June 1, 2014
It was 1987. Arun was invited to step out of his comfort zone for the first time in his sixteen years. He hesitated, then on being persuaded, he agreed. Had he refused, things might have turned out differently.
He had just finished his 10th Boards, and his distant cousins and their parents had come visiting, apparently after a long time. “Come over and stay with us for a few days, you’ll enjoy it”, they said, as they invited Arun to their coffee plantation in Chickmagalur.
After discussion, for various logistical reasons, it was decided that Arun and Diana, one of the distant cousins, would travel together by bus on an overnight journey. They boarded the bus at its origin in Mangalore, and secured a double seater near the front. As the passenger rush and crush increased, a couple of guys were all over him, jerking awake and standing tall when he gently head butted them. But it was not all suffering. He was automatically pushed further into the seat toward the window, crushing him into Diana’s side, and he enjoyed, for the first time, the thrill of contact with her soft shoulders and the heady fragrance of her strong perfume. Unfortunately, he was also very sleepy.
He turned to her and asked her. “May I put my head on your shoulder?”. She adjusted her position to offer her shoulder and he rested his head on it and was off and away into dreamland, in a jiffy. He slept through potholes, and chassis swings as the bus negotiated the Charmady ghat. A couple of hours later he snapped awake as the bus sped over a road bump. For a moment he was disoriented, but soon regained his composure and sense of chivalry. He offered his shoulder in return. She accepted, tried to sleep, but found it hard and gave up. The rest of the journey passed off uneventfully, but warm memories lingered.
The first few days at the coffee plantation, were a learning curve for the young Arun. Already going through the terrible teens, with conflicting emotions of rebellion, insecurity, fluctuating self esteem and determination vying with one another to dominate him, for him this was a moment to fight his fears, or so he thought.
He found himself pampered, his comforts a prime concern to his hosts – Diana’s parents and the three girls. Something he was not used to. Where he came from, self help was the best help. From a household of three men and a woman, his mother, he found himself transposed into the exact opposite, a household of five women and a man, her father, a real macho man.
He drew his comfort from his association, with his co traveler, Diana, who was 21, five years older than him, slim of waist, appropriately curvy, reasonable of height, dark of color, with sharp, but not necessarily attractive features. She had an excellent sense of humor (he learnt later that she was a very good at mimicry) but he was attracted most to her eyes - big, black and deep as the ocean. She did wear a high number in spectacles, but they only enhanced the beauty of her eyes.
He learnt a few things there that he initially found difficult to digest, but began to enjoy as the days passed by. The camaraderie and leg pulling all around, the meal times, when all members of the ate together and the prayer times, when all prayed together became special to him as he yearned for such togetherness. Their inclusive and non discriminatory approach to him during these moments, dulled his teenage apprehensions.
The days were never dull. They began early morning, with a walk on the plantation, followed by sharing of household activity and a game of badminton in the evenings or a swim in the stream.
On the fourth day, it was late in the night, around 11 PM. The rest of the household had gone off to sleep. Arun and Diana remained in the hall. He was waiting for her to finish her pre sleep routines to say good night, with a peck on the cheek, an event he had always looked forward to ever since they had travelled together. He had developed a special affection for her.
She was finished. He stood up from where he was sitting, said goodnight and bent to peck her cheek. As he did so, she turned ever so slightly as something in the distance behind him caught her eye and his lips brushed hers ever so lightly. It was an electric moment for both of them. They both knew then and there they had crossed from earth’s atmosphere into the stratosphere. Neither of them spoke about it again that night and went off to sleep, each lost in their own thoughts.
Memories and the electricity did not escape them the next morning, when, as was her wont, she woke him up for a morning walk, something that she literally had forced him to do ever since they had arrived on the plantation. Sometimes her sisters accompanied them. However on this occasion,, they were on their own.
Diana was an active person, one who could not sit still for long, unlike Arun, who was plump and laid back, with more than a six pack for abs. Nevertheless handsome, with attractive eyes and a deep voice, he exhibited a degree of charisma that did not allow him to get away with standing at the back of a room full of people.
Arun, despite the physical exertion, always found the walks interesting. Diana was as direct in her conversation as they come, and yet she avoided sensitive topics, like last night’s incident. Arun, on the other hand, was more concerned about what she / others, he came into contact would make of his utterances and behavior, rather than getting to the heart of the matter. Often he would tailor his responses according to his comfort levels, but only upto a point.
