Between Tonight and Tomorrow

Them

Related imageA November evening that was not exactly romantic, even if it was on the beach. Neither the sun was setting nor was the moon rising. It was a cloudy day with gusty winds..!  The weather reports had predicted a cyclone. The waves were roaring as the tide swept up almost to the boundary wall of the coffee shop. It was about 6.00 PM and the beach was already deserted. The coffee shop also was empty except for me… I

“Madam, would you like anything to eat with your coffee?” asked the Sam, the proprietor as he deposited a steaming hot cup of coffee in front of me.

I shook my head and waved him away.

He retreated as quietly as he had come, going back to sit by the till at the end of the room. A good fellow, Sam accepted me for who I was, an eccentric old woman… My wild and frizzy silver hair and  my crushed cotton sari probably made him think I was an artist or a writer!! But then wasn’t I just that? I may not exactly write or paint but I did create stories.

I stretched my legs  under the table and looked out of the window wondering whether anyone would venture out in this weather!

And then I saw him… rushing out of his car  , holding a satchel over his head as the rain drops started falling…! The door chime jangled as he pushed it and walked in.

Sam,  ushered him in and took him to the table opposite mine pulling out the chair for him to sit.

“Thank you” he said as he settled down and scanned the room. He seemed disappointed  not to find what he was seeking. I cleared my throat from the corner where I was sitting to let him know that there was someone else there besides him.  Our eyes met for a moment as I smiled at him and raised my coffee cup in a toast. He returned my smile , taking out his phone from his pocket and checking for message.

“Would you like to order something Sir” asked Sam

“Yes, after sometime”  he said, his gaze shifting to the window.

I watched him with interest. A middle aged man with greying hair. Who was he waiting for I wondered? Obviously someone very special, for him to have braved the weather and come here.

I followed his gaze and looked out…

I saw her before he did.

She was getting out of a cab and hurrying towards the coffee shop, pulling her dupatta over her head as the rain fell more heavily.

He stood up suddenly as he spotted her and made his way to the door. She came into the coffee shop, a slightly built woman , a flurry of rain drops accompanying her as she entered.

There seemed to be a moment of awkwardness as they stood facing each other. He didn’t seem to know how to greet her. She on the other hand stood facing him quietly expecting some sort of acknowledgement of her presence there.

Sam, the ever courteous host stepped in with a hand towel.

“Madam, please wipe yourself and sit down. You need to drink something warm” he said

“Thank you” she said as she wiped her head and face with it.

“Oh my god, my dupatta is running colour! ” she exclaimed as she took it out from around her neck.

Yes indeed, her beautiful white chikan kurta was now streaked with pink and purple.

The man seemed to have suddenly come to his senses.

“Anu, the washroom is over there . Why don’t you go and clean up. And meanwhile, what will you have? I will place the order so it is ready when you come back” he said

“ Oh, you know…tea” she said as she went it.

“ A masala chai and some Darjeeling tea” he said as he sat down.

Ah.. tea drinkers!! But different teas! The connoisseur and the common I thought with a smile.

She was back from the washroom. Her hair was loose and the damp dupatta was draped along with her bag at the back of her chair. Her face was glowing in the soft light over the table and her earrings swung as she moved her head. Middle aged like him, I could spot a few strands of silver in her hair.

I was waiting for them to start speaking.

“Thank you Anu, for making it. I could have come to pick you up you know” he said

“No Sanjay, it is better this way. I don’t want my students talking” she said softly.

He made a move to hold her hand. But she pulled it away tucking it into the sleeve of her kurta.

“So many years….and you are still the same touch me not “ he said softly.

“You know why – then and now” she said

“ Yes, then because you thought letting me hold your hand would somehow tarnish your virginity and now because you belong to someone else” he said bitterly.

“Sanju, I was fifteen then, so I didn’t know what I was feeling” she said, trying to look at him.

“Do you know what you are feeling now?” he asked.

“I don’t know” she said looking away.

“ Yes, live in denial!” he said, beckoning to Sam to get the tea.

The tension around the table was so thick that poor Sam was looking uncomfortable as he placed the cups and poured out the tea.

“What do you want Sanjay ?” she asked him softly.

“Your love” he said

“That you already have” she replied.

“ Really?” he asked sarcastically.

“Sanju , get a hold on yourself, we are both married and with families. We can’t get involved like this” she said

“But yet you came , braving this weather to meet me” he said .

I couldn’t see his face from where I was sitting but her face told me all about how he must be feeling. She looked confused and emotionally charged.

“Come with me please.. We have only tonight. You are leaving tomorrow. Don’t deny me this moment” he pleaded.

I looked out of the window. The rain was pouring down and lightening was flashing. I could well imagine how charged the night would be for them. A teenage romance evolving into something so deep in adulthood that neither of them probably realized where it might lead them. Or may be she did…Or did she? Her hand was now out of her sleeve and under his… I sensed her defences weaken…

I could almost hear her heart beating.. Or was it mine I wondered….?

Her

Sanjay looked sharply behind him as he heard the cup crash to the ground! The old lady at the next table lay hunched over it.

He rushed to the table, calling out to Sam.

“Oh, my god, something seems to have gone wrong with her” said Sam trying to revive  her.

“Wait let me get the car near the entrance, we will move her to the KG hospital. It is only few streets away” said Sanjay as he made his way to the door.

“Anu, you wait here with Sam, he will need help” he said as he left the restaurant.

“Ofcourse. Come quickly” she said rubbing the old lady’s palms that seemed to have  suddenly gone cold.

Between the three of them they got her into the back of the car.

“Sir please wait  I will lock up the restaurant and come” shouted Sam.

“Don’t bother. We don’t have much time. I will drive her now. You can come later if you want” said Sanjay putting the car in gear.

Anu sat behind with the old lady’s head on her lap.

It was about twenty minutes or so  before they got her into the Emergency Unit  at the hospital.

“Oh my god, hope she is okay” said Anu, holding on to Sanjay’s arm.

“Come, lets sit down there” he said pointing to a waiting area.

“ Wonder who she is. I have her bag with me. Lets see if we can get some ID” said Anu rummaging through the cloth bag, pulling out some dried flowers, a bead bracelet, a notebook and a wallet with a few hundred rupee notes inside.

“Strange, she doesn’t have any ID on her and neither does she have a cell phone” muttered Sanjay as he sorted through the contents once again.

Sam was coming in now into the Emergency.

“How is she?” he asked

“ We don’t know. They have wheeled her inside said Anu.

“Do you know who she is ?” asked Sanjay

“ No idea Sir. She comes every once in a while, orders coffee and sits writing in her notebook” he said

“Anu look inside that notebook. May be her address is there in one of the pages” said Sanjay

Anu looked through the notebook until she came to the last page.

“Sanjay look at this” she said bringing the notebook towards him

“ Leela-Anuj, Ravi- Sudha, Amy- Ajit, Meena- Tanmay – Who on earth are they ?” asked Sanjay

“Do you know them?” asked Anu showing Sam the notebook.

“ Ummm… not really, but Meena Madam and Tanmay Sir used to come to my restaurant often before they got married” he said

“Okay, do you have their number” asked Sanjay.

