Colonel Rohan Singh had completed his last recce along the LOC, and returned to his bunker. It had been his home for three long years. His inexhaustible source of encouragement against the threat of terrorists on one hand and the blistering cold on the other, had come from the memory of a beautiful doe-eyed damsel. Night after night when the fear of militant guns kept him awake, he would conjure up the face of a feisty young woman, who had wrapped him around her little finger with her captivating voice and exuberance. Now that his battalion would be moving to warmer climes and to civilization, he would track her down.
“If only I had a homing pigeon to carry a message telling her that she has never been out of my thoughts! For all I know, she would burst into peals of laughter and say ‘Of all the modern contraptions available, must this romantic fool contact me through a pigeon?’ I’ll find her wherever she is and convince her that she’s the girl for me.”
Before this posting, Rohit had been A.D.C. to the Governor of Karnataka. He was the pick of the crop by virtue of his excellent work, charismatic personality and impeccable manners. Tall and well- built, with a well chiseled nose and features, he could have easily passed off as Nehru’s progeny. That was what Aarthi had blurted out on their very first meeting.
“Gosh! If Nehru and Edwina had cohabited, I’m sure they would have had a son just like you. Are you by any chance related to any one of them?”
Rohan had been stunned speechless for a while. His face had coloured up like a beetroot.
“If only this cheeky girl wasn’t the Governor’s niece I’d have tweaked her nose until it hurt. Doesn’t she realise that I’m not a playboy but a respected officer in the Army?”
Then she had smiled, and that smile had erased every trace of impudence.
“My aunt says that when you are not dancing attendance on her, you’ll be my escort for the duration of my stay in Bangalore. And I hope you’re going to give me the time of my life. Or else……..”
“Or else what?” he challenged, deciding to treat her like the brat she was proving to be.
“Or else it will be a waste of my precious holiday. I want to take my mind off my studies and just enjoy myself. This will be my last year at the Medical College in Nagpur.”
“Nagpur? Why did you choose such a hot and crowded place? It’s only good for growing oranges.”
“Because I’m not the brightest of students, and I couldn’t get a seat anywhere else,” she laughed.
Rohan had been very surprised when the Governor called him aside one day.
“I want a favour from you Colonel. This is not part of your duty and if you don’t feel up to it, feel free to refuse.”
“At your service Ma’am,” he said, hoping that it wouldn’t be something that clashed with his code of ethics. Then he would have to refuse and perhaps incur her anger.
“My niece Aarthi will be arriving in a few days to spend her vacation here. She’s like a daughter to me as she has lost both her parents. So I want this to be a happy interlude in her otherwise busy life. She works hard at her studies – a real bookworm! But she’s warm and loving and can be gullible too. So keep her interested. Find something for her to do. And I trust you know where to draw the line.”
“But excuse me Ma’am, where will I find time to chaperone her around?”
“Chaperone is the wrong word. She’ll bristle up like a porcupine if you use that word. Be a friend or a comrade or a buddy. No, I don’t want you to be her bodyguard around the clock. Take her out when you’re off duty. That will do. Bangalore provides enough entertainment for young people – theatre, movies, any form of clean entertainment. No pubs, no drinks and definitely no intimacy,” she warned, “I’ll meet all the expenses.”
“I’ll do my best Ma’am,” Rohan promised.
But Rohan soon realised that the Governor had actually done him a favour. Aarthi was intelligent, knowledgeable and fun to be with.
“Where would you like to go?” he asked.
“Take me to all the places where my aunt won’t go,” she said, chuckling at her own joke.
“And for goodness sake don’t drive me around in a government vehicle. Do you have a motorbike?”
Rohan did have one. It was his preferred mode of transport when off duty. No one gave them a second look when they had their helmets on. By the end of the week they had become friends.
“Too much fraternizing isn’t going to be good for either of us. She’ll be gone in a couple of weeks. What then?” he wondered.
But Aarthi had no qualms. Rohan was so different from her college mates – so well mannered and gentle. Yet, not sycophantic because she was the Governor’s niece. He had a quiet dignity of his own, asserted himself when necessary and did not concur with some of her silly ideas. He was genuinely interested in her life at the Medical College, and listened when she shared her hopes, dreams and ambitions with him.
If only she knew what he wrote about her in his personal diary! Rohan loved poetry and used a quote from a lesser known poet.
