It was in the month of February with the receding winter. The lawn party hosted at his bungalow was at its zenith with the guests in convenient groups cozying with the tasteful snacks and drinks. Vanita was playing a perfect host as usual and her friends were adding colours with their fun and laughter. Among all this hubbub during the last two hours, he was getting bored and restless wearing an artificial smile and gestures among the invitees at party. Now he desperately needed some private space and a fresh breather. Hence finding most of the guests busy among themselves, he quietly entered the house and barged into his study to have some solace of solitude.
Because he was not so receptive or enthusiastic about the idea, close friends and relatives had been pressurizing Vanita for weeks together for this celebration on the eve of their completing twenty-five years of marriage this year. These days, many couples, often their own and sometimes prompted by their children or other near and dears, are found so upbeat and enthusiastic about their conjugal relations that they look for every possible opportunity for celebration and in the process organize anniversaries, silver jubilee, golden jubilee, and so on so forth. Knowing her nature and temperament, initially he did not show much inclination and interest in Vanita’s idea which, he knew well, most of the time was not her own but prompted or induced by her close friends and siblings. But when he found her committed and serious about it, he agreed on promise that their guest list will be discrete comprising of only close relatives, friends and unavoidable office colleagues. Despite being discreet and conservative in choice of guests, the number finally swelled up to more than a hundred invitees.
He remembered from his childhood how such occasions were usually a cool affair in his family. His own parents celebrated the occasion with utmost simplicity by organizing a pooza (religious ritual), distributing sweets and some money among poor and unprivileged, followed by meals within intimate circle of family. Given a choice, he would still prefer to keep it a private affair. But now time has changed and people have their own innovative and imaginative ways to celebrate auspicious occasions with a focus on the pomp and splendour. He has virtually been a loner in life all along with many acquaintances but hardly any real friend. On his own, he never celebrates or observe any occasion and, in fact, endeavours to take all events in life - happy or sad, in a cool and detached manner. On the contrary, every occasion or event leaves a deep impact on Vanita and she is easily swayed away with emotions and tempers which at times run high to the extent of affecting, and even temporarily destabilizing harmony and peace of life. It’s not that he was always like that but time and certain events in life have changed him dramatically.
He peeps through the window in study room and takes a sigh of relief that the guests are having nice time and no one really seems to have noticed or worried about his quiet withdrawal. Almost all invited guests had turned up by now and the lawn was buzzing with a lot of fun and jovial activity. Guests and invitees had gathered in splinter groups and engaged in merry making over the sumptuous and tasty snacks and drinks. He himself never takes any aerated or alcoholic drinks but has made arrangements for everything keeping the likings and tastes of mostly known gathering. Initially, Vanita was not amused with the idea of liquor being served on this occasion but now she was glad finding the majority of the friends and relatives relishing over it.
During his long years in the Government service, he is aware that the booze readily provides a common ground to shed inhibition and open up to unite people on such occasions even if they are not well acquainted with each other. He had done everything to ensure that every guest is comfortable and happy in the party despite his own indifference and desperate wish to be alone.
As soon as he was alone, he was back in his shell. During all these years, she had always dominated his mind and heart but for the last several days, Devyani had once again overwhelmed him with her memories and thoughts. It had been ages that he had not met or heard any news about her. He still remembers the fateful moment years back when he resolved not to communicate or make any attempt to find her whereabouts which at that moments of time, he thought, was in the best interest of her life, lest someday his restless and forlorn love may prevail upon the ethereal and sublime friendship spoiling the relationship besides causing a turmoil in her otherwise happy life. In his struggle of heart and mind, he always remained skeptic about his wisdom but he firmly stuck on to this resolve despite intense mental agony and pain he passed through all along due to void thus caused. At times, he thought about the possible misunderstanding at her side due to the lack of communication but he tried to reconcile with the destiny knowing well one cannot amend or relive past. And now, by chance, he had come across and seen something of her a couple of weeks back which had once again shaken his belief and resolve, compelling him to constantly ponder over it time and again. Contrary to his belief for the first time in life, he was in serious doubt if she is at all happy and contended in her life.
He still remembers the day when he saw Devyani for the first time in the university. She was new to the university and new to the environment, while he already had the comfort of having studied there for the last two academic sessions. Sitting at her desk, she appeared lonely and lost and he was simply mesmerized watching her pure and unblemished beauty and aura. To him she looked like an angel or a fairy descended from the dreamland. At that moment, he felt as if his heart beats had stopped and as if he had forgotten breathing. With the sudden upsurge of an enormous affection and attachment towards her, he had a feeling as if he knew her for ages for some distinct reason. During all this, Devyani was so occupied and absorbed in self that she remained totally unaware and unmindful that somebody is constantly staring at her with so much of curiosity, affection and interest. He didn’t take his glimpse away till his close friend and long time associate Vijay interrupted him, “Hello, Devarshi! Where are you and what is going on? You are staring at her as if you have never seen a girl in life.”
