On 26th January we were marching in front of our principal when the ground shook and we stood still. We knew that there was an earthquake but not in our city. Somewhere else in this country the earth must have fallen. My father got transferred to Bhuj to take care of the redevelopment. Exactly two months later I came to your city.
The city was still in rubble, cracks could be seen not only in the houses but also inside the household. This was the first time I visited Gujarat. Kutch women in beautiful skirts and blouses, colourful turbans, women in saris were still alive in God’s debris.
I sat on the stairs of one of the broken temple near a rehabilitation camp. For the first time, I knew that Bollywood has a real heart. A man came out of the car and I saw him asking frantically about a girl called Panchi. The sky was crimson yellow. The man sat beside me. He had ruthless eyes like anything in front him will melt. And then his friend narrated a story. A story very simple.
The girl named Panchi had stood in her verandah since 11 years old and looked at a 14 year old boy named Mihir going to school. She had day school and the boy had evening school. They used to smile at each other. On the dusty roads, he saw her everyday wearing bright earrings and at times with open hair. When he came back from school he sat behind the tea stall and under the endless sky, they simply looked. They both knew each other’s name. Through friends they knew what they liked and disliked. For 12 years they have been communicating through just one smile a day. They fought with each other through a blink of their eye when one of them failed to come and see their better half. For 12 years unprecedented friendship and extraordinary love and unbound promise was kept silently in each other’s prayers. Not one day had passed when they did not think of each other.
They knew they couldn’t get married because the boy was ‘ Shudra’, a cast lower than the Brahmin. But they were stung and they couldn’t help. Then the boy learnt about the girl’s engagement. Heart-broken he decided to go the US to study. Before he left he saw Panchi for one last time. She knew he was going. Silent and poised, she was standing and all she uttered was ‘Take care’; the first two words which were spoken between them. The boy had come back after 6 years to search for the girl in the hope that she is fine.
‘Where do you stay?’ I asked. ‘San Jose’, he said in his gruff tone. I did not want to search for the girl. Maybe I had a crush on him. The stars were out. The candles burned inside the windows. I flirted with the friend with my eyes on Mihir. His eyes were still, fixed without a doubt that she was alive. Finally, a girl came in a wheel chair. “Are you fine?” he asked. The girl smiled. I assumed that she lost her legs due to the earthquake. Two years after marriage her family was going to Mount Abu. There was an accident and her baby and her husband died. By this time I was pretty tired with moroseness around, so I went back home.
I came to the temple near the camp the next day. I saw the friend. “So they are together now?” He said, “No’
“She does not love him. They love each other but there has been too much silence between them. He is leaving tomorrow. She is teaching children here. Will they get married? Yeah probably to someone else some other day. Sometimes kiddo you just need to hold on to someone”.
“But… but… What does it mean?” “I don’t know. Maybe peace, maybe friendship, maybe love and maybe sometimes it means nothing.” I smiled. I saw Mihir walking towards us. “Time to leave”. I hugged the friend good bye. Mihir asked me, “What is your name?” “Tinni”, I answered meekly. He smiled at me and I smiled back. A smile warmer than the winter sunlight and as light as a spirit.