Curtains : A tale beyond consciousness

She

Her limbs ached as her body longed for bedtime! But so much had to be done before she could rest her head on the pillow. She went through the motions of routine, wiping the stove , the counters and finally switching  off  tImage result for consciousness imageshe lights as she made her way across the house towards her bedroom. Both Tina and Neel were fast asleep. She picked up little Tina and took her to her room ,laying her gently on her bed before tucking the blanket around her .  She switched on the night light and made her way softly out of Tina’s room into hers.

Neel  lay sprawled across the centre of the bed!! She pushed him across from her side of the bed,. He rolled over and went back to sleep muttering something! She went into the bathroom, brushed her teeth, washed her face and after changing into her pajamas and T. shirt went back into her bedroom.

The moon was bright and her entire bedroom was lit up in a magic silvery light. She looked at her sleeping husband with a sigh and drew the sheet around her. It was always like this nowadays for both of them. Feeling tiered and then collapsing senseless in bed.  The perils of urban living !! She closed her eyes waiting for sleep to overtake her.

Her eyelids were drooping, the sound of the whirring electric fan above her head, the heady scent of the jasmine from the creeper growing outside her window and the hint of silver that seemed to glow  behind her closed lids…all of this coming together to awaken senses that she sought to shut down.  She felt her muscles relax slowly and somewhere within her she felt herself being released from her day today existence and its accompanying drudgery.  And in a few moments she was liberated ….!!!

She got out of her shell and looked at the sleeping forms on the bed.  The body of the woman in the pink T shirt and grey pajamas had given way to its need for rest. But the spirit of the woman who was hovering by the window was restless to begin her nightly journey.

She began flying through the clouds, glittering silver in the moonlight…! She let the wind propel her upwards…She looked down to see the brown, blues and greens glowing in the dark! More brown these days, she noted sadly as she sped through the wind which seemed to have now changed direction. She wondered if she should go there again? After all wasn’t that what she had been longing for ?

So she  floated along, over hillocks and dusty plains until she reached the spot!! A once flourishing mining town that lay abandoned today! A crumbling old bungalow on a hill top with a broken swing swaying  in the breeze! A place that was once her home..!  A place that she came back to so often – each visit making her sadder than the previous one ! She stopped by the swing and thought about the young girl who used to sit there with a book in hand lost in the world of printed words. A woman calling out to the girl to come inside and have dinner, a car driving in, a man coming home from work, the girl shutting her book and skipping down the slope squealing with happiness! A warm glow of lights behind windows as twilight gave way to darkness. The smell of freshly made chappatis, the clink of crockery as  the table was laid for dinner, sound of crickets and an orchestra of frogs beginning to perform a symphony…

This was the scene that she always came back to- though there were others that were associated with the same place. Scenes that  she tried to avoid -of dynamite blasting, shouts of men as the earth caved in.. She shuddered as she tried to erase those thoughts.

“Let it go” he said…

She started as she  hadn’t sensed  his presence until now .

“ Why are you here?” she asked

“I am here because you called me” he said.

“ Really?” she wondered

“Yes. You may not be aware of it but you call me often” he said

“ But who are you?” she asked

“I am what you have been seeking all this while in the universe . I have often sought to reach you but you did not respond” he whispered.

“But how could that be” she  muttered

“Think….! Remember the rainy nights, the beautiful sunsets, the silver moonlight, the strains of  music ,the velvety darkness of the nights. Weren’t you calling out to me?” he asked.

“May be. But why now after all this time…?”   she  wondered

“I have always been around you. But you acknowledged my presence only today” he mentioned softly.

“So what do we do now that we are together?” she asked.

“Come with me” he said drawing her towards himself.

A wisp of  a cloud, a touch of a raindrop and she felt herself being taken across the deep blue darkness . She could smell the sea before she heard the roar of the waves as they crashed on the rocks!

“ High tide!  his voice came through in the darkness.

“Where is this?” she asked

“Along the coast. This place is a part of me” he answered.

She watched the waves glisten in the moonlight with the white foam spluttering into tiny droplets.

“Come this way” he said pulling her towards the sand.

“Do you come here often?” she asked

“Whenever I can” he replied.

The sound of the waves was a  soothing rhythm in the background. She felt a sense of calmness overtake her.- a feeling of finally having reached a destination after years of difficult travel!

“Who are you?” she wondered

“I am like you. A wanderer and a seeker” he said

“Have you found what you are seeking” she asked

“ My answer begins where your question ends.” he responded.

“You mean, it is a continuum” she murmured

She closed her eyes and felt him reach out to her in  a way that was beyond anything that she had known! She realized now, that he had always been in her unconscious, a being  who she had been searching for all these years. She had never believed he existed but apparently he did!! And today due to some strange twist of circumstances she was able to perceive his existence! Did it matter therefore who he was? He had sensed her need for him and had come through to her. Wasn’t that enough.

“Yes that is enough for me” he whispered

She lay her head on the sand feeling the vibrations of the waves as they hit the shore..!! Peace.. may be this is what all beings were looking for through eternity before they decided to rest in it!

“Don’t think about that yet” he murmured.

She looked up and tried to piece together his form. But it was difficult ! The  veil of clouds across the moon were now moving away and she could see the golden light across the horizon. The vibrations that she felt seemed stronger and she felt herself being lifted away

“Wait….for me” was all that she could say before the force pulled her away

The woman in the pink T shirt was moving around in her bed trying to put off an alarm clock. The curtain separating the day and the night , the conscious and the unconscious  had come down.

It was a different day, a different act and a different role now

(to be continued)

(This is a different genre I am exploring. Requesting readers to please be patient if I meander around like “she” 🙂 ! But do leave your comments they would be most useful in tying it together)

Hello All 

Thank you for visiting my blog. May I request you to please buy my book “Bridges and Crossings” that has a collection of stories published here. You can buy it from

Notion Press : https://notionpress.com/read/bridges-and-crossings

or

from Amazon.

Look forward to your reviews on “Good reads” and “Amazon”

Meera

 

 

Waiting

Image result for book stall at an indian railway stationRunning a book shop these days pays very less. And if it is at an obscure railway station somewhere in a tribal district of Odisha, it pays even lesser.  I would have been on the streets had it not been for my wife’s job as a school teacher and the rental we got from the two small flats on the first floor of what I often refer to grandly as my “ancestral home”! It also helps that my wife and I do not have any children. We live by ourselves managing on her small salary, the rent and the few hundreds that I make from the shop after paying for the costs.

But it had not always been like that. There had been a time when people used to get down from the trains and stop by at my book stall to buy books, newspapers and magazines. My book stall had also been a sort of gathering point for the local towns people interested in reading. I used to often lend out some copies of my books at a nominal reading charge.

However, over the years, people seem to have lost interest in reading. Everyone seems to be looking at their phones nowadays. I wonder what is the magic that this piece of electronic holds for people that they seem to be hesitant to even make eye contact.

