Monday, May 7, 2018

Time Warp

The gleaming disc of the sun seemed to turn the leaves in patchwork of colours; scorching yellow, lava reds and burnished browns. Somehow  rain was promised and the wind already unleashed: but there would be sunshine and warmth by morning. Time to rebuild and repair. 
The leaves of the gulmohar tree, waved happily upwards greeting gale which started to gather pace. An unwanted stray dog with light brown coat seemed to dart away , probably looking for a shelter. Attimes cry of few birds could be heard. Maybe they were distressed and worried for their young ones in the nest. Continuous croak of the humorous frogs attimes got unpardonable, as it widely meant harbinger of deluge. One or two daring and curious squirrel climbed down the tree but then vanished rapidly again in the leaves, sensing that the rain would last long. Shamita, sat quietly by the window in a small stool. The stool belonged to her grandmother. Kalbaishakhi, or Nor'westers during April, is nostalgic.
The gentle patter of the raindrops grew louder. During the afternoons Shaamu, as grandmother lovingly called her would affectionately would sit on the floor and her grandmother gathered herself on the stool. She narrated stories of Indian Freedom Struggle or read out famous stories from popular Bengali book, “Tuntunir golpo’’ or “Thakumaar Jhuuli.” Shamita, would live those stories even long after. A strange unknown insect like creature popped out its head from a nearby puddle, probably waiting all tiny water bodies to merge and be one, or so Shamita thought. Her life has been the same, she is waiting to connect the dots, attimes looking up dreadfully to find out a way. Love , hate, anger, desperation, all formed a volcano of emotions. Always known to be composed and measured in gesture, her nature somehow is defying her reputation now.
Advik, her six year old son remained asleep in the other room. She now can afford to view and review the past. He keeps Shamita busy, always. Today she asked her maid to go early, she wanted some space. Feisty journalist at some point, is now a school teacher, but this suits her requirements, as she can give time to her son. Besides, Aniket is no more. Capt Aniket Raheja is a martyr.  He eliminated three terrorists before he breathed last in the valley…miles away from Mayur Vihaar, Delhi, where Shamita lived with their son.  Advik then two, was cutely notorious to the extreme.  He took hours to eat and favoured late night sleeping. He had the potential of breaking anything any time. But, he was his papa’s favourite. Aniket loved to hear his son’s lisping over the phone. He waited every moment to come back home. He was toying the idea of taking premature retirement from the army. He wanted to spend time at home. He was tired of the uncertainty of his life.
Shamita, leaned against the wall, put the cup on the saucer very slowly so that it would not make any sound, who knows Advik might wake up! She spotted an odd bird, probably a mayna with its wet and  heavy wings flew from a nearby tree to the other. She remembered the day, 9th July 1999. The telephone rang, with bated breath she picked up the receiver to hear Aniket. During those days either she watched the news or waited for her husband’s call. "Ani ", …she couldn’t hear her husband’s response, instead a husky voice  introducing himself as the Commanding Officer of Major Aniket’s Unit, spoke. Her heart pounded heavily, she couldn’t listen to Colonel Mohan’s voice properly. The words, fatal injury….brave..true soldier, incoherently moved in her ears. Words receded as a distant dream. She fell on the floor. Her looks were vacant. After a few minutes a shrill cry filled the air.
 Everything followed. Media coverage, relatives pouring in, sympathies and everyone made her realize repeatedly that she was the widow of a martyr, therefore not entitled to cry. Aniket’s parents who came down from Gurdaspur, went back. They did not stay with Shamita as she expected. After their tumultuous love marriage, where a lithe yet intelligent Bengali girl married a dashing Punjabi Army Officer, Aniket’s parents kept away. They never could agree to the match, and Shamita’s parents were equally unhappy.
She moved to Kolkata after a long wait. Wait for Aniket’s remains. His body couldn’t be recovered. Advik, till date wanted to see his father, though he doesn’t have any faint memory. But now actually he demands a father! Shamita prefers to keep Aniket in heart more than the wall. She actually hated to put up pictures of Aniket, it pained her more. Her son was growing up hearing stories of his father’s bravery and some how the little mind visualized that one day his father would turn up and proudly he would take his papa around. He would show his latest minions and hot wheels car collections. Advik’s papa in uniform would command respect and even the friends who bullied him, will never dare to do so! He shared his secret vision with Shamita. She maintained quietude thinking it would be cruel to crush her son’s dreams but ardently prayed for the day to arrive when he would understand the reality. It’s difficult to rear up a child alone.
 Shamita didn’t stay with her parents in Dhakuria, though she is their only daughter. She stays in a two bedroom rented flat in Alipore, near her school named Morning Glory.  She was trying to build her life again….until Rahul called her.
Thunder rolled across the sky, seeming to crack the world in half and reveal the fury of Gods. The violent wind made way through the window and whipped her black wavy hair around her face. A numbing coldness gripped her heart.
So how come, after so long, Rahul found her? This question rattled her. He alienated himself during Aniket’s and Shamita’s marriage. This made Aniket curious but he preferred not to speak about it. She never heard from him even after Aniket’s death. She hated him every minute, her every breath cursed him. She would never forgive Rahul, or rather Colonel Rahul for Aniket’s death. Today after four years of her husband’s death, he called up. He did not ask  her address, but quietly yet resolutely mentioned his time of arrival. Shamita’s voice quivered and she switched off the phone.
She took a sip; the tea by that time didn’t taste good. She liked hot tea always. Her mind floated back to the 90’s when all three, Aniket, Rahul and herself were at Delhi University, and termed as best buddies by others. Gradually Aniket and Shamita got closer day by day. By that time Aniket had joined army and hailed as a hero in the university. Rahul harboured strong feelings for Shamita but never let her know until the day he got heavily drunk and came over to her hostel. He cried holding her hands. It was strange for a young man to do so. Shamita was equally flabbergasted. She regained her composure blurted out..“Rahul, you must go…and we are not even friends from now…,” said Shamita. But somewhere she did not want to. Rahul joined the army and got commissioned in the same Unit as Aniket. Relations between the friends strained but only Shamita and Rahul were aware of the reason. Aniket could only speculate. But he never demanded answer. Kargil war broke out, and both were posted in the same region. As some story goes, on the fatal day, Rahul and Aniket were scaling steep hill, which was captured by the terrorists. While Aniket got hurt and eventually died, Rahul escaped unhurt. 
Shamita believed Rahul could have saved Aniket, but he wished otherwise. The fact that Rahul never called all these years, repugnance against him took a deep root in her.
Shamita was so engrossed in the past, she could not even hear the footsteps halting right inside the room. Major Rahul Sinha, entered. Suddenly a familiar fragrance filled the air, Shamita turned around. The Armani perfume was always Rahul’s favourite.
 She became oblivious of Advik sleeping in the other room. She remained bemused for a moment. Bit her lips in a way to control the long pending outburst.  But eventually her composure gave away, barrage of emotions let loose.
The storm outside brewed on the horizon brewed promising nothing but winds to level the mightiest of the trees to the soil. The damp air threatened to  devastate every roof.
"Killer”...she shouted, as tears welled up in her eyes, hysteric anger engulfed her. “Why now? Why have you come to ask for forgiveness after four years?…You hated Ani so couldn’t get his body, even . Why did you snatch Advik’s father from him? Can you give him back?” She dropped on the floor…Rahul remained quiet. He let her cry

