Endings and Beginnings

Ajay looked at his watch. It was almost 7.00 PM. He was well in time for the 7.15 local.

It had been a hard day at work, with a tough deadline to meet! Despite it being a Saturday, and a half working day he had had to stay back. He was now looking forward to a relaxed Sunday. He hoped to catch a movie with some friends. But it was more easily said than done. Nowadays most of his friends preferred to spend time with their wives and girlfriends.

“Well that is a price one pays for being too focused on one’s career and not devoting enough attention to settling down ” his sister had told him when he had complained to her about this. After that, he had decided to keep quiet. As it is, all his female relatives seemed to be working overtime to get him “settled”! Not that he was against the idea of marriage. But it was just that none of the candidates that they had come up with so far were interesting enough for him to consider giving up his freedom. And the shy young man that he was,, he had never had the confidence to ever approach a girl on his own.

Well, one had to live with some problems he thought to himself as he felt the rumbling of the train and got ready to board. Thankfully, being a Saturday evening on what was essentially an office train route, the train was not crowded. He took his pick of the carriage and hopped into a near empty one.

“Thank God for small mercies” he murmured as he settled down on a seat by the window. The cool evening breeze hit his sweaty face as the train picked up speed. He took out a book from his bag and started reading from where he had left off. He hoped to finish it by tonight.

It was about two stations down that he noticed the couple standing by the door. They had probably boarded the train at the previous station. He could not see the young man’s face but the girl was facing him. She was slightly built – thin and petite with her hair tied up in a pony tail. Her large and beautiful eyes were swollen and red. He could see tears streaming down her cheeks.

The young man was talking “Look here Sumi, there is no point in crying like this. It is not going to change anything”.

She said something in a muffled voice that was lost in the noise of the train. And then she began sobbing!

Ajay’s attention was now completely drawn to the scene that was unfolding in front of him. He closed the book and eavesdropped unashamedly.

“Sumi, life is not a movie or a romance novel. We have to consider practical aspects. My parents want me to marry this girl. There are family priorities that I have to take into account” said the fellow.

“Didn’t these priorities exist when you started wooing me? When you wrote those letters to me, took me out for lunch and dinner?” asked the girl. Her damp eyes were now flashing anger.

“Sumi, how many times do I have to tell you that I still love you. I still mean every word I wrote in those letters and I cherish every moment we spent together. It is just that I cannot hurt my parents. They are old and they have a lot of hopes for me” said the young man trying to put his arm around the girl as she pushed it off.

“Stop touching me you spineless idiot!” she said as she moved away from the door.

“Listen, Sumi, don’t get hysterical. I am just trying to explain the situation to you. These things happen to many people. I am really sorry about this. But life has to go on” said the man.

“ Yes please carry on with your life then. Your station is anyway coming up” said the girl as she moved to the door at the opposite end.

“Okay, have it your way. If you want to make yourself into a tragedy queen, so be it” said the young man as he jumped down off the train at the station.

Ajay watched the girl standing by the door at the other end. He couldn’t look at her face now but he could very well imagine her grief. He wondered what had possessed that fellow to dump a nice girl like her. And anyway , how had this girl fallen for this fellow? He was obviously a smooth talker who had used her for what was called in local parlance as “time pass”.

The coach was empty now, except for the two of them. There were still three stations to go before he reached his destination. He wanted to reach out to her and say something but felt awkward. It was anyway none of his business.

She continued standing by the door. Her back was straight.

Wait…Was it his imagination or had she inched closer to the door? The station was still a few minutes away so she was obviously not getting ready to disembark.

He slid down from his seat by the window and moved towards the aisle. There was something odd about her actions. It was in a split second it all became clear to him as she extended one leg out of the door ready to jump. He leapt out of his seat and grabbed her

“STOP” he shouted as he pulled her in! He felt her trembling against him.

“You foolish girl.. what do you think you are doing ?” he asked her angrily

“Leave, me! I have nothing left to live for” she said sobbing.

“Stop that crying now. Here wipe your face” he said pulling out his handkerchief as he guided her towards a seat.

“ I cannot imagine life without him. He was my dream and my reality” she said continuing to cry into his handkerchief.

“ Fellows like that worm who got off at the last station may be an unpleasant reality but they can never be part of anyone’s dreams. He is just using his parents as an excuse to dump you. Believe me, he is not worth it! ” he said angrily.

