The first time I had written this story, it was a cathartic tale. To help me resolve a few issues with myself. I had not written it keeping in mind a specific audience. Neither had I tried to make the narration attractive in any way. Any such concerns would have adulterated the sentiments behind the writing.
But now, I feel I have outgrown this story. The issues apparently stand resolved. So, I have decided to spruce up the story a bit, and tried to make it more palatable. But the ethos that had formed the core of this story still persist.
The story in its original form and with comments can be found here (click). Though, I urge readers to not read the older version.
"This story is dedicated to the story in
me that was waiting to be told!"
Though I do not believe this work is going to get formally published, I would very genuinely like to thank my dear friend, Dr. Rajat Mohan Srivastava, who knows me well, and could best relate to the story. His help with some of the finer points of the story like how a theist could converse with the God is appreciated. He was the only reader I had counted on before I started writing it, and he did not disappoint me at that.
I also wish to thank my coauthor’s sister who I do not know, but some of whose suggestions did reach me. I thank her for one very important reason—for reading the story. While writing the story I did not know how many readers it would find, so it always feels nice to know that it did after all find one more reader.
Lastly, thanks to my coauthor. Her encouragement and anxiousness to see this work completed provided the much needed impetus for me to continue with the story even when I was feeling short of ideas and was experiencing inertia, akin to a writer’s block provided I claim to be a writer!
4th February, 2009
Sometimes we ignore the outstanding issues in our life and allow them to precipitate in our mind. Unknown to us they become a residua. Everything moves on smoothly, and the ignorance remains vindicated until there is an agitation. A jolt that shakes the residue out of its peaceful existence. There is haziness all around that blinds us. The only way to regain the clarity back is to stir vigorously...
He was sitting in his cabin one afternoon in late June, 2022, though in his air-conditioned cabin, time and month did not really matter. It was only his beautiful wall clock that showed some concern for time. It was half past three and no one wanted to miss the Twenty-20 Cricket World Cup to be held that day between India and China. No wonder, the day was moving in a very leisurely fashion with most appointments standing canceled. As he was quite thorough with the case history of his next patient there was no need for him to go through her file. She was also his last patient for the day. So, the mandatory two-minute break that he used to take between seeing patients had him lapse into some soul-searching, a luxury he could afford not too often.
He looked around—a well furnished cabin, a laptop, a beautiful table, comfortable chair... he smiled to himself thinking how he used to curse the incompetent “consultants” during his internship when he had to sit on a stool sometimes, and they would sit in what appeared like a throne to his envious eyes. Now of course, he would not exchange his position with them for anything in return, and much less, exchange the chair. Steady flow of patients, who more often than not were happy to have come to him; the charitable personal clinic he used to attend on Saturdays charging the poor patients just twenty rupees, and the gratitude it used to inspire in them; the appreciation his honorary lectures used to get from young impressionable minds in which he was quite content to instill some sound fundamental concepts; the plaque outside his cabin:
Dr. Mukesh Joshi,
M.S. (Ortho.), M.Ch. (Neuro.)
An understanding and intelligent wife, who was a very good human being—perfect. His life was perfect. He much appreciated this perfection not only because it had permeated through all of his present, but all the more because of how it had all started. His past was not perfect--quite from it, rather. He remembered how he was brought up in a middle class-family, not poor, but not one that could afford him a luxurious life, how devastated he was on not getting admission for MBBS into college of his choice, and the various struggles he had to go through in his first year, and ghaaaanggg... (the two-minute buzzer went) his reverie was broken. “Time to concentrate on work, dude. Stop day-dreaming!” he told himself.
In came Mrs. Geetha Nair, not sweet sixteen, but, certainly sweet sixty! A cheerful lady suffering from compression of L4 and L5 nerve roots, she had undergone surgery a month back, and now he wanted to see her with follow up MRIs.
“Hello, Mrs. Geetha!” Mukesh beamed on seeing her. “So, how are you feeling now?” he asked as he got up and sat down again in the decidedly comfortable chair. She came in and sat in the chair opposite him without waiting for the signal that other patients would have waited for. He could see she had not yet adjusted to her lumbar belt and she had a slight lurch in her gait.
“Am feeling better, but I still experience some stretching of nerves.”
“Yes aunty, that’s expected.”
“Aunty”—that was the degree of comfort between them, though, the occasional “Mrs. Geetha” did creep in. The comfort was mutual and he too was “Mukesh” or “Son” to her. But may be a gulf of one month had pushed them down a bit on their familiarity curve from where they had to climb back all over again. She was a part-time writer who was staying with her bachelor son of twenty-eight, and he was defiant about marrying "yet"; her husband, Ratnam, who had been the chief engineer of a large construction firm, had died two years back; her daughter, a doctor herself, was happily married in “the States”; watching tennis was one of her favorite pastimes and she liked Milli Kapanikova, the winner of six grand slams in mere two years, “soooo much”—they had discussed it all.
Mukesh was a very conscientious doctor and he quite genuinely used to relate to his patients, especially the nice ones, so all this “data” was not a burden to his memory, unlike many other doctors who used to curse the patients under their breath, and yet come up with insincere overtures: “And by the way, has your son Sanket learnt the guitar yet? Do let me know when he does his first show; I want to be in the front row!”--unknown to the patient that before they entered the cabin, their doctor would hastily scamper through their files; files, not of medical records, but such intimate personal data that could impress the patient with doctor’s vivacity and concern for them. Of course, the patient would not know that all their conversations were recorded through hidden microphones and their “gist” would be prepared and archived by the fastest back-office “medical transcript-ors” in the business—all unethical and illegal, yet all in practice.
But something was amiss today. Mrs. Geetha looked a bit lost. And from his experience he knew it was not the pain of the surgery or her jostling-for-space nerve roots. He asked her for the scans. He looked at them... “routine”...”nothing out of the ordinary”, he thought to himself.
“Well aunty, as I’d warned you, the tissues surrounding the nerve roots are a bit edematous”, he paused. Her expression indicating lack of comprehension invited an “Oh, sorry!” from him. He shook his head vigorously reminding himself that however comfortable he was with Mrs. Geetha, she was not a medical person.
“I mean the tissues have fluid in them which is resulting in some residual compression. It should resolve over time.”
“When will I feel normal again?”
“Normal, like you could partner Kapanikova in the next Wimbledon?”
She forced a smiled. “No, that would be abnormal. But normal enough that I could be the linesperson, at least?” And the effort behind the smile was not lost upon him.
He chuckled. “Let’s see, I think that should take you around two more months. But, the important thing is to be careful, during as well as after your recovery. You’ll have to keep on that lumbar support. And absolutely avoid lifting anything heavy.” He thought for a moment and then added, “Do avoid traveling alone. Raman didn’t accompany you today?” Raman was her son.
“No, he did not, or rather could not. He has been busy with a project. He had to go on a trip for a presentation. These construction firms… ” she remarked sharply. “They pay Ram well, but when will he live his life? This job has made his life an absolute hell… ” she sighed and trailed off. She had a penchant for nicknames. That quite intrigued Mukesh. This lady was full of paradoxes. She never used grammatical contractions, uttering each and every word separately, and cursing the SMS and email language that had spoilt the spoken and written language so much since their advent. But she had a nickname for everyone.
