I could clearly see the spark I was so familiar with, in her eyes. She was not the real girl I once knew- but even God couldn’t have done a better job at recreating her, the way these scientists had done. She was the first human clone of the world- the clone of the most famous Indian Actress, Aabha- the same Aabha I knew from my childhood days. The same Aabha who is to marry some businessman in a few days…
“You’re very funny and romantic” she said between her guffaws.
“Seems like you liked that story…” I said with a smile.
“They told me you were funny, but they didn’t tell me that you were this cute! I was underprepared- I’m totally bowled over by you…”
“Stop hitting on me, Aabha_639!” said I winking at her.
“Aabha_639? Call me something else!” she said, “Even if I’m her clone, I certainly don’t have her personality or her memories and I certainly do not want to have her name! Give me a new name, I say! I don’t like the name Aabha!”
“My name is also Aabha!” I said. The famous actress-my childhood huh, friend and me shared the same name- Aabha. Fate plays dirty tricks- the one name you want to forget, is splashed all over the world- even in your birth certificate & driving License! Frankly, I too started to hate the name of Aabha…
“Aah Aabha! Yes! Aabha & Aabha- Classmates for 5 years. The school legends… I forgot to ask you all about it… Tell me the whole story! I want to hear the untold story…”
“I am supposed be analyzing you and not vice versa” I smiled.
“What’s your analysis so far?”
“Hmmm, you look exactly like her, you have copied her body language well… but you don’t talk like her at all…”
“Then tell me all about her! And if I knew more about her, then maybe I can talk like her, act like her… Please tell me…”
I looked in her eyes. The spark that always drew me near Aabha, that made me do anything for her, was there, in her clone as well. Was this just coincidence? That the scientists had made her clone days before her marriage? Was there a big picture I was not aware of? If there was one thing that I was never sure of, it was Aabha. How did I feel about her? What should I have done? And what not? What should I say to her? If I should speak to her at all? Did I still love her? I was confused. These were not logical questions for the brain, but these were emotional questions of a hurt heart…
I looked at her again. Her eyes induced me to talk. I wanted to get it off my chest at least once in my life… Would I feel miserable that I let out the secret details of a friend, that might hurt her image, if leaked to the media, or would I feel relieved, that I got everything about my crush, out in the open with another human, well, in this case, a clone?
I wanted to feel relieved. I needed closure.
“You promise you’ll keep the details of our talks a secret?” I asked her.
She nodded excitedly.
“Once upon a time…” I began dramatically.
“Stop giggling! Ready? The first memory that I have, as a kid, is of crying…”
“Obviously!” she remarked.
“Very funny! As I was saying, I was in my kindergarten class (LKG) and I was crying. I don’t remember why, but I was terribly upset about something and I was crying hysterically and the next thing I remember is the bright smile of Aabha and her extremely weird pig-tail hair & her doe-eyes. She came to me & said ‘Don’t Cry! Here take this lollypop!’ And magically, I stopped crying and noticed a very attractive spark in her eyes…”
“Oh so sweet!! You must have looked like a lollypop yourself when you were in LKG…” she said.
“Well, that’s my first memory. I don’t even remember my parents during my LKG days, but I remember her quite clearly… We were in the same class from our KG days till class 12- totally 14 years in the same class!“
“14 years? They said it was 5 years!”
“Aabha misled the media, I guess… She wanted to keep the things between us hushed, you know…”
“Things between you?”
“Some things, you know…”
“The next big memory I have of her is when we were 8 and it was our birthdays- you know that we were born on the same day, at the same time in the same hospital in adjacent rooms? That’s why our Hindu Zodiac’s the same and ironically, we got the same names! We were destined to have the same destiny!”
“I know that!”
“She wanted to go to the Mysore Zoo on our birthday, but her father was busy that day…”
“So you took her?”
“Yes” I smiled.
“Player even at 8…” she winked at me.
“We went to the world famous zoo ourselves- it was huge and soon we got tired of roaming around the zoo, so we sat on a bench. I was a little naughty and I was very eager to entertain her- so I took a 25 paise coin and glued it to the footpath and went back to the bench and sat patiently with her, waiting for a victim to notice the 25p coin…”
“The coin super-glued to the floor trick!” she giggled.
“Ya! And soon a grumpy old man with a walking stick noticed the coin. He tried to pick it up, but the coin wouldn’t move. He used his stick, tapped violently at the coin- but no use. Soon he began to curse in choicest Kannada words, the coin still wouldn’t move- and Aabha began to laugh- that maybe my first clear memory of me making her laugh so hard- it was a feeling I never felt before. School life was so dull and boring, I had read so many things, so many rhymes, so many tables, but I don’t remember any of it as well as I remembered this little prank and its rewards. ”
“Very cute!” she said.