She stopped crying and looked at him as though seeing him for the very first time.

“ I know…! But I feel very wretched.” she said

“Don’t!!. I am sure you have a life ahead of you and at lot of things to look forward to..umm Sumi ?” he asked.

“Sumita” she said slowly breaking into a smile.

“Ajay” he said extending his hand.

“Pleased to meet you” she said as she shook it.

“Which station do you get off?” he asked as the train started to slow down at the next station.

“The one after this ” she said.

“What a coincidence. So do I” he said

The train was pulling into their station. It was 8.00 PM and platform looked deserted.

“Sumita, shall I walk you home? It is quite dark” he asked as they got off the train and started walking towards the exit.

“No, it is okay, I can manage” she said.

“No, I insist. The street lights do not work in some of the lanes” he said, lying through his teeth about a neighborhood that probably had one of the best civic amenities in the city.

They walked through the streets in silence until they reached her gate.

“Bye Ajay.. and thanks! Please don’t mention that incident to anybody. I feel so stupid about it ” she said breaking the silence as she opened the gate and walked in.

“Don’t worry Sumita. I won’t..Take care” he said as he turned back to go home.

He must have taken only a few steps ahead when he heard her voice call out to him

“Ajay.. wait! Please give me your phone number. I need to contact you and return your handkerchief ” She said .

“Of course, ! How could I forget.. !” he said reciting his phone number.

“Thanks. I will give you a missed call. You can save my number” she said waving out to him.

“Please clean my hanky properly! It is my favorite- Ajay” he typed out a text message late into the night to the number from where he had received a missed call earlier in the evening.

He smiled when half an hour later he received a smiley in response. He put the phone under his pillow and closed his eyes.

The future was presenting enormous possibilities!!!

( This story is based on  a real life incident shared by my friend Mahesh . But I must confess that  I have taken some creative license while writing this.  Thank you Mahesh for letting me use the idea)

Making Melody Part 7

Nishad

The University was closed today as it was Janmashtami. It had been raining incessantly since morning. The Meteorological department had issued warnings about an impending storm. The rain notwithstanding, the street vendors were busy selling flowers and other items for the evening Puja.

Padma had taken out the brass idol of Sri Krishna from the loft and cleaned it. The lamps were also polished and ready to be lit for the evening Puja. Padma looked out of the window. May be she should go out now and buy some fresh flowers before the rain got heavier and forced the vendors to close shop…..

For the first time in many years, she had drawn the feet of the baby Krishna walking in from her door to the Puja area. She looked at her drawing with a smile. She was not much of an artist but she had managed it.

She took out her umbrella and went out into the rain. There was a strong gust of wind that threatened to blow away her umbrella. She held on it and made her way among the stream of shoppers. Maybe this was how it was when Sri Krishna had been born she thought to herself as she tucked the garland of jasmine into her bag and made her way back to the flat. The waterlogged streets almost seemed like the Yamuna in spate…!!

“What is wrong with me? Next I will be imagining this umbrella is Sheshnag” she said to herself. as she got into the elevator.

“Ghir ghir aayee badariya kari” she hummed to herself absentmindedly, as she got out of the elevator.

It was just as she was shutting the collapsible gate to the elevator that she saw them- the pair of Tilonia sandals next to the door of her flat! There was only one pair of feet in her world that wore such sandals! She shifted her gaze from the sandals to the feet next to them. She was not mistaken…!! Those beautiful feet with the high arch could only belong to…..!

“Sorry!! I hope I did not mess up your rangoli” he said looking at her with a smile.

She stood rooted to her spot by the elevator, the umbrella dripping water on the floor and her bag ready to fall off her hands.

“Hello, have you turned into stone?” he asked moving towards her and waving his hands in front of her face.

She pulled herself together and took out the keys from her bag. Her hands were shaking . The key refused to get into the lock.

“Come give it to me” he said as he took the key from her hand and opened the door.

She walked in slowly behind him, in a detached manner, watching his feet as they moved parallel to the tiny feet she had drawn.

He looked older. The long hair was streaked with silver now. But the eyes were the same intense black. The crows feet at the corner of the eyes seemed more pronounced when he smiled.

“ Why are you here?” she asked in confusion

“I thought you wanted to see me. Didn’t you leave your address at the school?” he asked.

Yes of course. So stupid of her! How could she have forgotten that!

“What took you so long?” she asked finally, her voice breaking.

