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)