Her face made my heart skip a beat. Was it really her? I had not met Maya for over thirty years. But the perfect symmetry of her thin but mysteriously seductive lips could not have escaped me. I was walking up towards the Hanuman Temple on the Jakhoo Hill in Shimla when the perfect symmetry on a wrinkled face beneath a silver shock of fluttering hair hit my heart like a perverse Kamadeva’s arrow. She was wearing a saffron robe. A rosary of fairly huge rudraksh beads lay on her breast. The fire in her eyes had not burned out yet though melancholy was threatening to overpower it. She had entered a narrow trail from the main road.
“Maya,” I called.
She halted but did not turn back. I called the name again. This time she did turn back to look at the person who had uttered a sound that she did not apparently want to hear. I walked closer to her. She stared at me. I smiled.
“Sam!” She said concealing her surprise with practised expertise. “Why are you here?”
“As a tourist,” I said matter-of-factly. “But I seem to have struck a goldmine, I ran into you.”
I assured her that I was not searching for her at all. Our encounter was a pure coincidence. But a lucky one, I added.
I followed her to the hut where she said she lived all alone all these years.
Maya was my classmate in college during our undergraduate years. Indira Gandhi had declared Emergency in the country. Maya opposed the Emergency with all the spirit of a true Marxist. Well wishers warned her to be cautious. Many people who had questioned the Emergency had already disappeared under the sycophantic reign of K Karunakaran. Nobody knew what happened to the arrested. “It’s better to die on your feet than live on your knees,” Maya dismissed the friendly warnings. I was always struck by the way her beautiful lips moved when she spoke passionately. Whenever she spoke I would occupy the front row, not to listen to her but to watch her vivacious lips whose movements rivalled the gracefulness of a Bharatanatyam dance.
“I wish I could hang on to your lips more than metaphorically,” I once told her half in jest.
“What do you mean?” Her eyes burnt into mine.
“Just a kiss, nothing more,” I was not intimidated.
She caught my head in both her hands and planted her lips on mine. More than a flirt but less than a commitment, the kiss was the first and the last physical contact we ever had and its sweet shock remained in my veins like a restless neuron for many years.
“My marriage is as fixed as my destiny,” she told me immediately after the kiss so that I wouldn’t nurture any illusion. “A family commitment.”
As soon as she graduated she married Rajan Namboothiri, an eccentric scientist at ISRO, Trivandrum. A few years after the marriage, Dr Namboothiri gave up his job and became a pujari at the local temple. He spent all his time reciting the Vedas and the Upanishads and teaching the meanings of the shlokas to whoever cared to listen. His family members blamed Maya for the situation though nobody knew how she was responsible for any of it. Eventually Maya vanished.
“Varanasi, Haridwar, Badrinath...,” Maya spoke in a voice that was uncharacteristically subdued. “I searched for meanings. Or joy. I don’t know what. Finally I reached here. Away from crowds and the noise of spirituality.”
“Rajan Namboothiri passed away last year,” I said. She looked at me but without any particular emotion. His life was consumed by the scriptures.
“I left him because I could not accept what he was doing,” she spoke after a long silence. “I accused him of escapism. Finally I became just what he had become.”
“Do we become what we hate?” I asked without realising what I was doing.
“Love and hate, virtue and sin, revolution and counter-revolution, all poles vanish when you arrive at the truth of Param Brahma.”
She paused and then said, “Please do not visit me again. Please do not tell anyone about me. I want to be alone.”
I knew I had to keep the promise. Maya had planted a renewed neuron in my veins and it would continue to be restless for many years.