Walking on a footpath of Ravindra Nath Tagore Marg, in Nagpur – the tiger capital of India, I saw a lady with a small voice recorder querying the people around her about something. Next to her was a man in typical journalist attire – a shirt and a pair of loose fitting cargos, with a sleeveless jacket over it. He was holding a camera and taking snaps. They seemed to be from the media and considering the ugly looks of the lady in question, they were definitely from the print media. Television news channels rarely hired ordinary looking folk.
In desperate need of publicity, I deliberately slowed down, as I neared them. Chhinka, who was walking beside me moved away hastily. He didn’t like the media.
The ugly lady noticed me and asked “Hey you, do you know who was our first prime minister?”
I realized that this was for some Republic day special column to be printed the next day.
“Ya…its..Pandit Jawaharlal Nehruji.”
Adding ‘ji’ was an attempt to be extra polite as I wanted to be in that column.
She said “Oh great, now tell me one word that links Nehruji and Love?”
On hearing that question, anyone would have replied ‘patriotism’, but for some unknown reason, I uttered “Rose”
-“Rose! That’s quite a different answer.”
The reporter seemed impressed. They then wrapped up their kit and were about to leave. I stopped the lady and asked “Excuse me m’am, where will be this interview printed?”
-“If your words get selected, they will appear in tomorrow’s TOI with your picture.”
Whilst the lady was talking to me, the man next to her snapped my photograph and asked for my name and profession.
I replied “John Perrera. I am a still photographer.”
And then they left.
I continued towards my house near the end of the lane. It was on the first floor; a single room, partitioned with a curtain to convert the smaller part into a kitchen. Chhinka and I stayed there for a rent of 4000 Rs.
Climbing the wooden stairs, as soon as I entered the room, Chhinka shouted “Hey, why do you always speak to the media guys? You know that these people are not good for me. And by the way, let me remind you that you have to complete your Valentine’s Day project.”
I “Oh yes, the last date for submission is 13th Feb. I tell you, this topic is really tough for me.”
Chhinka “Ok now, I will leave for work.”
-“Chhinka, we have to pay our rent soon. Be ready with your share. I don’t want our landlord to get annoyed. She was the only one who agreed to give her house on rent to two homeless 22 yr old guys.”
After some time, I went out with my SLR camera, in search of some good shots, that would suit Valentine’s Day, but hardly got any good pictures and when I came home, I was already tired, so I fell asleep in a second.
Next day 9 am
I was eager to watch my photo in TOI. Quickly rushing through the pages, scanning every part of every page, I finally found my face in a corner with some lines, my name and profession written next to it.
I felt like showing it to someone else, but there was no one except my room mate “Did you see this?”
He nodded, while sipping tea.
- “This is the kick start of my career. One day, I will be a great photographer.”
The moment I said that, Chhinka started sneezing heavily, which was usual for him, and also the reason his name was kept ‘Chhinka’, which meant ‘sneeze’ in Marathi.
But this was the wrong moment for the sneezes as it was considered as bad luck. Though I didn’t believe in such things, I felt like bashing him today. I moved towards him and as I was about to catch hold of his collar, he handed 2000Rs in my hand “Here is my share of the rent.”
I took it and calmed down “Good, by the way, from whose pocket has it come this time?”
Chhinka “A foreigner…careless people, they can’t acclimatize to Indian conditions.”
Chhinka was a talented thief, talented enough to make around 6 to 7 thousand a month. I never questioned him about this, as sometimes this was an economic support for a struggler like me.
10th Feb 9 am
We were not routine drinkers, but that day he got some big, money filled wallet. So, we decided to have some Vodka in our little place, with doors and windows closed, so that our landlord wouldn’t know.
Chhinka “So John, how’s your work going on?’
Me “Not good, you know na, I am least interested in these love topics, so I don’t have any idea as to what to snap for the Valentine Day project.”
Chhinka “Why re..ok.. just tell me today…here itself…right now….why you hate love. I mean, you don’t stare at girls; you don’t interact with much people…why?
Me “I don’t hate love yaar, it’s just that I am…scared of it.”
Chhinka “Scared!…why? Latex Rubber has been invented, my friend.”
Me “Chhe, it’s not that. You know, when I was in fifth standard, I had a dog named ‘Blacky’. I loved him a lot. I used to be with him for most of the time. He used to sleep on my lap. Though he wasn’t able to speak human language, I could understand his moves. But then one day, he stopped eating. I tried a lot to feed him, but he used to keep his mouth tightly closed. I told this to my dad, to which he slapped me and kept me away from my dog. I kept crying the whole night. Next day, when I woke up, I ran to Blacky to see that he was totally cold and stiff. Flies were all around him. He had died. I cried fir almost a week and even now, I can’t forget that sight.
My sorrows didn’t stop over here. When I was in 11th standard, my both parents died a railway accident. I wasn’t allowed to see their covered bodies. I wasn’t sad for my dad’s death…not at all, but my mother…she was my life. She too left me…that too so early.
In the next few days, I involuntarily analysed the reason for my grief, and I concluded only one thing that in both incidents, I felt sad because I loved them.
So, in the next few weeks, I found a way to avoid being unhappy by avoiding to love anyone. When I will not love anyone, obviously I will not feel sad if they leave me.”
Chhinka “Man, I am talli now, and kasam se…your funda is bouncer for me. achha leave it, tell me, did you have crush on anyone in college days?”
Me “Yes, there was one girl….Rose Dcosta. I liked her, but I deliberately avoided her.”
Chhinka “Why…now please don’t tell me the same ‘scared’ reason.”
Me “Ya, that’s the reason.”
