“Siva, can you give me your English notebook? I will return it tomorrow,” said Jaya.
Jaya was the most sought-after girl in his class. Tall and slim, with long hair that fell up to her hip, and attractive hazel eyes, she was as talented as she was beautiful. She was a topper in studies, sang both classical and film songs and participated in all the cultural events. A natural leader with self-confidence, she had a domineering streak about her. All the boys deemed it a favour if she spoke to them.
Sivakumar had a silent crush on her but had not mustered the courage to speak to her. So, he was pleasantly surprised when Jaya reached out to him. Siva immediately gave her the notebook without uttering a word.
“Thanks a lot. I was absent yesterday. Won’t you ask me why I chose you for this help?” she asked with a giggle.
“You are a class topper and highly popular in the school. How would I know what runs in your mind and why you chose me?” said Siva rather shyly.
“Hooray, you have summoned the courage to talk to me at last. You are my closest competitor in studies in our class and I wanted to unravel your secrets by looking at your book,” she said and laughed.
It was clear that Siva was bowled over by her easy familiarity and charming ways. There was a spring in Siva’s walk back home that day and her smiling face lingered all the time.
The next day, he was at school earlier than usual and was disappointed not to see Jaya. When she entered the class a little later, Siva saw her turning her head towards him and discerned a faint smile. Or was it not there, he wondered. He could not pay attention to what the teacher was explaining with his mind full of her.
At lunch time, someone tapped his shoulder from behind. When Siva turned, he saw Jaya standing before him with a large smile. His heart raced.
“Here is your notebook. Thank you very much.” She said. “I simply love your handwriting. Give me your math book today. I have decided to turn to you every time I need the lessons.” Jaya spoke looking straight in his eyes that made Siva lower his eyes.
Siva was thrilled. “Okay, I will give it in class,” he said. Six words of conversation was a big improvement for him.
In class, as Siva put the notebook he had lent to Jaya in his bag, he found a fresh rose petal inside. “Surely this is a sign,” he thought. He placed a curry leaf from his lunch in his maths notebook that he gave Jaya. Siva was not yet adept in the language of flora and fauna!
More books got borrowed, more playful exchanges shared and they became good friends. Siva started accompanying Jaya during her evening walk to her home at Mahalingapuram. His home was close by. He could see from the huge house and the parked cars that she belonged to a rich family.
Siva soon became the envy of his classmates. He was feeling on top of the world. Little did he foresee the unfortunate tide of events in his life.
When Siva completed his 10th class at the end of the year, his father was transferred to Delhi. Siva and Jaya were disappointed but promised to stay in touch over the phone. As it often happens, with distance their communication ebbed and soon they lost touch completely.
The years rolled by. Siva studied at Delhi School of Economics, acquired a doctorate from London School of Economics and migrated to the US, working for the World Bank.
One day his father telephoned him and said, “Listen Sivakumar, I have found a good match for your elder brother. Sivamani is coming next month, from Germany to Chennai to see the girl. If everything goes well, we will conduct the wedding within a week. Please plan your trip too.”
Sivamani was elder to Sivakumar by a couple of years.
“What is the girl doing? Her background?” asked Siva.
“Her name is Jaya. AII I know is that she is highly qualified and works in Europe. I do not remember the complete details. The girl’s family is also from Mahalingapuram.”
Siva’s heart went aflutter. “Appa, is this Jaya tall, with hazel eyes?”
“Why, do you know her or what? I have not seen the girl. Anyway, we are all going along with Sivamani to meet her,” his dad said.
Siva became moody. In their childhood, there had been an intense rivalry between the two brothers and Sivamani always had his way, be it the ownership of toys, the seat in the dining table or the choice of food they ordered. And now, Siva was convinced that his brother had beaten him even in the choice of a life partner. Siva even toyed with the idea of skipping the trip. He told himself that his feelings towards Jaya were only an infatuation, a childish fancy. Nothing serious. He made the trip to Chennai.
But Siva remained restless. Not knowing the mental turmoil Siva was passing through, Sivamani put his arms around his brother as they walked into the sprawling hall of the bride’s house. Siva remembered the house distinctly, sinking his mood further.
Accustomed as he was since his young days, he prepared himself to forego his love for his brother. After the pleasantries among the elders, the bride Jaya was led by her mother to the hall.
Siva wishing, he were not here, raised his head when his brother nudged him. She was tall, with long hair. Siva’s heart was beating fast. He looked at her eyes and they were brown! Did not his Jaya have hazel eyes? The bride didn’t quite look like his Jaya too. But Siva was not sure.
Sivamani was happily talking to her and asked her about her job and the place she lived in Munich. Suddenly, the bride’s father shouted, “Kannamma, bring me my glasses. I have left them on the dining table.”
Another girl entered the hall with specs in hand. Tall and with long hair. Siva looked up and saw her hazel eyes. His heart soared with relief and joy to discover his friend Jaya before him. He thought her face brightened up a fleeting second when their eyes met, but he was not sure.
Siva asked her, “Are you not a student of KV in Mehta Nagar? Do you recognize me?”
“Of course, Siva! How can I forget the notebooks I borrowed from you? And the curry leaf you gave me,” she asked with a mischievous grin.
Siva’s father did not miss the exchange. “Siva, I think you have found your hazel eyed girl. Glad things are happening as ordained.”
He then turned to the bride’s father and said, “This is my second son, Sivakumar working at the World Bank at Washington. Ever since he heard about a Jaya from Mahalingapuram, he has been worried.”
The bride’s father laughed. “All this confusion is because we named our children similarly. The elder is Jayapriya and younger is Jayasri. Like your sons, Sivamani and Sivakumar.”
Things moved rapidly in the next minute.
Jaya’s father said, “We are fortunate to get the brothers for our daughters. We can have the wedding same day. I think Siva and Jayasri would like to exchange a few words in private in the opposite room.”
When they all turned their heads to see Jaya, the younger sister, she was seen with her head bent and hands twirling her long hair in shyness.
“This is the first time I am seeing her shy. In schooldays none dared to oppose her,” said Siva, and everyone burst into laughter.
As they entered the room, they found to their immense delight the large daily calendar showing the date February 14. Their hearts were suffused with joy at the sign of Valentine!