DO NOT look back, DO NOT look back, he urged himself as he walked briskly away from Leela’s home, sensing that she would be hanging out of the balcony on the first floor of the apartment block, watching him leave. If he looked back, his resolve to stay silent, bottling up his secret passion for her would crack and his family’s long cherished plans for his future would unravel and furious recriminations would rain upon him.
He had paid his farewell visit to Leela’s family that morning on the eve of his departure for the States where he would spend the next four years having won a scholarship to study engineering at the prestigious Massachussets Institute of Technology. Mohan Narayan was 21, a high achieving son of a high achieving Indian family whose forebears included statesmen, scientists, diplomats and even an inventor. He was expected to continue in that mould.
Leela at 16 was the daughter of close family friends who were somewhat more modest in their background and aspirations. Their mothers had been school friends and had not lost touch after marriage. Leela Raman along with her two sibling brothers and parents would spend most weekends at the Narayan’s spacious, beautiful home that overlooked the Arabian sea in an exclusive suburb of Bombay some distance from the Raman’s modest flat. Mohan and his sister Meena would play innumerable games of monopoly, rummy and scrabble with Leela and her brothers during monsoon weekends when the wind and the sea raged and crashed so near the beautiful long windows running the entire width of the house. As they grew out of childhood, Leela’s puppy fat melted into sinuous curves, her complexion took on the tinge of honey and her dark eyes shone under arched eyebrows whilst her long black hair took on the sheen of satin. A new shyness overtook her as she became conscious of her body which figured nightly in Mohan’s dreams. The old games of hide and seek and noisy banter were replaced by stilted conversations about books and films. Leela became reserved; she blushed when Mohan spoke to her and began to avoid his company, anxious to conceal her painful crush on him. Mohan was consumed with lust and passionate love for her. He waited all week for the Ramans’ weekend visits.
He had always known that when he got his B.Sc. he would go abroad for further studies and continue in the illustrious footsteps of his father and others before hiim. His parents expected his life to follow its predestined and privileged course. .He knew that on his return, he would be expected to marry someone that his proud mother deemed worthy of their family. Traditions in India are sacrosanct and rebellion would tear the family apart. The Raman family had neither wealth nor history.
As he walked away, he felt a physical pain in his chest and his eyes stung with suppressed tears. He resolved to write a letter to her parents before his departure the next day, telling them that he hoped to marry Leela on his return in 4 years’ time.
The letter was not written.
Mohan arrived in America and did very well in his studies and was also a popular student. He fell in and out of love several times with American girls who did not have to seek their parents’ permission to date the boys they met. Not one of the girls who willingly shared his bed met his emotional needs and often after making love he felt a deep emptiness. Leela was his soulmate.
He got sporadic news of Leela from his sister and fantasized about meeting her again and laying his heart bare to her. He would face his mother down.
Five years after his departure, Dr. Mohan Narayan returned to Bombay and heard that Leela had married and had moved away. Very soon, he got a suitable job with an engineering firm and was perceived as a desirable bachelor on the party circuit. At a Diwali party that year, he saw a stunningly beautiful woman across the room. He moved towards her and his heart lurched as he realised who it was. They looked at each other and he thought her eyes mirrored the pain that seemed to be crushing his heart. She introduced her husband, a somewhat portly man who murmured the usual courtesies before turning away.
“If only I had written that letter———