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Kirpal returned the change to the young man and watched him, until he disappeared into the madding crowd in New Market. He was about to drive away when his eyes fell on a row of teddy bears and cute heart-shaped purses arranged haphazardly on a multi-coloured blanket. The boy with the runny nose who was dusting a cheap-looking Barbie doll looked up. 

Bhaiyya! Gift for your girlfriend?” He addressed the taxi driver. 

Kirpal shook his head.

Undeterred, the boy persisted. “Today is Valentine’s Day.” 

Thankfully, the door of his vehicle opened just then.

“Jaggu Bazar!” The voice was barely audible, as though it belonged to a meek person.

Feeling relieved, Kirpal turned the meter down and switched on the ignition. As the yellow Ambassador sputtered to life, his eyes locked with the passenger’s and froze for a minute. A look of bewilderment flashed across the face of the old Sardarji, but he managed to regain his composure. He clutched at the plastic bag. 

The taxi emerged from the congested lane and cruised along the main road in Esplanade. The gentle rustle of a leaf could have startled the men inside. Kirpal tightened his grip around the steering wheel until his knuckles turned white. 

Kirpal! It’s been five years.

But the sorrow that had lodged itself in his heart wouldn’t budge. It had conspired with fate to bring him face-to-face with Sukhbir Singh again. 

Somewhere, the latest Bollywood hit blared out from a red Maruti Esteem. Dekho 2000 Zamana Aa Gaya!

His thoughts wandered to the stolen moments with Jasmeet inside a packed Ujjala cinema hall, as they watched Aamir Khan cavorting with Mamta Kulkarni in Baazi. The doe-eyed Punjaban was the cynosure of all eyes when she set out to the market to buy vegetables. As she tossed her dupatta carelessly across her shoulder, men sighed, imagining the ample curves that the loose kameez effectively concealed. But the chirpy Punjaban’s gaze always looked for the young taxi driver whose smile made her weak at the knees. 

Before Kirpal’s thoughts could travel further down memory lane and trace their love story to the day they met, a stray dog appeared before his taxi. Swearing, he braked. After a second, he gathered his composure and restarted his vehicle.

“No hurry, beta. Drive carefully,” Sukhbir Singh spoke gently. 

Beta! Kirpal almost sniggered. This man single-handedly destroyed two lives, and now had the audacity to address his sworn enemy as a son. 

“I’d rather let my daughter be a widow than marry her off to a taxi driver!” Hadn’t he declared that with pride? 

The taxi continued its journey. So did Kirpal’s memory, as it skipped to the days when love blossomed over endless cups of chai and plates of phuchkas. Soon, Valentine’s Day approached. India’s youth was still clueless about the new phenomenon, but lovers embraced it wholeheartedly. 

Jasmeet invited Kirpal to her house. Her father had gone out on an errand and wouldn’t return until evening. 

Kirpal bought a card from Archie’s Gift Gallery. His heart was pounding when he knocked at Jasmeet’s door. Dressed in a pink churidar kurta, the twenty-something girl looked ravishing. The dupatta, however, was conspicuous by its absence. 

“Happy Valentine’s Day!” she squealed, throwing her arms around him. Their lips sought each other in a passionate kiss. The lovers remained in a tight embrace, until a flushed Jasmeet pulled Kirpal to her room. 

The events that unfolded afterwards still haunted Kirpal. There was a loud knock on the door. Jasmeet slapped her forehead when she heard a faint creak. “Oh no! I forgot to close it.”

“Jassi!” The baritone voice boomed across the house. 

A six-foot-tall Sardar with a white beard entered Jasmeet’s room and staggered back. A visibly shaken Kirpal gathered the uniform scattered on the floor. Jasmeet grabbed a dupatta and draped it over her chest.  

Quivering, Kirpal emerged from the room and approached a furious Sukhbir Singh.

“I… I love ….”

The sound of the slap reverberated in the house. 

“How dare you?” Sukhbir Singh grabbed the collar of Kirpal’s shirt. 

Jasmeet stood like a Barbie doll. Muttering an expletive, her father kicked Kirpal out of the house, threatening to kill him if he ever showed his face again.

The love story ended. Jasmeet was married off to a middle-aged, widowed owner of a restaurant. 

“Stop!” Sukhbir Singh’s gentle voice startled Kirpal, as he snapped out of his nightmare.

Suddenly, Kirpal became aware of his surroundings. The pot-bellied man sporting a black cap still sold assorted spices in his shop. The familiar old woman with the toothless smile sat outside the old Xerox shop, swatting flies with a dusty cloth before they settled on her guavas. 

Is Jasmeet here? Will I see her again? Will she pretend to ignore me if she’s with her husband? 

The floodgates of queries opened, but Kirpal didn’t move from his seat. Sukhbir Singh got out slowly from the taxi and looked at the meter. After doing a mental calculation, he handed over a note to Kirpal. 

“Keep the change, beta.” 

Kirpal accepted the money. Sukhbir Singh hesitated for a while before he spoke again. “Can you come tomorrow?” 

Unable to take it any longer, Kirpal screamed. “Why? Is it your beloved Jasmeet’s wedding anniversary?”

Sukhbir Singh wiped a tear from his eye. “Tomorrow is her barsi.” He broke down and tottered to his house. 

The congested lane of Jaggu Bazar seemed to close on Kirpal. For a moment, he thought he had stopped breathing. The honking of another taxi jolted him back to his senses. He drove on until he reached his home. 

Kirpal threw himself on the bed. Try as he might, he couldn’t bring himself to forget Jasmeet. He had cursed Sukhbir Singh daily. But now, the frail Sardarji who was a shadow of his former self invoked only pity in his heart.

I must know how she died.

This Valentine’s Day, he decided to bury the hatchet with Jasmeet’s father. 



Bhaiyya – elder brother

Punjaban – A Punjabi woman

Dupatta – A shawl

Kameez – A loose-flowing top

Beta – son

Chai – tea

Phuchka – snack, also called pani puri in Hindi

Churidar Kurta – Top with leggings

Barsi – first death anniversary



Prompt of Story #1 – 

A taxi, an old enemy, Valentine’s Day

Words – 

995 (only the story)

Prompt by: 



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