“And soon I became the school prankster- challenging my creativity, exploring new ideas, planning, the days of practice for perfection and executing- all this was way better than memorizing any poem or solving any math problem- and by the time I passed my class 7, everybody in my school knew me. I became the school legacy- all the new pranks would be gauged against my tall pranks and all these pranks had brought Aabha very close to me. I would let her join in my pranks and she in turn, would help me in my studies. She helped me so well that I stood first in the whole school and she came second, for the first time in her life, and that was the first time I made her cry…”
“Oh poor you!” she empathized.
“I never wanted to come first again in my life! But we were good friends. Nothing could have come between us. She was soon over all this and we started a new chapter of our lives in the most prestigious high school in Mysore. The competition was crazy in this school. The best of the city were here- and it was tough initially. The tests were tougher and we had to bring a whole new level of our game to just pass here. With more time devoted to studies and no time for pranks, Aabha & I began to have less and less interaction. Until that one day- that notorious Raksha Bandhan day!”
“Don’t tell me she tried to tie you a rakhi! Only a sister ties the band of rakhi to her brother… Please tell me she didn’t tie you a rakhi!”
“Well as you know, a sister ties the rakhi to her brother, and gets some cash in return from her brother…”
“Oh my God! She did not do it for cash!”
“Well, girls in that school started out this new ‘fashion’ and looted poor boys. Aabha didn’t really have any guy who was close to her, except me, and anyhow everybody used to make fun of us by calling us the Aabha siblings- and she needed cash, I think. It must have seemed like a good idea for her to make some quick guilt-free cash! So she tried to tie me the rakhi in front of the whole class…”
“And, you let her?”
“No! I liked her too much to let her do that to me… I was shocked, only days ago I was contemplating to ask her out for a movie- and she was trying to tie me a rakhi! I went berserk. I shouted- I humiliated her- in front of the whole class- and that was the second time I made her cry…”
“How many times did you make her cry?” she giggled.
“Aabha!” I moaned.
“How long it took you to apologize?”
“Don’t tell me you didn’t apologize to her!”
“Were you listening to the story? Hello! She tried to tie me a rakhi- she was my crush! She should’ve apologized to me…”
“You dumb boy! What happened next?”
“I was telling you this story hoping you would empathize with me- well obviously you do not feel sorry for me! I won’t tell the story anymore…”
“Don’t be such a baby, and finish the story already!” she yelled getting irritated.
I coughed lightly, she started sounding like Aabha!
“After the tragedy of Rakhi Day, a painful silence had descended upon us. We would daily run into each other- in class, in stairs, in cafeteria, in playground, I mean everywhere- and we never talked, never smiled nor nodded at each other- we unfriended.”
“That’s tragedy alright!”
“And soon there were school elections for Class representative- and the boys picked me to run for Class Rep and the girls picked her…”
“Meh, it wasn’t- From Class elections, it became boy versus girl… and it became Aabha versus Aabha, and I didn’t like it at all. I was trying to get to talking terms with Aabha but my friends were pitching me against her- they remembered the Rakhi Tragedy and they knew it would be epic comedy to pitch us against each other…”
“So what did you do?”
“On the day of elections, I wore the uniform of Gabbar Singh, the notorious bandit from the movie Sholay and instead of a speech, I gave them a funny mono-act!”
“Oh my God!” she started laughing.
“As I was delivering funny punches after another, everybody in the class started laughing- the boys the girls, even the teacher. Never had we guffawed together in the class before- for the first time, the class felt like it had one voice. It was a great moment for me and I looked at Aabha, hoping that she too would be enjoying my prank. She wasn’t. She didn’t even smile- she was the only one in the class who did not find me funny. After my farce, Aabha told the teacher that the class needed one more candidate from boys, after my display of juvenile immaturity. The nerve! She got the second most popular guy in class and forcibly made him to give a speech and after the votes- it was found that the boys’ votes got divided between me and the other guy and all the girls’ votes were bagged by Aabha. Aabha had won the election- by using the old British trick of Divide and Rule.”
“That must have been quite a scene!” she said.
