Life at times tends to ditch the body that is carrying it. There comes a time when the whole idea of living further loses its shine and all one wants is a peace of mind and soul, even if it means death. A long struggling life to address all the demands that’s been put forward by spouse, children, aging parents, job, neighbor, pet dog; is one heck of an effort which leaves many drained out. But what you get after all this sacrifices and long struggle - you end up with none beside you to give you a company in your old age. All that you have for a company is the garlanded photograph of your dead wife, children settled outside conveniently forgetting that they have a father who is well into his expiry age, a reluctant cook to make food for you and few still alive members of your contemporary period to share the nostalgia during evening walks.
Is it fair on the part of God for depriving every good that one wants? Dibakar took a heavy breath while coming out of his thoughts. As life gets to its eighties it more often than not bewilders on the beauty of the past than staying in touch with the present.
The air is unusually chilly for the month of March. The park, as old as Dibakar; is looking unusually magnificent with the onset of a late winter evening. Few grownups playing a game of Kabadi at the corner with aged couples walking down the aisle, perhaps practicing for their last journey, a young couple hand-in-hand behind that small bush; perhaps dreaming about their rosy future, mothers with their toddlers packed in those planks to get their kids a feel of the world outside, the half glowing park lights standing as a testimony of past and the broken benches and pavements all around defying the science of erosion and corrosion. The park was not always a hustling place when it was inaugurated by Pundit Nehru, thought Dibakar. How beautifully it was decorated like a bride on the inauguration day. All those paper flags, neatly cut grass, benches giving that aroma of fresh paints and those free distributions of sweets after the inauguration.
Dibakar again went to his past. He was getting uneasy sitting on one of those colorless, faceless and identity less benches of the park. Where are both Dhiren and Vishwanath? They should have been here by now. They are always a little late in turning up but seldom this much. Uneasiness on the thought of any bad eventuality was always on the cards as these are the only two entities perhaps whom Dibakar can safely call his own and vice-a-versa. Like the long standing benches of the park this trio has weathered the hard times together. Laughed for each other’s joy, cried for each other’s sorrow and at this ripe age all they have left with as a gift from their respective lives is they themselves. They are the only three who are company to each other’s vacuum. They are the three who walk step-in-step during the evening walks or just sit in one of those benches and travel back to the beautiful past and try finding their joy of life.
Dibakar was dragged out of his thoughts by the gentle tap on his right shoulder.
Ohh!! Dhiren.. When you came? Sorry had gone to a mild nap. You know how body and nervous system doesn’t gel well after a certain age.
Dhiren, even if 20 years junior to both Dibakar and Vishwanath was still their best buddy from time immoral. Staying in their neighborhood, Dhiren always was a handy kid for everything – starting from bringing their cigarettes from the local Kirana shop to picking up their ironed dress from the Dhobi. Dhiren was always more than eager to do the sundry jobs for these two. In return all he wanted is the company of these two, a game of carom every now-and-then and of course the occasional pocket money for his tasty Chat & Panipuri. These two being the new entrants to the local Tehsil office as junior clerks were more than happy to have Dhiren around them for all thick and thins. Dhiren used to call both of them as Dada as one calls his own elder brother and not to mention he was always treated as a younger brother.
Dada.. Have you again gone to sleep or what?
Hmm!! Ohh No. Dibakar came out of his half thoughts and half sleep by this intrusion.
Not sleeping, but just trying to snatch the lost joys of my life, our life from the past. For a change I want to keep all IFs and BUTs aside and want to imagine, how life would have been if it had gone the way I wanted it to be. The way I always wished for. Dibakar almost completed the sentence without taking a breath..
Anyway Forget it – where is that ‘Late Latif’ Vishwanath? Enquired Dibakar.
No Idea Dada.. but I am sure, he would be here anytime now.
Dada, today you seems to be unusually absent from the present. It seems you are too much involved with the past today than what you usually do. Are you missing those good old days?
Hmm!! Not missing. People miss things when they had the stuff once with them to begin with. I never had anything that I think I can miss. All seems like an Oasis, where from a distance it looks so real but in reality it is nothing but an illusion. Whatever I wanted in my life, it always eluded me. Wanted a good life partner and a happy life – got a wife who found her own priority and spending time at her mother’s place more important than me. Wanted kids who would care for me – got children who are too busy and selfish with their own lives to even remind of a man who is supposed to be their father. It is 3 years since I have seen my children. God knows if I could be able to see them in my life ever or not. How bitter it may be Dhiren, I got no one in my life who loved me, cared for me. Baring you two, I even struggle to recollect when last time someone has cared for me; even for the sake of pretention.