“ I think, I might have it in the shop on my computer.” said Sam

“ Then please go, get the number and call them’ said Sanjay. “We will wait here”

“Okay “ said Sam as he went out.

The rain had stopped and the wind seemed to have died down.

The TV in the waiting area was announcing that the cyclone had passed along further northwards on the coast. The weather was expected to improve.

“Sanjay, I am feeling so tiered and sleepy” said Anu collapsing on the bench and resting her head on his shoulder.

It seemed so strange that for someone who had always been nervous about her physical proximity to him, she should suddenly seek his shoulder to sleep against. He looked at her sleeping face.. ! The thirty odd years seemed to have been wiped out and it was like they were fifteen once again- he the silent lanky boy living downstairs and she the nerdy girl who lived upstairs. They hadn’t even exchanged words those days but somehow later when they had got reconnected through common friends, there seemed to be no end to the communication.

May be she was correct. It was not right for them to act on their passion. Too many people would get hurt!!

He closed his eyes with a sigh..This was not how he had imagined tonight to be but then like he had said, this was all they had, before she went away and out of his life. Her flight was at eight o clock in the morning.

He looked at the clock hanging on the wall in front of them. It was almost midnight!! He hadn’t realized how late it was. He was glad that his wife and son were out of town. It would have been difficult to explain the situation otherwise.

Anu was moving her head now. She opened her eyes and looked up.

“Sanjay, what is the news. Any word about the old lady”

“No idea. Sam hasn’t got back with any information either” said Sanjay.

“May be we should check in on her’ said Anu getting up from the bench.

“I will first drop you at your hotel and then come back to check on her. It is quite late. Shouldn’t you be back there with your students?” asked Sanjay

“Yes I think that is best” she said gathering her bag and dupatta. “You can leave your phone number at the reception in case they need you while you are away”

Sanjay woke up the sleeping receptionist and asked her to note down his name and number.

“Patient’s name Sir” she asked.

“I don’t know. She was a stranger who had a heart attack at the restaurant where we were” said Sanjay

“Sir, in that case you need to file a police complaint. Please come with me” she said asking them to follow her to the emergency section.

There were three beds in the Emergency room – all empty!

“Old lady ..is it? But there doesn’t seem to be anyone here ” said the young duty doctor.

“Please look up your records. There was another doctor on duty when we brought her here” said Sanjay.

“No sir, there is no record of any patient such patient here “ he said showing them the online patient registry for the emergency!! The last case registered was at 2.00 PM- child aged eight with a broken arm.

Them Again

Image result for cupid woman sketchI was happy, that it had ended the way it did. He had accepted the inevitable and her conscience was lighter.

They were now at the entrance to her hotel. She turned around and looked at him before suddenly giving him a hug! He seemed taken aback…!

“Sanjay it was so lovely meeting you again after all these years!! Let us stay in touch”

“Sure Anu. You have a safe journey back and send me a message when you get home”

I watched him getting into the car and driving away as she stood in the reception watching him leave.

I then made my way back to where I came from….I had lot of business to attend to…

A busy cupid, I had my own targets to meet- getting couples together. But sometimes I had to deal with a situation like this – where it was better not to get them together.

I secured my bow and arrow inside my bag, before flying away into the clouds

 

 

 

 

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Full Circle ( Part 2)

The Birthday Dinner

Related imageChitra gazed at herself in the mirror. Yes, she did look nice in these black trousers and the bronze coloured  silk kurti. But she was not so sure that she wanted her hair left loose like that. And wasn’t her lipstick too bright? And ohwhy had Pammi insisted on so much of eye make up?

“Come on lets go.. ! We will lose our reservation otherwise” said Pammi walking into the room, her high heels clicking and her lovely brown hair swinging behind her like a model.

“Pammi, I am not sure that I should go out looking like this” said Chitra getting cold feet at the thought of being seen in public in her new “made over” self.

“ Don’t be silly.. you look gorgeous” said Pammi pulling her along.

Chitra picked up her handbag, only to have Pammi grab it from her.

“No you are not taking that huge thing with you. It looks like you are going to buy vegetables! Here take this” she said pulling out a smart clutch purse from the cupboard.

“But it is too small Pammi,  I can barely fit in my wallet into it.. and  look,  there is no room for my phone or my glasses” protested Chitra.

“Just put some cash and your credit card into it, forget your glasses and leave your phone behind. Anyways, who is going to call  you now? Both your husband and son have already wished you happy birthday in the morning” said Pammi

Chitra realized it was pointless arguing with her now. So she picked up the purse, straightened her shoulders and followed her friend out of the door.

When they reached the restaurant, Chitra found she need not have worried so much about her appearance because most of the others there were very young people who were dressed far more “outrageously” than she considered she and Pammi were.

Chitra picked up the menu and squinted through the fancy lettering. She was now convinced that Pammi had deliberately made her leave her glasses behind so she wouldn’t be able to read the menu and know how the price of everything.

Pammi seemed to have a different looking menu in her hand.

“What is that in you are holding?” asked Chitra

“ That is the drinks menu darling. I am ordering some alcohol for us” said Pammi laughing at Chitra’s horrified face.

“Two bloodymarys” said Pammi to the waiter.

Chitra was now seriously worried.  “What is this bloodymary thing?” she asked Pammi

“Vodka and tomato juice.. remember the geography lessons .. potatoes, Russia vodka ?” said Pammi with a wink.

The drinks had arrived and Pammi was now raising her glass and toasting “To you Chits.. my best friend”.

Chitra took a sip and screwed up her face in disgust..! “Don’t look like that my dear…you are not drinking some medicine” said Pammi taking a delicate sip out of her glass. Now it was Pammi’s face that became creased.

“See, what did I tell you…? You  don’t like it either!“ said Chitra triumphantly

“ I don’t like it because I think these cheats have put very little vodka into this. They must have thought that we are two middle aged  women and so we wouldn’t notice” said Pammi angrily picking up both their glasses and making her way to the bar.

Chitra could see her talking to the , bartender, directing him to put in all kinds of liquids into  two fresh glasses

“She is behaving like she is dealing with some chatwala at Lajpatnagar” thought Chitra with amusement.

Pammi was back now, carrying two glasses with contents that promised to be a more potent version of the earlier concoction.

“Cheers”! she said clinking her glass with Chitra’s.

“Definitely more potent” thought Chitra as she took a sip and then another. By the time she had taken the third sip, her head was beginning to feel lighter .

“Pammi you know, you should get married again” she said leaning across the table towards  her friend.

“ But who will marry a fifty one year old widow?” asked Pammi

“Wasn’t it you who said only this morning that  age is in the mind and not in the years? And anyways widowhood is no longer a stigma” said Chitra angrily

“Yes but I don’t know any man who would want to marry me” said Pammi

“ Why not? You are so beautiful and so kind hearted” said Chitra.

“But I am not as qualified as you are. Remember I never even finished college” said Pammi.

