Friday, January 20, 2012

The beginning or the end?

They were on a trip to Srinagar. It was their final year in college. The excited group of sixty students were determined to make these the most memorable moments of their life. They had been enchanted by the beauty of the mountain resort, Gulmarg. The sight of its grassy slopes emblazoned with wild flowers and fir covered hillsides had taken their breath away. They stayed for a day in the famous houseboats on the Dal lake. The experience was a unique one and had them asking for more. That is where Anirudh had ‘discovered’ Preeti, his classmate he had never spoken to before, in the four years of college. They shared an excellent camaraderie during their entire trip, finding each other quite witty and fun to be with and wondered how they had missed being friends with each other before.

It was the last day of the trip, their baggage’s were packed and loaded in the buses. They had stopped at the famous Maulana Azad road. It was usually the last stop on the tour guides list, where tourists could shop for souvenirs to take back home to their loved ones. Row upon row of shops filled with handicrafts lined the streets. There were so many things to buy in the Srinagar market.

"Kashmiri handicrafts are prized everywhere for their exquisite craftsmanship. Kashmir carpets, in both wool and silk with their Persian design, are a lifetime investment and the shoppers' selection range from the simple to the most extraordinarily intricate patterns handed down the generations.  You can shop for the woolen garments like pullovers and stoles. These apparels also have the embroidery of the silken threads.

 There are papier-mâché items ranging from jewellery boxes to mirror frames, a range of intricately carved walnut wood furniture and accessories, stone jewellery boxes, beautiful woolen shawls, and more. 

Finish your shopping and assemble near your bus by 4pm sharp. The bus will not wait for anyone because your flight back home is at 7pm. We will take you straight to the airport from here. Happy shopping" announced the tour guide in his towering voice.

The group of excited girls and boys scurried to shop as if their professor had handed them their question paper for the exams and said 'your time starts now'. They shopped in groups but soon realized that it would be better to shop individually as each was looking at different things.

"Vidya, Renu, Divya and Kavya, lets finish our shopping individually, this way we will finish quicker. Let`s meet near the bus at 3.45pm sharp" said Preeti.

"Ok lets" chorused the others.

 Anirudh and his gang had also decided likewise. Preethi and Anirudh were both looking at a shop full of Attar- oil perfumes, when they bumped into each other.

"Hey Ani, found anything interesting?"

 "I am a little confused Preeti, I don’t know what to buy"

The shopkeeper handed them a tray with a large collection of perfumed oils in tiny bottles with a tinier dipper in each.

Saab try it before you buy. Rub a little drop of the attar on your wrist and smell it.” suggested the shopkeeper helpfully.

 “Whom are you buying for Preeti?" he asked as an after thought.

"My parents, sister, about you?"

"The same, except make it girlfriend and sisters. I didn’t know you had a boyfriend. You seem too quite and withdrawn in college. In fact I did not even know you properly till we came to Srinagar."

“You know Rahul from our previous batch? He proposed to me last valentine`s and I accepted.”

“Lucky Rahul ! I proposed to Shweta from 2nd year on valentine`s too. We have been seeing each other since then”.

“By the way I expected you`d say girlfriends, she laughed, “You have quite the reputation of being the charmer in college. Every girl in college is crazy about you.”

“That`s a lie madam. If it was true, how come my charm did not work on you?”he chuckled.

They continued rubbing various oils on their hand and Anirudh was elbow deep in perfumes when Preeti chided him,

Ani, people will think we are crazy, smelling each other`s hand like this. And don’t go up any further, it starting to get a little…hmmm…weird.”

Holding her hand and smelling the attar on it had been quite a heady experience and Anirudh had begun to feel a little amorous too. He wondered if she had been feeling the same, but dared not say or do anything lest he offend her. She was quite pretty and fun to be with. How had he not noticed her before? ‘Lucky Rahul’ he thought again.

They brought a whole lot of other goods including woolen shawls, embroidered salwar kameez and trinkets.

"Ani, lets buy some home made chocolates , my sister will kill me if I go back without it"

 The chocolate area was vast and smelt divine. To their surprise and liking, they were allowed to taste tiny bits of various varieties before they bought it. Preeti had a small piece of rich cocoa butter chocolate that was melting in her palm. Without warning, Ani grabbed Preeti’s hand and licked the chocolate off it . Taken aback at this impromptu act, Preeti was quite embarrassed. But she hated to admit to herself, that she had actually quite like the warmth of Ani's mouth on her hand, just like she had enjoyed the warmth of his breath as he had sniffed the perfume off her hand. It was difficult not be charmed him and his flirting. But that was exactly why she had stayed away from him. She never thought he was capable of taking a relationship seriously.

“It’s 3.45 already Preeti, lets hurry up.”

"I hope the bus doesn’t leave without us.” cried Preeti.

But the bus did leave without them, and the pleadings from both of their friends had gone unheeded. The tour operator felt it would be easier that 2 people missed the flight than the entire group missing it. Both of them were horrified to find the bus gone and Preeti could not stop crying.

What are we going to do now, how will we get back

Calm down Preeti, we are not on another planet, lets take a cab to the airport" said Ani holding her reassuringly.

They hailed a cab and all through the way, a tensed Preeti held his hand tightly, her nails biting through the flesh of his palm.

 "Don’t worry my dear, we'll make it on time"

They were relieved when they finally reached the airport an hour later and checked in their baggage which the tour operator had kept in his custody in case they missed the flight. Since they were the last to check in, their seats were together but quite away from the rest of the group. The flight take-off and landing had a disturbing effect on Preeti and she was more than happy to let Ani hold her comfortingly across her shoulder. 

There was a palpable tension between them, an undeniable attraction, a futile self-denial, and an insurmountable feeling of enticement. The magic of Srinagar had woven an indescribable bond between them. Oh! how she wanted this time to never end! And how he wished he could hold her like this forever!

But as they say, all good things eventually came to an end. After the flight landed, they were immediately surrounded by their respective friends and a host of questions. "Hey, where did you two disappear?", "How did you manage to reach the airport?" As they chatted animatedly, he felt his heart beat faster every time she looked at him, a mischievous glint in her eyes.  As they walked towards the exit, she caught him stealing glances at her and blushed.

Surprise!!! I missed you so much, my love!

She turned around and saw Rahul waiting for her at the exit and a familiar smile crowning his face. She walked into his embrace, looking around for Ani one last time. He was walking towards the exit waving his hands in air and Shweta waving excitedly at him with a huge smile on her face...

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