I know him as my best friend since childhood. We were born and brought up in the same town. Our parents were family friends, our houses had a common boundary wall and, in short, we were like a family. As toddlers we had grown up and played together, went in the same kindergarten and had schooling together. As we grew, Abhijit became more and more introvert and ethical while I was extrovert, go-getter and fun loving from the beginning. Till Higher Secondary school, we were in the same class in the college where my papa was an influential member in the management board of the school.
As a student Abhijit was brilliant, always stood first in the class and often in school, and remained a darling of teachers while I was an average, a bit mischievous and often an eyesore in the eyes of administration. If I could escape severe punishment at occasions, it was largely owing to my father’s position in the management. Notwithstanding our nature and temperament being diagonally opposite, we remained good friend through the school and college days, and this camaraderie, trust and faith between us continued in the latter life too. At graduation level, I switched over to humanities while he continued his pursuit in science stream.
It was only after graduation that I became a little more focused and committed towards life, made serious preparations for the civil services examination. On successfully competing the examination, I was allotted the West Bengal Cadre. On the other hand, Abhijit opted for higher studies, spent a couple of years in research to complete his doctorate from Birmingham, UK on a scholarship and joined IIT Powai, Mumbai as Assistant Professor on return. There was indeed something special in our friendship that otherwise a shy and hesitant person, he always shared his sorrow and joy equally with me in life.
Separate professions, geographical distances and commitment of our families had kept us apart and there were spells when we didn’t meet for years together. Nonetheless, this didn’t affect our mutual bond and relationship that we shared since childhood.
During the last decade or so, we could meet only twice on different occasions. The first occasion was the marriage reception of his daughter in Mumbai about six years back. Abhijit had cultivated the habit of taking joy and sorrow with equal ease in his later life and was one who seldom celebrated any occasion. But if he would ever decide to do a thing, he would ensure with precision that the event is unique and flawless of its kind and to the best satisfaction of his near and dear ones. needless to say his reception party too was unique, be it warmth and hospitality of hosts or décor of the venue or choice of cuisine, everything was excellent reflecting a class.
The second occasion was only two years back and the sad one when his spouse passed away after a prolonged illness. While on the first occasion, I didn’t notice any special excitement or joy in his expression but on the latter occasion either, he didn’t appear much shaken or sad too. During the last several years, I had always noticed an eternal expression of calm and serenity on his face. At times, it was personally irritating to me as to how could a person remain so neutral and dispassionate on extreme joyous or sad occasion.
Last month when I received a phone call about his terminal illness from a common friend, I was celebrating the joy of the newfound success and glory that every Indian civil servant aspires for while in service. After all being elevated to the coveted post of Secretary, Forests and Environment in the Government of India was not a small achievement. Besides I had a genuine interest in the forestry and wildlife. And this phone call was not from Mumbai but from his native village near Varanasi, the city of (Hindu) Gods. After his wife’s death, he had decided to settle in his village at the banks of Ganges away from the glare and glitter of the Metro city life, Bollywood and Financial capital of India.
I had sent prior intimation and when I reached his village, it was nearly dusk and the attending male nurse was waiting for me at the front yard of house. He told me that Saa’b has been constantly remembering and eagerly asking about me for the last few days. His brother’s family live in Varanasi and they keep on visiting off and on to inquire about his health. His daughter has been informed and the couple is on way to India from their current abode in Ottawa, Canada. He promptly ushered me into his bedroom without any further formality or delay.
I was shocked to watch the nemesis of what time could do to the mortal body about which men and women remain so possessive and obsessed during the lifetime in grooming and flaunting. About two years back, I had seen a person so healthy and fit, and now his skinny body looked like mere bundle of the skeleton and disfigured flesh. When his condition had started deteriorating, he opted to leave hospital and spend remaining day at home to die in peace.
The attendant informed him about my arrival. He slowly opened his eyes and greeted me with a weak smile. He tried to get up but I persuaded him to stay as such and that I was absolutely comfortable. He asked to sit down near his bed signaling attendant to bring some tea or coffee for me. With a weak grin, he told me that he was actually waiting for me and also because his soul would not rest in peace, in case he dies without sharing his untold saga with his best friend.