“ Don’t be silly!  Clearing a CA exam and doing up balance sheets does not make me more qualified. You are a successful business woman. Anyways a man at our age would be looking for a life partner not a business associate. And any fifty plus fart should count himself lucky if someone like you even looks his way”  Chitra angrily!

“ You want me to marry a fart?” asked Pammi with a grin

“ Idiot! You know I don’t mean that. It is probably this  drink speaking now! What I meant was, you are a beautiful woman who has always attracted men. Remember those boys from our teens? How many of them used to queue up for your attention” said Chitra, pushing away her near empty glass.

“But the boy I liked did not even look at me. He used to only talk to you” said Pammi sadly

“And who may I know was that?” asked Chitra, wondering seriously whether she was so drunk now that she was imagining this conversation with Pammi.

“ That boy who used to come for maths tuition at Archana Madam’s house near C R Park” said Pammi raising her voice a decibel higher.

“ Who..?  Oh that Bengali fellow  whose mother used to  drop and pick him up?” asked Chitra laughing loudly

“ Yes!” said Pammi

“Look you deserve someone better than that tongue tied fool… What was his name now? “ asked Chitra

“Aditya Chatterjee”  said Pammi gazing into her drink

“ Aditya.. yes!!! But his mother used to call him Babla” said Chitra giggling loudly

“Chitra, don’t laugh. I am hurt” said Pammi pretending to look sad before bursting out laughing.

People in the tables around them looked up  as they heard the loud laughter.

“Shhh! We are talking too loudly” said Chitra putting her finger to her lips

The live band was getting ready to play. Pammi walked up to them and whispered something into the ear of the lead singer who nodded before taking up the microphone and announcing

“ Good evening ladies and gentlemen, please join me in wishing Mrs Chitra Srinivsan a very happy birthday”

The waiters were wheeling in a cake on a trolley and Pammi was raising her glass in another toast as Chitra cut the cake. Her eyes were brimming with tears as she fed Pammi a slice.

Pammi was taking some selfies with her phone as the lead singer sang “Happy Birthday”

When the song got over Pammi went up to the singer and grabbed his mike making an announcement

“Ladies and Gentlement , I now request my friend  and birthday girl Chitra to sing for you. You know she sings Asha Bhonsle numbers as well as Ashaji herself. Come on Chits… !”

While a part of her was shocked and embarrassed at all the attention that Pammi was drawing towards them by making the announcement, another part of her was very excited. The excitement inducing part won the tussle of emotions  because Chitra  suddenly found herself swaying towards the stage and taking the mike from Pammi. The lead singer of the band was clearly unhappy as he prepared to give up his moment of fame to this unknown competitor.

“Ladies and Gentlemen I dedicate this song to Babla- my friend Pammi’s secret crush from our school days” announced Chitra . The audience was clapping loudly.

Bechara dil kya kare” sang Chitra clearly without any accompaniment. In her mind, she was back in  school participating in a talent show.

The lead singer was now seriously annoyed.

As Chitra finished the song, the audience went berserk giving her  a standing ovation! The poor singer  had to wait until people settled down again before he started belting out his rehearsed numbers.

“Chits you were wonderful” said Pammi giving her a hug

“ You know I felt like I was back in school once again” said Chitra returning the hug.

“Poor Babla! Wonder how he would have felt had he been here today” said Pammi laughing loudly.

“He would have pushed his specs back on his nose and gone back to solving calculus problems” said Chitra grinning.

“Well he used to look cute with those glasses” said Pammi defensively.

“If you say so…” said Chitra closing the discussion.

The dinner they had ordered  was ready to be served now. Chitra was not really hungry now because both the alchohol and the excitement had gone to her head. Pammi seemed like a veteran in comparison as she ate the full dinner and the cake despite all the drinking she had done.

“Finish your drink. Remember what our parents used to say? Don’t waste anything” said Pammi, pushing the glass towards her friend.

“ I don’t think I can finish this. I am going to ask them to pack it for me along with the cake” said Chitra

“Good  idea” agreed Pammi as she called for the bill.

When they finished paying him, the waiter brought them the packet with the left over cake. But he was very uneasy about the second item that these ladies wanted packed. He had never encountered such a request earlier. He went in and called the manager who realized that both the ladies were high as kites.

“We will have it sent over to your place” he said suavely as they thanked him and made their way to the parking lot.

As the cold October air outside hit them, Chitra’s head cleared a bit. She was glad that Pammi was not driving them home. But Pammi obviously did not realize that they needed to take a cab back because she was rummaging through her purse for her car keys dropping things from there on to the pavement.

“Pammi you silly girl, stop dropping all this stuff like this. We came by cab and were  planning to get back by cab” said Chitra as she bent down picking up the odds and ends that had fallen out of Pammi’s purse.

“Oh yes.. but I think I dropped my phone along with the rest of the things” said Pammi shaking her empty purse at Chitra.

“Where could it have fallen” wondered Chitra looking through the hedge around the pavement in the darkness, all the while trying to prevent Pammi from putting her hands through the shrubbery in that crazy manner.

God alone knew how they were going to get back home. She should have insisted on bringing her own phone.

Pammi was just getting ready to go back into the restaurant and ask if the management could call them a cab when they heard a voice behind them ask “Can I help you ladies?” A distinguished looking man with grey hair and  French beard stood behind them.

“Yes my phone has fallen somewhere here and I need it to call a cab so that we can get home” said Pammi.

“Okay give me your number, I will call from my phone and we can track your phone when it starts ringing” said the man.

Pammi rattled off her number as he keyed the digits in and hit the dial button on his phone. It was a relief to hear the familiar ringing sound and see the flashing light on the screen. Pammi pounced on it, picking it up from the bush.

“Thank you” she said looking at the man gratefully.

“Please wipe your phone. It is stained with mud” he said extending his handkerchief towards her.

“ If  you can now give me your address I will call you a cab” he said.

“ It is okay we will call a cab ourselves” said Chitra defensively.

“No ladies, my conscience will not rest in peace until I have put you both into a cab safely. Besides, if I book a cab from my phone I can also track your ride and make sure you are safe” he said with a smile.

“ Yes you are right” said Chitra as she gave him Pammi’s address.

It was minutes before the cab arrived.

“Thank you very much Mr…” said Pammi as they got into the cab

“Chatterjee… Dr Aditya Chaterjee” he said with a smile.as the cab drove away

“Aditya Chaterjee…. Pammi do you think….?” asked Chitra about five minutes later.

“ I can’t think anything now my dear… my head is spinning” said Pammi

As they got home and crashed into bed, Chitra could not resist peeking into Pammi’s phone and checking for missed calls and messages.

Her guess was right. There was a message from an unidentified number sent in a few minutes ago. Should she read it  she wondered ..? She decided to go ahead and read it anyway because the suspense would otherwise kill her sleep

“Pammi, If only you knew how much I wanted to talk to you those days. But I never had the confidence- Babla”.

Chitra was tempted to respond on Pammi’s behalf but decided that would be taking too much of liberty. She wanted Pammi to see the message in the morning when she was clear headed and respond. She lay down next to Pammi on the bed and gave her a hug.

It had been a memorable fiftieth birthday for Chitra!

