success, another side of Dharmendra has been completely overlooked. Ignored and forgotten. The “sensitive bhodrolok” persona of Dharmendra.

Interestingly enough Dharmendra has shared a unique equation with some of the top notch Bengali directors of Hindi cinema. It was Bimal Roy who gave him a break as the sensitive jail-doctor who silently pines for Nutan in Bandini. His association with directors like Asit Sen (Khamoshi), Phani Majumdar (Akash Deep), Dulal Guha(Chand Aur Suraj, Dost, Do Dishayen), Satyen Bose (Jeevan Mrityu) have more often than not showcased him in roles devoid of the usual rumble-tumble one associates his cinema with. Even in Hindi remakes of Bengali films like Naa (remade in Hindi as Devar), Dharmendra shone in his quiet, sensitive avatar. Dharmendra’s only full-fledged tryst with Basu Chatterjee (barring cameos in the director’s Chhoti si Baat and Swami) saw him essay the role of a quiet and shy Sanskrit professor, complete with an attire of a simple kurta-pajama and thick-rimmed spectacles. It was amazing that Chatterjee’s Dillagi was released in 1978 alongside action films like Shalimar and Azaad. Even Pramod Chakraborty the maker of Azaad, Jugnu and other commercial potboilers started his association with Dharmendra in the Hindi remake of Bimal Roy’s Bengali film Udayer Pathey. Naya Zamana portrayed Dharmendra in the role of an upright idealist, a role it seemed he was born to play.

Dharmendra’s association with Hrishikesh Mukherjee requires special mention not just for the quality of films the two of them have worked together in, but also for the type of roles Mukherjee offered him all through. Be it the sensitive writer of Anupama, or the soft hero of Majhli Didi, the professor of botany in Chupke Chupke or the college lecturer in Chaitali, Dharmendra was the quintessential bhodrolok. His undeniablly good looks added that extra sheen to each of his characters that he portrayed with elan in his films with Mukherjee. Even when he was cast as himself, the film star, in Guddi, a soft sensitive endearing side of a larger than life star was what Hrishikesh Mukherjee managed to make Dharmendra portray. How one wished all superstars would have a human side to them as Dharmendra did in Guddi. And of course the absolute stamp of Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s vision of Dharmendra as an actor was put in the masterful association of the two in the iconic Satyakam. The brilliance of Dharmendra’s performance as Satpriya makes us wonder why and how he got to flaring his nostrils and shooting his machine gun in countless mindless movies when he could come up with something like this.

Macho man, Garam-Dharam are titles Dharmendra has had to live with all his life, throughout his career. Maybe he owes his success thanks to that image. But maybe somewhere deep inside there might be a tiny trickle of regret of not being the “bhodrolok” he could’ve been. The sensitive actor he was destined to be at one stage of his career.

Aaya Hai Mujhe Phir Yaad Wo Zaalim…

PS: The term “Bhodrolok” is a bengali word which roughly translates to “Gentleman” or a “well behaved sensitive man”

Copyright (c) Pratik Majumdar

Poppy Day (tout va bien)

A bright light shone 
Into my life
And now she’s gone

She’s Gone, Steve Knightley (Cruel River album)

He held the red poppy in his trembling hands as he sat with his head bowed down, on the wooden bench at the side of the street. It was a busy day in November as veterans dressed in their best coats with a red paper poppy attached to their breast pockets, walked around, hugging and congratulating each other. Despite the gloomy winter weather, their spirits were high.

He was a veteran too. Though not of war and definitely not as old those celebrating on the streets. His sideburns were more white than black. That’s how old he was. Once you cross 50 then you’re like the veteran next to you, she would joke. ANd you know I love the oldies more, don’t you, she winked at him. As he sat waiting for a couple of months for her prophecy to come true, he felt older. Much older than that. A couple of rain drops kissed his worn out sneakers. He looked up and the sky confirmed the rains that were surreptitiously making their presence felt. He got up from the bench to find a shelter, just like the vets on the street.

As he stood under the stone carved shelter of the cafeteria he saw her. Walking along, more gliding along the rain drenched street, her auburn hair completely wet just like her long flowing dress, her eyes a-sparkling more crystal than the rain drops, her lips shaped in a joyous smile. He was sure almost everyone present all around would fall in love with her. He certainly had.

