Valentine’s Day, the day of LOVE brings a cheer in everybody’s heart. This year, too, it was not an exception. As my impending dementia keep wiping away older memories, each day brings in something new and unique that enriches my experiences and I keep chronicling them in my journal. Today’s experience was something that I gulped down like an elixir of life and now am sitting down in the night to immortalize in my diary.
At seven ‘o’ clock in the morning, Mr. Bhushan Kapoor came and knocked on our door. Aunt Padma opened the door and welcomed him inside. I was in my study room and was listening to their conversation, while reading a book.
Before I note down the events further, let me first introduce Mr. Bhushan. He is our old neighbor, for over the last twenty years, and is on the brink of being declared a successful septuagenarian! Mr. Bhushan has been a widower for over thirty years and lived alone in his little bungalow. He didn’t have any children and didn’t have the abundance of extended family members. Thus, he spent most of days alone. However, this didn’t make Mr. Bhushan a recluse. He was indeed quite popular amid the residents of the neighborhood for his witty and enthusiastic nature. He had shifted to this bungalow, after his retirement.
Mr. Bhushan had been visiting us regularly, ever since a time I cannot even recall. Perhaps, it extends to the time when he first moved into his bungalow and came knocking at our door for some milk! Aunt Padma and Mr. Bhushan were probably of the same age and, maybe that is the reason why they had a great equation with each other.
Over the years, I have watched Aunt Padma and Mr. Bhushan develop a nice friendship and through most of our days of crisis, Mr. Bhushan had been like a support for us. Aunt Padma always felt comfortable in his presence. Ever since her husband passed away, I had noted a melancholy in Aunt Padma’s eyes. She lacked a companion, a friend with whom she could share her thoughts. However, in my subconscious mind, I have seen that Mr. Bhushan had been that friend in her life with whom she could laugh a little.
“Padma Ji”, said Mr. Bhushan, “I want to ask you something. Next month I am going to be seventy years old! I think I can ask this from you as an advance birthday present from an old friend.”
“What is it Mr. Bhushan”, I heard Aunt Padma’s skeptical voice. Even at her age, I could sense a feminine discomfort that made me get up and come inside the living-room.
“Would you be my Valentine?” smiled Mr. Bhushan with blushing face and continued, “I want to take you out for dinner tonight.”
Aunt Padma jumped up from her couch with a shock and exclaimed, “What are you saying? I never expected this proposition from you and at this age! I don’t know what to say… but I want to stay alone!”
Mr. Bhushan’s face became red with embarrassment, and he got up to leave. I tried to stop him but looking at the expression on Aunt Padma’s eyes, I resisted. I winked at Mr. Bhushan while left by saying, “I am sorry…”
As the old man went away, I stared at Aunt Padma while she screamed, “Can you imagine his audacity? He is proposing to me, a married woman who has been windowed for decades! What a shame! I had always considered him as a brother… Bhushan Bhaiya!”
I couldn’t control myself and asked her to sit down saying, “Aunt Padma, listen to me quietly. I don’t want you so speak anything before I finish. If you agree, I will talk, otherwise I won’t.”
Aunt Padma nodded and sat down, with her eyes still flaring with anger. I spoke, “Aunt Padma… Mr. Bhushan has been our neighbor for ages. He has not only been like a family member, but also like a friend to you! Ever since you lost your husband, I have seen a loneliness in your eyes! Even though momentarily, that melancholy gets dissolved in the presence of Mr. Bhushan! This is not romance! It is a pure friendship!”
Perhaps, Aunt Padma saw some logic in my words and decided to keep quiet. I continued with full energy, “Stop bragging about this imposed brotherhood and sisterhood. Stop this Bhushan Bhaiyalullaby! Why do we have to add a brother or a sister tag to anybody with whom we are not romantically related? How does it help?”
Aunt Padma didn’t have any answers and I kept on speaking, “You don’t need to add a brother tag to very man just because you are a window! It does not increase or reduce your love for your late husband! It is a social practice that we have adopted for ages! Why can’t he be your friend only?”
“But… what is this Valentine dinner thing?” scorned Aunt Padma.
“Trust me,” I replied, “Mr. Bhushan is your friend and that is the most important fact! His presence in your life is important, he makes you smile! You don’t have to romance him… The Valentine dinner can be a celebration of your friendship. It can be an expression to show how a pure friendship can demolish the loneliness in both of your lives!”
I guess, Aunt Padma understood my point. She sighed a bit, got up and dialed a phone number. As the call connected, she spoke, “Mr. Bhushan… Pravin and I would be ready at 8 PM. Please come down to pick us up.”
That evening, the three of us visited the “Silver Moon Restaurant”. Aunt Padma and Mr. Bhushan sat on a table while I deliberately chose a single table for myself. From a distance I could see the happiness in the eyes of the two souls. It was pure friendship. It was pure hunger for a companion with whom they could share their smiles and tears.
Mr. Bhushan raised a toast and said, “This is for the beautiful Ms. Padma! Thanks for being my friend!”
Aunt Padma cleared her throat a bit and commented, “Uh… Its Mrs. Padma!”
I smiled and turned around. The restaurant was full and the murmur of human chattering filled the air. I took a sip from my wine glass and looked up. Perhaps, I was the only guy who was sitting alone on Valentine’s night.
Presently, somebody tapped on my shoulder. I looked back and saw a pretty lady in a salwar suit. Her face seemed familiar but I just couldn’t recall. The lady pulled up a chair, sat beside me and said, “Pravin, it’s me, Sonia! Remember me? We were in college together…”
Faint memories flashed past my eyes and I recognized her. Sonia smiled and said, “My husband is in Delhi today. He had to leave urgently in the morning for an important meeting. So I am here all by myself! Hey, you remember the college days? You remember our college band? Remember how you and the other guys played a prank on me and my husband on my wedding? I was so embarrassed and furious upon all of you! I still remember that you had a crush on that foreign girl from Thailand! What happened next?”
I took a deep breath and explained about my amnesia to Sonia. I could see her eyes brimming. I asked the waiter for another glass of wine and said with a smile, “Sonia… be my Valentine tonight! Cheers to our friendship! Maybe, while talking with you during dinner, I will remember many precious memories of my life!”
At a distance I could see Mr. Bhushan and Aunt Padma laughing together. Indeed, Valentine’s Day is not just about romance. It is a symbol of togetherness that can redefine friendship. It wipes away loneliness.