“…And then I saw you, and my soul whispered, ‘doesn’t she look familiar’. I said, ‘she does’, but I couldn’t place you from this time or place. So I asked my soul, ‘if it knew since how long back had we known each other’? And it replied, ‘since forever’.”
That’s what he first thought when he saw this woman sitting on the jagged, moss-infested stone steps of the tank.
Her blue cotton skirt was partially inside the green pool of water so he didn’t know where her feet ended. He gauged from the length of her back and the broadness of her shoulders that she was tall, probably taller than what was just normal.
The morning sun glistened and shimmered like sparkling stars on water. He saw it, even as he saw her observe it. She was smiling; beaming helplessly. It made her feel happy and he could not tell why.
They were at a considerable distance from each other – he standing and she sitting, both on different angles of the rectangle – enough for her to not notice that he was noticing her.
Rukshad was a photographer, an amateur one. He didn’t love Mumbai, as much as his parents did. But today, at the tank, beauty had snatched hate off some of its glory.
Banganga – it was a beautiful place. Here, it seemed like another world from another time had not only been preserved, but had continued seamlessly, undisturbed and unaltered, even as everything changed or manifested into something new. The stoned stairways on all four sides led deep down to a bottomless pit from where a natural spring drowned each step as it rose, disappearing layer by layer. Legend had it that Laxman, the brother of epic hero Lord Ram, had shot an arrow on this earth, eons ago; water sprung soon after to feed the thirsty elder brother. Some claimed that the arrow was shot after Sita – Ram’s wife – had sought pure water for a temple offering.
Rukshad’s friend had told him of the tank.
“Very few know about it,” he was told. “Go visit it, you may get some good photographs that could land you that job,” the friend had advised.
He wanted to intern at the photography magazine desperately, so he came here. But now, he was more than just stunned by the magnificence of the place. And then his eyes fell upon her, and he did not know what had left him more spellbound – the tank or the girl sitting by it.
It was strange, this attraction he felt for her. She was ordinary to look at, not somebody anyone would take to on the first glance. Her hair was tied up messily in a hasty bun with strands falling carelessly on her face. There was something about her very presence though, that felt familiar.
So while he toyed with his SLR, shooting aimlessly, his mind kept travelling back to the woman. But he parried his view the moment he thought she had become aware of his presence. She was still sitting there. And he realised that the water had risen a bit, because her skirt was now hidden knee deep.
She looked at him, first casting him a nervous stare, but then smiled. It was a very knowing glance. Before he could pull himself together, she was waving at him, asking him to come hither.
Rukshad didn’t have time to think of what was happening, so he quickly walked to the other side, down the slippery steps, carefully towards her.
“Photographer?” she asked.
He nodded, fumbling with his words, struggling hard to give a reply.
“You want to take my picture?” she asked questioningly.
If that was the excuse he would have to give for those stolen glances, he had no other choice. He sheepishly took the bait. “Yes.”
“Okay…go ahead,” she said, and pushed her hands behind, to hold herself back in a tilt, as if readying for a pose.
After fiddling with his lens, Rukshad took a couple of photographs. She smiled and posed without complaining.
“No problem,” she said. “What will you use this for?” she asked.
“Oh! I hope you get it then,” she said.
And, as if no conversation had happened between them, she went back to treating her eyes to the green of the waters. Her face looked calm, but lacked the curiosity that he had for her. There wasn’t an ounce of emotion, to reveal what was on her mind. She hadn’t even bothered asking if there was a way she could get hold of the copy.
Rukshad moved back quietly, not knowing whether it would be polite to ask her, her name.
He left Banganga soon after, taking the steep stairway that was butted by old homes and temples on either side. It was only when he had climbed up to the exit that he realised he had forgotten his lens at the tank. It was an expensive zoom lens and he remembered asking the young woman to hold it, while he busied taking her pictures.
He rushed back to the tank. As he walked down, a slew of thoughts ran through his mind. Rukshad saw it as a sign; a sign that they weren’t over as yet. May be, he would gather some courage, and ask for her name or probably, her number. They would meet again, and then…
Were they meant to be?
The last thought struck him when he just reached the tank. He immediately looked in the direction where he saw her last. But there was no one there who resembled her. He glanced around the tank, assuming he probably got the spot wrong. She had just been here five minutes ago.
For a moment he thought that she had followed him to return the lens. But he knew deep down that she never really would. She had appeared to be in a daze, not to be disturbed or stirred.
From the distance though, he could see something cylindrical, a few steps above where she had been seated. His lens had been waiting there, beside a pair of red sandals. She was nowhere around. He sat there till dusk, hoping she would return to take the shoes that he presumed were hers. She did not.
He got the job the following week. It was her picture that did the trick.
He would remember this woman “since forever.”