She wouldn’t be a day more than 20. Her cheerful smile and her whole being seemed the brighten up the dull weather. She lit up the place as she handed a red poppy to one and all on the street. Some thanked her, some hugged her and some gave her a peck on her cheek which she returned with equal love, all the affection she got. Her eyes caught the 25 year old handsome guy that he was. He wasn’t nearly double that age then. He had his arms outstretched and he smiled when their eyes met.

They sprinted to a coffee shop nearby, still laughing, still holding hands. She ran her hands over her hair and shook her head sideways to drizzle off the rain from her head. She looked at him as the water from her face trickled down her lips and neck. He kept looking at her, mesmerised.

“God I’m so cold”, she broke that beautiful silence. She smiled at him as he ordered two espressos for them. “And I’ll have them quiches too”, she added to his order.

“I missed you so much”, he finally spoke, clutching her hands tighter. Steve Knightley’s Cruel River played in the background as the lovers spoke.

He had never known anyone as free spirited as her. She wrote poems, played her guitar, making up her own chords for known songs, sang like a robin. She didn’t like calling her job at the old home, work. “It’s something I love doing, it’s my passion to be able to make these people happy. That smile on their happy faces, their kind, gentle appreciation cannot be exchanged for money”, she argued, each time he told her she was meant for a more ‘meaningful’ career. He had no answer to that response.

“Let’s get married”. Her sudden declaration caught him completely unaware. He nearly choked over his black coffee, as he looked up towards her. Her light brown eyes were fixed on his all the while. She had an expression that was a heady mix of surprise, joy and anticipation, as she enjoyed his reaction and waited for his response. “Well”, she continued, “say something silly”. And remember no is not an option she laughed, clutching his hands as tight as he was holding hers a while ago. He kept the coffee cup down on the table and placed his other hand on hers. For a moment they both were silent as their eyes whispered to each other.

Yes. Yes. Yes. He heard his heart tell him loudly. Just one of them came out of his lips. And that was enough. The people in the coffee house cheered and clapped as they kissed. Steve Knightley was now singing Tout Va Bien as the lovers embraced. It was a magical evening as the sun said it’s final goodbye outside the coffee house.

“The rain has stopped mister, can you move on please”, the old lady from the cafeteria spoke to him, bringing him back to the present from his thoughts. His unfixed gaze as was lost in his past came back to this world. The street looked fresh, just like after a nice bath. People were back on the streets moving along. He adjusted his coat as he moved out, away from the stone carved shelter of the cafeteria.

It was Poppy Day that day too. As he waited for her to come and meet him. They were to go the registrar’s office to get married. He waited and waited but she did not come. Eventually the news of the accident outside the old age shelter came. The crash that shattered their dreams. That changed his life. Forever.

He looked up to see the sky clearing out. The setting sun painted the sky a glorious deep orange. He walked alone on the rain drenched streets, the red paper poppy still in his hands. It was soggy, but not just from the rain drops. The Steve Knightley song She’s Gone played in his head as he walked on by himself.

Copyright (c) Pratik Majumdar

The Song

Well I know it’s kind of late

I hope I didn’t wake you

But what I got to say can’t wait

I know you’d understand

Every time I tried to tell you

The words just came out wrong

So I’ll have to say I love you in a song

Jim Croce, I’ll Have to Say I Love You In a Song.

The bride looked beautiful. She was glowing. Her happiness painted all over her face. The groom stood beside her, looking dapper in his dark suit. They made a lovely pair. Family friends and official photographers were clicking them away to glory.

She looked at him in the midst of the “smiling for photos” and quietly tapped on his hands. He leaned towards her as she whispered, “Let’s go in now, I’m tired”.

In their suite the newly weds lay on the bed. Exhausted. They’d made love and true to his nature he had turned his back and was asleep. His light snores both amazed and amused her. She looked at him lovingly and then slipped into her gown and went to the next room.

There were flowers, cakes, chocolates champagne bottles, strewn all over the room. She felt happy as she sat down on one of the sofas in the room, eyes half open, a content smile on her face.