“I’m sure Raman cares for you. He must be genuinely busy”, he tried to console, sensing the sadness in her voice. Sometimes when she used to think about Mukesh, she used to feel so grateful to God. She was very lonely and had to stay alone in her house all day-long and sometimes even nights. She was happy to know that there was a receptacle for all her peeves as well as pet musings. He had become a pillar of emotional support for her in a very short time of their acquaintance. She was surprised to think how fast they had struck friendship. Friendship? She wondered at the term herself. He was almost half her age, but to the extent she could get intimate with any person, she had gotten with him. So it was indeed friendship. She had smiled and the case was closed with a lingering amusement as to how flimsy circumstances had made their paths cross. She had openly told him so many times how she wished she could have someone like Mukesh who she could talk with “all the time”.
“I know he does. In fact, just yesternight we had gone for a night walk. We had a good heart-to-heart talk and he had told me how he very much wanted to accompany me for today’s appointment but for the important briefing he had to make for his project.” She smiled and said, “And I reckoned he had spent much more time with me yesterday night than this appointment would have taken.” Mukesh could sense she on other days might have been just short of winking, but not today.
“As such it was not much trouble coming here alone. And do I need to mention that it is always such a delight meeting you? The distance does not seem anything at all. Besides, I come with my driver in the comfort of my car. Does that relieve you of your worry?”
“It does, but then, what’s it that’s troubling you?” He waited for a hint of disapproval for further query. There was none. He continued, “I could sense that something is not right. Something’s worrying you.”
"Mukesh!" A pause followed. A desperate plea to Mukesh to not understand her so well. But still, Mukesh understood. He understood the heaviness of the veil she was to lift off her composure. "Roox had called me up in the morning." She paused.
“Yes, my daughter”. “She told me that she got divorced from her husband”
“Yes, it was a shock to me.”
“Oh, that’s really bad. I mean, I don't know what to say. But you’d told me she was happily married and has two kids herself?”
“That is what I used to think.” She sighed. “Till today, that is. She was not happy with her marriage at all.” Her voice was apparently shaky by now. Mukesh offered her water.
“Thanks. And, as she told me she is not going to press for any alimony. Her self-respect would not allow. She does not have any academic qualification to let her work in the U.S. I am really worried about her kids. I asked her to come to India, but she would not listen. She says it is her life, and that I have already spoilt it. She has nothing to do with me, anymore.”
“So,” he hesitated a bit, “Roox…I mean…what’s her good name?” And he always called people by their proper names.
“So Rukmini didn’t tell you? She didn’t tell you that her marriage was in trouble?”
“No she did not. It turns out that her husband was such a dog. Excuse me, but...”
“No, it’s alright. I don’t expect any superfluous decorum from you right now. Please go on.”
“He had never been loyal to her. Actually, he did not want a wife, but someone who could do cheap household labor and produce babies for him. They were hardly a couple. I knew when we had married her that she was not very enthusiastic about it, which had surprised me, but I had never thought things would go this bad. And now he does not want to have anything to do with the kids. Even if she forces him to take custody of the kids legally, I can imagine what would be their fate. What a terrible childhood would they have!”
In the meantime something about the name struck him. He was thinking to himself, and, “Rukmini Nair. Oh yes, I think I know her!” “She did her MBBS from Matunga Medical College, right?”
“So you know her?”
“Yes, of course, she was my ga… She was my good friend back in the college. She was my class mate.”
Though, he could successfully jam the broadcast of his incredulous recollection, “girl friend” was written all over his face. Geetha was not blind. The impact of this moment had crushed all the unformed words in their throat.
“Do excuse me; I think I’ll take a good look at your scans”. He went back to the illuminated panel where he had hung the plates of her scans previously, and stared—at the "routine, nothing-out-of-the-ordinary-scans". Just like in the scans, everything of his buried past had been laid bare. He stared emptily at the scans; his past life running right before his eyes. Moving snapshots that his memory had captured, cherished for times and discarded away later. They were all coming back to him in one swift motion. All emanating from the stillness of the hung plates. Everything in the room was as still as the plates hung on the panel…except the thoughts running riot in his mind. The scans were noninvasive, they say. But this revelation?
Geetha much valued the break she got to be with her own thoughts and get composed, though not sure if former were possible, and latter of any use. could she ever again look Mukesh in the eye? The eleven year-old memories were somewhat blurred, but, that did not soften the blow she was just dealt with. She remembered how when they were celebrating her final year result, Rukmini had told them about one Mukesh. That she liked him. That he was a nice guy, and that they ought to meet him once. But they had other things in mind for her. Her love for Mukesh was totally lost on them. Their mind could not accept that their daughter was “going around” with someone, when they had so much planned ahead for her. She had betrayed their trust.
“What was wrong with our upbringing?” “How long has been this going on behind our backs?” “We thought we had sent you to the college for studies. Was it a mistake we gave you so much freedom?” Geetha had wondered a bit too loud for Rukmini’s comfort. Yet Rukmini had pleaded with them to consider things with a “cool head”.
Just to sound reasonable Ratnam had probed her a bit more about the particulars of this nuisance called Mukesh. But the interrogative probing did not take long to turn into a declarative and hurtful one based solely on preconceived notions. Probing that actually poked her heart--unprepared for the asperities of a world that had got used to abrade any raw emotions it saw into some shape. The new shape did not matter; all that mattered was that those emotions mis-shapen out of recognition. “So that crook’s definitely not Malayali!”, her husband had thundered. “Rukmini, you know na, how these Maharashtrians are? I’m telling you he’s after our wealth” He tried to rationalize when their Roox had become inconsolable. “When will he start earning?” “Do you think we don’t care for you? Of course, we’ll find you a tall, handsome, well-earning doctor-husband. Then, you’ll forget this…what’s his name?” he said simply for the effect… to show his contempt. “Mukesh”, Geetha had filled in.
And it did have an effect. A permanent one at that… on Rukmini.
Geetha had her own set of different concerns. “What will our relatives say? You know how much had we tried to dissuade Kaushik from marrying a Punjabi girl? What will he say? What will his parents say?”. “Please think about us and do us a favor. Do not be so cruel to us.”
“Mom, is what those relatives say more important to you than my happiness?” Geetha genuinely could not understand.
“Roox, I am sure you will forget him with time. What is so special about him? You think there are no good Malayali guys?”
“He’s different, mom!”
“The hell he’s different!” Ratnam interjected impatiently. “I’m pretty sure that guy has hypnotized you with his greasy talks so much so that you can’t even consider the wishes of your parents who’ve brought you up. It’s very right the current bunch of kids is an ungrateful and shameless lot. It hurts me to say you’re no different.”
Rukmini tried to protest, “But how does who I marry and live with make a difference to your life?”
“Did you hear that, Geetha? "Your life"? Can you believe it? In a matter of five years of MBBS, from our life it’s become your life?”
Seeing no chance of her parents letting up, Rukmini had left her plate on the table to let it listen to her parents' wisdom, but also to say something. Something that Geetha could hear only today... eleven years later.