It has been months since I have made any sales other than newspapers. With the advent of television and the drama that is enacted in the name of news, even newspaper sales are going down. People seem to prefer watching news to reading about it.

My wife Sujata often tells me to close the shop and the business. But how do I explain to her that the shop to me is more than just a source of income. It is the vantage point from where I observe the world.

I watch people who board a train, the people who are there to see them off, I watch again those who arrive at this station and those who come to receive them. And then there are those who come and go alone, people who get off the train for a few minutes and wander around at the station. My day and timings are punctuated by the arrival and departure of trains – six in all, two out of which that do not stop at my station.

I also have friends at the station – there is Biswa the tea shop owner and Raju the boy who works for him. Then there is Baba, the blind beggar, Bipin the porter, the various station masters who had come and gone since the time I had opened the shop here, the railway cleaning crew and then there was Mausi.

She had been part of the station for as long as I can remember. No one knew her name. She was just Mausi. A frail old lady with snowy white hair and glasses, she usually arrived at the station by seven o’clock in the morning and did not leave until the last train had left the station –which was usually by nine o’clock in the evening. She spoke to no one but kept looking at each train expectantly as it stopped at the station.

Biswa used to offer her tea which she sometimes took and sometimes declined. Bipin and the cleaning staff used to keep the seat on which she sat, very clean. I had often tried to make conversations with her but she only answered in monosyllables. She used to buy a newspaper from me every day, which she read from cover to cover, looking up every now and then when an announcement was being made on the arrival of a train.

Most of us felt very bad for Mausi. A lady from what was once probably a well to do family, she lived in a crumbling old mansion in the outskirts of the town. A widow with an only child, a son, who had left home many years ago, she mingled very little with the rest of the towns people or with the people of the villages which were near her house. She used to come walking to the station in the early days but nowadays some of the rickshaw pullers at the rickshaw stand outside the railway station often brought her here and dropped her back.

There had been a lot of stories about why she had been coming to the station every day for so many years. The most common one of course being that she was waiting for her son, the boy who had left home many years ago and had never come back. People liked to speculate about why he had not returned. Most of them felt the boy’s wife, the lady’s daughter in law must be the culprit. She must have influenced her husband against visiting his mother. But then, I had always pointed out that a man usually likes to use his wife as an excuse to get away from looking after his parents.

It pained me a lot when I saw Mausi sit there like that at the station, day after day waiting for her son. I had often wanted to ask her about him but I never had the courage. I wondered what she did when she was ill. Who looked after her? How did she manage to arrive so early in the morning? Did she have anything to eat before she came here and did she have something cooked for her to eat, when she left the station for her home at the night?

I had even asked Sujata once, if we should visit Mausi at her home some day and try to find out how she lived. But Sujata, who was caught up with our day today struggles of life never paid any heed to my request.

Today had been one of those hard days for poor Sujata. She had had trouble at the school with her headmistress who had accused her of taking too many days off. At home, the motor used for pumping water to the overhead tank on the roof had conked off and the plumber had taken his own sweet time to come and fix it, making the tenants descend on my wife in anger and frustration. And then there was me, who had been ill for more than a week, making demands on her time.  I feel ashamed to say so, but now that I was feeling better, I had run away from the chaos at home, planning to take refuge in my shop at the station.

Sujata would be sick with worry when she finds out that I had slunk away from home but I did not care. I missed my shop and the station.

I walked into the station and pulled up the shutters of my book stall. The place was a mess…!! It was dusty and dirty.

I sneezed as I wiped the dust and pulled out the broom to sweep the floor. The public announcement system was announcing the arrival of the train from Visakhapatnam. I quickly arranged my counter with the usual hope that someone from the train would buy something from the stall.

The train was pulling into the station. It was nearly eight thirty in the evening- the train was a full hour late. Biswa was running around with his tea glasses. Raju seemed to be on leave – probably suffering from malaria like me, I thought.  The train hooted and I saw the station master wave the green lamp as it chugged out of the station.

Biswa seemed to be tiered after his efforts at serving tea to the passengers.

“Where is Raju?” I asked him

“The rascal has not come back from his holiday. He said he was going to his village for his brother’s marriage” said Biswa angrily.

“How have you been” he asked calming down when I dusted a chair inside my stall and motioned him to sit down

“Just recovering. Had to run away from being an invalid” I said trying to laugh off my tiredness.

“I think we should go home. It is so windy and cloudy. Looks like a storm is brewing” he said getting up to go to his stall and down the shutters.

“You go. I will leave in some time” I said settling down on my chair.

I looked around the station. It looked more deserted than usual. But I was reluctant to go back home.

I moved out of the stall and started walking along the platform. My eyes were drawn involuntarily to the cement seat on which Mausi used to sit. It was empty. But then it was quite late and well past the time that she usually left. I sat down on the seat  with a sigh and closed my eyes. My illness had definitely drained all my strength.

“Are you feeling tiered my boy” asked a soft voice

I looked up with a start. Mausi was standing near me. I was surprised I hadn’t noticed her. I stood up and offered her the seat.

“Why are you here so late Mausi” I asked her

“Is it late? I did not realize. I was waiting for the   Visakhapatnam express” she said

“Well it left some time ago. You had better go. It looks like there is going to be a storm.” I said

She turned around and started walking away. I squinted in the dim light looking at her retreating back. It seemed to me like she was floating in the air. Well, it was either my tiredness or her frail build that made it look like that. I felt guilty about letting her go away alone, in the face of what looked like bad weather.

Mausi please wait. I will take you home” I said shouting after her.

She was already half way up on the foot over bridge by the time I closed my shop and caught up with her. She did not seem to be listening to me as I called out to her at the parking lot asking her to wait for me to unlock my cycle from the stand and get on the carrier at the back.

I finally gave up on getting my cycle out and started walking with her.

The wind had picked up and there was lightening forking across the sky.

She walked on quickly, rather fast for an old woman I must say. I was huffing and puffing trying to keep up with her pace.

We passed the market place, that was quite deserted by now, the collector’s office, the government houses, the high school building, the bus depot and finally we were on the highway with paddy fields on both sides.

I was amazed when I realized how far away Mausi’s house was from the station. What did she do when no rickshaw was available, I wondered. My respect for her went up. A mother’s love for her son was obviously so strong that  distances seemed to fade away .

We were approaching her house. I could see the ramshackle building outlined in the flashes of lightening. I struggled with the rusty latch on the gate. By the time I opened it and walked in I found Mausi was already ahead of me. I walked fast to catch up with her.

When I reached the front door, she seemed to have disappeared. The door was unlatched.  So I pushed it open  and walked in. I looked around for the light switch. None of the switches worked.  Either there was a power cut or she had not paid her electricity bill!

I walked into the house, feeling my way around. By the time I entered what must have been the bedroom, my nose was assaulted with a terrible stench. It was only when a flash of lightening illuminated the room and I saw her –  a stiff form lying on the bed, did I realize what the smell was all about!