Chhinka “Oh my God…achha sun, now the talks and vodka both are over, so lets sleep and good night.”
Next day 12 pm
I and Chhinka were at All Saints Cathedral church. The place is always full of tourists and thus surrounded by small stalls of books, toys, clothes and many more. But the place which was my favorite was the open space in the right side of the church, occupied by the pigeons. People fed grains to them.
Chhinka was busy with his work, looking for some prey, while I was looking for some lovely moments to snap.
Chhinka, who I think was finding it hard to show his talent in such an open space, came to me and said “John bhai, take the pictures of these pigeons, while they fly. It would make a nice pic.”
It was absurd for me to follow his suggestion, but I didn’t want to depress him by denying him, so I clicked a few shots, while Chhinka tried to make their wings work. We did that for some time, after which even the pigeons got frustrated and left the place, leaving the grains as it is. After that, Chhinka moved away and I got busy trying to take pics of couples present there.
Suddenly, a lady started crying loudly “Somebody stole my mobile, please help.”
I could only hear her voice as she was surrounded by the crowd gathered to help her. But I knew the culprit was Chhinka, so I too vanished from the place.
After having lunch and evening work session, I came home and asked Chhinka “What brother, which mobile it was…. the lady’s?”
Chhinka laughed “Samsung Wave.”
Giving a smiley nod, I moved to my computer table to copy today’s snaps. I did that and was tired to have a look at them, so shut down my computer and joined Chhinka in his celebration.
I was taking a look at yesterday’s pics. They were good. But the photo that glued my eyes to it was those of the pigeons as I was startled to see those photos, not because of the pigeons, but because of the lady standing far behind the pigeons. She was Rose Dcosta. I had seen her after almost 6-7 yrs, but still looked the same, as beautiful as during college days.
Don’t know why, I felt like meeting her, atleast once, to say her “Hello”. I quickly moved out of my chair to leave for church, but then I realised that I was being overanxious. So, I sat back on my chair. I stared at her photo, zooming it. There I got a clue to meet her. She was carrying a novel in her hand. It was ‘A tale of two cities’ by Charles Dickens. And then I recollected that there was only one bookseller in that nearby area, so I rushed to the church and then to that bookseller and inquired him about Rose showing him the photo. He said that she was the same girl whose mobile was stolen a day before. I felt sad after hearing that, but later, I was happy for it as I knew that the mobile thief was none other than Chhinka.
Sprinting from there, I came to Chhinka “Where is yesterday’s stolen mobile?”
Chhinka, with the mobile in his hand “Here it is, why?”
Me “Give it to me; I am going to the lady for returning it.”
Chhinka “Hey, why are you putting me in a problem. Why are you being so polite, suddenly. Police will trace me through you.”
Me “She is my college friend. Nothing will happen. I’ll tell that I got it somewhere…say in the train.”
I took the mobile, inserted the sim card and called the last dialed number. It was ‘Rose 2’. I didn’t have the guts to say who I was. So, I pretended to be a stranger and told her to meet me near the church.
Chhinka “John, what about your Valentine’s Day project, is it done? Tomorrow is the last day.”
I nodded and left.
When I reached the church, I saw that she was already there. She was dressed in blue jeans and a red winter jacket. She was looking cuter than earlier. She didn’t wear cap to cover her head, which was making me feel uncomfortable.
As soon as I reached near her, she recognized me and surprisingly asked “John..you here?”
I wanted to hug her in return, but involuntarily my hand stretched to give her mobile, handed it to her and without saying a word, I started moving back.
She stopped me “John, why are you scared. I want to say you something, something that I had said you earlier too. But that time, you had denied my love and went away without saying a word. But today, I want a reply from you. John, I love you and I know you love me too.”
I stayed silent and stood there.
She continued “John, now its enough. Why are you doing this to me? It’s been 6 years, but still I am not able to forget you and I suppose you too are not able to forget me.”
I had to turn to her after listening to those words. I quickly hugged her and kissed her on her lips. She didn’t resist me but smiled, which I sensed by her lip movements, as both of us had closed our eyes. We kissed each other till we opened our eyes. I looked in her deep affectionate eyes and confessed “I love you Rose, I had loved you since college days, but I was scared to tell you that because I was scared from the grief of losing you some day.”
Rose “I know that, that is why I had to play this little drama of getting robbed, to help your feeling of love overpower your fear. If I would have directly approached you, you would have again denied me. So I took help of your friend Chhinka.”
Chhinka appeared from somewhere “Yes John, did you remember it was me who told you to snap those pigeons. I knew that Rose was standing in the background.”
Me “But, when did you plan all this?”
Rose “On 26th January, in TOI newspaper, I saw your photo. After that, I contacted the reporter. She told me that she did the reporting at the Ravindra Nath Tagore Marg. I inquired a bit over that place and I got to know about your location. Then, I met Chhinka some days later and told him about us and further he helped me with the plan.”
I was really surprised to hear that. I saw at Chhinka “Yaar, thank you very much, I will pay half your share for the next months rent.”
Me and Rose laughed at that, while Chhinka seriously said “I am serious about the rent thing, you will have to keep your promise.”
“Waise John, what about tomorrow’s Valentine Day submission?”
Rose “Don’t worry; as now he is in love, he will understand it well.”
Finally, my photo was selected for the largest space in the magazine by the senior photographer. It was all because of Rose. It was her idea of that awesome snap. Rose and I are happily spending every moment of our lives with each other and now I am not scared from love.
And talking about the photo.
It showed an old lady with an old man sharing the same shawl walking past the windy lane.
It depicted the fact that one day, one of them is going to leave the other, but still they love each other, not feared of their separation.