The Kiss of Freedom

This story begins when I was a bachelor. I had just landed in cold Manchester and almost lost my hand to the winters. Thankfully, I had a glove layered with a dead animal’s fur which saved me that day. I reached the row house where I was supposed to dwell and one of my very vivid memories of that first day is of a directionless drizzle of snow and one of my roommates asking me – “Have you ever kissed your wife in a public place?”

I reminded him that I wasn’t married. I thought he was missing his wife who left UK a few days back and these were his hormones that were talking.

“Oh you must! It is a great feeling!” he chirruped.

I rushed to the bathroom before my head could bang itself on the wall.

I had never before seen men and women entwine on roads and exchange the secretions from their salivary glands. I had never seen couples holding hands like two lost kids in a jungle. In India, the man is always walking two steps ahead of his meek wife. In UK, there was an opposite unabashed display of affection. Couples kissed at bus-stations before they departed to work, they kissed inside buses before they went their way, they kissed in the evening when they met on a bus-station, they kissed while shopping, while eating, while roaming, while watching a movie. The only place I was comfortable watching couples kiss was in a cinema hall. After all I had spent an entire movie figuring out the location of a guy’s head while watching a movie in India.

This world was overtly sugary for me. Why do they have to hold hands all the time? A month after landing in UK, I went to Scotland. One of my friends took his pregnant wife with him even after the doctor disapproved because he had already paid for the tickets. Then on top of it, both of them sat at the front seat and had a glorious view of the Highlands as we went in search of the Loch Ness monster. The wife got dizzy and smeared the front of the bus with her lunch. Amidst shocked looks, the tour operator scrubbed the mashed vegetable sandwich from the floor and politely asked the couple to exchange seats with a newly wed Spanish couple sitting 6 seats behind. As the Spanish couple settled in the front seat, their lips locked like two opposite poles of the magnet. I could see their lips from the gap between their seats and it was a very pleasant ride after that. I don’t remember much of the Highlands post the exchange of seats.

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A few months into it and I was now used to the sight. I even smiled at times. During Summer, as hundreds of variety of flowers bloomed all over Manchester and covered the city with a beautiful mesh, the sight of couples holding hands and smiling at each other made me seriously rethink my I-shall-die-a-virgin strategy.

That was the time I started talking to Geet.

After I got married, I remembered those words of wisdom told to me on my first day in Manchester. Now was the time to test the theory. I did not want Geet to slap me in public, so the timing had to be perfect. I took her to Paris on our honeymoon. My plan included Eiffel Tower – the hideous iron structure on top of which it was mandatory for the couples to kiss and vow for eternal love for each other.

“Wow! That is one ugly piece of iron,” Geet said the moment we landed at the tower. That was not a very romantic start.

As we ascended the haphazardly put structure in a lift filled with eager tourists (which included an Indian woman telling her 3 year old son that he was very fortunate to visit the tower at such a tender age), I wondered if this was the correct choice. As we reached the top, I realized that it was taller than what I had anticipated and one shove would have landed me in the tranquil Seine.

The top of the Tower greeted us with bellowing winds. It was as if a twister had hit it. People were holding their heads and running helter-skelter. We managed to walk to the other side where the winds were negligible. The scene was out of a poem. There were couples all around us, some of them dreamily looking into each other’s eyes, some of them kissing. I clasped the iron bar in case Geet decide to fling me over. I looked deep into her eyes and kissed her, thus taking to conclusion our first official kiss in a public place.

It tasted of freedom.

During our stay in Manchester, both of us turned into one of those insufferable couple who indulged in public display of affection, who could not walk without holding hands. She used to wait for me at the bus-station and we used to kiss as I got off the bus before we walked to Tesco. She used to walk with me till the main door of our apartment building and we kissed before she watched me walk away to work. We realized for the first time that expressing yourself in a public place wasn’t abnormal as we were always lead to believe. It wasn’t looked down upon. We weren’t looking around like criminals and making sure that no one was watching us before expressing ourselves. It was rejuvenating.

In India, you will be penetrated by a thousand eyes if you show a bit of an affection towards your partner in public places. It somehow attracts all sort of losers. You might be beaten up. We love creating noise over simple acts of affection. In the past couple of years things have changed. I see a lot more couples holding hands in malls and whispering sweet nothings in each other’s ears. It is a good change but of course, it is limited to the cities. A lot of us look down upon public display of affection as if it is a disease. But think about it. Don’t you feel instantly warm and affectionate when everyone around you is feeling the same? The very air you breathe changes. You feel good about the world.

