It was April and the city in the foothills where she had been born, brought up and married was pleasant. It always was at this time of the year. Cool with the Amaltas starting to blossom and all the trees verdant with new leaves. Life seemed to spring afresh from every nook and corner of this beautiful green city. The mood was festive and it was the last day of the Navratra fasts for Lord Ram’s birth.
Mitali was sitting in the temple with her brother and bhabhi. As usual Rakesh her husband was not with her. Her niece their first born, was in her lap. It was her Mundan and the little child was very upset with her hair being shorn. She was crying hard and the temple bells were ringing loud.
Mitali didn’t notice when the phone rang. He always gave such short missed calls! Sometimes the call went off in seconds. Once she had noticed it after three hours and she could not call back. It was the Standard Operating Procedure(SOP) he said, “I don’t want to ring the warning bells at your home. As such I am always scared for you.”
She had been unwell for the last many days. For days now Suveer had not bothered to call. She was upset with him although she knew he was changing cities after another transfer and Aruna, his wife, was always at loggerheads with him. Mitali resented how easily he could detach himself from her and go back to his normal life- time and again.
Her case was different; he was constantly on her mind. Every song she heard, every phrase she read, every dialogue she heard reminded her of him. At this age she had again fallen head over heels in love with a man she had met after 18 years. She knew that Suveer felt the same, but he just couldn't express himself the way she did. “You are the word wizard whileI am the inarticulate one.” He always teased her.
Mitali was 33 now, married with two children. She did not look her age. She was of average height, with a wheatish complexion and a full figure she could still call good. She dressed smart, always suiting the occasion. Today she was wearing a green and beige Churidaar suit. It was appropriate for the temple puja. She didn’t have to go anywhere else.
She saw the call. Instantly rang back, thinking that he must be on some tour and free from the haranguing guilt and fear of being unfaithful.( He did that easily, switching back and forth, explained that he was trained for it, being a scientist, he could be analytical to the core, when he chose to.)
That was another SOP, he informed her whenever he was away from home and could communicate freely. She then adjusted her routine at home for those few days and they were on, again, on phone. It was as if, then he was on leave, available exclusively for her and when he was back home, he was on tour, for her; Confusing but convenient. It helped them to resolve the family versus love conflict.
He picked the call. He was good about that…had kept his promise. He would always pick the call or call back. “Always there for you” he had said once.
” How are you?”she asked.
“Where are you?” She asked. “I am here.”He said simply.
She was getting harried now, already exhausted.“Please, no word games today. I am not well.” She was almost upset now.
He instantly backed off, “Ok! Take it easy. I was only joking.”
She felt that she was being rude. “I am sorry. I was a little tired. Tell me?” She tried to be polite.
“Ok where are you?” he again ventured. “I am at the city temple.” She answered.
“Can you come and meet me?” he asked. Now she sensed that he was here. HERE!! in the city. Goosebumps on her arms were a clear indication. She was not dressed for a date, but what the heck?!? She asked her brother to take her to the market complex. Reaching there she saw him standing near a shop, her heart skipped a beat. It always did.
She was elated, happy, surprised but annoyed and very angry all at the same time. They started walking and she was in a teary haze. She hit out at him. “Why didn’t you call me earlier? How long have you been here? What is wrong?” He shuffled his feet, averted his gaze and said,” I was very busy and then had to go to bhai’s place also. Remember I never got to go anywhere last time. By the way you have gained weight.” His tone was forcedly casual.
Tears welled up in her eyes now. How could he do it? How could he come to the city and not inform her. She should have known days back. Had he changed? Was he finally giving in to the pull of propriety? Was he again facing the same dilemma which haunted his convoluted sense of morality? He was always so upright and conscientious, sometimes bordering on impractical and unrealistic. How could you want something and deny it at the same time. He did love her or didn’t he? Was he still grappling with the question that he had posed to Mitali three years back?
Three years ago, he had asked her if it was possible to love more than one person simultaneously.