I felt suffocated as I collapsed unconscious on the floor.

It was almost a day later that I came to my senses. Biswa, Raju and Sujata were all there next to me at the district hospital.

“It is a wonder you are alive” cried my wife

“We had to take a search party out for you that night” said Biswa

“What happened to her… Mausi” I asked with a shiver

“It seems like she had died a couple of weeks ago. No one knew. What possessed you to go looking for her?  “asked Raju

I kept quiet. No one was going to believe me if I told them that it was she who had led me to her house.

I was discharged the next day. I went back home and this time,  put up with all the fuss and care that Sujata showered on me. But a few days later when I was well, I went back in the afternoon to the house in the outskirts of the town.

There were some people there when I reached. It seemed like they were her relatives.  I asked one of the men  if her son had come down to perform her last rites.

“Her son? No of course not. He had died long ago in a mining accident at Dhanbad” said the man as he went back to examining the value of the things he had taken out from her cupboard.

I cycled back from her house to the station, my heart heavy with grief.

The nonstop mail train was expected when I arrived at the station.  I pulled up my shutters, and started arranging my books. I could hear the train roaring past the platform. It was mid-day and the sun was shining brightly.

I don’t know if you will believe me but I swear, when I turned around, I saw an old lady with snowy white hair walk up from the cement seat and jump into the speeding train.

I never saw her again at the station! I like to believe that she had finally reached her destination

 

 

 

 

The Brown Sari

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It was Minku who pulled out the sari from a dark corner inside my cupboard.

She had been on a cleaning spree for the last couple of days after her arrival in India. Yesterday it had been her book shelf and cupboard . This afternoon, my cupboard seemed to be the target .

“Amma I never knew you had this sari. It is so lovely! Where did you buy it from?” she asked shaking out the folds and pulling  it out of the hanger.

I looked at the fabric she was holding aloft in her hand- a beautiful printed silk pochampalli sari in brown with a burnt orange border. I had fallen in love with it the moment I had seen it on the shelf  inside the shop.  But my mother had felt it was not suitable for a sixteen year old girl.

“It is meant for older women Priya” she had said,  trying to get me interested instead in a blue  sari on the shelf below.

But I had been adamant!  My grand father who had accompanied us to the shop decided to humour me and pay for it. My mother wasn’t so sure.  Not only did she feel it was too dull  for a young girl  but also that the the cost was too high for something that wasn’t in her opinion that attractive. Then  ofcourse my dark complexion was the final clincher about its unsuitability !

But despite her protests, her father ie my grandfather had asked the salesman to pack it and had paid for it. It was his gift for my sixteenth birthday and he had wanted me to have what I wanted.

We went home with me, holding the  the sari  packed in  brown paper, close to myself while my mother went on grumbling about how I had made her father throw away a large part of his pension money for the month, on something so expensive.

I had worn the sari for my birthday which also happened to be the day we had the  farewell party for the tenth standard girls at my school. I had felt like a princess. It was my  first sari and mine in every way.  I had felt very grown up and smart as I walked out of home balancing myself on my high heeled slippers with the pallu swirling behind me in the breeze.

The farewell party and afterwards had been such a blast !! We had gone for a film – the entire class together occupying a full row inside the movie hall. And then after the film when we were standing together near the panipuriwala and stuffing our mouths with panipuris, a little urchin selling flowers had come up to me and tugging at the pleats of my sari had handed me a single rose saying “Didi this is for you” . I had looked at him pleasantly surprised wondering  why he was giving it to me.

“No I don’t want it. You will lose money if you give our flowers like this for free” I said pinching his cheeks.

“Oh it is not free Didi. That Bhaiya standing there  has paid me for it” he had said pointing across the road.

All our eyes turned collectively in that direction. It was a crowded pavement that faced us with an assortment of people walking up and down.

“Are you sure it is for me?” I had asked unsure,  because there were with me, Pinky , Afsa  and Ruby  who were by far the most beautiful girls in our group and who constantly attracted admirers.

“No no it is for you. He said to give it to the girl in the brown sari” said the urchin

The three beauties looked surprised . I realize now that they were  probably a little hurt that a plain Jane like me had attracted the attention that they rightfully thought was theirs. We went on  quizzing the little fellow but he had not been able to give us any further leads.

“ Be careful. Must be some weirdo” Afsa had said finally. Pinky and Ruby had nodded in agreement. I had also pretended to agree, though secretly I had been thrilled that I had stolen the show that evening!!

“Amma, why are you smiling” asked Minku looking closely at my face.

“Oh nothing baby.. just brought back a lot of old  memories” I said giving hera hug.

“It is such a beautiful sari. Why have I never seen you wear it” she asked  me.

“Your Appa did not like these colours much. He preferred  brighter colours” I said folding the sari carefully.

“ But why did you care about what he liked. He was not wearing these colours. You were” she said with her brow creased in a frown.

I looked at her face, marveling at how strongly she expressed herself!  How had I , a woman who had spent her entire adult life learning to please the man in her life by molding herself in every way possible to be exactly what he had wanted in a wife, produced a daughter who was as individualistic as I  was a conformist?

“Minku it is not so simple” I said finally.

“Of course, it isn’t Amma. It is called Patriarchy and it has been perfected over centuries. Women like you have allowed yourselves to be so subsumed by it that today you live by what someone else has defined for you. And even when he is not there in this world “ she said, glaring at me!

I knew what she said held so much of truth that I could not face her. But it hurt when she spoke like that! I could feel tears welling up in my eyes

“Hey..Amma now don’t cry. I did not mean to hurt you. I know you are missing Appa a lot. But that is also because you have never tried to have a life outside of what he designed for you. And now with him gone from this world and me abroad, you do not know who you are or what is your purpose in life” she said lying down on my lap

I ran my fingers through her hair , pulling those baby plump cheeks and admiring at how easily she had summed up my life. I looked at the sari that lay folded beside me on the bed. How strange it was that at one point in my life I had known what I had wanted and had pushed for it despite opposition. When had I become this woman who had started living her life, pleasing others?

But  it wasn’t that Murali was a monster or something. If anything, he  had been a very charming  man. It was difficult to say no to anything he had wanted. He could be quite persuasive  but yes, he was rather opinionated. When he had said I looked good in yellow , everything I had bought had been yellow. When he said he didn’t think chiffon suited me I had put them all away and had switched to silks. It was not just the clothes I wore but everything else in our lives was defined by whether he liked it or not.

“Listen Minku, why don’t you wear this sari for  Shreya’s wedding reception this evening. I think we can find a blouse  that will go with it ” I said.

“No Amma, I am not wearing this. You are going to wear this and we are both going for the reception” she said getting up

“No Minku, I don’t feel like coming with you. I have been feeling tiered in the evenings since my surgery” I said trying to find an excuse.

