There was hardly much excitement in Kalpane, a tortuous avenue with old fashioned bungalows nestling in spacious gardens on either side. So when the handsome Vivek Rai moved into a house which had lain vacant for almost a year, he set all the young girls’ hearts aflutter. He was the dashing knight in shining armour, who had come to light up their lives.
But those were the days when moral codes were strict. Parents watched over their nubile daughters like wardens in boarding homes. At best, they could indulge in mild flirtations – a fluttering of one’s eye lashes or a coy smile directed at their unwitting victims.
But Vivek Rai proved to be elusive. He would disappear for whatever job he had, even before they could pack their school books in their satchels. And when he returned in the evening, his door was firmly closed after him as if to shut out prying eyes and unwelcome intruders.
Being the boldest of the lot, Nora was literally pushed into investigating this reluctant bachelor. There was much speculation about his asocial behaviour. Did he have a wife living elsewhere? Was he gay? Was he involved in some shady business? Why didn’t he show any interest in any of the girls living in Kalpane?
One Sunday morning Nora surreptitiously crept to his door and knocked. He opened the door, wiping his hands on an apron smudged with blotches of paint. He had a handsome face alright, but he was by no means as young as they had imagined.
“Would you mind buying a raffle ticket?” Nora asked, “This is in aid of our school auditorium. The prizes offered are very good.”
“Come in,” he graciously invited. “Take a seat if you can find one and mind you don’t dirty your dress. I’ll go find my wallet.”
There were many paintings in frames stacked against the walls. But the one he was working on was a large canvas perched on an easel. It was the picture of an old woman, her face framed in a halo of white curls, her smile lighting up her wrinkled cheeks, her gaze soft and soothing!
“My mother,” he said, returning with his wallet, “I want to capture every line on that beautiful face before it fades from my memory.”
“Where is she?” Nora asked timidly.
“She died a few months ago. That’s why I moved into this place.”
“You live alone? No wife, no family?” Nora enquired, getting a bit bolder.
“Just a minute……. Now don’t go getting ideas. I’m not on the look out for company,” he laughed. It was the laugh of a man who was perfectly content with his life.
“Doesn’t it get awfully lonesome?”
“Not if you know how to use your time well. Do you think I can get lonely with so much to do?” he asked, pointing to all the paintings stacked against the walls.
“You are a painter then?”
“Just a part time one. It’s my hobby. I have a full time job as a lecturer of English, at a college quite a distance from here. And before you can ask me the question you are dying to ask, let me set you at ease.”
Vikram had been in love with his college mate many years ago. But it so happened that as he was the only son, he had to look after his ageing parents. She wanted no part of it, so they split, and he had no regrets.
“But now that your parents are no more?”
“I’ve grown used to being a bachelor. Besides I have a new love – painting. And she takes up all my time.”
“Can you say that you are really happy living alone by yourself?” Nora was bold enough to ask, as the man seemed so friendly.
“I’ve learnt the secret of contentment. I can honestly say I’ve fulfilled my responsibilities as a dutiful son. I have cling-free relationships with my students and colleagues. And I have a hobby that keeps me constantly aware of God’s beautiful creation all around me. I believe I’m a bachelor by Divine design.”
Nora heard him bellow with laughter as she walked away.
“Hey what about the raffle ticket?” he shouted after her, “Was it just a prank to get to know me? You’re welcome to visit again.”
Nora vamoosed, blushing to the roots of her hair. “So much for eligible bachelors!” she thought.