What is Love

I have realized that you might not always marry the person you love. True love, is being there, willing to help anytime anywhere, without expecting anything in return.

This quote is written out of an experience that I had some fifteen years ago. After finishing college, I started my Chartered Accountancy articles with A. F. Ferguson & Co, a leading Mumbai’s firm. It was customary for new articles to be invited to the Boss’s house for a welcome party where they got introduced to their colleagues and families. I was skeptical about going, who wanted to go to an old man’s party. It was a diktait so none of us had a choice.

The boss’s wife gave us a warm welcome. We were pleasantly surprised to see a mixture of the young and old. The senior employees looked to be in their fifties while there were a number of younger ones in their early to mid thirties. Some of them had attractive wives. The warmth and friendly behavior made us feel comfortable. It did not take long for college buddy Rahul and myself to mix with the crowd.

After a while I was introduced to Vaishali, the attractive wife of a colleague Sanjay Srinivasan. When we saw each other, we looked straight into each other’s eyes. The chemistry was instant. I liked her sharp nose, passionate eyes, and dusky but clean complexion. She was wearing a well-draped chiffon sari that looked very good on her tall slender frame.  As she told me later, what she liked about me was an equally sharp nose, jovial nature, meeting eyebrows, intense look and my ability to flirt effortlessly. Obviously, she had observed me for a while before we got introduced.

I was swept off my feat. While shaking hands with her I went into some sort of a trance. I was all of 20 while Vaishali seemed to be in her mid to late twenties. My mind went back to that unforgettable movie; Summer of 42, where a schoolboy fell in love with this twenty something married woman, a role so well enacted by Jennifer O’ Neil. 

We spoke for the next two hours oblivious of what was happening around us. Being passionate students of history and human relationships we had so much to talk about. It’s the second time in my life I realized the value of being a good listener. As I came to know later, Sanjay was so full of himself that he rarely gave his wife a chance to share her feelings. Having exchanged telephone numbers we promised to keep in touch.

A week later I called Vaishali at work and chatted for a while esp about her four old daughter Pooja. During the next month we spoke to each other regularly. Not wanting to be a telephone pal, I asked her out for lunch. She went quiet, may be she was not prepared for the invite. Telling me that her boss had called, she snapped. Confused, unsure whether I had done something wrong, I left it that.

She never called or came for the next office party leading me to believe that she was avoiding me. I gradually came to realize how fond I had got of her. Used to our stimulating conversations I began to miss her. I dialed her number twice but not wanting to embarrass her disconnected the line. Was yearning to hear from her, but in the absence of a call, I had sort of given up all hope of meeting her.

Till one evening, she called to say, Hi, its me. She was warm, said how busy she had been at work, how hassled she was with Pooja’s school admission. She gave me her residence / office direct nos and in the passing mentioned that Sanjay was off to Porbander. I was happy to hear this but decided against asking her out.

The first thing I did next morning was to find out how long would Sanjay be away. Oops he was to be out of town for a month and was leaving in three days time. I kept counting every hour wondering why on earth time was passing so slowly.

The day after Sanjay left I called Vaishali at work. She sounded vibrant and warm just like the first time I met her. The chemistry was back. Sensing the change in spirits, I asked her out for coffee after work. She readily agreed. We met at Sundan café next to Eros theatre in Mumbai’s Churchgate area. Slightly uncomfortable at our first date it took a while for the ice to break. Vaishali gave me a birthday card that she had made painted herself. In turn I presented her with a pair of oxidized silver earrings. While I was admiring the card, she put on the earrings. Wow, they looked so good on her. For effect I had carried a small mirror with me so that she could see herself with the earrings on.

Thereafter we met nearly every day. She spoke to me about her childhood, college, father, hometown, and marriage. She loved Sanjay very much but something seemed to be missing. Was it the age gap of seven years? She was twenty-six and he thirty-three. She was a girl when she got married but was now a woman. Generation gap might be a wrong word to use; probably she was a very bubbly sort of person and he a loner, workalcholic. Yet I remember that she never criticized him. Similarly I told her about my childhood, parents / siblings, dreams, insecurities at work. In short, it was the first time that I had let my guard with a woman.