“Don’t worry, everything will be alright”, Ratnam had said to a visibly disturbed and angry Geetha…
One whole discordant week later she had asked them again if they could reconsider their stance. “If you disapprove today I’m never going to ask again.” But, that once she had appeared quite calm. This time around they tried to be a bit tactful.
Ratnam started, “Okay, if you insist we can try…”
“No, there’ll be no need for that as I’m not insisting. I was just asking. And, I’ve decided to do my internship at Ramani General Hospital if that’s alright with you.” she had cut him off mid-sentence. She had said that quite resolutely. Of course her joining RGH was a small trade-off to them. She had appeared a bit lost for a few weeks but then everything had gotten alright. But what had made them feel most relieved was that Rukmini had never brought up Mukesh again.
Right now, Geetha could not make out if things had actually gotten alright back then, or her husband and she had just become so blinded by relief that they could not see their once bubbly daughter’s reclusive demeanor. Rukmini had stopped saying “no” to anything they said. But now it all made sense to her. Right now before her was the person she had started admiring the most in all the ways she could admire a person. And the person who she had torn away from her daughter only to deliver her to a dog. A dog whose only qualifications were that he was a green card-holder, had a stethoscope hung about his neck instead of a collar, and that he could bark. Bark in Malayalam, that is. She so much missed the bliss of denied ignorance right now.
Mukesh, still staring at the plates remembered how just when the final year results were out and both Rukmini and he had cleared the exams, she had told him about her parents’ unexpected disapproval, and that she would not go against her their wishes. She had declared that they were no more a couple. Mukesh could not believe all this was happening. 'Impossible' in his system of thoughts was more likely than what was happening right before his eyes. Till yesterday they were inseparable and today, the very same girl was telling him to go his separate way for no apparent fault of his own. He had tried to reason out.
“Rukmini believe me, this was just the initial outburst. Anyways, we have 3 to 4 more years before we get married. By that time, I’ll at least have a secure career under my belt.” “Do you really think you’d be happy without me?”
“Is my happiness that important to life? Is that all I should care about?” “Besides, if I go against their wishes, their jibes, their emotional torture will always come to haunt me. I could see the contempt they held for you even without meeting you. I could see it in their eyes. It was me who'd seen it all. I won’t be able to bear that my very own parents hold those feelings for you. The single person I loved with all I had. If someone were to ask me, who I was, I would've with all my conviction pointed to you. Mukesh, you're my purpose. Your love is my accomplishment. You define me. In some ways, you are what I think about myself. You're my definition. And for you, they held the basest contempt”. Mukesh could only look at her. “Mukesh, you know me. My decision is final. I know it’s not your fault, but neither do I have a choice. I can’t even say sorry. ‘Cuz saying sorry would be asking for your forgiveness and I know what I’m doing to you can’t be forgiven.” His attempts at reasoning out were futile. He knew her and he knew her tolerance for pain. He could recall Rukmini allowing suturing of half-inch laceration without local anesthesia.1
A week later she had told him that she was going to pursue her internship at RGH, and not at the Matunga Medical College’s Hospital. He had nodded his head with the same numbness with which he had let her slip out of his life. He had a choice in none. Months had passed. They had wished each others on their birthdays, met at the end-of-the-year-function. By then, even those briefest of moments of communication had ceased, and for both of them any instance of contact was mired only in unavoidable but inexpressible pain.
Despite the deep hurt that the bereavement had caused, he could never bring himself to hate the most wonderful person called Rukmini. The only way to forget her was to be reborn. In that one life he could have never forgotten his love. The only solution lay in his brain, and his brain had complied. He forgot her as if she never existed. He remembered Rukmini and the time he had spent with her. But he remembered it as some other life, not the one he was living right now. He only wished for her happiness, wherever she would be. And he also knew the way she had loved him it would not be possible. His love was like a train zipping on tracks. If the tracks end suddenly, the train derails, there is rubble all around and the accident leaves an indestructible memorabilia of pain and regret. But what happens when it is not the tracks that end but the time and space itself end? One moment there is this train, this destruction, and next moment there’s nothing? Or rather, there is no next moment. Emptiness so complete, not just of space, but even of time, that everywhere where there was motion now there is stillness.
In that emptiness he had started in a new direction. He was so dazed, he did not know where he was headed. His knowledge of geometry told him that out of 360 degrees the ground beneath him had to offer, he could choose any direction at random, and it would never be the same path. But, little did he know that even the random direction that he had chosen was to lead him in the same line, only with opposite direction this time. So here he was headed exactly where he had started from eleven years back. Now he was standing in the tracks and watching as the train was zipping towards him. He could not move. Why did time and space have to return as suddenly as they had disappeared? Could he not stop the train determined to raze him out of his present? “Why do I need to think of Rukmini now? She’s my past. What have I got to do with her?” He was paralyzed. He could not move. He could only think of Rukmini. Rukmini with her two small kids. Nowhere to go, nothing to do. Rukmini putting up a brave front against all the cruelties of life. Rukmini without a past, and now, without a future. Rukmini letting needle pass through her lacerated skin, without anesthesia, without a grimace, without a whimper... The same Rukmini who could shut her mind in times of pain, and eyes, and ears, and everything with it.
It was four in the afternoon, and both Mukesh and Geetha heard a most welcome sound of the phone ringing. It was his secretary. “Sir, Mridula madam has come outside. Shall I send her in?” He gradually came to his senses, and his present started to leak into his consciousness. He was married, he had a wife, and they were scheduled to watch a movie according to yesterday night’s plan. He was so relieved to get a lucky break from this deadlock. “Oh yes, please do send her in.” He said in somewhat a cracked voice. He utilized the next few moments to drink some water and find his voice.
There was a gentle knock on the door.
“Come in, Mridula”.
Mridula was an ophthalmologist specializing in retinal surgery in the same hospital. They had been married for two years now. And, their life was just perfect. There was nothing that they ever did or could conceal from each other. Their love for each other would not permit them to. On entering she was taken a bit aback seeing a stranger sitting in the patient's chair. But she quickly regained her composure. But she smiled sheepishly to the matronly looking female and began to sit on the couch across the lady when Mukesh got up and introduced the lady to Mridula. “Well, this is Mrs. Geetha, if you remember. I’d told you a few times.”
Mridula hesitated a bit, but had a vague remembrance of allusion to a “really sweet lady”. “Hello, Mrs. Geetha! How do you do?” But, Mukesh broke in, “I came to know just today that she happens to be the mother of Rukmini Nair, I’d told you about a few times.”
Being in the medical profession Mridula had quite perfected the art of not letting her facial muscles speak in place of obedient voice. But in this moment her skill had failed her. She stared absently for a moment, looked at Mukesh, and then regained her voice, “Oh! Then, it’s even nicer meeting you.”
“Am fine, hmm…” Geetha struggled a bit.
“Oh, I’m sorry, her name is Mridula Sharma” “And she’s my wife”, he came to Geetha’s aid, who had been so lost in her thoughts that most of all she had heard up till now had evaded her attention.
