The Italian Man and The Indian Woman: An Unusual Love Story

Honeydew melon - reportedly similar in appeara...

Honeydew melon

Here, Have Some Melon

A few years ago, I was on a train with some friends between Milan and Florence, about to embark on my first adventures in the sunny peninsula that captivates me to this day. As I rushed back and forth between coaches and through the dining carriage in the Frecciarossa for a quick restroom break, I was stopped by four of the waiters who had been passing through our carriage earlier with snack items.

“Melon?” they asked, pointing to a plate of melons that they had been sharing at one of the Dining Car tables.

I shook my head, eager to get back to my friends. Three of the waiters were male. The fourth was a female. She looked at me kindly, cognizant, I reckon, of my discomfort at being asked to share fruit with virtual strangers.

“Grazie mille,” I began, “But I do need to get back to my friends.”

“No, bellissima, share some melon,” one of the waiters, an older man, insisted. “Por favore,” he added.

Suddenly feeling guilty about possibly appearing rather rude, and noting that three of the waiters were sitting and looking expectantly at my reaction to this fourth older man, I nodded briskly, and sat down with them.

I tentatively took a bite of the green melon with the fork the older man offered me. It was sweet. I took another bite. Then looked up, “It’s delicious,” I said, on cue, my manners having returned to me.

“Have more,” he said, in perfectly worded English. The others nodded and went back to speaking in Italian amongst themselves.

The old man’s eyes seemed to twinkle. The other waiters left.

I got up too, to allow them to pass. Outside, the landscape boasted manicured trees and pastel colored buildings. The man asked me to sit back down.

“I wanted to speak to you. You remind me of someone I knew a long time ago.”

“Oh, do I?” I wanted to be polite, especially since I was enjoying my platter of free melon, but I could begin to feel the hair at the back of my neck begin to prickle, and my ingrained New Yorker fear of strangers and unwanted flirtations began sending warning signals to my brains.

“Yes,” the old man replied. “You look exactly like her,” he added, oblivious to my discomfort.

“Like who?” I inquired politely, inwardly calculating that suddenly I was the only person in the dining car with this stranger, and that around 20 steps separated me from the door, should I have to bolt. I wondered how long it would take my friends to realize I was missing if this random stranger decided to kidnap me.

“Like her,” he repeated.

I stared blankly at him, and then realized he had taken out a black and white photograph of a young Indian woman from his weathered wallet. He was right. I did look like the woman in the photograph: the same wavy hair, the same high cheekbones, the same confused eyes.

I was so startled I stopped fidgeting. “Would you like some wine? Some chianti?” this waiter asked me.

Struggling to find my voice, I simply nodded.

He fetched two glasses and a mini bottle, the kind you are served on flights, and came back to sit down in front of me. I belatedly realized I did not have my wallet to pay him.

“My treat,” he said. “I have been working on the Frecciarossa for almost two decades, and I’ve never met anyone who looks more like her. Except that, you know, you’re more petite.”

He smiled tentatively.

“I see,” I replied, finding my voice at last, and returning his perfunctory smile. “She seems to be very important to you,” I added. “Who is she?”