“Amma, come on.. you had a hysterectomy eight months ago! Don’t tell me you are still recovering from it! You have been managing fine,  living by yourself. So why should it suddenly make you tiered when you have to come out for a function ?” she asked,  looking exasperated.

“I don’t know anyone there” I said , making one last attempt to get out of the situation.

“Amma, you are not some social recluse. You used to go out with Appa for all his office functions and speak to his colleagues and their wives. They were not exactly your friends” she said challenging me.

I knew she had a point. But somehow, I just did not feel I was that same woman any longer. Hell, I did not even feel like I was a woman any more!  My uterus was out of my body, my husband out of this world.. what was left in me ? I couldn’t stop the tears as they started welling up in my eyes . My body started shaking with sobs

“Amma please stop crying” said Minku hugging me close .  I continued sobbing , clinging on to her, thinking how strange it was , that today at fifty two, my twenty eight year old daughter was playing the role of mother.

We fell asleep afterwards,  holding on to each other like that.

When I awoke, I found Minku was up and getting dressed up for the reception. She was wearing her favorite black chiffon sari and for me she had ironed out the brown and burnt orange pochampalli and a matching blouse.

“Come on Amma get ready,  Meanwhile, I will get you some tea ” she said walking out towards the kitchen.

“Listen Minku, I don’t think I should wear this sari. I will something in white or cream” I said going towards to the cupboard

“No, you are going to wear that sari” she yelled  from the kitchen

“What a brat”  I thought fondly as I went into the bathroom to have a shower.

When I came out,  I found Minku armed with a cup of tea in one hand and her make up kit in the other.

“Come on drink this up quickly Amma. I want to do your face and your hair” she said

No amount of protesting would stop her. But finally when I looked at myself in the mirror, I looked different. I think  I could see glimpses of that sixteen year old again.

My pallu felt like it was flying  again as we stepped out of the house. And when we entered the hotel where the reception was being held I felt like I was back at my farewell party.

Minku was pulling me along and introducing me to all her friends. I knew she was determined to get me to mingle with people.  But this crowd, the people and the music, all of this was overwhelming me…! I wanted to sit down

“Minku please let me sit somewhere I need to breathe” I told her

“Amma are you sure you wont   slink away?” she asked me doubtfully

“Of course not!  Now please go and get me a glass of juice.  I am feeling thirsty  ” I said moving outside towards the lawn where there were fewer people.

“Alright. Please go and sit by the pool” she said

But I made my way in the opposite direction from the pool  In her effort to get me liberated , Minku was behaving exactly  as her father had  in his desire to enslave me. I felt rather annoyed. I wasn’t going to have this kid  tell me where to sit!!!

I wandered along aimlessly  in the lawn until I  found a  table under a gazebo . I  plonked myself down on one of the chairs, hoping this table was part of the wedding reception arrangements. But frankly, I was now beyond caring.

“ If anyone comes here to sit then I will move away” I thought as I removed my feet from my slippers and placed them on the chair opposite. There was a gentle breeze blowing and I felt drowsy. I felt sixteen once again. I closed my eyes and started humming a tune from that film we had gone to watch.

I must have been couple of minutes into this bliss when I sensed  a presence near me. I opened my eyes with a start. He was standing there – a tall man with grey hair and  beard holding two glasses of wine in his hands.

“ I am sorry I can’t offer you a rose today but would a glass of wine suffice? ” he asked extending a glass towards me. His eyes were twinkling mischievously. I felt my eyes locking into his like I was under a spell.  And then I who had never even touched alcohol  in my entire life,  found myself extending my hand in his direction and taking a glass.

“Cheers… to us !” he said raising his glass  in a toast.

“To us” I replied raising mine

I wanted to ask him so many things .. like why had he not come forward and introduced himself that day. Why had he chosen to give me the rose and not to one of my beautiful friends

“You were the most interesting and exotic in that group of ordinary girls” he said as though reading my mind.

I flushed with pleasure.

He walked over across the table towards me . I waited quietly , my heart beating wildly. He was now very close and I could feel his breath on my face . When  he bent towards me I closed my eyes and felt myself drifting away…..lost!

“Amma, please wake up” said Minku shaking me

“Huh… what happened” I asked startled , putting my feet down from the chair opposite.

“What were you doing sitting so far away from the party?” she asked scolding me

“It was very pleasant under this gazebo. So I sat here” I said

“Well this is not part of the reception scene. It is an intimate dinner setting for two. Cant you see,  candle sticks, the cutlery and china is all laid out ?” she asked looking at me like I was some kind of an idiot.

Yes indeed the table had china and cutlery laid out – a table for two. I had been sitting on one of the chairs and  had put my feet up on the  one opposite it,

There was one empty wine glass in the dinner place opposite mine  with a few drops  of wine sticking to the bottom of the glass . I looked around for the other glass that seemed to be missing.

As I pushed my chair away , put on my slippers and got up,, I felt something crunch under my foot. Minku heard it too!

“My God Amma you have just smashed a wine glass with your foot! ” she said picking up the broken pieces from the grass below.

“Oh is that so “ I murmured moving away from the spot and bumping into her.

“Easy.. Amma, Don’t sway like you are drunk.. Or are you? Your sari smells of wine” she said giggling

I joined her giggles and  we walked away  holding each other ,  towards the building and the noise of the wedding reception.

But I must confess, I couldn’t resist sneaking a glance behind me to see if he was still standing there somewhere.

 

 

Breaking the Fast

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It was eleven o’clock in the morning when Zayed got into the train. It was late by three hours. Not surprising, considering it was a passenger train.  He was lucky he had been able to get reservation in a first class coach. Otherwise on a train like this, there were only second class coaches!

He made his way inside the coach, wiping his face with a handkerchief. It was the middle of May and Central India was reeling under a heat wave. It was Ramzan and he wondered how he was going to get the through the day.

“Must be over forty degrees Celsius” he thought to himself as he slid open the door of his compartment. The window shutters were down and it took him some time to get adjusted to the dimness.

From what he could make out, there seemed to be only an elderly couple inside. The man looked like he was  around seventy plus and the lady  a few years younger. He saw them both start when he entered the compartment.

He would have liked to think that it was because he had come in silently and startled them out of their reverie. But he knew what might have been the actual reason.

A tall, hefty young man with a beard and a skull cap was not a welcome sight in India nowadays. He smiled wryly at them, apologizing for the disturbance as he pushed his suitcase under the berth.

The train had started and he settled down on his seat, taking out a book from his satchel. He switched on the reading light and opened it to the page where he had left off.

“So, you read Amartya Sen” observed the elderly man.

Zayed nodded, looking up at him and wondering what was so surprising that he should be reading Amartya Sen?  Did the man think that someone who looked like Zayed should be either reading Urdu poetry or some Islamic propaganda material?

“I am Dr. Hemant Trivedi. I used to work for the railways as a senior medical officer” he said introducing himself.