Around the same time, somewhere not very far away at Vasantkunj, a fifty year old man was sitting on his balcony and looking at the sent items i folder on his phone, wondering if he had been too impulsive! But then over thinking everything had always been his problem ..

“Probably one of the reasons I am still single at fifty”  he said to himself  as he put his phone down.

 

 

 

 

 

Full Circle

Part 1

Re Connecting

Chitra was feeling very nervous at the way Pammi was pressing down on the accelerator. She checked her seat belt. Yes it was fastened securely. So no likelihood of dying if the car crashed into another vehicle!

“Stop being so nervous Chits… learnHand drawn two schoolgirls friends with backpack Vector sketch to enjoy the ride” said Pammi with a laugh!

Chitra looked at her friend in exasperation… Pammi hadn’t changed. She was still that careless teenager from school. Who would believe she was fifty. Okay, correction, Pammi was actually fifty one. It was she, Chitra who was fifty as of today. Pammi had been one class older than Chitra at school but given her general disinterest in studies had to repeat a year in the eighth standard and that was when they had met and become the best of friends.

This visit to Delhi had been something that Chitra had been looking forward to for some time now. As a chartered accountant who worked along with her husband in his firm, she rarely got an opportunity to travel out of Chennai where she lived now. Seenu, her husband, handled all the out of Chennai assignments while she was left to deal with the maama and maami accounts (as she referred to them privately)! And the maximum distance they had travelled for a holiday was to Ooty. Her Chennai born and bred husband was extremely nervous about going anywhere beyond the Deccan Plateau.

It was sheer providence therefore that had got her to deal with this assignment in Delhi all by herself. Seenu had to travel to Bangalore on some urgent work on the same date and since the Delhi assignment had been planned well in advance and couldn’t be cancelled, she Chitra Srinivsan had travelled all alone to the city of her childhood and youth! The three day business trip had been extended to five including the weekend.

That she would be staying with Pammi was a non-negotiable.  What with Pammi constantly hounding her on WhatsApp and Facebook there was no way that she could visit Delhi and not have Pammi know about it.

Not that she minded… She was actually loving it except for those times, when Pammi decided to get behind the wheel of her Maruti Wagon R and drive her best friend around Delhi. It was bad enough when she sped down Lodhi road like that but it seemed worse when she drove at a similar speed around the by lanes of Lajpat Nagar…

Pammi stopped at a traffic signal and lowered her window with one hand to buy something from a street vendor. Chitra’s nervousness surfaced once again….

“Chits look some Jamuns for you… You used to love them” said Pammi extending a paper bag filled with the dark purple fruit. Chitra felt overwhelmed!! Who would have thought that Pammi would remember these small things?

But remember she did. Every meal that she had eaten at Pammi’s house in the last few days had proved that. Pammi had taken care to cook all that she liked… She had taken her shopping around their old hang outs at Lajpat Nagar, Connaught Place and bought her gifts.

Pammi was so full of warmth and love… It was pity that she had no husband or children to lavish it upon. Her husband had died within the first few of their marriage and after that Pammi had moved back to her parents’ house. A natural entrepreneur, she had started a small business selling salwar suits which had now grown into a boutique in South Extension.

Chitra wondered how on earth they had become friends. She the nerdy, shy, nervous introvert South Indian and Pammi the carefree, gregarious, extrovert Sardarni!

But they had hit it off from day one! They had travelled to school together and back and sat next to each other in class. They did that for five years after which college and higher education took them their separate ways. But they still managed to meet on weekends until the academically non inclined Pammi dropped out of college after a couple of years and got married.

Chitra still remembered a beautiful Pammi dancing at her own wedding. She had seemed so happy .. Daljeet her husband was a businessman. It was clear he adored Pammi. To Chitra who had attended their wedding it had seemed like something out of a Mills and Boon romance.

Their lives had taken different directions after that. Chitra’s father had retired and their family had moved to Chennai where she got married. Delhi and Pammi for Chitra had by then had become a happy past as she began  dealing with a challenging present-  studying for her Chartered accountancy exams, coping with her in laws, helping her husband with his work and a couple of years later, bringing up her son Anand.

Address books and school albums with their teenage photographs got lost somewhere. The odd friendship between Chitra Venkateshwaran and Parminder Kaur had buried itself under the demands of day today life.

It had been Pammi who had reconnected with her. She had traced Chitra through a common friend and they had reconnected a few years ago. Chitra had been saddened to hear about Pammi’s loss but Pammi herself seemed to have come to terms with it and moved on in life. She had also lost her parents over the years and now lived alone in her parents’ house. Her two brothers had immigrated to Canada but she had decided to stay on in Delhi. A brave girl… life had toughened her but had kept her inner core soft thought Chitra her eyes welling up with emotion.

“Chits, don’t let those tears fall down your cheeks while eating the Jamuns. They will mingle with the purple colour and ruin your beautiful pink chikan sari” Pammi teased her with a grin.

Chitra pretended to punch her… And they started laughing!

“Tell me something. Why have you taken to wearing only saris” asked Pammi.

“Well, there was no option. After marriage, my in laws did not like me in salwar kurtas and Seenu did not have the guts to tell them to stop interfering in our lives” said Chitra.

“So I guess they will not approve of you in trousers either?” asked Pammi with a wink.

“Are you crazy!’ exclaimed Chitra looking shocked.

“No I am not. I was just thinking how nice you will look in trousers. You are still so slim and petite” said Pammi

“Okay, keep thinking. No harm in that “said Chitra crossly, looking out of the window

“Chits… don’t be an idiot! You are only fifty years old. Your hair thankfully is not very grey and is still long and beautiful. Why do you dress and behave like you are seventy?” asked Pammi

“Pammi, it is expected of me as a wife of a leading accountant in Chennai and mother of a twenty two year old boy to look and behave in this manner” said Chitra.

But the moment she said this she felt like biting off her tongue because she realized that Pammi neither had a child nor a husband.

“Sorry Pammi” she said.

“Not enough if you say sorry. You need to make amends” said Pammi winking at her.

“Amends”? Asked Chitra wondering what was coming up next.

“You must allow me to give you a makeover this evening and take you out for your birthday dinner” said Pammi laughing loudly

“Okay… but nothing drastic” said Chitra doubtfully

“Drastic or not is a matter of perception. And you, my dear are not going to look at this like some Aunty. Look at it like how you would if you were in school once again” said Pammi

Chitra laughed..! Alright, why not.

(Ater all it was her fiftieth birthday today! Golden Jubilee of her life on this planet.

“Give me a hi five” said Pammi letting go of the steering wheel for a moment

“Hey watch out” said Chitra laughing as clapped her hands with Pammi’s

Both of them were now excited about Chitra’s Birthday Dinner

( Readers please stay tuned and  join in the Birthday dinner in Part 2).

 

A Twilight Tale

In the Evening

It was 6.00 PM and the days were getting shorter already. Winter had set in earlier than usual.Related image

Hardly a week after Diwali, and I was beginning to feel cold.

Who would have believed that I had led a battalion in the icy cold conditions around Kargil?

