Love is a gift from the heaven and when a man and a woman fall in love, they feel bliss conquer their hearts. Yet, this gift is like a delicate thread when it is shared by two people who are not supposed to be in love. But what can these people do when cupid has pierced their hearts? Just wishing to be out of love does not help for deeper feelings cling on. Love is not something that you wash away like the wave that crash on the seashore and erases the writing on the sand. Trust and belief in love holds these two people, Rani and Joy together when their relationship is hidden from the outside world. They tread the dangerous water of love with ominous shadows following them all the time.
A year back, on a beautiful summer day, they found love in the most unlikely place. When they least expected for Cupid to strike, it did. In the small town of Manikganj, in Bangladesh, where Rani and Joy lived, married people hardly dreamed of finding new romance in life. Both were standing for the bus when they happened to look at each other. Their eyes met and for a fraction of a second the world seemed to stop. Both heard a voice echoing to the eternity,
"Why, you are the love I have been seeking all my life!"
And they were connected, a strange chemistry between them. Both were in their early fifties but at that moment they were reborn, a new of wave of gladness surrounded them. When people fall in love the world finds a new definition. The real world forgotten, Rani and Joy found joyous world of being for each other only. There was only an acknowledgement without words, a recognition of being the soul mates who were destined to meet.
"Going to Tilpara right?" Asked Joy. The public bus that ran on the route once a day continued to their destination as the last stop. All other waiting people, mostly familiar faces seemed to be heading to Tilpara. Joy and Rani desperately hoped that no one recognized them. On days before, if they had boarded this same bus they had not been conscious of known faces. But on that fateful day when their heart locked to each other, they wanted to overcome all hurdles on their ways.
Rani nodded and smiled in answer to Joy's quest. Joy thought that was the most beautiful smile he had ever seen in his life, a smile that seemed to send the sun into hiding. When Rani looked at Joy, the face looked as if she had known him all her life. When their eyes locked momentarily, each could read hear songs of their souls. It was not a single song of love but all love songs echoing together.
Rani moved and came nearer to Joy so that they can converse in a softer tone. At that moment, it seemed to be only natural that she should be near him. That was where her she belonged. They stood as close as they dared without having eyebrows raised. Rani could catch the faint cologne as she stood near Joy and she knew it was her favorite fragrance from Hugo Boss. Joy catching Rani's perfume wanted to hold her in his embrace, it was such a light scent and yet seemed to draw him close. But the place was Manikganj, and in these small towns tongues lash out faster than a whip. Here gossip traveled like news bomb shell. On their very first day of meeting they knew they were playing with fire.
The hot summer day had the sun shining listlessly. A soft breeze came like a blessing from the heaven. Wispy hair outlining Rani's face blew into her eyes and she moved them away with her hands. Joy marked that she was wearing a wedding band and looked at his own left hand. He wore a wedding band too. Both knew that they did not believe in the bonding of a ring with arranged marriages like theirs. Both had married on the choices of their parents and shared the same roof with their spouses as if out of the expectations of the society. Those marriages were like marriages of convenience. The rings did not hold two hearts together, love did. They smiled knowingly at each other.
Rani was wearing a white red bordered sari. Joy thought she looked like a goddess with her perfect oval face and the beautiful features. The eyes were widely set giving her a look of being surprised every time she looked at him. The wide generous mouth seemed to hold a set smile. Rani's complexion was dark and to Joy she looked like a magpie. Fair skinned Joy, very strong and manly, was a perfect complement to the soft and tender beauty of Rani. They stood like husband and wife as if spiritually married right and then and there.
Honking loudly their bus rolled in. They boarded the old bus that groaned with every move and yet seemed to be putting on lively speed as Rani and Joy boarded. The happiness of their hearts seemed to give new wings to the moving bus. They were blessed to have found each other and yet once at Tilpara, they would go on their separate ways, to their own homes. The thoughts of parting put a sad note on their bubbling hearts.
The society in which Joy and Rani lived, would say that love seemed to have chosen the wrong time and the wrong people. But Rani and Joy were only aware of the singing in their hearts. It was the same love song that they sang, a music that penetrating into their lives beyond boundaries of culture and norms. They were the star crossed lovers and soul mates. When soul mates meet, they instantly recognize the other. They were born to be together though life has brought them to each other in a strange station. But and then the course of true love never runs smoothly.
It was forbidden love that they shared. It was a strange love born in their hearts. People would say that were cheating on their spouses. And yet to Joy and Rani their love was a gift of the heaven. Otherwise how can two hearts feel as if all the butterflies in the world were fluttering in their hearts when they were with each other? They met in public places, never were alone with each other and yet love was as vibrant as ever. They knew the lines they could not cross, knew none would jeopardize the family life they lead and yet they could not live without the other. They had to talk, they had to write and they had to see each other occasionally. Like drops of rain on famished plants these little exchanges of love kept them alive, the infrequent meetings were like life elixir to them. They were hidden panacea for each other, they continued to live through each other.
