Mike is a graceful old man. He is somewhere on the wrong side of fifty, fifty-five, sixty may be, but he looked dapper the last, and the only time I met him. Their was something very genuine about his persona, something very amicable. And something which still makes me think about him, almost ten days after the gentle, old, British man sought some help from me to take a trip down his memory lane.
In the early hours of the day, I sat with two of my friends besides the huge rain-washed window, at the Janpath McDonalds- having the distinction of being one of the few serving a very English Breakfast Menu, in addition to the usual burgers and fries. While I have been talked many a times into eating the wonderful and healthy pancakes, served exclusively between 7:00 and 11:00 am everyday, I have preferred to stick to my obsession with the not-so-healthy Hash Browns in stead. If gluttony were a legal crime, I do not know how many non-bailable prison terms I would have already served by now.
So, while I nibbled on what I had promised to be my last hash brown of the day, and spoke in loud volumes about the way I saw my future unfold, a bespectacled English gentleman came and knelt right beside my chair, scaring me a little. He had a map of Delhi in one of his hand, a black ball pen in the other, and a very simple question on his lips- "Do you know English?"
Given my infatuation with the language and an incorrigible urge to show it off on every given opportunity, I eagerly nodded my head. It was as if he exhaled in relief. Yes, you can find many English language savvy passersby as you walk around in Cannaught Place or any adjoining area, but at 10:00 am in the morning, even a place supposed to be as busy as McDonald's is practically empty. Beautifully deserted, is how I like to put it. And it was in this quietude that I had a five minute short, fond conversation with him.
Mike wanted to know where he was on the map he had in his hand. After studying it for some ten second, me and my friends could point out exactly where he was, where we all were- at the intersection of the Janpath Road and the Tolstoy Marg. In an exaggerated happy emotion, he made a mark on the map and confirmed the route the would lead him to the Inner Circle of CP. He got the route right. I further offered to guide him to his exact destination, but sadly, he did not have any.
"Where do you exactly want to go? May be I can tell you the route." I offered. A second later I realized that the genial Englishman was still sitting on his knees, and in a apologetic gesture, me and my friends offered him to join us on our table. He refused, then obliged, and gave us a glimpse into his itinerary for the next hour. Clad in a simple cotton shirt, with a rich smile on his face, and morning redness on his cheerfully white cheeks, he told us that this was only his second visit to India. The last one had been "35 years ago"! I distinctly remember the self found incredulity with which he emphasized on the numeral. He was not simply vacationing, he was rediscovering a few things. He wanted to visit the heart of CP to check if it lent him a musty feel, or if with time, it had paced ahead to unrecognizable limits.
This much information is enough to allure a hopeless romantic like me. "So, what all do you remember of CP?", I asked, the animatedly inquisitive me. "Not much", he replied, "but when I last visited, I bought a skirt for my fiancee, from one of the little shops." His words were accompanied with animated gestures-- it was as if he was trying to explain to us what a skirt is. His hands informed us that it is a garment tied at the waist, and the one he bought extended all the way to the ankles of the wearer. I smiled at his simplicity. He wanted to see if he could still locate that shop.
"So, did you go back and marry your fiancee?" My queries continued. "Oh yes!", he replied with an expression which conveyed the futility of my inquiry. He gestured at his ring, and then to a female sitting right behind me, "That is my daughter". I looked back to find a girl a little older than me, engaged in a discussion with two elderly people- a man and a woman. At first, I felt compelled to assume that the elderly lady was Mike's consort, but the way she locked her arms with the other man, they both clearly seemed to be a couple. So Mike was on a visit to India, after some 35 years, with his daughter and some friends (or may be relatives) as travel companions, and not his wife. I felt disappointed. I wanted to see the lady who caused instant alacrity in the eyes of her husband even after 35 years of companionship.
We wished him luck for his journey ahead. He, with a grace characteristic of English people, thanked us and took our leave. My gaze followed him as he moved from our table to his own, had a brief discussion over the huge Delhi map with his companions, picked up his belongings, and headed for the exit, and on his little walk towards a place he picked up a gift for his fiancee from, some 35 years ago. Something made my heart feel heavy as my mind registered the last image of his, walking away with his arm around his daughter's shoulders. He seemed to be romantic; he was a romantic. But he did not have his better half for company. Why was she not with him? I kept wondering. I could conjure ten reasons of her absence, none of them a happy one.
Having seen emotions juggled with and relations dallied with, I have always been attracted towards real time, enduring, subtle tales of love. Not just love, but respectful, warm, and blissful companionships. People my age are tired of being with a person after a year or two. Not all, but many are often knowingly unaware of the selflessness which beautifies mutual existence. An overtly strong sense of individualism is the death of relationships. Barring a few cherished exceptions, I think it has largely become an anachronism to keep aside personal pursuits and lend time to the thoughts and happiness of people we claim we love. Even these musings have now acquired a musty odour.
To find that one person who could become cause of your very existence must be special. Sitting around in CP, I observe a lot of couples, holding hands, snuggling, smiling- but in very few have I observed a comfort and faith which communicated their enduring togetherness.I look for it, because I desire it for myself. My most cherished desire. Stories like that of Mike reinforce faith. His' is not just about togetherness, but prized togetherness. His' is about love. Love, nascent like dew drops. Love, serene like still water. Love, serenading like sylvan sounds. Love, impregnable like a weather beaten wall. And love, enduring through all the seasons of life.
My love, for all the love in this world. I don't know of a thing as worthy as itself to live for.