Having bonded in the shackles of celibacy for quite long since my adolescence, I felt I was a total misfit in the thronging crowd of honeymooners. They were distinctly different in nationalities, physical features, lingoes, etc. but uniformly happy as they were all away from their mundane routine and usual abodes. They were in different age groups - the young ones in their vibrant cheer, the middle aged, in an effort to see what they missed so far, and the 'senior citizens' with their nostalgic memories. .
Strangely enough, my inner instinct was prophesying that I would be a beneficiary of an interesting acquaintance on that day. My wishful interpretation of this premonition was meeting an interesting damsel. As I was pondering on my strategy to accomplish this into a reality, I could see a lady's handbag left on a rock near the main falls.
I looked around for any claimant to it; but there was none to claim it. Impelled by another inner prediction that the handbag would lead me to my 'dream damsel', I picked it up and opened in an effort to identify the owner. Among the contents, there was an Indian passport, money and a Broadway Hotel card with the room number on it. On a cursory glance, the passport revealed the 'single' status of the holder and the photograph in it evidenced her as a damsel. Coincidentally, her name "Sheila" was my favorite one too! I thanked the Lord for providing me with the necessary clues to go about in meeting the new acquaintance.
I did not lose any time in my quest and rushed to the Broadway Hotel. At the reception, I was given a message that I should call Sheila in her room. I was astounded at the sudden turn of events.. The puzzle was mainly on how she knew my name. In fact, I was the one supposed to call her and return the handbag. Apparently, this might have been a providential arrangement for a romantic prelude. Perhaps the proverbial saying "marriages are made in Heaven" was an instant explanation to it. If further developments go well, I guessed, I would be terminating my terms with the celibacy soon.
I called her through the intercom from the lobby and to my happiness, there was a very sweet voice that answered my call.
"I am Pradeep from the lobby. I got your message through the reception. I believe you wanted to meet me?"
I ensured that I did not fumble any of them in my effort to impress her. I felt that I would be having a tryst with my would be 'life support'.
"Mr. Pradeep! I am coming down to meet you in the lobby in few minutes. Kindly wait for me"
Her voice was more of a plea with eagerness in it.
"I would certainly be waiting for you.. Please take your time",
I was thrilled to bits at the very thought that a beauty is going to meet me for the first time in my life.
As I was preparing myself all out to impress her from my first greeting word, I saw her coming down in the stairs. I could not take my eyes off from her. She was incredibly beautiful and placid beyond my imagination. I was reminded of the historical Helen of Troy; if Niagara had been a seaport, her face would have 'launched thousand ships'. In the traditional Indian hairdo, her round face with well proportioned powerful eyes and sharp nose was indeed scintillating to the eyes. In the typical Indian dress of ''shalwar kameez'' she proved that she was not a victim of the culture conflict. I admired her courage of conviction to retain her Indian cultural identity even in the western world. In summing up, she was just a personification of smartness.
"Good morning!" I started the conversation in the best of my voice.
After the reciprocating ritual, she continued
"What would you give me if I return to you something valuable you had left somewhere?"
I was baffled with her offer of returning something to me, whereas I was supposed to return to her the handbag. I could not recollect that I lost anything.
"My reward depends on what you would be returning to me".
"Okay. This was the one you had left in the restaurant this morning". As she was giving my wallet, she continued "from your hotel card I found your name and room number ".
How silly it was to expose my carelessness so blatantly to her at our first meeting when I am supposed to impress her for a long term endearment? What a shame? Instead of my giving a gift to her, she was demanding a reward from me. It took me few minutes to get over from this great shock; but finally I decided to pay her in the same coin. .
"Till this minute I did not realize that I lost my wallet. Thanks a million for restoring it. My reward is ready. It is also something very valuable".
When I returned her handbag, I could see her face beamed with surprise.
"You also had left your handbag on the rock near the falls. I picked it up and came to the hotel to return to you when I got your message to see you. What a coincidence and similarity with us. This would be my reward to you".
She thanked me profusely, for, it contained her passport, which was more valuable than anything. Prompted by a sense of rewarding me, she said
"Would you mind joining me for a cup of coffee in the restaurant?"
This spontaneous offer levitated me and I felt it was a reaffirmation of the great time I was hoping to be with her. This would be a great opportunity for us to exchange personal details for a better understanding of each other that would tip the scale in her mind to make a commitment towards me. We started walking towards the restaurant.
Her demure walking was more captivating in every respect and attracted the onlookers' admiring eyes as well as spiteful sights. I was almost certain that there were both well wishers and ill wishers at my profound privilege of walking with her in close proximity.
After ordering the coffee, we were conversing on various subjects on this planet - from potatoes to politics, Diana's tryst with tragedy, golden jubilee of India's independence, culture conflicts, Indian traditional dances, etc.
With my little knowledge and as an ardent admirer of the Indian classical music and dance, I discussed with her, their impact in the human mind and body. When she was countering on some points, I could find that she was a dancer herself before coming to America.
"I have been very proud to label my days as a dance artist, as the finest days of my life," she said.
When she discussed the intricacies of the various forms of Indian classical dance, like the sinuous grace of Manipuri, the grandeur of Bharata Natyam, the divine intensity of Kathakali, the seductive Mohiniattam and lively Kuchipudi, I could assess her proficiency in the highest order, both in knowledge and performance of those arts.
"My fidelity to these great forms of Indian dance was so strong that I gave my utmost mental concentration and physical exercise. But, even with my intense practice and performances of these various forms, I never felt I accomplished the ultimate in them. Still I felt satisfied that I could bring my body and soul to a natural milieu." In these words, I found her yearning to finish an incomplete career.
