A Fiction on the Flight to Heathrow

The Air India flight from New Delhi to Heathrow was delayed by 2 hours. The waiting room in New Delhi was bustling with families with restless tots and children returning to the US after spending their winter break with extended families in India, American and British tourists returning home adorning colorful robes they picked up in the streets of Janpath, first time H1B computer professionals hoping to ride the dot com wave.
He was already tired after the long trip he had taken from his ancestral place in the backwaters of North East India. He was traveling alone. His wife and daughter had stayed back to spend an extra fortnight. This was a luxury they could still afford before their daughter started the rigors of regular school. Little Anita was to join Kindergarten after the summer.
He was flipping through the “National Geographics” when he saw her.
“No, It could not be her”, he thought with a chill running down his spine.
But surely it had to be her. She had the same exact features, the freckles adorned by light skinned people – a genetic trait very rare amongst the Indians, the same walk and the same long black lustrous hair that could only be tamed by the likes of a long chopstick like hair pin.
Yet something was different. There she sat wearing an unkempt yellow sari brandishing a loud sindoor and mangal sutra proudly declaring her marital status. She appeared to be traveling with her husband and a child about 3 years in age. Surely ten long years have passed since they parted with a mutual assurance not to tread on each other’s – but she appeared to be a complete contrast to her old bubbly self who was fondly nicknamed as AT & T (always talking and talking) by her Delhi University classmates.
Suddenly he found himself engulfed by a wave of nostalgia so strong that he could smell the fragrance of youth he left behind a decade ago –
How he landed in Delhi to start his corporate life –
How he was introduced to her as the girl friend of his best friend when she was still doing her Masters in Delhi University before his best friend headed down to Southern India to do his first job as a trainee marketing executive exploring the potential of rural markets for consumer non-durables –
How she started confiding her deepest secrets with him –
How they landed up sharing an apartment in Delhi since she had nowhere to turn to and he had to fulfill the promise he made to his best friend – of taking care of his girl friend while he was away –
How they remained as faithful friends without betraying their friend’s trust for three months until that fateful evening when they realized their relationship become more intimate than what is demanded in friendship between a boy and a girl –
How their conscience were being torn apart by a strange feeling of love and the guilt of playing down his best friend’s trust –
How they agreed to part from each other with a promise that they will never cross paths in life and how he resigned from his job in Delhi and headed to the US to start a new life-
He started a new life in the US. Got married with a beautiful and loving lady through an arranged marriage. A lady with whom he shared all his love that he possibly could not share with any other woman in the world. But what he never shared with the lady of his life was tales of those days in Delhi that he left behind. Soon they were blessed with a beautiful daughter who was the center of their life.
“All passengers traveling to Heathrow by Air India Flight 1050 are requested to proceed to the Security Check”.
His reverie was broken by the announcement. As he proceeded towards the security check, their eyes met. She looked right through him as if he did not exist.
He suddenly remembered that once she had mentioned she had a twin sister who had a very different personality. “Well, that explains”, he thought. After all looks is the only thing they shared and her companion was not who she was supposed to be with – his best friend from college days.
A few months passed by ……………
Lohit was with Aruna and little Anita at the local Regal Theatre to watch the remake of old Hindi classic “Devdas”. The local Regal was the only theatre in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, that that screened Hindi films and on weekends it attracted deshi crowd from neighboring areas. The multiplex section which screened the Hindi films were always abuzz with noisy tots running up and down the stairs, mothers desperately trying to calm their crying babies, young deshi couples with visiting in-laws from India. Going to watch a Hindi movie in the local Regal was more like going to attend a rural fair back home in India.
“How did you like the movie”, Aruna asked Lohit.
“Well, the script writer did make a mess of the original version by Sarat Chandra for sure. Agreed the producer did spend a lot of money in the setup and costumes but failed to create the spirits of early 19th century Bengal as depicted in the earlier versions and played so brilliantly first by Pramathesh Barua and later by Dileep Kumar. Compared to them, Shah Rukh Khan did really cut a sorry figure”, remarked Lohit.
“That’s mean! Daddy! Shah Rukh Khan was so cool. And so was the beautiful mommy who danced Dolare, Dolare ….” – cried out little Anita, with a visible dismay on her innocent face. Six-year-old Anita was the greatest fan of King Khan and would not hear any adverse comment on his acting capabilities. She would not believe Shah Rukh and her dad were of the same age and would always flash a naughty smile of disapproval when Aruna remarked she considered Lohit to be more handsome than Shah Rukh.
