The borderline between friendship and love is very thin. Sometimes I wonder whether there is any such borderline? Is it not that the two fields overlap? How thin is the line between love & lust, the sheer physical sensual desire? Is one a prelude to the other?
I know friendship and I know lust - both are relatively simple. No, I do not claim to be able to define friendship. Yet, I am never confused about it. I have always been very clear about who are my close friends, intimate friends, not-so-intimate friends and business friends.
Lust - physical desire, a mad rush of blood to one's head - is something that needs no explanation. It is a common practice to look down upon lust as something sinful and even dirty. It is almost fashionable to pretend that one has no lust and physical desires.
I do not understand love, at least not the love that poets, authors and filmmakers talk about. This type of love is supposed to strike one as a thunderbolt. It strikes one suddenly, is completely irrational and leaves one completely incapacitated for the rest of one's life. In its true form, it is supposed to be free from all lust. Most poets have talked of love as something different from friendship. While friendship normally involves some common interest or attitude or perspective, these are not considered as prerequisites for love. True love is supposed to be devoid of both friendship and lust For example nobody talks of Majnu being lustful or of Majnu and Laila being great friends.
I do not understand this so called true love? As far as I can understand, love is a strange concoction of friendship and lust. Both the ingredients are necessary though the proportion may be varied from time to time and from case to case. Love without physical desire will lack the passion that leads to an intoxicated state of mind. Lovers that cannot be friends, do not remain lovers for long.
The love story of Mrs. & Mr. Dutta fascinated me very much when Mrs. Dutta narrated it to me. It was a perfect love story ending with- "and they lived happily ever after". I had reasons to be fascinated. This was the first time in my life when I had met a real person who had a true love experience - the sort that poets sing about and filmmakers picturize with thirteen songs and three fight sequences.
Mrs. Dutta was a short, plump lady when I met her in August, 1983. I had just started my business of furniture and interior decoration with some visiting cards as my only assets. I neither had a showroom, nor a workshop. The monsoon was at its peak. A lot of people believe that one should not buy wooden furniture in rainy season. So, there was no business. I was feeling depressed and dejected. Mrs. Dutta had visited a prominent furniture showroom. An informer told me about this and I went to her house to persuade her about my skills, quality, prices etc.
She was surprised at our method of collecting information and took a long time enquiring about our marketing system, our history, our background etc. My partner and I spoke some truths, some half-truths and some lies. When, it was our turn to give some sales talk, we were pleased to find that she did not need any persuasion. She placed the order and even gave us a handsome advance. This was the beginning of my business career as well as my association with her.
Mrs. Dutta was about forty years old at that time. She did look her age and in fact looked older. She was fair and had sharp features that looked out of place with her plump body. The features did indicate that she was extremely beautiful in her good days. The most beautiful part of her face were her large eyes and her habit of looking straight into the eyes of another person. Her eyes had a child like appearance about them. As I got to know her more, I found her eyes to be a true expression of herself.
She took a childlike interest in any new thing. She was most fascinated by our bold and direct approach and had hence placed the order knowing fully well that she was taking a risk.
She was an Assistant Professor at the Local Girls College. She used to go to the college only to the extent, it was necessary. She was extremely talkative but she never talked about her college or her colleagues or about her students. Nobody would have guessed that she was anything more than an elderly housewife, unless told so.
I got along very well with her. We would sit for hours just chatting away. She was a good listener and hence I used to enjoy her company. She would normally talk about her house, her children, her cooking and such other topics. It was extremely unusual for her to talk about her husband or about herself.
Her husband, Mr. Gautam Dutta worked for a multinational pharmaceutical company as an Area Sales Manager. It was a Senior Management position, and he was overall in-charge of the whole state of Madhya Pradesh. For almost twenty days in a month, he used to be on tour. For the ten days in a month, he was at home, he gave me the impression of a devoted husband. He used to drop his wife to college and later pick her up. I had often seen him take his family out for shopping or just for an ice-cream at New Market.
He wasn't very talkative. He wasn't even a very good listener. At times, I tried to engage him in a discussion, but it was utter failure. When I was talking, he was either playing with his cigarette pack or smoking with a sleepy look. When I stopped talking, there was complete silence. I soon gave up my attempts at starting a dialogue with him. However, he was not unfriendly or discourteous. His mannerisms and behaviour were impeccable. He was always well dressed and gave an impression of a perfectly polished gentleman. This did contrast with Mrs. Dutta's careless attitude about her own clothes and appearance.
The first time Mrs. Dutta talked about her husband, was when we were discussing about a centre table for her drawing room. My profits on a glass top centre table used to be slightly more than a Formica top centre table. I was hence trying to sell her the idea of a glass top centre table. She was resistant but I was insistent. I tried to argue that her children had now grown up and hence there was no chance of the glass breaking.
