Published:  12:24 AM, 12 July 2019

A ride to remember

A ride to remember Sunanda Edwina

Goa is a small state on the southwestern coast of India. Panaji is the state's capital. Goa is famous as most popular tourist destination. Bounded by Arabian Sea on one side and land on the other sides, this region boasts 30 and more beaches. It is one of the most important tourist spots in the country because of its beauty and culture.

The Portuguese colonial heritage and the diverse local population of Goa have cultivated a unique cultural landscape. The population is primarily a mixture of Christians and Hindus: the western coastland and estuaries are dotted with wayside crosses and Roman Catholic churches, while the hilly east is scattered with Hindu temples and shrines. There is also a notable Muslim population in Goa, as well as smaller communities of Jains, Sikhs, and practitioners of local religions.

Portuguese was once the language of the administration and the elite, and as part of that legacy, many Goans bear Portuguese personal names and surnames. Today, however, most Goans tend to speak Konkani, Marathi, or English.

I had been to Goa several times as a tourist. Last March I also visited Goa.

Now a beautiful, touching story about how a chance auto ride together became a memorable love at first sight in Panaji but will I find her again?

It was a rainy morning. As I walked on the wet pavement, the chilly wind slapped on my face. I ran through the narrow slippery lanes past muddy puddles and fallen branches. It had been raining continuously for days, the traffic was thick and the commute was getting on to my nerves. I swore to myself. On days like this, one should stay cuddled up in the bed with a warm cup of tea.

Drenched despite wearing a thick T-shirt, I reached the bus stop nearby my hotel and looked around. Margao is a very busy street in Panaji. Thronged with flower vendors, vegetable and fruit sellers, small grocery shops, tea stalls and hardware stores, the Margao was bustling with activity.

The priests in the temple were chanting in loud voices and there was quite a gathering despite the rain. Weather does have a big influence in cities like Panaji. But life goes on as usual. I sighed.

The crowded bus pulled to the stop. There was no place even to stand. I was dismayed. The day was turning from being gloomy to melancholy.

And there, from the corner of my eye, I saw an auto-rickshaw take a turn from the side lane.

'Want a ride sir? I am going towards Mall De Goa," a friendly voice called me. I have known Kristadasa for a few days now. Very often when I missed the bus, I took his auto. And here was my saviour again. I wanted to hug him, but then settled with a big broad smile. I promptly hopped on to the backseat. That is when I met her gaze, the last sane thing I remember that day.

She was seated in the corner of the seat, frightened like a deer. Those mesmerising dove-shaped eyes rested on my face for a second, before they drifted away. The pale blue dupatta on her delicate shoulders added more colour to her complexion. Her lips were trembling and her hand nervously went up to her long thick braid which fell over her shoulders. With her oval shaped face, pointed nose and a broad forehead, she looked stunningly beautiful.

My heart skipped a beat and I stumbled for support.

"She wants to go to Mall De Goa. I can drop you at that shopping mall," Kristadasa's voice broke my trance. Thankfully, he did not look at my face which had turned pink by then.

"Sure, that sounds good," I muttered clumsily. My head was in a daze. It was as if some bludgeon has hit my head. I could hear Kristadasa cursing the traffic. I wanted to curse too, but I was dumbstruck. Helpless, I started looking at the pavement. All I knew was I did not want the moment to pass. I wanted to be with her, forever.

But time never stops for anyone. The auto rickshaw halted nearby Mall De Goa, which looked even gloomier that day. I paid the auto driver my fare and walked away without saying a single word. I turned back to look at her when I reached the Mall De Goa gate, I could see her slender figure fading slowly as the auto disappeared from my sight.

I could not stop thinking about her. I had taken the auto quite a few times hoping to get another glimpse of her. But deep down in my heart, I knew that day will never repeat itself again. The backseat was always vacant.

