“New Delhi ki ore jaane waali gaadi sankhya 22588 Rajdhani Express platform kramank 10 par aa rahi hai,“
“The train number 22588 Rajdhani Express moving towards New Delhi is arriving on platform number 10.”
Anjali took her eyes off from the hustle of railway station and looked in the distance of coming train. The railway track was filthy as usual but she loved travelling by train. Flights gave her backaches and even after repeated insistence of her two sons she preferred train. Her two sons! Oh, how much time has passed, she wondered. The little caterpillars have turned into winged creatures and flew to form their own world and she was left alone in Varanasi. It’s been such a long time when Ashok left them. She doesn’t even miss him now. At this thought, Anjali felt a pang of guilt. What is she saying? She does miss his presence, and just coping up with the responsibility of raising two sons – one of 10 and another of 8 alone made her strong. She laughed – a big loud laugh on how she was consoling herself.
Ha ! Ha! Ha!’ Suddenly she realized people were looking at her and embarrassed, she picked up her luggage and moved in search of coach A2. She double checked her seat on the chart and then entered the coach.
This was her Life – She spent three months with each of her son’s family every year but never agreed to leave Benaras. Benaras was where she belonged, she had a weird feeling that the day she will leave Benaras, she will die.
The dhoop mixed air of her city, the echo and colors of Ganga aarti, the silence of ghats in morning only broken by temple bells and the narrow never ending streets, Benaras breathed through her. And her every day evening walk to BHU, she missed it when she was in Delhi or Bengaluru.
Stretching her legs on her berth, she was lost into thoughts. And a memory brought a giggle onto her face. Ashok was working with a bank and one fine day when he came home and said in a disappointing voice that he was transferred and she had to pack, she said yes. It was a routine and she was not even interested in knowing which city. Ashok was a silent man, they never talked much.
That night when they retired to bed, Ashok said, “Achha! Tum to Benaras me rahi ho na, tumko to wo jagah pata hogi,”
(You have lived in Benaras? You must be familiar with the place?)
Benaras!!! She screamed with Joy but later composed herself lest she irritated her husband who was not very fond of her. She just nodded in affirmation.
“Mai BHU me…”
“Haan, Haan, yaad hai mujhe…” Ashok cut her short.
But she was happy. It was Benaras calling for her and she will be with the city that was her partner before she got married.
“Madam, what will you for dinner, veg or non-veg?” Her memory train was stopped by the coach attendant.
“Vegetarian,” She replied and suddenly the attendant stumbled due to a jerk and a girl emerged with her big backpack.
“Bhaiya, arrange a seat just for sitting nah, please,” said the girl, as she looked in looking for some space to accommodate herself.
“Madam, the train has just come, let every passenger be seated and then I will surely arrange one for you.” The attended replied and left.
The girl, all breathless, started introspecting the compartment. Noticing the old lady continuously staring at her, she jumped at the opportunity.
“Aunty, can I sit here please, if you don’t have any problem. I have a RAC ticket and TC has assured me of a seat.”
Anjali was in a fix, but she simply nodded offering her some space to sit. And then, Anjali gave a look to this co-passenger. She was pretty, dressed in a white shirt and Patiala salwar, she was wearing big black metal earrings. Hair tied to the top of her head, a flick here and there was coming out. She looked tired with red, sleepy eyes.
Anjali looked at her lazily, suddenly it seemed as if she had seen this girl before; not recently, must be some time ago; and she tried to think when and where, – but could not remember. She tried hard to recall, the girl seemed so familiar but finally she settled with the fact that at 68 her memory was not the loyal one to stay back.
The girl who was in her mid twenties started checking her phone and tears started rolling down her cheeks. She made a few frantic calls and was shouting, screaming, pleading and then crying over every phone call.
Anjali wanted to ask but restrained herself from interfering in a stranger’s personal life. She tried to engross herself in a magazine. As happens with almost everyone in that age she went down the memory lane
1967, Benaras Station
A girl was running towards the train with a suitcase in her hand. She did not have a ticket but had to go to Dilli urgently, rushing towards the train she managed to get into the crowded train. Throwing the suitcase at one corner, she then turned towards Benaras, the city she was absolutely in love with, the city that gave her dreams, the city which she never wanted to leave and then she said goodbye one last time.
She stood at the door until the city faded off. Coming back to the compartment, she sat on the suitcase and within no time she was in tears. She didn’t want to leave her studies mid way but was forced to because her parents found a suitable match for her. The groom was working in a bank and that was enough for her to leave her studies midway. And all through the journey to Delhi she cried, cried frantically. How much she had tried to persuade her parents to let her complete her education.
