The Lost Life

It had been three days since I moved in with my parents. My father had got transferred yet again to this hill station after 5 years. He would be in charge of the repairs section of the Sanshet dam constructed around 40 years ago and which now stood towering in the distance.

I had barely finished college, scraped through it you could say. Pass marks in all subjects. At least I was consistent. I was wondering if I could apply anywhere with such an academic record. I had got up in the morning today earlier than I was used to. The morning mist looked inviting. The coffee cup was still waiting for me to pick it up. The newspaper sheets were flipped till I reached the appointments page for any such job that might suit my credentials.

As I was going through the various vacancy ads, I heard someone calling. Thinking it was some one calling dad or mom, I continued only to know the person whoever it was calling was trying to elicit my attention to her.

I opened my window pane to see Meena looking eagerly waiting for me as if she wanted me to show something. Meena was my classmate in school at Sanshet school before I left this small village town after my dad’s transfer.

Her hands were empty save for a couple of glass bangles on both. There was some calf love between us during those days, I must confide, which both of us were proud to admit. Her eyes seemed to talk. They looked sad and yet there were streaks of shine happy to see me after these long years which seemed ages to me.

I got dressed casually, put on my slippers and walked out of the room through a door which could open directly to the courtyard where stood a beaming she. Her silver anklets looked the same as her pretty frock she used to wear long back. Her form was the same when I last saw her. She had not changed one bit.

Before I could ask her anything, she took my hand in hers, clasped them tightly and beckoned me to follow her. The morning dew on the grass was making things slippery for my feet as the initial walk now became brisk and it was clear she would have broken into a run over the mounds and crests of fine green grass that adorned the beautiful country side, had I complied.

Where are you taking me, I enquired of her, my eyes riveted on that beautiful face etched in memory which I used to dwell upon in my loneliness and depression bouts at college.

Meena was the foreman’s daughter and they lived in the officer’s quarters that was half a mile away. But today she was taking me elsewhere. I tried to start another conversation thread. How have you been. Did you finish college? In silence she smiled at me; the same patented smile of her which I had taken care to imprint and nurture and chisel on in memory. The years spent with her in school was a dream run never to come again but the good Lord had given me the ability to replay those beautiful moments. She didn’t reply even this time but her lovely eyes did.

Where are you leading me, Meena? I thought you were taking us to your parents. How are they? Still the silence prevailed but I could see that she had slowed her steps while still holding my hand tightly.

There appeared a desolate house and I wondered if something was wrong as she led me to it. She opened the door to the house which welcomed us in with a creaking yet haunting voice. Except for a couple of old wooden benches and a chair there was nothing in this room of this shelter.

All of a sudden she let go of my hand and went into the other room. I thought maybe to bring me some water who was not used to such long walks in the morning mist which only aggravated my asthma. I now remembered I had not taken my Asthalin Inhaler before venturing out with her.

I waited for a few minutes and still when she didn’t appear, I came out, circled the house twice looking for dear her. Calling out to her also did not elicit any response. Sure she was playing a prank as was her nature. I walked to the officer’s quarters and located her house which was the fourth in the second row of houses that had got a fresh coat of white paint.

I walked in unwelcomed, so I thought, based on old memories. Her father looked very uneasy and tired sitting in the easy chair. His eyes looking into the far distance trying to solve some puzzle in which he looked entangled. Addressing him, I offered my salutations but he looked through me as if I didn’t exist. I walked around the kitchen hoping to see her mother or her but none I could see there. I walked back into the living room that looked lifeless and my eyes fell upon the picture of her mother that was garlanded with non fading flowers and was I shocked again when I saw another garlanded frame of Meena.

I sat next to her father and tried alerting him to my presence but he either looked blind and sounded deaf or both or was it I, who was dreaming all this while. I smiled how crazy dreams could get..it was a matter of time before I woke up from it. But things remained the same and I got up as there was no point sitting in front of her crazy father or was it me who had gone crazy.

