WORLD OF LITTLE GODS
Christ started walking along the 79th Park Avenue, lost in His heavenly thoughts. People were passing by, grinning and passing remarks, "Nice getup, buddy! Just got out of studio?" and so on.
The priest, Matthew Walter, was keenly following him, trying to remain as close to him as he could, in the hustle and bustle of the New York streets. "May God nobody hurt him again!" he murmured to himself. The word 'again' was uttered with a sense of pain.
"What is this, my friend?" Christ asked a street vendor, pointing to a bar of chocolate.
"Get lost, you pauper!" shouted the young vendor, with his headphones over his ears.
"God bless you!" smiled Christ and moved on.
Matthew Walter approached the vendor and bought two bars of chocolate and continued his pursuit.
Whole day he followed Lord Jesus Christ, but he was unable to have a word with Him, for the moment he caught up with Him, suddenly, he felt as if a force was trying to hold his tongue. The bars of chocolate were still clenched in his sweating hand. It was the month of July, and the heat was intolerable.
Matthew remembered his country church where eight orphan kids would be waiting for him. He had come to New York to buy new clothes for the poor children. His wife Elda had reminded him many times before his departure that he had to come back before it was too late. It was just 1:00 pm, and he had a lot of time before the departure of the last train at 8:00 pm.
At one place, Jesus stopped and sat down on the steps of a large building. A security personal came out shouting,"Hey, you joker! What are you sitting here for?"
"Can you give me some water, my friend?" smiled Jesus, looking in his eyes.
"Get lost, you beggar! This is not a charity! You will have to buy water here", the guard yelled at him and pulled His arm to raise him from the steps of the building.
Matthew Walter was watching all this with his moist eyes. He wanted to go near Jesus and help Him but an invisible force bound his feet. May be, Lord himself wanted him to stay away. It was quite strange that people were pushing Him and making fun of Him but he could not even go near the Lord. Matthew thought, perhaps, it was Lord's way of presenting Himself.
The pursuit continued for hours but, ultimately, the priest lost Him in the crowd. Finally, he decided to go to the store to buy the clothes for his dependants. It was nearing 6:00 pm, and the last train to his village was to depart at 8:00 pm.
In the shop he hurriedly bought the goods and rushed towards the station. He wanted to tell his wife about everything. How much surprised she would be. Would she believe him if he told her that he had met Lord Jesus Christ.
When Matthew reached home, it was ten minutes to midnight. In spite of having brought all the things as he had been advised by his wife, his steps felt heavy while walking through the gate of his church.
Matthew and his wife lived with the orphans in a small cottage behind the church. It was their small heaven. Though childless, the couple found their happiness among the orphan kids which were brought to their church from various parts of the country.
When he stepped into his room, he faltered at the threshold for a second because he saw Jesus playing with the little kids in his room.
"He is a poor man who has no place to spend the night, so I gave him shelter for the night in our church," his wife whispered in his ear.
Before he could tell her how wrong she was and the poor man was the Lord for whom the church had been established, she continued, "He seems to have some kind of mental illness because he calls himself Jesus".
Matthew was ashamed and bewildered. He had no words in his mouth. He knew that it would be impossible to convince her that the man playing with the kids was Lord Jesus Christ. Somehow, rallying courage, he addressed to the Lord," Lord, may I ask you a question?"
"Yes, my son," smiled Jesus.
"Why have you come to my poor house?" Matthew asked timidly. He had his hands folded toward Jesus.
Lord answered, "People don't want me out there. They are ignorant and innocent.
They laugh at me and push me around. I forgive you. Matthew, I am hungry. Won't you give me the chocolates which you have bought for me?"
The priest stammered, and pulled the chocolates out of his pocket, with shaking hands. He very respectfully passed those chocolates to the Lord. He had no courage left to meet Lord's eyes.
Jesus gave those chocolates to the kids and began to play with them.
Next morning, the new spread like a jungle fire that an impostor had entered the church and he called himself Jesus. People began to gather outside Priest's cottage. They began to shout," Send the impostor out! Hand him over to us!"
Matthew did not know what to do. He took the Lord to the back door and told Him to run away. Jesus smiled and said," This is not the first time I am facing the ire of the people. They are ignorant. It is not their fault. Don't worry; they will go away after some time.
Matthew came out of the house and he persuaded the people to stop shouting and told them to go back.
When he reentered his room, there was no trace of Jesus.
Next morning, he left the church with his wife and the orphan kids. To his wife he said," The church where Jesus is not welcome can not be the place of worship. They can sell His faith, earn through His faith, teach the faith, worship the faith, but when He comes before them, they call Him and impostor!" Matthew began to weep like a child. His wife could not understand what had happened to him.
Do you really think that the materialism has overpowered spiritualism?
The tick-tock of the wall clock, in the study, as if not ready to fall behind, kept a harmonious rhythm with John's heart-beat, during his walk to and fro. John Christopher did seem to be in a dilemma, as reflected on the contracted skin of his forehead. The ultimate step, emanating from the lingering duality, whether he could leave his wife and son, was being delayed, perhaps, due to the realization that he loved them more than anything else in the world.
John had read many times that Lord Buddha had renounced all the worldly pleasures. This belief had made him strong enough to come out of the situation in which the family ties endeavored to confine him."The Enlightenment! The Enlightenment!" The Buddha in him was about to burst forth. Moreover, what else remained there to be seen in life? Hadn't he had his share of life, with all that money, the girls, rich materialistic achievements?
It was about eight years before he had been to Nepal, the land of peace and beauty, teeming with splendors of Mother Nature. How delightful experience it had been to be away , for the first time , from all those familiar surroundings in New York and the American place of life, which in a country like Nepal had made him feel as if he had entered an entirely new world. For somebody else it would have been a trip to unthinkable backward place, but John felt that materialistic prosperity brings spiritual bankruptcy along. The attraction towards that scenic kingdom was irresistible.
The year was 1972, when he reached Lumbini, the birth place of Lord Buddha. It was a long exhausting bus journey from Kathmandu. John had no idea what he was going to do in Lumbini. It was like drifting into a remote past. The first night in a small but cozy lodge in Lumbini was a nightmare, full of hallucinations. Nevertheless, he seemed to be quite at peace with himself the next morning when the first rays of light brought the chanting of the Buddhist mantras along.
Born in a very wealthy family, John Christopher had spent his childhood with all the advantages of a luxurious life, under the care of his loving father, a tycoon in the American automobile industry. Motherless at the age of ten, John had the recollection of those painful agonizing days when his mother was on her deathbed, but, in spite of the best medical attention, she could not be saved, and was not able to see her son grow beyond the age of ten years.
After his mother's death, his father decided to send him to a boarding school in Washington. During the holidays, his father would visit him and they would go for outings. Though his father never let John feel that he was a neglected child, John, gradually, drifted away from his father on emotional level. When he was fifteen, his father gifted him a geared bike, and after his graduation, he was presented his first sports car. It was altogether a new world for young John. He turned out to be a typical American boy, who loved fast cars, giggly girls and drinks.
Having come back to New York, he insisted on having a separate apartment, away from his father's luxurious villa. But he decided to enter his father's business. John's father had many showrooms all over the country. It provided John many opportunities of traveling around. The father was not less pleased to have his son beside. The Jaguars, Ferraris, Datsuns, Toyotas, etc. had always enchanted John.
In the third year, John met a girl named Florence, a tall blond, with dreamy blue eyes. She was a waitress in a nearby restaurant at Park Avenue. John often visited the place whenever he used to be in his New York office. It was a comfortable small restaurant near ABN bank. Born of an Italian mother and an American father, Florence was beautiful enough to turn many heads when she walked along the street.
Introduction to offering of a drink led to a date one evening, to be followed by many repetitions, to ultimately culminate in the bed, in John's apartment, which stood witness to the promises made between John and Florence, on the seventh occasion of the dating. His father, though having cherished a desire to see a pure American girl as his daughter-in-law, and not a common half American girl, perhaps subdued by the fact that the boy had spent most of his childhood without his mother, concealed his dislike and arranged a grand party on the occasion of their marriage. John was twenty three and Florence nineteen at the time of their marriage.
The happy married life lasted for two years, and in the second year, Florence gave birth to a boy. For John it was a very proud feeling to be a father. When their son, Jimmy, was about one year old, John convinced his father to establish a manufacturing unit of their own to produce automobile parts. So the plan was approved and a factory was set up in Detroit. Now, owing to the expansion of the business, John was obliged to spend fair amount of time away from home.
One morning, at the breakfast table, Florence said, "I think, your son needs you at this stage. He is almost one year old."
"I am well aware of all that, my sweetie," smiled John, munching the last piece of the toast.
"As you wish, Dad," said Florence and moved onto the adjacent room.
"I will be late tonight".
"Nothing surprising, dear," Florence gave a faint smile.
Her smile rather irritated him, for he was well aware of her sarcastic ways of putting forward her annoyance and anger, typical Italian.
"Bye, darling, "said he, and kissing her on her lips, quickly strode out of the room.
The woman inside Florence very patiently resisted the emotion of shouting at once. During last six months, John had spent many days out of station. She did try to convince and console herself about the loyalty of her husband, but the grudge against the unseen hypothetical female rival, which is often there in the mind of a wife whose husband spends nights away from his own nest, troubled her time and again.
Loneliness and a kind of neglect she did feel at home, for John was so busy that he hardly had time to revive the glorious moments of lovers of the past. This led to a unwanted habit of drinking. And sometimes, she would start drinking as early as 10 o'clock. The solitude, brought to her in John's absence was killing her. With the progression of time, her new pastime, drinks, transformed into a habit, and she didn't even realize that she had become an alcoholic. Jimmy, her son, used to be under the care of his baby-sitter, most of the time.
It was about a year and a half after the new unit had been started. One night, drunk and angry, she shouted at John. John, however he tried to convince her, could not make her realize that the new business demanded his presence at many places. He was compelled to visit different towns to promote the products of their company.
John decided to cancel all his business assignments for one week so that he could be with his wife and son. But no sooner had he resumed his work than the abuses began to be hurled at him by Florence in the evenings. This often happened when he returned from an out of station trip. But for the patience in John, their marriage would have ended in the fifth year. Up to the best of his endurance, he endeavored to keep himself dispassionate and, very patiently, he sustained the insulting remarks of his wife.
