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I often wondered how she could be so happy, living her life all alone, but slowly her positivity and vibrance rubbed off on me too.
The Muse of the Month is a monthly writing contest organised by Women’s Web, bringing you original fiction inspired by women.
Soumya Bharathi is one of the winners for the November 2021 Muse of the Month, and wins a Rs 750 Amazon voucher from Women’s Web. The juror for this month, Anuradha Kumar commented, “Quite an involved story of a relationship between two women, their shared intimacies despite their very different lives. In some way, this one too is about the mysteries one can never fathom in another person, and then it’s also about choices, responsibilities, pain and the hidden depths in any long-term relationship.”
There are so many people in this world, capable of breaking a woman. Very few, often none at all, capable of putting her back, piece by piece. But I am grateful I had that one woman in my life, who could fix me every time I felt broken from within. My dear Neeru. My guiding star…
I can’t believe one year has gone by without her. Without seeing that know-it-all smile. Without her warm embrace. But strangely, I don’t feel a sense of loss that I expected I would; maybe because I always feel her presence around. As if she is observing me from a distance, seeing if I would keep my promise. And I must say I have managed quite well till now…
Is it because I have finally understood life the way she always did?
“No one is willing to marry me. I hate arranged marriages and I can’t find love” I whined in front of her like a kid.
“Oh Meenu, come on. You don’t need a man to complete you. You have a wonderful job and a great family. Your parents adore you. You are complete on your own. Look, don’t you look wonderful?” she pushed me in front of the only mirror in my room.
I stared back at the gawky thin girl in the mirror with crooked teeth, chocolate brown skin and frizzy hair. I avoided looking at the mirror like I avoided talking to strangers. Both made me feel nervous and inadequate.
“That’s easy for you to say. Especially now that you are married. If I too had someone like Sourabh behind my back, I too would feel like a queen” I quipped.
“A woman does not need anybody behind her back to feel like queen. Besides, marriage is not a foolproof way to happiness” she had said.
But I was too naive, too much in love with the idea of love to understand the wisdom in her words.
And having known me as a friend for a decade and a half now, she empathised with me despite disagreeing with my idea of a perfect life.
“Ok, I wish you good luck in finding your man. But I wish you greater luck in finding yourself Meenu”
Her words ring in my ears, even today, after nearly three decades.
But that day, it whizzed past me as I whined even more. At 30, I somehow felt like life had not given me my due and how could I resist sharing my woes with my best friend? She, as usual , was sensible, patient and all ears.
When we met the next time, nearly a decade later, I was an emotional wreck. I had finally found my man and got hitched, but happiness still eluded me; my struggles had merely shifted from getting married to having children. Years and years of trying to conceive had resulted in two miscarriages, many failed attempts at IVF and lot a of internalised anger about my body. I had been writing to Neeru regularly for a couple of years after my marriage but our communication got less frequent as I began to loathe her perfect life. She had moved to US with her husband, had given birth to two wonderful children and embraced a successful career in finance. While I had resigned my job unable to continue with all the physical and psychological stress of fertility treatments. Giving up my career and struggling to get pregnant had pushed me on a downward spiral into clinical depression. But I was refusing to admit it and she would not give up until I saw the light at the end of the tunnel.
“I am so sorry for what you have been through but I think you need help Meenu. Not having a child is not end of the world. Why don’t you focus on healing your mind and body instead? You still have a long life ahead of you. You can think about kids later, maybe you can think about adoption. But first you need therapy and you need to get back to your old self, reclaim your life back” her sensible words somehow seemed to prick me that day.
“Neeru, you have a great life. You will never understand my pain. So it’s easy for you to tell me what to do…”
She was silent for what seemed like eternity.
And then, slowly, she told me her side of the story. The one that shocked me, burst my bubble and made me realise that life is far from perfect for any of us. It is just that some of us talk about our miseries endlessly and others put a full stop by never talking about them.
But that day Neeru chose to talk for a change.
It is a strange thing about old conversations. Sometimes, you remember the pauses in between sentences more, the sighs, even the expressions, even if you cannot see them. I still remember how pain traversed her face as she revealed horrible truths about her failed marriage. Her eyes welled up as she recounted many episodes of emotional abuse her husband inflicted on her. Her voice trembled as she discussed how she made up her mind about taking a divorce. Her hands gripped the sofa as she recounted the helplessness of having to deal with a divorce, all alone, in a different country, with two kids who were completely dependent on her in every way.