It was altogether a new feeling and experience for him because he had never been so intensely infatuated or attracted towards any woman in the past. He had seen and talked to many girls of his age in the past but she was different, and at that very moment he knew that she is going to be special in his life for all time to come. The instant feeling of affection and friendliness towards her was the humble beginning of their love and friendship which only kept growing in later years despite their separation and prolonged absence.
Temperamentally, he was very hesitant and shy which caused a lot of difficulties in shaping their relationship and perhaps confusion and uncertainty too in their minds. He would occasionally exchange a few words with her on some pretext and remain pondering over it for days altogether. At times, he would deliberately bunk the class so that he could have opportunity to talk to her on the pretext of seeking notes. At times, they would exchange glances without speaking a word as if eyes did the talking part. For the months together, he remained contented with the budding and blooming affection and love in his heart. It’s not that Devyani was unaware and indifferent to all this. In the beginning, this was one-sided but gradually she too started responding to him and taking initiative to foster their affectionate relationship. At a time in a phase of life, she completely dominated his mind and heart and he was simply unable to visualise a life without her.
So long Devyani was around, he had this satisfaction and consolation that one day he would take initiative to open his heart and let her know how strongly he felt about her and that he had a dream of living rest of the life with her. Those days, his own happiness depended on seeing her happy and smiling; he still remembers how upset he had been watching her gloomy and sad on two occasions and yet he could not muster courage to inquire into the reasons. He was simply unable to imagine a life without her and knew in his heart if ever he would lose her, he would lose the meaning and relevance of life. Despite being not so mature at teenage, he constantly used to ponder about the possible difficulties and odds in their relationship.
He had resolved in his mind that before proposing it to her, he must achieve enough success to counter and overcome all possible odds. He knew that Devyani was not happy with his shy and hesitant nature. On one occasion, he mustered courage to express his feelings, speak to her what remained unspoken between them and ask if she could wait for him for some time. But at the last moment his throat choked and eyes moistened, and all that he could do was to express regrets for the mistakes committed before promptly leaving the scene. And then the day arrived too soon when Devyani came to say goodbye and to leave him forever to start a new chapter and phase of her life. By the time this happened, he already knew that it was too late for him to salvage and save their relationship. Like a mute and hapless animal, he silently watched her moving away from life. But then he didn’t know that this was the lost time he was with her and henceforth the life would be so unfair and cruel as to never allow them another chance to meet again.
During it's long journey, the life sometimes takes such a turn to move swiftly ahead leaving the person way behind. The person remains totally clueless if this is the end of the road or there is still some hope. Then it is difficult to decide if one is stuck up for all time to come or it’s just an opportunity to start a fresh in life. He still remembers the trauma he faced after her departure. He remained an emotional wreck for a long time because he was simply unable to percieve or visualize a life without her. He had a challenge to overcome the shock to move ahead in life while the parents were under pressure from the community for his early matrimonial alliance. On his part, he had no desire left; besides he was afraid that after Devyani he may not be able to love anybody else and do justice with the relationship which would be unfair for the woman who may have her own dream vision of a happy and fulfilled marital life.
Notwithstanding above, he could not sustain pressure from the parents and community for long and the day came when he stopped all resistance. For him, his marriage was like jumping in a blind tunnel because he had not even once cared to the established convention of meeting or seeing the potential mate to ascertain their mutual compatibility and acceptability before entering into the matrimonial alliance. After marriage, Vanita was indeed surprised and right too when she complained on several occasions as to why he didn’t consider it necessary to at least meet her once before marriage. At times, she openly expressed her displeasure about this and he, on his turn, never reacted or contested her accusation. Some people thought he was too old fashioned and the modern education could be of little help to enlighten him.
He may not have shown any keenness or interest in marrying Vanita but after marriage he earnestly and dutifully honoured all conjugal obligations, and tried to do everything that he could do for her happiness, the institution of marriage and sustenance of a family without ever caring or expecting similar reciprocity from the other side.
When he looks back in retrospective, he finds with the passage of time everything has changed. And if anything has not changed in all these years, it is his loyalty, friendship and love for Devyani which kept growing to new heights and dimensions with the passing years and age. After separation way back, he didn’t see her even once but it has never diminished or affected his feelings for her. Those ordinary events and conversations that he shared with her, became his priceless jewels and possessions for all time to come in life.
He often remembers one particular incident as an impeccable illustration of their mutual liking and preference at a certain stage of life. In a group of about twenty, everyone was required to choose a partner for a joint study for the next couple of weeks. He was so eager and keen to partner and work with her but at the same time was shy and hesitant too to make an offer. Finally, only four of them were left and he was still unsure in his mind. At this point of time, Devyani took a bold initiative to request the only other boy to pair up with the only remaining girl paving the way naturally for her own pairing with him as partners in the proposed study.