“I am Dr. Zayed Khan. I teach Chemistry at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research in Bhopal.” he said folding his hands in a “Namaste”.

“Oh…! So you are travelling to Bhopal” he asked

“Yes. And what about you Sir” Zayed asked politely.

“We will get off the train at Bhopal. We have a connecting train to Nagpur. Our son works there. We are going to visit him. He is recovering  from an accident he had a few months ago” he said.

“Oh! Hope it wasn’t serious” said  Zayed

“He and his wife were travelling by car on the highway and were hit by a truck. Thankfully nothing serious. They escaped with some minor injuries. My son had a fracture on his elbow” said Trivedi.

“It was Santoshi Mata who saved his life” murmured the lady, softly.

Zayed looked at her properly for the first time since he had come into the compartment. She was thin and frail looking. She had in her hand, prayer beads which she was moving as she read from a book on her lap.

“My wife is very religious and a big devotee of Goddess Santoshi Ma” said Trivedi with a laugh

“Oh there is nothing wrong with being religious Sir. Faith is what keeps the world going” said Zayed.

He himself had been raised by a spiritual mother so he understood the comfort that religion could bring during times of crisis.  His father had died while he had been young and it was Ammi, his mother who had brought him and his sister up single handedly. She had been a teacher in a school and education was something that was very important to her. Though Ammi was no more in the world today, she had ensured that both he and his sister Zara had been highly educated.

He observed Mrs Trivedi as she continued to look into her book and chant her prayer.  She looked drained and exhausted.

“Why don’t you lie down Madam? You  look  very tiered ” he said

She shook her head and continued with the silent chanting.

“She is fasting and praying. She has taken a vow to do this for sixteen Fridays as thanksgiving to Santoshi Ma for saving her son’s life. Today is the fifteenth Friday. She plans to spend these last two Fridays with her son and offer special prayers” said Trivedi.

“No wonder she is looking so drained” thought Zayed.

Fasting was not something that was easy. He knew how he was feeling on this hot day in the middle of Ramzan in May on a train that was moving like a snail.

“When does she break her fast?’  he asked

“In the evening after a bath and special prayers” said Trivedi with a sigh

“So what does she break her fast with?” asked Zayed

Puri and Halwa. They have to be cooked in special vessels by someone who has had a bath and purified themselves. And under no circumstances should anything sour touch this food. Otherwise all her efforts would be in vain” said Trivedi with a hint of exasperation in his voice

Zayed admired the will power of this lady who was traveling through the summer, fasting and praying like this. Almost like his mother, who had kept her roza right up to the year she had died. But Ammi used to be careful about herself when she fasted. She did not travel during Ramzan and usually stayed indoors.

But he was worried about this lady. He did not know what she had eaten at the beginning of the day and he was very unsure about whether she would reach her son’s house in time to break her fast with all the accompanying rituals. The speed at which this train was travelling, they were likely to be delayed by another couple of hours by which time their connecting train would have departed.

“Geeta, are you alright?” he heard Trivedi ask.

The lady had closed her eyes and stopped chanting for some time. She nodded and waved him away.

Trivedi ignored her and took her wrist in his hand, feeling her pulse.

“Is everything alright Sir?” asked Zayed

“Unfortunately not. Her pulse is slowing down and her sugar levels must be dropping. She is already exhibiting signs of mild hypoglycemia” said Trivedi with a worried look.

“Can I get some medicines for her? There must be a pharmacy outside in this station where the train has stopped” said Zayed getting up.

“Medicines cannot be had on an empty stomach my boy. She has just had a handful of chana and some jaggery when we started in the morning” said Trivedi.

“Can she have water?” asked Zayed

“Well, I don’t think that is prohibited in the rituals but she has added on her own rules for fasting. So I really cannot say” said Trivedi helplessly.

Mrs Trivedi had in the meanwhile collapsed on her berth exhausted. Her husband took her book and prayer beads out away from her hands and put a pillow under her head.

“I do not think all this nonsense is required to show ones love for God. I have told her so many times but she is so stubborn!” said Trivedi angrily.

“You cannot reason with a mother when it comes to her concern for her child” said Zayed quietly. He remembered his own mother taking on the tuition classes for children in the evening after her day at school so that it could pay for the medical entrance coaching classes that she insisted his sister join. They had both felt that Ammi was burning her candle at both ends, but she was insistent that Zara go for those classes. In the end the extra classes had helped Zara get admission in the medical college. Well, that was quite a few years ago… he thought looking at the dry countryside from his window.

His watch told him it was four o clock now and yet they were at least an hour away from Bhopal. Mrs Trivedi was still asleep.  Dr. Trivedi was occasionally checking on her to see if she was alright.

“Sir, what time is your connecting train” asked Zayed

“Well, it must have left by now” said Trivedi sounding exhausted

“What do you plan to do? The next train you can take is not before eight o clock. Shouldn’t you inform your son? He will be worried ” said Zayed.

“I have already sent him a text message that we will be only arriving tomorrow morning .. I will  see if we can  get some accommodation at the retiring room at the station till we board our connection at night. ” said Trivedi.

“But what about Madam’s special rituals around breaking her fast” asked Zayed

“Oh, either she compromises on her rituals or gets ready to buy a ticket to the next world. She will have to eat whatever is available at the station or outside. One cannot question the antecedents of one’s meals when travelling f” he said angrily.

“But you said she has followed this ritual for fourteen Fridays. She will feel terrible to compromise at this stage” said Zayed gently.

He knew that struggle of wanting to give up fasting by the end of Ramzan and overcoming it by sheer will power. Only those who fasted knew how important it was to complete it the way it should be.

But he understood Dr. Trivedi’s helplessness. An old man travelling with a sick wife, he was worried something terrible would happen to her enroute. How was one to balance health concerns with religious convictions?

It was then that he had this idea. He asked Dr. Trivedi whether it would be alright if he could organize the type of food required by Mrs Trivedi to break her fast.

“I assure you I will see that all requirements of purity are met with” said Zayed.

Mrs Trivedi seemed to suddenly wake up when this exchange was going on between Zayed and her husband.

“It has to be cooked in vessels in which no impure food has been cooked. The person cooking it should have had a bath and the stove cleaned before the cooking. There should be no hint of anything sour in the food or in any of the vessels in which it is being cooked” she said feebly before closely her eyes again.

“Don’t worry Madam, I will ensure that the food is cooked as you have said” he assured as he pulled out his phone and walked out into the corridor.

Trivedi looked at Zayed as he was going out wondering what this boy was planning to do. Whatever it was, his intentions seemed to be good and that was all that mattered.

He himself was quite exhausted now. There were some sandwiches in the food basket with them but he was not feeling like eating anything either. He lay down next to his wife and closed his eyes.

The train was pulling into Bhopal when he felt Zayed shaking him awake gently.

“Sir, I would suggest you and Madam get down and go to upstairs to the retiring room while I get a porter to bring your luggage. Then Madam can bathe and complete her prayers by which time her food should be here” said Zayed.