Ram Singh my faithful personal attendant from the service days came with a shawl. Draping it around my shoulders he asked

“Sir , shall we go inside”?

But I wanted some more time to engage with the world outside .. After all what else can a man do when he is bound to a wheel chair?

“A little later” I said

I looked out at the park opposite my house.  The lamps around the pathways had come on.

The voices of the playing children had reduced.  A mother  could be heard shouting somewhere “Come on , it is getting dark, let’s go home”

My eyes looked through the descending darkness and found what they were seeking.

She was sitting on the same bench under the tree! A thin young woman in track pants and a jacket.

I had spotted her about a month ago. It was the early days of when I had moved into the flat. I was still coming to terms with my disability, sitting in solitude and refusing to meet anybody.

Grief, they say can spot its companion easily. So may be, that was what had drawn me to her. Like me she was sitting all alone, staring into space. I wondered what was bothering her so much. Going by her dress and general appearance it looked like she was from a well to do family.

And then it had become a pattern, I would sit every evening and observe her. She would come around 4.30 and would sit there bathed in the twilight, until darkness descended.

She never looked up at me or at anybody who passed by. Sitting up on the balcony I often wanted to ask her what it was that was bothering her so much. But then even in the days when I was fit and able I was never the type to engage in conversation with any stranger.

So I let it pass.

Ram Singh was back now fussing around and saying that I needed to come inside and eat.

Eat?

Hell!! I wanted a drink!

I let him wheel me inside the house and asked him to pour me a drink! He looked at me doubtfully… I told him to stop behaving like he was my mother..! I immediately felt bad about being so harsh with him. But I know he understood because so many years of working with me had made him accustomed to my moods

As I took a sip from the glass he brought to me, my mind began to replay once again, the events that took place not so long ago. A war where I had lost a lot of my men and my limbs! They had offered me a medal for bravery while at the same time discharging me from service.

A fat disability pension was small compensation for a life like this!

I had known no life outside of the Army. An only child, I had lost my parents early in my life. After finishing my  education at the Sainik School, I joined the National Defence Academy. I was seventeen at that time.

Since then the army had been my home and family. And today after twenty three years I suddenly found myself all alone.

Ram Singh was back again, asking me if I wanted to eat. I agreed…more to relieve him of this responsibilities for the night. I knew  he would not eat or retire for the night until I was fed and settled in my bed.

At Night

I lay in bed, tossing around, to the extent my limited movement would allow. It was like this  every night nowadays. I lay awake until late into the night before dropping off after midnight. I was up again early in the morning.

I tried to read but nothing seemed to interest me these days. The music that I used to once love also failed to soothe my disturbed mind.

I wished, Ram Singh hadn’t drawn the curtains around my bedroom window. I would have liked to look outside. But he was of the opinion that a dark room with curtains drawn would help me sleep better.  He also felt that going out of the house for a drive to do some mundane things might help me. But then where would I go?  I did not know the ways of the ordinary folk or the “civilians” as we service people liked to refer to them.

May be, I would go shopping for groceries tomorrow. May be it was time I started getting interested in the price of rice, wheat and vegetables I thought, wryly as I closed my eyes.

That Afternoon

To say Ram Singh was surprised when I told him that I wanted to go to the market, was an understatement! But he composed himself quickly and said he would get the car out for me.

It was quite a manoeuvre, trying to get myself out of the wheel chair and into the car. But the ride did a lot to lift my mood. The weather was fine and the traffic light as it was in the afternoon that we went out.

We parked outside the market and I watched Ram Sigh bargain with a fruit seller asking him to reduce the price of the oranges. Strange, how I had never been part of these mundane domestic tasks!! Having never been married, it was Ram Singh who ran my household. I wondered if it would have been different had I been married? There was a time when I had considered marriage .. but that was quite some time ago.. Another one of those things that was beyond me now, I thought bitterly turning my head to look out of the opposite window.

And then I saw her ! She was walking with a little boy who looked like he was about 5-6 years old, holding him with one hand and  balancing a shopping bag on the other.  The boy wanted some roasted peanuts from a vendor whose cart was parked next to my car. I watched  them both walk in my direction.

I made eye contact with the little fellow as she was  buying the peanuts. He smiled at me.

“Do you want some peanuts Uncle ?” asked the boy extending the packet towards my window.

“No thank you” I said smiling.

Ram Singh was back with the oranges. As he opened the door to put in the basket I called out to the woman “Can I offer you both a lift Ma’m?”

She looked surprised

“Thank you.no its okay we live close by’ she said with a smile.

I was amazed by how that smile transformed her plain face into something beautiful!

“It is no trouble. We will drop you home” I said asking Ram Singh to open the door for her. I don’t know whether it was Ram Singh’s formal demeanour or the aura of chivalry that I seemed to exude, that convinced her to accept my offer for a lift.

We drove along quietly, with the little fellow sitting between the two of us in the back seat.

“What is your name?” I asked him.

“My name is Vishal and my mummy’s name is Neha” he answered.

“And I am Arun” I said shaking his hand.

“I have seen you sitting in the park” I couldn’t resist myself from saying.

She looked startled. “I didn’t realize that anyone could see me there” she said

For the next few minutes, we rode in silence. I felt a compelling need to explain to her about how and why I had noticed her. But I was worried that I might upset her by talking about it.  I also wanted to ask her why she sat there looking so sad. What was bothering her?  But my courage failed me. So I held my tongue and sat quietly.

“Take a right from here and then the next left” she said directing Ram Singh.

We stopped in sometime before a red brick building- house no K 63.

“Thank you so much for the lift” she said getting out with the boy

“Bye Uncle” shouted the boy as we drove away.

I turned back to see her opening a door of a ground floor flat and going in. The little boy was still standing on the road waving at our car.

Afterwards

The next day, I waited for her to show up at the park. But she didn’t. When three days had passed without her coming to the park, I began to have crazy thoughts about sending Ram Singh to her house to find out why she hadn’t come.

And then  a week later I asked Ram Singh at 4.30 in the evening to take me for a drive around the colony. I did not want him to know where I actually wanted to go, so I made him take me two blocks away, make a U turn and get into K block. There was a peanut seller at the turning. I made Ram Sigh stop there and bought a packet of nuts.

“Shall we go home now Sir” he asked me

“Yes. But let’s just drop by that little boy’s house. I will give him these peanuts” I said.

Ram Singh reversed and tried to turn the car in the opposite direction.

“Where are you going Sir?” asked the peanut seller.

“Into the next lane” said Ram Singh

“You can’t go that side. There is a barricade there” said the peanut seller.

“Why? What is the matter” I asked pulling down the window?

“I don’t know Sir. The police have put up the barricade there” he said shrugging his shoulders

I was intrigued and asked Ram Singh to go there any way.

Sure enough, there was a barricade. I rolled down the window and called out to a police constable standing outside asking what was the matter.

“Suicide case Sir’ he said in a bored way

Suicide…! Where? Who?

A lady came out of the red brick building. I called out to her “Excuse me Ma’am what is this suicide that the police are talking about”

“Oh my God!! It was terrible!  Yesterday our neighbour, a lovely young lady on the ground floor, committed suicide. Sent her son away to her mother’s house and hung herself. Poor thing, she was in a very unhappy marriage. Her husband was a real monster. Used to constantly shout at her and throw things around the house’ she said clucking her tongue.

