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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Divine Couplet

Satish walked into the narrow lane just in time to spot Veena walking upto him. This was supposedly to be their last meeting. Veena’s father was moving out from this town with his business partner to Ahmednagar . They walked hand in hand across the splattered street what it had become with the wind and the rain having played havoc in the small town for the last few days. The turmoil that played out in their minds was not any less compared to what the unsettled elements were experiencing, right now.

They had met a few years ago when Veena had come inquiring of a friend who lived in the lane where Satish had moved a few months ago. Do you know where Meena stays, I mean this address, as she showed him a slip of paper on which it was Sajan Nivas, Pakeesa  Lane. Yes it is that one said Satish pointing to the next well built house where here friend Meena stayed.  And beware of their dog, do not enter unless someone comes to the gate. Call out and somebody should open the door for you. Veena was looking at Satish, a young handsome man who wore a kurta, albeit an old one it seemed which had seen many a wash. Thank you. You have been so kind, as she bid good bye. After that she seemed to be a frequent visitor at Meena’s place who was her school mate and had not continued her studies after 10th grade. After attending Lalaram college which was around a mile away, she made it a point to take a detour through this lane hoping that she could meet and chitchat with Meena and have a glimpse of Satish who rarely, it seemed, moved out of his house.

After inquiries from her friend, she came to know Satish was a writer, a poet who wrote nicely and he had a weekly column in the newspaper where his articles and creativity was put on show for a paltry sum of 250 rupees a week. With this money he could barely meet his own expenses, but in the hope that something would dawn on him soon helped him continue and churn out his usual creativity. Most of his poems bordered on the poor and the helpless although he wrote on anything under the Sun. The newspaper did not have a wide circulation, so the publisher much as he wanted to,  could not raise Satish’s earnings.

Veena started reading the newspaper regularly more so because she wanted to know more about Satish through his writings and fell in love with what he wrote first and then with the character behind the articles. Slowly they became good friends while Veena was finishing college. She had written her exams and was waiting for the results which would come with the monsoon rains.
Their favorite haunt was the brick wall house where Satish lived or they meandered sometimes to the nearby river that flowed at a walkable distance behind the mangroves.  Her father Ganpat Rai  had a few shops in the town but of late they were not doing well and he was thinking of another plan to move to another town where he had spent his childhood and youth. His wife Janki was from this town and after marriage he had settled here to look after the family business. But one day, Janki left them succumbing to a rare disease when Veena was 8 years old and after that they were feeling lonely all these years in their palatial house. Veena’s grandmother who was always a lovable woman passed away last year.

It was at this time Shankarnath another business man who dealt in cotton and jute asked Ganpatrai to invest in his business in the same town where Ganpat was thinking of relocating. It seemed to be a good idea, as Shankarnath had quite a booming trading business in the mentioned town and this would prove to be a good start. The decision took some weeks to be cemented and once it was taken, Ganpat Rai sold whatever he had, including this house and was bent on investing the earned money with Shankarnath. It was this decision that was to separate Veena from Satish.

For both of them it was not the opportune moment to tell Veena’s father about their marriage plans. Veena was just turning 18 and there was nothing Satish had in him to seek her hand. He was just a small time writer who eked out a living by writing on scrips of paper in a brick house that was open to the elements just as his mind was…

They walked on the side of the river. The evening was giving way as the Sun was seen fast disappearing in the far off mountains. They had so much to talk and yet kept their silence for words did not carry much weight to the destiny that seemed to take them way. They cast longing looks at the fading sun and at each other, each trying to imprint the other’s face in their minds. How pretty Veena looked against the backdrop, just like a bride whose hands would be decked with Henna in a few years. The question was, would Satish come up in life to gain her father’s respect and seek her hand. Only time would tell. For the time being he captured her image in his heart, the memory of which would keep him alive in her absence.

Time had moved on. It was seven years today when they had met last. Veena and her father had moved to the other town and then after that there was no news from them. Satish waited for quite a few years and after that he too moved to another town , a good 100 miles away to the south but not before leaving pointers with the children in the neighborhood where he was moving to, as he sincerely hoped that one day Veena would come searching for him. He had moved away because the wall of bricks used to torture him with her thoughts, her laughter, the tinkling of her anklets which once ringed within the four walls whenever she used to visit him, to read his latest poems that were unpublished.

He wished to move away from that desolate place, lonely and barren now like the desert for without her presence, her memories used to suffocate him and make him breathless and hopeless at times. He could not, he would not eat, he would spend sleepless nights, the only hours he got sleep had him dreaming with her visiting him again and making his life lively with her constant chatter, her long laughs, and her face flickered before him like a candle that was getting snuffed out. It took him quite a struggle to get himself out of the wretched life in that town and here he was for the last 2 years where he had setup a book shop in this town new to him. He wrote for the leading 2 papers in this town and things were becoming better and he was better known in these places as a person who wrote about the different shades of life. The sorrow and the pain lingered in most of his writings and appeared realistic to his readers who themselves led struggling lives.

Although he was getting busy and getting engrossed in work writing new poems of despair, of loneliness sprinkled with liveliness, a large part of him still yearned for her, her presence and would be always on the lookout for dear her. Whenever the doors parted, partly because of the onrushing wind, he would look up, trying to take a glimpse of a sweetness that had long lost to him, thinking it would be her after all these years, but there was no one except the teasing wind which ruffled his hair just as she would a few times during their occasional meet ups. Will she come at any moment of time, his heart hoped while the rational mind had its doubts, would she pick up on the clues he left in the neighborhood for her to know where he presently lived, he could only cling on to dear hope that for him was now a string of rope that he was holding on to, for dear life, as for him, he could not live like this for long.

The postman while coming on his bicycle sounding his bell  had Satish rushing to the door thinking it was some sweet tidings from his lost love, but all the time they would be letters for his neighbor or the monthly magazines to which he subscribed. Whenever he locked his house and frequented the newspaper offices once or twice in a week he would wonder if she would have come during the time when he was out and had gone  back unable to find him. He made inquiries on his return but no one had come nor appeared. Who would come in search of a poet who could not make two ends meet with words that flowed from his fountain pen. The rain beating down on the asbestos roof brought back memories of the dilapidated brick house that was open to the elements. Would it have survived this raging monsoon, or the river in spate, he never would know…

This post was inspired yesterday by the couplet written by the late poet Kaif Bhopali which I am listing below for reference and sung divinely by the unmistakable Jagjit Singh with his velvet voice. Please listen to this as it would add meaning to my post.

Kaun aayega yaha

P.S Also, let me know if a sequel to this would be good to read…

Kaif Bhopali