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I have not written about love stories since long. Thought of revisiting some unknown love stories of a few common people from the ‘black& white’ era. The love stories I am about to narrate seem important in my understanding and important for a narration on a public platform because of two reasons: (a) we talk of our era as ‘bold’, to-the-point and frank in terms of expressing love and maintaining relationships as compared to say someone from the 50’s-60’s or 80’s. But there is something called commitment and guts which perhaps the generation that we live in lacks may be because of career consciousness or may be because of image consciousness; (b) Love has become in my opinion more conservative than it was before. We move from empty Emotional Quotients (EQs) into emptier life-styles where love is marked by the number of pizzas or pastries or the number of movies seen together in a multiplex or else the amount of gifts purchased from malls and markets. Love is determined by the consumerism of today’s existence where an i-phone or an expensive watch or a flat in Lokhandwala or Bandra becomes the benchmark of a ‘true’ relationship. I am not saying that love doesn’t exist, I am just trying to say that ‘true’ love is a rare phenomenon these days. Finance and career consciousness have taken over in the race for stable relationships. Perhaps, many of us are afraid that commitments can take a toll on our careers or else can lead to an emotional trap. Very true, commitments can lead to an emotional trap and this is a world where expressing emotions are seen to be signs of weakness rather than strength. Of course there is the concept of the ‘metrosexual’ male or female who is not afraid of crying in public — emotions however do not mean only ‘crying’ or ‘cribbing’, they go much beyond….

The love stories that I am about to narrate are that of real people, people like you and me (I have/had their permission to write the story). Let me take you back to 1952, the immediate post-independence India. The locale is Pune and the specifics are Dehu, Army Camp near the Ordinance depot. This was the era of independence and Anand Math; jawans woke to the rhythm of Vande Mataram at early dawn. Monsoons were particularly interesting because of the amount of rains Pune and Mumbai received during those days, also because of the dampness of the make-shift canvas tents, and because of the stickiness of the black cotton soil of that belt.  The nation was fresh with vigour to establish itself as a ‘free’ world.  Freedom was a state of mind for people also — the youth of that era tried to live the newly gained national freedom in their lives. However, freedom comes with its own set of bondage — unemployment, casteism and communalism were rife.

One particular young man had newly joined the Ordnance factory —  tall, very fair, slim, sharp features, grey longing eyes. He had recently enrolled into the Indian army as a Sergeant.  Inspired by Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, grown up reading Tagore and Gandhi, this young man had a romantic disposition added to remarkably good looks. Indian army of those times was still ‘British’ in its ways and the training that this young man had received along with his deep insight into literary texts, made him an instant hit in his regiment, army mess and with the townsfolk. He had an added quality — he was a poet and had already published a series of his poems in magazines like Illustrated Weekly and leading newspapers of the time like The Statesman. Every Saturday morning he traveled with a group of colleagues to Mumbai from Pune station through the Deccan Queen express and stayed at the army base in Mumbai, enjoyed the monsoons in Juhu and Nariman Point and returned back on Sunday evening to Dehu camp. It was on this train that he met Bano the daughter of a Parsi merchant of Pune.  Bano was a dream-come-true for the young officer, she was the most beautiful woman he had come across in his life. She was studying in an undergraduate college in Pune — very pretty, sophisticated, cultured and full of grace. The intimacy started growing and Deccan Queen became their meeting ground week after week. Her charm and her beauty added to her delightful understanding of education made her a prized possession for our hero. Months went by and the young man and Bano fell deeply in love. Things changed when he received a telegram from his village that he is needed urgently at home.

The life that this young officer had lead was all through books and his romantic idealism had made him forget that he belonged to a remote village of Odisha near Dhenkanal, his family and his parents were orthodox Brahmins who would never accept a Parsi girl in their home or even near their village. His dreams got a severe jolt through the telegram that he received — he had to go home urgently. His wedding had already been fixed by parents and those days (as it is even today) you couldn’t say a ‘no’ to your parents wishes. Moreover, he was the eldest in the family and his father was a farmer. His education and job meant a lot to the family and he could never deny their wishes. Our hero got married to an unknown girl, around thirteen years of age when he went home. There was grief, there was heart-break but soon the wife filled the emptiness of our protagonist’s life. She too came to know about Bano from the young man and his description of her always aroused curiosity and sometimes jealousy in the wife’s heart. She longed to meet Bano when they returned to Dehu. They deliberately traveled by Deccan Queen every weekend and sometimes weekdays just to catch a glimpse of Bano. Sometimes, they frequented the old Parsi coffee-house of Pune where he used to meet Bano but no one knew her  whereabouts. The couple never was able to trace her. Two years went past and the ghost of Bano still haunted our officer at times. However, married life had its own demands and with a baby born in the camp, there were more reasons to rejoice than to miss a mysterious lady who had only a few days presence in this man’s life.   Soon a posting order came and the Sergeant was transferred from Pune to Jhansi with a promotion. The couple decided to travel to Mumbai, stay there for a few days and then leave for Jhansi from Mumbai. It was a Friday and they boarded the Deccan Queen for Mumbai as usual. In the same compartment was a little girl, the youngest sister of Bano. The officer was surprised, his happiness knew no bounds and he immediately introduced his wife to Bano’s sister and inquired about her. Strangely, the little girl divulged no details about Bano’s whereabouts. He understood her sentiments — requested a piece of newspaper from a fellow passenger and in a hurry scribbled a few lines in English with his ink pen on the already shoddy newspaper surface that read ‘Dear Bano, leaving for Jhansi on Sunday. Hope you will forgive me. My first book will be dedicated to you’ .  They left for Jhansi that Sunday and he never got to meet Bano again during his lifetime and he never got a chance to visit Pune. A few years later his first book released in Odiya and the book was called Adbhuta Chakra (The Strange Cycle) and on the opening page it was written For, Bano. Three of his subsequent books were all dedicated to this lady….

I am not sure if Bano or someone who knows her is reading this post today. She must be at least seventy-three years now. He is no more…. But even during his last days he talked about her and had once asked me to write a profile of Bano. I never had the courage to do so, but today when I feel the agony of observing our generation love stories, I get the courage to write about Bano. Bano, if you are reading this article (I am sure you’ll not be because blogs are for ‘our times’ but if your grandchildren read this probably they might inform you) it is just meant to let you know that Bijon did talk about you and considered you as his inspiration throughout his life.

We live in a world where perhaps casteism does not exist so vehemently as it did in 1950s. However, we have the problem these days of emotional honesty where to own-up that you are in love is not only a risk but also a big game. Mobile phones, smses and partner-swap have taken our time and energy rather than books, ideals and emotions that can even be remotely called love….

I shall continue this post with another love story situated in 1980s in my next post….