One night, the quarrel exceeded all limits and crossed the boundary of all the civility. He was in the living room, with a newspaper in his hand. Florence was in the bathroom. He had just come back from a long journey to Nevada. Suddenly, the bathroom door opened and belligerent voice of his wife was heard.
"Got fed up with all those whores you have been seeping with?" She was stone drunk.
"I have come back from a business trip," he remonstrated.
"Business! You call it a business, leaving your wife and son behind for weeks and months, without ever thinking that we are humans too!"She screamed, with her vibrant body trembling behind the pink nightgown she had on.
"That's enough, Florence!" shouted John, trying to control the pitch of his tone.
"Why do you come back? Go! Get out!" she was not herself, and before John could realize what was going to happen, she hurled the glass tumbler, which she had in her hand, at John. He had no chance to avoid that throw, and it struck him on his forehead. The glass dropped onto the floor and shattered. The hit was quite powerful enough to make a wide gaping cut on his forehead. Before long his shirt was drenched in his own blood.
Florence stood there, almost speechless, with her eyes wide open with amazement. She tried to take a step toward John, but, without looking at her, he began to pace toward the outer door leading to the passage. Once outside the house, he got in his car and accelerated it, leaving behind a loud screech and dark marks of the burnt rubber on the cemented porch. He was unable to consign his misery to anybody except his father. How much he yearned to revive that comely ambiance of the family life which had prevailed everywhere in his house before he had started the manufacturing unit.
Next morning, when he opened his eyes in his father's bedroom, in his father's house, he had a bandage around his head. He could feel the swollen portion on his forehead, under the medicated cotton pad. Florence had rung up several times but the maid, as instructed by John, didn't tell Florence anything about John. He stayed in his father's house for two days, and on the third morning, he was aboard an airbus flying to Kathmandu. He had realized that he needed a few days away from home and office. He had simply walked into the office of a travel agency and asked for a month long tour to any Asian country, beginning that week. He wanted peace and the surroundings which could, for a few days, keep him alien to the New York life.
The nearest tour was to Nepal. This is how he started his journey to the land of Gautama Buddha, the divine sage. Through the in-flight magazines, he gathered a little information about the mountainous country, Nepal.
John got lost in the relics of the past. In the evenings, he would sit with some Buddhist monks at a monastery and learn about the life of Lord Buddha. Everything around fascinated him It was altogether a divine experience to him. Whatever he learned from the monks made him susceptible as to the Catholic past of his life. Nothing but search for truth seemed to be there in Buddha's life-no mention of punishment, hell, fires, etc. His Americanism seemed to be endeavoring to be resilient, as if ashamed to demonstrate the real John.
He spent well over a month in Lumbini, trying to get every bit of insight into Gautama Buddha's life. He never worried about his wife and his son, for he knew that his father would tell her that John had gone on a business trip to Nepal.
Now, after eight years, he was recollecting all those events. Having come back to America, he found that he was a transformed man. All through those eight years, though being involved in business and the family life, trying to be patient with his wife, he had kept himself like a recluse who answered when he was spoken to. Florence had been nice to him, and her doubts had been resolved through inquiries about her husband's extra marital affairs came to nothing. He had come out as a divine figure to him. Her changed demeanor had convinced John that she was passing through a hellish period of repentance, full of guilt. However nice and good looking she tried to be, she failed to attract John to revive their physical relation.
On the other hand, John, after his return, began to concentrate less on his business. The manager had informed Senior Christopher that John was being dangerously gracious to their buyers. It was not in favor of their business. All the same, John would lock himself in his study and submerge himself in the study of the thick books which he had collected indiscriminately, at an amazing speed, after his return from Nepal.
He was like a drowning man clutching at every spar. John, as if, desired to reveal the Buddha in his existence. For hours at end, he would be squatting in a lotus position, with his eyes closed and palms turned upward on his knees. Though Florence had calmly accepted the change, she was more frightened than confused because she had presentiments which did not seem to be in favor of their family life.
John was practicing renunciation, and he wanted to alienate himself from the material world. Hadn't Lord Buddha gone through this stage in his life? Hadn't He done penance? Otherwise, how He could have got the supreme knowledge. Sometimes, John would stand in front of the mirror and make various promises to himself. He would repeat the oath to continue his penance for the enlightenment. Hadn't Emperor Asoka renounced his Empire and become a monk?
Now, the moment of the decision had come. He had been struggling with his conscience for so many days. He did want to follow the great masters, the great sages, the great teachers, the Gurus, who had spent the greater parts of their lives being wanderers in search of truth.
As John stepped out of the study, he heard his son's voice. He was playing with Florence. So what? Even Prince Siddhartha (Gautama Buddha) had left his wife and son behind. "I have to do it! I have to do it!" Whispered John.
Suddenly, he heard Seeger's voice on the recorder in his wife's bedroom-"We shall overcome......we shall ..... "His wife and son were also singing.
"What is to be overcome?" thought John. He entered his study once again and sprawled on the sofa.
"What do I want to achieve? What do I want to learn - love, truthfulness, peace, brotherhood, faith, patience, nonviolence, loyalty, or what?" said John to himself.
"Am I right in doing so? Leaving my family? All the great masters have said the same thing but made them great? It was the new knowledge disclosed by them to the majority of the ignorant people at that time. But now, even a school boy knows about all these things which were named divine revelations of the past. He seemed to be quite confused. He got to his feet and moved toward the book-shelves. He picked up "The Bhagvat Gita" and began to concentrate on the verses in front of his eyes. It was, by this time, a habit of his to begin to read Gita when he felt confused.
Suddenly, a verse attracted his attention:
(Chapter v: verse 24)
"He, who finds happiness within, his joy within, and likewise his light within, is the Yogi who becomes divine and attains to the beatitude of God (Brahma nirvana).
John read the line several times, and suddenly his face began to beam. He laughed aloud. "I have got it! I have got it!" He was jumping and shouting all over the house. The ecstasy of the moments was more than that felt by John during the happy time. It was like Archimedes shouting, "Eureka! Eureka!" after his discovery.
Florence and Jimmy stood in the hall, with their eyes wide open, but a tinge of joy and amusement could be seen on their faces. John came to Florence and embraced her tightly. He bent down and kissed his son on both of his cheeks. The house, as if, had come alive after all those years of silence. He picked up the telephone and dialed his personal secretary. Without waiting to accept her greetings, John said," Hello, Jeanie, we will be discussing the new project tomorrow. We have to finalize it tomorrow only because the day after tomorrow, I am leaving for Nepal, of course with family. It will be a month long trip". And before he could get any reply, he put the receiver down.
The old classmates had decided to meet at Delhi University on a particular day. The messages had already been exchanged among the old students of the university.
Mohit reached the venue, where they were going to meet, a little before the others. He seemed to be quite anxious to meet his old friends. He had left the college sixteen years before, but he remembered everything that had happened sixteen years before. He remembered all his classmates.
Among his old classmates, two he particularly remembered. One of them was Hariharan Shukla, called Harry by the classmates and Abhilasha, called Ellie by them. Their story was quite strange.
The old memories began to leave their graves. He imagines that he is back in time. He is sitting on this side of the stream. His friends are on the other side of the stream. Suddenly, he hears screams. He begins to scream too.
“Don’t go forward, Harry. The current is too fast there. You won’t be able to stand in the water there. Come back!”
The stream had taken the form of a small river that rainy day. They were in Haridwar, a town in the mountains. There were several boys and several girls, but only two girls, Chetna and Abhilasha, were courageous enough to enter the river water. Harry did not stop and continue to swim away from them.
Harry was not a very strong boy and he was also not a very good swimmer, but he was trying to show to the female friends that he was a good swimmer. He was not scared of the strong current of the water in that stream that had turned into a small river.
Harry could not fight the current for a long time. When the others saw that he was being carried away from them, the students began to shout and scream. Mohit and Abhilasha jumped into the water to save him. The other students were shouting, “Ellie, please don’t go. Mohit can handle it. Ellie, please come back!”
Ellie did not listen to anyone and went with Mohit and eventually pulled Harry out of the water. Actually, it was Ellie who had saved Harry. Mohit just helped her a little while holding the drowning boy.
Ellie, Abhilasha, was from a village family. To be more precise, she was the daughter of the farmer parents. She was habitual to doing hard physical works. She was a young girl, but she was as strong as any other boy her age. She never liked to be treated like a weak girl. If someone tried to help her in doing something that needed physical power, she would look at him angrily.
Harry was obviously highly obliged to his saviour, Ellie. Mohit had also contributed to his rescue. He had thanked Mohit for that. After that incident, Mohit, Harry, and Ellie became very good friends.
Ellie had topped the college in her Intermediate exams. Since her parents were highly traditional and orthodox, she had to obey them. They sent her to Delhi to continue her further studies. The people, particularly the elders, in her village never allowed their girls to marry outside their caste, but Ellie had already decided to go against their dictates and do what she liked.
Eventually, she married Harry with the help of Mohit and her other friends at the college. The marriage ceremony took place at a small temple near their college. After the marriage, she went back to her girls’ hostel. She did not fear the consequences of her love marriage.
After about one month, she went back to her village for three days during holidays. Coincidently, to her misfortune, the priest, who had performed the rites during her marriage at the temple near the college, was also there in her village. He was sitting with the village priest.
While walking past the temple in her village, she was startled to see that priest in her village temple. She tried to walk faster to avoid his stare, but he recognized her. The priest later informed the elders in the village that she was married. When Ellie heard that her parents had also learned about her marriage, she ran towards the bus stop and boarded the very first bus she found there. She went back to Delhi. Later on, her father visited her and she told him that she had married Harry. He was obviously very angry at first, but after a lot of persuasion he agreed.
The villagers did not agree, but her father was on her side. He called Ellie and her husband to the village and gave a small party and declared them husband and wife. The villagers had to accept them as husband and wife.
Before their marriage, Harry and Ellie were just friends and they often quarreled and playfully fought with each other, but now they were a married couple. Harry used to be a great admirer of Ellie for her boldness, but that boldness became a problem for him. When he tried to behave like a normal married husband, she would say, “Harry, you are also acting like an orthodox Indian husband.”
Harry would answer very politely, “Now this is the truth!”
Harry and Ellie had moved to his parents’ house. Three months after their marriage, one day, Harry was out of station to attend his first job interview. In his absence, suddenly, his mother had an attack of paralysis. His father was also a heart patient. He became extremely nervous to see the condition of his wife. Ellie lifted her mother-in-law and brought her up to the car and placed her gently on the backseat of the car. Her father-in-law sat on the front seat beside her as she drove towards the hospital.