“It was! If I had won the Class Election I really would have made class a more fun and less tensed environment. Even today, if you think about it, all the parents and teachers are forcing kids to read all the time! These kids don’t get a chance to explore their talents at all, and once these kids grow up and become parents, they do the same thing! I just can’t understand this hypocrite behavior! And Aabha was for studying and no pranks- a few months ago she was enjoying these pranks, but now it was all about studies. Throughout the year, she was a very tough Class Rep and she didn’t entertain any thoughts of pranks or jokes in class. She had changed. She had become a girl- a fun hating hormonal control freak!”
“Hey! We girls love fun!”
“Oh really? How many girls have you seen skip classes or allow mass bunks or ask a guy for a date or kiss around! How many, huh?”
“Kissing around is not fun!”
“Oh how would you know? You’re just a clone! I mean, how old are you?”
“Mentally? I’m 21 years and physically, I’m 8 days old!”
“You don’t look older than 4 days to me!”
“Let me teach you the fine art of kissing!” I winked.
“No thank you! I think that maybe, Aabha hated your pranks because she felt that your pranks were responsible for her getting the second rank and the new school was just so much competitive. Maybe she felt that you were brilliant- and managed to do well in school in spite of your pranks- but others may not be as talented as you! That’s why she didn’t want anybody else to go through what she went through- losing focus in your pranks…”
“Wow! I think maybe you are right!” I said, “This explains Aabha’s behavior better than my early theories of her being madly in love with me!”
“Ya, ya, that’s why she tried to tie a rakhi to you!” she giggled again.
I moaned- “No jokes about rakhi, ok? It still hurts!”
“Continue your epic love story!”
“Well the boys did not like the shady tactics used by girls, and especially Aabha. We hated her. We wanted to get back at her badly. So the boys had an emergency meeting and I was given the mission to destroy Aabha. I slowly began to see the pattern of how my life was getting screwed up! Aabha and I went from fighting over who gets to eat the last chocolate to just plain fighting, for no reason at all…”
“You didn’t do anything stupid to her did you?”
“Well, I kept a huge frog in her bag without her permission or knowledge. She was monitoring the class in the absence of a teacher- and she found her bag mysteriously hopping up and down. When she found enough courage to open her bag- and found the unholy frog eyes staring back and just when she was about to scream- that little toad from hell jumped- into her mouth and was dangling half way through her mouth…”
She giggled- “How I wish I was with you in that class of yours! This is so hilarious!”
“School was boring, really, a dull life- if it weren’t for Aabha. She was, at once the source of unbearable joy and unbearable pain- she’s the kind of girl every boy dreams, and never gets- but I was lucky enough to have her in my class for 14 years. Of course I had to pay a price. I had to endure her inexplicable hate towards me and she probably felt that I exclusively targeted her in all my ill-gotten pranks. So, whenever there was no teacher in the class, and she was monitoring us, she’d immediately write my name on the blackboard, even if I was minding my own business without disturbing the chaos in the classroom. She was surprisingly lenient towards girls and some boys, but never let go of an opportunity to sell me to the devil. I was often scolded or hit by a teacher, immediately after the class monitored by her. Aabha had made it quite clear- my pranks had to stop- or I’ll keep getting hit by the teachers.”
“Maybe she just needed an apology! Did you at least stop your pranks?”
“No. it only became nastier. Earlier till class 7, my pranks were classy and never hurt anybody. Those pranks were generally liked by everybody, including the teachers. But now, most pranks had to be targeted against girls- and Aabha in particular. The Boy versus girl thing was getting worse. The boys wanted nastier things to be done to the girls, after these girls had submitted to the teacher a non-existent home-work. The teacher never gave any home-work. But these girls pretended that he had, and the teacher demanded the same home work from the boys- and we were screwed. As retribution- I masterminded a mass prank- each girl individually target by many boys, on the same day. I went after Aabha, and I submitted a volunteer form in her name to the dreaded drama club…”
“Wait!? She was not already part of the drama club and you initiated her into it? And she went on to become the biggest superstar of Bollywood! The ironies keep popping in your story!”
“Well I did not do this as I had some super human foresight! I did it so that she could suffer some insane authority- the drama teacher. She was crazy and all the dramas ever produced by her were a huge disappointment and the kids used to throw tomatoes at her performances- till the tomatoes and other vegetables were banned. We had to endure Aabha’s iron fist in class, so it was justice that she suffer the same iron fist, added with the humiliation of performing…”
“You really hit a low blow- you do not look sexy right now…” she said in a low voice.