The window next to the sofa was opened bringing in a light breeze that played with her untied hair. They were all over her face making her look even more beautiful. Her bliss was interrupted by a beep on her phone

It was from her father. Wishing her and his son-in-law a pleasant travel the next day. She smiled as she read his message. “Oh Papa messaging away at 5 in the morning. I know how much you’re already missing me”, she thought to herself.

She was about to keep her phone down when she noticed yet another unread message. She’d seen the message when they were at the banquet hall during the reception, but couldn’t open it then. She’d thought she’d see it when they were in the room. Naturally she had forgotten.

It was from him.

A strange sea of emotions engulfed her at the moment. She didn’t know whether it was happiness, nostalgia, sadness or anger. Maybe it was a mix of all of that. But the most overriding of them all was the sense of excitement she felt seeing the name of the sender.

They’d been the closest of friends for so long. And then one day suddenly they drifted apart. She had questions to ask. But she didn’t get the chance. He had gone away before she could get her answers. They shared a closeness that was unique and yet she felt there was some wall always between them. She loved him like the best buddy she always wanted to have. And finally she found that with him. But somehow she always felt something prevented him from reciprocating her feelings.

Some of her friends told her that he liked her more than just a friend, that he loved her. She always refuted that saying she knew his girlfriends, each one of them, and that she herself was not “his type”. And then one fine day they just stopped talking. It was a silly fight, something so trivial that she didn’t even remember it now. But yes she did miss him. Time had layered his memories with newer ones. Life had moved on. But the message today, removed all those cobwebs and the memories came flashing back to her eyes, filling them up.

She opened his message to find nothing written. It was just a sound file. She felt slightly disappointed as she was expecting to read what he had written. He always wrote so well. She wanted to play the song but something made her get up first and look for her earphones. She rummaged through her bag and found them. And hurriedly came back to the sofa to sit snugly again and played the sound file. It was a song by Jim Croce, sung by him.

Well I know it’s kind of late

I hope I didn’t wake you

But what I got to say can’t wait

I know you’d understand

Every time I tried to tell you

The words just came out wrong

So I’ll have to say I love you in a song

A couple of those tears found their way out of her almond eyes, caressing her cheeks on their way down. She looked at the message on her phone. “You idiot”, she sighed softly to herself, as she shook her head. She looked out the window. The sun was just getting up, painting the dark sky with a brush of bright orange. She got up from her sofa and went to the bedroom. His snoring was a tad louder now. She smiled at him as she got under his sheets and wrapped her arms around him, shutting her eyes.

The sound file lay in the deleted items folder of her phone.

Copyright (c) Pratik Majumdar

The Orange Moon

It was the day of the week he loved the most. Friday. The day he’d save enough money to go and buy a cassette from the music shop down the lane. He didn’t listen to music at all but yet every week he’d go down to the shop and buy a cassette. The reason was obvious.

She worked there.

Ever since he’d seen her for the first time he’d been hopelessly besotted. Love at first sight had always sounded like such a cliched line but when it did happen to him he realised how real it indeed was. He was drawn to her like a moth to a flame. He just had to see her every week.

Her gorgeous brown wavy hair, her almond eyes, her sunshine smile or that dusky flawless complexion. He didn’t know what it was that drove him mad every time he saw her. Or maybe it was the sweet perfume that lingered whenever he was near her. There was something about her which made him crazy about her.

He was incredibly shy and withdrawn by nature. It had always been him and his books. Nothing or no one else. So he really didn’t have anyone to talk to about this love of his. He kept it within himself as a secret only he knew.

Every Friday when he walked to the store he promised himself he would talk to her. He would practise a couple of sentences as he walked towards the store. But once he entered the shop all his words and thoughts escaped him. He would be mesmerised just looking at her. She always smiled at him, her big brown eyes twinkling as she smiled. But somehow he couldn’t open his mouth. He would, in a machine-like motion, hand over a cassette to her. She’d always ask him if he wanted it packed, he’d nod a yes and she’d go inside to pack the cassette. She would come back with a smile, hand it to him and he would rush out of the shop without even a thank you. His heartbeat at that moment every Friday would be double of normal. But he couldn’t help it. It was the moment he’d be waiting for, the whole week. Next time I’ll surely talk to her, he’d promise himself, knowing very well that wouldn’t happen. He just couldn’t get himself to open his mouth in front of her. He’d go home and put the cassette inside a wooden chest.