“So, silly of me! Yes, am fine. Thank you very much. And, the pleasure is mine, too. It is so nice to see such a delightful couple” And she actually meant that. She had been married for more than thirty years when Ratnam had died; it was not easy for her to miss the undercurrents. And it was precisely those undercurrents that made her aware of how deep understanding the man and woman standing right before her must share. Mridula knew about Rukmini. She was shocked to hear her name, and the subtlest batting of eyelid by Mukesh had comforted Mridula. And, Mridula was a “Sharma”—non-Maharashtrian, with her independent identity still respected by her husband. And they were happy, and happily still married.
“Oh, God!” she thought, “Why did you have to do all this to me on the very same day? You could have given me some time to recover? I know you can beat me in the game of life any day, any time. But did you need to end it all this way? In straight sets? Rukmini gets divorced—6-0; the person I so dote on now was my daughter’s love who I had rejected—6-0; and now, he is happily married to a woman from entirely different cultural background—6-0? I know it is a game for you, but me? For me, it is not game. It is my life. And it hurts.”
Mukesh had pulled out the scan plates and put them back in their cardboard envelope. “Well Mrs. Geetha, Mridula and I had decided to go for the 4:30-movie show, and if we don’t make a move right now we hazard getting late.” He waited for a response, but her face was as blank as the display panel, brightly illuminated but nothing to show with those scan plates now removed. So he continued, “Any way, I don’t think you’ll need to make an appointment for one whole month.” How could she disagree with the last thing? “It is not about need, Mukesh”, she thought to herself, “The question is will I be able to make an appointment with you.”
“Alright, doctor. But I was thinking if you do not mind, could you please recommend some spine specialist close to my place in Chembur? I think, that would save me the trouble of traveling so long all the way from Chembur to Dadar.”
Mukesh thought for a moment, “No problems, I know one Dr. Madan Khurana. He’s a good friend of mine, and I’ll let him know about you. He has a clinic in Matunga. Would that be alright?”2, he asked with a forced smile.
“Thanks a lot! Yes, that would be really nice.” She prayed, “Please, please show me something evil about this man. I can’t stand his goodness. Please, God…”
Almost reading her thoughts Mukesh added, “It was really nice being able to care for you, and before I leave, if you don’t mind could I please have Rukmini’s number?” He said that with an unshaken voice, knowing fully well, that if stares could burn, Mridula’s would have incinerated him right there.
Geetha, a bit puzzled, but too dazed to think much, complied and gave the phone number. They all moved out in silence. Mukesh and Mridula moved to the parking lot, and yet the silence was not broken. Mridula knew that Mukesh was a very passionate and loyal lover, and even before their marriage, he had revealed to her about his past relation with Rukmini and how it had ended. She had asked him if he missed her. His reply was, “No, for me she is nonexistent. If the most deathly thing about death is its irreversibility, then my past is the dead-most thing you could ever see. No, I don’t miss her. I don’t even think about her. I can’t even remember when I’d last thought about her.” He was honest and she was convinced. But why was she feeling so insecure? Mukesh had not done anything to invite her suspicion. In fact, had he wanted, he could have asked her to wait outside. As it is the meeting was about to end. “If he wanted he could have asked for Rukmini’s number in my absence.” Her head was spinning, and it was only her feminine instinct that was telling her about something more than what met her eye.
Finally she gave in and broke the heavy silence as they were driving to the movie hall, “Mukesh, what happened? Is everything alright? I mean everything’s alright with Rukmini? Or did you ask for her number just like that; to catch up with her?”
“I don’t do anything just like that. You know the way things stand I don’t need to catch up. And, yes, not everything is alright with her. She got divorced from her husband.”
“Are you going to console her?”
“I’ll call her up and decide if it’s consolation that she needs.”
“But I don’t think your call will make any difference to her circumstance.” She tried to dissuade him from calling in her own subtle way. Mridula was not being cunning in the conventional sense; in fact, she herself was being torn by two opposite conclusions that her instinct and her experience were leading her to; both pulling her in opposite directions; both--equally powerful. She knew her husband to be extremely loyal and devoted to her. She knew she herself was beautiful, but never did she entertain this delusion that she was the most beautiful. And yet she had never seen Mukesh falling for anyone else even for the shortest while, in spite of apparent overtures from countless female colleagues and subordinates. She knew she ought to trust Mukesh at this time. In fact, support him. But what she had seen in Mukesh’s eyes today was something new. She could not quite place it, but knew that it was… may be, desperation. Yes, desperation. Mukesh was a very content person and desperation had never been quite becoming of him. She was feeling guilty too--to doubt her husband who she knew for more than four years now, and to whom she was married for two years. And more importantly, one who’d been supremely devoted to her.
“Let’s see”. Mukesh said flatly.
Movie was the last thing on their mind, but both understood that sitting in the movie hall was the easiest way to remain incommunicado without furthering the physical distance. And thus they sat for the Surrakh Khan-starrer “Main abhi bhi hoon na”, but that was irrelevant to them right now. The scenes on the screen were no different from hypnogogic hallucinations,3 and the sound was no different from background noise.
Their dinner in the nearby restaurant was not very different, but here they did not have the luxury of loud songs and color-saturated visuals to distract them. They had resigned to their uncomfortable coexistence. When Mukesh had come to know of Rukmini’s fate, he had not imagined that he would feel alright so soon. Yes, he was feeling alright. For he knew what he wanted to do, why and how to do it—the only three questions that he thought to be of importance before deciding to do something difficult. He was not unaware of Mridula’s discomfort. But unlike in the past, for this once he decided to not take her in confidence. For what he felt for Rukmini was inexplicable. He was sure in his heart it was not love. How could he define something in terms of what it was not? Or rather, what all it was not? He could not. He knew if someone were to tell him that Rukmini was his past, and he had no business thinking of her miseries… they would be right—cold reasoning. And he was sure that any discussion on his part with Mridula on this issue would only lead to confrontation. But what he feared even worse was if there were to be no confrontation. If Mridula meekly submitted to his misadventure, he would feel he was battering her, not physically of course, but still battering. Confrontation or no confrontation, the cold reasoning would win and what he had in his heart would die. No, it would have to be killed. He was sure it would not die. Were it capable of dying by itself he would not have been finding the same matar paneer he so relished, so tasteless today. Mridula had tried to bring some cheer into their dining experience, and though he could not appreciate the humor in her accounts of patient encounters, he did appreciate the effort she was putting to keep things normal… outside as well as inside. He loved her for that. No, he just loved her. Not once did he doubt that. Today was no different. The problem was only of tiding over the current crisis. Thus he decided to not discuss anything… with Mridula, that is.
At night Mridula had just snuggled into his arms once and said “I love you, Mukesh.” He could only muster, “I know, darling”, for he knew what he was to do in days to come would make “I love you, too” sound such a lie. So, for the first time they turned their backs to each other and slept away.
The next day Mukesh called up his best friend, Sudeep. Sudeep had been his class mate in the graduation days, and their friendship had weathered the long years. “Sudeep, I’d like to meet you in the evening”.