After a while, when they had reached the hospital, her father-in-law said to Ellie, “I did not know you could drive!”
“Papa, if my friends had train or airplanes, I would have learned to drive and fly them as well. Mohit, my friend, had a car and he taught me how to drive a car. We used to drive his car while we were studying at the same college!” she laughed and explained.
Ellie spent most of her time during the following one month on taking care of her mother-in-law. Eventually, the old woman was back on her feet. Harry’s mother and father agreed that unknowingly Harry had found a gem of a girl as his wife. Ellie developed a very intimate and friendly relationship with her in-laws.
Some of Harry’s relatives had initially not approved of his marriage. However, after a few months all of them began to visit them invite Harry and his wife to their houses. Everyone admired Ellie and they talked about her. Harry’s parents began to show more trust on Ellie than their son. Ellie was more intelligent than Harry. She was extremely beautiful.
Harry was the only son of his parents and before his marriage he controlled everything in his house, but after the arrival of Ellie things began to change very rapidly. His monopoly on his house and his parents was shared.
As the time passed, Harry began to be jealous of her. He began to scold her for being so frank with the guests who visited them. Whenever he found that she was happily chatting with the guests, he would call her into the kitchen or into their room on pretexts.
The things began to worsen and he began to scold her in front of others for nothing. She mostly listened patiently, but sometimes when she realized that he was unnecessarily scolding her, she would revolt.
Ellie did not realize it but the others could clearly see that Harry had begun to suffer from inferiority complex. Her virtues became curse for her. Harry began to dislike her for the things that he used to admire before their marriage. He even forgot that she had saved his life and he was indebted to her.
On their first marriage anniversary, Harry said to her, “Ellie, what gift are you going to give me today?”
She said, “I won’t give you anything. You will have to bring me a gift. I promise you a beautiful gift after a few months.”
That night, Harry disclosed his close relationship with his former friend Avantika. He had deliberately chosen that night to disclose his past affair. Ellie did not mind it and she did not say even a word. He wanted to trouble her and he said, “Ellie, don’t you feel angry?”
“No, not at all, why should I be angry. I was not in your life them. There is no question of being angry now,” she laughed and tried to move a little away from him.
He did not stop there, “It means we were free to do anything before our marriage?”
“Leave it now. Let’s not talk about it now,” she tried to end the topic there.
One month after their first marriage anniversary, Harry’s maternal grandmother fell sick. They decided to go and see the old woman. Ellie was happy that she was pregnant and that was her gift for her husband. Harry’s parents were very happy to know that they were going to be grandparents soon. Ellie wanted to go with them to see Harry’s grandmother, but they dissuaded her. Harry and his parents left in the evening.
The same night, at about 8:00 pm, the doorbell rang. It was Mohit, their former classmate and very good friend.
“Hello, Ellie, how are you? You are surprised, ain’t you?” Mohit sounded very excited.
“Mohit, you!” she was obviously quite surprised to see him there.
“I decided to surprise you so I came here without informing you. Where is Harry? We have a lot to talk today. I have to catch early morning train from New Delhi railway station. I am going to Kolkatta. Your house is near the railway station, so I came here. Where is Harry?”
“He and his parents are out of station today. They are visiting his sick grandmother.”
Mohit got ready to leave, but Ellie stopped him and said, “Have you gone mad? Where will you go at this time of night? Sit quietly and I will bring tea for you. Then we will have dinner together!”
Mohit said, “No, Ellie, it is not right. I will put up at a hotel nearby. I should not be here in your husband’s absence!”
Ellie pulled his hand and forced him to sit on the sofa in the living room and said, “Mohit, I am married, but I am very fit and fine. I will drop you in the morning. You go to the guest room and take a shower. I will serve dinner in a while. I will not take a ‘no’ for reply.”
Mohit tried to object, but she said, “No, you will sleep in the guest room. I will drop you at the station in the morning. Okay?””
Mohit had to accept that he could not go against the wishes of Ellie. Harry was also his best friend. At the time of their marriage, Mohit had told Ellie that either she would have to become submissive or she would have to make Harry more confident.
While having dinner that night, Mohit asked about it again. Ellie said to him, “There is no problem now, Mohit. Everything is going on well. Now go to bed and sleep well. You have to get up at 4:00 am to catch your train.”
Although nothing was visible, Mohit felt that all was not well in that house. Mohit went upstairs and Ellie went to her bedroom. She had had dinner with Mohit, but she was not able to digest it. She vomited several times that night. At about 3:30 in the morning, she prepared tea for Mohit. He was ready in his room. It was still dark outside.
She drove him to the railway station. The train was late, so she had to stay with him for about three hours, although he told her several times to go back home. Because of vomits the night before, she was feeling very weak. She came back home and went to bed again.
Harry came back with his mother and father before his office time. He rang the doorbell several times, but Ellie was soundly asleep. She opened the door after about five minutes. She opened the door, but when she looked at Harry’s face, she understood that he was very angry. “I did not hear the doorbell,” she tried to explain, but he was not ready to listen to her. Later in the day, she learned that the maid had also come to work, but she went back because Ellie did not open the door.
The maid said to her, “What happened in the morning. The neighbouring auntie said that you had gone out by car very early in the morning. Is everything all right?”
Ellie did not answer and told her to go and do her work. Harry had overheard their conversation. His anger aggravated. However, he went to office without speaking with Ellie. Two questions were in his mind: why had she not slept the night before and why she had gone out by the car? It was necessary for him to ask her about it.
In the evening when he came back, he was the same, filled with anger. After a while, Mohit phoned him and informed him that he had stayed there the night before. Hearing Mohit’s name, he got furious. He did not understand why Ellie had not informed him about Mohit.
She said, “I fell sick last night and when I came back I was too tired so I went to sleep again.”
He was angry because she had spent the night with Mohit in the house without informing him or his parents. He thought that she had deliberately not gone with them to his grandmother’s house. He believed that she had already planned his meeting with Mohit.
They did not speak to each other for about one week. After about three weeks, she began to look very weak and sick. She was surprised that Harry’s mother also did not try to ask her why she looked so weak. Eventually, she visited a doctor. Harry was not worried about her, although he knew that she was carrying his child.
Harry was not happy that he was going to become the father of a child, on the contrary, he began to suspect Ellie. He began to believe that there was definitely something between Ellie and Mohit. He was not ready to believe that Ellie was carrying his child.
She had believed that Harry would support her and he would definitely feel happy that they were going to become parents soon. That night, she came and sat beside him on the bed. She did want to speak to him.
He suddenly shouted at her, “Why do you say that I am the father of the child that you are carrying. Mohit is the father of this sinful child that you are going to give birth to!”
Ellie was shocked because she had never imagined that Harry would think from that angle. She did not believe her ears at first, but when he shouted again and accused her of having an affair with Mohit, she burst out and began to shout. He said that he would not eat anything unless and until she left his house forever. He had decided to leave her. His father tried to convince him, but he did not listen to anyone. He believed that she had called Mohit to their house with a pre-plan.
Harry said to his father, “Papa, I have never told you many things about her. The girl who can deceive her father can deceive anyone. Please forgive me father, I made the wrong choice.”
Although his father knew that there was some kind of misunderstanding between his son and his daughter-in-law, but he was compelled to take the side of his only son. He sent Ellie back to her parents’ home in her village.
When Mohit was informed by one of their classmates that Ellie had left Harry, he contacted both of them and tried to convince them that they should not get separated, but nothing worked.
Ellie had said to Mohit, “How can I live with him? He suffers from very mean mentality and inferiority complex. I can’t endure him anymore. Why should I keep apologizing for the things that I am not responsible for.?”
Eventually, Ellie filed a petition in the court and get a divorce. They were legally separated. After their separation, Harry immediately married his new girlfriend Avantika. Even after three years of their marriage, Avantika was not able to conceive. They were also separated.
Finally, Harry’s parents found a new wife for him. He got married third time. She was not a highly educated girl. They believed that she would be a very obedient girl, but she was not like that. She began to control the family. She was also not able to give birth to a child.
Ellie was in a dilemma, because people began to accuse her of being unfaithful to Harry. It had been proved that he could not produce a child.
Although Harry’s third wife remained childless, she was able to control the whole family. She removed all the old maids and servants from the house and took complete control of everything.
Mohit comes out of his reverie. He is still waiting for the other classmates to arrive. His wife was busy, but Mohit is with his two daughters. They are going to meet Mohit’s classmates after sixteen years. Harry and Ellie are also there, but they are not husband and wife. Harry has come with his third wife. He is still childless.
Ellie has not changed at all. She is still different from others, satisfied, confident, self-confident, and happy. Her young son and her eleven years old daughter are also there. Her second husband is Captain Malik. He is also with Ellie and the children.
Ellie had met her second husband in the court during the process of her divorce from Harry. Captain Malik wanted to know why she was leaving her husband Harry. She had said to Malik, “He is a rascal. I am carrying his child in my womb, but he accused me of being unfaithful to him. I have suffered lot but now I want to divorce him.”
Captain Malik was highly impressed by her boldness and frankness. He had also come to the court to take divorce from his mean wife.
After their divorces were finalized, they met outside the court. They met a few times and then finally decided to get married.
Ellie’s son looked exactly like Harry. There was not need of any DNA test to prove that he was Harry’s son. When Harry saw his son, he was deeply upset. He was obviously guilty. He realized that Ellie was innocent and he was wrong.
During their get together and the meetings, lunches, and dinners, over the following three days, Harry remained extremely upset. On the other hand, Ellie looked very happy and confident.
Harry knew that he was not in a position to even ask for forgiveness, for he knew that Ellie would never forgive him. She had left him to burn in his guilt, shame, and helplessness.
One more Sunday and the phone-call from Sonia. When the phone rang, it was around 9:00 am and he was still in bed. He did not want to leave the bed so early because it was a holiday. However, he received the phone and said, “Hello!”
It was easy to recognize her voice. Sonia had a very special way of saying ‘hello.’ That sweet voice thrilled him, although the ‘hello’ that morning was very slow and soft. She seemed to be sad. He quickly got up and sat on the bed. He rested his back against the wall and put a pillow in his lap. He said, “What’s wrong, Sonia? You sound very sad. Are you all right?”
“Yes, I am fine.”