I felt my heart sink. I did not have to ask for the name of the woman who had taken her life. I just knew…

Anger was the first thing I felt and then a sense of helplessness. What could I have done, I wondered, even if I had known about what she was going through.

I don’t know when we reached home but when Ram Singh settled me on my chair on the balcony I couldn’t stop my tears. Oh, why hadn’t I spoken to her earlier! I blamed myself again and again for not reaching out to her. My own sadness had me so inwardly focussed ….!

Ram Singh was back again with a glass of whiskey…! The man was amazing at sensing my moods and feelings!

I took a sip, then another and another and soon drained my glass.

I don’t know if I was drunk by then or not but I saw her sitting on the same bench. She was bathed in twilight. This time she wasn’t looking away but up at me smiling sadly as if to say “It is okay. It is not your fault”

 

Jugalbandi

Image result for image of shower in bathroom

It was his first day at the new job and he wanted to be on time. So a shower at 7.00 AM in winter did not seem too early. He looked around for his towel from among the heap of “yet to be unpacked” clothes from his suitcase. The flat was a mess…! The previous occupant, had left it with a lot of packing material still strewn around the place. And the landlord had done nothing to have it cleaned before handing over the key to his new tenant.

“ I need to spend the weekend getting it cleaned up” he thought as he shut the bathroom door.

The geyser was thankfully functional. He turned on the hot water  and stepped under the shower. It felt good…! He could feel the tension ebbing out of him. He closed his eyes and started to slowly whistle  a tune…!

And then suddenly he heard someone humming the same tune.. It was a soft female voice! He stopped whistling but the voice continued.

He turned off the water and listened carefully.

The singer had completed the “mukhda” and was now on the “antra” .

The steam in the bathroom began condensing over his body and he started shivering….!!

“ I wonder who was that who was singing?” he thought as he quickly toweled himself and got out of the bathroom.

“Nice voice though” he thought as he put on his clothes.

When he got back home in the evening, he was completely tiered. It had been a long day. He had ordered some dinner online. He needed to change out of his work clothes before it arrived.

As he went towards the bathroom he suddenly remembered the singing. He wondered if he would hear her again.

Well, there was only one way to find out. He started whistling a very popular tune. He  got through a couple of lines and waited. Nothing!!!

Okay so he was unlucky!! Maybe at 7.00 AM again tomorrow?

Just as he finished washing his face, she started singing… ! She finished a stanza and stopped.  He waited for minute before he resumed whistling!

The door bell was ringing…! He  rushed out to open the door and collect his dinner.

As  he was getting his plate and cutlery together, he thought again about this woman/ girl who was singing so sweetly. Obviously someone who lived a floor above or below him. The sound was getting amplified through the narrow drainage chute that ran between the walls .

Well he meant to find out more about her.

But finding out was not as easy as he thought it would be. In a ten storeyed building with seven flats on each floor, it was difficult to zero in on exactly which flat was the one that housed the singer.

He tried asking the security guard. But the fellow seemed to be an extra ordinary  kind of moron. He tried looking up the names of the occupants that was displayed in the  lobby on the ground floor . But he knew that this would be a cold lead because most of the occupants in that building were tenants.

There was ofcourse the option of asking the secretary of the flat owners association. However that was not an option that appealed to him. And anyway what would he ask? “Who is the girl who lives above/below my flat that sings so beautifully in her bathroom?” They would probably think he was some kind of a creep or a peeping tom interested in women inside bathrooms! As it is, it had been very difficult for a single young man like him  to get an apartment in the city.

And meanwhile the jugalbandi ( if we may call it so ) continued. He found she was partial to Asha Bhonsle numbers. And they both loved Asha’s 70s numbers! They had worked out a pattern. The “performances” lasted for half an hour in the morning starting 7.00 AM. In the evenings it began at 7.30 and went on until he went breathless with whistling!!

On weekends, however it was difficult to keep up this schedule and it became quite random. 12.30 in the afternoon sometimes, 3.00 PM sometimes and sometimes not at all.

At the risk of living inside his bathroom for the complete weekend, he had to finally come to terms with the fact that she had probably gone out somewhere.

He had almost decided one morning to say “Hi” and introduce himself after a bout of whistling. But it was exactly at that moment  he heard another neighbour make loud gargling noises inside his bathroom. So, this space, he realized  was not exactly private.. and the “performance” probably had a wider unintended audience than he had imagined.

It was most frustrating!!

Nearly three months of hearing her sing and he had no inkling as to who she was!!

He took to observing his female neighbours closely every time he got an opportunity.  But unfortunately for him opportunity only yielded elderly ladies. He was sure it wasn’t one of these “Auntys”.  To be doubly sure he took to wishing them “Namaste” “Good morning” “Good evening” so that he could hear their voices as they wished him back.

Winter gave way to summer and hot showers became cold ones… But he was still clueless about who she was. But by now he had kind of narrowed down the source of the singing to two flats. He began thinking about excuses he could use to knock on the door and find out who lived there

He could pretend to be a salesman or maybe a visitor looking for an address. But all of that seemed rather lame to him.  He needed to come up with something really good.

These thoughts continued to obsess him the moment he left his office. He wished he could share it with someone. But being the introvert that he was, he couldn’t imagine how he would go about doing it. People would probably think it was extremely ridiculous.

“I have to come up with a good plan” he thought as he stepped into the elevator that evening. But before he could press the button for his floor the elevator started going up. Someone upstairs had beat him to it!!

He was lost in his thoughts when the elevator stopped on the seventh floor. As the door opened, he saw a huge suitcase obstructing his vision. There was a short , petite girl who was trying to manoeuvre her way into the elevator with the suitcase. He reached out absent mindedly and helped her with it. She smiled at him and pressed the button for the ground floor.

The doors closed as they stood silently in the cramped space with the suitcase between them. They had six floors to go down.

He started drumming his fingers on the wall of the elevator and began  to whistle involuntarily. Was it his imagination or did her eyes widen?

The elevator was on the second floor when she began humming the tune.

It now his turn to stare.!

The elevator hit the ground floor. There seemed to be an army of people waiting to get in. Someone helped the girl with her suitcase as she stepped out. He tried to push his way out but there were too many people inside the elevator. The doors closed and he found himself  going up .

It was about five minutes later that he finally made his way back to the ground floor. He looked around the lobby. It was empty!

He ran out towards the gate. A moving van was making its way out . He pointed at it and asked the security guard if he knew whether anyone was moving in or out. The chap seemed to take an awfully  long time before he said “the madam on the seventh floor has vacated her flat”.

He felt very low as he made his way back to the lobby and took the elevator to his floor. He let himself in and sat quietly in the darkness for how long he did not know…!

He must have fallen asleep because it was nearly ten in the night when he woke up with a start to hear his  door bell ringing.

He opened the door to find the security guard standing there.

“Yes?” he asked him impatiently.