She was pursuing a degree in literature and everyone admired her writing skills at BHU. She had never seen that boy, never talked. She wrote a letter to him stating her wish to complete her studies and to write. Never came the reply and she one fine day with a heavy heart left Benaras.
Her thought express experienced a halt as she heard the RAC girl sobbing. She then decided to talk to the girl.
“Beta! Don’t mind, but you are restless since the time you boarded the train. Is everything ok?”
“Yeah Aunty, I am a little disturbed, some personal issues,” replied the girl, wiping off her face.
“You can talk to me if you want and remember, sometimes talking to a stranger helps,” added Anjali, trying further to help the girl.
“Thanks Aunty, actually it’s my family, they are emotionally blackmailing me to come to Delhi right now.” She said, coming closer.
“They want me to marry, they have found a boy which is a perfect match for me according to them and the guy is leaving for US in a few weeks and they want us to be married in a week.” She said, looking away.
“And you like someone else?”
“No Aunty, I am doing my masters and after that I want to make a career. I want to write my own book, my own stories and not get entangled in relationships.” The girl was so well settled with her thoughts, she knew what she wanted to do, and it made Anjali think for a moment, about her life, about her past.
“You don’t get entangled in relationships beta, they bind you together.” She finally said, recovering herself.
“I don’t deny that, aunty, but right now I want to focus on my career.”
“You said that you want to write. But you can do that after marriage too.”
“My parents say the same. I tried talking to this guy first, but he is super busy and then he thinks writing is just a hobby. Tell me honestly, aunty, don’t we have a choice to decide our timelines and our interests by us?” as she said those words, Anjali was forced to think again where she had seen this girl. She was so clear in her mind, yet she couldn’t recall where she met her.
Anjali fell silent. To her rescue came the attendant with the dinner and Anjali was spared to this girl and her question for which she herself never had an answer.
The girl again got busy on phone persuading someone and Anjali went 40 years back to the same train. She reached Delhi and married Ashok in a hurriedly arranged ceremony. After Bidai she went to her new home. Not only Ashok was working with a bank, her in-laws were old time zamindars of Bengal with a big haweli.
On her first alone moment with Ashok, he said, “I got your letter and I didn’t reply because I thought that I will talk about it when we’ll meet. You will not get any discomfort here, so there is no question of your studying further.”
Anjali’s world came falling down. And suddenly she missed the city that gave her air to breath, a city where she dreamt to fly. She didn’t realize when she stopped crying, and when she felt asleep.
And she had actually fallen asleep when she heard the girl trying to wake her up.
“Aunty, I got a seat the side upper one just to your opposite. Thank you so much Aunty for your help, I think you should take rest now.”
Anjali wanted to say that she is making a wrong decision and that she should follow her heart, but couldn’t, instead she said, “Everything happens for a reason beta and love is a force we could never understand. Now, you should also take some rest and leave everything on god. You have been crying all the evening and look at your eyes, they are swollen.”
The girl gave her a smile. And settled on her berth, before switching off lights she wished her good night. The girl tried to smile with emptiness in her eyes.
‘Those eyes… I have seen them somewhere.’ She tried hard to remember, the girl seemed so familiar and she never forget faces. Maybe on her evening stroll she might have seen that girl.
Anjali tried to sleep but emotions had already robbed her of the sleep.
She came to terms with the fact that her dreams would always remain incomplete and she got busy with her new life. With Ashok back to town, she was left alone in that haveli with an ailing father-in-law to take care of.
She still remembered the day when sitting in the garden the gossiping maid told her about her mother-in-law. Ashok had earlier told her that his mother died due to TB when he was a child. And the maid told her in a whispering voice that her mother in law had actually left the family never to come back.
She was shocked, she could not imagine a woman leaving her house. She herself at times felt suffocated in this life but never ever she thought of leaving. Ashok was a man of fewer words but she loved him and Ashok cared for her. She missed their love soaked moments of intimacy when he was away at work. She wanted to know more about her mother-in-law but she had got strict instructions from Ashok not to discuss her mother at home and now she knew why.
She one day called the maid to her room and gave her a few old sarees. On seeing her happy she asked the question about why did her mother-in-law left the home. A frightened maid looked around and then told her to not let anyone else know that she had told her.
