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My wife and I parted on that particular morning in our usual manner. Sandhya left her second cup of tea and followed me to the front door. She pulled off the invisible strand of hair from my cream coloured shirt, which is a common act of a woman to demonstrate ownership and bade me goodbye. Said Sandhya,”Take care of your cough.” Well, I had no cough at all! Subsequently, as I closed the door, I heard her slippers receding to her cooling tea.
When I set out for my work, I had no premonition of what was to happen. The attack happened suddenly. For several months now, I had been slogging and working 24×7 at a long pending law case that I had finally won a few days ago. I had plunged myself in the case continuously for the past five years. A couple of times Dr. Mithun Vishnu, my good friend and family physician had cautioned me about its repercussions. “Your nerves or your brain will cease to function. Now Shyam, does even a week pass in which you do not come across a case of Aphasia- of some man lost, wandering nameless, with his past and his identity blotted out- in the newspapers? And all from that little brain clot caused by excess work and too many worries.” I replied jokingly, “I thought those clots were formed in the brains of news reporter.”
“Jokes aside”, continued Dr. Vishnu and shook his head. “This disease is existent. All you need is some form of relaxation. For you it has always been Court-rooms, office and home. You read nothing but law books during your leisure time. Better heed to my warning now.” I immediately replied, “I do relax on weekends with my wife and friends. We just chit chat – nothing in particular.”
That particular morning, on my way to the office, Vishnu’s words rang in my ears. I woke up suddenly with stiff and cramped muscles from having slept for long in the confined and uncomfortable seat of a deluxe bus. I started thinking hard for some time; and then spoke to myself, “I must definitely be having a name, but what is it and who am I?” I made a thorough search in my pant and shirt pockets, but hmmmmm… no business card. But I did find my wallet bulging with currency – several Rs.500 notes amounting to Rs.100000. The bus in which I was travelling was full and I felt that all of them must be having some common interest. A visible camaraderie was present amongst them. A lean and tall gentleman who sat next to me nodded in a friendly manner. “Sound sleep, yeah?” and continued reading the newspaper. We had a little chat on the prevailing political situation in the country. After a pause he continued, “You belong to our group Sir- attending the Pharmacists’ convention in Chennai, right? It’s good that they are holding it in Chennai as I have never been there before. I am Aakash, from Chandigarh. Your name Sir?” Though unprepared, I rose to the emergency, “Hmm, now what? My senses helped me rescue my not so fast acting brain. “Ah, my name”, said I quickly, “is Munna Mathur. I am a pharmacist from Hyderabad.”
“Is everyone here a chemist?”, asked I. “Yes of course. We are all coming from in and around Delhi. I tell you, Mr. Mathur, I have some innovative idea to share with my fellows. This is what conventions are for and new ideas are most welcome here.”
‘‘Hey Mr. Mathur, here is yet another fake aphasia case’’, continued he, handing over the newspaper to me, as he pointed his finger on an article. “Look Mathur, I refuse to believe this Aphasia business. I would say that 90 percent of the cases are not genuine. A man wants to run away from his responsibilities and his own people and wants to have a good time. He leaves his home and pretends to have lost his memory so much so that he forgets his own name and fails to recognize his wife also. Alexia! O my God! What’s all this?”
I glanced at the following article:Lucknow, June 12. – Mr. Shyam Malhotra, a distinguished advocate and a happily married man, has been missing mysteriously from his home for the last three days. On the day of his disappearance, he had withdrawn a huge amount of cash from the ATM and from his bank as well. No one seems to know his whereabouts after he left the bank. If at all any clue can be found for his sudden and strange disappearance, it is quite likely to be related to the fact that for quite some time, he had been totally involved in an important law case of Kapoor Land mining Company. It is doubted that the immense pressure of work may have affected his mind. Likely it is a case of Aphasia. Every effort is being made to trace the whereabouts of this missing man.
Why should this man, rich, well respected in society and happily married, choose to abandon everything all of a sudden? I also know that memory lapses do happen, and that men do find themselves disoriented without a home, name, or a family history. Mr. Aakash went on, “People are highly educated these days and are aware of several medical conditions like this Aphasia. They use it as an excuse to run away from their problems.” Without commenting any further he moved away.
