HAPPY NEW YEAR – A ROMANCE STORY
As he wished her a Happy New Year for the last time, and said good bye, Arun Rao was already regretting that he had put the matter so lightly.
He was forty-three, on the threshold of middle age, and terribly weary of his lingering bachelorhood. Sadhana could be his last chance.
As the boat pulled ashore, Sadhana looked at the imposing figure of Arun Rao standing on the deck of the huge ship recede into the darkness.
She waved a good-bye, feeling in her heart the very same sentiment, the same churning of emotions, which Arun was experiencing at that very moment.
For Sadhana, it had been a long time since she had been attracted towards a man. And she had sensed tender warmth in Arun’s behaviour towards her.
She had been very curious to see his ship – a massive oil tanker – and how he lived. Arun had even taken her to his cabin – a privileged excursion into an exclusively masculine word. It was impressive. Nothing can be as neatly arranged as a sailor’s cabin.
But Sadhana was depressed by its neatness and organization. This was the home of a self-sufficient man. He hardly needed a wife.
Her son, Sunil, was talking animatedly to a sailor who was pointing out the various lights on the ships at anchorage. Sunil had been full of excitement and had thoroughly enjoyed the visit to Arun’s ship. He was ten years old and needed a father figure – a real man. He seemed to have liked Arun and they had got along well, with Arun patiently answering Sunil’s numerous questions.
She wondered why Arun had treated them so lavishly and given them such expensive presents; especially that marvelous exclusive perfume he had insisted she try on there and then.
Sadhana was sure Arun had fallen in love with her and wanted to marry her.
But why had he hesitated? Was it because of her son, Sunil?
Captain Arun Rao lay down on his bunk and closed his eyes in self-commiseration. It was only too easy to remain a bachelor in the Merchant Navy and, after the early susceptible years, it became easier still. The insularity of ship-borne life suited a bachelor. But now, after meeting Sadhana and Sunil, Arun did feel keenly the lack of a family.
He knew he should have asked her, but he had remained tongue-tied – afraid of rejection – waiting for Sadhana to make the first move. But how could she? After all she was a woman. And there was Sunil, her son. Would he accept him as a father?
Arun wished he had asked Sadhana directly and frankly. It was the fear of rebuff, and maybe his ego, that had come in the way. He had to move fast. Act now, before it was too late.
Tomorrow was his last day in harbour. And then he would sail away, far away from Sadhana’s life, for a long time, maybe forever. He took out his cell-phone and dialed his sister’s number.
It was in his sister’s house that he had met Sadhana for the first time. Just two days ago.
As the boat approached the wharf, Sadhana turned around and looked at ship’s lights dotting the sea, trying to locate and discern Arun’s ship. In the enveloping darkness it was impossible.
She felt the same sensation one feels at the end of a happy dream when one is jolted to reality. It was over.
Tomorrow Arun would sail away from her life, forever. And she would be back in her routine as a teacher and single mother.
She was so lost in her thoughts, that it was only when she felt Sunil tugging at her hand that she noticed that the ferry boat was already berthed alongside, and they disembarked on the jetty.
“I wish we could sail with Uncle Arun,” Sunil said. “He is so nice.”
“We can’t,” Sadhana said. “It’s not allowed. And what about your school? Merchant Navy ships sail for days together, across the seas, round the world.”
“We can go during the summer holidays,” Sunil interjected. “Uncle said that families are allowed on board for short periods.”
“But we are not his family,” Sadhana said.
“Then why don’t you marry him?”
The directness of her son’s question rendered Sadhana dumbstruck. She looked at her son incredulously. Even he had understood, and accepted.
Now, she would have to act fast; for her sake, for her son’s sake.
She had to talk to Arun quickly. Time was running out. She was tempted to ring him up there and then on his mobile, but restrained herself – this had to be done delicately.
Sadhana hailed a taxi and asked the driver to take her to the house of Priti, Arun’s sister, where Sadhana had first met Arun. At Priti’s son’s birthday party. Sadhana generally never attended any parties now-a-days. But Priti’s son was a classmate of Sunil’s. And her ex-pupil too. And Priti’s husband Praveen had been a colleague of her late husband. They had insisted. And she just couldn’t refuse.
