Perhaps the most Realistic Reverie!
I was saddened by the news of bouts of illness of one of those women that I was in love with, head over heels, in my very boyhood and until the time of my early youth. With growing age though she receded, ostensibly, in to oblivion she was quite there, stashed away somewhere in my heart of the mind. She keeps coming back to me, now and then, making me travel back in time. In retrospect, while thinking about her histrionic wherewithal, I must confess that I do not consider her now God's gift to acting. But my boyish fancy has always had the better of me and I used to cry in her sorrows and laugh in her happiness. Whatever her talent in acting I must confess that, as of now, she is one of the most beautiful women I saw in my life. Years had past in between, but her image of a woman with almost a fairy tale beauty remained intact.
There's a highway in the east that by-passes the city of modern Kolkata. This connects the north of the city with the south and is known as the Eastern Bypass. When we were children and used to visit this eastern part of the city crossing an over bridge across the railway lines connecting North with south there used to be villages galore producing vegetables in profusion. We often used to indulge in minor thefts by way of uprooting vegetables like radishes, carrots and beetroots, sit by the winding canal and eat merrily. Some evenings we just walked for miles on end. Alas, those villages have receded by miles to further east making way for the unkind urban growth. These days if I happen to be in Kolkata I venture to visit that area for old time's sake whenever I get the time. Often, walking all by myself I can't but help reflecting on the memories of the past. I have finally reached an age when the memories of the vast and varied past are enough to load my otherwise lazy time.
This time when I was in Kolkata, I checked into a hotel on the by-pass itself for the sake of being in seclusion and to be in an area so intrinsically part of my childhood and youth. More importantly, I take an occasional stroll in the evening. On one such evening I decided to hit the by-pass for a stroll. By the time I arrived there it was twilight and the sun had started to recede behind the skyline of modern Kolkata now infested with high-rise buildings. I had discovered that the Eastern by-pass had become very busy and was perhaps not suitable for a walk any more. But old habits die hard. So I kept walking. Various kinds of fast moving vehicles were speeding past. I remained oblivious to everything and sauntered along until, at a relatively solitary place devoid of pedestrians, I saw a car parked. Despite low light I could make out that it was an Indian-built black Ambassador. For a car of this type it looked incandescently out of character. Even in the emerging darkness of the evening it looked almost too elegant and swanky. Its raised window panes were tinted and nothing within could be seen from the out side. My sense of civility could not put my inquisitiveness under leash. I went past the car. Walked a distance and came back to it again. My curiosity ultimately won over my politeness. What was this lonely car doing here especially when there was no other vehicle parked in the vicinity? I turned the handle of the car. It opened quite easily. It seemed in the darkness that there was no one within. When my eyes adjusted to the darkness I saw her. There she was with all her grace sitting straight, looking ahead without batting of an eyelid. She obviously didn't notice me. She wasn't meant to. It seemed as if now she was there and now she wasn't. Was it really her? I took my gaze closer to her. There she was alright. But was it her? Or was it her ghost? She was emaciated. Her hair was all grey. Her skin was wrinkled beyond imagination. But she had that divine smile on her lips. I was certain it was her, yet I was not. Then, for some reason, a fear started to get the better of me. I started imagining that a human being of flesh and blood was uncannily converting to a skinless, fleshless, ghost. I hurriedly closed the door of the car behind me and started briskly walking away. The fear was soon compounded and it made me run. I didn't look behind. Somehow, gasping for breath, I reached my hotel and approached the reception desk to ask for my room key. It was then that I saw myself reflected on the mirror behind the receptionist. But strangely enough, it was not me. Instead, there was an old man with greying hair and beard, wrinkled skin, lines on the face looking back at me. He had a glint of derision in his eyes. Aghast, I quickly walked away. Later, lying in my bed, late at night, a thought occurred to me. I thought it was at least four decades and some years more. By now so much water must have flown through the rivers of this world that we knew of!
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