“Oh thank you! Are you sure there is vacancy in the retiring room at the station?” asked Dr. Trivedi getting their things together.

“I spoke to a friend whose cousin is the station master” said Zayed.

Mrs Trivedi was groggy and feeling very weak. Zayed held her firmly and helped her out of the coach. He then got a porter and organized their luggage to be transported to the retiring room.

“Thank you” said Dr. Trivedi to Zayed as they walked into the room. It was nearly 5.30 in the evening now and he realized that Zayed who himself was fasting must be getting reading for his Iftar.

“Please go for your prayers and break your fast’ he said looking at Zayed.

“I will do that once Madam’s food is here” he said.

“Okay then please sit here with me” said Dr. Trivedi settling down on the bed in the room with a sigh.

Mrs. Trivedi was already in the bathroom taking a shower before her prayers.

It was about five minutes later that there was a knock on the door.

“I think her food is here” said Zayed walking towards the door to open it.

Dr Trivedi looked outside wondering who it was that had brought his wife’s so called pure, unpolluted fast breaking food.

What he saw surprised him. There stood at the entrance to the room a young woman with her head covered in a hijab, carrying with her a cane basket.

“This is my wife Fauzia. I had requested her to prepare the food the way Madam had instructed” he said ushering her in.

Dr. Trivedi watched with tears in his eyes as Fauzia opened the basket and took out leaf containers with food inside.

“Uncle, this basket has puris inside it. I fried them in ghee made out of cow’s milk. And those two leaf bowls have sooji halwa. Please don’t worry, I bought new cooking vessels and cleaned our gas stove before cooking this food on it” she said smiling at him.

“Sir, I think it is best we leave now. You can tell Madam that I had organized the food for her from a temple” said Zayed pulling Fauzia towards the door.

“Wait! Where are you both going?” asked a soft voice.

They turned round to see Mrs Trivedi coming out of the bathroom. She was in a fresh sari and her hair was wrapped in a towel.

“Aunty, I am sorry, I could not reach any of my Hindu friends who could cook your food. So I followed Zayed’s instructions and cooked it myself” said Fauzia with tears in her eyes.

“And after cooking this holy food, my son and daughter in law want to leave without sharing it with me?” she asked looking at Zayed and Fauzia accusingly.

“Madam we have our Iftar too” said Zayed quietly

“Sure. I think there is enough space in this room for all of us to finish our prayers and break our respective fasts” said Mrs Trivedi as she took out her puja items and arranged them on a stool next to the bed.

It was nearly seven when they all sat down together for a meal. Puris and Halwa accompanied by milk from the railway canteen on the ground floor.

“Religion is not bad after all” said Dr. Trivedi, the agnostic to the three believers.

“Sir, it depends on how one wants to use it” said Zayed with a smile.

Mrs Trivedi smiled at him. It had taken a complete stranger to convince her husband about something that she had not managed in the fifty odd years they had been married.

She was grateful to her beloved Santoshi Ma for fulfilling her desires. She would be spending the next Friday fast with Ashok and Pooja and this Friday she had been blessed with the company of Zayed and Fauzia.

( Based on  a true story narrated to me by a friend. I have taken some creative license which I hope she will pardon)

 

 

 

Name of the father and the Son

TImage result for father and son imageshe letter came in a simple brown envelope marked “personal”. It had  probably come in a few days ago. But since I was travelling , the mail had piled up. I slit it open wondering who it was from? I could not think of anyone who would write an address by hand.

The letter was also handwritten and the  message simple

Dear Mr. Rao

My mother Dr Rupa Bharadwaj is seriously ill and admitted at the Healing touch hospitals on R.N. Road . I am writing to you on her behalf. She  suffered a sudden brain hemorrhage last night and was rushed to the hospital . Her condition is critical.

 I do not know if you remember but we had met briefly at Hyderabad airport three years ago when I had come to receive my mother. We were introduced. My mother had given me your card and told me to contact you if I ever felt the need.  I  have unfortunately misplaced the card but I am contacting you now because I know she would have wanted you to come and see her.

Look forward to seeing you.

 Varun.

He had followed up with a post script giving his mobile number.

It somehow felt painful that he should address me so formally.  Did , he know, I wondered? There was only one way to find out, I needed to get in touch with him. So I  dialed the number wondering what I would say or how I would introduce myself when he answered. I also felt anxious about Rupa hoping she was recovering. It had been almost a week since the letter  had been posted.

The phone was answered by a girl. “Hi,  This is Arushi. Sorry  Varun  can’t take your call as he is busy with the funeral arrangements. Who is speaking please”

Funeral!!! Oh my God, it couldn’t be….

“Hello? Are you there” she asked impatiently

“Yes. I am Varun Rao, an old friend of Rupa’s. I am sorry to hear about  her demise. When and where is the funeral?” I asked trying to keep my voice steady.

“ Oh, we leave for the crematorium in  about half an  hour” she said

“Which crematorium?” I asked her

She gave me the address.  There was no way I could reach there in time given the evening traffic. I asked instead for Rupa’s home address and noted it down. I would go there and meet my namesake.

I put the phone back into my pocket with shaking hands. I couldn’t believe it !! She would have hardly been fifty.  Who would have thought she would  leave me like this forever!! I had failed her once again, I thought as the tears came down my face.

My mind went back in time and I saw once again that smiling face with a dimple on the left cheek, the mole below her lower lip,  her petite frame . I could hear her tinkling laugh, her soft voice and feel her burning stare. It had been a shock to meet her on that flight to Hyderabad that day. A crazy part of me had wanted to find out where she lived and lay my soul bare in front of her. Finding all about her would  not have  been difficult considering the resources I had at my disposal but sanity had prevailed. I had realized that it was not right on my part to intrude into her life again after so many years.

It must have been nearly six thirty before I collected myself and got ready to go to her house and meet the boy.

A small lane tucked away from the main road, it was exactly the sort of place she would live in. There were a few small and unpretentious houses in what was an old middle class neighborhood. I walked up to door number 5 and stood quietly for a moment. The name plate on the gate said “Dr Rupa Bhardwaj” , “Varun Bhardwaj”. It was nearly seven thirty and the porch light was on.  I could see the light was on inside the house indicating someone was there.

I opened the gate and walked in, waiting for a moment before I rang the door bell.

The door was opened almost immediately and I stood looking once again at my reflection as I had three years ago.

“May I come in?”  I asked him. He opened  the door wider to let me in.

I followed him into the living room where the furniture had been cleared and pushed away around the walls. A smell of stale flowers and incense hung in the air.

The boy had dark circles around his eyes. His hair was tousled  and there was a stubble around his jaw line . My heart ached for him . For a moment I forgot my grief as  I reached out to touch his shoulder. He flinched as my hand made contact.