It was during the party, as Sadhana drifted towards the balcony for some fresh air, that had noticed Arun, standing in the balcony, all alone by himself, lost in his thoughts, in a corner. He wore a lonely and rather perplexed expression, as though he were at the party but not a member of it. His height and his beard, which was almost entirely gray, made him prominent. He looked a decisive, hot-tempered and dangerous man, with his broad square face, heavy-lidded eyes, and majestic beard. But he also looked vulnerable.
“That’s my elder brother,” Priti said following Sadhana’s gaze. “Come, I’ll introduce you.”
They were introduced. Probably Priti had told Arun about Sadhana for he didn’t ask the inevitable questions about her late husband. Nor did he express the superficial pity and lip sympathy, platitudes she had become so used to.
Arun simply said, “At least you’ve got your son to keep you company. But I am all alone.”
“I’m sorry,” Sadhana said.” I didn’t know you were also…”
“No, no.” interrupted Arun. “I am just a bachelor. One of those who looks before he leaps – and never leaps.” He smiled. “And now it’s too late. Looks like I’ll be a confirmed lifelong bachelor. I have learnt to live with myself and live a life without a wife.”
Sadhana found that Arun was easy to talk to and soon she began experiencing a sense of release and a rare feeling of elation.
In these moods there was so such to say and the words simply came tumbling out.
She told him everything. About her husband, his sudden unexpected death, about Sunil, her son, and how she was struggling along the lonely road of life.
She noticed that Arun didn’t express the usual response of pity, sympathy, or patronizing attitude. He listened with his disarming smile, and from time to time egged her on. She unburdened herself. Arun also felt good. He realized that it was comforting to converse with someone who needed comforting.
They would have gone on and on but Sunil interrupted them. “Mummy, aren’t you going to eat something?”
Young Sunil was fascinated when he knew that Arun was a Merchant Navy Captain – The Master of a ship. Arun had invited them on board to see the ship the next day – New Year’s Day.
Though, at first, Sadhana was reluctant, she could not refuse, seeing Sunil’s enthusism. She accepted Arun’s invitation. For her son’s sake. Maybe hers?
“We’d love to come,” Sadhana said. “It’s nice to do something different on a New Year’s Day for a change.”
She flattered Arun by looking steadily at him without letting her eyes stray. Sadhana wore a simple off-white sari with a brooch pinned on her right shoulder. Her forehead was too broad, her nose too long, for her to be called a beauty, but looking at her Arun Rao experienced that delightful giddy feeling of achievement, that same lift of the spirit, as one feels when one conquers a high mountain peak and first sees the breathtaking view of the expanse below him.
As the taxi reached Priti’s house, Sadhana began having second thoughts.
There is a time to make thing happen, and there is a time to let things happen.
Sadhana decided to let things happen, take their natural course, relying on her instinct.
Priti gave Sadhana a canny look when she opened the door. “Come in,” she said, “I am so happy for both of you.”
“What…?” Sadhana said confused.
“Arun just called …” Priti said teasingly.
Sadhana blushed. “Priti, I want to meet him before he sails off. I don’t want to lose him.”
Don’t get impatient,” Priti said putting her arm around Sadhana affectionately. “Arun’s ship is sailing tomorrow evening. But he is on his way right now in the ship’s boat. He felt too shy to speak to you so he is getting a letter for me to deliver personally to you.”
“Letter? He’s proposing through a letter? What an old fashioned chap?” Praveen, Priti’s husband, exclaimed, appearing as if from nowhere. “This old fogey Arun needs some shock treatment. Hurry up. Let’s surprise him at the jetty. I’ll take out the car.”
As Arun got off the boat and walked up the steps of the jetty, he unexpectedly saw Sadhana, and his heart thumped giddily with the glee of a man who anxiously yearns for his beloved and suddenly finds her a thousand times more beautiful then he imagined.
He could not control the rising force of the latent bottled up love within; neither could she. Oblivious of the surroundings, they ran towards each other and embraced tightly.
Warm and secure in his arms, Sadhana, once again, felt tender, cherished and loved. After an age when her heart had been frozen, she was going to begin her life anew.
Shadows lengthen, it starts getting dark, Sadhana and Arun look at the horizon and watch the glorious spectacle of sunset on the first evening of the New Year. They watch the fantastic metamorphosis at sunset, the orange sun being gobbled up the calm blue sea, crimson petals dancing in the sky, twilight enveloping, romance is in the air, as they hold each other tightly and say to each other, “Happy New Year.”
Copyright © Vikram Karve 2008
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.