Article Published in THE TIMES OF INDIA

My Times With Garbo

Navtej Sarna

As the news crackles to me from the heart of London to this nondescript little border town at the base of the hills, I learn her age for the first time. She died at the age of eighty-four. I quickly calculate, surprised at the number of years that have passed. At the time of our first meeting she must have been already over sixty and I hardly ten.

That meeting was engineered in his own inimitable way by P.G.Wodehouse. Very cleverly, he arranged it so that I had no chance. He tucked her at the bottom of one of his immortal pages. And that was where I met her as the world snored around me in an afternoon siesta. It was a brief meeting, a fleeting glimpse. Ships passing in the night and all that. But I was hooked to the legend.

There followed a fervent search, such that only a teenager can undertake. Garbo was chased in old film magazines where she hid away, behind dark glasses. She was pursued in forgotten libraries. She was pinned down on the mere mention of her name in casual conversations. The more elusive she proved, the harder-to-get that she played, so much the more was she pursued.

The next meeting was also sheer chance and it was when the search had begun to lose its edge. There she was, in an article on silent films in a butter-smudged Sunday paper. She looked out of the photograph, the sepia-tinted visage fading at the edges. A wistful look, the touch of a smile, a forever beauty. I stared and stared as the evening gathered in the valley beyond the window and brought no peace.

The encounters that followed were also never timed, never fixed. Always chance meetings through the years. No promises, no recriminations. Just like that. On quiet hot afternoons as sleep nudged at me and the hot winds blew outside the curtained windows and I lay, some book across my eyes. Or in crowded film festivals among the killing and the bashing, a thin rainbow of romance. Or in bars of Scandinavian ferries as I saw the light falling on the line of a jaw, or reflecting in a pair of light eyes over the rim of a glass and the coastline of Sweden lay within reach in the night. The legend fed on every other legend, every mystery, every half-secret.

The radio is still on. It says that she had a passion of privacy. She wouldn’t approve of my publicizing these encounters. But she’s gone, out across the blue. And with her has gone