He told Sudeep of what had happened. This was a welcome break for Mukesh. Even though he had sorted out things in his mind, verbalizing them had made him feel lot lighter. After a patient hearing Sudeep tried to show the impracticality of Mukesh's plans.
“I know you so it’s not difficult for me to understand what you’re saying. But think of Mridula, however understanding she might be, she can’t bear to see you go all the way to the U.S. to meet your ex…”
“The hell you know. You’re going to put your marriage in jeopardy, I’m telling you.”
“To absolve myself of all guilt.”
“What guilt? Are you mad? What wrong have you done?”
“I can’t explain.”
“You’ve gone mad. No wonder you can’t explain.”
“I’ll go madder if I don’t go.”
“What can I do? I can’t restrain you physically.”
“You don’t have to.”
“You want me to tell anything to Mridula bhabhi?”
“No, I don’t want to put the burden of justification on you, for something that’s apparently not justifiable, and done by me.”
That night he had eaten the dinner alone. Mridula had understood that Mukesh would not join, so she went alone to sleep. But sleep evaded her closed eyes. She was saturated with numbness... merely tossing in the bed. Tossing kept her from being still, but did not provide her much needed translation to escape. She hated Mukesh for his coldness. Would she be able to forgive Mukesh if he were to tell her that he no longer loved her, but loved Rukmini instead? The thought was so frightening. She only half-entertained it. Thinking of answering it was impossible.
Meanwhile Mukesh went to the balcony outside his bedroom and made a phone call.
“Hello Rukmini? Mukesh here.” Years of separation had not somehow reduced their comfort in any way. It was as if Rukmini had never stayed away from Mukesh.
“Mukesh? What happened? Why did you call?”
“I heard you’ve got divorced. What are you going to do now?”
“What am I going to do now? What am I going to do now about what?”
“About your life. About your kids. What are you going to do?”
“My life, my kids are none of your business”
“I did not ask you whether your life and kids are my business or not. I asked you what are you going to do with your life. How are you going to bring up your kids?”
“I haven’t thought.”
“What! Are you mad? You have a wife for God’s sake”
“I’m coming. I’d be reaching New York twenty-four hours from now. If you come to receive me, it’ll be less trouble for me to find you.”
“Okay, tell me your flight number.” She realized her stubbornness that had weathered life was no match for the resolute voice at the other end.
He returned to the bedroom and placed his cell phone in the bed and went to the bathroom to see if cold water could wash away any misery off his face. To see if he had it in him to tell Mridula of his conversation with Rukmini and his plans. He returned only with this realization that everything was so deep--the love, the guilt, the concern, the wish to open up, but the water had just rolled over off his face. He returned with this memory of not wanting to look at the person he saw in the mirror. When he returned he was surprised... satisfied to see that the phone had shifted in position ever so slightly, but it had. But what certainly he would have not liked had he known was that Mridula was crying uncontrollably, and silently, with a kerchief in her mouth.
He woke up early in the morning and started getting ready for his flight. Mridula had by now stopped pretending that everything was normal, but yet her curiosity got the better of her. “Where are you going Mukesh so early in the morning?”
“You didn’t tell me you had a conference there?”
“I’m going to meet Rukmini.” He turned his gaze away from her.
“Oh!” is all she could muster. “When would you be returning?”
“I don’t know.”
She was not sure if she had more questions. Or if she wanted to know the answers. She had become so numb. She did not realize what she was letting go away from her. Why had she acted like this? Why had she not put her foot down? Did she trust Mukesh so much? No. Did she trust the strength of their love so much? No. So, why? “Because there’s no point. I can’t hold on to Mukesh only on the basis of reasoning or appeal of a piece of paper called marriage certificate. If he truly stopped loving me, how could I’ve made him mine? If I were to force him, our life would become greater hell. I’d end up being merely his compromise. And, I don’t want to be someone’s compromise.”
She started thinking of all the times they had spent together. Was it all over? If she had problems she used to discuss them with Mukesh, what was she to do if Mukesh himself was that problem? She had nobody to talk to who could understand her feelings.
But did she really need to think of their relationship in such glowing terms? What was good about it if it could not stand one bad news? Why was she forcing herself to think of Mukesh as nice? Was she afraid to conclude that her choice was wrong? Her perspective was wrong? That she was more wrong than she had been wronged? Was Mukesh so good after all? And she kept on thinking…
During his flight Mukesh was very peaceful. Peaceful not because everything was sorted out, but because he had stopped thinking about the consequences of what he was doing. Maybe his brain had exhausted its store of neurotransmitter for anxiety, if such a thing existed. And he knew when to stop thinking. When thoughts keep on playing in the mind in never-ending loops, they do not create any new conclusions or understanding; they create emotions—emotions that one cannot handle. Though he was not sure of others, he knew he could not handle them. So he shut his mind and let his instincts take over, and his time in flight was spent in peace; eight hours of peace.
When he reached New York, as promised by Rukmini she was there to receive him. They had chosen a nearby restaurant where they could share a meal.
“Tell me Rukmini, what have you planned for your life?”
“Nothing. I told you, right?”
“How do you plan to provide for your children?”
“I’ve been waiting at a restaurant, and am making two thousand bucks a month. That should be enough.”
“You’re waiting?” He was incredulous. “You know how overqualified you’re for that job?”
“Do you really think the position I’m in I’ve the luxury to bargain my salary on the basis degrees I earned in India, and which have no real value in this country?” Rukmini was a pediatrician, but the Indian medical degrees were not recognized in U.S., and since her husband had made it sufficiently clear that he did not want his wife to work night shifts and emergencies, she did not clear her U.S. licensing exam. “Aiyyo, you will be living like a queen with him. He is a cardiothoracic surgeon there. What is the need for you to work?” Geetha had reasoned. And she had not said “no”.
“Why don’t you come back to India?”
“I’d just thought of that option, but I don’t think I’d be able to live in India. Besides, I won’t be able to bear the presence of my mom. Though, I’d never let it known to her before I told her about my divorce, I just hate her.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry.”
“You’ve really not come out of your past. And, here I am, having the time of my life. Each and every thing that I thought I wanted to be happy, I have. Things that I never thought of wanting, I have. By the way, I just happened to meet your mom. She’s actually quite worried about you.”
“You know her?”
“In fact, she and I were quite intimate. She’s been one of my regular patients. And, I can tell you she’d felt really guilty when she came to know that I was your “ex” she’d rejected.”
“What’s the use of all that remorse? What good will her guilt bring to me? She’s such a bb.. I’m so sorry. My culture doesn’t permit, but I can’t help it.”
“I can’t believe Rukmini, you’ve accumulated so much anger in you. Why did you do this to yourself?”
“I can only remember her as one who deprived me of the only person I could love in my lifetime. What can I say?”
“Well, I’m sorry, but I don’t love you anymore. I hope that doesn’t hurt you.”
“No, I don’t think that can hurt me after all that I’ve been through. So, why have you come then? If you don’t love me?” She asked with an edge. “Is it to enjoy seeing how I am suffering? I can’t believe you…”
“Rukmini, you really think that? Was your taste so bad? Did you really love a person who was so vindictive? Is that all you remember of me?”
