It was a tough morning for someone like me who had never been a morning person. I could be one, had mornings started at 11. But it was 6 am. And instead of lying unconscious on my comfortable bed, where I belonged, I was somewhere else. I was sitting on a worn leather seat, right next to the front door of the bus. My eyes were partially closed, refusing to see the sunrise, I had hardly seen any in the last few years. I was wondering if it would be another long journey where I would be conversing with myself all the way. Thinking has always been my favorite exercise and I do it more often than anything else. I was doing it then too, before she interrupted me.
“Srinagar?” She asked.
I gaped at her. Her green eyes, her red cheeks, her fair skin, her untied hair waving behind that blue scarf – were enough to make any man blind. Ah! It appeared like a dream to me, a beautiful dream in fact.
She looked at me hopelessly before she asked the same question to the woman sitting behind me and she got in to the bus as soon as she heard yes from that woman. Well, the girl had to sit on the same seat where I was sitting as there wasn’t any other sear available in whole bus. That doesn’t mean she wouldn’t have sat if there was any, but just telling the facts right.
“Hello.” I said with a smile, a fake one if you really want to know. I was hoping that she wouldn’t be mad at me. Luckily, she wasn’t.
“Hello.” She said with a smile too, a genuine one. I can figure out the difference between real and artificial smiles. I had learnt it long back.
“You must be a Kashmiri.” I asked, though it sounded more of a statement.
“Yes, but how do you know? Fair skin? Well, that would be racist, I suppose.” She said.
“No. Not that. It’s your pointed nose.” I quipped and she laughed immediately. It’s amusing to make a pretty girl laugh. And it’s often a hard job to do, but the reward is satisfactory.
There was some silence after that. A long one, before the bus driver turned on the music player. He played old hindi songs. I still remember the first song that he played – Kabhi kabhi mere dil mein…
I started singing along. She joined me too. I have to admit that I liked her from the beginning, what a carefree girl she was.
“Hey, so what do you do?” I asked as soon as the song stopped. We were still in the singing mood though.
“Err… I am not sure how many guys would ask what do you do before asking other person’s name.” She said sarcastically.
“Oh! I am really sorry. I forgot.” I said, I didn’t mean it though, the sorry part. I never mean it. I am not sure that makes me mean or not.
“It’s all right. I will tell you.” She giggled. “Parleen… Parleen Kaur.”
“Are you Punjabi?” I asked.
“Does that make any difference to you?”
“No. I mean I didn’t know Punjabis also stay in Kashmir. Nice to know that.” I said.
“For one reason, they are human, and Kashmir is not for one religion either. I am sure you mean to say Sikh when you say Punjabi, because the two things are different. I am a Sikh, and a Kashmiri. A part time Delhite may be, but not Punjabi.”
“Yes, I got your point.” I was convinced that she was a smart girl. Agreeing to a girl wasn’t a usual activity for me.
“What is your name?” She asked me.
“Shobhit. My name is Shobhit Verma.”
“And what do you do Shubhit?” I wish she could pronounce it correctly. And she was asking me the same question where I had started and she took the control.
“I study engineering. Third year student.” I replied.
“Really? So do I. I am in second year.”
“Wow, what a coincident.” I said.
“No it is not. Statistically speaking, there are more chances of meeting an engineer than meeting a beggar in this bus.” She was trying to be funny and she succeeded brilliantly.
“That sounds like an insult to me, but I would still appreciate the humor in it.” I said, because I had to say something. I didn’t want to appear dumb in front of a girl who had the rare combination of beauty and smartness.
“I am so glad to meet you my engineer friend.” She said and shook hand with me. It felt good as I touched her hand. You don’t get many opportunities like that. Or may be you do, it’s just me who doesn’t get.
There was silence again.
“Can I ask you something?” I tried to reinitiate the conversation.
“If I say no, would you still ask me that?” She was smiling again. I had already fallen in love with her smile. When beautiful girls smile, half of the damage is already done. By damage I mean – love or crush or something like that. I could never differentiate.
