Kalpana settled into her favourite window seat in the train. Adjusting the folds of her radiant purple sari, she pulled out her notebook and pen. She loved the romantic charm of such journeys in the last of these steam trains chugging to Bhubaneswar. From the window, she soaked in the scenes that floated by. Rice fields in endless opulent green, small mud huts, dreamy blue streams and lakes, dainty women in red, green and yellow saris hanging clothes on lines went by. These images were like dreams to fulfil. They inspired the poems and songs she wrote.
Once at Bhubaneswar, she’d walk through the mud roads. Always moved by the silent cultural riches of this place, she felt it delightfully untouched by time or the busy changing world around. She felt also enthralled by the sculptures of Odissi dancers. They soared expressively above the stillness of temple walls. Here Kalpana would spend hours before proceeding to take singing lessons.
Now in her train seat as she lifted her eyes from her notebook, she finally noticed the young man. He was in jeans and tee shirt. Seated diagonally opposite her, he also had a book and pencil. “Hello,” he said. “Sorry I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“That’s fine,” she replied.
“I’ve seen you a number of times on this train. Perhaps you hadn’t noticed me before. I find it intriguing to see you write so ardently,” he commented.
“Oh thanks!” she answered laughing. “I write poetry.”
“So I could tell from the glow in your expression. By the way, my name is Arjun.”
“I’m Kalpana,” she said.
“Not surprising that you have a name that means ‘creativity’ and ‘imagination.’
They laughed together.
“I also take music lessons and sometimes sing for festive occasions for Odissi dancers. All reasons for my travel other than the views from this charming train.”
“Kalpana, the song bird and poet!” exclaimed Arjun with a bow.
Before she could thank him for the compliment, he handed her a large sheet of paper. It was a coloured pencil drawing of a woman in a sari of regal purple writing at the train window. “It’s me!” she exclaimed. “I’m truly honoured. You’ve even got the gold glints of my mango border!”
“Yes, I’ve seen you often in this flowing sari. You’re like a radiant water nymph enfolded in a wine-like stream, ” he responded.
Kalpana felt a thrill of joy as she accepted this portrait. “How nice of you! What a beautiful moment you’ve captured!” she exclaimed.
“It’s a homage to a gorgeous gleaming star like you,” he answered.
“I’ll frame it,” she said beaming.
She learnt that he was an engineer on the railways like his father. They exchanged phone numbers and addresses. “I hope to visit you when you return to Calcutta. We could have lunch somewhere and continue this glorious conversation,” said Arjun before they parted.
That afternoon, the monsoon rain started. It went on for hours and hours. Kalpana sauntered through the delicious rain streams. She laughed, feeling tears of rapture raining within her as well. She couldn’t help visualising the earnest face of Arjun, his words and gift. Her trip to Bhubaneswar this time felt especially beautiful.
Once back home, she put the drawing in an elegant gilded frame and set it on her desk. She loved gazing at it. Some days later, when collecting her mail, she saw a letter with Arjun’s name on the envelope. She couldn’t wait to rip open the cover. There was a greeting card with the letter. ‘Smiles fleeting across a face, touched by the light of inner grace’ were the gold italicised words in the card. Kalpana was overjoyed. These words were so sweet! The letter was much more ardent. In it, Arjun told her how much he dreamt of her, thinking about her luminous eyes, flowing hair and alluring poetry. “I’ve finally met the woman of my dreams. I can’t wait to be with you again.”
Weeks later, they finally met at the Chinese restaurant downtown. Arjun was there, this time dressed in suit and tie. Kalpana had on the purple sari that had inspired all this magic. She couldn’t wait to see him either.
He ordered an elaborate meal for them. “Thank you for the card and letter,” said Kalpana.
“You’re most welcome,” he replied.
“All that passion in your card and letter is so beautiful!”
“Thanks,” he answered. After a long silent moment, he said, “Kalpana, I want to be honest with you. I’m engaged to be married.”
“Engaged?” She stared at him, perplexed.
“Yes. My family has arranged my marriage with the daughter of my father’s colleague. I must honour this marriage.”
“But you wrote this letter and card to me. What am I expected to understand from all this?” she asked. She pulled out the envelope from her handbag. “I thought this was a love letter!”
“It is. Your charm is unique and struck me deeply. I seldom meet one like you.”
“I thought your feelings went beyond that,” she said.
“When it comes to marriage, I must honour my duty to my family. My future wife is no artist like you. But she would be the ideal homemaker You’re an artistic jewel. How could I possibly curtail your creativity and confine you to the duties of a home?”
“Where there’s love, there’s a beautiful home!” she answered.
However, Arjun had already stamped out the fire of his passion in favour of the safety of a calculated arrangement. In vain Kalpana continued to speak of their love, now only a moment in time.