Mrs. Dutta replied, "Oh, it is not the children, but it's Mr. Dutta". I was shocked and so was she. Inadvertently, she had spoken the unspeakable. I just did not know what to say but said, "Oh, Mr. Dutta?" She was in no mood to explain her statement. She was most embarrassed. I could not understand the reasons for the extremely strange expressions on her face, but did not press on the subject. She, however, added in a low voice, "Mr. Dutta is a very different man after a few drinks." This was a new aspect of the otherwise perfect personality of Mr. Dutta. I was curious to know more but Mrs. Dutta quickly changed the topic and went to the kitchen to get me a cup of coffee. After the coffee, just when I was leaving, she requested me to not mention to Mr. Dutta, what she had told me.
This small incident brought me much closer to Mrs. Dutta. She became more warm towards me and, I think, looked upon me as somebody she could confide in. A few weeks later, sipping a cup of coffee on a cool cloudy evening, I asked her that since she was a Bengali, she must be interested in Ravindra Sangeet. She laughed and said that she was not a Bengali but was married to a Bengali who did not enjoy anything musical, Ravindra or of any other type. This was news for me. It was often that I had seen her cook fish. I had heard again and again that she was getting all the furniture made in rainy season so that her house had a new look at Durga Pooja. She spoke fluent Bangla with her husband and her kids. It was strange for me to even imagine that she could be a non-Bengalee. I told her that it was a great surprise for me and asked her to tell me more about herself.
Her maiden name was Gita Khanna. Her family had migrated to Jabalpur from Punjab after the partition of India and Pakistan. Her father was a senior officer at the Ordnance Factory at Khamaria, Jabalpur. She had two brothers, one elder than her and one younger than her. Both the brothers were well built and had simple rustic morals. They believed that it was their primary duty to protect their sister from the evil eyes and designs of any man. They strongly believed in the popular folklore of family honour and kept a ready stock of hockey sticks and bicycle chains to defend any attack on their "Izzat" (honour).
Khamaria is located at the outskirts of the city of Jabalpur. The Ordnance Factory has its housing colony at Khamaria. The road from the colony to the city used to be a deserted road in those days. On this road, Miss. Gita Khanna used to bicycle everyday to go to college which was a girls college. Normally she would go with a group of girls to avoid teasing by boys. Once in a while they would meet a group of boys who would pass comments. They ignored the boys and the boys never dared to follow them.
One day the girls noticed a well dressed handsome boy following their group. The girls knew him. He was also from the housing colony. His name was Gautam Dutta. He was never seen in any of the groups of boys that were involved in teasing girls. Everyone of the girls knew that his only interests in life were studies and table tennis. It was hence very strange that he should be following them. He did not pass any comments. In fact, he followed them in such a well behaved manner that no girl could even object to his bicycle coming just a few meters behind their group. It became a daily routine for him to be waiting at the colony market square for their group and then following them all the way to the girls college. He never made any attempts to approach any of the girls or even to indicate any particular girl that he was following. It was obvious to all the girls that he was not being frivolous. He was extremely serious but was shy.
The Khanna family had to go out for a marriage at Indore for three days. Gita had accompanied her family and hence was not in the group of girls going to the college that day. As usual, Gautam was standing at the market square waiting for the girls. But that day he did not follow them. During the three days that Gita was not in town, he would look at the group of girls with eyes that expressed more than they could hide and pedal his way back to home. The whole colony knew of this development in no time. Gita knew it as soon as she came back and so did her brothers. Gita was too stunned to react to this news. Her reaction was more of disbelief than anything else. She had read all the romantic books and had seen all the films that described true love. She also knew that getting a true lover was the greatest fortune a young girl could ever hope for. No, she could not believe that she was that fortunate. She thought that there was some trick. She did not hate or dislike Gautam, though she could easily confirm that she had not fallen in love with him so far and she would not have been bothered even a small bit, if he had fallen in love with some other girl. She was confused. On the one hand, there were all the girls telling her of the greatness of love, her good luck at being able to get such a devoted, well behaved husband etc. On the other hand, was this boy for whom she felt nothing.
Her brothers took a different view. Somebody following their sister was an affront to them. They considered Punjabis to be a superior race than Bengalis who, in their opinion, were short, thin, ate foul-smelling fish, listened to a strange type of music and in general did not know how to live life. Their fair sister's name being linked to a skinny, dark Bengali was something that they just could not approve of. There was only one hitch - that if their sister was stupid enough to have fallen in love with this creature, they were helpless. They could not go against their beloved sister's wishes even if she was being idiotic. They asked her if she was in love with Gautam. Her reply was negative and this cleared the only obstacle in the course of action that they had planned.
The next day when Gautam was waiting for the group of girls to come, the brothers met him and told him to stop chasing Gita. He did not argue with them. The girls came and proceeded on their way to the college. Gautam could not follow the girls since the brothers were holding his bicycle handle. This went on for three days.