“Why have you phoned me so early in the morning?”
“No, nothing special, I just remembered you and phoned you.” I guessed that she was kind of complaining that I had not remembered her for so many days. I knew why she was complaining, but I did not try to ask her.
She said, “Are you busy today? I mean do you have any work today?”
“Why?” He knew that he was always ready to oblige her, but he did not say anything on the phone.
“If you are free, come over!”
“Is there something special today?” he knew that he should not have asked that question, but he wanted to know why she was calling him over. Eventfully, he decided to go because she had called him with so much of love.
“No, nothing in particular. I have not been feeling myself for a few days. I will probably feel better meeting you and talking to you,” she laughed lightly.
He felt that she was pretending to laugh. He imagined her beautiful but sad face. He got curious to see her. “When should I come?”
“Anytime during the day. I am at home whole day. I want you to have lunch with me today.”
“All right, I will be there before eleven.”
It was an off day but he had several small works to do, but he had to postpone them because Sonia was more important than anything else. The house was in a mess and he had to clean everything that day, but now the plan changed. He got worried and rushed to the bathroom. There was no water. He filled two buckets and then filled all the water bottles and placed them in the refrigerator. He completed several other small chores very quickly and then took a shower. He prepared a cup of tea and ate two roasted slices of bread with a little butter.
While drinking his tea, he was thinking about Sonia. He was trying to remember when and how he had come across Sonia before that day. They had met at a party about two months before. It was the fifth anniversary party of Jolly. He and his wife had organized a party. Jolly’s wife was very beautiful. Jolly was very much possessive of her. He never called his friends to his home, but he called them to his anniversary party.
That day, Jolly’s wife looked like a film actress. He was about to leave the party because he had suddenly remembered some work when Sonia came there. Jolly said to him, “Mr. Kamal, your Sonia has just reached here and you are leaving?”
His full name was Kamal Kumar, but his friends called him K. K. Jolly said again, “Is there something wrong between the two of you, Mr. K. K.?”
K. K. did not like it. Jolly had actually said, “Mr. K. K. your Sonia has arrived.” He particularly did not like the words ‘your Sonia.’ He was about to say something but he found that Sonia was close to him. When she learned that he was leaving the party, she said, “I am not so bad-looking that K. K. is leaving the party.”
She sounded very serious and stable in her voice. She had a soft smile on her face, but he wondered why she was smiling. He did not understand whether Sonia was joking or she was really serious.
“No, it is not like that. Actually, I just remembered an important work that I have to do. But why have you come so late, Sonia?”
“You need to do your work in the mid of the party, but I had to do my work before the beginning of the party,” said Sonia in her grave voice again.
“Okay, Sonia, I am getting late. I will see you soon, or I will call you,” said he and went out of the house.
He got busy and in the following days he neither saw her nor phoned her. That is why he was feeling kind of guilty.
Having got ready when K. K. came out of his house, it was raining heavily. It had been drizzling since previous night, but this morning it began to rain heavily. He began to wait for the rain to stop outside his house. He waited for about fifteen minutes, but the rain did not stop. He unlocked the door again and went back into the house. He took an umbrella and came out again.
He was lucky because a taxi was parked just outside his house. He would not have found a taxi in that rain. He quickly got into the taxi and told the driver where he wanted to go.
While travelling towards Sonia’s house, he went back into the past. That big city would have been quite dull and boring if he had not met Sonia. Both of them were the students at the same college. They were doing their M. A. in that college. They passed their final exam the same year.
After their education, they began to come closer and they started spending a lot of time together. During his frequent meetings with Sonia, he found that she was opening to him like the pages of a novel. During each of their meetings, she told him one or the other thing about her and her past.
Sonia’s parents had passed away in her childhood. She was raised by her maternal aunt. She was obliged to her aunt because she had given shelter to that orphan and educated her. According to Sonia, her maternal uncle was not the person she liked right from her childhood. She had told K. K. several times that she wanted to leave her aunt’s house. She wanted to move to a rented room and stay there alone. However, it was not possible to have a room cheap in that big city. She had to earn her own money to be able to leave her aunt’s home. While studying, she continued to look for a part time job and K. K. also helped her in finding a job, but she never got a suitable job.
In those days, K. K. was also struggling in that big metropolitan city. He had left his small village in his home state Bihar with a dream. His early days in that big city were really horrible. He had to continue his education and work as well. He had to go hungry for many days.
Sometime, he would be so depressed that he wished to go back to his village and get involved in farming with his father. He did want to establish in that city, but it was proving more and more difficult as time passed.
In his early days in that big city, he slept on railway platform, footpaths, night shelters. The Gurudwaras in that city gave him food every day. He would get food for free, but as his duty to God, he served there for a few hours and did the works like cleaning dishes, floors, and helping in the communal kitchen.
Having got their M. A. degrees, Sonia and K. K. began to look for good jobs. Both of them would apply together and take the exams together. They often got interview calls and they went together to attend the interviews.
Sonia was lucky. She got the job of P. A. at a local bank. She was delighted the day she got her first job. K. K. also got a job at a big private company. At last, he found a roof over his head.
One year after getting her job, Sonia left her aunt’s house and moved to a rented apartment. K. K. shared a room with an office college at a locality near their office. It was a small and unfurnished room, but it was better than lying on roads and sleeping in Gurudwaras or night shelters.
Sonia and K. K. continued to meet each other after their office hours. They also met on their off days. The city began to look pleasant, for they had some money to spend together. They began to watch movies, visit places, do shopping together. Whenever they had an exhibition sale in their city, both of them used to be among the first visitors.
During those days, he had begun to feel something for Sonia. He realized that space was being created in his heart for Sonia, a very special space. He began to like her company more than ever. He felt eager to spend more time with her. He had probably fallen in love with her. Whenever he met her, he tried to look in her eyes to see whether there was similar longing in her eyes.
One day, he suddenly felt that Sonia had some other plans, big dreams, aspirations that he had never even imagined. She wanted to fly higher and higher. He realized that she did not want him to be more than a good friend of hers. He continued to struggle with his thoughts for several days. He gradually distanced himself from her and met her only when she wanted him to meet her.
One day, she complained about it and told him that he did not meet her as he used to before. She told him to meet her at their meeting point, the park near her house. He tried to give several excuses, but eventually agreed to meet her there. When he met her, he noticed that she looked very happy, but not because of that meeting. Eventually, she said to him, “K. K. I am very happy today!”
There were a few girls in that park. They were having henna designs made on their palms from a designer who was sitting on the ground. She said, “Shall I have designs made on my palms?”
He did not answer for a while. She said again, “What has happened to you? Why are you so quiet?”
The silence continued for a while and then she said, “All right, leave it. Let’s go to the coffee house. I have to talk a lot with you.” She pulled his arm and took him towards the coffee house.
She was about to sit next to him, but he said, “Please sit across the table.”
“Why?” she was obviously quite surprised.
“When you sit in front of me, i can’t see your face clearly.”
Hearing his logic, she began to giggle and took the chair across the table. She said, “Is iit all right now? What do you want to see in my face? You have been seeing my face for so many months. Hasn’t it been enough?”
K. K. did not say anything in reply. After a few seconds; he looked in his eyes and said, “Why do you look so happy, today?”
The waiter approached them and he ordered two coffees with some biscuits.
“Yes, I am very happy. The matter is such!” her face began to glow a little more.
“I am going to get married,” she said so casually that K. K. was stunned. She began to sip her coffee as if nothing had happened. Before he could come out of the shock, she said, “My bank manager, Rakesh, has proposed to me. I have thought a lot about it and I have decided to marry him and settle down.”
K. K. was deeply hurt but he did not let his pain take over his face. He kept sitting in front of her, sipping his coffee.
Neither K. K. nor Sonia knew that the sky that looked so bright and clear above them was going to be very dark and gloomy soon. She did not know that she won’t be able to fly high as she had expected. She did not know that she was going to fall down as a wounded bird.
It did happen. She came back onto the ground. All her dreams were shattered. One day, she did tell K. K. everything. Her husband, Rakesh, did not treat her well after the marriage. He got a better job in America and left her without any regret. She was left alone. He got married again in America.
It took Sonia a very long time to come back to her normal routine in life. She spent about two years thinking about her past. She kept trying to find out what her mistake was. She came back to normal life and decided to live her life afresh. Her smile came back to her face again. In place of gloom and sadness, beautiful dreams began to float in her eyes.
One day, when she met K. K. again, she informed him that she was marrying a young businessman from the town. That young man used to frequent her bank. His name was Vedpal. That man had taken the most important place in her life. She had already spent two days with him at a hill station. After that day, K. K. began to avoid her once again. However, when he met her, he noticed that she had begun to fly in the air again, telling him about her dreams and future goals. He wished her well.
K. K. managed to keep himself away from Sonia. He rarely met her over the following few months. One day, he received a letter from his father in the village. His mother was sick. She had been taken to a hospital in the nearest town, but it did not work. His father asked him to take a leave for a few days and come back home. He was told to come and meet his mother.
He began to make a plan to go back to his village for a few days. To his surprise, one morning, his parents reached his house in Delhi. His younger sister Sumitra was also with them. His mother was very sick and she looked quite weak. Later in the day, he took his mother to the All India Institute of Medical Science. She was hospitalized. She had to spend about one month in the hospital for her complete treatment. During daytime, his father stayed with his mother, and at night his younger sister stayed at the hospital. His father would come back home in the evenings and sit gloomily in a room in the house. He often cried alone.
K. K. was already very sad because his mother had been diagnosed with cancer in its last stage. He tried to encourage his father, but he was beyond any consolation.
One day, his father said to him, “How much she wished to see you married!”
K. K. noticed that his younger sister had also grown up and his father was also worried about her marriage. His father told him that he had talked to a few people to find a suitable boy for Sumitra but it did not work.
K. K. determined to find a suitable boy for his younger sister and arrange the best of the doctors to treat his mother. He decided that when his mother would come back home after her treatment, then he would think about his own marriage. They tried their best, but she did not improve. Eventually, she passed away.
His father wanted to take her dead body to their village and perform the last rites there, but K. K. convinced him and cremated her in Delhi. He told his father and his sister to stay with him in Delhi, but they did not agree and went back to the village.
His father did not have his own land, so he worked on other peoples’ land and paid them yearly rent. Their only property was an old house in the village.