She had sensed it popping out any time-Women have that intuitive power- and had hedged it by giving a long winding answer about loving your parents, siblings and friends all together. But he was persuasive and asked her again specifically...just so that he could tell her that he STILL loved her!
What did he mean by STILL? She never KNEW that he did at all. At least she was never sure. She had once wished even hoped that he did though. But that was way back in high school.
They were classmates since class II, literally grown up together but poles apart. He was the studious, soft-spoken, simpleton who was more worried about doing well and ‘becoming someone’. She was the outspoken, hyperactive; school-favourite who was blissfully unaware of the charm she could spin. Total opposites!
She knew he kept sneaking glances at her, looking sideways, staring when she was not looking but supposed that she was imagining too much. And he was the only one she listened to. Once she was sitting on the desk. He simply came up to her and scolded, “Cant you ever learn to sit properly? Get off the desk immediately and sit down with your legs closed.” She was stumped and immediately got down and sat lady-like. He now told her, eighteen years later, that the sight of her sitting like that distracted him and he was so agonised by the distance that he had to come and scold her. He was going bonkers he said, just couldn’t concentrate on the chemistry lessons!
They were in fact competitors too. But she adored him. She harboured hope that one day he will do or say something to show that he at least liked her. There was a spark but they were both naive enough to not recognise it. Like when during play he held her wrist and wouldn’t let go –not that she was trying! She wanted that moment to last forever. He was holding her in a vice-like grip yet taking care not to hurt her. All other girls were looking on open-mouthed, thinking; why wasn’t she hitting out at him. She loved it and wanted time to be still for once. Then someone pushed them and he released her. The moment gone, the chance lost.
Or when he lost his heart –again! She came to school wearing a sari! She was the heroine of some play. He just couldn’t take her eyes off. He was standing on the first floor landing and she was at the foot of the stairs facing him asking another girl to adjust her sari. She looked like a goddess, beautiful, vibrant, pure and virginal. He fell all over again for her but as usual turned away as soon as she looked up. Another moment lost, another chance gone.
He was in awe of her. That awe was agonising. This was class X, he was sixteen, he thought,” I should at least tell her.” But did not have the courage. He was hoping to become a microbiologist. Actually that was what he was pinning all his hopes on...becoming a scientist and then stealing the earth from beneath her feet. He wanted to be rich for her sake. Her parents were better off by his standards. He didn’t realise at the time that it was a very long term plan.
Fate or Destiny or whatever name you give it had other plans. It hit her out of the blue!
His father was transferred. They were going away—forever!
She wanted him to know. There was no way her modesty would allow her to tell him. She bought a card about being friends forever and wrote a nice little quote. Superscripting it ‘To, One of My Oldest and Best Friends Ever’, borrowed a bicycle and went to say bye. He was surprised to see her and as usual tongue tied. They left.
It was April, the cool month, the Amaltas blossoms month. Spring.
Seventeen years later, It was April again, she was preparing an internet project for one of her students when she thought about checking a profile she had once created on a site which promised to reunite you with your batch mates. A message lay in the inbox-
“Hi! Are you the same Mitali”. If you are then I assume you will remember the name. Please revert on email@example.com if you do. Looking forward to your response. Best Regards”.
Of course she did.
She replied in a cool tone that she did and was happy to know that he was doing well for himself.
But she was married now, didn’t want to invite censure from a doubting husband. She fabricated a tale of convenient lies about her husband and family. Lies, because she couldn’t disclose the truth that her husband was an alcoholic who was not able to fight depression and that she was going through one of the worst phases of her life.
She wanted to avoid communication, didn’t have anything to write about. But he persisted; he wanted long answers to his e-mails. Wanted to know how she was doing, what had she done after school and college. She apologised for not being able to keep in touch. He thought she still didn’t care as she never did. But the pretense was kept this time. Thank God for technology.
Her husband went to rehab, rather was sent to it by the family. She had left home a week earlier after consistent beatings and a failed suicide attempt. She started looking for work and found a job as a tutor in an academy. Rest of the day she moped and cried sitting in lonely corners
Amit, her brother introduced her to a social networking site. He helped her to make a profile and encouraged her to find her friends. She found some and then she found Veena her best friend. She wrote her cell no in a message to her. Veena never called.
