"zindagi ek safar hai suhana ..."
The song blares out of TV, and Rajesh Khanna1, on a motorcycle with Hema Malini and 70s dress, is lip syncing to immortal voice of Kishore Kumar2.
Suman stops combing her hair and walks into the living room from the bathroom. Meeta, her younger sister, is watching the Indian programmes they show for two hours every Sunday morning on the International channel.
How long has it been since Suman last heard any Kishore Kumar songs ... she tried to remember. These songs used to be a part of her life not so long ago when she was in India. Rajat was a fan so he always played Kishore Kumar songs in his car. All the memories she has of Rajat have a background song. The first time he gave her lift to her place because it was raining and it was getting darker, 'tum aa gaye ho, noor aa gaya hai' was playing on stereo. It was a long drive but none of them spoke too much; both of them were very self-conscious probably.
She slowly walked to her room and started looking through her books. Rajat used to give her flowers very less often; In fact in all he only gave her three red roses. She had kept all the roses in her books to save 'forever'. She brought all her books with her when she came to US for the first time but has never looked at them since. She desn't remember which books had the flowers.
The first time they kissed, parked in the parking lot of the office, there was 'pal bhar ke liye koi hume pyar kar le' playing. The first time they were sitting on backseat of his car just fooling around, it was raining outside and faint earthen smell that comes with every first rain was intoxicating her. What song was playing at that time? She doesn't remember very well but most probably some Kishore Kumar song.
They probably show these songs on TV every week; but she never knew it. She doesn't watch TV all that much now, unlike when she was in college, she knew all the show times and name of every VJ on MTV. If it were not for Meeta visiting her from India for a month and zapping TV all the time, she wouldn't have heard this song today too.
Meeta walked into the room as well, the TV programs probably got over. "What are you looking for Didi3?" she asks Suman, a little surprised that Suman decided to stop combing her hair midway and started looking through her books.
"Nothing Meetu, just .. something I have kept somewhere and forgotten"
Meeta sits in a corner on floor and just watches Suman looking through all the books. "I am so lousy at keeping things in place, I should be a little more organized ..."
Meeta knows about Rajat and Suman. Rajat was a Bania4 guy, Suman and Meeta are from a Punjabi family; on that Rajat was about a year younger than Suman. When Rajat told his parents about Suman, they got hysterical. Rajat was their only son, they had so many dreams and hopes with him, and their future daughter-in-law. What would all the relatives say? Why did they have to marry their son outside the community, was their dearth of good baniya girls in the world? They can not dilute their gene pool ... love and all is fine as long as family and age and communities match. They will not accept this ... Suman's parents were not very thrilled to learn about Rajat as well. They have a younger daughter, who will marry their son to her if they marry their daughter outside the community. That too to a younger guy. She should not be so selfish and for a moment think about her sister and prestige of her parents too before deciding anything ...
"Did someone borrow it?", Suman loud thinks, "Where is that book". There were barely 10 or 12 books on the rack and she'd seen them all. None of them had the rose, or even the stained pages to indicate they had crushed a rose once. "I'll never find it" ... Suman was almost in tears, she left the room and went back in the bathroom and started the faucets.
Meeta had seen Suman crying ... for weeks, every night. At one time Meeta was worried she might hurt herself; ... but she didn't. Slowly and steadly everything came back to normal, only that Suman hadn't married yet. She came to US through her employer for a year long project and then continued to stay. Part of reason for Meeta's visit was to try and talk to Suman about marriage and the suitable boys their parents had 'seen' for her.
Meeta also got up and went to the bathroom. Suman was standing before the mirror looking at herself and combing. Her nose and cheeks were red from trying not to cry.
"Didi", Meeta said. "Hmm?" Suman replied without turning. "Look at me", Meeta insisted.
Suman turned to face Meeta. They kept standing like this for a few moments; then Meeta walked upto Suman and hugged her. "You're not looking for books didi ... you're not looking for flowers either. You're looking for your past. It'll never come back ... I'm so sorry, just ... please forgive me .. and forgive papa ...". Meeta wanted to say more but she couldn't, she started to cry...so did Suman. Both the sisters kept crying for a long time standing like that ... there was no background music this time.
1> A very popular Hindi film actor in India in the 70s and mid 80s. Almost as popular as Amitabh Bachchan
2> The most popular commercial male singer in India ever. He mostly sang songs for Hindi movies but also sang in various other indian languages. There's hardly any Indian around who doesn't like Kishore Kumar songs.
3> Hindi for 'Elder Sister'
4> Vaishya caste. See Caste System in India.
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