“I’m sorry. I’m just filled with so much rage. It just explodes. Anywhere, at anyone I’m comfortable with. And that includes very few people.”
“I came here to take you away to India. I can’t bear to see you suffer. If you ask me why I came here to help you out, I really don’t have an answer. But, I just can’t stand the guilt of seeing you suffer, and me being so happy. I know when we’d separated, we’d separated our ways, too, and I’d nothing to do with your life, and you, nothing with mine. I realized that while we were in love, my entire life was so centered on your happiness, that the want to see you happy had become a reflex. Our relationship ceased and the love died, but the responsibility remained. So many people had thought that I must hate you. But no, you’re such a beautiful person. How could I ever hate you? One doesn’t always feel guilty only about what one does, one could also feel guilty for things that they don’t do. Suffer in my case. I’m not suffering and that’s making me guilty. When we parted we were like two seeds from the same fruit; seeds that were dispersed by winds of change to different places. One is thriving in a beautiful garden as the most delightful tree, and the other is withering away a shrub in atrocious desert. When we parted, we both were meant to be happy. This disparity was killing me. How could such a thing be allowed to happen? How would I not feel guilty to stand meekly and allow you to wither away? How does this world allow, or rather, do such things to you? A person like you doesn’t deserve to be unhappy. If anything, I came here to absolve myself of guilt. Guilt of being happier than you. It’s my selfish reason. If I don’t help you now, and know that somewhere else, somewhere in this far corner of the world you’re suffering, I know, I’d never be able to live peacefully.”
This monologue had seen Rukmini slip into her past. She could not help as her past memories were dissolving the shell she had built around herself.
“Rukmini, I know you had loved me. But, why did you allow yourself to become a doormat? What was the need to take all the things lying down? You could’ve easily been happier had you wanted.”
“Mukesh, don’t ask me these questions. I really want to forget my past. I know I’ve abused my life a lot. I’d decided to live life only with you. I don’t know why I did this to myself. But once I lost you, I wanted to remain unhappy. Losing you was not right, and I wanted to keep on blaming them for all this wrong done to me. I didn’t dare to feel happy ‘cuz had I felt happy, losing you would have no more been a wrong thing. I’d thought keeping myself unhappy would keep them guilty, and in pain. But, the most unfortunate part is I still don’t know who that them is. Rituals, culture, traditions, narrow-mindedness, shallowness, prejudices, inflated ego. I suffered so much, and I still don’t know who that them is. Maybe, that them was my parents. I had started hating them, and I wanted reasons strong enough to keep on hating them. I stand here, with my half life spent, mostly in misery, and yet none of them have yet come to say “sorry”. No one has said sorry yet. I shouldn’t have done this to myself. But now I also have my kids...” She was sobbing by now. They were in a restaurant and that did not matter to them. That happens when the very fabric of your being is laid bare. That happens when you see yourself for who really you are. Then you are not afraid of “what others will think”.
“Mukesh, I’m so sorry. I have no right to make your happy life miserable. Had I been happy today, you’d have not been so disturbed. Mukesh, I want to undo this all. Can it be done? I want to make up for all the happiness I’ve missed in my life. I don’t want my children to suffer.”
“Come to India with me. I’ve planned everything for you. And, knowing you, I know what happiness means to you. Come with me and you’ll never regret.”
“Excuse me Mukesh, I think, I’ll just freshen up.” When she returned, she was visibly better. “But, what about the visa and other documents for Shruthi and Shashank?” Shruthi was her five-year old daughter, and Shashank, two-year old son.
“Visa is not a problem for doctors anymore. Hope you’ve not forgotten that you’re a pediatrician!” Mukesh winked. “India is really short of doctors, so the Indian government is going to welcome you with open arms.” He watched in delight as he saw her lips and cheeks were preparing to conjure up a smile, and reminding him why he had fallen madly in love with her in the first place. Though he faintly doubted the the past tense binding the unheard words that had formed in his mind.
“Besides, the immigration laws have been relaxed quite a bit for the women who get divorced in foreign lands to avoid their exploitation.” By now what he saw was positively a smile. First one since he had landed in New York ninety minutes back. “In fact, I’ve completed all the formalities on your behalf, and we could leave in next two hours. We only need to fill in the particulars of your kids in an online form.”4 It was also her first smile in eleven years.
Mridula’s mind was racing in so many directions. She cursed her love for Mukesh that was so strong when she herself was so weak. She could not think what she actually wanted to think. She looked at her watch. It was 1.45pm; Shipra was late. She looked around; the coffee place had changed so much! When was the last time she had been here? She saw a couple getting cozy with each other, giggling, holding hands... definitely in love. Looking at them, she slipped into her past, yet again, for the zillionth time since yesterday.
It was as if yesterday that she had met Mukesh for the first time. She had come for an interview for the post of a vitreo-retinal surgeon at the same hospital where Mukesh had joined as a budding spinal surgeon. From the first look she could tell there was something different about him. She thought his glance had lingered a little longer than was required. Or was it just her nervousness that was getting her worked up? He was so calm. Was there anyone like him? He sounded very warm, too. His simple “hello!” had erased half the anxiety for the interview. And, when he offered her water saying “I think you should have some water. You’re looking so tense. Don’t worry, and all the best!” she had one more reason to want the job where this man was working. With the job she got what she had wanted then. Their initial conversations were quite characteristically just limited to “Good mornings” and “hellos”, and sometimes just the nodding of heads and perfunctory smiles. But she never realized when those smiles had become increasingly subconscious, and at one point, even reflexive.
Once when the two subordinate ophthalmologists were on leave she had to coordinate with him on many trauma cases. Workplace and lunchtime gossiping were becoming rampant everywhere about the growing intimacy that they had been sharing. But, she felt at such ease with Mukesh, that it took workplace gossip for her to realize that she was in love with him! In a few weeks’ time they went out for a coffee. It was this very place. Some more weeks went by and he had proposed marriage to her. She was surprised to know that even Mukesh had found something special in her right from the day of interview, but it was not her looks or how she talked, but her inherent goodness. Mukesh was very impressed that she had been so nice to her fellow interviewees, not thinking of them as competition, but just fellow humans. What Mukesh found impressive in her is what had swept her off her feet, and she had taken no time to say “yes”. Now she was wondering if she should have taken more time. When he had told her everything about Rukmini was it too soon for her to have believed him? Was she so enamored by his charm to have missed the mad passion of this man? Was it too soon for him to have forgotten her… Would it also be too soon if she would try to forget him? But one thing she was sure was that her choice of venue to meet Shipra was wrong.
Mridula decided she ought to take control of her life. She needed to be firm, not this weenie piece of furniture that she had allowed herself to become in name of trust and love for Mukesh who did not spare even a single thought before he left her stranded alone to suffer. Shipra, her friend from childhood, could help her. Shipra always used to tell Mridula how she ought to take off the rosy glasses she used to wear all the time. The same Shipra who always used to see the world in black and in white, and not the grays in between; color of rose did not even fall in that spectrum flanked by white and black. Today, more than ever, she needed her vitriol; vitriol on how the world had gone to the dogs--that Mukesh was just one of those, how life is meaningless, how men seem alright before marriage, but how they always seek “variety” later, how Mridula should’ve always been careful about Mukesh, and how she should chuck away Mukesh from her life…
“Mridu, hi!” the voice of Shipra brought her back.