That day was not a Friday. It was in fact a Tuesday but he found himself walking to the music store. Over the weekend they’d had guests at home and his uncle had magnanimously given him some cash. Although he wasn’t very fond of this particular uncle he loved him that day for the money he’d given him. That extra money meant….

There was something different about the store as he entered it that day. He looked around and realised she wasn’t there. Maybe she’d gone inside to check something or maybe she was gift wrapping tapes for someone else he reasoned to himself. A slightly balding middle-aged man came and asked him if he was looking for anything particular. He said no and walked out. It was the first time he was walking out of the store without anything. Except a broken heart.

He would wait for Friday, he told himself. Maybe she was ill or had taken the day off.

The next three days were difficult days. He couldn’t concentrate in class. Didn’t talk much to the few friends he had, didn’t eat properly, couldn’t sleep well. He was in fact quite the proverbial mess. Somehow he wanted to make Friday come a bit sooner if possible.

He walked in again, with an unknown anxiety instead of the usual excitement he felt every Friday. He looked around the store before looking at her counter. But yet again he couldn’t see her. The balding man from Tuesday was standing at the counter selling a bunch of cassettes to a lady. He grabbed a cassette from a nearby rack and waited behind the lady for his turn. His heart was beating fast, his mind flooded with so many questions and thoughts as he waited.

“Where is she”, he asked, as he handed the cassette to the balding man.

“You want this one right”? He looked at the boy surprisingly.

“Yes yes this one please. I want to buy this one”.

“Do you want it gift wrapped”, the man asked.

“Yes please”.

The man took out a silver paper and began to wrap up the cassette. He was surprised he didn’t go inside to the other room like how she’d go, when she gift wrapped the cassettes for him.

“Where is the girl who used to be at this counter”, he finally asked a coherent question, in a surprisingly composed and cool voice.

“Aah you mean Maryam”? The balding man smiled as he spoke. “She left. Sweet child. Her father got transferred to another city so she had to go. Lovely girl she was”, he wistfully smiled as he spoke.

It felt as if his world had come crashing down. He had hoped she was on leave or maybe had fallen sick or something like that. Something that would ensure she’s be back again in a short while. But alas, she had left the city forever. He finally knew her name. But to what avail. She herself was not there anymore.

“Maryam…Maryam”…he kept repeating her name as he went home. He cursed himself for not talking to her at least once. He couldn’t describe in words how horrible he felt.

He went home and opened the wooden chest to put the cassette he’d just bought. Something struck him about how the man had nonchalantly gift wrapped the cassette in front of him there. Then why did Maryam go inside and wrap?

He looked at the bunch of tapes that lay inside, unopened. All meticulously gift wrapped. He picked out a random one and began to unwrap it. It was a Billy Joel tape. There was a small piece of paper on top of the tape with something written on it. “You’re looking great in the check shirt today. Wear checks more often. They suit you”.

He couldn’t believe what he was reading. He stood there holding the tape in his hands. Not knowing what to do. Frozen like a statue. 

“Love your smile. Why don’t you talk to me”.

“I wish you would just hello. Would love to hear your voice”.

“Hey. I like Rod Stewart too. Which is your favourite song”?

“Are you really this shy”?

“I look forward to your coming and hope that one day you will talk to me”.

“Do you even read my messages”?

“Hey I hope you read this message. I might be leaving town. How I wish we could go out just once and spend some time together”.

He sat down in a daze. A bunch of unwrapped cassettes were strewn all over the place. His mind was blank as he didn’t know if he was sad or happy. He felt numb. He picked up the Rod Stewart tape and put it on. As the whiskey-voiced Scotsman crooned Downtown Train, he could see the moon coming up. He got up from his chair and went to the window, aimlessly gazing at the orange moon as Rod Stewart sang on.

Copyright (c) Pratik Majumdar