“What took you so long? ” he asked me angrily, eyes flashing like his mother’s

“ I am sorry my boy. I got your letter only today. I was travelling” I said quietly

“She loved you a lot you know. But she was fiercely independent. She braved social stigma, financial crunches and so much more , bringing me up She had decided she would never ask you for any support” he said breaking down as I watched helplessly.

A part of me wanted to hold him in my arms and comfort him but another part of told me I had lost that right three decades ago. He may carry my genes but he was otherwise entirely his mother’s son!He suddenly stopped crying and collected himself , asking “Can I get you something?”

“No its alright. I had coffee before I left my office” I said.

“I did not mean coffee or tea. I was offering you something stronger. I don’t know about you but I certainly need it” he said moving towards the fridge and pouring out a drink into a glass.

“Yes please make one for me too” I said

We took our glasses and moved into the porch outside. The night was cool and there was a faint smell of  mango blossoms from the tree in the garden. We sat together as two adults- father and son nursing our drink as they show in the movies- except that this was complicated in ways that such scenes  in movies were not.

We sat silently for some time. I wanted to give the boy some time to  calm down before I started speaking.

“ I am sorry Varun that you and your mother had to go through all this. I was a selfish bastard . If I could live my life again, I would never have let her go. ” I said softly.

He listened silently before suddenly turning around and asking me “Do you have kids?”

“Yes I have a son. A very bright boy who unlike his father is loving and duty bound” I said smiling at him.

“Oh! No one else?” he asked

“No” I said as silence engulfed us once again.  I could hear traffic noises somewhere  far away .

“You are a lawyer, Varun?” I asked him breaking the silence.

“Yes” he said nodding. “I have my own practice”

“Would you be willing to join my company as a legal advisor” I asked tentatively

“Why? Do you want to make amends for your sins or is it because  you think you can only trust your own blood, even if it is your bastard son, when it comes to handling important legal matters for your company” he asked sarcastically

“Neither!!! Whenever I see talent I want to give it a chance. My own rise in the company has been because the former managing director had seen potential in me” I said

“Oh yes. Your father in law “ he said laughing angrily

“Don’t blame him.  He was a gentleman. He would have probably understood had I been upfront with him and told him about Rupa. I was the one who did not want to take a chance ” I said

I do not know  how long it was before he spoke once again

“Look, I am sorry for being so rude.  I appreciate your offer but unfortunately I cannot take it up because I will be leaving to the United States in a couple of months for higher studies in human rights law” he said.

My heart felt like it would burst with pride!! But I contained myself and extended my hand saying “Congratulations!! I am proud of you”

And that when I  noticed it –a dimple on his left cheek like his mother as his lips parted in a smile and he said “Thank you”

The moment was precious and I wanted to savor it but it was not to be. There was someone at the gate, a young girl who had opened the latch and was driving inside on a scooter. He got up abruptly and went towards her.

“Varun, I got us some dinner” she said pulling out a take away bag from the front of the scooter. He took the bag from her , helped her up the steps until she was standing face to face with me. She looked at me for a moment and then at Varun. I felt nervous wondering  what conclusions she might be drawing.

“Arushi,  please meet my Dad” he said introducing her to me as  tears pricked my eyes

“Dad this is Arushi, my fiancée. She is also a lawyer and we are both going abroad for our studies” he said

“ I am so happy and proud of  you both”  I said taking both their hands into mine.

“Uncle why don’t you come inside and join us for dinner? ” she asked

I looked uncertainly at my son. “Yes Dad, please come in” said  he said , putting out his hand and leading me inside the house once again

I could feel Rupa smiling somewhere far away…!

It had taken me thirty years to make peace with my heart and conscience  !

(This is Part 2 of the story “Flight of Fancy” as those of you who have read the earlier part might have guess.  I wrote this sequel because of requests from some of my readers. I thank them all for their encouragement.  I would especially like to acknowledge “Amanram”  on whose idea I have built this part ) 

Flight of Fancy

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Rupa

I would recognize that scent anywhere!  A mix of the woody and the musky!!!

What was it called?  I don’t remember …. My memory fails me these days ….

And of course the hint of tobacco that went with it ..….. and that peppermint flavour around his mouth!!!

I felt shocked with the sudden rush of my senses coming together like this…!!

He was sitting at the aisle seat next to mine. Actually his seat was three rows behind but the family that was occupying that row wanted to sit together and he had agreed to swap seats with the boy whose seat it actually was.

He was reading a newspaper.  I watched him covertly from the pages of the book that I was no longer reading.

He had aged. The curly brown hair was now grey and he was wearing glasses. He had also grown a beard that covered his cleft chin.

Twenty-five years… and I was still breathless when he was nearby. It was crazy…!!!

The elderly lady sitting next to him in the middle seat was getting up to go to the toilet. He unbuckled his seat belt and got up, moving to the side to let her pass. His legs were now just a touch away from me. I screwed up my fingers and held them tightly on my lap!

“Excuse me Ms Rupa, may I have your boarding card please?” asked the stewardess from behind the food cart.

I pulled out the boarding card from the pages of my book looking up to hand it to her. I had no sense of when she took it from me and returned it because I was now looking straight at him. It seemed like eternity before his lips parted into a smile

“Hello Rupa!! What a surprise!” he said

“Yes indeed” I said hoping he would not hear the beating of my heart.

“What would you like to have” I heard the stewardess ask, bringing me back to my senses.

“Some coffee please” I said

I hoped he could not see my fingers tremble as I took the coffee from her.

“So what are you doing these days” he asked leaning towards me.

“I run a market research firm. A small company, we mostly do data analytics for larger research firms” I said “What about you?”

“I am still working with Amalgamatics. I am the CEO” he said giving me his card.

Well I was not surprised!! After all wasn’t he aiming for something like that all along?

“So what takes you to Hyderabad” he asked me

“I am going there for a client meeting.” I said

“What about you? “I asked him

“I am also going to there like you. on business” he said.

The basic information being exchanged, there was this awkward moment when neither of us seemed to know what to say. I felt once again like that gawky intern I was a quarter of a century ago.

I had been assigned to his team to do some market analysis work. A mouse of a girl, just out of university, I had been completely overawed by the flashy corporate environment. I kept to myself and spoke little to anyone else.

And then fate through us together. We had to do some analysis on the market trends around one of the products that the company was planning to launch. I think that was probably the first time Varun had even realized I existed. He was the team lead on this and I was working with him, providing him with data that he would require. A hard task master, he had kept me with my nose buried in numbers until late in the evening. It was nearly eight o clock when we were finished.

“Can I give you a lift?” he had asked me as I was getting ready to go

I had agreed and we left the office in his car. He then offered to buy me dinner. I was staying in a paying guest and my land lady had given me the keys to let me in if I was late. So I had agreed.

Dinner and then a walk along the beach. I had got to know him as a person during those couple of hours.

The next day, we had to stay back again and we again left the office together. On the third day I had goofed up on the numbers so I had to redo the projections. He had been angry and had yelled at me. I had burst into tears and run out of his cabin.

