I grew up in a small village in India. When I was in the eighth grade, I borrowed a book on telescopes from the school library and read how to make a simple one.
My father was myopic and his lenses were concave but my maternal Grandpa’s were convex. I found his discarded spectacles and got convex lenses from them. After learning how Galileo assembled a telescope, I placed a concave lens at one end of a cardboard tube and a convex lens at the other end and looked through it.
Voila! I had a crude Galileo telescope.
Now I focused my telescope on people near the well and individuals who walked on the road. I could see them as if they were in front of me. I was excited.
Opposite to my house lived Mr. Reddy who had a teen daughter, Ratna. Daily in the mornings, she mixed cow dung in a bucketful of water and sprinkled it on the ground in front of her home. This made the floor hard and dust free.
I saw Ratna doing this and focused my telescope on her. She curiously looked at my contraption a couple of days. Then one day she took a potful of cow dung water and splashed it on the road looking at my telescope. The scope magnified it, and it appeared as though the dung water almost was splashing on me. I winced. She laughed.
I never realized that Ratna was so beautiful and her laughter so tantalizing. I had never seen an Angel, but perhaps an Angel looked like Ratna. Every body movement of her while splashing the water appeared like a dance to me. I felt ecstatic. By evening, I realized that I had hopelessly fallen in love with her.
I spent a few sleepless nights dreaming about her. Then I decided I had to communicate my feelings to her. This, any respectful lover will do, I thought. I resolved to write a letter.
The next morning, I requested mother to make me a cup of strong coffee.
“Why?” Mother asked.
I grabbed a pen and wrote.
“Ratna, I am in the eighth grade and my teacher says I’m very smart.
I’m not Dev Anand, a movie star, but handsome in my own way. I saw you through the telescope and realized that you are extremely beautiful. I want to meet and talk to you about a very important matter, a life and death situation.
Please give me a chance. Don’t ignore.
Your Very Own Special Admirer, Gopal.”
Now I had the problem to deliver the letter. I saw a few pigeons around but not familiar how to catch and train them. Galileo didn’t say anything about pigeons. I looked around the house and found an empty matchbox in the puja cabinet where Mother kept all Gods’ idols. Very auspicious. This would carry the letter to Ratna, I thought.
“You never entered the puja room. Why now?” Mother asked.
“I need God’s help. Exams are fast approaching.”
I stepped in to the backyard and practiced throwing the matchbox to study its flight path and how far it would go. It should at least cross the street and land in Ratna’s front yard. After several attempts, I was confident I could do the job with 70 percent accuracy.
Mother spotted what I was doing. “Cricket practice, Mom,” I explained.
The next morning, I woke up, took a bath and prayed to all the Gods in the puja cabinet, that my matchbox with the letter should fly and land properly. I lighted an oil lamp and chanted a Sanskrit shloka to God Hanuman, who crossed the ocean in a single leap. Then I waited at my front yard with the matchbox containing the letter.
Ratna came as usual with a bucketful of cow dung mixture. If I make a movie in future, it’ll be “Beauty and the Bucket,” I thought. When I saw that she was looking at me, I tossed the matchbox with all my might. It spun like screwball and fell in the ditch. Ratna laughed. The course of true love never runs smooth, I consoled myself.
The next day I tried again. This time the matchbox landed at Ratna’s feet. She picked up the box and slowly read the letter. I was anxious.
She said in a mellifluous voice, “Gopal, come to my backyard today evening. My parents will be at a movie.”
I floated on a rainbow. That day, I changed my hairstyle and trimmed my tender mustache. I applied my Sister’s Yardley powder to my face and sprinkled cologne all over my body. I wore freshly ironed shirt and shorts. I brushed my teeth twice and gargled my mouth with Patanjali mouth-wash and made sure that there were no remnants of spinach on my teeth. I waited anxiously for the sun to set.
Ratna invited me in and led me to the backyard. She wore a green sari and a yellow blouse, and had tied her hair in to a bun. No makeup. She looked tall and naturally beautiful. She stood under a coconut tree and faced me. “You wanted to speak to me. Go ahead.”
I was speechless. I didn’t know what to say.
“Speak, don’t be afraid.”
“I…I…love you.” I stuttered.
“Gopi, listen carefully. You’re 13 and in the eighth grade. I’m 18 and haven’t completed Elementary school. Parents have already arranged my wedding with a farmer-boy in the neighboring village. I’ll be helping him in farming.
I want you to study well, go to a college and become a doctor or an engineer. Now, behave like a good boy, and stop looking at me through your tube or throwing matchboxes at me.”
Ratna suddenly bent and kissed lightly on my right cheek.
“Now, get out of here.”