Dhiren took a heavy breath and pondered at the sky as if to count the blinking stars. Throat choking for words, face full with strains of truth and eyes full with emotions. As if he wanted to hide his face on the laps of Dibakar and cry like a baby. But could he cry like a baby at this age? Would the society accept a 60 year crying his heart out like a baby?
After few seconds of painful silence, which seemed like ages to pass-through; Dhiren looked at the sky again and then looked at the half closed eyes of the man in front.
But you know what Dada? There is something which is hunting me and my conscience for last 50 years. I always wanted to tell this. Due to many reasons I always refrained myself from confessing it. Call it my laziness or self-guilt or plain jealousness – I just couldn’t muster enough courage to come out clean in front of you. I don’t know how it will help you now, but the burden on my heart is getting too heavy for me to bear any further. Hope it will give you some relief, if not anything.
Now it was the turn of Dhiren to complete his sentence without taking a breath.
What is that Dhiren? You sound poetic. Are you OK? Or this chilly winter wind has taken a toll on your nerves?
Nothing Dada.. It is plain truth, which I kept hiding from you for so long and decided not to divulge at any cost. But it seems I just can’t carry it further in hiding. I don’t want to die with a self-confessed guilt, sitting heavy on my heart.
Dhiren, I have always looked at you as a younger brother over the years. I am sure; you haven’t done anything that bad for which you need to be so apologetic. I will suggest you keep it in hiding. It is better to ……..
Dada…Do you remember Radhika Didi? Asked Dhiren; before Dibakar could complete his sentence.
Still keeping his eyes half closed Dibakar tried to look at Dhiren. The uneasiness in the body posture was evident. The unspoken and non-displayed pain in his heart was now there standing nude for all to see. As if it was an overflowing reservoir waiting for the walls to crash.
It seems, Dhiren inflicted all the pain of the world by just mentioning this name. The outside world suddenly seems to fade away from its presence for Dibakar. Radhika - a perfect example of girl next door. A rare mixture of beauty and simplicity. The look on her eyes always told a catharsis and the simplicity which could make a billionaire feel humble. She was the cousin sister of Dhiren and was staying close to Dhiren’s house. On the way to office Dibakar always saw Radhika doing sundry household work, helping her father tying the bullocks to the cart or simply sitting at the Verandah and combing her silky hair. That light smile whenever Dibakar has an eye contact with her was always the highlight of the day for Dibakar.
After prolonged distance meetings and light smiles, Dibakar finally decided to go up to her and have a little chat. Mustering enough courage, Dibakar stopped his cycle in front of her house the next day. Slowly walking down the muddy path to the Verandah and avoiding his white Dhoti from getting dipped in the mud; all Dibakar was hoping for things to turnout as planned.
Can I get a glass of water? Is all that what Dibakar could speak for an opening statement.
Before Dibakar could add anything to his request, she stood up and gave that smile again and rushed inside the house as if she just encountered a dozen Dacoits. Few seconds later a small girl with a Lota and a glass appeared and asked Dibakar to help himself. That was the first and last time Dibakar had any talk with Radhika. While returning back to his cycle, Dibakar could easily see those gazing eyes behind the window and a glimpse of that heavenly smile.
Dibakar took the heaviest breath of the evening and opened his eyes for the first time in half an hour and looked at Dhiren, who by that time was more anxious than anyone for a reply.
Yeh, I do remember her. He was so slow in his utterance that as if he wanted to sallow few of his own words.
But why you want to unearth the closed chapter of my life Dhiren. I have long forgotten it. Hope she is doing fine wherever she is.
But Dada, you did love her. Didn’t you?
But she never did. I was conned into a fool’s paradise by those heavenly smiles.
Dibakar could remember the day when he bought that writing pad by paying Rs 2/- from the market. All those pink pages with flowery impression all over are still fresh in his mind. It took an immaculate effort of a whole night and generous help from Vishwanath that he could come up with the most beautiful and loving love later that any male in the face of the planet has ever written. Dhiren was summoned and handed over the letter to be delivered to his cousin sister, with a promise of the grandest Chat, Panipuri party in the evening, if the response happens to be yes.
Dibakar, never waited for the evening so eagerly as he did that day. He rushed back from office only to find Dhiren sitting in front of his house with a sorrow looking face. His heart sank at once. After a silence he asked Dhiren about the response.
Did you give that letter to your sister? Dhiren shook his head.
Did she read it? Dhiren shook his head again.
Now the question of the evening – thought Dibakar. After a short pause he finally asked. Did she send any letter in your hand? I mean any reply from her? Dhiren shook his head but for the first time in refusal.