Before leaving his father said, “My son, now think about your sister’s marriage. Then you find a girl and get married. I don’t want anything else.”
After the death of his mother, his father and sister Sumitra went back to the village. K. K. began to feel lonelier now. He had not met Sonia for a very long time.
One day, he got a phone call from Sonia. He had already decided to forget her. He assumed that she was already married to Vedpal. K. K. did not know whether she was in Delhi or not. It hurt him a lot that Sonia had not invited him to her marriage. That day, he did not receiver her phone call and disconnected the line.
One day, suddenly, he came across Sonia. K. K. was shocked to see her condition. She was like a bird whose wings had been cropped and it was lying on the ground. She was very weak and pale. Her eyes looked quite gloomy. Seeing K. K. in front of her, she began to weep. She suddenly put her head on her shoulder and kept sobbing for a long time.
K. K. learned that Vedpal had also cheated her. He was already married and he had two children from his first wife. Sonia’s dreams were shattered once again. She fell into deep depression. She began to ignore food and other things. She stopped going to her office regularly and stayed at home for days and weeks on many occasions. She stopped meeting people.
After the first death anniversary of K. K.’s mother, his sister got married. His father began to force him to get married. He told her that two respected families had already approached him to talk about their daughters’ marriage with K. K. He heard his father, but he did not respond.
After that meeting with Sonia, he did not meet her for several months. Once, he had to go to Mumbai. It was his company’s’ business assignment. While staying in Mumbai, he did remember Sonia a lot. He wanted to phone her, but he could not develop courage.
Having come back to Delhi, he tried to meet Sonia, and he even visited her house, but she was not there. The neighbours told him that she had shifted to another house the address of which they did not know. She had also changed her phone number. Although he could have gone to her bank and enquired about her, but he decided not to do that.
As the days passed, memories of Sonia began to gradually fade away and K. K. began to lead his regular life in Delhi. One day, she met him unexpectedly. She was standing outside a temple. K. K. was shocked to see how emaciated she looked. He was not even able to recognize her. She was in very simple clothes and there was nothing on her face that made her look lively and happy.
When he suddenly stood in front of her, she was startled. “Sonia, what has happened to you?”
She tried to smile and said, “What has happened to me? I am fine. I am in front of you.”
He simply stared at her face, but before he could say something, she said, “Where were you? We are meeting after so many years! You must be married? You didn’t even invite me to your marriage? You can at least introduce me to your wife.”
K. K. kept listening to her, thinking that she was surely trying to hide something from him.
“Shall I have to answer all these answers standing here in front of the temple? Come, let’s sit somewhere,” said K. K.
She smiled and said, “Why somewhere? Come with me to my home. I live nearby.”
While walking towards her home, she informed him that she lived alone and she had decided not to get married again. She had become the manager of the bank. She informed him that a few suitors had come her way, but she refused them all.
After that day, K. K. met her again three times that month. One day, he went to her bank because he had some work there. Then he met her at Batra’s party. After that meeting, he could not meet her and she did not call him.
K. K. tells the auto rickshaw driver to stop the auth in front of Sonia’s house. It is still raining. Although he has his umbrella with him, he is half soaked. It suddenly began to rain heavily. He knew that Sonia was waiting for him.
She said, “I was sure that you would come, even in this heavy rain.”
She gave him a towel and took him to the bathroom. After a while, he came out and sat in front of Sonia on the sofa. The television was on but he was not interested in that. Sonia entered the kitchen and after about ten minutes she came back with tea and snacks. She was in a beautiful blue suit. She looked much better that day. While drinking tea, they talked briefly about their jobs and family etc. Suddenly, K. K. got up and walked up to the window.
The rain had stopped. Everything looked fresh outside. Then he walked up to the adjoining room. It was Sonia’s bedroom. He noticed a few English newspapers on the bed. There was also an open book near the pillows. The title surprised him “How to Bring Peace in Your Life.”
They took lunch together in Sonia’s house. She was a very good cook, and he complimented her cooking. He had never before eaten the food cooked by Sonia. Sonia looked in his eyes and smiled.
After the lunch, she began to tell him about the things that had occurred in her life over the recent years. She said to him, “I have lost so many things between my childhood and my present. Life has not been easy. All my dreams have been shattered. It is really difficult for a young woman to be alone in a metropolitan city.”
K. K. felt that she wanted to tell him something, but she could not bring herself to telling it. He could not help himself and said, “Sonia, I don’t know why but I feel that there is something that you want to share with me, but something is stopping from doing so. Tell me, what bothers you.”
She became serious and looked in his eyes. Then she turned her eyes to the wall behind K. K. She kept staring at the wall for about one minute and then began, “K. K. life has been playing hide and seek with me. Whenever a flower of happiness appears in my life, the cloud of darkness covers it. Everyone cheated me and left me helpless. I never did any wrong and never harmed anyone in my life. Why I have to go through all this!” She began to sob, tears rolling down her eyes.
K. K. realized that she had lost courage and she was not able to speak loudly as she used to do when they had met several years before. She was speaking, but all that K. K. heard came to him in whispers.
She resumed, “K. K. I have been living with fear for a few months. Fear follows me everywhere. People look at me with strange eyes. They think that I am an object, without any feelings or emotions. Whether it is my office, my home, or my car, the woman inside me is always scared. I have tried my best to end this feeling of fear, but I have failed. I do not know what I am afraid of! I really need to free myself from my loneliness. I am compelled to take one more decision to end my loneliness. My decision is what I want to ....”
Her eyes were fixed on his face. He also fixed his eyes on her face. He knew what she wanted to tell him. However, he tried to be sure, so he explored her, “What is that decision?”
She kept quiet for some time and then whispered, “I want to get married.” Time as if stopped between the two. They kept staring at each other’s face. Their eyes transfixed.
K. K. was the first to come out of the trance, “Marriage? Now? After so many years?” He smiled and then resumed, “May I know who this lucky fellow is?”
Sonia did not answer for some time, but when she saw that K. K. was getting more and more upset, she said, “Mr. Malhotra, the cashier in our bank.”
K. K. felt as if the earth under his feet shook. A gust of wind suddenly passed by, without affecting Sonia. He knew Malhotra. He had met him twice. He was a middle-aged man. His wife had died of cancer several years before. Sonia was around thirty-five, hut he was past fifty. There was no match, thought K. K.
She said, “It looks you are happy to know about my decision? K. K. what do you say?”
He did not know how to react and what to tell her. He was about to say something, but she took his hands between her hands and said, “This time probably...” She did not complete her sentence. Her voice died in her throat.
K. K. put his right hand on her shoulder. She brought her head close to him and placed it gently on his shoulder. She rested on his bosom for a while. When she pulled herself away from K. K. he could see tears in her eyes. She composed herself and entered the kitchen to prepare tea.
Three hours passed after the lunch. The rain had stopped and the sun was shining again. He decided to leave, but when he was about to leave, he noticed a glow on her face. He liked that glow. He kept looking at her for a few seconds. The shine on her face mesmerized her and he could not move his eyes away from her. She was smiling, knowing well what he was feeling. Mr. Malhotra had vanished and it was K. K. in front of her. She smiled and said, “Have tea and then go.”
“No, now I don’t want tea. Sonia, will you marry me?”
She lowered her eyes and whispered, “You took so many years to say this K. K. Had you asked me before, I would not have gone through so many bad experiences. Of course, I will marry you.”
He kept the tray on the table and took her in his arms. He whispered in her ear, “Actually, I knew it from the very beginning that we were made for each other.”
Something In the Voice
We were meeting exactly after twenty years. It was not difficult to recognize her voice on phone, the same ring, the same arrogance, and laughter. She had the same style of shattering others with her sense of humour.
“Won’t you come to the hotel to meet us? We are in Asoka Lake View Hotel. We will be going back tomorrow. You can’t imagine how I found your phone number!”
“Why did you put up at a hotel?”
“We were not sure that we would be successful in talking to you,” said she in a complaining voice.
“Look, we are meeting after so many years. We will sit together and chat about the old times. It would be fun,” said I with a tinge of delight in my voice.
“He won’t find it easy. We can adjust but not him.”
“You stay with me. I will persuade my brother-in-law.”
“All right, now you come quickly to me or I will wait for his car to come back.”
I was very happy that she was in town, as if something priceless has been found. She was my bosom friend and we were meeting after twenty years. There was evident joy. There was an expectation. I wanted to talk to her about everything that had happened in her life and tell about mine.
My thoughts took me back. Twenty two years ago, she was a little plump. With her braided hair, in her striped skirt and blouse, she looked good. She must have changed a lot. When I remembered our time in school, I got excited.
I got up and began to take care of the things in the room. I changed the bed sheets and curtains. I wanted to show her that I was a very good housewife. I really did want to impress her.
“Mother, what has happened to you today? Why are you doing all this? You never do all this even for guests.”
“My friend is coming. You won’t understand. Go and fetch these things quickly!”
I ordered for all those things which she liked. How happy she would be to know that I remembered what she liked and what she didn’t! I had an old photo of my friend. I searched all the albums and finally pulled the photo out. I put it in a frame and hung it on the front wall in the drawing room.
“Is this your photo, mother?” children were laughing.
I rechecked whether there was enough money in my purse. Maybe they wanted to eat out! I had some money but it was not enough. I dialed my mother’s number, “Mama, could you lend me two thousand rupees? My friend is coming today. Yes, the same. I have a little money but I think it won’t be enough.”
I took leave from my office and got dressed to receive my friend. It seemed as if every leaf in our garden was dancing with joy, waiting for my friend.
“Mother, what is wrong with you, today? You are working like Charlie Chaplin!” children were teasing me but I ignored them.
I was literally flying. My eyes were looking towards the road. An official Jeep stopped at the front gate and she got down. I ran towards her and embraced her tightly. There were tears in our eyes.
She smiled and said, “You have not changed at all. Look, I have put up so much weight. Do you work so hard, or you are on diet?”
I was not ready for this. She entered the house and began to see everything very carefully. Her manners suggested that she did not like what she saw. She looked at her picture and said with a scorn, “This photo is still with you. I have thrown my photo. I look so bad in it.”
“It reminds me of our childhood,” said I. I was not sure what children were thinking about her but the impression was definitely not good.
“You were not in touch. You never wrote any letter and didn’t even inform about your marriage. I could not resist myself and look, here I am. What else did you do in these years? You used to value our friendship very highly but you never remembered me!” the complaint was evident in her voice. I could sense that she was not pleased to meet me.