It’s not that I was totally unaware of his relationship with Aarushi but what he narrated in those twilight hours, was indeed a shock and surprise for me. Till then I could not believe that an abstract love relationship could be so intense and deep in life of a person despite such a long gap, absence and loss of the protagonist. I still feel shiver remembering his last words, “Sekhar, the life of a person begins when a child is born but my life started when I saw her for the first time. Ever since I met her she was my life, she gave a meaning and cause for my living and existence. While she was around, I was unable to imagine a life without her and when she had gone, I reconciled with the truth that she was never meant for me yet I waited and adored her lifelong.”
After a pause he had continued, “She came like a fresh air and when I saw her going, I had a feeling I am losing control on my life. It has been a lifetime but I am still unable to reconcile that she is not in my vicinity. She still remains the centre of my every thought and action, everything begins with her and everything ends at her.” I am still unsure whether he was asking a question or making an observation, when he said, “Is it really necessary that every love story has a happy ending? But I think if they could not come together in life that doesn’t mean that the love between two is also lost.”
Having served in various parts of the West Bengal during the most part of my service, well before my retirement I had decided to settle in Kolkata. But I could never forgotten my roots and relationships in Varanasi. I often remember him and wonder if a parallel exists where a person loses everything in one relationship and yet the same relationship also remains the most valued and a source of eternal inspiration and strength for him. Of course, Abhijit was one with such a life and a relationship that he could neither break away with nor could carry on making peace with life.
It started during our college days when we were still in teens. It seldom occurs that you see a person and fall in love at the first sight but this is what precisely happened with Abhijit. It was the first day of the beginning of the academic session. Aarushi was a newcomer in the class while he already had the comfort of two previous academic sessions in the same campus. She was new to the environment and perhaps had no other friend or acquaintance. Sitting quietly at her desk, she appeared lost in her thoughts while Abhijit was watching her constantly simply mesmerized. In his small world, he had never seen such an unblemished beauty and innocent ways. In his own words later on, to him she looked like an angel or a fairy that he had read in story books in childhood.
As if struck by a thunderbolt, for a moment he felt his heart had sunken and his breathing had stopped. A wave of instant affection and friendliness surged towards her rendering him immobile and speechless. His trance was broken by Yashwant, a common friend, who spoke rather admonishingly, “Wake up, Abhijit! I see you are continuously staring at her as if you have never seen a girl in life. You better behave else others will start making stories about you and the poor girl on the very first day in the faculty.” During all this commotion, Aarushi had remained engrossed in her own thoughts, unaware that somebody was so curiously watching her with so much of affection, curiosity and interest.
Though we were studying in different faculties yet shared same room in the hostel and were sharing almost every event or development. Those days facility of television was not readily available and we were using a common radio for news and entertainment. I remember Abhijit was very fond of music and he was a devout fan of Mukesh. Those days, there were many good singers but bollywood cine music was dominated by the troika of Mohammed Rafi, Kishore Kumar and Mukesh. The most of the songs sung by the latter were sad ones and I still remember how I used to pull Abhijit’s leg for his obsession with Mukesh, me personally voting for Kishor Kumar’s songs which were full of life with occasional sad tunes. Today I wonder if it was only a prelude how Abhijit’s life was to shape up in the coming years. Of course, the later events of his life did confirm this.
It was only much later that Aarushi found out the true feelings of Abhijit and she too started reciprocating. Their romance was short but intense like a fairytale before destiny finally separated them. He was shy and hesitant since beginning in taking initiatives or even sharing true feelings while she was strong and resolute yet tradition bound. Even after several months of knowing each other, every time he would look for excuses even to converse or to be in her vicinity while she was more down to earth in her approach at times directly telling or doing what she wished yet she expected him to be more communicative and frank in relationship.
Literally intense yet it was more of an ethereal and sublime relationship always lacking the spark of the usual boyish and girlish approach, the way they conduct or perform. She was at times upset with his introvert nature and shy ways. So it is not surprising that even their brief togetherness was not without misunderstandings and dearly mistakes. Notwithstanding these hussles, he had a strong desire for her company and was scared even with the thought of losing her. Despite occasional tiff and spells of misunderstanding, so long she was around, he had a conviction that that at an opportune moment, he would open his heart in a way that she will not refuse.
But the time is omnipotent and powerful vice any mortal being. Those who understand this fact and go with the flow of it, they succeed in their endeavors and enjoy the bliss of life. On the other hand, those who try to go against the tide of time and keep on postponing vital requirements and decisions waiting for an opportune moment become the victim of time and end up as losers in life. For Abhijit too, this realization did come but it came too late.