A week later, she was shopping for some clothes with ma, when her phone rang. It was an unidentified number. A strange voice was on the other side. It was Suveer!
He had read the message on Veena’s page and finally gathered the courage to call her. She was busy but didn’t want him to disappear again so she invited him to a chat on yahoo, something she had learnt a day ago. He agreed for an hour later. Now she wanted to get home early. She wanted to run home. Hope sprung afresh.
He was there at the appointed hour. Another friend was also there. The chat started and one thing lead to another. He wanted to know if she had old school photos. She did and promised to get them next day. She again spun lies saying that her husband was abroad. He could sense that something was wrong but didn’t want to hurry her. Dinesh, the third guy also sensing that he was forgotten, excused himself from the chat. Mitali and Suveer bid goodnight after exchanging the basic information and knowing about their families and a promise to chat again at the same time next day.
The next day she had loads of photographs. She scanned them all and sent it to him. He was only interested in her photos. Then he sprang the first surprise , he had a picture of her She felt ecstatic!! He told her that he had written to her after he left the city but never got a reply. That was strange because she had replied. The letter got lost!
She thought, “Are we star-crossed?”
When she had not received a reply to her letter, she had nursed a grudge, thinking that he had found new friends in the new city and forgotten the old ones. Little did she know that her letter never reached him and he was losing his health being morose and forlorn in that forbidden place.He was so lost to the world that his mother feared him losing his sanity. Then he plunged himself in study and found an escape from the deep longing he felt for her. Knowing all this now after so long was jolting for her.
She had decided to move on and not lose life over something that had never happened but in her imagination. Someone else proposed and she said yes! And then as her character was she devoted herself to him.
Suveer wrote again…he was now a microbiologist in biotech MNC. He sent her a photograph. He looked dashing. He was suave and handsome in his khakis and pinstriped shirt and silk tie, confident and smart. He always was good-looking. Tall with a set jaw line and fair complexioned. She never replied. She was going to be married in two months…It was too late.
She was jolted back from her reverie. Her chat box was flashing.
“I love you. I love my wife but I have always loved you since we were in class 5 and I still do.” Suveer wrote in the chat box. “I have been looking for you for the last 17 years. I need you to know this that’s all.”
She was stupefied, numbed with shock. He told her that he came looking for her after he secured a job but she was already married by then.
“I never fell out of love with you.” He explained. “But you were out of reach now”, he complained.
“Last year when I was alone on an assignment in Egypt, you appeared in my dream. I felt you were in some sort of trouble and needed me. I started searching for you, tried many old contacts but you had just disappeared. Then suddenly I saw your profile on that site and messaged you.” He wrote in one flow.
“You again responded in a semidetached way, but this time I was determined to hold on to you!” He almost shouted on the chat. “That is why I kept writing.” She thanked her stars for this small mercy.
“Now will you please come clean and tell me what’s wrong with your life?” He urged. “don’t lie any more, alright?” He typed fervently. “I know something is drastically wrong.”
She was touched. She couldn’t lie to him any more. Her life was a wreck anyway, so it would not make any difference if he knew. At least she will have someone to confide in, without being judged. She knew intuitively that he will listen.
He had a night shift. She asked if she could call as they couldn’t possibly chat when he worked. He said he would call her in an hour. He called her and they started talking.
The night flew. She told him all. How her husband, the man she had loved and given up everything for beat her up didn’t trust her and didn’t fulfill any of his responsibilities. She told him about the beatings, sexual abuse and suicide. He was furious!
Suveer scolded her, consoled her, sympathised with her and simply LISTENED. Night after night she poured out all her anguish and he simply listened and gathered it all in his heart. He healed her. He reminded her how popular she was. He told her that he wanted to see her confident and spirited again. He told her that he was still enamored with her beauty and how he was not the only one.