When the scarlet 'shimul" flowers stared up at the brilliant blue sky of summer, when the fat drops of first rain fell on the thirsty boughs, Joy and Rani could be found standing on the river bank. All around them birds would be clamoring and butterflies would be fluttering. They would be surrounded by the bursts of summer colors. And there they could be together just for a short time, stolen moments from hard realities of life. At times they would share lunch or tea somewhere far away from home. Together for an hour at most and yet that would be their heaven. Just a glimpse of each other and that filled their hearts eternal joy.
One day, on one of their dates, they were sitting beside each other at the restaurant. Rani and Joy had been seeing each other for a year. They were starting to share the appetizer when Joy took hold of Rani's hands. Each could feel the electric sensations pass through their touch. Joy said,
"In this world we can never be truly each other's. Suppose like Romeo and Juliet, the inevitable death was to come to us at the same time. It may be natural death but surely then we will be together from there on."
Just when Joy finished speaking the lights went off. It was completely dark. Rani felt Joy's hands cup her face and the next moment his lips were on hers. That was the first and the most passionate kiss of their yearlong love affair. When the lights came back they continued to stare into each other's eyes. And yes, while they looked into each other's eyes another world unfolded before them. All those sweet dreams of having children together, living as a couple; it all became real?
They are in the world here after. They have a beautiful home, a small cottage with a beautiful garden all around it. Roses, jasmines, lilies and swaying weeping willows adorn the garden. There is a tranquil lake flowing beyond the field that surrounds the house. Joy is sitting in the porch calling out to his five-year old son and the toddler daughter.
"Maya and Mahi, Come to Papa, I am waiting to hold you in my arms." He calls out to the small children playing in the front yard of the cottage. The children look up from the toys they were playing with. They see their father holding out his hands, calling them. They forget their toys and both of them get up and race into the open arms.
Joy hugs them. He plants kisses on their soft cheeks in turns. There never seems to be enough kisses for them. He smothers them with the love of his heart. He calls out to Rani who is busy painting away on her canvas. Joy and Rani , both are artists in this happy world they share. A simple home, two loving children and a simple life and yet both are in heaven.
"Rani, I think our children are hungry." Joy calls out.
Rani puts down her brushes, takes a long look at the splashes of color on her canvas. The abstract work is taking a fabulous turn, maybe it will a grand piece of art work. Joy is the one who works mainly on nature and Rani gets her inspiration from his style using vibrant colors as he paints away the flowers and the trees, the sun and the sky, the birds and the butterflies. Rani finds a hidden life behind all that he paints with his heart. Their hearts and minds find solace in each other, they seem to breathe together.
Joy joins Rani. He hold Maya in his arms. He stands behind Rani and takes a long look at her work. He likes the theme portrayed in the picture. It shows a mother and child holding hands. The background color is of different shades of blue as if to show the mystery of a mother child relationship.
"This is going to be one good piece Rani!" Says Joy. "I think you should send it for the upcoming national art competition."
Rani looks at his eyes. Joy's eyes seem to be always full of dreams and hope. "I will, if you send one of yours." She replies simply smiling at him. She holds forth her hands for Maya seeing the child arching away to come to her mother.
"That's not fair." Joy says laughing softly. "When Ma is around, Maya does not want her Papa anymore."
It is always like this between Joy and Rani, the playful vying for the children's love.
There is so much they share. Their work is passion for both of them and then both love reading. Afternoons are always spent reading for the children. They read turn by turn for the children and then they recite poetry for each other. There is perfect solitude in their family life. They are immensely happy. This happiness comes for they have each other in a life that is blessed by mutual love and respect. They are not well off. Art does not fetch money in plenty and yet they never feel unhappy. Sharing life to them is more important than becoming solvent with money. They have dreams. Maybe at least one of them will end up getting a national award for the art pieces they are getting ready. Their children will grow up and grow into wonderful people, kind and loving to others. They will go on living in this small cottage because this is where they began their life when love opened its doors.
Joy and Rani continued to look into each other's eyes, their dreams holding on to the tremulous hearts. The dreams were simple dreams, dreams that people who love each other. And yet they are afraid, very afraid of having their dreams shattered. In their society no body favors them. If their relationship was found that will be the end of their bliss. Their hearts beat fast in fear even as they dreamed, even as they held hands. Maybe someone will discover their dreams and make it the travelling news of the town??
Their firm belief in the life here after came to Rani and Joy and multiplied their happiness. Maybe going to the next world is a debated question for many but for Joy and Rani, life here after is the dream they lived on. They held firm a firm belief in true love and that it will take them to their desired land, a world of love in life here after. After all, miracles wait to happen.
Tulip Chowdhury, poet and novelist, writes from the US