With the extensive exchange of opinions on various subjects including the classical Indian dance, I started feeling a compatibility between us; I could even say that there was an agreement on the so called 'personal chemistry' between us. The constant concentration of her eyes into mine embarrassed me, for, they were transfixed to a great depth. I could feel a new purpose of life in her introduction.
"Pradeep! You are very smart and you must be an athlete. You have maintained your physique just great" .
With these words, her visual focus towards me guaranteed my wishful thoughts of being life pals.
"Do you eat non vegetarian food?"
She was careful in her interrogation as she thought she was intruding into my personal preferences.
"No way. I am a strict vegetarian".
This instant response from me reflected a gleam in her face.
"I hate people who eat meat. Poor birds and animals are butchered to appease the taste of such people. We still have not shed our stonage eating taste"
She must have felt we were on the same wavelength in our food favorites also.
"Unfortunately I could not get any vegetarian food here. Everywhere they serve only the other type. I manage with my salads".
She could understand my disappointment on this.
"I will be preparing some vegetarian food in my room this evening. I will be delighted if you could join me for the dinner at seven".
"I am honored by your invitation. I deem it as a profound privilege to join you for the dinner".
You don't have to be so formal" She was too modest.
We returned to our rooms after our cordial and pleasant few hours.
On an analysis of the developments since our meeting in the morning. I was more confident and comfortable at every stage with the pace of events. I could easily guess a consensus between us on many subjects we had discussed. Hardly we had a difference on anything. Her interest in me was well expressed through her eyes; her appreciation of my personality was yet another yardstick to measure her sincerity in her interest towards me. The parting offer with an invitation to join her for a dinner was her strategy to avoid a 'open-shut' situation and to continue our understanding each other. She had cared me so much that I should not be starving for want of something. What more one could expect to make a final decision?
In such a backdrop of favorable trends, I decided that during our evening rendezvous, I should ask her interest in becoming a life partner to me. I had all faith in the providential directive, which would evoke a favorable finale. In fact, I was optimistic that she herself would break the ice on the subject with a straight 'yes' for a life partnership. .
When I looked at my watch, it was only four in the evening and another three hours to go for the final verdict. I was looking at the Falls through the window. It was as gorgeous as ever with a relentless roar. I started selecting the dress that I should wear for the evening. My favorite beige color T-shirt and blue jeans won the selection, as I always looked very attractive in them. In short, I was all set for the deciding rendezvous. It was just ten minutes for the clock to strike seven. I decided to go early and wait at her doors so that at sharp seven, I could press the door bell. This would impress her on my sense of punctuality and promptness.
It was seven and I pressed her doorbell. She immediately opened the door. Continuing her allegiance to the Indian culture, she was dressed in a dark green Indian saree.. Her facial makeup was more indicative of her meticulous efforts to appear smarter than I had seen her earlier in the day. She greeted me with a "good evening " and I was ushered to a big couch there. The colorful presentation combined with the fragrant smell of the vegetarian dishes assured a delicious treat. The diffused lighting and the soft music in the room were in right blend for the evening. The western horizon was turning red and the cool breeze from the Falls was exhilarating.
"You are extremely smart in this dress. What you would like to drink?" she broke our silence with a kudos on my personality.
"Just a coke" was my quick reply.
As she was decanting the contents from the bottle to a crystal, there was a spill of the coke on my shirt. She was profusely apologetic and feeling guilty. She was trying to clean the stain with a tissue when we had the first physical contact. I did experience a whole new feeling down my spine and it was strangely pleasant.
She initiated the evening conversation on the subject of marriage in life, which I thought would be an ideal preface to propose my offer. She stressed the importance of happy family life of people for a better and strong society, as the single parent concept or broken families leave a scar and stigma on them, which, in turn, finally reflects on the society. She was vehemently arguing on the necessity of tolerance and adaptability for a successful marriage. She was against aping the western world in such things when our rich cultural heritage had provided us with better moral base. She was totally with me in these matters, for, I strongly believed holding on to our cultural convictions.
In the middle of the conversation, she often asked me whether our discussions could be prolonged for some more time before retiring to dinner. I could guess her continued interest in our exclusive time, which obviously providing us a forum to exchange our views and understand each other. I waited for her to finish so that I could respond with my support of her opinion on marriage which would lead me to ask her affirmation on our life partnership.
There was a telephone call, which interrupted her elucidation.
I cursed Alexander Graham Bell for inventing that instrument which, at that time, was intruding in our lively intimate conversation; that too, exactly at a point when I was about to propose her.
Excusing herself to attend the call, she picked up the telephone to answer. After few minutes she turned towards me and said
"Raju would be coming late as he is held up in his office. . He wanted us to go ahead with the dinner"
"Who is Raju?" My impulsive interrogation included my concern also.
"Oh! Raju is my husband".
On hearing these words, I was shaken as if there was an earthquake under my feet, shattering me to pieces.
I realized that the misleading element to all the confusion was the entry in her passport as "single" which prompted me to build an edifice of hope. I thought I deserve an explanation from her on this disparity.
"Your marital status is different as per passport"
"Yes. We got married just a month before and we combined our honeymoon with his official assignment here. For want of time I could not get the passport amended in my married name. I was just waiting only for him to join us for the dinner"
Obviously, my obsession for Sheila had blurred my vision towards reality. Presumption had prevailed over perception in the whole scenario. Delusion was the ultimate name of the game. I consoled myself that at least the telephone call came to my rescue just in time, before my initiative to propose her. The same Graham Bell, who was cursed by me earlier, became my savior at that time. However much I tried to hide my disappointment, my face betrayed me and failed to conceal it. After a hurried bite of some items of the dinner, I thanked and bid her farewell.
As I came out and looked outside, the lighted Falls laughed at me and echoed - "A mirage in Niagara". I could feel the shackles of celibacy embracing me once again. ??