“I am telling a real story after all- I had my moments of glory and shame… I would often drop by at drama club to enjoy her suffering- but surprisingly she was very good at it. And everybody seemed to like her in the drama club- including boys! She somehow infused new life into the lame script and the whole drama had become quite a treat… She was working really hard for it & I had never seen her so enthusiastic about anything else in her life, even my pranks. The boys in my class noticed the same thing. They had sleepless nights, thinking of a way to ruin this drama. Finally I found a great idea from a book on Pavlov.”
“He’s a behavioral psychologist. Well from one of his experiments I got a great idea. The drama show was to happen during the school festival in an open air theatre. I would go daily to this open air theatre and train hundreds of pigeons to flock to stage by blowing a whistle and scattering bird seed onto the stage. Soon the birds began to associate the whistle with food on the stage and would flock to stage when they heard the whistle, even if no seeds were there. And you could imagine what yours truly did with this trick. Just when the dram started, I blew the whistle the actors were flocked by birds- and chaos reigned on the stage and off the stage it was all laughter! All the boys started whistling and birds would flock to the stage …”
“You mean jerk! You sabotaged her drama!” she disapproved of me.
“I wasn’t proud of anything that I did to her in my high school. I was worried that the birds would harm my angel- so I ran towards the stage looking for her. I found her, with tears in her eyes. And when she saw me, she knew that I was the one responsible for the birds. By the expression on her face I could tell that this drama had meant a lot more than anything in her life- I knew it instantly that we were never going to be the same again… All our innocent days were behind us and we had suddenly become grown ups now. We were stupid adults now, who did silly things to each other without a sorry exchanged and I cried- for the first time in my life, since my LKG days… She didn’t come to me with her trademark smile and that spark in her eyes. She was busy being devastated by my silly prank… And we cried, a mere feet away from each other, crying, missing a friend we once had, missing that shoulder to cry on- missing our laughter…”
Her eyes became moist- “Don’t cry!” she told me.
I didn’t realize that I was crying, and I said, “That’s the third & last time I made her cry…”
It took me a while, before I could continue the story, “After that I barely had the courage to look at her. I was too ashamed of myself. We never spoke to each other ,for a little over two years in spite of being in the same class. I never played a prank on her and she never bothered me- even if I was being naughty in the class she wouldn’t report me. She had obviously stopped caring, and preferred to ignore me. I was too guilt ridden to reflect on any of my actions and never told her sorry, not even in a note or through eyes. I was glad that she chose to ignore me- it was better. What I did to her, that school day, was not a big legal crime, but I felt like I had murdered 100 people- and I preferred to bury this guilt deep down… I had given my heart to a little kitten- it just played with it like it was a ball of yarn. Pawing it, biting it. Entangling all the threads. Made it into a mess and so I punished the kitty… And the kitty never wanted to play with me again… It was as simple as that…”
“I don’t like this story anymore, please stop… I do not want to hear anymore…”
“I have told you the story till Class 10; two more years of story is still there…”
“I do not want to listen to it anymore… I am just a man-made clone, perhaps I maybe very unstable- I may live a few more weeks or days, I do not know. But your story- it hurts. I don’t want to think about your story and feel your pain for the rest of my small life. You started out as funny and cute, but bad things kept happening… I was hoping for a silver lining… there doesn’t seem to be any… I don’t know why Aabha wanted to keep this story out of press- none of it is her fault. You have hurt yourself- and you didn’t do anything to mend your ways or apologize… they never told me that you were sad and hurting… I was unprepared for this…”
“Being a human in love is tough- even for the so called smart ones. Love is the only misery that everybody suffers equally. It doesn’t help if you’re rich or poor, smart or stupid… There’s no cure, except Love itself! I’m sorry I brought you down and made you feel miserable with my story- but hey, I can make it up to you with some good clean pranks? Make you laugh?”
“I want to feel good, like when you were telling me about you and Aabha till your Class 7… Tell me more about that…”
“Till Class 7, life was heaven for me- I had Aabha as friend. There were no big incidents- just those small little things- the time we spent together, the playtime, the stories we told each other, the pranks we pulled- until her sick prank of trying to tie me a rakhi. If she hadn’t done that, things could’ve been better…”
“If she hadn’t done that what would you have done?”
“Well, I would have asked her out!” I said.
“Then ask her out! Now! Call her!”
“She’s getting married in a few days!”
“Says who! They maybe rumors, you know how it is with superstars! Even if she’s getting married will you go to her wedding?”
“I haven’t decided yet!”
“How can you go? When you couldn’t feel like a brother towards her, when she asked you- you straight away made up your mind, and you couldn’t become her brother, even a fake one. Now, when she’ll ask you to come to her wedding as a friend, are you considering being a fake friend? Are you serious?”
