I considered today's trip to the Saturday market (aka the local flea market) successful. After the clumsy dealing and haggling with the one-day shopkeepers on the banks of the river Tapti I was ready to return back to my hostel. Even though the memories of the plague and the floods were fresh in memory, a trip to this filthy market was worth it for the good bargains you get on old National Geographics, Times, Popular Mechanics, imported cassettes and many more things. It is debatable though about the legitimacy of the things sold here, were they thrown away Raddi (Scrap) or stolen. Keeping the debate away I was happy to get a couple of National Geographics and the current week's Time magazine. I must say though, my friends back in the hostel would be disappointed that I could not find any thing that could give them a helping hand.
After the chaos of the Saturday market and the chowk area the college seemed a very serene and heavenly place to go back to. I walked back swiftly to the place I had parked my bicycle- Hero Jet cycle. I was very relieved as always to find it. There is always the fear of it being stolen in the few minutes you are gone. Right now my cycle was the dearest thing to me. I guess for a person like me it was more important for me to love someone/something and was not really important for somebody to love me. I did not expect much from the people I loved and cared about, I am a giver rather than a taker. A very good friend of mine told me that when you expect something from people you will get hurt. Whatever the reason might me I have yet not found anybody to love and care for more than my cycle. My cycle took me places in Surat city and I was happy with it.
It was about mid afternoon now and the hot sun was making it unbearable to stay outside. I wanted to return to my hostel room as soon as possible. I unlocked the key on my cycle, removed the stand and mounted my bike with the aura of a king mounting a decorated stallion. I steered and pedaled my cycle through the heavy traffic through the small gullies of Surat. Raj Bhog Sweets was on the way back to the hostel and I couldn't resist but eat a plate of Ras Malai. After a good sweet all I wanted to drink was another chocolate milk shake at the Danish Milk and Dairy Products in the newly opened Sargam complex. Over the years that chocolate milk shake had become a staple drink for many in the hostel to supplement the excuse of a dinner we ate.
Steering my way around the traffic I started my return journey to the hostel. A auto rickshaw almost bumped into me- driving in the chaotic Surat traffic for three years I had come to learn, not to argue with the driver but drive trying to avoid them, that is the way most of the traffic moved. Everybody was in a hurry to reach somewhere and had no time to waste. The absence of speed limits or traffic laws did not help much.
I pedaled through the gullies to finally reach the Surat-Dumas road at Athwa gate which was a main road- very broad, clogged to its capacity and no time was a good time to be driving around the Athwa gate area. As I approached the intersection at Athwa gate the traffic was heavier more chaotic. The traffic was speeding up to pass the signal before it turned red and trying to avoid waiting a while for their next turn to cross. I too wanted to make it during the current green cycle of the signal, but my cycle was not a match for the timing of the signal so I slowed down and considered crossing the intersection on it's next green.
A scooter (Kinetic Honda) passed by me- it was a maroon one. It carried a women clad in a violet matching Salwar Kameez. The scooter just whizzed past me as just another vehicle in the traffic. There was nothing special about it other than the girl driving it. She to was in a hurry to beat the traffic and avoid the wait of couple of minutes for the next green in the hot sun. She tried her best but the signal timing was not on her side, it turned red before she could cross it. The Kinetic stopped abruptly in the middle of the road. It was too hot for her and she had stopped to wrap her dupatta around her head to beat the blazing sun. As she was draping her sky blue dupatta around her head I passed her and could not help looking at her. She was a good-looking woman. The dupatta around her head looked like the sky itself had descended on her head, trying to protect her from the rage of the sun. I was looking back and forth as I moved forward to take my position in the line being formed at the signal trying not to bump into anything or anybody. On one of the occasions as I looked back she caught my eye and smiled at me, it was a perfect arc.
There was something very odd that struck me about this particular situation. I could not figure it out. There was something mysterious about the moment that was being played out on the road. There were some hectic signals being thrown around in my head. As long as I remember I have had a strong sixth sense which makes me know about things before they happen. I am especially sensitive to bad things that happen to people I care about. I have been able to know about accidents that happen to my close friends and family. Like last week I knew a friend of mine was going to be hit by a car and break his hand, it sure happened a little while after my mind told me about it. It has been a very scary issue for me that I come to know in advance about the bad things that happen to my friends, which to a certain extent keeps me away from getting very close to people. This particular signal, which my mind was desperately trying to convey to me right now, I could not decipher it. It was very cryptic and I was not able to break the code. For a while I forgot about breaking the code and though of all the possible things- Does this mean she is going to be in an accident and something terrible is going to happen to her? Do I know her? Am I supposed to know her? Is she the one I am supposed to fall in love with?
More than anything else I just wanted to make sure she was all right. I did not want to live with the thought that I knew what was going to happen to her before it happened. I was still starring at her as the signals at the intersection had other plans- they turned green. She whizzed away again through the traffic. In a desperate effort to save her I took the task of following her. The signal had turned green and everybody had a head start in the grand prix and I did not want to be the last to finish the race. I fixed my spy eyes on her bike and followed it with diligence.