She then told how her mother-in-law, a daughter of zamindar herself was the only woman in village who knew how to read and write. Married at young age the whole day she was immersed in reading and was very different from other women. Her mother-in-law was always angry on her but her husband loved her so she escaped the scoldings. And one day when Ashok babu was a little child, police came looking for her but she was found nowhere. Even not near the pond at the corner of Bageecha where she was busy writing something the whole day.
She was never found again. People say she participated in freedom struggle, some say she was shot dead by police and some even say she was sighted in Calcutta with some other man. The maid after narrating the whole story again pleaded with Anjali not to tell this to anyone.
That whole day Anjali locked herself in her room saying she was feeling sick. She was pregnant with her first child so no one disturbed her. And then alone in the dark room overlooking the rice fields, she felt a pang of jealousy.
She was jealous of her mother-in-law.
That day Anjali realized that everything happens for a reason and that reason is emotions. We all are slave of our emotions. She missed BHU because of her emotional attachment to that place, she was contempt because she loved Ashok and now she has this flood of emotions for her unborn child. Her mother-in-law fought with her emotions of love towards family and love towards a country and she chose the latter. Ashok guided by the emotions of hatred towards his mother never wanted another mother like figure in his home.
And who among us all are happy because of our emotions?
Anjali still does not have any answer to it.
But now she has a deep respect towards her mother-in-law, that is why when Ashok passed away after a brief illness she decided to return back to her city, a city with which her emotional ties were never broken. She started a new life, without Ashok and with two kids in Benaras.
My sons would never understand my connection to this city.
And with this thought Anjali fell asleep. In morning she woke up with noise of activities of passengers. New Delhi was about to arrive and people were shifting their luggage towards the door. She looked for the girl, her seat was empty and she feared something unfortunate.
Anjali put on her sleepers and went looking for the girl. There she was, staring outside the door with the same empty eyes.
‘I have seen this girl somewhere and why I am not able to recall,’ wondered Anjali.
“Good Morning Beta, are you okay now?” She asked, still trying to remember.
The girl turned back and pretended to smile, “Yes aunty, I am okay, I am just afraid.”
“Don’t worry beta, everything will be okay.” Inside, she again felt a pang of jealousy, jealousy against her mother-in-law.
The train slowed and New Delhi station’s platform appeared alongside the running train. Anjali hurried back and brought her bag to the door. The door was too much crowded. From the train window she saw her son and the little Adi waiving towards her.
She smiled and waived back, “Oh, how much I miss my grandson,” she wondered.
After getting down on platform and hugging her boy, she looked around. She could not find that girl. Unable to find that girl, she felt a little sad and a little lost.
Her son asked, as he noticed her being disturbed, “What happened, Maa?”
“Nothing! Let’s go,” she replied.
Suddenly, someone screamed from back. “Aunty!”
She turned back to notice the same girl, waiving at her from a distance.
The girl came closer, hugged her and said, “You were right, Aunty, sometimes it helps to share with a stranger.”
Anjali smiled, feeling at ease she replied, “Everything happens for a reason Beta and that reason is our emotions, and now don’t be sad.”
The girl started walking away. Suddenly Anjali remembered something as she shouted, “Arey, I forgot to ask your name, beta?”
With a similar empty smile and hollow eyes, which looked so familiar the girl shouted, “ANJALI! ANJALI SHARMA!”
She looked towards the direction of the voice, but couldn’t locate as so many people were moving – some of them were in hurry, some of them walked lazily. So many faces, so many expressions, so many thoughts in so many minds – it seemed as if time have suddenly stopped and everything around went into a slow motion mode.
The whole world around Anjali became blurred once again. She stood there like a statue.
And then it dawned to her – the eyes, the face that she was not able to identify was suddenly so known – she was no one else, she was her, the way she used to be four decades ago. And it was no dream – people moved around, train arrival and departure being announced, and a shrill voice of Adi.
She looked for the girl, she wanted to reach out to her and tell her to follow her heart, to choose her true emotions and not take too long a time to return back to where she belonged.
Anjali was nowhere in sight, Anjali Sharma was gone. And another Anjali Sharma stood there, as if trying to change her past to better. She wanted to amend her past by making it better for that girl, but she was gone.
Fourty years have passed.
Then she remembered, she once read something scribbled on an old book, she found at her village home while cleaning. She was sure that it was of her mother-in-law’s and that is why she kept it with herself for all those years, faintly it read something like this:
“Just follow your heart,
And follow your dream,
Don’t forget to jump,
Even though it means going down the stream”
This is my last post written for #AtoZBloggingChallenge with www.blogchatter.com.
Hope you enjoyed reading wordweaver’s musings as i enjoyed writing them.