They talked incessantly, exchanged long worded e-mails, sent each other love songs and he asked for recent photographs. They were in love and this time they knew it.
Slowly and surely Mitali rediscovered herself, through Suveer’s eyes. She felt loved…so loved and cared for that she wanted to live again. He made her exercise, study further, pray, eat and LIVE. She was happy…just happy again!. She felt immensely loved and adored, a feeling she had forgotten completely.
He was torn between his loving family and this childhood love. She had to decide if she wanted to get back to her husband who was going to be back soon. They decided to let things be. They could not hurt their loved ones so they hid it from all. They were friends first and always. But deep in their hearts they would now know always that they were SOULMATES, who would always love each other.
They went back to their families. Resigned themselves to their fate but now wowed never to lose touch. Friends in this life and soulmates in the next.
Then a year later came a call that he was coming to her city. She was all agog with anxiety. It was as if she was a 16 year old with butterflies doing a constant dance in her stomach!
He came, they met and she was on the top of the world. She was awash with pleasure and exhilaration. She could see the admiration and unabashed love in his eyes. They had the best time of their lives. They visited their old haunts, the school, the gurudwara near the school, the famous temple near the city, the park near the school. They met friends, spent time together, shopped, and went on a drive to the hills. She cooked for him and he ate the spicy food without complaining although he despised chillies. They did all they were never able to do together and gathered for themselves their own private treasures. She even took him to meet her parents. Every day he brought her gifts.
The sexual undercurrent was always there. They kept the distance. He hugged her brother and she felt jealous, all she was getting were polite half-hugs! THAT was unfair. She decided to be brash and ask for it.
She sent him a text message- ‘Would you give me something?’
He was surprised-‘Anything you ask’-he replied.
‘I want two things and I am not taking a ‘no’ from you!’ She texted again
‘Don’t worry...you have a blanket yes from me.’ He assured, wondering where it was leading to and calculating his finances. He had already bought her clothes and knick-knacks.
‘First, I want something that will always remind me of you, something that I can keep close to my heart and preserve forever. Second I want a full blown, warm and tight hug from you.’ She wrote with trembling fingers.
‘I am game about the first one,’ he wrote, ‘but the second one is tough. I am human too!. How will I resist you and know when to stop.’
‘I don’t know about all that, a hug is long overdue. I deserve it. It’s just a hug after all!’ She pressed on adamantly.
They met that day again; she wouldn’t allow any day to pass without meeting. He bought her a pendant to hang in her necklace. Something she could keep close to her heart. It was exquisite. He dropped her back. The next day she went to pick him up.
“What about my second gift?” she was bent on it now. He didn’t say a word. He simply gathered her in her arms and hugged her so tight that she thought she would break.
It was his last day here. “Why didn’t you ask for this 18 years ago?” he asked painfully. “I would have told you to wait for me and swept you off your feet after I became what I did.”
“I didn’t know you liked me so much! I thought you were the serious type.” She said reproaching.
“I am glad I found you and we met. I thank God for these wonderful 18 days. I lived my lost 18 years in these. The only thing I regret is that this will die with me. I found the girl I loved forever and she loves me back too, but I can’t share it with a single soul in my life.” He lamented shaking his head.
“We know now! That’s enough!” She consoled him.
He dragged her to the looking glass on the wall. He was standing behind her, his arms around her waist. “Whenever I look in the mirror now, I will see me standing behind you. You must also remember me like this, always there behind you.”
They promised that they will never lose each other. Since then they had called each other, sent messages, connected on social networking site. He rang her when he was out on tour, and they always reconnected with a vengeance and unprecedented passion. They knew they were lucky to have each other, few people get such chances.
Mitali still helped herself to sleep after she thought once again about those stolen 18 days of her life. That was her private treasure, her salvation, her panacea from all the pain and trouble that she ever faced.
One day on the phone Mitali simply said, “Remember you asked me once if one could love two people at the same time. YES one CAN. You do and I do too.”
They had both realised that soul-mates may not necessarily be your life mates…they are just there and your heart knows one when it comes across one.