After two days, I saw her. I had alighted the bus at Maruti Temple Street, it was around 7  in the evening. Kristadasa's auto was on the other side of the road. She was extremely agitated and flinging her hands in the air while talking to him. Her eyes were in frenzy. In a swift gait, she walked away and disappeared into the alley.

I hurriedly crossed the road and asked Kristadasa what the matter was. "She has lost her bank passbook saab! She is worried what her brother would say," he replied.

"What is the problem? She can always request a new one," I questioned back. "I am not sure," Kristadasa was also puzzled. I walked back my hotel still amused why she was so upset about such a small thing.

The next three days there was no sight of Kristadasa or her. I started wondering what happened to both of them. I tried calling Kristadasa, but he was not picking up his phone. I made some enquiries at the nearby auto stand and came to know that his auto had met with an accident. He had a fracture and was recovering from a surgery in a hospital in Panaji.

On Sunday, I paid him a visit at the hospital. He was lying on the bed. His tall body looked so awkward with one leg plastered. The thick glasses covered his eyebrows. His hair was combed and oiled and his short moustache properly trimmed. He looked as wholesome as he usually was, riding his auto, except for his white trouser and shirt, which was his regular attire. After enquiring about his accident, I casually asked him about the girl.

"That became a big issue saab. She had opened a bank account without telling her brother. After she lost the passbook, she panicked and asked her brother to help. There was a huge fight that night. He was threatening to send her back to the village," there was a hint of sadness in his voice.

"What happened then? Did she get a new passbook?"- I asked. Kristadasa paused. "I…I do not know saab. The next day I met with an accident," he answered.

"Which bank was it?" I probed. Saraswat Bank, Patto Centre, Panjim," he replied.

I wanted to ask her name, but I hesitated. It was none of my business after all. A stranger asking for her name and offering to help her will land her into even bigger trouble.

After wishing Kristadasa well, I walked out of the hospital and took the bus to my hotel. I don't remember doing anything like this before. I felt a little uneasy, but I had a strong urge to help that girl out. It is the least I could do for her. I went to the bank and enquired about the procedure to obtain a new passbook.

The bank officer gave me a list of documents to be submitted and explained me the whole process. I came out of the bank and made a call to Kristadasa. That should settle the matter, I told myself. He will help her out.

One evening, I saw her in the bus as I was returning back hotel. I was sitting in the rear end near the window. She got down at Panaji's Linking Road. I couldn't take my eyes off her.

I leaned forward towards the window to catch a better glimpse of her. I wanted to get down fromthe bus that very moment, but my legs wouldn't move. It was as if my whole body was paralysed at the sight of her. "Next time I see her, I will go talk to her," I thought to myself.

But that day never came by. A three days passed by without any news. I did not dare call Kristadasa again lest I appear more inquisitive. He must be still recovering.

One bright day, as I was waiting for the bus in the morning, a familiar auto rickshaw took a turn. "Want a ride sir?" Kristadasa's cheerful voice filled my heart with joy. I looked at the backseat expectantly. The vacant backseat stared back at me.

I hopped in and asked Kristadasa to fill me in with the news. He said he had fully recovered and had started driving since the past few days. After a while, I asked what happened to the girl.

"Her brother sent her off to the village," his voice was glum. "But why? What went wrong?" I was startled.

"She was saving money without telling her brother and father. She wanted to start something of her own. The men could not take it. Her brother was talking about an alliance he found for her. She must even be married by now. Who knows?" he sighed.

"Hmm. So much for the twenty first century," I muttered. "Yes Saab," Kristadasa agreed.

This time, I could not stop myself. "What was her name?" I tried to sound calm. "Sunanda Edwina," he said. I couldn't help but notice that his voice choked as he said her name aloud.

"Hmm…," I murmured. Her face flashed before me, those dreamy eyes. The twinkling star, the gentlewoman of the eye! She will never fade away from my memory. She and me, sharing this very seat, it will be a ride to remember, for years to come.

The writer is a senior citizen, writes on politics, political and human-centred figures, current and international affairs

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