I felt inferior in front of my friend. I could see that she was in a very expensive sari and her tastes had also become very expensive.
I slipped into my bedroom and dialed the number of my maternal uncle.
“Uncle, may I borrow your car for two hours this evening?”
“Why? Is there some emergency?”
“No, uncle, my childhood friend has come to meet me. I want to take her around. If your car is free this evening…”
“I need the car but I’ll try.”
I was assured and I returned to my friend.
“What does your husband do? You live on his salary or there are other sources of income? Where do your children study? Who teaches them at home? Do you have a maid servant?” she asked so many question that I was almost out of words. She didn’t even mind the presence of my children in that room.
I told her everything about our family; after all it was necessary to quench his curiosity. Her eyes were scanning everything in our house. I knew that she did not approve of many things there.
“You never tried to contact me, did you?” she pretended to be angry.
I happened to see a few strands of grey hair on her head and realized that she had dyed her hair. I was sure that she was in some kind of tension. I decided to ask her later.
“I was so much lost in my family that I hardly got any time to think about my past,” I realized that I was being emotional.
She looked at me very attentively and then said, “Do you have any problem with your in-laws? Do they live with you?”
“No, I am free from all sorts of bandages. I have to concentrate on my children’s future and nothing else. There is no problem at all,” said I very firmly.
“How will you make your children’s future? They will do as they wish. Who was there to make our future? Who asked us? I have been to most of our college friends. Disha’s husband is an engineer; she lives in a very big house because he earns handsomely. Uma is in this town; her husband is a businessman, and that Madhuri, whom boys used to send love letters, is married to an army officer. Anuradha has taken divorce from her husband; she lives alone; she teaches at a school…” she said so very easily that I was surprised.
I had not been in touch with any of them but I was curious to know about them. I was, in a way, thankful to her because she had told me about them in such a short period of time.
“Let’s go out. We have many beautiful spots in our town. Let’s enjoy,” I tried to change the topic.
“What is there to see in your town? We visit Kullu, Manali, Darjeeling, and Kashmir almost every year,” she said quite arrogantly.
“I have told my uncle to send his car. If you don’t want to go, we will sit here and talk about old times. You can see some books meanwhile,” said I and moved towards the kitchen.
I had sent my maid away because I wanted to cook everything myself. I wanted to please my friend in every possible way. While I was busy preparing dishes, she entered the kitchen and started looking around.
“Do you worship gods?” she indicated towards the idols of deities kept on the shelf in the kitchen. I could sense that she was making fun of my devotion.
“Why? Why do you say so? You never believed in God and you never fasted on pious days,” said I turning towards her.
“I believe in myself. We get rewards and punishment on the basis of our deeds,” said she.
I did not want to continue the argument because I was sure that she had not changed at all.
“How are you able to do so much of work? I can’t do. I get tired. Don’t you get tired? Don’t you ever get angry? We have four servants. I don’t like my old father-in-law. He is always quarrelling with everyone in the house!” she said very loudly.
I moved towards the kitchen door to see where my children were. I did not want them to listen to our conversation.
“I have to do everything in my house. Who else will do the work if I don’t? Let’s take lunch first and then talk later,” said I.
“I won’t eat anything. I take fruits and orange juice. I am very conscious about my health,” said she.
“I have cooked all those dishes which you used to like,” said I very softly and persuasively.
She examined all the dishes one by one and then said, “Are you happy with your life, I mean, with your husband?”
I was not ready for this. I had never thought about it. How she had guessed that I was not happy!
I gave her a smile and sat down. In the name of eating, she just nibbled at the things. She was not eating; she just tasted the things.
“What did you get from your in-laws?”
Now she had begun to talk about my husband’s parents.
“What do you mean? My husband and I set up our home by ourselves like that bird sitting on that branch,” I pointed to the bird in the garden.
“It means his parents were poor,” she said.
“No, we did not ask them for anything because we did not need anything,” said I very proudly.
The smile disappeared from her face. She looked very depressed. How much she had changed? There was no trace of the girl from the rural background. She had three children but she had maintained her figure. On the surface, her personality expressed that she was a very happily married woman.
“What else did you do? Did you buy a house, at least a plot of land?” now she was talking about property. She had learned so much in those twenty years.
“No, we don’t have our house.”
“Then what did you do?” she said in an annoyed tone of voice, “Both of you earn but you have not been able to buy your own house. Do you like living in this dilapidated house? How do you breathe in this environment?” she did not seem to be conscious of the fact that her words could hurt my feelings.
I pulled the curtains and light filled the room. I was under the impression that she would be mesmerized to see my well maintained house but it was not so.
“You must have saved money! How much do you save in your bank every year?”
“We have never counted. We have life insurance policies and that is all we have saved.”
“Either you are lying or you don’t want to tell me. How much is your policy worth, a million?” said she sarcastically.
I was staring at the bird in the courtyard where a little bird was pecking at the grains I had thrown.
“How much gold do you have? Is this necklace real or fake?” she touched my necklace.
Before I could answer her one question, she was ready with another. She had questions and questions.
“It is pure gold,” said I with a brief smile on my face.
“This finger ring is also real?” she looked surprised, as if without my own house I had no right to own gold ornaments.
“Yes…pure gold,” said I.
By that time, I was somewhat disturbed. The bird had already flown away. A few dry leaves in the yard were flying in all directions. I wanted to talk about something else. I wanted to talk about our childhood, our school, our parents, our friends but she was not in that mood. She was only trying to find faults with everything that she saw in my house.
“And, do you have good relations with your husband? Do you quarrel? Who starts first?” now she was talking about our relation. She was trying to prove that she was really my well-wisher.
“It is but natural. There is difference of opinions sometimes but these things are part of married life. Our interests are same: reading books, listening to music, going to theatre, etc. We love going out,” said I with enthusiasm.
“What will you do with these books? If there is emergency in future, you can always sell your land to raise money, but these books…” she seemed to be squeezing my heart in her fist.
I had never thought about it. She had introduced me to the bitter truth of life. Yes, I had never thought about any such circumstances where money could help the most.
“You are stupid like those days. You are a working woman and I am a housewife. It was in my destiny. My husband does not like it. He does not want his wife to work. His ego is hurt if I talk about working,” said she with quite obvious supremacy. She was vicariously pointing towards my husband. I did not want to hurt her so I did not answer back.
Pretending to be sympathetic towards me, she said, “Do you go on holidays, or work like a machine the whole year?”
“Never got a chance because family and the responsibilities never allowed us to go away,” said I.
“What the hell! You speak as if there is no world outside your family!”
I remained quiet for a little while; I wanted to say something but the very thought that I was meeting her after twenty years did not allow me.
“In your office, you must have come across many men. Do you have a boyfriend?” she laughed.
“I am past that age. I am obliged to my husband and my children,” said I in a very firm voice. I was gradually gaining strength that was nowhere to be found a few minutes before.
“You have become a wonderful orator. O.K. now tell me, is your husband happy with you? Does he still like you?” she was moving towards our personal life.
How I could convince her that I was very happy! It seemed there was something which she was hiding from me.
She began to tell me about her life. She had a big house, two cars, and four servants. She said that she enjoyed all the luxuries in her life.
I tried to force her to stay with me for one night but she was not ready. When she had left my house, I was sure that my children were going to shower me with many questions.
After about two months, I got more information about her. She did have all the luxuries at her disposal but the most important thing was missing and I came to know about it only through a letter from one of my friends whom I had written after her departure.
It transpired that her husband had another woman in his life. He had separated his days between the two of them. She was trying to find her happiness in the materials and luxuries but she had missed the world.
I was relieved that I was right and I was proud of my husband. Though I felt sorry for her, there was delight in my heart that I had a very loving family.
I looked at her picture with sympathetic eyes and entered the kitchen. I was going to cook the choicest dishes for my husband.
I felt as if a storm had passed over my head. I was flying like a bird in the blue sky.
Those Magical Moments
We were under the spell of a magic, exactly like we happen to be in love, dream, and sorrow. Other things around us were unchanged but this was our first experience to be like this. There was a small lawn, a guava tree, the whiteness of the moon at 2:00 am, dew, silence, and the cat snoozing on top of the wall. All these things used to be always there but we were not there like this. But we were there today.
“I will go and check on my mother,” she got off the bench, keeping her glass on one corner of the bench. She had not finished her drink.
Before disappearing she turned and said, “Do you need anything?”
I shook my head. At first her feet seemed a bit unstable but after two or three steps, she was all right.
My eyes were silently following her. She entered the room and disappeared in the darkness inside. For the first time I realized that with her sudden departure she had left something behind- the emptiness of that proximity, the unoccupied bench.
Once again, I looked towards the room. The curtain of the next room shook and then she reappeared. There was a definite radiance in her figure. Her loose shiny hair was enchanting. Her powerful figure was approaching the lawn.
She re-established herself on that bench and took the glass in her hand. Then she took a deep breath and smiled at me.
“Did I take too long?”
“No, but what was there inside, except for sleeping?”
“I had gone in to check whether the mother had taken her sleeping pill.”
I kept quiet. I observed her very deeply. Her facial skin was tight but it only after she had consumed a few drinks. Her face was ruddy and shining. That was the magic of drinks on her.
Her naked feet were on the grass. It was getting colder due to dew. She pulled her legs onto the bench.
“Cover them,” I extended the corner of the blanket towards her, “or shall we go inside?”
She did not say anything and covered her feet with the blanket.
“Tell me, how one should take decisions in life?” said she in her soft voice.
“What types of decisions?” said I.
“Life changing decisions!” said she.
I did not answer. I turned my head and looked at the cat. She was stretching herself.
I moved towards her and touched her toes with my hand under the blanket and said, “Such decisions should not be taken from conscience. Conscience should remain only a spectator.”
“Why?” she was curious.
“There are two reasons: first, she does not have to take such decisions because our conscience is free from suspicions, other things in life need to take such decisions. Mind doubts but conscience is pure. Where there is doubt, there is no conscience. The second is that in case of wrong decisions, our conscience won’t be hurt because she will be free like a spectator. One must try to keep one’s conscience free from all these worldly problems because her place is much higher than our physical existence. She should only remain a spectator so that she could either clap or sympathize after a performance.”
She did not say anything but she pressed my finger between her toes. I looked at her lips; they were quivering, as if trying to say something. I pulled my finger. I placed my empty glass on the grass and said, “Shall I make a move?”
