I take a long hard look at the face in front of me, trying to remember where I have seen her before. Nothing! I am not revered for having the sharpest memory but I would have recalled whether I had seen someone before. I take a step towards her to get a closer look. However, that too is in vain. I close my eyes momentarily, more in embarrassment than in recollection. She shakes her head in disapproval.

“You don’t remember me?” I am taken aback by the accusatory tone and flinch. I have nothing to offer in my defence. I think of running back to my house, hiding within the four walls of my living room and sipping some delicious wine. Why did I even come here? In the end, I manage to open my mouth and say, “I feel terrible, but I don’t. However, you could always blame it on the grey streaks of hair.” A wave of surprise sweeps her face as she laughs. “Don’t! Don’t say that. You haven’t aged a day and look as lovely as ever.”

I blush. “You’re being generous. However, I am sorry I can’t quite place where we have met before.’ She smiles. “Dr Ziva, I am one of the many students who attended your design conference in Bangalore and one of the few lucky ones who had lunch with you after the conference was over. I am Ovya Malhotra.”

A sudden realisation hit me as memories of the conference swarmed over me like a hurricane. That had been a two-day conference where eminent people from the design industry had gathered to talk about what lay ahead and what innovations and technologies were being adopted by existing designers to stay in the game. I had given a thirty-minute talk, which was followed by a fifteen-minute question-and-answer round. Overenthusiastic students, much like Ovya, had taken full advantage of the latter and asked questions and follow-up questions until the time ran out. After that, I went out for lunch with a few students where I got to interact and connect with each one of them on a more personal level. This was indeed one of the rare occasions where I had actually gone out for lunch with the students. Most times, I just preferred to go back home or engage with the other speakers. The memory of the day came back to me. Yes, I remembered Ovya now.

I laugh. “Yes, I do recollect the conference and how your questions never ended... But it was such a fun session and lunch. How are you? Are you moving in here?”

“Oh yes, those were the days. You could get away with not knowing the answers. Yeah, we are moving from Bangalore to Delhi. That is my husband, Aadit.” The husband looks at me and gives me a slight smile. I raise my hand in acknowledgement. She continues, “He is a sales professional, while I freelance as a brand designer.” I say, “Always good to have neighbours who share the same passion for a profession.”

Aadit shouts, “Ovya come here. Need your help with something.” I realised that I had been interrupting the moving-in and it was time for me to head back home and laud my efforts at doing uncharacteristic things. I say, “You carry on. I will definitely see you around and through the window.”

She titters back, “You bet.” Ovya is soft, as mesmerising as a waking dream. She is easy to talk to and fun to be around. There’s a rare beauty in remembering a single meeting and the conversation you have had. I remembered her as someone who seeks connections and finds joy when looking at things from someone else’s perspective. Her big round eyes twinkle with curiosity. Her crimson cheeks are accentuated by prominent dimples whenever her pretty face brightens with a smile. She is gifted with an enchanting beauty that makes those plastic models look as fake as they are. She is marked by realness and robustness. Nothing can touch such a belle.

I, on the other hand, had left my youth like a forgotten purse at a restaurant table. The day I separated from Om, I realised it was gone, never to come back. For the most part, I simply shrugged it off and moved on. However, at other times, it bothered me. I had lost the confidence of a grown woman and now I never took the initiative of meeting a prospective boyfriend or husband. My face, which had once been as fresh as the morning dew, now looked like a melange of dried petals and spices. My hair, once pitch black with waves, has now thinned, and for the most part, streaks of silver cover it. The brown eyes, which were warm until a couple of years ago, are now hardened by the unfounded loss of joy and idiosyncrasies. My voice of quiet confidence and calmness has now dissolved into a puddle of fuzzy and foggy phrases. Though I am one year short of forty, whenever I close my eyes, it feels as if I have seen it all.

Excerpted with permission from Cold Blooded Love, Girish Dutt Shukla, Rupa Publications.