An hour later, with the numbers redone, I had taken the print out and left it on his desk, and tried to leave his room quietly. Before I could leave tip toe away, I had felt his hand on my wrist.

“Wait, don’t leave” he had said. I sat in front of him and watched him look through the numbers before putting them into his drawer and shutting it.

“Is it all okay?” I asked him feeling relieved when had nodded.

I got up to leave. “Rupa, wait let me drop you” he said after me.

But I did not want a lift. I wanted to go by myself, on my bus route number 15 like I usually did. His proximity was disturbing me in ways I could not understand. He was nearly seven years older, charming and dynamic. He was also engaged to be married to the daughter of the company’s Managing Director.

I found it was pouring rain outside when I left the building. I had braved the rain and run towards the bus stop. Fifteen minutes of waiting at the stop and Varun had stopped by in his car and asked me to get in. I had got in dripping wet. We had driven for a while before he had stopped the car. I knew instinctively what was to follow.

A kiss and then more……!!!

I had often wondered later if I could have stopped him. But my senses were against me. I was crazily attracted to him- a romance that I had never imagined would sweep me away like that

 Varun

To say that I had been surprised to suddenly find her next to me would be an understatement!! I was simply blown away!! Yes, she had aged but like wine, seemed to have only become better. Gone was the gawkiness and lack of confidence. She held my gaze my steadily …!! A slightly built woman, she looked younger than her forty odd years. The grey strands in her hair notwithstanding, there was something girlish about her even today.

Hers had been a razor sharp brain. She could work wonders with numbers!! She was also well read and knew a lot more beyond just her work. It was not often that I met someone who I considered my intellectual equal. I had been attracted to her right from the day we had first worked together.  I had pushed for every opportunity to work with her. And I had engineered situations where she would have to stay back late into the evening to work so I would get to drop her back.

Those were different times in India’s corporate history. I do not know how it would be viewed in today’s “Me-too” world!! Had I taken advantage of her innocence I had often wondered? I knew I was engaged to Anita so why was I getting involved with Rupa? But then Anita was my ticket to fulfilling my career ambitions. A middle class boy, son of a government officer, I had a burning desire to make it big. A graduate from the top business school in India, I knew that I had good looks and charm to complement my intelligence.

Anita’s father had recognized my potential and it was he who had encouraged me to court his daughter and sure enough as his son in law and the CEO of his company I had taken his business to heights that he could never have done by himself.

I had often thought about Rupa.! She had walked out of my life after the show down we had that evening many years ago. I had never thought her capable of going away from me like that and not looking back. We had been six months into our relationship and Anita’s father was pushing for finalizing our wedding date.

I had suddenly found myself in two minds.  What had seemed like a great idea when I had joined the company no longer seemed so. Anita was beautiful and nice but she was not Rupa! I could never relate to her intellectually the way I could with Rupa. I wanted to stall for time but Rupa wanted a firm answer from me. She wanted to know if I was serious about her and if I was, then she wanted me to break my engagement with Anita. It had been a difficult choice. but finally it was ambition that had won.

Today I had money, power and everything else that money could buy. To the world, it seemed like I also had a great marriage. But we did not have a child. Anita had wanted to adopt. But I was not sure I could love a child that was biologically not mine. She had been through bouts of depression. We had gone through numerous fertility treatments. We had also met counsellors and psychiatrists to deal with her depression.  I had handled all the emotional stress by immersing myself in my work.

But seeing Rupa like this suddenly had disturbed me in a way I never thought would be possible- at least not after so many years! It was like those years between then and now never existed. I wanted to reach out and hold her hand …!!

I looked at her covertly. I wondered if she was indeed that much caught up with what she was reading or was she doing it to simply avoid talking to me.

 Rupa

Varun had wanted to have the cake and eat it too. But I am glad I had been firm. It had broken me emotionally to go away from him like that. Life had been a struggle for the few years after breaking off from him. However, looking back, I think it was all for the best.

I wondered if he was happy with the choices he had made? But what if he wasn’t? Was I going to let him back into my life? Was I going to put myself through all that pain once again?

I could feel his eyes on me. He could pretend he was reading the newspaper but I knew he was looking at me. I could always sense that. from those days when there was just a glass wall separating us in the office.

The public address system on the aircraft was announcing landing. I shut my book, retrieved my bag from under my seat and put it in.

“Rupa do you have your card?  Let’s talk sometime. We might have some assignments for you” he said

I had his card but I wondered if I should share mine. It was very tempting. But I decided against it.

“Thanks Varun.  We do not have the resources to take on large assignments. It is a small firm and we work at our own pace.” I said smiling at him

“But can you give me your card” he asked me directly now.

“Sorry, I have run out of cards” I lied.

Varun

I knew she was lying. But then I could do nothing about it.  The ball was now in her court.

The flight had landed and people were getting up and opening the luggage compartments to collect their bags.

As I helped her retrieve her bag I was for a moment transported back in time. That smell of Cubicula talcum powder was so nostalgic! Reminded me of a soft body I had kissed on moonlit nights so many years ago. Her smell and her presence had lingered on in my flat for days after she had walked out of my life.

Passengers were moving out of the aircraft now. I followed her out of the plane. She was walking briskly towards the arrival lounge. A part of me wanted to stop her and ask her if we could drive together. I finally mustered up courage and called out after her

“Rupa please wait. I have a car coming to pick me up. I can drop you at your hotel”

“Thank you Varun but that will not be necessary. I have someone coming to pick me up at the airport” she said looking back at me with a smile.

Okay, I hadn’t thought of that. She wasn’t an intern any longer. She was heading her own company. So I guess she had a car to pick her up.

But I continued walking beside her hoping she would change her mind.

We were now outside the building amidst the crowd of people waiting with name boards and bouquets.

“Mom, look here” shouted a young man waving from behind the railing.

I saw Rupa walking towards him as he ran up to her and enveloped her in a hug.

Tall and lanky with a cleft chin and curly brown hair, this young man was a replica of another young man whose photographs lay in my college album!!! I felt like I was looking at myself from many years ago.

I watched the boy as he took the bag from his mother. She turned back for a moment and our eyes met. I waited with bated breath. The young man turned back to look at me and then at his mother

“Varun, please meet Mr. Rao. We used to work together many years ago” she said introducing me. My hands were trembling as I shook his…!!

“This is Varun, my son. He studies at the law school here” she said looking directly at my eyes, smiling enigmatically.

“Aah!! And what does Varun’s father do” I asked shakily

“Uncle, mom is both my mother and my father. Isn’t that right mom? ” asked Junior looking at his mother with pride.

“Good bye, Mr. Rao, it has been nice meeting you after so many years” she said extending her hand towards me. I took it in mine and shook it, searching her face with my unasked questions.

But I got no answers. I stood silently watching, as mother and son walked away from me

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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