Is love doomed? Is Rudra cursed? Here’s a soulful short story by Anumita.
Her eyebrows were not really arched; they were more like wings with the little black bindi in the center, a bird at full flight. Often she lifted the left one a slightly higher than the other, especially when she was thinking hard. Ah! Then there was that queer habit of hers of tucking loose strands of hair behind her ears, and so slowly her fingers moved. Such minute nuances of hers were so vivid that Rudra almost reached out his fingers and almost could touch her. All of a sudden he recoiled as if burnt, and rebuking himself to let his mind to daydream. Daydreaming is for people, who do not live in reality. He had faced reality too closely; these kinds of fantasies seem a little too childish. The shrill tone of the phone jarred him to the present, and his eyes travelled to the screen. As if on cue, she descended from his daydream and her face was smiling on the screen, Mou, the face with talking eyes.
Moumita Mukherjee, his friend for last eight months and now ‘Mou’, as all her friends called her. He slid the bar and brought the phone to his ears. “Hello, Rudra sorry, sorry, and sorry again, running a tad bit late. How if I meet you at the eating place directly. Please, raag korona (don’t be angry). You place the order and I will be there. Ok, got to go.” Rudra could only squeeze a weak, “It is ok, will see you,” before the connection went off. One more trait of Mou was to mix Bangla, while talking with her close friends. It was a strange yet so endearing habit of hers.
Rudra had moved to Kolkata from his hometown in the northern states of India, and now this state has grown upon him. He could speak few sentences of Bangla, yet could follow a conversation pretty well.
Rudra shut his laptop and headed to his car in the garage. Once on the road to their favorite restaurant, he let himself analyse his own feeling. They were going for a biryani dinner before hitting the art gallery show, where their common friend had an exhibition. Their friends were ‘the gang’, as they called themselves, but today he seemed to be more comfortable with ‘Mou’. He preferred to go out with her alone and avoid the gang. He saw his reflection, to be precise, his past in her. She had a strange kind of energy around her, wherever she went. She had a latent innocence with all her worldly attitude, a very rare kind of characteristic as if she could keep all the best feeling of the world in and around her without trying.
By the time he parked and walked in, a message blinked on his phone, Mou was on her way. He sat down and placed his order. He did not get time to blink when like a gush of fresh air she breezed in. Her characteristic carefree gait was her own. She plopped on the chair, “Hi, am sooo hungry”. This was her way of emphasising the words by adding extra (read unnecessary) vowels. With a big smile, she dug into the piping plate of aromatic rice and started her usual cheerful chatter.
While they made the usual conversations, Rudra’s mind travelled into the by-lanes of his memory of those days, which he had decided to bury and forget about. A voice calling his name, a light touch of a soft hand on his arm, a pair of mischievous eyes twinkling, is all he could recollect. Mou stood up abruptly, “What is wrong with you today, where are you?” Eyebrows scrunched she was looking at him with confusion written all over her face. Rudra looked back blank, and said, “Nothing.” “Then, why are not replying to my questions,” she asked and sat down with concern replacing the previous emotions. Rudra smiled and took her hand and assured her, that something in the office was bothering him.
Satisfied with his answer, she continued her little chatter. She is so trusting, and I am lying to her every moment of my life. His sub-conscious gave him a hard kick. He swallowed it. Mou smiled and his heart gave a strange squeeze. With his head down, he tried his best to reign in his feelings, leash them as best as could. This cannot be happening to him, not again. Changing his train of thought, Rudra called in the waiter and asked for the bill.
On their way to the show, Rudra’s mood swung for the better. He was enjoying the animated talk about the technique and style of the modern day painting. Mou’s family had quite a taste in art, and she was good with her brushes too. Often her paintings were filled with colors of an earthy tone, in sharp contrast to her animated character.
Once in the art gallery, his friends got all his joyous feelings back. The paintings were beautiful and the drinks with it soothed his nerves.
That night, after five long years, Rudra pulled out his old dairy and the photo album.
His past, like a gushing river contained in the embankment of time, burst forth. The current was quick and powerful. His senses were drowning in a whirlpool of emotions. Janvi’s pretty face was smiling at him. Her fingertips were brushing his forehead. Her soft, singsong voice was ringing in his ears, and his whole being whooshed in the flow time: then, and now…
I saw Janvi say how much she loved me. She would be with me all her life. I was just a junior in my job, and she was training to be a teacher. She was a quiet, demure girl. Hardly any words slipped her lips, often making me wonder, how she would fare as a teacher. Her presence was all I needed from the hectic world. She was like the eye of a storm, quite and still.
I had promised myself that I would have a house of my own before I asked for her hand. She was my inspiration, my goal. I worked hard for her every day. Janvi never complained. There were days together when I did not meet her or talk to her. The day I got my house allotted, I drove my bike all the way from the site to her training college and waited outside. She smiled on seeing me. I was so excited that I missed even to look at her face. “Janvi, let us go. I want to show you our home.” I was like a child with a new toy. She smiled kind of sadly and told me she was feeling a bit tired and she would go another day. The day turned sour immediately. I felt neglected. I was working towards this for us and she did not even care. Her phone rang, and she excused herself and talked in a whisper on her phone, looking at me from the corner of her eyes. That shot a beam of suspicion into me. All I could think about was her not being happy for the things I was doing for us. At that point, she thought her call was more important.