While working together, he remained so overwhelmed with her mere presence as partner that he could not focus on the job in hand. Needless to mention, despite being otherwise a good working hand, he repeatedly committed experimental errors. While she remained graceful and cool throughout without showing any impatience or dissatisfaction, he had an uncomfortable feeling to have disappointed her with the partnership. He still recalls and regrets that he had to artificially manipulate results for the two. He did it with ease then but later he realized this as an act of intellectual dishonesty which he never repeated in later life again.
Such small incidents and occasions remained the testimony and anecdotes of their relationship or whatever it was. She was always kind and warm in her initiatives and he was always hesitant and shy through his failures. Despite this, the mutual affection and consideration for each other remained unaffected. There were times, when he felt that she is increasingly getting restless and, at times, irritated with his however genuine and pure sentiments but for his inaction and lackadaisical approach but he could do little to foster and salvage their relationship in time.
On one occasion, an ordinary event precipitated a misunderstanding that proved very costly to their relationship spoiling chances of early reconciliation and union. The misunderstanding inflicted such a great misery and pain to either of them that they kept struggling to recover from it till their separation. While he remained under constant shock and stress, Devyani made genuine gestures and maneuvers for a patch up which remained of little help at that time mainly because of his insensibilities and stupidities despite the intense love and affection he constantly felt for her through the crisis. Such was his consideration and devotion for her even through misunderstanding that, on one occasion, despite having cold and fever, he had instantly consumed the sugarcane log offered by her without a second thought. He remembered his mother had forbid him sugarcane juice during the childhood at his village on the belief that it was harmful in aggravating cold. Actually, this was a friendly gesture which Devyani made for the patch up and reconciliation without uttering a single word while her eyes spoke a lot but he was immature and unable to understand this then and the realization came years later.
Such small incidents and conversations became his jewels and priceless treasure for the rest of life, giving him enough reasons and comfort to live a life without her. The very feeling of her friendliness and affection had given him a tremendous confidence and a sense of fulfillment that he never felt an urge of forging another relationship in life. He learnt lessons from every mistake committed and in later life, he never repeated any mistake for the second time. Pain incurred by her loss and confidence derived from her love and friendship gave him enough mental and physical strength that in later life, whatever he did, professionally or personally, he did it with utmost precision and perfection. There were occasions when women were attracted towards him, reverse being also true, but all this was momentary and nobody could ever take Devyani's place in his life.
In a way, his situation has been like the gull at the high seas which, in search of the better avenues at the main land, flies from the host ship to a distance and returns back on the deck out of fear lest it may lose its only hope. During these years, he tried all possible diversions – seeking comfort in relationships by befriending people, extensive travel inland and abroad, occupying self in pastimes like sports, reading, writing and music while being totally consumed at work for long hours. But none of this could really work or fill the void because, wherever he went, whatever he did, in his solitude Devyani would invariably return with her memories, and he would shrink to his shell like a prisoner of her thoughts.
He often remembers that fateful summer day when she came to say goodbye for the last time. It was almost the middle of the day and with her angelic aura and grace, she was looking her best with cheerful and gleaming eyes. Though a bit unnerved and increasingly restless, he had tried his best to remain calm and composed till she stayed with him. He knew well that everything was over now. Devyani was already married to somebody else and her twinkling eyes were witness how she was excited about new and magnificent life ahead. She promised him to write back and keep in touch. She had some work to finish and over a cup of tea, they had routine conversation. But by the end of the rendezvous, with the very thought of losing her for life, he lost his nerves despite an outward composure, and could not even extend the normal courtesy of bidding good bye and accompanying her at least to a distance for a safe departure. Standing haplessly under an archway, he watched her walking away for the last time.
There was a time and phase in life when passion and sentiments ran so high that he was simply unable to imagine a life without her and bear with the loss. Enormity of her loss was so grave that it drenched the spark of his life whether on personal or professional front, for him life remained simply a chorus of worldly duties and commitments. Years later, he tried to speak to her once in belief that with the passage of time he has matured and mustered enough strength and will power to bear with any eventuality or shock. But he was clearly wrong, the mere feeling of her presence on the other side led to overflow of emotions turning him into a bundle of nerves and choked his throat. He had to empty a full glass of water in installments even to carry on with the routine and customary conversation.
On departure, she had promised to remain a friend and expected him to be a friend but during this life he could neither become a good companion nor proved a good friend.
He had no idea how long he had been alone with his life’s saga and flashback. He was so occupied and absorbed in his thoughts and past events of life that he had even forgotten that a plethora of guests are awaiting him outside till his young and loving daughter Anushka came in and interrupted his chain of thoughts, “Papa, why are you sitting here and what are you doing all alone? Ronit uncle has just arrived and desperately looking for you. Then other guests too are inquisitive about your whereabouts and prolonged absence. Let’s go and join the party. It’s already time for the dinner now.”
As if awake from a trance, he quietly got up without uttering a word and the two together walked hand-in-hand to join the guests outside in the lawn while Vanita was loudly issuing instructions to aides to start serving dinner.