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A Chapter Preview of – “Across Borders”
The first time they meet is in the lavishly decorated lobby of a renowned luxury hotel in the heart of Calcutta on Chowringhee Road. Sumitra has arrived early for their lunch appointment, having read of his punctuality and discipline in magazine articles. Though staying at the same hotel, he has told her he will be going out, to return in time for lunch with her at one o’clock. Sumitra quickly visits the washroom by the poolside, checking whether her make-up, hair, and the pleats of her aqua-blue-georgette embroidered sari are in place. On returning to the foyer, she sits on a sofa facing the main doorway, so she can see him come through it. She is certain of recognizing him from pictures of his she has seen in newspapers. Every time the door swings open, a liveried guard holding it for a guest after a bow; she looks in its direction expectantly.
Sumitra is slightly nervous about the meeting, not quite sure why he wants to meet her. She distracts herself, looking at the twinkling lights of the chandeliers illuminating the place with their tender light. At first he had sent her a hand-written letter, about how he had loved her performance in her latest movie and would like to meet the real person behind the sterling performance. As a successful actor, she receives fan-mail regularly, each of which she reads in reassurance of her continuance to rule as a star. But this particular letter was different, in that it was written on an official letter-head paper and was crisp and business-like. He wrote that he would like to talk to her telephonically and then meet her if she did not mind. Sumitra knew of him, even held him in high regard from media reports she had read; so she replied to him giving her telephone number.
Staring at the streaks of light emanating from the prisms of a chandelier now, Sumitra wonders if he wants to offer her a role in a movie he might be producing. She does not know of him being in the film-production business, but then people diversify all the time, she thinks. After another swing of the door, she looks in its direction to notice a man of average height and regal bearing, wearing a black sweatshirt and brown jacket over olive-green trousers, walk with brisk confident strides in her direction. She instantly recognizes him. Sumitra stands up, and he offers her his hand to shake. She instantly feels the power of his persona through the firmness of his grip. The next thing she notices is his eyes, which are mesmeric. They seem to be fiercely drawing her into them, even while radiating warmth. Sumitra feels awestruck in his presence, as if caught in the current of his individuality.
It seems as if they are standing in a magnetic field, inexplicably drawn to each other, finding it difficult to break away from the other’s gaze. Surreal forces acting between them seem to be pulling them together. Though they have never met before, it is as if they have known each other for long. Slowly they walk to one of the restaurants of the hotel, initiated by his guiding her in the direction with a nudge on the back of her shoulders. The captain of the restaurant smiles warmly at the doorway, ushering them to a cosy table for two. They sit down, after a waiter pulls out their chairs with a bow. He again looks deep into Sumitra’s wide, almond-shaped eyes, as though trying to reach into her soul, his own clear and calm as a still lake.
“I knew I was going to like you more in person,” he says, smiling.
Sumitra smiles back shyly, as he continues holding her gaze intently. Then he shifts his attention to the menu card the waiter is holding up in front of him. He orders a bottle of beer, asking her what she would like. After a moment’s hesitation, she decides on a glass of beer. The waiter leaves, to promptly return with a bottle and two glasses, and then pours the bubbly liquid into their respective glasses. A few sips of the chilled beer seem to soothe Sumitra’s flustered nerves, as she sinks back comfortably on her cushioned chair. He asks her about her work which further puts her at ease, as that is familiar territory. As passionate about her work as she is, Sumitra happily tells him about her current roles and movies. Then she speaks of the characters she has played, as well as those she hopes to play in the future. Sumitra soon tells him about the death of her husband, feeling secure in talking to him, and on being a single working mother to two school-going children.
He on his part shares with her stories of his days with the British army and experiences of the World War II. Sumitra listens attentively, enthralled by his exposure. He also tells her about his various businesses, with details of the charitable works they fund. He is as passionate about his work as her, but Sumitra finds hers paling in significance as compared to his philanthropic work, which makes such a difference to the world. She has read of it, but hearing the details now she is further in awe of him. After two bottles of beer shared between them, without accompanying snacks or appetizers, they each order portions of grilled fish with sautéed vegetables and bread-rolls. Both are disciplined about their diet and lifestyle. She for the obvious reason of maintaining her weight and attractiveness for an acting career that demands it, now that she is nearing forty years; he to remain fit and active.