She walked back to me and said, “Rudra, let us go, show me the home.” I had lost interest by now, and I stared back at her and said, “No it is ok if you are tired.” Janvi smiled and touched my arm, and settled herself on my bike. The whole ride to the plot and till I dropped her home was kind of a polite formality. I felt neglected. Janvi was silent as usual. She kept her eyes and gaze away from me.
The next few days flew by in a chaotic schedule of meetings. Most of the calls from Janvi were often left unanswered. The day of our groundbreaking came. I decided to call her and set up a time. Janvi was fine with 10:30 in the morning. We met. This time I found her sitting on the side of a pavement. Not only was it a strange thing for her to do, she was also wearing a full sleeved shirt when it was very hot. Once on the bike, she clung onto me very close. I could not put my finger on what was happening. An unfamiliar feeling of worry crossed my mind. Janvi had applied more makeup than usual.
We settled ourselves for some coffee and sandwiches. We talked about my upcoming project and all the things that had to be done. She did not say what she wished to do. For the first time, she did not touch my hand. She kept her hands on her lap under the table. She barely touched the sandwich or just had two sips of the coffee. My feelings were clouded. Twice her phone rang. She picked it up and looked at the number and shut it off. The third time she excused herself and walked away to talk. This was another thing she had never done. She always answered her phone in my presence. The vice grip of jealousy and suspicion was tightening around me, little by little.
The next day, I reached office to find my boss in anger. Our supervisor had quit. He was supposed to be in Thailand two days later to deliver a presentation. I was working with my supervisor on this project. And so I was summoned into my boss’s office.
Taking a gulp of water I straightened my tie and walked in. His face was flushed and he could barely keep his rage in control. “Rudra, tell me what you know about this project and be quick.” I brought my laptop and began the presentation. He stopped me as I finished the first slide. He looked me straight in the eye and asked if my passport was ready. I could barely say a yes, as he quickly punched his intercom for his secretary to come in. She was instructed to get the tickets of my supervisor transferred to my name and all the staying arrangements too had to be changed.
I just stared at him. To persuade and motivate me, he added that now I would be the supervisor and my salary and perks all would be hiked. I could barely contain my glee, pleased with my windfall. Thanking him, I headed out of the office to make a call to Janvi. She just replied in single syllables and asked if I could talk to her in the evening. What was going on? Why was she behaving like this? Was she not in love with me anymore? I loved her with all my heart. I could feel the grip of jealousy tugging my heart.
Before leaving, I called back to ask Janvi if we could have a dinner. Janvi kept quiet for a while. She said she was coming up with a cold and it would be better if they did not go out. This not only stunned me but made me angry and speechless. The next thing she said was the most disturbing thing I ever heard. She wanted me not to go to on this trip. She actually begged me to stay back. I was not sure how to react and tried to tell her that this is only a month’s work and I will be back soon. She said nothing, only a break in her voice made me worry. I asked her why she did not want me to go, but her answer was noncommittal.
The last thing I remember is her soft voice saying, “It is ok, be happy, never feel lonely.” Then everything was a blur. Janvi is no more, my love killed her. Her love for me killed her. She was ill and her love for me kept her lips sealed. She did not want to disturb my life. I was blind, caught up in my thoughts, my silly small world. I let her slip away, far away from me. That day I knew my love was doomed. It snatched people away from me. First, it was my Maa. Next, it was Janvi that ill fate had snatched away.
The ring of the phone brought Rudra back to the present. Mou’s face was smiling from the phone. He picked up and before he could say hello, chirpy Mou said, “Rudra, are you in love with me?” The phone almost fell from his hand. A peal of laughter floated from the phone, and she said, “Just wanted to wish you good night.” Barely moving his lips, Rudra lisped goodnight.
Rudra made it a point not to meet or call Mou for the next few days. He avoided her calls. Keeping the tone as normal as he could, he followed his day-to-day routine. Few days and there were no calls from Mou. First, there was a relief. And then the thought that she must have got bored of him drifted into his mind. Just to be sure, he called a common friend and talked shop, casually asked about the rest of the gang. What she said brought his world crashing down around me.
Mou, Rudra’s beloved Mou, was in a hospital. She had a terrible accident when she was on her way to meet him in his office. She had mentioned that she was worried about what had happened to me. Rudra could not believe it. One more life was paying for his cursed fate? He had to see her.
He told his manager that there was an emergency and he had to rush to a hospital. Driving to the hospital, he blamed himself and his selfish thinking.
As Rudra went to the ICU, he saw Mou’s parents. Her mother had her eyes. She barely pointed the door. Inside the ICU, Mou was on the bed with tubes in her. He stood silently and looked at her beautiful face. Her pale skin was what he kept on looking.
Rudra kneeled beside her bed and held her hand. He wept and said, “I love you, Mou, don’t leave me.” A raspy voice replied, “Silly it took you so long to say that, and that too in such an unromantic place. You have a lot to learn.”
Looking up, those half opened eyes with winged eyebrows, was looking at me. Her love was written all over it. I opened my mouth to tell her about my past, she tightened her fingers on my hand, and said, “You are my present and you are my future; let the past be gone.” With her words, I let love live again.
Pix from Net.