“You’re late, Shipra. But I can’t complain, at least you've kept your word and come. I think I should get used to people not keeping their word.”
“My God, Mridu! You’re looking bad. So much has happened and you’re telling me now? I’d always doubted how a man could be so good. Mukesh is a male, and by default he’s a bastard.” Shipra reflected on her outburst. “I’m sorry I think I should restrain my langua…”
“Shipra don’t stop! Please! That’s what I wanted to hear from you. From where I stand, I can’t tell you how much I envy you. How I wish I could always convey my feelings, my reservations, my anger. And swear…”
“Mridu, I feel so sorry for you. I can’t believe he’s done this to you. You’ve always been so nice to him. You’re so beautiful. What was the need for him to go away to that bitch? In spite of my hatred for men, I’d never thought this would happen to you. I myself never married for how men are, but I always wanted you to be happy. Nobody wants to be proven wrong, but in your case I wanted to be proven wrong.”
“Shipra, I could never understand when you used to tell me that there is no purpose to life. But now I think I’ve started figuring out what you meant. How do you manage to be so happy in life?”
“When you know there’s no real purpose to life that takes away all the tensions. There are no responsibilities, no obligations. You can live for what pleases you. Be a hedonist, Mridu, and you’ll know what I mean. Try to enjoy life ‘cuz you get it only once. Try to collect as many experiences as you can. Don’t stagnate your life.” Shipra looked at her watch and continued, “Any way Mridu, I’ve to go to my office. I’m already fifteen minutes late. Just cheer up, don’t take life so seriously. Catch you in the evening.”
“Thanks Shipra! You really opened my eyes. Broken my rose glasses. Yeah, don’t get late for the office. Bye.”
“There’s no purpose to life. Enjoy life? I’ve already enjoyed all that was there to enjoy in life. What would I do now? I’ve experienced everything that was to be experienced. So what next? Nothing. Don’t take life so seriously? Wow, I never thought the answer could be so simple…”
Mukesh’s cell phone was switched off during the flight. As soon as he switched it on, there was a message from Sudeep, which he could not understand:
“Come to the hosp asap. dere’s an emerg.”
He could not gather much from the message, but could only make out that it must be something really unpleasant for Sudeep to have messaged him knowing completely well that he would not be able to read the message till he landed back in India. Mukesh panicked. He had planned to explain Mridula everything on his return. He was very worried for her now. Why could he not foresee that she could do something silly? He called Sudeep immediately but he had switched off his cell phone. He next called Mridula. The phone kept on ringing, each unanswered ring raising his pulse by the dozen.
He immediately rushed to the hospital with Rukmini and what he saw further shocked him. He tried calling Mridula yet again. This time as he was expecting his call was answered by her just coming out after taking a leisurely bath.
“Hello Mridula, listen…”
“Mukesh, you liar, you dog, you son of a bitch! How dare you call me up now?” She slurred. Drinking vodka all alone was her idea of nothing. It was her first time, and little that she had had, was not going to show instant effect.
“Mridula, there’s no time for all that right now. I am at the hospital. Mrs. Geetha Nair has been admitted. I just came to know she’d taken an overdose of cerebrazolam5. Please don’t waste any time and come here.”
When Mridula reached the hospital, everyone was surrounding a still Geetha in her bed. As still as anybody could be. As still as dead. She was dead. She had entered a deep coma initially, but gradually all her organs started getting relaxed. They all wanted a rest… from a miserable life that had served no real purpose. It was learnt that Raman was rather busy and not in town when all this happened. It would have been possible to save her had someone found her earlier in their house. But it was more than 24 hours before it was discovered that she was not picking up the phone. She had called up Raman just before taking those pills.
“Ram, I just wanted to talk to you so I called you up.”
“Is everything alright, mom?”
“Everything will be alright, Ram.”
“What do you mean?”
“Nothing. I just hope everything gets alright with Roox.”
“Yes mom, I’m sure everything’s gonna be will be alright with her.”
“Also, Ram take care of yourself. Make sure everything you do, keeps you happy. That’s all I wish.”
“Mom, I can’t understand what you’re saying. Could I just call you after five minutes? There’s an urgent announcement to be made.”
“No, there will be no need. That’s all I wanted to say. Take care. Bye.”
“Bye, mom. See you soon.”
She pressed the red button on the phone and popped her first pill. First among the twenty-seven she had.
Mridula reached the hospital along with Shipra. Then she saw Mukesh and Rukmini. Together. When Mridula had entered the hospital, she had planned to confront Mukesh, but the turn of events was too shocking for her. Even in her rage and mildly inebriated state, she did not forget what a human death meant.
“I’m sorry Rukmini, we’re meeting in such circumstance. What had happened?”
Mukesh handed her a letter.
Roox, I cannot tell you how am I feeling. I am your parent. It was always my duty to care for your happiness. You grew up right before me, and yet, I could never understand you. I could never understand what happiness meant to you. I could never trust your judgment in people. I was supposed to keep you happy. But, but I sold you away to a butcher. And you did not shout, you did not cry. You just allowed your very being to be cut away, piece by piece. You shed more blood than I shed tears. All because of me. All because of my fixed ideas about people. All because I cared more for “what people would say”, rather than caring for what you wanted. I cannot believe now that I did not allow you to marry Mukesh. I now realize why you had fallen in love with him. It is not possible to get a person so transparent, so helpful, so understanding, so nice—perfect in every sense of the term.
Now you are divorced. You hate me. That was one good thing. At least your hatred allayed my one fear. I cannot forgive myself, but had you not hated me, I would have known you were dead. And that I killed you. At least the hatred in you and you are alive.
I could not have borne to see you again…with your kids struggling. I know Mukesh would get you back from your hell. I am a coward. All my life I did not ask you if you were happy. I was afraid of the answer. I know dying now is cowardice, but I do not know if living on would be courage, or would it be shamelessness.
Again, I do not have the courage to face this life knowing completely well, it is me who has made my daughter moribund. Half dead. One half killed by me. The other half waiting to be butchered away.
Just like I took the easiest step possible not bothering to ask if you were happy, I again take the easiest way out by not having to see all of this that is coming.
Ram, I know you will feel terribly lonely without me. But I am happy I managed to keep your life unspoilt. Do forgive me if possible. But I still cannot believe I managed to make so many lives miserable in one wasted lifetime of mine.
Right now my only consolation is that whatever I did, I was destined to do. I was merely God’s agency in realizing his unfathomable designs. So, here I come back to your inscrutable yet infinite justice. I come back to you, God...
Mridula was taken aback. Her pain was nothing. It felt like a tickle compared to the pain of actually losing a person. She could imagine how it must have felt to Geetha. No wonder she committed suicide.
Geetha’s last rites were performed with just the same persons in attendance who were present besides her dying in in the hospital.
Rukmini went to her house with Raman. Mukesh returned to his house with Mridula. The atmosphere was somber, but it did surprise Mridula that Mukesh had come back to her. Why was it so?