She told him of the friends she had made in college, about her hostel and family life, the fun she has with her sisters and brothers on the plantation , her popularity on the friendship charts, her exploits in Inter college singing competitions and the possibility of her becoming the president of the student council of the college in the next year, something that her friends were plotting for her even as they were on their morning walk.
Listening to her, made him glad and sad, all at the same time – for he had nothing much to say or contribute, he found her life so much more interesting than his. He felt his limited and propped up self esteem draining when he realized that physically he was not as robust as she, perhaps would want a beau to be, and certainly not as popular as she was, and other than a deep voice and a handsome face, and some degree of charisma, he had nothing much to write home about. What he did have in common with her was his wry, subtle and sometimes wicked sense of humor, often crossing the boundaries of a rib.
He did tell her a little bit about himself, indirectly hinting at the bullying and teasing he suffered in school. He also explained his attempts to bolster his inferiority complex with artificial superiority, and how, often these attempts were misunderstood for snobbishness. As talkative as she was, she was also a good listener and that seemed to help.
On the morning after, the walk assumed significance, as it was the first time they had come face to face since that electrifying moment. He knew how he felt and he very keenly wanted to know how it had affected her - Was it a first for her too? He had no clue to a woman’s emotions except his mother’s and those were rarely if ever displayed as the communication levels were limited by the generational gaps.
They left the house, walking down the kaccha path they usually took towards the stream. Today they were alone in each other’s company. They were alone among the chirping of the morning birds, and the coffee blooms, and the usually talkative Diana was strangely silent. So was Arun. He was tongue tied. The brief kiss hung like sheet of glass between them. They were able to see, but not communicate.
Just as the silence was getting disconcerting, she broke it, with news of a get together that was being planned by her parents and siblings for her 21st birthday due in two days. It was to be a fun party and she was looking forward to it. His mind raced ahead to the day – and he tensed, as he always felt awkward in such situations.
With the ice broken, they returned to their conversational ways. On the way back, she stumbled over a stone, and instinctively he put out his arms and held her, resulting in an unusual proximity, that brought back memories of the previous night. Their eyes met and he bent his head towards hers and kissed her deeply. She responded. After a while they broke away and went back on their way to the house in silence, each of them lost in their own thoughts. They did not speak to nor look at each other. In retrospect, he was never sure if the near fall was contrived or accidental.
Diana, had fallen in love deeply and wholly and was sure of herself. As a person, she knew she exhibited a confidence that masked her sensitivity and propensity to get emotionally hurt. She had had a crush on a couple of guys before, and they were much better physical specimens than Arun would ever be. However, they, despite their extrovertism, exuberance, sophistication and apparent chivalry and concern, somehow struck her as a little superficial and her instincts told her that they were not very dependable or reliable, something that, in her mind, was a key necessity in the makeup of a man.
Her experience and instincts told her that this was the real thing. She was enamored by his sensitivity, concern, wry sense of humor and his eyes, their liquid, languid brown that looked into hers with such melancholy that her heart melted. She realized that she was five years older and that perhaps she may have to wait that many more years or more before she could even think of this relationship going anywhere. Yet she believed she would persist with it till the end. Why, she had no idea. She also strongly believed that he was as committed as her and would be willing to take the blossoming relationship to its logical conclusion.
Diana, had the benefit of her years and experience to guide her. Arun on the other hand, was confused. While the physical contact excited him, he now knew he was in deeper than that. Imaginative and emotional, with sporadic spells of rationality, he realized that this was far more than he had bargained for. A first for him, he was consumed by the intense emotions it generated in him. It was not the physical attraction, normal he knew for his age, but the fact that for the last few days, she had become the center of his universe. He was thrilled, yet apprehensive. His fluctuating self esteem was making him ambivalent and the ambivalence was dragging him down. He worried if they could ever have a relationship given the big differences in age, (she would have to wait for him) personality and confidence.
In his rational moments, he was more concerned about her than himself. He worried about issues of compatibility for he was the opposite of her gregarious competent personality. His low self esteem, pictured for him a bleak future. Could he then fulfill her dreams and hopes given her talent, potential and personality? Oh boy, what a drain these negative thoughts were, but try as he might to rid himself of them, they kept going around in his head, driving him crazy even as his emotions were punching them with left and right hooks, each time she was in the vicinity.