“No, please stay a little longer,” she insisted.
“When that cat leaves the wall, you can go.”
I looked at the cat. She was sleeping very peacefully and there was no hint that she would wake up before dawn.
I picked up the glass and made another drink. She began to sip from her glass.
“So conscience should be audience viewing the performance of life?” said she. Her voice was heavy; it could be the effect of either cold or the stupor of drinks.
“Yes, while taking such decisions.”
“Is it possible?”
“Is it easy?”
“No, this does not work in real life. In writings and poems it seems wonderful. Have you ever been able to do this?”
“Taking a decision in your life without involving your conscience in it?”
I heard and right at that moment I felt a flash of light in my mind. A thought began to take shape in my mind. How strange is the fact that the term called life that is our own, so near to us, is actually so alien and unknown to us.
“Answer me!” she repeated.
I looked at her, in fact, I observed her not like before, but with a very different approach. I saw her as a body, an appealing figure, spreading its luring aroma around me.
I knew that she had been waiting for my proposal for four years, and in fact everyone known to us knew that we were going steady but they were amazed why we had not tied the nuptial knot. I did not know why I had not proposed to her. I also knew that she loved me from the depth of her heart, and her love was so deep that even love had become silent in that unfathomable depth. There was no action or reaction. In past four years I had only touched her hands once and that too to read her palm. I was thrilled by that touch.
She was waiting for my answer but I was not sure. I did not want to spoil that beautiful relation by creating a new connection with her, I mean enjoying the physical aspect of our relation. I was afraid lest our physical union should spoil our magical relation that had kept us together for four years. I did not want to come out of that magic.
“What do you say?” said she.
“Yes, I have taken such decision where conscience is not involved.”
“What is that?”
“Some other time,” I extended my hand towards her and she kept her soft palm on my hand. I pressed her hand. She looked in my eyes. I was convinced that it was an open invitation. I pulled her slowly towards me.
“Wait!” said she and stood up. She emptied her glass and sat by me.
I was under her magical spell. My stance was shattered by her voice, “The cat is about to wake up,” she pointed to the wall and kept her head on my chest.
I was intoxicated and thrilled and I kissed her forehead, “Remember this…our limitations are here only up to this point. There is nothing beyond.”
She lifted her head and looked in my eyes. She was very close, so close that I could see the deepest hues of her eyes. Her lips were wet. I kissed them softly. In her eyes I found the entire mystery of creation, the secrets of our existence, the meaning of life, and I did not want to know beyond that.
I knew that I had to maintain that magic. I read the smile on her face. She was inviting me. I was on the verge of going against my values of magic. I knew that she was ready to go to any extent for my sake.
“Here?” she whispered, “in this magic!”
The cat had disappeared from there but I knew that her soul was there. I was aware that the cat was also a part of our magic.
Seven months after that magic, she got married.
That night everything was over too soon. I had no experience so I could not guide her properly. I was feeling suffocated in that relation.
Before leaving her, I had said, “Whatever time we spent in this magic was actually in the cave of body and it was not our truth. The life is beyond that, the light is beyond that.”
After that she had picked the glass and said, “Now you can go.”
I met her twice after that but the magic was not repeated. Then she decided to get married. I was not surprised. She needed a man and her mother needed a son-in-law.
A condition was put before the prospective husband that she would never leave that town. She knew that I was never going to leave that town.
After her marriage, she took her mother along to her husband’s house. I was not invited there. I never met her after that.
We were living our lives in our own ways.
I don’t know where sorrow originates and how it spreads. I don’t know anything about its realm, but that summer afternoon I experienced something strange. I was on the terrace of my house. The town sprawled around me and I could see the movements below in the streets. The sun was very pleasant. Suddenly, I felt as if I was lonely, I was restless, I needed someone near me, I had to speak to someone.
I came down and entered my room. I had her phone number. So many years had passed in silence, without even a word exchanged.
After three rings, she picked the phone.
“How are you?”
“I am fine. I want to meet you,” said I.
No answer came for quite some time but then she said, “What happened?”
“I do want to meet you.”
After a long pause, she said, “Wait... let me see.”
“Do you know where our house is?” said she.
“Yes…where are others?”
“Mother is sleeping in the courtyard, in the sun.”
“He is away; he will come back in the evening.”
“I am coming,” I disconnected the line.
That afternoon I met her. She had put on a little weight. She took me inside her house. I was afraid lest her husband should return.
In her room, she sat near me and I took her hands in my hand. I said, “Shall we go back to that cave?”
She smiled but I could guess that there was only a formality as if she was under some sort of obligation to me.
I was with her for about three hours but that magical spell never returned. I felt something was missing. She was ready for everything but that radiance on her face was missing, that cat on the wall was missing, and conscience was not merely a spectator.
After that day, I met her again about six years later. We met in a crowded market. She had a little child with her. She looked weak. The face was dim. She informed me that her mother had passed away. Her husband mostly remained out of station.
“How old is he?” I pointed to her son.
“You can see,” she laughed but with her breath came a gust of smell. She was drunk.
“Have you been drinking?”
“A little but not without the permission of our doctor,” she said with difficulty.
“Do you drink every day?”
“I have to go,” she held the child by its hand.
“Are you all right?” said I, sensing that something was really not right.
Three years passed without meeting her. Then one day she met me at a marriage reception. In past three years, she had phoned me once to invite me to her son’s birthday party but I could not go.
That marriage was taking place in a nearby town and we had to catch the train back to our home town. She agreed to come with me.
While returning, I bad reserved our seats. Once settled inside our coach, I said to her, “Did you eat anything?”
“Yes,” said she, covering her son with a blanket on the berth.
After some time, I took her hand in mine and said, “Why do you drink so much?”
“We could have lived our lives differently if you had agreed!” said she, looking in my eyes.
Her hand was not as soft as it used to be. I did not answer her and remained silent.
After a while, she said, “But you were afraid, weren’t you? That is why you were teaching me that philosophy.”
I had nothing to tell her in my defence and I did not want to.
“That night I wept for hours. I entered the house and got dressed in my most beautiful sari and aimlessly wandered in streets till sunrise. I did not see that cat after that night. Why didn’t you agree?” she was weeping.
I embraced her tightly in that dimly lit coupe of the train. She whispered in my ear, “Shall we go back to our cave?”
I could not resist myself. I began to kiss her like a mad man. She did not protest, in fact, she wanted it. I could smell that magic in the air.
Two years passed after that incident.
I was working in the Archaeological Department. Our office was behind the cremation ground. I was studying some old coins.
The window in my office opened in the street and I could see the movement on the road.
Suddenly, I saw a woman walking with difficulty away from the cremation ground. There was no mistake. I recognized her. I got up and ran out of the office but before I could call her, she was going away from me in a taxi.
That evening I phoned her.
“You looked so weak and worn out?” said I.
“I was in hospital.”
“Now I am all right.”
“I am coming,” said I and began to get dressed.
That was my second visit to her house. The outer door was open. I pushed it. She was inside the room.
“Close the door and come inside,” said she.
I found her in a bed. Her hair was loose and her body was covered with a blanket. There was a dim light in the room. I sat on a chair near her bed. She indicated with her hand to come near. I moved and seated myself on the edge of her bed.
“What was wrong?” said I.
“Something wrong with my blood and they kept me in hospital for ten days.”
“How did it happen?”
She did not answer.
“Did it happen due to drinks?”
She did not answer.
“I have stopped drinking.”
“But you are alone! Where is he?”
“The maid was here but I sent her away because you were coming,” said she with a great effort.
I pulled her hand from under the blanket. I was shocked because her hand was wrinkled with only layers of flesh here and there. Joint bones were jutting out from her fingers. I pressed her hand softly but I did not find that old magic there.
“How are you?” said she very lovingly.
“I am fine.”
“Your hair is turning grey.”
“Yes, I am growing old.”
“Perhaps, we have lived enough?”
“Trying to understand the life, accepting it, sharing our happiness,” said she.
I did not answer.
“Did I make you happy?” said she.
“I never retreated. Whenever you wanted I was there. I was with you with my conscience. You may have felt it,” said she.
“Yes…but why did you do it?”
“I don’t know. Maybe that is love.”
I was observing her very carefully. How much she had changed physically but she as an existence was unchanged!
“What are you looking at?” said she.
She removed her blanket and said, “See carefully.”
Under that blanket lay her skeletal body, shrunk and shriveled. She pulled me upon her. I lay there.
“A woman never fails to understand a man!” said she.
I got up and said, “Cover your body.”
“Why? What happened? You don’t want that philosophical magic today?” she was laughing.
I had no words in my mouth.
“I looked for love and life with you but you sweet talked me into a word of yours. When you needed me, you came, and even today you came with that thought in your mind. If I were not sick, you would be enjoying your magic!” she was literally shouting.
My conscience was ridiculed today. How could I convince her that I loved her very much? All she paid attention to was the physical union which lasted only for a few minutes.
I am unable to decide what she was looking for.
Next three years passed and I never tried to phone her.
I had been promoted and I had to go abroad for training. I wanted to share the news with her.
The door was open and I entered the house.
He was sitting on a chair. He pointed to a chair. I sat down.
“She passed away last year, but before death she wanted to meet you,” said he.
I was shocked, or at least, I was not ready to get this sad news from her husband.
“Before her death, she told me everything. When I married her she was pregnant. Your son is in Union School, Shimla. He is in hostel. If you want to meet him, you can take my letter,” said he.
I got up; my legs were shaking; I was weeping and I did not stop to hide my tears; I knew that she loved me.
Outside the Bungalow
Today there is nothing inside that bungalow but he is very much there sitting on his chair near the main gate.
In the past, there was much to be guarded. It was his duty at that time but now it is his nature. All his life he had protected the house, business, and the fairy.
Yes, there lived a fairy in that house, very fair and pious, her face like the full bright moon. It seemed as if the unseen hands of the artist had carved her out of marble and animated her by breathing life into her.
The fairy had mesmerized him and he needed that fairy. He could not live without that fairy. All he wanted in his life was that fairy.
The fairy was innocent and she did not know anything about the world. She was twenty years old, just out of college. She did not want to go for higher studies.
Using the power of his wealth he married the fairy. He was very happy and he spread all that he could buy under her feet. After their marriage, he took her to a hill station, Nainital. There he took her to valleys, mountains, and natural streams. They stayed at the best of the hotels. He was always with his fairy, like her shadow and he wanted to see her smiling and dancing. He liked playing with his fairy.