We reached Chennai at about ten in the night. I checked into some nearby hotel and entered ‘Munna Mathur’ in the registry. As I did this, I felt a sense of unlimited freedom of newly accomplished possibilities; and untamed and intoxicating buoyancy pervade me. The old fetters that had clung to me for long seemed to have vanished. The future lay clear before me and I could set out upon it fully equipped with a man’s maturity and a wealth of experience. I felt the hotel clerk staring at me for quite some time as I had no luggage. I am here to attend ‘The Pharmacists’ Convention,’ said I. ‘I have missed my luggage in the transit,’ so saying I pulled out a stack of currency notes. ‘Ah!’ said he, displaying an auriferous tooth,’ there are quite a number of delegates from Northern part of India stopping here.’ So saying he proceeded with his work.
“The war between online pharmacies and brick and mortar chemists, which has been on for some time in India, promises to heat up once again. With so many grey areas, we need more debate and discussion on this,” remarked I .The hotel clerk appeared impressed and said ‘ Sir to two- ten’ and I was whisked away to my room. The following day I bought a suitcase and some clothing and began to live the life of Munna Mathur and did not tax my brain thinking about my past problems and ways to solve them. With yet another couple of days remaining for the start of the convention I happened to chance upon the rare joy of diverting my attention to a carefree and unrestrained world. I sat entranced on the magic carpets provided in theatres, bars, music operas…. that transported one into strange and delightful lands of dance; drama; music; immense fun and derisively extravagant satires upon humankind. I did all that I felt like doing, bound by no limits of space or conduct. Now I learned one thing which I never knew before. The key to liberty is not in the hands of Licence, but it is Convention that holds it.
One afternoon as I entered the hotel a stout man blocked my way in the corridor. Extending his hand, he greeted me in a very casual manner, ‘Hello Shyam!’ What are you doing in Chennai bro? Just can’t imagine you’re coming out from that old book den of yours. Is your wife here or is it a business trip?’ ‘You are mistaken Sir,’ I said coldly. ‘My name is Munna Mathur. Please excuse me.’ Apparently, the man was taken aback. As I went towards the administrative desk I could hear him saying something to the bell boy. I told the clerk, “You may calculate my bill at once as I am checking out immediately as I do not wish to remain here any further.” Soon, I shifted to yet another hotel in the nearby posh area. I walked into this upscale RajBhoj restaurant nearby. The good ambience and perfect service there proved to be an ideal place for having my lunch. As I was proceeding towards the table, I heard a lady’s amazingly sweet voice calling out,‘Hello Shyam!”I turned my eyes in that direction and saw a beautiful lady who looked at me in a friendly manner as though she was my close long lost friend.
“Did you not notice my presence”, she asked accusingly, “Aren’t we seeing each other after a long span of 16 years, I am Sheila.” Though I appeared confused, I shook hands with her and occupied a chair opposite to her table. I beckoned to a hovering waiter and ordered a cup of hot filter coffee whereas her choice was chocolate ice cream.
“Do you know me?” asked I. “You know Shyam, I never was sure about this,” answered she.
“Now, would you please believe if I told you that my name is Munna Mathur and that I am from Hyderabad?” Ignoring my talk, “Well, my thoughts are about Sandhya, your wife. I wish I could have met your beautiful wife so that I can guess what made you choose her over me? ‘ She whispered,’ I don’t see much change in you in Shyam.” I felt her penetrating eyes meeting mine. There was a soft, jubilant note in her tone, “You haven’t definitely forgotten. I told you never could.” “I beg your pardon”, said I, a little uncomfortable. “But that is the problem. I have forgotten everything.”
She defied my denial and let out a sarcastic laugh looking directly into my face, “Many a time I have been reading about you. You are a highly successful lawyer in Lucknow or is it Agra? Sandhya must be very proud of you. I got married 6 months after you to an eminent doctor. You would have probably seen it in the papers as I was a leading singer those days.”
“Would it be too late,’ I asked somewhat apprehensively, “to congratulate you now after 16 years?’ ‘Not if you dare do it,’ she replied, with such dauntlessness that I fell silent.’ She laughed softly in a bizarre tone -it was one of happiness; and of satisfaction; but combined with a tinge of misery in it. ‘You are not speaking the truth Shyam,’ she breathed euphorically. I quickly interrupted, “I have come here to attend a convention. I am sorry I don’t remember anything.” A shining BMW stopped at the entrance door and she disappeared waving ‘Bye’ to me.