“Sir, this is for you. When you were walking towards the gate this evening,  the seventh floor lady who was moving out, asked me to give this to you. But you see, she didn’t tell me your flat number or your name. So I  had to ring almost everyone’s door bell in the building  before I found you” said the guard

He looked for his wallet and gave the chap a ten rupee note before he took it from him-  a small scrap of paper on which was written in a sloping hand  “Nita-7782101921” .

 

( The word Jugalbandi means, literally, “entwined twins.” Jugalbandi is a performance in Indian classical music,  that features a duet of two solo musicians. The duet can be either vocal or instrumental.)

 

 

 

 

The Runner

TImage result for Dak harkarahe nights were chilly that week before Diwali as the days were getting shorter with the sun dipping down the horizon earlier  and earlier everyday . The red hue that lit up the sky soon after, was his signal to get ready for his nightly journey. He pulled the bells around his ankles , picked up the sack and got ready. He would leave after the twilight merged into the inky  darkness.

Bholanath or Bhola as they called him , was a “Daak Harkara” or a postal runner. A twenty year old young man, he had been running on the 5 kos ( about 10 miles) route between Ramnagar   and Palampur for the past two years. He ran the distance every day with a bag that carried a bundle  of letters,  that he handed over to Abdul at the “Daak Chowki” ( the post office) who ran further from Palampur . He ran back to Ramnagar, after resting through the day, with another bundle that he exchanged with  Abdul. All of this earned him a princely sum of Rs 2 per month!

“Working for the government is a matter of pride my son. Look at me, what do I have? Hardly two bighas of land that does not yield anything! A steady income like yours is definitely useful. Besides, if the Saheb Bahadurs ( a word to denote the white man/ British colonisers) are happy with your service, who knows, you might one day actually manage a dak chowki” said his father.

Bhola had not wanted to be a “Daak Harkara”. Actually he was not sure what he wanted to do with his life except for grazing cows,  playing with his friends , running races and wrestling in the fields. It was during one such race that an agent of the Saheb Bahadur had spotted him. A tall strapping young man who could run fast was an asset to the postal service.  And so that was how he had ended up doing what he did .

Bhola had quickly realized that his family looked up to him for support. Considering that their  one bigha of land ( 1 hectare)  was any way mortgaged to pay for his older sister’s marriage, it was not easy for his family to make both ends meet. Their cattle herd was also getting smaller by the day as they sold one cow after another … Besides, he also had three other siblings besides his father and a mother who was always ill.

So he began running, braving the darkness of the night, the wild animals and the vagaries of nature. His legs felt numb by the end of it all but there was no time to lament, as he had to keep running to keep his family going. Sometimes  he felt he had become just a pair of legs! No other part of his body seemed to matter to anyone including himself………… that is until he saw her…!

And that was when he realized he had eyes and he also had a heart…!

He had seen her for the first time  just outside  Palampur. It was nearing dawn and a group of girls were on their way to the river bank to bathe and fill water. A beautiful voice was singing a sad song. He could not help slowing down and looking for  the singer. But it was difficult to see in the dim light of dawn which of the girls was singing.

And then a few days later , he found out. It had been a hot and humid night. His throat felt parched and his dusty limbs ached. He had collapsed panting, on the ground near the river!

“Do you want some water?” she asked.

It was the same voice that had haunted him. He lifted his head and looked up into the most beautiful pair of eyes! He sat up and lifted his palm to his mouth as she poured water from her pot into it. As his parched lips drank in the cool water, his eyes stayed riveted on  her face. Some would call it ordinary but to him she was like a creature out of this world! Her long hair was damp after her bath. Her hands were slender and covered with gold and glass bangles and her small feet had heavy silver anklets.

“What is your name” he asked her as he wiped his mouth with the end of his turban.

“Radha” she said dimpling into a smile.

  “Do you have any letters for me”? she asked him

   “Let me see..What is your father’s name”  he asked

    “Thakur Ramdhari Singh. But I asked you if there was any letter for me- Radha Singh” she said mischievously

     “Do you know to read? Letters are only written to those who can” he said with a grin

     “Oh, I know the alphabets. I can manage” she said smiling.

     He didn’t know how to answer that because it was very rare for a girl to know how to read. He continued to look at her and she returned his look, holding his gaze until one of the other girls called out to her.

And thus had begun the most beautiful part of his running career! He would reach the river bank and wait for her, hidden behind the trees as she made her way there with her pot of water and a small bundle of left over food from the night before. She would sit quietly smiling and watch him eat. He felt very cherished  and cared for. No one, not even his mother had ever sat with him and served him food like she did. He usually ate by himself near the cow shed behind his hut.

He was sometimes worried that her friends would find out about them. But she told him “Don’t be afraid. They won’t come here”

He wondered what she had told them. It was a risk that they were taking. As a Yadav he could be killed by the Thakurs for even looking at one of their girls. But it was a risk worth taking. He suddenly felt that he had wings on his feet as he left every night. The stones and thorns no longer hurt them. He ran swinging his spear like he was dancing.

But tonight was not another night. It was a very special one.

Bhola was very happy as he cut through the darkness. He had saved money over the past few months and bought her some glass bangles from the village fair. He had wanted to give her something for Diwali. Along with the bangles there was something else in his bag. There was a piece of parchment on which he had scrawled carefully the words “Bhola” and ”Radha” .  He knew how to write his name. The Babu at the “Daak Chowki” at Palampur had taught him that. It had taken him some time to identify the alphabets in her name and now he felt very happy that he had been able to write their names together. He smiled as he thought about how he would tell her today that he had a letter for her. Wasn’t that what she always asked ?

His feet flew along with the bells on them jangling. The dogs were howling in a village as he ran past it. It was past midnight and he had another three hours of running to do. He felt impatient as he increased his pace..!  The earlier he reached the river bank the better it was. They had to meet before the sun came out and spoilt it.

Bhola kept running.  He looked at the marking stone at the side of the road and knew he was only an hour away now. He ran on, through the jungle and the clearing before he reached the green banks of the river flowing outside the small town of Palampur.

He made his way behind to their usual spot behind the tree . She was waiting for him. She looked ethereal.. like a fairy! He wanted to crush her in his arms but he held himself back.

“Look what I have brought for you” he said taking out the bangles and waving them towards her.

She tried to grab them as he moved away. She chased him as he ran around the tree laughing. This went on for a couple of minutes before he stopped suddenly and turned around to face her. Before she could stop on her tracks she found herself colliding against him. He pulled her towards him and brought his face down towards hers. Their thudding hearts collided against each other as time stood still.

He searched inside his bag and brought out the piece of parchment. “look here is your letter”. She took it from his hand hid it inside her blouse.

Did he imagine it or were there tears in her eyes?

“I have to go now Bhola” she whispered. Why was her voice breaking like that ?

 “What is it Radha? Why are you so sad? We will meet again tomorrow. Won’t we?” he asked

“No Bhola. Not anymore . My parents are arranging my gauna ( a ceremony denoting consummation of marriage. )  My uncle came yesterday from my inlaws house. He says they will be coming on Diwali and will take me back with them immediately after” she said sobbing.