She didn’t send any letter but asked me to tell you that you should not think in those wrong ways. She doesn’t carry any such feelings for you and would be getting married soon to someone else. She has requested you to forget her as she doesn’t see anything beyond this point.
Dibakar could have survived few lightning than this.
That is the last he saw and heard about Radhika. All that is still fresh in his memory is Radhika inside that palanquin and making her journey for her in-laws place.
Dada.. It seems you have again gone to sleep!!
Dibakar was brought back to the present again to see Dhiren looking more apologetic than what he was 10 minutes earlier.
You only took my letter to her, and you only came back with a verbal reply. Didn’t you Dhiren? She even never thought it appropriate for her to write back her response to me, even if it was a NO. So why un-necessarily play around with all the wrong strings of life and reopen old wounds!!
Dibakar again eased into the bench and closed his eyes..
But Dada, hope you can forgive me. What I told you that day was not entirely correct…
Radhika Didi in fact did send a reply which I was told to handover to you. Please don’t interrupt in between as I might not be able to complete my confession then. I am ready for all your questions but just let me finish.
Dibakar never interrupted. Dhiren looked at the sky again as if too ashamed to look at Dibakar. The night has almost engulfed the sleepy town and the air getting chillier by the minutes.
After a brief silence Dhiren started again. I was in fact on the way to handover you the letter. Out of curiosity I opened to read it. There I saw the response of Radhika Didi and how she has confirmed her love for you. How she seems to have planned her life with you was all written in that letter. I can assure you Dada; she loved you as much as you loved her.
Dhiren took a long pause before he could narrate further. Perhaps, mustering enough courage to get to the crux of the matter.
Dada, can you see that bridge? Do you remember how we used to spend our evening there over a plate of Chat? Dibakar didn’t reply…
The bridge now stands as a testimony to the huge irrigation system that Sardar Patel once envisioned. Even though this particular one never materialized to that extent and has dried up years ago with rocks all around for a river bed; it still jolts few nerves of nostalgia in many.
You know what Dada..? Just when I was walking over that bridge, jealousness and fear of losing tickled me the wrong way. I wondered what will happen if you get married; what will happen if Radhika Didi and you get married to each other. What will happen to my Chat and Panipuri? Will you still continue to give me money for them? What will happen to all those chocolates and cakes that Radhika Didi used to give me every now and then? I thought, after your marriage Radhika Didi will be with you for ever – where she would get time to cook those yummy cakes and curries and give me to eat? All her love would be for you only and she won’t love me the way she does now.
Dhiren took a pause again. You can understand Dada, being a kid I just couldn’t think anything beyond Chat, Panipuri and Chocolates. After much deliberation I tear the letter and threw it into the river bed below. Then I cooked up a story and told you that. Believe me – I felt guilty after few days and thought of sharing the truth but couldn’t muster enough courage to do so. At this fag end of life I finally did manage to gather it. Thankfully I might not have to die with a sin in my heart…
Dhiren now seemed like pleading for forgiveness. Dibakar kept on sitting unmoved in the bench.
Dada… Will you forgive me for this? You know it was unintentional and done under the cloud of childish fear and anxiety. Dhiren still remained unmoved.
You guys are enjoying the breezy winter evening it seems. Dhiren looked back to see Vishwanath finally arriving. I am sorry friends, was little hooked up with my gardener.
But Dibakar, I must congratulate you on your fitness. For your age the fitness you showed today is commendable. Said Vishwanath, while occupying the adjacent bench. When I was coming here; I saw you under that bridge. As if you were searching something frantically. For something that is too important for you. As if, it is your life that is stuck somewhere in those bed rocks. I even called you loudly but you never responded and walked away. I must say even if you are very fit physically, your ears need some checkup…
Vishwanath tried to bring some humor to the discussion.
After taking a puff from his cigarette Vishwanath started again. I tried to walk fast to catch up with you but just couldn’t match your speed. Now see – when I am all huffing and puffing with exertion to reach here; you are already here and sitting pretty. Not even a tint of tiredness in you.
But Dada and I are sitting here for last hour or so. He hasn’t gone anywhere. Surprise was evident from Dhiren’s words.
What nonsense? I myself saw Dibakar below that bridge. I can’t be that mistaken, more so with my childhood friend. Dibakar still remained unmoved.
Dhiren, pushed Dibakar a little to get him out of his sleep and clear the confusion..
Dada, Dada; Wake up and see, Vishwanath Dada is here. Dibakar still remained unmoved. This never happens. Even if he is asleep he wakes up after a call or two. Dhiren this time pushed a little harder…
Dibakar tilted a little to his left and fell on the bench…
Dibakar; what happened? Are you OK? Dada; Are you OK? ……..
Hey can somebody please call the doctor !!!!!