On my return to my hotel, a lean guy appeared in front of me and said,” Mr.Mathur, may I request you to step aside to the nearby room as I need to talk to you? ‘Sure,’ said I. He led me to a small room where a man and a lady were seated. The lady, I guessed would be very beautiful if not for the expression of tiredness and worry writ large on her face. She looked at me with extreme anxiety. She tried to come towards me, but the gentleman stopped her with an assertive hand motion. He appeared to be in his late forties, with a slight grey hair about his temples.
‘Common Shyam”, he said in a friendly tone, ‘I’m happy to see you. We do know that everything is fine. I had already warned you about the consequences of being a workaholic. Now, come home Shyam and you will be back to your normal self in no time.’ I smiled sarcastically. ‘Well I have been ‘Shyamed’ several times. . Are you willing to take the answer that my name is Munna Mathur and not Shyam and that I have never met?’ Before the man could start talking, an agonizing sob came from the lady. She pushed aside the man and threw herself on me and embraced me tightly. “My dearest Shyam, I am your darling wife-call me by my name just once! I would rather see you dead rather than in this pathetic way.” I slowly unwound her arms in a respectful manner, but securely. ‘Mam,’ I said, ‘Please pardon me if I tell you that you are too quick to accept a resemblance. It is indeed pitiful’ I went on, with an amused laugh.
The lady looked sorrowfully at her companion and clutched his arm.
‘What’s going on Dr Vishnu? Oh, why all this?’ she moaned. He held her hand and led her towards the door. “Go and relax in your room. I will stay here and talk over the matter. His mind? No I think it is only a small portion of his brain that is affected. He, for sure, will recover soon.”
The lady and the lean man left the scene. “I wish to converse with you Mr. Munna Mathur, if it’s okay with you,’ said the gentleman who had accompanied the lady.” Sure, I replied, ‘and “you will pardon me if I take it a bit cool. I am totally exhausted.’ I stretched myself and puffed a cigar.
“Well, let’s come to the point now,” he said calmly ‘ your name is not Munna Mathur.’ ‘Sure, I also know that, as well as you do,’ I said unperturbed. ‘But you know, a man cannot be nameless and be rest assured that I myself do not admire that name. But if one has christen himself all of sudden, all the wonderful names are forgotten. But definitely this s better than Babloo or Guddu! I think I did very well with Munna.’
‘Your name,’ said the other man seriously, ‘is Shyam Malhotra. You are a leading lawyer in Lucknow and are suffering from an attack of Aphasia, which has lead to your forgetting your identity. The cause is your over workaholic attitude towards your profession, and, may be also due to your lifestyle which is devoid of any recreation or pleasure. The lady who has come with me is your wife.”’ ‘She is indeed an extremely beautiful lady with chiselled features’ I said, after a judicial pause. Before I could go any further he said, “She has hardly had a wink of sleep ever since you went missing.” We learnt that you were in Chennai from a gentleman who seems to know you and had met you here. It appears that you had refused to recognize him.”
‘ Ya, I remember a guy calling me Shyam, as soon as I checked into the hotel,” said I. “ Well, don’t you think it is high time you introduce yourself to me?”
“I am Dr. Vishnu, your family doctor and a close friend for the past 22 years. I came here with your wife to trace you as soon as we got the call. Now try to recollect Shyam!”
‘What’s the use of trying? You are a doctor, right? Is Aphasia curable? When the memory of a man is lost, does it return gradually or suddenly?”
“Well, it may be either way.”
‘Will you treat me Dr. Vishnu?’ I enquired.
‘Dear Shyam, my good friend, I will go to any extent to see you through this situation and cure you.’
“Well then. Now that you consider me your a patient, the problems of a patient are to be kept in strict confidence-professional confidence right?” “Definitely yes,” said Dr. Vishnu.
‘It will be best Mithun ‘to cure me immediately as I am rather sick and tired of the entire proceedings here. You may bring Sandhya in. But, dear Doc,’ I said, with a sigh, as I tapped him on his back – ‘good old Doc – it was wonderful!’
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