During the next month we realized how comfortable how we were with each other. Our talks were as intimate as they could get. Very upset with her boss’s behavior she burst into tears one day. The kerchief I gave her to wipe her tears had V embroidered on it. Was it Love? Am not sure! We had got to know each another so well that we could anticipate what was in another’s mind. Yet we never held hands even. But there was a sparkle in her eyes and a glow on my face every time we met.

Like they say all god things must come to an end. Sanjay returned from Porbander only to be told he had been promoted and transferred to the Company’s New York Office. He was to leave in a month and Vaishali would follow soon thereafter. When I heard the news I was very sad and called Vaishali immediately. She was unhappy too but realized that she would have to go since Sanjay had got a very good break.

We continued to speak off and on. After Sanjay left for New York we met more frequently. She told how well she was doing at work and how unhappy she was to leave. Her parents were getting old and needed her now. But then, do we always get what we want in life. A month later she too left. I went to drop her at the airport with a bouquet of red roses and an oxidized silver choker. She was touched to say the least. She gave me a sealed envelope and asked me to open it after she was airborne.

I could not wait to get home. The letter read “What you gave me in the last three months was much more than what I got in five years of married life”. Few words but they said so much. Like Jennifer O’ Neil left her home in the Summer of 42, Vaishali went to New York.

Both of us got busy with our lives. Me with career and she with family, work. Unlike today, where email has made communication easier and faster, those were the good old days of letter writing. We did exchange a few letters but that was it. I got married some ten years later. It was work, work and work with a bit of family thrown in.

Some fifteen years later I was in the balcony admiring Mumbai’s sunset when the telephone rang. A woman said, hi, it’s me. My heart skipped a beat. The only woman who spoke to me like that was Vaishali who was in New York. What was she doing in Mumbai? How had she got my new numbers? Fifteen years, she was no longer on my radar screen. Regaining my composure, I said hi Vaishali. Yeah it was her. They had decided to return to India because the parents did not want their daughters Pooja (age 19) and Mitali (age 12) to grow up there. 

The next evening we met at our favorite haunt Sundans. Except for some weight and a few strands of grey hair, Vaishali looked the same. Passionate eyes well-draped sari, rosy cheeks and a polished look. I looked the same except for a beard and a slight paunch. We spent the next two hours catching up with the past. It seemed as if we had never lost touch. The old vibes were back. Should I say our eyes said it all?

Through Sanjay, Vaishali had kept track of my life. She was aware that I had done my management from IIM-A and was today the Chief Financial Officer of a leading Satellite TV company. Pooja was going to finish her college next year and was keen to pursue a course in Management. She needed advice, help but wanted a friend rather than her father. I told Vaishali not to worry. I was more than willing to play mentor to her daughter.

I met Vaishali and Pooja the next weekend where Pooja shared her dreams. For the next year, Pooja consulted me on every major career decision, starting from joining MBA classes, buying books, institutes to apply to, interview strategy and what not. By the grace of God she got admission into The Indian Institute of Management, Ahemdabad. What followed was a list of places to eat and party, tips about hostel life.

Thanks to email she kept me posted about her progress. In year two were campus interviews. Pooja was keen to get placed with a leading American bank. She knew that the head of Human Resources was a close friend of mine. She got Vaishali to ask me to put in a word with my friend. In all our years of friendship, Vaishali had never asked me for a thing. How could I say no?

Knowing very well that most MNC’s do not brook any interference in selections, I was in a catch 22 situation. I spoke to friend Gautam and shared with him my predicament. He told me that there was no way he would hire Pooja if she were not up to the mark. But yes, if there were two candidates with similar scores, profiles he would, on the strength of my recommendation hire her.

Believe it or not, that is what happened. I was the second person Pooja called after receiving the Offer Letter, the first being Vaishali.

When Pooja came to Mumbai, she presented me with a lovely handmade card. It read “Thanks for everything”. When I saw the card, my mind went back to the time her mother had presented with a similar card. While I was lost in my thoughts, Pooja stumped me with a question. Uncle, do you love mother?

Did I, do write to me with your thoughts.

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