As I walked back she appeared again briskly trying to catch up with my footfalls. She held my hand as we walked in silence. I tried to play along with her act not showing what I had learnt upon the visit to her house. But the silence was killing me. Are you on a vow of silence? I asked not expecting an answer. “No”, she answered taking me by surprise. I wanted you to know what had happened after you people had left. I used to frequent the typing institute to hone my skills in it. I must have gone two years and got a good speed.

One day on my return through these same paths there was heavy rain accompanied by thunder and I had to take shelter in that house where I took you today. I couldn’t venture out that evening and got trapped there in the incessant downpour. Someone came there, a stranger. It appeared he was staying there without nobody knowing except me in my misfortune. I never saw his face in the darkness but he sensed my vulnerability and took advantage of it and as I resisted him, little did I know that he would snuff the very dear life out of me.

He fled the place and was never to be seen again in this territory of mine she said with a change of tone. Now as I looked at her she was not the diminutive Meena I had known. She was a beautiful woman yet of a pale self. Were you waiting for me these years? Yes she replied I knew you would come so that we can spend some ages together in bliss. How can we, what makes you think…. I broke off, not knowing what I should say.

Come, let us go your house, said she, sensing my thoughts…Wanting to give a glimpse of what a life i had lived I started to enlighten her. After I had left Sanseth, I had got into bad company at college. First smoking then drinking which seemed soothing at first before I got addicted with drugs whatever I could lay my hands on or whatever the peddlers could give me.

A once healthy me was a pale self now, with frequent attacks of asthma adding to the aggravation. I tried to wean away from all these considering the love of my parents and you who I knew doted on me and would wait once I came back after graduating. It was easy to kick smoking but not doping. The drugs were the demons who came to you every night and pestered you till you relented and met their demands. They pleased and praised you and left early morning with you defeated. Yesterday it looks I had a heavy dose or else how could I explain your appearance though you now appears lost to me. I couldn’t understand how such misfortune could come in our lives.

Life’s lessons are sometimes too harsh and at too short a notice. You never know what hit you and slowly we reconcile ourselves to the grim truth of reality. Isn’t life a chain of events like beads in a rosary caused by karma and a mix of choices that we make? With a throbbing head and with the shadow of Meena in tow, I walked into my quarters where could be heard a wailing from my mother with father holding her crying self over my body now lifeless, eyes looking into the distance trying to make out the purpose of dear life.

How some stream that we take channel us into paths best avoided and before the gravity of it sinks in, we get drowned before anyone could help us. There is no point thinking over it now nor staying here anymore, Meena said, as she held my hand and led me out into the sunshine…

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The Lost Traveler

All the while in the tour bus, you were fed up of all the hard talk among the tourists and wished you had some peace to yourself, for which you had opted to come along this tour to the forest lined by river tributaries and a lot of green foliage you had wised to see. From the town to the forest was a good 40 miles of beaten track which wobbled your internals as the bus tried its best to grip the undergrowth that had become so slushy with overnight rains.

You never were interested to get yourself muddied and dirty as you had forgotten a fresh set of clothes in the town hotel that closely resembled a war shelter of the 50’s. The decibel levels of the crowd in the bus had come down, as some were starting to shift their observation out of the windows rather than talking and observing their occupants inside.

A few bends where the bus almost toppled sent a section of the crowd including you on to others who resisted much as they could, only to see themselves thrown off on to others at the next bend. Whatever was eaten at the restaurant seemed to churn inside and threaten to make itself made known to the outside world, because of this rollicking ride.

With a few more upward rides around narrow streams lined with boulders, the driver stopped the bus, as if anchoring itself near a river that passed right across its path. This was where we were to alight, as the path had disappeared under the river. The flow on the top seemed calm but there seemed to be a  current that could drag one along, were one to step into it.

The group broke up into different directions after the babel of tongues had stopped, and each one including you wanted to have a shot at solitude and silence. Hark! what was that, a huge eagle scampered across the trees upon the arrival of your footsteps on the foliage  of dried leaves, the rustle which seemed deafening in the silence of the retreat. The crowd and the bus was far left behind as one had the time to take a look around . Also, everyone had been alerted to reach the bus in 3 hours time for the return back to the shady township.