“How come your eyes are green?” I couldn’t stop myself from asking that question.
“Don’t start that. You don’t look like a flirt. So, behave yourself.” She said gently.
“Oh really. Then what do I look like?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Decent and normal guy?” She said suspiciously.
“And you assume that a decent and normal guy cannot and should not flirt?”
“I guess. I mean they shouldn’t.”
“All right. Then I won’t tell you how beautiful your eyes are.” I said and turned my head away.
She turned her head too. I smiled and she smiled too. Or perhaps she didn’t smile. But there was something in the air that kept telling me that she smiled. I have always been an optimist.
“Hey, so where do you study?” She asked this time.
“Don’t change the topic.” I said. And till this date I regret I hadn’t said that.
“I am sorry. What was the topic?” she asked curiously.
“The topic was – your eyes.” I grinned.
“You are mad.” I was expecting that reply from her.
“Ok. If you say so.” I said.
She looked at me with wide open eyes. I looked in to her eyes too. And we kept looking at each other, without even blinking. Those few moments were breathtaking for me. And for her too. I was sure this time. I was sure that she was for me, and I was for her too. I was sure that she knew it too.
She blushed. And we turned our heads again.
“So where do you study?” I asked this time. My head was straight, not looking towards her.
“Don’t change the topic.” Ah, I loved that reply. But I wish she had answered correctly.
“I am sorry. What was the topic?” I asked. I looked at her now.
“The topic was…” She paused, as if she had forgotten it too. “Yeah, the topic was – your madness.”
“All right. What about it?” I said.
“I don’t know. It’s about you. You should know it better.” She said in her soft voice.
“Can I tell you something?” I asked again, but I was going to tell it anyway.
“About my madness.”
She blushed again.
“Yeah. Tell me.” She said.
“It’s about you.”
She observed my face. As if she was trying to figure out the truth in my face. As if she was hoping that I wasn’t joking. As if she had started to like me, just like I had.
There was not much of conversation after that, but we enjoyed the silence too. She had fallen asleep. On my shoulders. Undoubtedly, it was the most comfortable load my shoulders had ever carried. The journey continued. But it had only started for us. And we reached the destination – Srinagar, too early than I had expected. She was about to get down before the main city area.
“Can I have your number?”
“Of course.” She said and gave me her number.
And then we bade good bye, which was not easy.
A month had passed and for some reasons I had not called her yet, not even once. When I called after one month, it was switched off. I didn’t mind that. But then the next day when I called again, it was still switched off. And the following day too. I was worried. I wondered what had happened to her. Or she didn’t give the right number. God, I should have called before – I thought.
Then one day, a friend told me about the Jammu & Kashmir’s prepaid phone policy. She told me that those numbers only worked in the state and not outside. That means – After Parleen came back to Delhi, she couldn’t use her J&K number. And that was not a good news.
I wish I could do something but I couldn’t. Had it been a romantic novel or a movie, I would have gone back to Srinagar and found her on a street. Perhaps near Dal lake. But it doesn’t happen in real world. I went there twice, in a hope of finding her. It didn’t happen. It was not possible to search her in Delhi. There were more engineering students than beggars, she was right. You might be wondering why didn’t I search her on facebook or internet. Well, I did that too. There were quite a few girls with that name – Parleen Kaur, no one with their own picture, so I had to dig in to the profiles. But turned out she wasn’t on facebook either. She remained a total mystery to me, or like a dream that occurred and vanished too quickly.
I did the only thing that I could do. I waited. I waited because I had to wait. Wait till the time when she goes to Kashmir and hope that she would still use the same number. Because she would be waiting for me too – I thought. I called her once, every day. Or sometimes more than once. And I would get the same reply – The phone is switched off. I had almost given up until one day, after seven months and eighteen days, I finally heard the ringtone. Someone picked it up.
I could recognize that voice. It was her.