As we tread along our lives we meet many people and forge new relationships, some that last and some that don't and of those that don't, some we remember fondly and some we don't.
But out of these many relationships, platonic, professional and otherwise, tucked away in a rather special little corner of our hearts, is that young innocent dalliance with the kind lovely girl who lived across the street. The kind lovely girl for whom you creepily waited at your window everyday, simply to catch a glimpse of her bright smiling face and my god, if she waved, then nothing could spoil your day. And then the bitter sweet sting that followed with either the end of that relationship or the failure of its take off in the very first place is one that a young boy takes time to recover from.
Dawdling around the dwindling streets of your narrow little neighborhood, with the fading innocence of childhood glinting in your eyes and the restless rising stupor of youth possessing your entire being, you come across this sweet young girl walking down your street, running errands for her mother. You probably know her.
She was one of the kids you used to play with, in the ground at the end of the street, when you were a young boy and even recall chasing her with a wriggly squiggly worm on a stick, past the mandir under the tree with the beautiful bright pink frangipani flowers and past the mithawaala's shop. The smell of the hot sugary chashni bubbling away in his coarse gigantic black kadhai always made you a bit nauseous, but you'd run past that with all the speed your tiny little legs could muster because the goal was clear, you had to drop that worm on her hair and laugh, laugh your heart out.
You grew up a bit more and started playing games that the 'boys’ played and soon forgot about her. Maybe just saw her on the way to school a couple of times, but you had never noticed her, until today and today, when you did notice her, boy were you struck.
You smile at her. She smiles back at you. You feel ticklish in your gut. You guffaw. She laughs. You turn red and look away. You find yourself planted on that same spot every evening, waiting for her to come back from the bazaar, and finally, exhausted by this daily exchange of smiles, one fine day you muster up the courage to talk to her. You introduce yourself and ask her if she remembers you. Of Course she does. She seems awkwardly hopeful. You seem awkwardly desperate.
You start meeting everyday, away from the prying eyes of the familiar faces of your little street. You both like sitting by that low bench pasted against that blank wall behind the huge bargad tree in the ground where you both used to play when younger or you find yourselves crammed into the corner table of that little juice shop two streets away, where the pineapple juice is always too bitter and the nimbu paani is always too sweet. She's quite the chatter and you find that you really enjoy her company and that she's funnier than your friends and is also the only other kid in the neighborhood who listens to Simon and Garfunkel.
One day you talk your way into dusk, just when it is dark enough for the children playing on the ground to go back home but still bright enough to not be night, and you realize you are alone. You both know what's going to happen. You both have no idea what to do. You both are scared. But also eager. And so it happens, the first kiss. On the cute little wooden ledge, that can hardly pass as a bench, behind the old bargad tree.
This sweet joyful dilly dallying continues for a couple of months or sometimes even years until one day you realize that things have changed. She has changed. You have changed. Living in your parents’ home, in the streets where you whiled away the sweet, slow years of your boyhood suddenly feel like a glove that fits too tight or a jacket that you've worn all your life but have all of a sudden grown out of. You feel restless. Stuck.
You want to leave. Your home, your street, your mohalla, you want to leave everything. And so you do. You probably go off to University in a different city, away from it all and away from her, with sweet promises made to talk everyday and meet as often as possible. But you don't talk everyday and you don't meet as often as possible. You make new friends. You learn new things. Your lives change at an accelerated speed, independent of each other and slowly you drift towards the climax of this innocent chapter of your life until one day it arrives and even though you saw it coming, you didn't know it was finally here.
This is a familiar story, one that all of us have lived or witnessed at some point of time in our lives. This is a story that has been immortalized in some beautiful films like Shyam Benegal's ‘Sooraj ka Satvan Ghoda’ or Francois Truffaut's ‘Antoine and Colette’. And the reason why it is so loved is because you can never forget that sweet young girl from your neighborhood with whom you first experienced the keen sting of love because the memory of her is not just the memory of your first love, it is also the memory of your home, your street, your mohalla and your youth.
The memory of the person also evokes the memory of the place and the time. The place and time hold as much regard in our hearts as the person because the place and the time, in the very first place, are the elements that facilitate this beautiful dalliance with the person. The neighborhood is the parchment on which this young innocent tale of love is written and the memory of it is a carefully orchestrated symphony of person, place and time.