In later life, Abhijit could never excuse self for his lackadaisical and apologetic approach that was responsible for losing Aarushi in life. He often tried to console himself with the thought that they had met in life only to separate forever. If two hearts beat together that does not mean that they necessarily need to be physically go together. But this was clearly not sufficient consolation for him. When Abhijit recovered from the initial shock after the departure of Aarushi, he also tried to move on to live a normal and healthy life. In this endeavor, his tryst with matrimony was equally strange and disastrous. It turned out like entering a blind tunnel with no lights at any end. But of course for the gamble he had played, he took full responsibility and he tried sincerely to honour all worldly commitments of a family for the rest of life. In the process, at times he did debate if his longings for Aarushi would have been same, had he really found a loving, indulgent and caring person as spouse.
As was apparent from our last meeting during those dusky hours at his village house, his attempts to get rid of Aarushi’s nostalgic memories and ethereal bonding proved futile in later life. Her utterances chased him, her memories haunted and her thoughts continued to dominate the mind and heart. He shared with none but he constantly remained under the spell of her subtle charm, her ethereal and sublime love. Her loss had taken away passion from his life but rendered him sober, calm and serene. Yet the enormity of the loss was so grave that it completely drenched spark of his life. In later life, he even forgot to make distinction between the joy and sorrow as he became so immune that nothing could enthrall him and nothing could upset him.
I remember as I attained gradual seniority in service, my own occupation with the government work increasingly became full time and at times I had constraints even to meeting own family commitments. I knew that Abhijit didn’t have a smooth life and this was often a cause of concern for me too. Therefore, despite our distances and my occupation, I used to find time to visit him at least once in every two-three years. Despite our childhood friendship and the fact that we were like a family, Abhijit was hesitant and often secretive as before in sharing his feelings or discomfiture. I never complained because I was aware of his temperament and the complexities of his life.
It’s true that sometimes our life surges ahead, leaving the person way behind. The person doesn’t even get time to assess his gain or loss and, by the time one recovers or regains senses, he finds that he has lost the most valuable person or thing in life. Then he tries to reconcile with the fact that he can’t remedy the situation, he can’t undo the damage done. But the episode leaves behind a trail of unending regret and repentance for all time to come. Aarushi’s loss was precisely a similar event in the life of Abhijit who could never recover from this shock during his lifetime.
In a way, Abhijit’s nemesis was a tale of missed opportunities. He confessed and regretted events and opportune moments when he failed to come to the expectations necessary to sustain and nurture a relationship. on her part, Aarushi never attempted to complain or embarrass him for anything. In Abhijit’s own admission, among many he could never forget or excused self for his weakness shown during their last rendezvous on that fateful summer’s July day when she came to the college for some personal work and perhaps also to see him one last time. Despite the misunderstanding and shock of separation, Abhijit was so affectionately involved with Aarushi that he never felt any anger or grudge against her. On the contrary, he still longed for an opportune moment when he will approach and surprise her by opening his heart removing all clouds and hurdles in their way.
But what he experienced was a lifetime shock in Aarushi as a newlywed bride. She was looking her best with the usual fairy beauty and charm. Her attire of a newly married woman in beautiful sari and a tinge of vermilion on forehead was enhancing her persona and grace. While she had taken initiative to reach him, he was dumbfounded with surprise and shock as he never expected to meet her this way. Yet he quickly controlled his emotions in an endeavour to play a good host and braveheart.
He didn’t know then that this would also be their last meeting. She was in jovial mood and high spirit or at least she appeared so, spoke a lot about the common things and her new phase of life ahead. On his part, he appeared cool and composed carefully listening her yet his mind was in turbulence and he was increasingly getting unnerved. Notwithstanding this, he maintained his outward calm and serenity as long as she was around but became increasingly restless tending to lose his composure towards the end of meeting. The very thought that things were over and Aarushi was now committed to someone else for life was beyond his imagination and endurance. Towards the end, He had become so unstable that he could not observe the normal courtesy of accompanying her to a distance to say goodbye. He just murmured a few words akin to wishing her a happy and contended married life ahead. While she was walking away, he simply stood transfixed under an archway, as if under the spell of some magical power, watching her haplessly going away from life.
