When I was in class 10, I had a sudden urge to continue my coin collection, which I had given up due to boredom. I found the dusty pouch of foreign coins at a corner of my shelf. I emptied its contents on the bed to survey what I already had. Two small, golden coins caught my eye. They were coupled together with a rubber band, which had turned into a molten, gooey mass due to the heat of confinement. I could have sworn I had never seen them before.
‘Royal Government of Bhutan’ – I observed after getting rid of the messy band. I remembered, vaguely at first, and then clearly, as if it were yesterday.
We had gone to Bhutan in 8th grade, I think. Another family had accompanied us. Uncle Arun, his wife, and Leena (his daughter) who was a year younger than me, and who looked a hell lot like Ankana. Uncle Arun was Dad’s colleague at work.
I had just started my coin collection back then, and was quite obsessed with it. I decided to bring back one specimen of every Bhutanese coin available. But I was highly disappointed when I found that only one variety of coins was available – 1 Ngultrum. I could get a thousand of those (in fact I brought back dozens), but not a single different model. People mostly used notes.
One evening, Leena and I were left waiting at a restaurant for some reason. Our parents were away somewhere. I noticed an young European sitting alone at a table. He was slowly stirring a spoon in his coffee absent mindedly. He seemed to be the timid type and after a great deal of hesitation, I approached him, dragging along Leena with me.
“Sir…I…I collect coins. Can you…um…give me any coin of your country?” I have issues with spoken English at times when it really counts.
He smiled apologetically and said, “I’m carrying only Bhutanese currency at this moment. Foreign money is no use here.”
“Oh…it’s fine”, I said disappointed.
“But sit down. I have something interesting for you”, he said gesturing at two seats facing him.
Foreigners, especially Western people, have this extraordinary ability to develop short, enjoyable acquaintances, which most Indians miserably lack. I have noticed this every time I’ve interacted with them.
We sat down. He took out his wallet and produced two golden coins. “You might not have these. They’re not very common.” he said.
Both coins were identical in all respects. One side had an abstract pattern which looked like two dumbbells overlapping at right angles. On the other side, an intricate design was engraved, which showed two fish kissing each other, with silky strings spiraling around them, holding them together in a tight embrace. Inscribed near the circumference in small letters were- Twenty five Chhetrum, Royal Government of Bhutan, 1979, and few words in Bhutanese language.
“I have a small story behind this”, the European said, smiling, “Care to listen?”
“Yes… tell us.”
“Ah…” he cleared his throat and began. “I’ll brief it. Two years ago, I got married. We came to Bhutan for our honeymoon. My wife took a fancy in these…” he said indicating the coins.
“These are supposed to be symbols of love. She made me keep one in my purse, and she kept one in her handbag. That way we were supposed to be eternally bonded” he chuckled, as if mocking the silliness of his own words.
“We went back home. The eternal bond lasted a year and half.” he stressed on the words ‘eternal bond’ sarcastically; “We developed some problems and got divorced. And her parting gift was her damned coin,” there was a hint of anger in his voice. Then he burst out laughing again. I was beginning to feel scared. He must’ve been mad with grief to be laughing at something like that.
Finally stopping his laughter, he concluded calmly, “Well, the point is, I’d like to get rid of them. In fact, I am re-visiting Bhutan for the very purpose. Take ‘em.”
“Thank you. We’ll pay when dad…” He stopped me with a gesture of his hand.
“You’re doing me a favor, kid” he said with a playful wink, “Have a nice day.”
As soon as we were out of his audible range, Leena turned to me.
“What did he say?” she asked. Then, seeing the incredulous look developing on my face, she added in a matter-of-fact way, “Couldn’t understand his accent.”
“Good for you.” I replied, completely bored.
“He gave you two. Give me one.”
She extended her palm, expecting me to hand over a coin, as if it were candy. ‘You don’t know the first thing about coins’, I wanted to scream. However, I controlled myself.
“I can’t do that.” I stated solemnly.
“Because they are love coins. He said a man gives one to the woman he loves, and keeps the other.”
“Oh! Never mind!” she said, snatching away her hand and blushing violently.
* Winks at readers. ^_~ *
A mentioned earlier, this memory came back to me in class 10. I told everyone about the incident, and didn’t forget it again. Now, 2 years later, while I was cleaning my bookshelf, I found a pocket diary. It was a record of the Bhutan trip. I had totally forgotten about its existence. I went through it and made a strange discovery.
From the diary -14th November 2006: bla…bla…bla… Today I finally got a new variety of coin. A guy at the temple gave them to me for free. Leena couldn’t understand his accent…bla…bla…bla…
15th November 2006: bla...bla…bla… I had a strange dream last night. I saw that the coins I got were love coins with a past attached to them. In the dream, the same guy from yesterday gave me the coins, but in a restaurant. He told a story of him getting divorced and all. It’s silly really. By the way,..bla…bla…bla…
So you see what I mean? I had been living with a fake memory for two complete years. But fake or not, they’ll be love coins to me. And I will give one to that special person. ^__^