“A woman of her gentle sex, a seeming paragon
The better elements and kindly stars have given
A form so fair that like the air,
‘Tis less of earth than heaven.”
Aarthi seemed very happy with the arrangement and the Governor was relieved.
“I’m enjoying my holiday so much that it will be difficult to get back into the studying mode,” Aarthi said.
“Is the Colonel good company?” the Governor asked.
“You couldn’t have chosen better, Aunty. He’s so mature. Not like some of the egoistic swollen heads I have for classmates or the giddy goats who ogle anything that passes in a skirt.”
The days passed swiftly in a flurry of activity. She liked being in the company of this strapping young man. Rohan too was conscious of her nearness. He had never been so close to any girl before. His job had taken up all his time and energy. However there was nothing romantic in their behaviour towards each other. Most people took them for siblings.
Rohan had shown her everything that was worth seeing in Bangalore – the Vidhan Soudha, Lalbagh, Bannerghatta, a play at Chowdiah Memorial Hall and a musical concert at Alliance Francais. They strolled through Cubbon Park when the evening shadows fell, and sipped Espresso Coffee at Barista’s. He took her through the crowds of shoppers on Commercial Street and watched as she bought junk jewellery from the roadside stalls.
“How she delights in little things!” Rohan observed, “I wish she could stay here for a few more weeks. She has made me sensitive to the things that I never bothered about before.”
Three weeks had flown by so quickly. It was Aarthi’s last day in Bangalore.
“Can I treat you to dinner tonight?” Rohan asked, “It will be a kind of farewell party.”
“That will be wonderful. Will you take me to your favourite restaurant?”
“Yes, it’s definitely my favourite eating place. But don’t expect the Taj. This is a cozy place called Red Rooster, which serves the finest tongue tickling cuisine. You’ll never forget the place.”
“No, I’ll never forget,” she said, looking straight into his eyes, “I have much to remember.”
Rohan looked down at his fingers. “I feel like I’m having a raging fever,” he thought. “Is this love or lust or plain infatuation? I’m praying that I’ll be true to the promise I made to the Governor. No intimacy, she had warned.”
But Aarthi had not restricted herself by promises to her aunt.
“This is the best place to say Goodbye,” she said, throwing her arms around him and planting a kiss on his cheeks. “Thanks for everything. I’ll always remember you.”
Rohan’s tenure as A.D.C soon drew to a close. The Governor’s report was highly commendatory. Someone at head Quarters frowned at the kudos he had received.
“This guy has had a cushy posting in Bangalore. Now let’s put him in charge of a battalion and shunt him out to the border.”
Rohan Singh and his men were glad to be back in Delhi after three long years. He was due for leave and would put it to good use. He must find Aarthi. He had carried her picture too long in his heart.
“Will I be too late?” he wondered, “Would she have forgotten me? An attractive girl like her must be mobbed by eligible bachelors. She may even be married for all I know.”
Only recently he had read “The Tale of Two Cities.” Though he had been impressed by barrister Sydney Carton who had loved and lost, and thought nothing of sacrificing himself for the happiness of a woman he loved, Rohan didn’t think he would do the same.
“Married or not, I’ll find her and wean her away from the guy. If worst comes to worst, I’ll kidnap her and elope even if I have to carry her in my arms.”
Rohan found the address and telephone number of her college and hospital. Then he dialed the number on his mobile.
“Sorry,” the answer came, “Dr. Aarthi is not working here anymore. She may be at Jaslok Hospital in Mumbai. You can enquire there.”
Rohan boarded the train to Mumbai. It took a while to find the place and confirm that Aarthi was working there. The moral police were nowhere in sight and the shops were filled with young people buying Valentine cards and gifts. Rohan picked up a beautiful card.
“Will she? Won’t she?” he wondered, as he prevailed upon a peon to take his card to Aarthi.
“Will you be my Valentine?” he had scribbled inside and also given his mobile number.
Then he sat in the waiting area, with a bunch or red roses in his hand.
She looked very professional in her while coat and stethoscope dangling from her neck. Her hair was bunched up in a pony tail. Her eyes lit up when she saw him and she made one sprint across, waving the card and shouting for everyone to hear, “Of course I will, Of course I will.”
“Love knows no bounds of time or distance,” Rohan thought, his body trembling with anticipation of a new and exciting phase in his life.
He thrust the roses into her hand, and as their fragrance engulfed them, he whispered,
“My lovely Valentine!”