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My Handsome Prince

"Demeitri reminds me so much of a handsome prince I almost knew once,’’ said Tanvi one evening. Demeitri was her salsa partner. "What do you mean,’’ quipped Roxanne. "Although I never caught the prince’s features up close, from a great distance, these two look alike,’’ Tanvi replied. "Never mind all that. Who is this prince you speak of? I mean, did you really know a prince,’’ Roxanne shot back.

"At least, I thought he was one. He looked quite regal, you know,’’ her friend noted. "Tell me about him,’’ prodded Roxanne. She and Tanvi had been friends for about a year now. "You know that we used to live in Delhi before we shifted to Pune,’’ began Tanvi. "In the Jama Masjid area in old Delhi, houses are quite close to each other, so much so that terraces are adjacent to one another, and we could jump from one terrace on to another. We would often be on our terraces in the evening, playing hide and seek or flying kites or simply playing out characters from a drama,’’ she elaborated. 

"I also studied on the terrace. We would normally play from 5 to 6 p.m. after which we would have our bath and begin studying. My brother would study downstairs. He was very loud when he memorized his chapters. So, I would invariably be on the terrace until about 7.30 p.m. One evening, as I began walking up and down our huge terrace with my Hindi book, I noticed a wonderful sight, far away from me, on yet another terrace,’’ Tanvi said.

"A tall, strong boy had suddenly come into view. He took uncertain steps to the centre of his terrace and then vanished from sight as I turned during my walk and had my back to him. When I faced that terrace again, I saw him exercising. He was lifting huge wooden clubs which weight-lifters and body-builders or wrestlers in India use, and was swaying them about in a rhythmic motion. I was transfixed. I had seen no one do this before, and particularly not after sunset. In the fainting light of the evening, he looked very impressive,’’ Tanvi recalled.

"And, then, what happened,’’ pushed Roxanne. "Well. This routine went on for a couple of months. My trips to the terrace became very regular. My mother was surprised but she said nothing. I studied a bit but mostly waited for him to appear on his terrace. He would sometimes come at 6.30 p.m. and at yet other times, at 7 p.m. I kept prancing up and down the length of the concrete, waiting for him,’’

Tanvi confessed. "My! My! What a wonderful tale of love,’’ hinted Roxanne. "Love? I don’t know if it was love or just a crush but I was truly hooked. And then, one day, he just stood there on his terrace and stared at me, as I walked up and down, pretending to read. He did not wave or smile. He just stared. And, I could not see from that distance whether he was actually smiling at me but my heart fluttered. Then, he turned around and left. I never saw him again,’’ said Tanvi.

"So, did you find out who he was? Did you try to find him or meet him,’’ prodded Roxanne. "I didn’t know what to do. I was waiting for him to make a move; wave at me or throw up a signal or something of that sort. And then, Dad threw a bombshell at us. We were to leave Delhi for Pune, the next month. Now, I had to absolutely see him. Jumping over terraces would not have led me too far because his terrace was really far away from mine, and there would have been some dead-end somewhere, en route. So, I decided to make a mental map of where his house could be, and take the lanes and by-lanes to somehow get there,’’ explained Tanvi.  

"One Sunday afternoon, I offered to buy vegetables and fruits from the local bazaar and left the house. Maneuvering the maze of narrow lanes, I kept plugging on until I came upon an area that seemed like the place where his house would be. Now, I was really anxious. I had no clue where to start from or whom to ask. And, what would I ask them? Would I say – there is this handsome guy on a terrace who exercises every evening. Could you please tell me where he lives? – That would have sounded really strange… But guess what, that is just what I did.

I looked around the place. People were going about minding their own business. It was noisy and crowded, and there were small, rickety buildings everywhere. On the ground floor of one these houses, I saw a sweets shop. An old man sat there, using a hand fan to beat the heat. I went up to him, gingerly. I asked him for a little candy and sat there as he packed it,’’ Tanvi recalled.

"I mustered up some confidence and asked him - Baba, I am looking for a body-builder who lives in this area. Do you know any such person,’’ she said. "The old man paid no heed. I repeated my question loudly. He snapped at me and asked, "What do you mean?’’ I explained – "There is a weight-lifter here who trains with clubs on his terrace every evening.’’

"Ah! Are you by any chance talking of Tavrez,’’ he asked. "Roxanne, you won’t believe my excitement when I heard his name. Could it be that I was actually going to find my prince,’’ sighed Tanvi. "I held my breath, and asked the old man for his address,’’ she added. "But he is not here, now,’’ the man replied. "I was confused. My heart sank a bit. What did that mean? Had he left the area? Had he moved out? What was it? Where is he, I asked,’’ Tanvi said; her face had contorted up a bit. "He has been admitted to the hospital. His operation is in a few days. After that, God willing, he will be able to see again,’’ said the man.

"Tavrez lost his eyes in an accident, when he was young. But he was a tough boy and never let his handicap come in the way of his growing up. He trained physically and studied well. In fact, it was difficult to say that he was visually challenged… Now, the doctors are trying to see if they can get his eyesight back,’’ he said, with a faint smile.

Contributing Story Teller Sangita P. Menon Malhan, I am a short story writer, located in New Delhi, India. For most of my professional life, I was a journalist with a national newspaper. I am currently a freelance editor and translator. The stories I write are primarily for children and the youth. Their readership, so far, has been Indian, and therefore, the stories have Indian sensibilities.

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