The holiday for both Arun and Diana was to end the early on the day after the party as both of them had commitments in Mangalore immediately thereafter. Arun’s results were due, while Diana had to attend to special classes. It was an early morning bus and this would necessitate an early drive down starting at around 3. 00 Am. They would be alone for the first time since they discovered love.
Diana’s birthday started with a wakeup call by her sisters. They woke up Arun early and before he could brush his teeth, they pulled him out of bed and dragged him to where Diana lay and started singing happy birthday. The day passed quickly in preparations, from cooking to a spring cleaning and other arrangements and everyone pitched in. By the time the party started, all of them including Arun and Diana were tired, but excited.
The party started with a bang, literally, with the bursting of crackers and the cutting of a home baked delicious cake. There were lots of guests crammed into their small house, lots of noise, booze and music and dancing. Diana, he noticed, was flitting from partner to partner, an expert dancer, and he was feeling let down that she was avoiding him, letting him reluctantly learn the ropes from her sister. The moment she came close with her partner, he worked up the courage and tagged her, finally getting the moment. The Party ended late and an early drive down to the bus stand meant just a couple of hours of sleep.
They reached late. The bus was crowded. This time it was their turn to stand and sleep. They never got a chance to talk during the journey. It was around noon when they reached their destination.
Arun had suggested she come over to his house have lunch and then proceed to her paying guest accommodation where her sister was waiting for her. He wanted to prolong the precious moments with her and nervously chance his arm at discussing their blossoming relationship. He was still unsure of her emotions, her calculations, and her reactions to the events of the past few days. His mind was a maelstrom of conflicting emotions – most of all whether he was the right person for her, and surprisingly, not whether she was the right person for him.
They were warmly greeted at the door by Arun’s mother, a rather stern looking lady which indeed she was, despite her affectionate ways. She proceeded to the kitchen to rustle up the lunch. After laying down their baggage in the hall, Diana went to pick the few articles she had left behind in one of the rooms before proceeding to the plantation. Arun followed her and seizing the moment, tapped her on the shoulder, hoping to bring up the subject, not really knowing what to say. She turned and he couldn’t resist the temptation. He kissed her. This time it was deep and passionate. They heard his mother’s footsteps and broke off. He looked at her with that melancholic look and said, “Diana, this can’t go on like this. “
He really didn’t know why he said what he said. But the moment he uttered the words he knew, he had made a mistake, but his lips remained sealed. She looked at him; there were tears in her eyes. She turned picked up her belongings, packed them in her bag, told Arun’s mother that she would not be staying for lunch and without looking back, left Arun’s house.
Diana felt extremely hurt. She didn’t know why he had said what he said. All she knew was, it was over. She had thought, he felt the same as she did, he was dependable. She was wrong and completely shattered.
Arun was in a tizzy. He knew he had done the right thing – He was the responsible dependable type – the type she was yearning for, and he knew despite the initial rush of love, she would be more at a disadvantage in the relationship than he, keeping his own personality in mind. Unfortunately he had assumed a lot of things about her views on the relationship, none of which were true except the fact of the age difference. With her best interests in mind, despite his own undeniable love for her, in a moment pure emotion, he had uttered those words and there was no going back.
Again he was drawn to her, and he tried contacting her, visiting her accommodation, but only getting her sister to tell him that she was not available. He tried meeting her outside the college, waiting patiently for her hours on end, but to no avail. He wanted to explain to her his reasons, for uttering those words, he wanted to take them back, and he wanted to swallow them. He never got a chance.
He heard from others that she was elected President of the College with a thumping majority. He saw her photographs in the paper. He never forgot her birthday. That day, after standing outside her college gate for more an hour, he saw her come out. He ran towards her. She did not notice him. His courage deserted him and he pulled up short. She boarded an auto rickshaw and left. He had missed an opportunity – again.
Disappointed in himself, again, and lost in thought, he crossed the road to go home. A bus crashed into him head on. He died instantly.
She heard about the accident the next day. She was inconsolable. She never forgave herself, and vowed not to fall in love again ever. She never did and remains unmarried to this day.
Brian Fernandes Archives: