The spit stained lime washed walls have given way to clean and lean glass and marble dividers. Old monolithic and dull rectangular towers were replaced by new swankier, jazzier glass and steel structures. The potholed and flooded roads were absent and in their place were modern concrete-polymer roads. The never-ending chaotic traffic had no place in this organized public and private transport system. In fact, the entire city has undergone such a change that anyone who is visiting the city after a gap of more than 20 years would scarcely be able to recognize the city itself. Though people adapted themselves to the change, but no one, especially old-timers, fails to notice the difference between now and then. Things are more liberal now; dating no longer invokes parental punishment. But still many of the people who were born in the city miss the warmth and adventure the city once used to provide.
Sitting at 37th floor porch of a new concept restaurant, Pranav’s mind crossed many such thoughts. He left the city within a week after learning about Sanjana’s marriage and never looked back. He now heads one of the largest professional services firms of the world and has become a legend in the field of corporate laws, aggressive, brutal and perfect. He was also come to known as a shark who would leave his opponent gasping for breath. Though he always has the business in the city and he came here few times, but it was short and precise, hotel, court, tribunal, ministers, bureaucrats and then back to his new abode. He never stayed for more than two days. But this visit was different, one of the companies his firm promoted was going public, and he has to invite investors, especially one with strength and reputation. His Public Relation person suggested him to stay in the city for few days to meet new people and build rapport, this included going to parties and functions. He was in one such function, the inauguration of this restaurant, ironically built upon the same plot of the old District Shopping Centre which once housed the Self Service Café. His earlier visit had hardly gave him time to contemplate his life, but this time he just could resist the temptation of comparison of his present and past state. The things he lost and things he won.
It was a pleasant February night. The sky was clear and stars were visible so was the moon and its crescent. He asked the owner to seat him outside in the porch, even though his PR asked for a table in the centre. But he couldn’t ignore the overwhelming effect of the place on him, even if it had changed beyond recognition. He ordered some starters and a neat peg of single malt. He was looked outside and wondered ‘how much the city has changed.’
City has changed so has he, he thought. He never drank liquor in his college days but after 20 years from that fateful day he has one of the largest collections of wines and single malts in the country. He abhorred smoking, but now everywhere he searches for a space where ‘No Smoking’ is not written. After Sanjana he thought he could never love, but he was wrong, today he has two 8 year old kids, Piyush and Priya, whom he adopted 8 years ago, apparently their mother, was his fellow lawyer in his firm. He thought Sanjana ditched him for money, but he was again mistaken, when he learned that she is caring for her husband’s abnormal child of her age and his three illegitimate children. But he still cannot fathom why Sanjana didn’t tell him the truth on that very day.
He gulped down his peg at one go. It still bothered him why she, who loved him the most, hid those things from him. But he simply couldn’t go and question her, because it was Sanjana from the very first itself, any next move has to be made by her. Her husband had died 8 years after their marriage, but she never remarried, if it was simply money she would have married again. But there was something else, something other than saving her family. Saving her family, that is why he ditched him, but she could have told him so, but she didn’t. There were a lot of unanswered questions in his mind as he ordered another peg.
She sat there with an elegance which can only befit a queen. Though she was not from the royalty but she surely was an elite. She sat at the window overlooking the porch; she wanted both view and comfort. She was not alone as she was accompanied by her children, step-children as a matter of fact, but still her eyes were transfixed at a man who was seated at the porch. Gazing outside the window she felt the same way as he did, as only they two can understand the significance of the this place. But for a change she was seeing a difference or a dream she once had had. A dream where she would be dressed in white gown and pearl necklace, as she is dressed now, and she is accompanied by the same person in the same three piece suit he is wearing now, both of them nearing autumn of their lives contented of what they had achieved; but alas that was just a dream.
She wanted to but cannot go ahead and talk to him. It was her who threw him out but her reasons, she knew, were no more secrets. She came to know a lot about him, about is success, about his ruthlessness and about his generosity, after all she is one of the reputed investors. Like her, he was also doing a role of a single parent. But unlike her, he never married. She gathered her strength and excused her children to meet the old friend of her.
His thoughts were not tied to a particular string, but as the whiskey settled in, more his thoughts focused only on one aspect ‘Sanjana’. He wished who could turn back the time and go to that very particular moment and ask her the reason. He would bend down in his knees and beg her love. He shouldn’t have let her walk over her. But what else could he do now, at that time he lost his power to think and moved on, instead he should have stayed. He cursed himself of not being persistent. He gulped down the remaining contents of his second glass. He ordered his third peg.
“Hello Pranav” said a quaint little voice which he immediately recognized. The same sweet voice that once used to greet him every day 20 years back. He turned back and remarked “Sanjana!”
A freckle smile appeared on his face. The person who is standing in front of him is the same one whom he loved 20 years ago; the same person now of whom he once had had dreamt about 20 years ago. For a moment he was speechless, his was in different dimension altogether, he was in the library where she first approached him, the feeling was same. He gestured her to take the seat.
“Hello Sanjana” he said, still recovering the shock of seeing her again.
“Hello Pranav. How are you?”
“How am I supposed to be?”
“For the Pranav I knew, he must be doing great”
“What if the Pranav you knew doesn’t exist anymore, only his body this there”
“I will still stick with what I had said; even that body must be doing great”
“Then I am doing great, what about you?”
“I am fine”
Silence again descended between them, they both had something to say but they don’t know what. Pranav started again.
“You came here alone”
“No, I’ve my children for the company” she pointed towards her table.
He glanced towards the direction she mentioned. There were three teenagers, two boys and one girl, and a guy of his age, he might be the abnormal one, he thought.
“They’re grown up!”
“Three of them are in their teenage, a difficult age though, and one is tad younger than me but his mind is of a six year old kid”
“I’ve two 8 years old, Piyush and Priya, cute and naughty” happiness glowed in his eyes as he uttered their names. “I don’t know whether I should put up this question, whether it would be more appropriate, but..”
“I know what you want to ask Pranav, that those three are illegitimate. They were illegitimate, mistakes of my deceased husband. But today they are mine, they call me their mother. They look at me as their parent.”
“You must be a very brave woman and you loved your husband”
“Don’t be presumptuous Pranav, I did the only thing which I thought was right.”
“Because you loved your husband” Pranav tried to push a point, he cannot phrase the question he always wanted to ask.
“I have only loved one person in my life. And my husband, no matter how much morally corrupt he might be, at his deathbed apologized for his mistakes that he made throughout his life. Every act of debauchery, every act of sodomy, doping, and every sin he made, he confessed, he confessed them all at his death bed. He requested me, as a dying man, to fulfill his wishes of compensating the people who were affected by his acts. He might have done injustice with me, but he apologized and somewhere, as wife, I owe a duty towards him, to mitigate his mistakes; I did what I thought right. I was the only one who could do it.”
Pranav looked at her as if he was trying to sink the words in. The cool breeze was hitting their faces, as if it was making a cocktail with their spoken words.
“Pranav, I have left my past behind and I would be better for you to do the same.”
“Was I, by any chance, a part of your past?”
“Yes, you were, and you still are, as a friend, as my love, but I cannot give a place to you in my present life, I just cannot”
“Sanjana, for many years I waited for this moment, but still I feel some where you are evading me. I will put it in this way: Why on that day you said those things to me? Why didn’t you tell me what was happening with you and your family? And now why didn’t you come back when everything got settled? I need direct answers now Sanjana, I’ve never questioned you even that day, but this is essential now”
Sanjana went quite. She looked outside, the dimming lights of building and streets provided no comfort, all of them seem to point toward her, ask her why. All throughout the years she tried to avoid this question. But today it was facing her, like a bullet waiting to pierce through her. She wished it to pierce her.