On the fourth day, the brothers changed their strategy. They did not stop Gautam at the market square and let him follow the girls. Halfway to the college, they stopped him and showered on him a few slaps and blows. They also warned him that if the next day he was found following Gita, the treatment would be made more severe. And so, the next day on the same spot, Gautam got a taste of hockey sticks. The brothers had beaten him up quite harshly but had taken care that no bones were broken, to avoid a police case. They were convinced that Gautam would not dare to come the next day. So it was natural that their blood boiled when the next day, they saw him following the girls. They pulled out their motorcycle chains and were frothing with anger when Gita stopped her bicycle near them and asked them to stop the nonsense that they were doing. She called Gautam and asked her brothers to shake hands with him.
She was convinced that if there was a true lover on earth, it was Gautam. She needed no further proof of the genuineness of his love. Gautam met her in the colony park the same day in the evening. In this first meeting, he proposed and she accepted. It took about a month to convince the parents who agreed half-heartedly. It was agreed that they get engaged immediately and get married after Gautam gets a job. Gita's brothers felt that Gita had cheated them and her relations with them got strained for the rest of her life.
Gita started preparing for her new life. She could now meet Gautam once in a while ,though her parents did not really approve of it. She tried finding about his likes and dislikes. There was hardly anything she could find. Gautam was so thrilled at every meeting with Gita that he was almost in heaven. He would just look at her, listen to her and once in a while when they would get sufficient privacy to be able to touch each other, he would go mad with joy. He did try to suggest to her that they could go out to a place where they could be more intimate, but both of them knew that it was mere wishful thinking. In the meanwhile Gita learnt Bangla language, learnt Bengalee dishes and tried to develop a taste for fish cooked in mustard oil. A few months later Gautam got the job as a sales representative with a multinational pharmaceutical company. A few weeks later, as Mrs. Dutta put it, "Gita became Mrs. Dutta."
It was the beginning of a cool evening when Mrs. Dutta began her story and it was well past eight when she finished. I was in a hurry to get back home to my wife so I took leave of her.
A couple of days later, I went to her house again to deliver the centre table. She looked at the Formica top and remarked, "You were right. A glass top looks better. I wish I could have taken a glass top centre table". By then, I had lost all interest in selling a glass top center table to her, so I tried to tell her that her choice of Formica colour and shade was very good and the particular shade selected by her suited a centre table beautifully and it even looked better than glass. She looked at me with her large eyes in a strange way and said, "Oh, How I wish that he stops drinking. The doctors have advised him against it. He should now stop touring also. One should be careful if one has heart trouble".
The centre table was the last item of furniture that was to be supplied, so I was more bothered about giving the bill and getting my payment rather than the personal life of Mrs. & Mr. Dutta.
In the months that followed, my business picked up and I opened a showroom and workshop at a prime business locality. I got so involved with my work that I soon forgot all about Mrs. Dutta and her family.
Four years after I supplied the furniture to the Dutta family, one afternoon I was sitting in my showroom when a light blue car stopped in front. As was my habit, I got up and went to the glass door to open the door and receive the lady who had just arrived. At first I could not recognize Mrs. Dutta. She looked much younger than her age. She was wearing a salwar kurta. As far as I remembered, she used to always wear a saree. In fact this was the first time that I had seen her driving a car. She had cut her hair short and had changed her glasses with contact lenses. I stood amazed, gaping at her. She saw my amazement, looked at me with her beautiful large eyes and smiled. The eyes and the smile were the same. I regained my composure and wished her a good evening and asked her to come in and have a seat. After making her comfortable, I told her that I could not believe that it was the same Mrs. Dutta. She asked me my opinion whether the change was for the better or worse. I assured her that she looked much better and I liked new Mrs. Dutta more than the old one.
She was now actively involved in theatre. She had come to me to get some props for the play that she was doing at the City Hall the next Saturday. I did not know of her interest in theatre and told her so. She said that theatre and music were her passions in her college days. and she was trying to pick up the threads once again. Music was proving to be difficult but there was absolutely no problem with theatre.
She was now the co-ordinator for the college annual function where she had tried out a few experiments with form and style. I listened to her talk with an enthusiasm and effervescence that I had never seen before. She no longer looked like an elderly housewife. Her enthusiasm made the dull afternoon bright. I told her about the play that I had acted in during my college days. She told me her views on various types of theatre. She wanted to some day work on a musical play that would have a modern look but would draw its inspiration from the folk dances of Chhattisgarh.
We talked for almost two hours. She had not talked about her house or her kids or her cooking even once and this surprised me. She invited me to drop in home sometime.
I went to see her off to the door. I opened the door and as she was getting out, asked her, "How is Mr. Dutta?" She said in a casual manner, "He died last year" and walked over to her car. After starting the car ,she waved her hand to me and wished me goodbye.
A few days later, I went to her house and found that the centre table had a new top - a glass top.