The rain was cascading in diagonal sheets in full glory. There was a certain rhythm to the downpour. Fierce yet pleasant. Probably the smoldering earth was quenched, the unrestrained brutality of the sun was answered and every raindrop was welcomed.
Few minutes passed. It seemed like years. Slowly, Rahul came to her. He sat beside her, placing his barret on the table. Cupped her face. He narrated the incident of the day of Aniket’s death. “Shamita”..he cleared his throat, “Aniket’s body was battered beyond recognition…had we tried to recover his body we would have lost more men. I never cared about myself, you know that”, he continued, “when the terrorists were gunned down, the bunker caught fire. Nothing was left to bring back. But I could understand your feelings about me, so I never dared to face you. You were wrong but it took me four years to come to you, to muster enough courage and make you understand the truth.”
Whistling and shrieking, the wind raged though like a vexed bear. The noise enveloped the room and  its surroundings. It demanded to be heard.
“But you hated him…you …” her voice choked.
 Yes. I did, initially. As luck would have it before the final assault on that day, I told him the truth. He was not much perturbed or angry. Perhaps he knew it. He trusted you and cared for you and Advik beyond words. He just smiled at me. We shook hands and hugged.”
Rahut stopped and took a deep breath. “ I saw myself as a loser there, probably  I couldn’t have given you such selfless love. Somehow I couldn’t face you all these years. But after getting my posting order in Kolkata, I decided to come to you the day I land here. I was dying each day, I couldn’t take it anymore,”…he looked at her …as tears rolled down her eyes like the unremitting rain outside.
With muffled voice, the man in uniform continued, “ Shamita, I have lost many things, too. I lost you, lost my best pal, lost my parents a year back in an accident in Mumbai. Probably you heard about it. I live with memory now, atleast you have Advik. I just want that…,” he tried to gulp down the lump in his throat. “Your son, should not hear stories of hatred about me, it’s not true.”
Shamita looked up. Somehow hatred and anger against Rahul lost its intensity. She felt relieved, rekindled and happier, after a long long time.
“You must know something…,” Rahul cleared his voice, looked into Shamita's eyes deeply and spoke with some authority, “I am a true soldier, I would have saved my fellow brother officer if I could have at any peril. But this truth will be buried with me. ”
He stood up to leave.
She knew Rahul. She knew he spoke the truth and his veracity cannot be questioned under any circumstance.  She didn’t need any validation. Little Advik stood at the door wondering about the man in olive green. There was wonder in his eyes. Was he dreaming?  Rahul, turned towards him and ushered the boy but he remained nonplussed. Too overwhelmed with awe to respond.
Shamita wiped her tears.  The rain had stopped. The bright yellow beams of sun, teared through the dark clouds and softly touched everything. A slice entered the room through the open window. The flecks of golden sunshine mixed with a few wispy clouds in the sky, gradually wore the look of an azure sea overhead. All signs of rain and storm vanished into thin air. There was no struggle to be seen.  
Shamita whispered to her son...
Meet your Father.

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