They both were having their lunch together, and then Mukesh spoke up.
“Mridula, I’m so sorry. I know you had suffered a lot in these two days. I wanted to tell you so many things, but I was sure you won’t be able to understand. In fact, I myself could hardly understand what was going on in my mind, much less justify what I was setting out to do. I’d thought I knew myself. That was a mistake. To assume that one knows oneself completely is also a fallacy. One can never be sure how one would react in extreme situations. Rukmini’s divorce was one such extreme situation. What I felt for her was an intense sense of duty. Duty to help her find happiness. I was feeling so guilty of being happy with you, and she suffering innumerable assaults at the hands of life. I know I had no social or legal responsibility to help her. But I believe you can understand that citing lack of social and legal responsibilities would have only been lame excuses for inaction. At the end of my relationship with Rukmini, I had been so passive. I’d let her go. I should have been firmer. I should have pressed her to be more defiant to her parents. But I respected her and valued her judgment. Sometimes, I so wish that I could just slap her, do anything to have stopped her from committing a living suicide. But, I respected her. That’s such a lame word for what I was...passive. I allowed her to slip out of my life, and life to slip out of her. I tore away the last shred of love that had once wreathed my being, but could not filter out the need to see her happy that had permeated my entire soul. With time, the need precipitated. It became a residua from my past life. Just ‘cuz everything was so still I could choose to ignore it, but the moment there was slight agitation everything became so turbid, so hazy. I became confused. I needed to sort things out. I needed to do something about that residua. This was not the time to ignore and let things happen by themselves. Had I been passive this once, I know the dust would have settled and the guilt would have precipitated once again to the bottom of my mind. But wouldn’t it rise again and again making life miserable? It would have surely. So the residua required intense stirring. Making it dissolve forever. The stirring was difficult for sure, but I’m happy it’s now over. I had to do something about her life. She had become a zombie. I had to kill the zombie and raise the human in her. Her appetite for self-destruction had become insatiable.”
Mukesh looked at Mridula for the first time in his monologue. Finally, he had mustered the courage to look her in the eye. Eyes that were moist by now.
“You remember Mridula two nights back when you had said that you loved me, and I’d merely replied “I know”?” How could Mridula have forgotten that! “I had not said “I love you, too” not because I was unsure of my feelings for you. No, that was never the case. I just didn’t know how my “I love you” would sound to you in light of what I was about to do.” Mridula had been crying now uninhibited. “So Mridula, now I can say without any qualms, and with as much confidence as I always felt in the past that I love you very much, Mridula. I love you.”
“I’m so sorry Mukesh. I doubted you, and I doubted your love for me. But believe me the way you were behaving there was nothing else that I could’ve thought about your actions. I now truly understand how much had I loved you when I’d come so close to losing you. And still I can’t tell you how much I love you. You’re just perfect.”
“Thanks Mridula! Those words mean a lot to me.” That moment they had embraced each other with a passion they never knew they had in them. Life was coming back to normal for them. And a normal life meant outstanding issues.
“When’s she going back to the U.S.?”
“She’s come back for good. She’s not going back. In fact, she’ll be working here in our Saturday clinic. But instead, I’ve planned it to be a fulltime clinic for all six days of the week, except of course for Saturdays when we’d be attending.”
Mridula was jolted to know her husband’s ex staying so close to them. But that was just her initial reaction. This time she knew better. She knew better to not doubt her husband. Much less with the renewed strength of love that she felt. She for the first time thought about Rukmini. She knew Mukesh’s taste in and judgment of people. There was every reason that Rukmini must be a wonderful person. How did she not think that! Was it Rukmini’s fault that she had come in Mukesh’s life before herself? In fact, she could imagine her misfortune, that she had to let go of Mukesh. At least she herself had the consolation that Mukesh was now hers for entire life. Was Mukesh a consolation? No, Mukesh was a treasure, not consolation. For the first time she felt terribly sorry for Rukmini…for losing Mukesh, and for what all she had suffered in her life.
She immediately called up Shipra who managed to put her feelings in most succinct manner possible: “I never knew being proven wrong could feel so good!”
At Raman's house:
“I’m so sorry Ram. I can’t tell how I am feeling now. I never knew my those careless words could cause all this.” She started crying. Yet again.
“I can’t say Roox that what you did was not responsible for mom’s d…”. He could not bring himself to accept her death; even uttering the word to him was like killing his mom... “For what happened, but neither can I say that you’re responsible for it.”
“Ram, you’ve become so mature! I'm so happy to have you back! I don't know if I could thank you enough. I know I’ve been guilty of creating this gulf between you and myself. I’d never wanted to return to the same place that has taken away so much from me. First Mukesh, then dad, now mom. But, at least now I have you.”
“I always knew that Dr. Mukesh Joshi was the same person who mom and dad had rejected. I just didn’t tell that to mom. I feared the worst on telling her that. She’d have resented him, and gone for treatment to someone else. And yet I couldn’t prevent this from happening...” Raman also started crying.
Two years later...
None of Mridula’s remotest fears had materialized. Mukesh used to meet Rukmini no more than she used to. In fact, Mridula used to meet Rukmini much more than Mukesh. They had become best friends!
Their integrity and desire to do good for their patients had made them the most fervent mutual admirers. Rukmini’s devotion to her work was admirable. She had been working as a pediatrician at their clinic charging just twenty rupees to the poor patients…on each day of the week. Also, Mridula absolutely used to dote on Shruthi and Shashank. Mukesh and Mridula’s love had kept on becoming stronger, each one wondering with each passing day, how could they love the other more than yesterday when they had concluded with mutual agreement that “it was not possible to love with any greater intensity.” Their love for each other somehow never reached its point of saturation. It just kept on becoming more and more concentrated.
As for Mukesh, there was no residua from his past life. He just realized how much he had been unknowingly burdening himself before the last two years by ignoring the issue of Rukmini.
Rukmini no longer grudged her life. She always knew she did not require too many materialistic things to be happy. She was content with her work, and happy that she was finally putting her life to some good use. She used to wonder sometime as to why she had let the happiness slip out of her life, when it was actually so easy to be happy? But, she did make up for all the happiness she had lost in a bout of madness.
Raman had just got married to a Malayali “Nair” girl, but that was because he loved her, and now was truly happy with her. Shipra was still unmarried, and secretly waiting to be proven wrong yet again, but this time by someone other than Mukesh!
1. Matunga General Hospital was famous for being ill-equiped.
2. The distance between Matunga and Dadar is hardly a couple of kilometers.
3. Hypnogogic hallucinations are the ones that one experiences just before falling asleep.
4. In 2022, all the countries had become very flexible about citizenship owing to overwhelming global collaboration in all spheres of life.
5. latest benzodiazepine in 2022, a type of sleeping pill with extreme hypnotic and respiratory depressive activity.
# In India, it is quite commonplace for parents to make their children marry someone of their choice, especially considering religion, caste, mother tongue, etc.
# 'Malayali' are the people belonging to the southern Indian state of Kerala, as are 'Maharashtrians' who belong to Western state of Maharashtra.