There he was again, this time watching her from the cigarette shop opposite her house. Anjana had been noticing him for the past few weeks. He would always be hovering around, not in her personal space but in the vicinity nevertheless.
Anjana was a decent looking middle-class girl of 28 years of age. Always dressed in her trademark starched cotton sarees, she was a picture of grace, composure, and values. She worked in a garment manufacturing company as a shift supervisor. She had lost both her parents and lived with her younger brother, Anil, who had just completed his Engineering. Anil had just begun working in a mid-sized Company as a Trainee Engineer.
They earned a modest amount of money each month and lived without any financial liabilities. The house in which they lived was their own. It was a small one-bedroom, hall & kitchen apartment and had been purchased by their Father. After his death, the property was bequeathed to her and her brother. Anjana was just 20 years of age when her parents had passed away in a bus accident, and Anil was only 15, appearing for his SSC exams. Since then, Anjana had started earning by working at the garment factory. She paid for Anil’s college fees and ensured that he completed his graduation. Anil held his sister in high esteem and at par with his late mother.
Both Anjana and Anil left for their respective jobs at 8.00 am. Anil dropped her at the garment factory on his motorcycle and then proceeded to his office. The garment factory was just a 5-minute walk away from their house. But Anil would always drop Anjana as it was his way of showing his love and respect for her.
Anil was unwell one morning. Anjana asked him to take rest, and she decided to walk to the garment factory with a couple of other girls who lived in the same locality. On her way, she saw him again. He was following her, though, at a safe distance. He was, however, continually looking at her, and whenever she would look back, he would look away. “Who is that man, Kanchan?” asked Anjana to her friend she was walking with. Kanchan looked at the man and said, “That man! He’s Dilip. My neighbor. He works in a good Company, just near our factory. He is in a good position. I think he is a Manager. He lives alone. He is friendly to my brother. He is a nice man, Anjana. Why do you ask?” “Well, I seem to see him everywhere! Wherever I go, I find him to be nearby. I don’t know whether he is following me or whether this is just a coincidence,” said Anjana.
“For sure, he won’t follow you, Anjana. He is very shy. He hardly talks to me when he comes home. We live in a small locality and shop at the same shops. It is quite possibly just a coincidence,” said Kanchan. But Anjana knew better. Every woman has a sixth sense, and hers told her that Dilip was indeed following her.
After the office, Anjana was walking back to her home. She saw Dilip again. He was waiting at the cigarette shop smoking, and the moment he saw her, he extinguished his cigarette. She saw him closely for the first time. He was wearing decent clothes, had a neat haircut. He was tall; could be about 6 feet. He was clean-shaven, had a wheatish complexion, and was average in looks. He noticed Anjana looking at him and was instantly uncomfortable. He immediately looked away. Anjana passed by, and he again started following her at a safe distance. Anjana reached home, and before entering her house, she turned around. She expected him to be standing somewhere in the vicinity, and she looked around. But he wasn’t there. Anjana didn’t know why she felt just a little disappointed about not seeing Dilip.
She entered her home and found that Anil was better. He had no fever and was watching a cricket match on TV. “Let me freshen up, and then I will start cooking. Let’s have an early dinner today,’ said Anjana. “Tai, you don’t have to cook today. I have ordered food from outside. We are having Pizza for dinner tonight. So, freshen up and let’s watch TV together,” replied Anil. Anjana was pleasantly surprised at Anil’s gesture. But to be fair, he occasionally ordered food from outside for her so that she could have a leisurely evening. She freshened up, and then the siblings watched TV. She asked him to change the channel from cricket to some movie channel. Anil did so, and they were watching a movie. The Pizza arrived, and the two of them started eating.