“It wasn’t that long Padma, when you consider the fifteen years that I have waited for you” he said quietly.

She felt herself bursting into tears.

“Shh!! Silly girl don’t cry” he whispered pulling her chin up with his fingers.

She threw herself into his arms and sobbed her heart out. It was a while before all the tears that were frozen within her melted out through her eyes and onto her face.

He held her tightly to himself almost afraid that that she would disappear again if he let her go.

“Where had you been all these years” she asked as the tears stopped.

“Here! Where else could I go? ” he asked

“ I heard that you were in Vienna” she said.

“Yes. But only for a couple of years. I came back after my grandfather died.” He said.

“ And then?” she asked urging him to go on.

“Then .. nothing! I have been busy with all the charity work and my music classes. There hasn’t been time for anything else. So you can lay aside your fears about my being involved with anyone else” he said with a smile..

“Oh, Madhav, I missed you so much!” she said looking up at his face.

“ I don’t think anyone could have missed you the way I did” he said hoarsely drawing her close to him.

“ Are you angry with me?” She asked
“ After fifteen long years, I am just very glad that we have found each other. “ he whispered.

She felt the words rather than hear them, as his lips descended down on hers. Between mingled breaths, the flutist and his love created the most beautiful music in a life time. The thunder crashed outside and the wind picked up speed. The music in her body reached a crescendo with all the seven notes ringing as he picked her up and took her inside to her bedroom. She felt the coming together of heaven and earth as their two bodies became one. Time seemed to stand still. She put her head on his shoulder and drifted into the most blissful sleep ever…!!

When she woke up, the rain had stopped and the clouds had cleared.The waning moon of the eighth day of the Krishna Paksha cast a dim light. She found him gazing at her.

“What time is it?” she asked him.

“Well past midnight my dear” he said with a smile. “You have been sleeping for nearly five hours now”

“Oh my God!! I forgot all about the Puja” she said putting on her clothes hurriedly.

“What Puja?” he asked her

“Don’t you know? Today is Janmashtami” she said

“Oh! That was why all the Rangoli and the little feet! I thought all those preparations were in my honor” he said with a laugh.

“Don’t be silly!! Just because you play the flute does not mean you are Sri Krishna” she said pushing him away playfully as he tried to pull her down onto the bed.

“ So, what is it that you are going to do now?” he asked her as he watched her dress.

“ I don’t know. Just light the lamps and make the offerings I guess. It is well past the time of his birth” she said moving towards the puja alcove in the kitchen.

She wondered if she should have a bath before that! But she decided against it because bathing was done to purify one self. And what was more pure than the expression of love that she had just shared with Madhav?

The lamps in the Puja room were still burning. The idol of Sri Krishna seemed to be glowing in their light. She took out the Jasmine garland and placed it around the idol. As she brought her palms together and closed her eyes in prayer, she heard the familiar strains of Raag Tilak Kamodi.

A part of her wanted to turn back and look at the man in flesh and blood by the window who was playing his flute while the other part wanted to concentrate on thanking the glowing image of the Lord in front of her. She closed her eyes and tried to focus on the image of the God with his peacock feather crown. Bu strangely the image that kept coming up in her mind was that of a tall man with shoulder length hair holding a flute to his lips. One image seemed to slowly blend into the other until they were both one.

When she opened her eyes, the music had stopped. She found him standing by the kitchen door looking at her with amusement.

“So what did you ask your God for?” he teased her

“I did not ask him for anything. He has already given me everything that I have ever wanted” she said with a smile.

“Thank you! I was worried you might be asking him to get me to marry you” he said with a laugh.

“Why? What is wrong in marriage?” she asked him.

“Nothing! Except that I do not believe in it” he said

“ You do not believe in God. You do not believe in marriage. So what is it that you believe in” she asked him sharply.

“Padma, I believe in music and I believe in our love. A love that had withstood the pain of separation for fifteen long years is not going to be sealed by some rituals or a legal document. My parents were married and so were you. Does it guarantee any happiness?’ he asked her softly.

She looked up at him. Yes, he was right. Marriage was only a ritual that was man made. Love on the other hand was divine.

“So tell me, will you always love me ?” she asked, putting her arms around his neck.

“ As long as there is breath in this body, I will love you and play my flute” he said pulling her close to him.

She looked over his shoulder at the idol of Sri Krishna. Did she imagine it or did she see the idol stretch its lips into a smile?