She was going towards Chowpathy, she was too fast for me to catch up. I could see glimpses of her going far ahead of me- A car comes in between then a bus, a truck, she disappears for some time then again she is there. I pedaled with all my strength as if running for my life or was I trying to catch my life? I remembered that there was no other traffic signal from this point on. I tried to keep an eye on her but the traffic was heavy and she had no reason to stop for me or look out for me. In a perfect world we were two total strangers. I could still make out a bike and thought it was her- I was sure it was her. She was traveling towards Parle Point as I reached the end of Chowpathy.
The traffic was beginning to get thinner with people going into the different distributaries of the main road. Knowing that she did not turn onto one of these roads I can be sure for now that she does not live in the Chowpathy area. I continued following her with vigor- or was I following the road? The traffic was thinner now and it was not that crowded. I could clearly keep track of anybody on the road but she was not on the road. She had already dashed off and now, not visible to me.
I could neither see any big gathering of people standing beside the road, which was a good sign that no accident had happened- at least till where I could see. I was sweating like a pig, I probably would have won a medal in the Olympics and made India proud. But it was not the time to waste on dreams. Pedaling along I went back to try and decrypt the message my sixth sense was telling me. Still I had no clues what it was trying to say. But for my own selfish reasons and for the fact that I had not seen any accidents or untoward incidents on the road I assume it had to do with something between us. I had felt something I never felt before when I meet women, I think it was love. It was strange but true that some times you love things and people you never expected to.
I was nearing the intersection where the Narmada Marg interested the Surat-Dumas road, She looked kind of intelligent and educated, she might have been going to the Narmad Central library- I doubt it though. I followed my inner sense and went straight ahead on the Surat-Dumas road. I was passing the Surat city police station, I thought I saw a bike resembling the one I was pursuing a little ahead of me. Though I was not sure it gave me some relief that I might be on the right track.
Now I assumed to find her at the Chouksi College or at the Apple Computer Center a little ahead of the College. With all my power I pedaled the last lap of my race and reached Chouksi College only to see it was a holiday today. There was nobody or no bikes parked outside even at the Apple Computer Center. This place was always a crowded place with all the college guys hanging around. I could not give up, I assumed that she was not from Chouksi College or a student at the Apple Computer Center. The next stop would be Parle Point, the premier shopping complex of Surat and I was sure she looked like a girl to go shopping on a holiday. I did not give much thought to the three other four-way intersections I had to cross driving towards Parle Point.
By now I was pretty sure what my mind was trying to tell me- that she was the one I am supposed to fall in love with. She was the answer for my, someone-somewhere is made for you. I was calculating all the problems I would face getting married to her, is she older than me? Is she too young for me? What if she is from a different cast? What if she is from a different religion? Is she rich? Is she poor? Would my parents agree to a love marriage? Would her parents agree to a love marriage? How would our parents react? Will my parents ask for dowry? Will my parents like her? Will her parents like me? Is she vegetarian? Does she like movies? Will she like me? Will she like my family? How will the society react? What will my friends say? Will she agree to run away with me if her parents don't agree for our marriage?
As all these thoughts were going on in my head I reached the Parle Point. I braked and stopped. Some thing struck me again- there was a crossroads before me and behind me. It was impossible to say which way she had gone. The simple probability of her taking a road is 1/8 but this was not a problem that could be solved by mathematics. She could have turned left and gone on to Ghoddodh road or gone straight towards Pipload or turned right towards Ambaji. the possibilities were huge and in the small time frame I have to find her and with my cycle I had to convince my self to give up and return to my hostel. I felt a bit stupid but I was hoping that what ever my sixth sense was saying, she was fine and was not in any trouble. I stopped there for a while and let the sweat run from my face to the shoulders and beyond. I was tiered from the long chase. The idea of going to Sargam to get that chocolate milk shake was no longer alluring I just wanted to go to my room and sleep on my bed.
With anguish and a broken heart I started to pedal straight to my hostel. I realized how easy it was to fall in love, but so hard to forget somebody you love. The newly built Sargam complex was very impressive, and it was quickly becoming another big shopping center in Surat. As I was nearing the Sargam complex I could see a medium sized board with something written on it. It should have been a new sign, as I had not noticed it before, I reached closer and it read "Now Open. New Aptech Center. Here!!!"
I also saw something else, there was a maroon Kinetic Honda parked along the road with all the other bikes parked. And there was a girl wearing a violet Salwar Kameez sitting on the steps outside with her head in her hands. She looked like she had missed some class. Her dupatta was still clad around her head. As I approached her my heart was pounding and I was sweating and breathless, she raised her head looked towards me, smiled a perfect and the sweetest smile I had ever seen and said
It has been many years since I first saw that smile and I still look at it- everyday waking up right next to me.