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He didn’t answer any of her questions. Anger soon took over the love that Namita had for him. She said yes to the first proposal her parents brought to her and got married.
In 2019 our beloved writing contest, Muse of the Month gets bigger and better (find out how here) and also takes the cue from the words of women who inspire with their poetry. The writing cue for April 2019 is these lines from Punjabi poet Amrita Pritam, considered the “feminist before all feminists” in India, from the poem I will meet you yet again (Main Tainu Phir Milangi), a translation of her original poem in Punjabi.
but the threads of memory
are woven of enduring atoms.
The first winner of our April 2019 Muse of the Month contest is Deepali Joshi.
Namita’s evenings were not always this busy. Her kids, a son and a daughter, were in their early 20s and had built a life of their own. Their communication with their mother was limited and mostly on need basis; only when they were hungry or couldn’t find something. Otherwise, they were blissfully ignorant of her presence around them. Namita’s husband Arijit, on the other hand, was very kind and loving. He loved spending time with her. They were married for more than 25 years now and he had doted on her every single day. He worked for a private real estate firm and came home only after 8 PM. So Namita was pretty much on her own in the evening which she liked to spend in the balcony of her fourth floor apartment with a cup of tea. She liked to look at the kids playing in the garden below. But not today. Arijit’s call in the afternoon had kept her busy all through the evening.
“Namita, we will have three guests in the evening. I was hoping we could ask them to join us for dinner. Only if it is not much of a trouble for you”, Arijit had asked Namita when he had made his daily post-lunch call. Namita didn’t mind and agreed. She asked if he wanted her to make anything special for them. “Everything you make is special”, Arijit had responded. Namita couldn’t help smiling. She got busy in the kitchen preparing dinner and wondering if she really deserved all the love Arijit showered on her. She had almost finished cooking when the door-bell rang at 7:30 PM. She called out to her son to open the door and rushed towards her bed room to freshen up and change.
The guests were already seated in the living room when she came out. In a light blue chiffon saree and her hair tied loosely with a band, she looked fresh and beautiful. She smiled at Arijit and waited for him to introduce her to the guests. Arijit introduced the three gentlemen as his colleagues. He went on to tell her about their profiles, families and other casual details. But Namita wasn’t listening to any of that. Her eyes were transfixed on one of the guests. He hadn’t changed at all. Did he recognize her? Namita was fighting a surge of memories when she realized that Arijit was telling her something.
She caught herself and brought back her attention to Arijit. “I think we will have a round of drinks before dinner. I hope you don’t mind”, Arijit asked Namita. “Not at all. I will get the glasses and ice”, she said and turned around to go back to the kitchen. She threw a fleeting glance at that guest as she turned and realized that he was also looking at her. Yes, there was no doubt that he had recognized her. She could read those eyes very well. But both of them knew better than to acknowledge their familiarity with each other in front of everybody.
Namita made herself busy in the kitchen as the men chatted over drinks. She was conscious of the voice that had once made passionate promises to her. She didn’t hear the words formed by that voice but she was aware of its closeness. It reminded her of a past she had buried within herself long back. But she hadn’t forgotten any of it. She remembered all the details very clearly.
Manav lived in the same building in which Namita lived with her parents. They crossed path almost everyday never bothering to give each other more than a cursory glance. But that didn’t stop him from rushing to their help when Namita’s father had a heart attack and had to be rushed to the hospital at midnight. He provided the much needed support during those difficult times. Thereafter, Namita’s parents found generous ways to shows their gratitude and he became a frequent guest at their place. As the only child of their parents who lived abroad, he had come to India for a project and lived alone in the flat. He didn’t mind the company and pampering of Namita’s parents. Namita, however, kept her distance. Not because she wasn’t grateful but she couldn’t trust herself around him. She found herself attracted to him and didn’t want to make it obvious. Avoiding him was the best plausible option. She couldn’t have been more wrong.
Attraction between them was palpable and soon enough they gave in. They loved each other’s company. They laughed at silly things, sang loudly in the car with Bollywood tracks in the background, chased each other playfully on the beach, walked miles after miles holding each other’s hands and made love in a way that percolated beyond the physical bodies. Namita was sure this was the kind of love they talked about in books and movies. The books and movies also talked about tragedy and grief and Namita was about to get a taste of that too.