He remembered another event on earlier occasion sometime back. He wanted to seek excuse for the past silly and inane behaviour and confess his love but all he could do was to say sorry to Aarushi and quickly leave with heavy heart. Under the spell of the regret and repentance, after realization he often used to say philosophically that irrespective of how much affection, adoration and acceptance one may have in a relationship but if it lacks communication, commitment and understanding, the relationship would never prosper or see a logical ending. However he loved and cared for Aarushi, it was of no avail when most of it remained unexpressed leading to fateful events that couldn’t be reversed.
Aarushi’s loss had humbled him and naturally off-setting with values like compassion, endurance, patience and tolerance. He was one who would effortlessly win the hearts of people around with his normal conduct. While giving enough time and attention to people and task around in personal and professional life, he would seldom care or endeavor for own interests or well being. Due to such acquired and inherent traits, he remained immensely popular and acceptable equally among his acquaintances, relations and professional colleagues. Yet in personal life he remained a loner without many real real friends, a condition consciously self chosen.
Knowing well, a person can’t travel back in time to correct past mistakes, at times he would voluntarily seek solitude to ponder over the follies committed in his relationship with Aarushi and possible atonement. At times, I was surprised how a person can live alone for days without much of the interaction with people. Sometimes he would desire if destiny could grant him one more chance to rectify his unmanly behavior and consequent inadvertent hurt and anguish caused to her.
He also tried all possible diversions to get rid of pain to move on in life. He remained engrossed with prolonged working hours, traveled extensively inland and abroad and kept occupied with pastimes like reading, writing, gardening, music and sports but nothing really worked and nothing could bring him solace and peace. In the process, his remained like a stray and forlorn duck at the high seas, which having lost its direction and destination, takes a refuge on board a sailing ship. It flies away to a distance in search of the main land but finding none, it is forced to come back on the deck out of the sheer apprehension lest it might lose its last hope too.
I think I was one who understood Abhijit more than any other person among friends and family. He was one who learnt a lesson from each mistake in life. He used to say that it was not necessary that everyone should commit mistake to learn in life. Instead a wise person is one who learns from the mistakes of others. He would often say philosophically that it is so easy to lose someone but it takes a lifetime to forget one. I had some idea what he had lost and what he meant by saying this, and more I learnt only towards the end of his days. Abhijit had no opportunity to meet or see Aarushi again during the lifetime, yet he constantly felt her omnipresence and omni-influence over own life. While taking any important decision whether personal or professional, first thing invariably came to his mind how she would have taken it, had she been around. Similarly, on any issue with a moral or ethical overtone, the first thing always came to his mind, how she would have perceived or reacted to it. If he ever really cared for anybody, this was Aarushi despite her lifelong absence.
I had opportunity to experience variety and fame in life with a fairly blissful family, close relatives and friends besides a good government job. My professional life too gave enough opportunity to perceive and experience human relations from close quarters. I can say with conviction that I found no parallel with the kind of commitment and dedication Abhijit had for his love and friendship even in her absentia. Even decades after their separation, any person or thing which was even remotely connected with her remained so valued and endearing to him. He had so fondly preserved her memories including even the most trivial things and events, be it her worn out letters, greetings exchanged on auspicious occasions or the abstract quotes and unquotes of their meetings. In short, everything that reminded him of her association was artfully preserved by him as memorabilia or the valued possession of life.
When they were together, he used to become anxious and lonesome even if he didn’t see her for a day. Quite obviously, the destiny had other plans and he had to live entire life without her. In the changed scenario and after the years of longing, he once tried to speak to her but with the very feeling that he was actually talking to her, words failed his mouth turning him into a bundle of nerves. Even to continue their customary get going, he had to consume a full water glass in gulps as his mouth had gone overly dry.
During his last moments, Abhijit was laughing at the paradox of life. During the early life, he loved someone who was never destined to be his companion with such an intensity that her loss completely took away the spark and meaning of life, and later he tried to move on in an endeavor making peace with the life but no other woman could ever attract or distract him in life which had merely shrunk to a worldly chorus of rituals and discharge of responsibilities and duties. He had realized this early that the times have changed and his relationship with Aarushi was no more a relationship it used to be. Now he could occasionally look back at her from a distance to live those nostalgic moments but there is no way that moments could ever be translated to a reality again.
Abhijit is no more and my only regret remains that I could not do much during his lifetime to save his relationship or share his pain and disconfiture. Also I am now becoming selfish in my resolve to share his unfinished story in public domain with the intent that it would at least lessen my own guilt and pain to some extent that I feel for my friend's nemesis.