“I cannot make up my mind about her! If I think rationally, I’d be the fake friend to her, but she’ll be a true friend to me. How many true friends does one make in a lifetime? We know each other so well! Sure our worlds are different, but we still need each other- those innocent days till Class 7 are a constant source of pure happiness. Reliving those days with a friend even during a five minute talk is better than taking the moral high ground of not being her fake friend! But then again, I’m scared- if I see her again- could I pull of my biggest prank of being a fake friend to her? My heart says it’d be impossible for it- 14 years of hoping and dreaming- she represents my 14 years of relentless optimism, to ask her out on a date- and show her my feelings… I’m stupid enough to keep hoping that one day I’ll get her- and for that, I shouldn’t be her fake friend, and tell her everything… Everything…”
“Then tell her, you idiot! Call her now… tell her everything!”
“But what to tell? Doesn’t she already know how I feel? She has been the only girl in my life- those days till Class 7 did she not see me how much I cared for her? And how I reacted to her when she tried to tie me a rakhi? I mean how obvious could one get? She must be really dumb to not notice! She’s not dumb, she’s smart- she knows. I really want to know why she pretends that she doesn’t know… I want to hear her explanation…”
“Did you tell her that you love her?”
“Well, my actions clearly did!”
“Did you tell her, in clear words, that you love her?”
“Then she doesn’t know that you love her… Tell her now… Before it’s too late… Call her…”
Perhaps this clone knew more about girls than I did. Perhaps she was right. Perhaps she’s wrong- but at least I’ll get it off my chest. Anyhow, I couldn’t have gone to her wedding- I couldn’t see her get married to somebody else. I cannot torture myself like that. 14 years of love, I had to learn to let go- let me first start with her. I had to put an end to my misery- let her decide. And if I tell her, I’ll know her decision in clear words- and move on from there…
I took out my phone and dialed her.
The clone smiled at me. I could hear the tone- and the clone’s phone started ringing. I looked at the clone in surprise. She had tears in her eyes. And as the phone rang, I realized that the girl sitting in front of me was no clone, she was Aabha, the real deal. The apprentice had outplayed the master- I fell for her elaborate prank! How much did she plan? The Research Institute, the news channels, those security teams, scientists- all this must have cost her a fortune. She played this prank- for a call from me? Was she really getting married? Or was it a part of the prank? The eternal optimist in me started breathing- 14 years, and he still hadn’t learned to give up. I was glad that I was so stupid…
She picked up the phone & said- “Hello”
“Hello! Aabha, this is me…” I said.
“Aabha! It’s been such a long time! How are you!” she said in her cheery voice. She really was a brilliant actress. I could clearly see her in tears- and she was smiling- she was smiling for me. For such an idiot like me…
“I’ve been doing well… Heard you were getting married, so I called you up!” I said.
“Those are just rumors, don’t believe them- and that businessman, he’s certainly not type!”
“Ah!” I chuckled, “Not your type, huh? What’s your type then?”
“You know me better than I do! Why don’t you tell me? What’s my type?”
“Me” I said. We looked in each other’s eyes. The spark in her eyes, was now a gentle fire.
“What do you mean?” she asked, still pretending, talking on the phone, and pretending to not see me. Pretending that the clone prank was not played- and I had called her, on my own… She needed to hear those words from me…
“I love you, Aabha” I said finding my deepest emotion. I looked at her, and I could see her pain in her eyes. How many years had we been stupid? How many years we hurt each other, for these three words? How many pranks we played on each other, to hurt each other? Why couldn’t we, play a nice prank like this, before- to hear those magic words- I love you. Why didn’t I play this prank?
“I love you too, you idiot…” she wailed.
My whole body gasped for breath- struggled to control the chaotic joy in all my nerves. I wanted to hug her… I leaned towards her with my open arms- until I saw her opening her purse.
She said, “Now, where did I keep that rakhi!”
I groaned loudly- “Aabha! I will kill you if you make that joke again…”
She laughed and hugged me. We were crying. We were smiling. And broke into giggles often- but we remained in each other’s arms. All the hurt of all these years, was getting healed, in this warm long over-due hug…
“Can you turn back into your clone now; I liked flirting with her better…” I finally joked.
“Where did I keep that lollypop…” she said thinking deeply.
“You don’t need a lollypop, I’m not crying anymore.” I said with a smile, feeling happy that she remembered the incident from our LKG.
“You’re going to need a lollypop coz, I am going to make you cry now!” she said, and started giggling.