Dec 06, 2023
Dec 06, 2023
“ Sir, you! Here!!
He raised his head slowly. Looked into my eyes, but couldn’t recognize me. Or maybe, his memory.
I felt bad. “ Sir, Neeraj. Your humble servant.”
A faint smile played upon his face. But it vanished soon. I had expected him to rush, greet me, hug me, but he didn’t even move from the chair. Oh my God, it was the same chair that he used to sit in long, long ago… How many years? Thirty. No, thirty-two, to be precise.
I was shocked. He was looking in the same direction, his eyes fixed on the path, the same old path, now turned into a road.
I was standing at the gate. Hoped, he would get up, open the gate, ask me in, but no, nothing of that happened.
I opened the gate, entered, touched his feet.
“ Where is Seema?”
I was baffled. He still remembered Seema. He was still thinking of her.
“ I have been sitting here. Waiting for her. Longing to see her. She would come by that path. Wouldn’t she?”
That is terrible. How long has he been sitting here in this shabby, worn-out chair, waiting for a ghost? Was he out of his wits?
“ Neeraj, won’t you prepare a cup of coffee for me? You prepare such good coffee. One cup for you too.”
I smiled. No, he hadn’t gone mad, completely. “ Sure, sir”, I said and wiped my tears.
As I entered the kitchen, I was amazed. Everything in perfect order, lying where I had last seen. Nothing missing. His blue mug too. Fifteen long years, and everything in its place. Was this kitchen real? Or I too had become an apparition?
He was delighted when I served him his coffee, in his blue mug.
“ Where is Seema?” he asked as he took the first sip.
I looked up at the pines lined up on the path. A nightingale was singing her heart out.
“ Where were you? Why didn’t you come yesterday? Or the day before? I don’t know how long?”
“ Sir, I came back only yesterday.”
“ Came back! From where?”
“ England!” He laughed. “ Joking! Did you go on foot?”
“ No sir. I went by plane.”
“ What are you talking? Went by plane, really? What for?”
“ Sir, my daughter lives there. She needed me.”
“ Your daughter? Oh yes, your daughter. Jyoti. In which class is she studying?”
“ Sir, she finished her studies long back. She got married and went to England. She has a baby now.”
“ Making fun of me. Have you gone mad?I know Jyoti so well. She is my darling, young, sweet, jumpy girl.”
“ But sir, that was fifteen years ago. Fifteen long years”, I said, my voice full of pain.
“ Go away, you liar. You were never like that. Something has gone wrong with the world.”
Something wrong with the world, or with you, sir, I thought, my heart twisting with pain.
“ He has been here two years now”, Veero said grimly. “ I have watched him day and night. He is not himself. Sitting in this very chair, always looking towards the path, asking the same question, Where is Seema?, over and over. Difficult to manage him. Still I have been doing my best.”
‘ Difficult to manage him’, the words brought tears to my eyes. It was he in fact who managed us all, and managed everything so well that we can be proud of our lives today. Where were we before he took us over? Garbage. Crawling insects. He taught me to live a man’s life. He forced me to send Jyoti to school. He would teach her daily in the evening and saw to it that she scored good marks in every class. And look at what she is today. We owe everything, even our lives to him. But what should I do?
“ Now that you have come,” Veero said, “ maybe, he too comes back.”
“ What can I do, Veero? I can’t bring Seema back.”
Seema, the most beautiful girl of our town, in fact a ravishing beauty, had a very melodious voice. Her mother worked for Sir. She would sometimes bring Seema along with her to Sir’s house. He would force her to sing, and was enraptured by her voice. Seema’s mother was overwhelmed by the gifts she would get from him. She, therefore, started bringing her more often. Very soon he fell for her, not for her body, but for her voice. He always told me, there was divinity in her voice. Every evening he would have a session where she would sing for at least fifteen minutes. The drawing room became such a cheery place. We all looked forward to those musical evenings.
When Seema’s voice became his passion, how could he stay away from her?
One day he proposed to Seema who naturally was thrilled. But her mother talked of all the stupid things that any mother can think of: social standing, age difference, what they will say, etc. etc.
He gave her ten thousand rupees, and all her objections vanished into thin air.
Suddenly orders came for his transfer. He had to leave immediately. He told Seema while parting, “ I shall come back soon. Sooner or later, it doesn’t matter. Whenever I come, we shall marry, and then live a sweet, lovely life, full of your music in my heart and soul. Your music is divine for me. Your voice is divine. You are God’s gift to me.”
He didn’t return ‘soon’. Seema waited for two years. She became sad and gloomy. Another rich man came and was ensnared by her. He paid twenty thousand rupees to her mother, and Seema went with him.
Seema’s mother too left the town soon after.
I remained lost, thinking how I could help in bringing him back to life.
I learnt from one of my friends that there was a juggler, in a nearby village, who had three daughters. They all could sing well.
Jyoti had given me some money. I touched my pocket. It was still intact.
As I sat with Sir and he asked me, Where is Seema, Sheena, hiding behind the wall, started singing a melodious song, firstly in a low voice, gradually raising it to higher notes.
Shaken by the song and the voice, Sir couldn’t believe his ears. It was the same song that Seema used to sing often. “ Who is she? Who is singing?”
I knew my plan had clicked. I had chosen the girl carefully, almost same age, same build, of course not the same beauty. How could any girl match Seema in beauty?
“ Seema, sir. “
“ Seema! Really!”
“ Yes, sir. Only she is feeling shy. Guilty too.”
Sheena continued singing, from behind the wall.
Sir was lost in the song. Completely immersed.
As I had told Sheena, she continued singing without a break, for fifteen minutes. Same songs that Seema used to sing.
And then she slipped away, as per the plan.
Sir came back, sooner than I had expected. “ Why has she stopped singing? Where is she?”
“ Sir, she left because her mother called. She would come again , tomorrow.”
“ Bad. Why did she leave?”
“ Tomorrow, sir. She would be back.”
“ Sure, sir. Don’t worry.”
I felt bad though, I played this trick on him for another five days. Everyday made some improvement in him. His eyes lost some gloom. His mind showed more focus. He would now enjoy his coffee, and ask for extra sugar. Above all, he desperately waited for the time when Sheena would come and sing. He wouldn’t just blurt out incoherent phrases or sentences.
I thought the plan had worked. There was hope he might come back.
On the sixth day, in the middle of a song, he just stood up and went behind the wall. He gazed at Sheena.
She got scared. She stopped singing.
“ Who are you?”
“ Seema, really? You can’t be my Seema.”
“ Why, sir?”
“ If you are Seema, why should be hiding?”
“ Afraid of you, sir. I have been away from you so long.”
“ Yes, yes. That is bad. You didn’t keep your promise.”
“ But I have now come back, sir. Shall I continue singing now?”
He looked at her for a long while. “ You can’t be Seema. You are not Seema. You aren’t my Seema. But you sing well, like her.”
Sheena started singing again.
I had paid Sheena for a month.
On the thirtieth day, Sir looked at me. There were tears of gratitude in his eyes.
He said to Sheena, “ I know for sure, you are not my Seema. But you are Seema. You can come here everyday and sing for me. I shall gladly pay you whatever you ask for.”
That was the happiest day in my life.
More by : Dr. O.P. Arora