“Tai, why don’t you get married?” asked Anil. Anjana was shocked at Anil’s statement. This was a bolt from the blue, something which she never expected Anil to say. He was her younger brother and always maintained a decorum while talking to her. While he always had a lot of fun with her and would crack jokes and tell her stories from his office, this was the first time that he had broached the topic of a relationship. “And what has prompted you to ask me this question, Anil? Are you getting married and want this place for yourself and your new bride?” Anjana replied smilingly. “No such luck, Tai and I am just too busy for girls. I want to buy a bigger house. I have seen you struggle and work hard all your life to educate me and take care of me. I want to see you happy and settled,” he said. “My younger brother has become mature. Thank you, beta, for thinking about me. But I am not keen on marrying. I am already 27 – 28 years old. We are from a middle-class family. My looks are not my plus point, and more importantly, weddings are expensive. I am happy with the life I have. I work hard; I take care of us. I read and spend time with my friends. This is a good life, beta,” she said. Anil was not in the mood to let go. “There are many men who don’t take dowry and don’t believe in unnecessary wedding expenses. Looks are not really very important, Tai. You are a good person. You are responsible, you have raised me diligently, you have strong values. What more would any person want, Tai?” asked Anil. “That’s all for now, beta. I am very sleepy. Let’s talk about it some other time now. I need to leave early tomorrow. Will you be going to the office tomorrow? If yes, then drop me on your way. Good night for now,” she said and ended the discussion.
Anil’s and Anjana’s routine continued. He would drop her to the garment factory, and in the evening, Anjana would walk back home along with her friends & co-workers. As always, she would buy a garland of jasmine flowers and wear it in her hair. This was her only indulgence. As always, Dilip would be in the vicinity, looking at her and following her. Whenever Anjana would look back, he, as always, look away. Anjana was quite certain that Dilip wanted to initiate an interaction. She also was aware of the fact that Dilip never invaded her personal space. He was just too shy. This went on for a few weeks.
Anjana was now getting irritated. She had to know what Dilip wanted. He wasn’t bothering her. He wasn’t getting into her personal space and doing things which a regular roadside Romeo would do. He was very decent. However, for Anjana, the current status quo was exasperating. One day, while returning from her garment factory, she found Dilip at the same cigarette shop, staring at her. She directly accosted him. “I have seen you following me everywhere. You look at me, and when I look back, you turn away. I do not know what it is that you are looking for. But I do know that this is not the place where we can talk about it. So, I want you to come to my house tomorrow at
7.00 pm. My younger brother will be at home. All of us can sit together and talk about why you have been following me. And don’t worry. We are a decent middle-class family. We won’t call you home and get you beaten up. But I want to have a resolution to this issue. So be there if you also want to resolve it. If not, please do not follow me, ever,” she said and walked away. Typical Anjana. Direct and to the point. She reached home, and Anil had also just come in. “Be there at the house tomorrow before 7.00 pm. I need you to meet with someone,” she instructed him. Anil looked at her and, seeing her stern face, thought it best not to say anything.
Dilip didn’t know what hit him. He couldn’t even breathe when Anjana spoke to him. In fact, he hardly expected her to come up to him and talk to him directly. He had held his breath even after she had walked away. He wheezed out his breath and crushed his cigarette. At the same time, he also felt very light, as if a burden had been lifted off his shoulders. That was the truth. He had been trying to speak to Anjana for the past four months but did not dare to talk to her. It was good that she came over and talked to him. At least he could now go to her place and tell her about what he felt.
The next day evening, Dilip reached Anjana’s house precisely at 7.00 pm. Anjana opened the door for him and took him inside. She wasn’t smiling, but she didn’t look angry, either. Anil was also at home. Dilip was carrying a box of sweets in his hand, and he gave it to Anil. Anjana asked him to sit down. Addressing both Anil and Dilip, she said, “Anil, this is Dilip and Dilip, this is Anil, my younger brother. Dilip has been following me for nearly four months now. He is always in the vicinity though he has never misbehaved with me. He hasn’t even spoken to me. All he does is just look at me, and when I look back, he turns away his face. So, I spoke to him and asked him to come home. Dilip, I am a middle-class girl, about 28 years of age, and I know that I am not very good looking. Anil and I have lived together ever since our parents passed away. He is my only family. I have lived a very straight forward life, and there have never been any distractions in my life. I have been very clear about what I wanted. I wanted a sound education for my brother, and I have always wanted a spotless character. I do not want anyone to question my dignity, integrity, and honor. They are the same values with which I have raised Anil. So Dilip, when I see you hovering around me, though at a very safe distance, I feel extremely uncomfortable. I am just not accustomed to this kind of behavior. I would like to know from you what it is that you exactly want from me. I do not believe in frivolous relationships and being friends. I already have friends. I am not looking for love because I have my brother Anil and have never felt the need to seek it elsewhere. Neither am I looking for a life partner or a husband to take care of me. I am self-reliant. I work and earn enough money to keep myself afloat. I am not the kind of person who would want to splurge money unnecessarily. I may think of having a life partner later in life. I may even grow to love him. But now, I want to know why you have been following me”.