He bought the most expensive clothes and ornaments for her. He would bring the latest saris for her and he would take her to her friends’ houses, clubs, and parties. She was his living trophy in life and he felt proud presenting her for the observation of people.
They were very happy together and not even a shadow of sorrow had touched their lives.
One day, a young man arrived; he had come from the fairy’s house; he said that he was her cousin and he would stay with them. The fairy welcomed him and invited him to stay with them. She chatted with him for hours; she was delighted to know about her parents and friends.
He could not stand it and he decided to keep an eye on the visitor. From that day, he became her watchman. He told that young man not to enter his house and her rooms in his absence.
Even at nights he kept watch on her. He would hardly sleep; he would keep watching her. When the fairy smiled in her dreams, he would be suspicious. Many questions would rise in his mind. Was there someone else in her life? Did she like that young man? He was a restless man and he lost his peace of mind.
He shook her out of her sleep and asked, “Do you love me?”
The fairy smiled and changed her side. He repeated his question many times.
Finally, the fairy said, “What do you feel? Ask yourself!”
“How can I know? You tell me. Do you love me?” he would mutter.
“You will have to find it yourself. I can’t say,” she smiled.
After that he did not sleep.
Next morning he seemed very angry, as if something was burning inside his body. He wanted to take a flower in his hand and crush it, or deform a most beautiful of the gold ornament. He wanted to find his answer.
He wandered about restlessly to find his answer. He was afflicted and he wanted to know whether she loved him or not.
Again the same question, “Do you love me?”
Again the same answer, “Ask yourself?”
When she wanted to go to her father’s house, he did not let her go alone. He wanted to be with her, to keep watch over her, to be her watchman. He did not believe anyone.
He introduced many restrictions on her. She could talk to her parents only for three minutes; she could not drink tea because he was afraid that her colour would change; she was not allowed to invite her friends in his absence.
If she wanted to buy something from market, either he accompanied her, or sent his sister or mother with his fairy.
The fairy gave birth to a child. She was very happy. When she suckled her baby, it seemed, as if, all the blessings were being showered there.
One day he asked again, “Do you love me?”
“Ask yourself and you will know.”
Time passes very quickly. Her children are playing with her and she is playing like a child.
At night he would ask her, “Do you love me?”
The same smile would appear on her face, “Ask yourself and you will know.”
He began to neglect his business and soon he found that he had suffered heavy losses. He had to sell some of his property. He visited many places in search of job.
Now the duty was double: work away from and home, and keeping watch on her. He moved his business to a foreign country. He appointed servants to keep watch on her. Those paid angels kept watch on her and gave every single report to their master.
One day she said, “I don’t want to stay alone in this house. Children go to school and you are busy. I will look for some job. No one comes here to meet me. I feel very depressed.”
He was afraid that she wanted to go away from him. In that foreign land, how could he leave her alone among the strangers? She could elope with some one!
She looked more beautiful with time and this added to his worries. He thought over it and said, “You can take children to school every morning and bring them back in afternoon. In this way, you will get time to go around.”
The fairy was happy because she could visit market and buy things. One day, she bought many things and the bag was full. A young man helped her and carried her bag to her house.
He saw it from a distance and rushed towards her, “In a few days you have made a boyfriend! Now, you won’t go to school!”
That day he hit her. Unfortunately, she slipped and fell down. Her spinal cord was dislocated and she had to be confined to her bed after her treatment.
He was sad but there was a relief that she could not go out.
He began to take very good care of his fairy; he bathed her; he changed her clothes; massaged her back and pressed her legs. When he went away, he phoned many times to ask about her. In his house, he would spend most of his time sitting beside her.
The fairy, gradually, began to wither and her colour began to change. That pink colour which used to mesmerize him never returned. He tried his best but she was unable to sit.
He arranged the best of the doctors from his own country and from abroad but nothing happened.
One night her doctor said, “The fairy has gone back to heaven. She will never come back.”
He was not ready to listen to him. He did not believe it. He began to shout, “No…my fairy loves me…she can’t leave me!”
Now, when you pass by that big bungalow, you will find him sitting at the gate. He believes that his fairy is sleeping inside. His children have grown up and left him. He does not want to disturb her sleep.
He has only one regret that he did not get the answer to his question, whether she loved him or not. He is always there at the gate, keeping watch on that house and his sleeping fairy.
More than Human
However he tried, his background, his family, religion and good breeding haunted him day and night. Vinod Pandey, a promising young lawyer and a most eligible bachelor, in J.B.Nagar area in Bombay, had never wanted what the destiny had offered him to be.
He had come to Bombay when he was eighteen years old, an extraordinary student with a Bachelor's degree in Law and legislation from Allahabad University. Though his parents had sent him to his uncle’s, who was a reputed advocate in central Bombay, Vinod had other plans in his young mind. He had striven had to persuade his parents to send him to Bombay.
When he came out from Bombay Central station, a gust of sea breeze caressed his long curly hair. He took a deep breath, and hailed an auto rickshaw to stop. It was his friend Hamid's house he decided to go to. Hamid used to live in college hostel in Allahabad in their college days. Vinod and Hamid had developed a very intimate friendship between them. In spite of Hamid's stay of two years in Allahabad, Vinod had never dared to invite Hamid to Vinod's house, for he knew what consequences would have been there had he ever done so, for Hamid was a Muslim and he a Hindu boy. Vinod’s devout Hindu father, Mr.Badri Prasad Pandey, would never tolerate to see a Muslim boy in his house. Many a time Vinod had been reprimanded by his father for not mending his ways. He a so called modern boy, would never take his father seriously. But all this had been ten years before.
Reaching Bombay, he had succeeded to get a job through Hamid's father, and they had compelled Vinod to stay with them until they arranged a separate room for him. Vinod began to work with M/s P.K.Legal Consultants in Bombay. The start of rupees nine hundred was more than he had expected. He began to study LLM course, and in the following three years he successfully passed the exams.
After about a month's stay with Hamid's family, Hamid's father, through his influence upon the local tough boys, managed to get a room on rent for Vinod. It was a family of four, Mr.Juman, his wife Rasheeda, and their two young daughters Neha and Rehana. Vinod was given the room adjacent to the main door. The door to his room faced the narrow street across which there was a small tea shop, with two long wooden benches in front. Although the young local boys gathered there in the evenings, pretending to have come for tea, while chatting in a group in high-pitched voices, accompanied by frequent slaps on one another's backs, their furtive eyes never escaped Vinod's judgment that they wanted to get a fortunate glimpse of either Neha, or Rehana, who would often come to the window for nothing.
After the hectic routine in the office, Vinod would patiently cover the distance of about two kilometers from Church gate to Bombay Central. His feet would move in a rhythmic manner, never faltering of slowing to make him look at what went around. At about 5:30 pm, Neha would bring a cup of tea for him and he would thank her, without ever daring to meet her stare. He used to pay them for his fooding. In any other circumstances, after LLM with a handsome salary, he would have definitely shifted to a better place, his personal apartment. But that offering of thanks to Neha in the evenings empowered him to stop thinking about changing the place.
It had been three years with Mr.Juman's family. Hamid would visit him on Saturday and Sundays. Once, Vinod had been to Allahabad to be confronted by his angry father, who by that time, had been informed by his cousin from Bombay that Vinod was staying with a Muslim family. Vinod spent three days with parents and younger brother, and came back to Bombay.
There was turmoil in his mind, what wrong he had committed if he had decided to stay with a Muslim family. His rebellious mind was set to take a very fatal step.
For a long time he had restrained himself. He saw his life partner in twenty years old Neha.
It was the day of 'Id', holy festival of Muslims, and the whole family was in joyous spirit. Vinod had also tried to extend his good wishes to the family, in the form of a packet of sweets. By this time the local tough boys had become his friends. To share their feelings, he would also put on a new suit on that auspicious day. Though anti-Muslim feelings and the poison which his colleagues oozed out disturbed him, he remained silent. Vinod wanted to be the person who could make at least between two different people.
After three years, he took a very bold step. He opened his heart in front of Neha. He was sure to get a positive response, and it happened so. He submitted an application in the court of law, and after one month, Vinod and Neha were declared husband and wife by the marriage registrar, in the presence of two witnesses, his friends from his office.
Vinod had never realized how much wrath and hatred he had reaped in dowry. His friends suggested to him not to go to Neha's house. she was frightened, for she knew if they went together to her house, he would be killed. so the marriage was kept hidden. They reached home separately. Though they were married, no one doubted, for Neha lived with her parents and he shifted to a guest house.
After about six months, he succeeded to hire a two room apartment. He could see a silent protest in Neha's eyes when he left their house. It was very hard for him to control himself, and every evening, he would visit Mr.Juman. Those moments of joy were inexplicable for him. Vinod got enormous success as the time passed.
He wanted to be with his wife but he knew that a Hindu-Muslim riot would erupt if he did so. After her graduation, she began to work as a teacher. She completed her M.A. and decided to do PhD. She would visit Vinod on Fridays on the pretext that she needed his help in her studies. Her younger sister would accompany her.
Vinod had spent eight years in Bombay, and he and Neha had been married for years. Now he could not control himself. He had never ignored the precautions while making love to her.
Vinod always insisted that they should disclose their marriage and have babies, but the destiny had other plans.
Had he adopted Islam, it would have been easy, but he believed that that was not the solution. In uncertainties, time moved at its pace.
One night there was a loud noise outside. It was about 9:00pm.A boy called Rehman was there. His shirt was torn and he was bleeding from his forehead. He informed that a dead cow's head was found in the Hindu neighborhood near the locality where Neha and the family lived. The local Hindus had entered the Muslim area and killings and rioting was started. The houses were set on fire. Vinod was dumbfounded. And after a few minutes, he was in front of the smoldering house of Mr.Juman. Mr.Juman's dead body had been taken away in an ambulance. He was only a spectator, tears rolling down his cheeks.
After that he never saw Neha. For one year, he went there every day and his eyes searched for any clue as to whereabouts of Neha.
Vinod went back to Allahabad.
Neha and her mother had been transported to Delhi. One year later, she was compelled to marry a man named Rasheed, who had a fine job in Bombay. While boarding the train, she was uncertain whether she was going to Bombay as Mrs.Rasheed, or Mrs.Pandey.Life was a mirage to her.