He left with a promise to come back soon. Months became years and the longing intensified. He didn’t come. He called a couple of times to apologize but never explained the reason for the betrayal. He didn’t answer any of her questions. Anger soon took over the love that Namita had for him. She said yes to the first proposal her parents brought to her and got married. In Arijit, she found a loving husband and a reliable friend. But something was missing.
Time flew and Namita became engrossed in family and kids. She thanked her stars everyday for a perfect family that she had. But there were times when she couldn’t stop herself from thinking of what could have been if destiny hadn’t been so cruel to her. She always pushed away the thoughts as forcefully as possible. The past is supposed to stay where it should be. But the threads of memory are woven of enduring atoms. They keep a part of the heart entwined, where it beats passionately for someone somewhere.
She was still in the kitchen when she heard Arijit call out to her that they were going out for a smoke. She came out of her trance and started taking out the plates. Suddenly, she became aware of a presence behind her. She didn’t turn around but stopped what she was doing. The presence was overpowering. She felt her knees going weak and held on to the kitchen slab for support. “I see that you have built yourself a perfect married life. I am happy for you”, Manav said. Namita closed her eyes as a barrage of emotions that she had carefully guarded for so many years broke and came out as free flowing tears. She turned around to look at him and saw a similar longing in those eyes.
He took a step forward. Namita had been angry with him for so long but now it didn’t seem to matter. When he came closer and took her into his arms, she didn’t resist. She let her tears flow freely as she clung to him. The embrace may seem wrong and immoral to the world but to them it seemed like the most perfect thing that could have happened then. Both of them stood there embracing each other and trying to make up for all that they had lost. After some time when Manav took Namita’s face in his hands and wiped her tears, a magical serenity had spread over her face. It glowed with contentment and tranquillity.
“I never thought I will see you again….but Arijit should know nothing about us”, Namita told Manav with a resolve. “I am very happy with him and owe him everything”, she added further. “Of course, I would never do that. I just wanted to see that you got what you deserved. He loves you a lot. I am going back to Germany tomorrow”, he said as he stepped back and stood at the door. They heard the door open. “Namita, we are back. Let’s have dinner”, they heard Arijit call out from the living room.
Namita gave a few plates in Manav’s hands and asked him to go out. He did. “Too bad you don’t smoke Manav. We had an interesting discussion out there”, Arijit told Manav when he saw him bringing out the plates from the kitchen. Manav smiled generously and said, “Arijit, I prefer the aroma of the food your wife cooked to the smoke of cigarettes. I am also helping her in the kitchen you see.” They all laughed heartily and gathered around the table for dinner.
It had been three months since then. Namita thought about Manav more often after that. But it didn’t bother her any more. There was certain warmth to those thoughts now. She let go of the anger and accepted that they were not destined to be together. He came into her life and gave her some beautiful memories to cherish. She considered herself lucky to have had something as divine as their relationship. The door-bell rang and broke Namita’s chain of thoughts. It was 5:00 PM.
She opened the door to find Arijit standing at the door with a sullen face. He came inside and sat on the couch without saying a word to Namita. That was not usual. Namita knew better than to poke him. She went into the kitchen and got a glass of water for Arijit. She sat opposite him patiently as he gulped down the cold water. “Are you alright? You don’t look very well”, Namita finally asked him.
“Do you remember Manav? He had come home for dinner three months back”, Arijit asked Namita. She was taken aback. Did Manav say something to Arijit? “Yes, I remember. What about him?” she replied as calmly as possible.
“Well, he passed away this morning. We got the news today in office. Apparently, he was suffering from a rare heart disease since very long. He was always in and out of hospital since he was in his 20s. He didn’t tell anybody.” Arijit broke the news to her. “Actually, he wasn’t even allowed to travel to India by his doctors but he came. Nobody knows why. All he said was that he had some answers to find. He was a good man”, Arijit said with genuine grief in his voice.
Namita heart plummeted but she couldn’t let it show. “Yes, he seemed like a good man”, she mustered up the courage to say. Arijit sighed and got up saying, “May he rest in peace. I will go and change. Will you make me a cup of tea please?”
Namita sat there staring at the wall in front of her. She had finally found her answer too.
Deepali Joshi wins a Rs 500 Amazon voucher from Women’s Web. Congratulations!
Image source: a still from the movie Masaan
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