Modern Day Star-Crossed Lovers
And then came a story which made me wonder whether I had fallen asleep and woken up in a movie.
The waiter, Stefano, had been working as a store clerk when he met Vimala, who was an Indian architecture exchange student in Venice. They shared a beautiful romance over the course of the summer, but Vimala had to go back to India after her exchange program was over. When Stefano wanted to follow her there, she resisted at the beginning and said her father would never agree to marry her off to someone who did not know English, and had dropped out of college.
Stefano was not deterred. He went back to school, working night shifts to support himself, and after two years of letters and phone calls (note that this was in the 1970s), he saved up enough to fly out to Bombay and ask for Vimala’s hand in marriage.
Stefano paused at this point in the story.
“What happened next?” I asked, melon pieces forgotten and the wine still sitting in my plastic cup, untouched.
“Drink up. We are almost in Firenze,” Stefano answered instead.
He took out a green pen, inked something on a piece of tissue and handed it to me.“Here you go, when you go back home, and are near a computer, will you please listen to this song?”
I put the tissue in my back pocket, after noting that it had only three words on it, “Jovanotti: A te.”
“Grazie,” I said. “I will, I promise,” (In actuality, the frenzy of the trip would make me forget about this song until eight months later, after stuffing the tissue in a corner of a book I would have no time to read during the trip).
The day after Stefano landed in Bombay, Vimala and her family invited him for lunch. After lunch, Vimala had a business meeting with a client, and Stefano stayed back in the family’s small apartment to speak with Vimala’s father. Everything was going well, when all of a sudden, a phon ecall came.
There had been a hit and run car accident, the family found out, and Stefano too, sitting in the room with them.
Vimala had died on the spot.
At this point, I looked more closely at this old man. His fingers were trembling, as though, even after all these years, he himself could not believe the tragedy of his story.His hazel eyes were looking intently at me.
“I’m so sorry,” I said. I noticed that he was not wearing any rings. The thought that this man had carried around the photograph of his dead lover for so many years was suddenly overwhelming. Before I knew it, I had tears in my eyes, and then I was mentally kicking myself.
I was supposed to be composed. Why was I crying about what happened to two strangers? And yet, the Bollywoodesque nature of the script being narrated to me as truth did not have the happy ending that fairytales deserve, and it was painful to hear, hence.
“You should go back to your seat. We will arrive in about half an hour,” Stefano said.
“I see,” I said, rather ridiculously, I reckon.
I thanked him again for the melon, and he shook his head.
“I was the one who wanted to speak with you, remember? It was a ploy to tell you this story and look at you more closely, even if briefly.”
Bemused by this directness, I silently went back to my seat. A thousand questions were swimming in my head about the accident.
Without telling them why, I asked my friends to come back with me to get another mini bottle of wine in the dining car.
But Stefano was not there.
I did not see him again.
I couldn’t understand the gravity of the situation, or explain exactly how intense the encounter had been to my friends, who were curious about my long bathroom break. Instead, I just mumbled something about melons.
mulled over how attachment and love works.  I had never known such a passionate pursuit to be possible outside of books and movies.
In other words, I was dumbfounded by my encounter.
My response, as is characteristic of many of our responses when encountering things that overpower every element of our senses, was to stay quiet.

Months later, at the advent of a time of much sorrow after a painful realization that I was in a failing relationship, I was rummaging through the books and notes I had carried with me through Italy, looking for a clue regarding my unsettled emotions, and then there it was, the tissue, creased in several places.

English: The Rialto Bridge over Venice's Grand...

Venice

I quickly went to Youtube and found the song. Jovanotti had composed the lyrics, a touching tribute, for his daughter, and when translated, the words tell you about how the singer had felt that he was saved from a pitiful fate, when he first saw his own child.
I reckon it’s a rather cheesy song, but it is raw with emotion At a time when I was looking for answers and coming up with zilch, it provided me with the comforting knowledge that love, dedication, and beauty can exist. That love, of the right kind can be amazing, and it can be powerful.

To this day, I am not entirely sure why I was given the song to listen to, but whether it was because Stefano was looking for verbal catharsis and found it in his young fiance’s lookalike, or that it was supposed to be a timely wake up call for me to stop settling for second fiddle, the song has stuck with me. I play it sometimes, and every time I do, I’m reminded of a generous and kind old man, in an express train in a country known for its epic stories, who provided me with the gentle reminder that it’s okay to wait, it’s okay to want the real deal, and it’s okay to walk away from anything substandard, because love does exist, and there is something incredible out there, waiting to be discovered.

—-

You may also be interested in reading about how my friends and I, on our way into Italy, made a quick pitstop in the sleepy mountain village Innsbruck, where we narrowly managed to avoid being shot in the Alps thanks to very old fashioned feminist philosophies.

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19 thoughts on “The Italian Man and The Indian Woman: An Unusual Love Story

  1. Very beautiful story. This song is on my fav. play list, but I never knew Jovanotti wrote it for his child, it gives me shivers, powerful love indeed.

  2. Dear Raad, im truly touched by your story . May I ask for your permission to quote the last 2 statements on my facebook? Those words are very meaningful to me.

  3. I’ve read several love stories like this one, full of sincerity and genuine human feeling, yet how could have they ended in sad and unfortunate tragedies! All that Stefano wanted for all his kindness and generosity was to see your face up close because you reminded him of a powerful love in his lifetime. I am glad you did not disappoint him even if you feel it was not easy to trust a stranger in the beginning. You may continue to guard yourself from total strangers but not one like Stefano. This reminds us that in a mountain of strangers one of them is a Stefano. Thanks for sharing this great love story.

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