Anjana wasn’t usually so blunt. Yes, she was firm and forthright. But this time, she wanted to make a statement, and more importantly, she wanted Anil to know her position on this entire issue. She didn’t want any misunderstandings.
“You push your hair behind your ears when you smile. You like to wear starched cotton sarees. Whenever your friends stop at a roadside stall to eat some snacks, you never consume them. You have been using the same footwear for the past four months, and have repaired them twice. You always fold your hands and close your eyes when you pass the Ganpati temple on the main road. You always gently backslap Anil when you get off his bike. You have been trying to buy a new smartphone for Anil for the past one month but haven’t been able to fit it in your budget. Also, your nostrils flare when you talk angrily. And today, you rushed home and didn’t buy the jasmine flower garland for yourself, which you buy every day. So, I got it for you” and handed over the jasmine flower garland to her.
“I am the only child of my parents, who live in a village near Kolhapur. We are farmers. My father wanted me to study, and so I did my master’s in accounting. I have a fairly decent Manager’s job in a nearby company. I have my own house just about 200 meters away from here. I have liked you from the day I saw you for the first time. The more I found out about you, the more I started liking you. Your friend’s brother gave me some information about you. I learned how you single-handedly have brought up Anil. I have seen your behavior and the way you conduct yourself. I wanted to speak to you but never dared to come up to you. I didn’t know how you would react. Honestly speaking, I don’t know when I fell in love with you. Anjana, I have decided that you are the woman I want to marry. And you may, later in life, want a life partner and may grow to love him, Anjana. I want to marry you because I love you already. And can I have a glass of water please?” so saying, Dilip sat back and exhaled.
Anjana was surprised. She didn’t realize Dilip knew so much about her. She didn’t even think that her strong middle-class morals would make anyone fall in love with her. She was quite taken aback by Dilip straightforward talk as she hadn’t even expected him to show up. She started looking at Dilip with different eyes. Anil was soaking it all in. He could decipher that Dilip was a good man and honest about his feelings. From whatever little he had seen and heard of Dilip, he believed, Dilip would keep his sister happy.
“And yes, I also know that the two of you like to have Pizza for dinner” as soon as Dilip said this, the door-bell rang, and there stood a Pizza delivery boy. Anil collected the Pizza boxes and took them into the kitchen. Anjana followed him in, and they returned together with the Pizza served in proper plates. Both Anil and Anjana looked at Dilip questioningly. How could he manage such perfect timing, they thought? From their expressions, Dilip understood what they were thinking. “I have never had such luck in my life. Me talking about Pizzas being your favorite Dinner and it being delivered at the same moment? I do not believe in coincidences. This is providence, and I don’t think I need any more proof that we are indeed meant to be together,” said Dilip, biting into a slice.
(Note: The above short-story is from the collection Tales from Talegaon and Other Short Stories )
About the Author
Born in Bombay, Hemu, as he likes to be called, shifted with his family to Talegaon Dabhade, a small town near Pune in 1982. He was 15 then. Talegaon is his home. He always says one can take a man out of Talegaon, but one can’t take Talegaon out of the man!
Reading is a habit which he inherited from his parents and grandparents. Hemu has been an avid cricketer & continues to be a mentor to young people. He believes in doing different things to explore his potential fully. Hemu dabbles in writing, teaching, painting, the stock market and is developing an interest in religion, meditation, Urdu language and poetry, Sufism & faith. His mantra being, a life explored is a life lived. Based in Saudi Arabia, Hemu works very hard to earn a living.