“I.. Just don’t know, May be I was being pure selfish, maybe I loved you so much that I can see myself ditching you, I wished you ditched me instead, which won’t happen, so I tried to frame a story around you, a story just to delude myself from the truth. But I don’t know, I would have opted for the simpler option, of telling the truth, but somewhere I felt myself too weak to digest it. I was helpless then and therefore I hoped….”
“That I should leave you. How can you even think of that, should could have at least told me”
“I said I just don’t know what got over me. Maybe I tried to create a cloak around me, a cloak of lies, so that this thing which I was imposing on me appears to comfort me. But I was wrong, I was wrong.”
“I know Pranav what you want to ask me. I have told you thing earlier. It was right thing to do, what those kids have done, why should they bear the word ‘bastard’ throughout their lives. I was wrong with you but I cannot carry another burden. I cannot undo what I did to you but I can make their future better. Tell me, why didn’t you married”
“I didn’t have time”
“That is not an answer”
“You tell me, why you didn’t remarry” he tried to duck her question.
“I had responsibilities Pranav, I have my husband’s children to look after”
“The even if they aren’t yours”
“No, they are mine, may be my husband had dispossessed them, but I can’t”
Pranav went silent. Sanjana talked back.
“I don’t know, I just don’t know, maybe I was selfish, I can’t tolerate the fact that I was married to a guy whom I never loved, I may never wanted it but things were different then, he was sorry, sorry for everything he did, even to me”
“That means you loved him”
“No, but in the last moments of his life, I came to respect him, respect him for mending his ways, respect him for keeping his promise to my father and somewhere I found he respected me for looking after his own abnormal child” She took a deep breath and continued, “Why didn’t you married?”
Pranav looked at her eyes, and then at her face. He couldn’t think anything worthwhile to speak. After some due thoughts he replied, “I didn’t have you”
Sanjana looked at Pranav, for her time and space seemed cease to exist. She was alone there, alone with Pranav. She was in different dimension, a dimension in which she hadn’t broken up with Pranav, and traveling in this dimension that she is here today, with him, as a his love. She wished this could be the everyday of their life. A distant voice broke her startled her, waking her up to the reality of today.
“You were lost, don’t you?”
“Yes, I was, those things, those things just weren’t real”
“What things, you seemed to be lost all of sudden”
“Me, you together, just wasn’t real”
“Could have being”
“Yes, it could, but it is not”
“Can it be now” Pranav asked expectantly.
“Can it be, its difficult, things are complicated now, there are much more responsibilities, much more duties, and do you think will it possible to appraise kids about our relationship, will they accept that, mine are in teenage, things would be militating for them and for the other one he can’t see me shared by anyone else. Pranav it is just not possible now.”
Pranav tried to grasp the meaning of the words spoken by her. Indeed, it is complicated to assure your teenage step-children that you are getting married, but it would be rather more difficult to appraise them with the fact that they knew each other. Any time they could easily point out that she married their father for money. They would stand no reason. Things would become more difficult then. And for her it would heartbreaking to see again her work going in down drain. And for him it would imply a greater change, his kids would get a mother, but can she share her motherhood under these circumstances. Frictions were bound to appear.
“Sanjana, Maybe, I could have been more persistent, I could have approached you “
“You could have asked but you were broken then”
“Pranav, whatever happened has happened, there is no point in clinging onto the past, we must move ahead now. We only have one life and we just cannot afford to make too many mistakes. I must go now; my children are waiting for me. I love you, but..” Sanjana looked at her children inside, they were in some talk, but occasionally anyone of them was looking at her. She waved her hand. “I must go now, good bye Pranav”
Pranav watched her going away, the same girl which went away twenty years ago. It was same place, but today there was difference. Things are clear now, the veil has being lifted. He took his drink towards his lips, and sipped.
“One life, only one, Sanjana, our love is a like a river separated at point never to reunite again. And in its course, it must water numerous fields before it ends up in the ocean. I am waiting for the ocean to come. I am waiting.” He gulped down the entire contents of his glass.
© Tarun Mitra