There were a lot of rivulets, streaming branches of the main waterway, causing you to make a lot of diversions in your path among the trees, where the descent down to another attractive tributary had you almost running down, so much so, that you had to apply all brakes to stop yourself falling headlong into the river. But fall you did, with your hands supporting and arresting your fall. When you got yourself up, your hands were full of mud. You walked a few steps, where you could wash them in the flowing waters. There seemed to be a lot of fish, in various colors and shapes, scampering away, as your form appeared to them. The crystal clear water was tempting enough to take a drink out of it with your now cleaned and cupped hands.

Rejuvenated by the refreshing drink, you take your camera, a prized possession of any tourist, and start shooting pictures. You step carefully to the edge of the water to take your best shots, at the delightful nature around. You walk along the banks, as the ground is a bit steep to take you back along the path from where you had descended. Enjoying the unfolding flora, you have now left your bus and fellow passengers a mile away. But then there is a lot of time to go back, as you survey your new surroundings that present itself to you. A few butterflies appear as if from nowhere, and as you train your camera, they vanish into thin air. The way has given way to white gravel, rounded ones, large as potatoes, that you have to be careful while you step on them in your progress with your shoes now wet and beyond repair.

It is now, as you near a bend, that your eyes fall upon a canoe, long discarded by some native who might have lived nearby and or had drifted himself to this very spot, and would have abandoned it in search of food, as water along cannot sustain one for long. This seemed to you, once in a lifetime opportunity, as there was an oar that seemed to roar at you to get in, and have the ride across the placid waters of the river now getting wider as it wended its way along. You step into the canoe, which appear wet at the bottom. Throwing all caution to the winds, you get in, seat yourself comfortably amidst the drenched leaves that you had placed as a cushion, you now take the oar and start to row as you had seen rowers throw their arms in the television. Rowing seemed easy partly because the oar was a far cry from its original weight, eager to learn the new skill, you pace the canoe along the bank, keeping it best away from drifting towards the center of the river which appeared to have increased its vigor. The sun was making a hurrying exit made easy by the mountains that now seemed to converge on to the river path. It all seemed to be a perfect setting to enjoy a vacation, until now.

Suddenly, as if the curtains came down, rain bearing clouds stretched itself up the river path ready to welcome you, you who had never accounted for this turn of events, the breeze made way to the wind, which started beating down on your face with droplets of rain that hurt you as you tried to take cover. There was some amount of panic creeping somewhere in you, as the canoe now started to have a life of its own and started cruising along the center and the rain came down heavily. You tried your best to row yourself out of this pandemonium that had started like an orchestra, but tired arms was failing to nature’s fury. You forgot the camera, the bus and the tourists and wished you had stayed put with the crowd instead of venturing yourself out along into a misadventure that would soon culminate with the canoe and your sinking soon. The canoe was going at full horse power, as if an engine had been put on it, but with the rain water beating down, it was fast becoming a vessel full of water.

The only escape out of all this mess was now to jump out of it and swim across to the bank right or left you cared not, for life seemed to be weighing itself up and down based on your decision that you would make now right or wrong you would leave it last to decide. But you never were a good swimmer and always at school knew best how to sink in the pool after paddling with your hands and legs for a few minutes. The depth of this river you could never fathom, if you would jump now, but there was no time for analyzing your pros and cons and how you would fare once you were in the cold running water. How you wished you had stayed at home rather than recklessly scan your brain now at its wits end. There appeared a long log of wood which looked to have got stuck in the drift and this seemed to be a perfect opportunity to jump. Jump you did as there was no moment to lose, now trying your best to swim to the branch and just as you appeared yourself sinking down, you caught hold of the frail branch and crawling on all four limbs, all the while wishing your had long nails on your hands and your feet was webbed as you reached the firm ground on the bank. It now dawned upon you in the fast approaching dusk, that you had lost yourself in nature and had to wait till help arrived after your desperate SOS call from your cell had luckily reached the tour operator…