Having exchanged letters and spoken telephonically has not prepared them for the way they get along in person — like fuel and fire. Sumitra intermittently feels shy, unable to control the racing of her heart, powerless to harness its acceleration from a trot to a steady gallop. He is like a stallion, raging to go, waiting for her to loosen the reins. Horses are incidentally one among his passions in life. He goes riding on his favourite mare he calls Rani, every morning.
“You know something, Sumitra,” he says conspiratorially, bending towards her over the table, “as soon as I met you, I felt my blood gush, just as it is every time I see a horse.”
Sumitra bursts out laughing at the comparison, then composing herself, says softly, “I’m really flattered, considering horses are your first and childhood love, as you mentioned earlier.”
“Well, that’s the truth lady,” he replies nonchalantly, still looking intently into her eyes, “I don’t know how better to describe how I feel.”
After lunch as they stroll along the corridor towards the hotel’s lobby, Sumitra realizes she does not want to part with him yet. There seems a bizarre connection between them. She does not want to break this spell, but realizes how unreasonable the idea is. After all, he is going back home to Vishnuganj the next morning. He checked into this hotel in spite of a house in Calcutta, for a meeting with a foreign client who is staying here, this evening. They are at the end of the corridor near the elevator, when abruptly he turns to face her.
“Sumitra, don’t go yet,” he says firmly, looking earnestly into her eyes “come upstairs, I’d like to show you what I do, its’ all in a folder for a presentation I will be making to my client this evening.”
Surprised at the request, but compelled by her own urge to stay, she finds herself silently nodding in agreement, following him into the lift.
In his suite, sitting on the sofa in the living-area, she flips through the pages of the folder detailing his businesses and charitable organizations. He is seated close to her, leaning back comfortably on the sofa. Sumitra is acutely conscious of him watching her. She turns to glance at him sideways, when unable to resist, he slowly runs his fingers through her long flowing hair. Then encouraged by her silence, her not stopping him, he continues with firmer strokes.
“Don’t worry Sumitra,” he says, noticing her uptight position, her firmly upheld head, sensing her dilemma, “things are not always in our control. Leave the steering of your life to God. He has a route chalked out for each one of us; we are mere rear-seat riders.”
Sumitra tries to relax, but the tension within her only grows. By now fiercely drawn to him both mentally and physically, she nestles closer to him and involuntarily places her head on his shoulder.
He encircles the back of her shoulders with his right arm, continuing to cradle her head on his right shoulder. After a few brief moments when she lifts her head, she finds him watching her curiously. As their gazes meet, seeing the flaming desire in his light brown eyes, unable to control her own yearning, she tilts towards him, and their lips touch in a flash. Then without much ado they are locked in a passionate kiss. Their kiss is electrifying, sending shock waves through their body and mind, as they continue to kiss breathlessly. Taken aback by their reckless passion, but with no power to restrain themselves they get up slowly, arm in arm they walk towards the bedroom. Sumitra has been lonely for a very long time. As attracted as she feels to this man, she cannot hold herself any longer. The age difference between them, his grey hair and the deep lines on his face, are overshadowed by his lean, toned and athletic form. But in reality it is his mind that has ignited hers; the physical longing is a manifestation of that mental attraction she feels.
Sumitra is willing to throw caution to the wind, in allowing him to make love to her, even if it is only this one time, never to see him again. He is surprised at his own longing, brought on by his immense fondness for this woman with large, innocent, dreamy eyes and a voluptuous, shapely mouth. She has a radiant youthful face, and the most endearing smile he has ever seen, which caught his attention while watching her perform on screen, compelling him to meet her. In bed in each other’s arms, now stripped to their skin, with her soft and supple body against his lean, muscular frame, he feels blessed for this rush of passion in the dusk of his life. He kisses and caresses her tenderly all over, as she reaches out to his fingers and mouth hungrily, craving for more, and more…