“So when do we start our life together?” she asked him

“We already have… our life together has begun” he said with a smile.

….. And they did not get married but lived happily ever after!!!

( For those of you who have not guessed it  already, this story has been inspired by the tale of Radha and Krishna! Though they were never married their love has always been held up as the epitome of romance. I would urge you to  read/listen to Poet Jaidev’s “Geeta Govind” which describes this love in the most beautiful manner. Mine is only a poor effort)

Making Melody Part 6

Dhaivat

That there were no second chances, she was sure of by now. She had had her chance that night at the gate outside her house. She could have chosen to walk away with him but instead, she had chosen to go inside and stand behind the door as her father slammed it shut on his face.

There was a split second before the door had shut when she had managed to catch a glimpse of him. He was standing outside her gate, illuminated by the street light above his head . The rain had petered out to a light drizzle. The play of the street light on the falling raindrops had created an illusion of a halo around him. And that was the image that had stayed with her all through these years.

She remained silent right through the drama that took place on the other side of the door. Her father had raved and ranted about how she had belied their trust while her mother had been sobbing about the shame that this would bring onto their family.

Padma was to date unsure of exactly what it is that she had supposedly done. Yes, it was 10.00PM. Her parents had been worried about her. But the delay was not deliberate. The heavy rain had brought about a land slide on their way down from the school up in the hills. The bus had halted for about two hours as efforts were on to clear the road. But the two of them had been blissfully unaware of anything that was going on around them, so wrapped up were they in each other.

Only when the road was cleared and the bus had begun to descend downward to the plains did she realize how late it was. The traffic on the winding roads was very heavy and by the time they had reached the bus station down in the town it was nearly 9.00PM.

Madhav would not let her go alone from the bus station. He had insisted on escorting her home.

She supposed it was their body language, as they had walked down the lane leading up to her house in the light drizzle that had given them away. No words had been exchanged but her parents had immediately understood that there was something that connected the young man and their daughter. It was more than an umbrella that they shared.

Despite all that her parents accused her of having done, she had refused to feel to guilty. She knew what she had experienced that day was something very rare. Never in her life had she thought that she could be connected to another human being in that way! She had stayed awake that entire night reliving each moment.

By the time the clouds cleared and the sun rays burst into the horizon, she was sure her parents would have forgiven her. However , that was not to be.

It was just before dawn that her mother had woken her up saying that her father was feeling unwell. He was complaining of breathlessness.

She had run down the road to the doctor who lived next door. He had told them to move her father to a hospital immediately. He was in the first stage of a heart attack. They had rushed him to the hospital.

The clouds had floated away, the sun had risen, the birds had sung but all that Padma could remember of that morning was the inside of the hospital room. The guilt that she had fought against engulfed her now!  In some corner of her mind a thought was slowly creeping in – that maybe she had brought this upon  her father!

She had prayed hard for him to recover, in sheer desperation promising herself that if her father recovered she would never do anything to make him unhappy again. The gods had probably heard her prayers because he had recovered and after two weeks been discharged from the hospital.

Now, it was up to her to keep her word.

She had stayed away from Madhav for the rest of the semester. After a couple of attempts at talking to her he had stopped seeking her company. He had graduated that year and she had stayed away from the graduation ceremony.

There were many a times that she had wanted to meet him and explain to him why she was staying away. But she never managed to muster up the courage to face him. She knew she had failed him and he would probably not forgive her for it ever!!

She focused her energies instead on her studies. She aced every exam that she took and it did not surprise anyone when she won a scholarship to go abroad for her master’s degree.

But she could not deny the fact that his absence had left a void in her heart. She had tried to make discreet inquiries about his whereabouts. But considering the fact that he was such a loner, it had been difficult to find out about him. He was like the air that blew out of his lungs, through the holes in his flute. Invisible, until the music started

A few years into her doctoral program, she had run into one of his classmates from college. During the course of their conversation she had learnt that he had been at  Vienna for a while, studying western classical music and playing with an orchestra. She had wanted to know more but by that time, she was almost engaged to Vineet and she did not think it was right to open what she considered a closed chapter from her past.

Unfortunately, what she had considered a closed chapter was anything but that!. It was a continuing melody. She knew it deep within her, the “Mukhda” had to be followed by the “Antara”. It was only a matter of time……..

( To be continued)