“You mean.. you are married?” he asked with his mouth open

 “Ofcourse! What do you expect. I am fifteen years old. I was married ten years ago” she said

Bhola felt as though he had been turned into stone. He did not know what to say. He stared ahead into the eastern horizon that  was slowly turning rosy as Arun the charioteer of the Sun God drove his master through the clouds. And then Sun God looked out of the  white fluffy clouds  in his full red gold brilliance!

For the first time since he knew her,  Bhola saw his beloved in the morning light . A petite, dusky girl with hair until her ankles. The vermilion in her parting was as red as the sun in the sky.

His last image of her was a red veil flying in the morning breeze as she turned away from him and merged into the greenery.

The Dak babu at the Palampur Daak Chowki was a very kind man. He insisted  that Bhola personally deliver the letter to Thakur Ramdhari Singh. “It brings good news about his daughter’s gauna. He will give you bakshish ( a  reward/ tip)  . You can use the money to add another cow to your herd. Your father will be very happy.”

( This is my first attempt at writing a story set  in Central India, a hundred years ago.  Though I did do some research on this, let me warn you that the story may not be historically very accurate. The “Dak harkaras” or mail runners had been there since the time  organized postal services were introduced by Shershah Suri in the 15th /16th century. The British East India company  continued with the “Runner” services. This story is inspired by a beautiful Bengali song about the Runner. There is also a famous novel in Bengali  by Tarashankar Bandopadhayay on the “Dak Harkara” or runner. This is by no means anything as good as that song or the novel. This is just a humble attempt at bringing to life a person whose occupation always fascinated me. )

    16t

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Moment in Time

Scented Flower Seeds Parijaat Or Harsingar - Small Ornamental Tree With Fragrant White Flowers Heat Resistant Flower Seeds Seeds Kitchen Garden Seeds Pack By Creative FarmerIt was a windy night…. My hair was blowing across my face. It was difficult to see anything clearly. I sensed that I was at a river bank by the dampness in the air and the soft gurgling sound of water.

The moon was playing hide and seek in the clouds.  The ground was grassy and damp with dew and there was the unmistakable fragrance of parijat flowers hanging in the air.

I closed my eyes and breathed  deeply, taking in the fragrance.

Where was this? How did I get here?

And then I heard it… the most melodious sound ever….! A flute playing.

I walked along the banks of the river , cutting through the velvety darkness towards the sound using my ears to guide me. What was the  tune  I wondered.. ? It seemed so familiar yet  so mysterious. My feet felt cool as they sank into the damp grass.

And then suddenly the surroundings lit up. I looked up at the sky. The moon was beautiful and silvery in a way I have never seen before. It seemed just a touch away.

The music sounded closer …. I walked faster and faster…. until I saw him!

Silhouetted against the moonlight under the Parijat tree sat the flutist. He was dark and muscular . His  curly hair blowing in the wind as his  lips and fingers made magic out of  a  bamboo stick.

He seemed to sense my presence as he opened his eyes – the most beautiful pair that I have ever seen,  almond shaped ,with long eye lashes.

And then I felt the universe lighting up as he slowly parted his lips and smiled at me.

“Come here” he said extending his hand towards me. I grasped those long fingers looking at them with wonder.  He pulled me on to carpet of Parijat flowers lying on the ground. I stumbled , missing my step,  falling clumsily on his lap

His skin felt cool and smooth. I could sense the sinewy muscles under it.

“Who are you?” I asked as I rested my head on his broad shoulders.

“The one who you have been seeking” he said with a laugh.

“ Really? I do not remember” I said in wonder.

“ Think…..!  haven’t I always been on your mind?  Don’t you speak to me wordlessly” he asked again.

His breath was now on my face and it was driving me crazy. I felt my senses race as I closed my eyes.

His fingers were  moving my hair off my face. His breath tickled my ears as he whispered

“Sakhi!!”

Sakhi… friend! Who was he? I do not remember ever having a male friend much less communicating wordlessly with him.

My senses were playing havoc with my thoughts. I felt his fingers caress my neck. Every part of my being was now tingling!

His face was very close to mine now and as I opened my eyes I became a prisoner.. lost in the depths of his eyes. I moved my hands over  his face feeling the perfection of his bones. His hair was soft and I buried my fingers in them.

“What are we doing?” I whispered , bringing my face close to his.

“Celebrating our love” he said .. his sensuous lips almost on mine.

Is this love, I wondered? This yearning for something,.. for  someone?

Was I capable of igniting love in anyone I wondered? I have always been told that I was cold, unemotional, and unremarkable in every way.

“Love is not about the physical form” he said reading my thoughts. “ Love is the inner beauty, a divine light. Few people can see it”

“Can you see it” I asked him in wonder

“ I can see everything Sakhi. The inside, the outside, the real and the false” he said smiling at me.

“ When did you start loving me?” I asked him.

“ When you were entered this universe” he said with a laugh

“ You knew me when I was born? How old are you?” I asked in wonder

“ Oh, I am old.. and also young. It depends on how you see me” he said.

“ How should I see you?” I asked him

“That is up to you. I can be your friend, your lover,  your protector. I am part of you.” he said

“ Will you come with me?” I asked him getting up and trying to pull him

“ You don’t have to ask me that because I have always been with you and will continue to be with you ? Your welfare is my concern ” he said looking into my eyes

“Really? How will I know” I asked

“Oh you will know” he said smiling at me before taking up the flute once again. I closed my eyes as strains of Raag Bhairavi filled the air.

The wind was blowing gently now. My eyelids were drooping with sleep. The smell of parijat filled the air as I sank my head into the softness of his shoulders.

The music stopped after some time and the last words I heard were his as they whispered into my ears “Sleep in peace dear friend. I am awake”

Afterwards

It was 6.00 AM and the alarm was shrieking!! .  I got up from the bed and looked at my husband’s  sleeping form beside me.  Some people would call him overweight placid and middle aged. The same people would probably also call me skinny  and shrewish.

We were the typical middle class  Indian couple who plodded through life working diligently at boring nine to five jobs to make enough money to build on their material dreams- paying for home loans, car loans, saving for their child’s education and their old age.

“Well life beckons” I thought as I went into the bathroom and squeezed toothpaste on to my brush.

I looked at the woman staring at me out of the bathroom mirror. Who was she? She seemed like a stranger. Why was her skin so flushed and her hair so wild? The grey strands seemed invisible in the light reflecting off the mirror.

What had happened to her during the night?, I wondered as I combed my hair and knotted it in place. Middle aged fantasies I suppose, coming out the desire to hold on to a fast ebbing youth …

I went back to the bedroom  and  started to wake  up my husband. He turned around with a groan and pulled the covers over his head. I gave up and  started tidying up my side of the bed.

And then just as I moved the pillows I saw  them  ……….. a handful of  parijat flowers strewn  below!

 

(Nyctanthes arbor-tristis (Night-flowering Jasmine), known commonly as the parijat, is a species of Nyctanthes nativeto South Asia and Southeast Asia. It  is a shrub or a small tree growing to 10 m (33 ft) tall, with flaky grey bark.)

 

 

 

 

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