The good times ended when we came back to India. Now Geet and I are confined to holding hands in public. I sometimes miss those days of carelessness, those days of fearless freedom, those days of magic, those days when there were no restrictions and I could kiss my wife on a busy road and no one gave a damn.

p.s. Try the Eiffel Tower at night. It is like Cinderella. The fairy godmother of electricity turns it into a beauty without equals.

[all the photographs are taken by me]

How not giving a bribe lead to a Honeymoon in Paris

I was in Manchester when Geet and I decided to get married. It was an arranged marriage and our parents had given us a month to talk and decide. We liked each other from the first telephone conversation we had. It wasn’t awkward. It was like talking to an old friend. Then a few webcams later, we said yes. Just like that. Without actually meeting. Geet was in India.

I flew back to India for a small ceremony. That was the first time we saw each other in flesh and everything felt warm and happy. It was one of those days when the world seemed beautiful.

Our marriage was four months later and thus telephone conversations and Skype chats sessions started. We were never physically there during our courtship but we never felt the distance. After all we were going to spend our whole life together. There was sweetness in that longing. I sent her chocolates, teddy bears, flowers and romantic songs.

As the D-day approached, I started preparing for our Honeymoon. I was coming to India for three weeks and I booked a room in Leela Kempenski in Kovalam. The hotel was located on a cliff near the ocean and you could see the whole ocean from your room. It was heavenly. I kept it a secret. It was a surprise for Geet.

Indian wedding

Marriage happened with all the riot of colours, dancing, food, loads of relatives and photographs which an Indian wedding happens to provide. Both of us were exhausted and exhilarated by the end of it. We slept like a log for two days. After we woke up, the plan was to get our marriage certificate done, go to Kovalam and then apply for Geet’s Visa on our return. We were relying on the assumption that the marriage certificate will be done in two days. Many of our friends asked us to bribe the clerks in the office so that it was not delayed. We reached the office, filed our application without bribing anyone and waited. Soon the main officer called us and asked for Geet’s residential proof of my house! I told him that we just got married. How was she supposed to have a residential proof so soon? He asked us to open a joint account in a bank and use it as a proof. Basically, we did not bribe the clerks and so they had decided to ruin it for us. After all, people had got their marriage certificates in the same office in two hours. So, we opened a joint account in a bank and submitted it as a proof. We finally got our marriage certificate in three days but there was no time to go to Kovalam. I called up Leela Kempenski and asked them to cancel my booking. The amount was non-refundable. I asked them to take the money. They were taken aback. Finally, they didn’t take the money. I figured someone else might have booked the room after I cancelled.

I was sulking. I was angry. Our honeymoon was ruined. Geet told me that it was ok and we could go somewhere else later. I promised myself that I would not let a loser ruin my happiness. We got Geet’s visa done and came to Manchester. And then I got the perfect idea of a honeymoon. It was a dream and I was scared to touch it. I kicked myself for not thinking about it before. I applied for Schengen and soon our tickets to Paris were booked. Take that for ruining our honeymoon you loser, bribe sucking clerk!

Paris Metro Eiffel Tower

Paris was a different planet. It was utopia. We were like two wide-eyed kids lost in the streets of Paris, sometimes deliberately. We did all the touristy things – kissed on the top of the Eiffel Tower, visited Mickey and Minnie in Disneyland, bought expensive French perfumes, took a Seine boat cruise, ambled in the gardens of Versailles, gawked at Mona Lisa in Louvre, sat in silence in Notre Dame, marvelled at the modern art collection at Georges Pompidou, devoured mushroom and cheese croissants and travelled in Paris Metro but all this was not what defined Paris for us. It was a tune played on an accordion.

accordionIt was our first day in Paris. We got down from the automatic metro which took us from our airport terminal to the one at which we could get an RER train to our hotel. The train soon chugged in and we took a corner seat in one of the almost empty compartments. Two women were chatting in French a few seats away, a drunken beggar was sleeping on another and a man was standing near the door with an accordion in his hand. Soon he started playing a tune and suddenly there were goosebumps all over Geet and me. We looked at each other and smiled and then Geet’s head was on my shoulder, her hand curled in mine. The tune was so unreservedly romantic that somehow the moment stood still. We wanted him to go on forever. The tune dissolved effortlessly with the rhythm of the train. That one moment defined Paris for us, not the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre or French perfumes. For us it was a city where two lovers could hold hands and melt away in the spell while a stranger played an incredibly dreamy tune for them on an accordion.

I gave the stranger a generous tip after he finished. He was surprised and said Merci. I almost asked him to play it again.

And then I did something I had never imagined I would do. I thanked the clerk who delayed my marriage certificate.

(image of accordion from – http://www.music.vt.edu/musicdictionary/texta/accordion.html)

[This post has been written for Indiblogger Incredible stories]

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