I shuddered at the thought of what she had been through. For a brief period, she was a different person; a faint shadow of the sensible and confident Neeru I always saw. And then, at the end of those couple of hours, she regained her composure and her face reflected the serene calm betraying the storm the had just passed.
“How did you cope Neeru? From where do you get this immense strength and courage?” I remember asking her in deep admiration even as I wondered why I couldn’t find this internal strength within me.
“You will get there Meenu. Get help, seek counselling. Get back to your work. And then, you will see that you are already feeling better. I sought help too, when I was feeling emotionally low. Now that I have weathered that storm, I feel confident” she replied with remarkable ease.
That day, for the first time in my life, I did two things that I had never done before. I fixed my appointment with a professional counselor and I thanked God for the life he had given me. Those two things changed the direction of me forever.
If my life were a book, the next decade would be a chapter titled ‘Rediscovery’. As children and young adults, most of us do only those things that give us immense pleasure. But somehow, while growing up, we tend to forget this simple fact as we chase success, fame, wealth, love and think only these can lead us to happiness. While the truth is far from it.
My counselor helped me heal physically and psychologically even as my Neeru led me slowly to all those things that gave me joy. She had decided to relocate back to India after her teenaged kids joined their respective universities. My husband and I adopted a three year old girl. We named her Khushi. Neeru moved in the same apartment as us. After more than three decades of friendship we were finally in a position to meet everyday.
Talking to her and sharing my joys and sorrows was always the best part of my day. She slowly directed my life in a better direction. She helped me with parenting my daughter, encouraged me to take up a part time job and led me back to all my hobbies I had as a teenager. I often wondered how she could be so happy, living her life all alone, but slowly her positivity and vibrance rubbed off on me too.
It was the best days of our companionship, until life threw a curveball at us. My Neeru got diagnosed with colon cancer. Since she was at a very advanced stage, doctors said her chances of survival were considerably bleak. I felt like life had kicked me in the gut. Why was god snatching away my best friend from me so soon?
Neeru, on the other hand, handled such a cruel twist of fate with maturity that only she was capable of. She prepared her kids mentally, emotionally and financially to function without her. They were devastated but with a mother who always saw the sunny side up, they were forced to hide their grief around her.
I on the other hand felt like a boat lost in rough sea. She had always a been my anchor in life. What would I do without her?
As days passed, she got weaker and weaker until she could not even get up from her bed. I hovered around her, giving her food, medicines and taking care of all her needs. Cancer was sucking away all her life energy as her face lost its vitality and her smile lost its charm. I sat next to her bed and spoke with her, read to her and kept her engaged.
One day she held my hand as her eyes misted up.
“Meenu, since the day we met each other in school, you have always been my best friend. No one has even come close to knowing or understanding me the way you do. I will always be indebted to you for your company. Thank you my friend, thank you for being there” her voice was weak but her words filled my heart to the brim as I stared back at her.
“Will you promise me that even after I am gone you will not let any sorrow bog you down? Last few years I have seen a brighter more happy and vibrant side of yours. Will you give your word that you will never let this side of yours dim down?” she looked at me questioningly.
“Yes Neeru, I promise” I put my hand firmly in hers as tears flowed from my eyes freely. Then we embraced each other tightly for a long time…
And the very next day she left me forever…
Today, it is her first death anniversary. I have invited her children for a very special occasion. After her death, my dear Neeru had left a small piece of land in my name. Maybe she left it with a purpose and it took me a while to realise what she was trying to convey. It has taken me one year to put everything together and build a small counseling centre on that land. I have tried my best to keep her spirit alive deep in my heart. And it has guided me into taking up ventures that I would have never even dreamt of, like this counseling centre. I had a friend who always had my back, and this centre aims to do the same for people who might not have a friend like her. Because friends like her are rare and need to be cherished. My hands lovingly touch the golden name plate adorned with flowers.
“Neerja Counseling Centre”
Below it, engraved in stone are words handwritten by me.
“In loving memory of Neerja Kumar, a friend who stood tall among all”
This Meenaxi, will always be proud of her…
Image source: a still from the short film Methi ke Laddoo
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Writer| Poet| Self-published author| Oral Surgeon on career break|
A woman who believes that subtlety is strength, feminine is formidable, beauty is in benevolence and vulnerability is validation of strength of character.
Women's Web is an open platform that publishes a diversity of views, individual posts do not necessarily represent the platform's views and opinions at all times.
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