“Well, I will be darned if that’s not the same old Lohit Brahma with whom I went to college”- thundered a familiar voice from behind.
Lohit turned back and to his utter surprise found his Ravi, best friend from college days and Shalini along with a boy about the same age as Anita. He could see the genuine surprise and the excitement in their eyes – the unexpected euphoria of re-uniting with one’s best friend after a decade.
 Shalini almost looked the same as she did a decade ago. Perhaps a few extra pounds. But the same freckles, the same lustrous hair that went flowing down to her waist, the same bubbly nature that earned the “AT & T (always talking and talking)” fame. She was in a casual jeans and tee shirt, just like the ones she used to sport.
“Oh my good heavens and by the beard of holy Moses! What the heck you guys are doing here!!!”- cried out Lohit.
“Meet my best friend from college –  Ravi and his wife Shalini – a very dear friend of mine as well”, Lohit turned towards Aruna. “And this is Aruna – the proud and lucky owner of a hen pecked husband” – Lohit always took pride in being labeled as a husband who is under the command of his dear wife – “And this is Anita – who has just turned six”.
“And I am Varun, the spiderman” – announced Ravi and Shalini’s bundle of joy.
It turned out Ravi and Shalini had just moved in to their single-family colonial house in the next town.
“It’s just six in the evening and we have a decade to catch up on. You folks are coming down to our place right now and we won’t take no for an answer.”- Shalini demanded, “and Aruna – the commander in chief of the Brahma household – command thy beloved to be a good soldier and follow the Malhotras to the great re-union.”
“Mommy!! Can we? Please can we?”- little Anita started jumping with excitement. She was always excited about going to parties, especially if she found there was someone close to her own size.
“Well! Of course how can I be a party pooper! You guys have met after such a long time and it certainly calls for a celebration”- Aruna joined with a wide grin.
This was a quality, which Lohit was always proud of Aruna. Aruna was always quick with making new friends and was always the life of the social gatherings, which the Brahmas maintained.
As Brahmas followed the Malhotras on their minivan, Lohit felt a strange feeling – euphoria of meeting a long lost friend, apprehensive about the outcome of a reunion he wasn’t sure he was looking forward to, yet triumphant over the fact that Shalini’s presence failed to create the same ripples in his heart that he experienced that fateful evening a decade earlier.
Aruna and Shalini seemed to enjoy each other’s company instantly. So did Anita and Varun. As for Lohit and Ravi, they were busy catching up on the last ten years since they were out of contact.
Lohit turned towards Shalini and said – “You are lucky to have your twin sister in this country. Do you meet her often?”
“No! No! What you mean? Malini is in India and has never visited the US.”- remarked Shalini.
“Isn’t she married with a son about 3 years of age and didn’t she come to the US couple of months back with her husband?”
“Malini never got married and has never visited the US. She is in Shimla with my family”- Shalini sounded a little irritated.
“But how can that be possible?”- cried Lohit and narrated his entire journey from New Delhi to Heathrow on Air India flight 1050.
Lohit demanded to see Malini’s photograph.
“Here you go. There she is. You see, we are not identical twins and look very different.”
Lohit took a good look at Malini’s photograph. And yes, she was different. Very different. You could not even tell both were Dogras from Himachal.
“That’s impossible!”- exclaimed Lohit.
“So how many drinks did you have in the airport when you were waiting for the flight?”- roared everyone with laughter.
As Aruna followed Ravi to arrange the dinner table, Shalini approached Lohit and whispered “So all these years you never got over me and you hallucinate my image on your private moments. Even meet the image of your dream on a flight to Heathrow. Don’t you?”
“Well – um –” Lohit was taken aback, He didn’t know what how to react.
“Don’t worry, Lohit. The feeling is mutual”- Shalini whispered back.
…………………
It was well past mid night when the Brahmas reached home.
As Aruna was changing into her comfortable night gown, she remarked – “A nice couple. How come you never mentioned about such a lovely bunch of a couple from your college days?”
“And Shalini. I can’t help noticing the strange glint in her eyes when she looks at you, when she talks to you. But don’t worry. I am not suspecting anything for I know if there was anything, anything at all – you would have told me.”

“Well Aruna. I just remembered I have a few office deliverables to cater to before I can retire for the night. I was supposed to finish them by the weekend. Please go ahead and retire and I will join you short while.”
“Please don’t be late, honey.” – pleaded Aruna as she headed towards the bed.
…………………

Lohit did not have the courage to explain what happened a decade ago. What if Aruna thought he still harbored the same feeling that surfaced more than a decade in the past?

Perhaps he could write all these in the form of a fiction and present it to Aruna and she will understand what happened between him and Shalini is purely circumstantial and was quite a natural outcome between a man and woman at that chronological age?

Lohit pulled out his laptop. And he started typing – “Fiction on a Flight to Heathrow”.

By Utpal Brahma

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