The seatbelts were fastened and the lights had been brightened as the last flight for the day prepared to land in Netaji Shubhas Chandra Bose Airport. All the passengers at the window seats felt lucky as they enjoyed the first glimpses of the ‘Tilottama Kolkata’ decked up for Durga Puja. I, seated in the aisle seat was trying to lean in as much as possible when I realized that the man sitting next to me chuckled at me and adjusted himself to give me whatever little space he could afford to. Quite embarrassed I sat straight as he said ‘Its ok, Kolkata looks beautiful and its beauty enhances manifold when Maa comes home’. That was the first time ever I heard him speak. He had such a deep voice. As I looked at him and acknowledged, I noticed that his eyes were even deeper than his voice. I asked myself why I had not noticed him during the entire duration of the flight. The flight landed and all the necessary announcements were done. The time had now come to de-board the flight, but I felt a strange confusion in my head. I was so excited to land in Kolkata just a few minutes earlier but now I felt like something was missing. It was as if I was leaving behind something on the flight. I was trying hard to figure out this pinch in my heart when I saw his last glance as he went out of the airport to where a bunch of guys were waiting eagerly to receive him. That was when I saw my father. The sheer joy of seeing him after so long, made me forget what was running through my head. The confusion which was building up was now gone as I ran and hugged my father and went home with a smile on my face.
“Someone, somewhere is made for you.” I never believed in these famous words from a Bollywood blockbuster until I happened to see him again. He was dressed in a milk white kurta and blue jeans waiting for his turn in the ‘Pushpanjali’ queue. “Oh my God! What is he doing here? Am I daydreaming? Or is he real?” were some of the few things I told myself as I went through the crowd and stood beside him. I lightly stepped on his feet quite on purpose to garner his attention and then pretended to be apologetic. He was quite stunned on seeing me and looking towards me he asked “Are you not the lady who was travelling with me yesterday in the same flight?” I pretended to be quite casual about it as if I had not noticed him earlier and replied “Yeah, it’s a small world indeed!” That was the day, when for the Saptami Pushpanjali I could only pray to Maa by saying, “Please forgive me Maa, I cannot concentrate on any of the Mantras”.
During serving of the bhog I came to know from my “para” friends that his uncle had shifted to our colony two months ago. On knowing this, that very evening I wore my favourite puja attire that I had preserved for Ashtami. I knew I needed to create a lasting impression on him! My friends and I went out to our para-pandal and there I saw him again. He was sitting with his cousins and seemed to be having a casual conversation. I greeted him and his cousins and while I was just about to arrange our seats near where they were sitting he said “Bye”. Apparently they were going out for pandal-hopping. I felt really offended that he ignored me that way. Not only did he not compliment me for my new dress, but he also didn’t even ask my friends and I to join them on their pandal hopping spree! How could he be so rude? I convinced myself that I would never see his face again!
The next day was Maha-ashtami, the most important day of the Durga Pujo. All of us, the “para-girls gang” were busy helping all the elder ladies in preparing for the big-day puja. That year it was a 3-day puja as Ashtami and Nabami happened to be on the same day. Therefore, simultaneously preparations were on for ‘Sandhi-puja’ as well. We were preparing the 108 customary earthen lamps to be lit for the occasion when one particular parar aunty came towards us with a candle to light the lamps and stumbled and almost fell on me. I braced myself for the fall since I knew that I would probably be on top on the lamps and off my feet when out of nowhere someone pulled me away, supporting me so that I stay on my feet. Bewildered I turned back to find him holding me steady. He asked me in his deep voice “Are you alright?” Time seemed to pause for that moment as I felt like a movie heroine, while my hero came to my rescue and saved me in style. This time I was surely swept off my feet. All those promises to myself of never seeing his face again seemed to shatter away and be lost somewhere in time as I was sure I was smitten by him.
Then the next one and half days went in adda, dhunuchi-dance, aarti, sindur-khela and bisarjan. His subtle smile, winking and clear sign that I am looking good after sindur-khela for the first time made me wonder- ‘Does he like me the way I like him?’ Whenever I would think of this, my heart-beat would increase not only due to the anticipation of an answer but also because of the thought that the episode was probably about to end. Pujo was over and we would all be parting ways soon. Yes, we would be back again, just like Maa at the same para, for same pujo but that would be a year later! Would he still be there the following year, making my pujo even more amazing than usual? I knew we lived in the same city and we could meet there but would he want to meet me? Would I ever see him again and enjoy the same moments with him even if there was no pujo? Would my first love end like many other pujor prem stories that last for only those 3-4 days? These were some of the questions running through my head and making me confused once again when as if out of divine intervention I saw him coming towards me. He came to me with a pack of chocolates, wished me “shubho bijoya” and said, “I had a great time this pujo. Tomorrow I am going back home. Hope we meet again when you go back too.” I could barely give a reply back to him. My joy knew no boundaries at that moment and I just stood there trying to find speech in my floundering. As he left, I found a sticky note affixed at the back of the chocolate box. On it was a phone number and also written in red were the words “Rahul..Asha kori naam ta mone thakbe..'?
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