It was the last month of 1997. December 12th to be precise. I had just given my MD Pathology exams and was waiting for the official results to be declared. The college rules said that we had to complete our term until the 31st of December. So we were still attending to work in the department.
I knew that my parents were arriving at Nagpur railway station that day. My father had been transferred to Patna and this was another trip he was making home to Chandrapur. But I was supposed to teach undergraduate students in the practical class at four that afternoon. I was hesitant to shirk teaching and go to the station instead. In any case, Sanghamitra Express was well known for its 12-hour delays. The official time of the train’s arrival in Nagpur was somewhere around noon. But that was not the era of mobile phones. No direct phones either. To know whether the train was on time, you had to connect to the telephone operator in the medical college, who would rudely enquire whether you were faculty or student, and most often, not connect to an external number if you were a student.
Time dwindled on until 3.30 p.m. The Pathology department at GMC had a tradition where faculty members would question postgraduates before they went into the classes. It helped them ensure that students were prepared well enough. They also gave them tips on what points to emphasize and erase any doubts we had. Each student was paired with a faculty member and we took turns at teaching. That afternoon, Dr Dharitri who was in my teaching batch, walked in to check on us. As we finished, I cursorily remarked that my parents were arriving at the station, and here I was in the practical hall. Instantly, she said she would take the class on my behalf and I could leave. I thanked Dr Dharitri for her gesture and ran off to find an auto rickshaw.
All the while, in the auto, I wondered how crazy I was, to be going to the station at 4 pm for a train that was supposed to arrive at noon. I had no clue whether the train had already arrived or not. As soon as I reached the station, I found a very close friend of my parents at the entrance. That she was there, clearly meant that my parents had not yet arrived. What a relief!
I walked with her to platform no. 3 where I found both my brothers strolling. As gruff as teenage boys can be, they hardly spoke to me except to tell me that the train was 6 hours late as usual. Bored, I walked up to my favourite AH Wheeler book stall and browsed through the glossy film magazines. I had just received my salary that day, and so I was feeling rich with that princely amount of Rs 3000 in my purse. I could never resist splurging on books and magazines. I picked around half a dozen magazines and was about to pay, when something caught my eye.
Displayed prominently was a thick white book— Vikram Seth’s new novel A Suitable Boy. While the shopkeeper was calculating the price of the magazines I’d picked, I turned the pages of this bulky tome and then turned to the back cover. Rs 500. Expensive buy then. But with my salary in my purse, it was rather tempting. So I returned all the magazines and bought the novel instead. The older of my brothers walked up to me, grabbed the book, flicked through it and returned it without a word — with a sloppy grin.
Soon after, there was an announcement that the train was arriving on the platform. After the usual ruckus of the orange sellers died down, I spotted my Dad with his beaming smile. As the luggage was brought out of the compartment, I counted all of sixteen bags and wondered why my Dad had never learnt to travel light. And then my mother got off the train, and I knew the answer to my question! We were all talking simultaneously and trying to find a coolie who could carry all these bags safely to the parking lot.
Just then I noticed another man with the entourage. He had curly hair and was wearing a beige sweater. I hadn’t seen him before, but he seemed to be with my parents. “Who is this?” I nudged my mother and asked. “Oh, he’s a staff member from Daddy’s head office in Bombay,” she muttered dismissively.
What did she just say? The Sherlock Holmes in my head was working overtime now. My father’s head office was in Bhopal. Why did she say Bombay? Daddy never had anything official to do in Bombay. Why did she lie? I turned to look at this stranger, just in time to catch him giving me a look from my toes to my head. As he did that I noticed his big eyes and those familiar eyelids which went up slowly like shutters. And I froze!
Two months earlier, my parents had visited Chandrapur. And given my tendency to throw a fit every time marriage was mentioned, no one usually dared to say anything to me. But this time, my mother had mentioned a guy who in her words: ‘wasn’t at all Bihari in his outlook’. And as I evaded her banter, she did say something about this guy having eyes like Chandrachur Singh. I was so irritated by that description that I’d stopped watching films starring the actor.
Yes. Those eyes. It was him. Chandrachur Singh indeed!
I turned around, grabbed my brother’s elbow and pushed him aside. “What’s going on here?” I hissed angrily. As annoying as siblings can get, he gave me a weird look and said, “They told me not to tell you, so I didn’t. Don’t yell at me!” “Let’s get out of here and I’m not going in the car. Get your two-wheeler,” I said. And we walked out to the parking lot as quickly as possible before that strange man started talking to me.
That evening, I spoke to Subodh at dinner for the first time. He had come to join a new job at Sevagram. And my parents had chosen that opportunity to get us to meet. That meeting was followed by several long conversations over the next two weekends, before we decided to say yes to marriage on New Year’s day.
He still can’t get over his first impression of this weird girl- one who didn’t even have the courtesy to say hello. And worse still, came to meet him with a ‘how-to’ manual called ‘A Suitable Boy‘ in her hand.
As for me, I still don’t watch movies starring Chandrachur Singh.