Hand In Hand
Hand In Hand
No, not literally, this was the name of an apartment complex that around 450 families called their home. While everyone wished for happy peaceful living, the reality was quite different. There was hardly a day when residents did not quarrel with each other.
In Tower C of the same complex, Manish stayed. He was a 31-year-old man, recently divorced. He did not interact much with anyone, mostly staying indoors. Some said he did some freelancing work that paid him well. It was good for him as well as he did not like anyone bossing him. Being his own boss provided a kind of comfort that a normal job would not do.
His neighbor was Miss Malini. She stayed with her parents. She had done her post-graduation and did a job at the local BSNL office. The family would steer clear of Manish as he led a strange lifestyle. They would often peek through their eye hole and see how he kept used liquor bottles outside his door, or when any lady used to visit him in the evening. They assumed the worst about him always. Malini had been instructed to avoid this man at all costs. Even if there was an elevator waiting...
One day as Manish was waiting for the elevator on his floor, he noticed Malini step out. Although he had never spoken to her before, he always admired her beauty. He had not seen fairies in his life, but if they were to descend, they would probably look like her. Then he controlled his thoughts. Meanwhile, the elevator door opened. Manish entered and held the door open expecting Malini to enter as well.
"Do you wanna come?"
"No, you please go ahead."
He kept wondering why she did not come. Maybe she was waiting for her parents. He did not wish to think too much. In any case, he had a lot to think about. His personal life was in shambles anyway.
Meanwhile, Malini was not too amused with the turn of events. Her family had a lot of negative vibes about Manish. So when he gestured for her to get in the elevator she clearly thought he was trying to get too friendly.
Both of them forgot about the elevator incident deeming it a minor one. But the distance remained.
At one point Manish understood that the family deliberately avoided him. Of course, he could not care less. He had enough issues to deal with, anyway. He steered clear of them as well.
Meanwhile, the monsoons arrived in Mumbai. Incessant rains and waterlogging all throughout. While Manish could work indoors barely going out for essentials, Malini still had to go to the office. She was the only earning member of her family and could not take leaves. While her parents worried about her, they could not do anything. They would comfort themselves by saying that that's how life in Mumbai was lived, that's how everyone lived.
But the feeling of comfort was over on 29th August 2017. Black clouds had been making their presence felt since the week before and there had been light drizzle. But that day, the weather was extraordinary. There was a strange lull all over, as if before the storm. But Malini had to go to the office, come what may.
She bade "Bye" to her parents and left. She had to change a couple of autorickshaws to reach her office. As she was leaving, Manish saw her, murmuring to himself, "She should have stayed in.. should have stayed in."
He had planned to stay in most of the day. He had most of his supplies stocked in as well based on the weather forecast.
It had already started to drizzle but by early afternoon the intensity increased manyfold. He could see the water logging already and public transport had more or less vanished. There was a power cut and the happening city came to a total standstill.
Malini would normally return home by 6 pm every evening but today she would not be able to. Meanwhile, he noticed her father venturing out in the rain, presumably to escort his daughter back home. The family stayed mostly aloof and did not have much acquaintance.
Something tickled Manish and he decided to venture out too. He had an Ulster styled raincoat that had seen many a storm and had held its own throughout all these years. He quietly followed her father. By now the rain had subsided but there was immense water logging already and it was not possible to gauge any potholes under the water. There was no public transport at all and the old man quietly walked braving the water in front of him. Whatever little natural light was there, had been dimmed by now. It was dark already. Manish was carrying a 5-battery torch with him just for this. He had a fair experience of adventure and knew this could be handy. He wondered if Malini had been contacted over the phone, but then given the weather conditions, it was possible that mobile networks were already down.
They chugged along until they came near an area where the waterlogging was too much. It had been knee-deep all this while, but here it was waist-high.
The old man in front of him nearly fell down once, but Manish was not too far behind and quickly caught him.
"Oh, thank you!"
Manish's face was half-covered by the headgear and there was no way he could be recognized in this near darkness.
"It's okay sir, where are you headed? There is a lot of water logging ahead."
"Ah! Yeah, actually my daughter.. she is stranded in her office maybe. I..I tried calling her but the network is down... It's not safe you know. that's why I am going to fetch her."
"Oh, how far is it from here?"
"It's the BSNL office..still quite a distance.. not sure if she has already left on her own or just stranded in her office.."
"Okay, well, no worries, I am headed that way too", he thought for a moment,
"..to meet someone... I hope I can help you".
"Oh, thank you so much.."
"It's okay uncle.. here hold my hand, that way even if one of us falls into an open manhole, the other can pull up.. take steps with caution.."
And they held hands together and cautiously made their way. Manish lit his torchlight to illuminate the path and that made it a tad easier.
The old man could only thank almighty for the unlikely help he was getting that evening.
They lost track of how much time had been spent already. Every minute seemed like an hour. But eventually, they reached.
They saw Malini standing at the gate, visibly frustrated and worried at the turn of events. But when she saw her dad she was surprised!
"Dad, how on earth did you come here and why? Don't you know how bad it is? If something happened to you what would we do?"
"It's okay dear, I am fine. This gentleman here helped me a lot."
Turning to Manish, "Thank you so much. I don't really know how to thank you. But without you, I might not have reached here."
"It's okay, sir. If you can wait for like 10 minutes, I'll quickly finish my work and come back. I am returning that way so I hope I can help you return as well. I see none of you have a torch. You would need it tonight."
Malini this time said, "Sure. And thank you", flashing the most beautiful smile Manish had ever seen.
Honestly, Manish had no work there. But he had to provide a context of him being there, so he went towards an invisible corner of the building and lit his cigar.
"Nature had been brutal today", he thought, as he let a ring of smoke upwards. "...But kind to me..."
He returned after exactly 10 minutes and three of them made their way back. Hand in hand, Manish leading the way with the torchlight. Gradually more people joined them, thus forming a formidable queue of people, each supporting each other, pulling each other if someone fumbled.
After what seemed like hours, they reached their apartment complex. The dad and daughter paused and decided to bid goodbye to the hitherto stranger.
Malini saying, "We are so very thankful to you. How can we ever repay you back? Can we have your phone number so maybe you join us for coffee once things get normal?"
Manish smiled to himself and nodded in affirmation, but did not reveal his face.
"Thank you." And both of them got inside.
Manish decided to wait for a little and got in a good 15 minutes after. He quietly entered his apartment and got rid of the Ulster.
Gradually things got normal. There was no change in behavior from Malini's family though towards Manish. They continued to avoid him.
And then one day, Manish received a call from an unknown number.
"Hey stranger, Malini this side! Remember the rain and you helping us get back home?"
"Oh, hi, hope all of you are doing well now?"
"Yes!", after a pause, "Dad was saying, if you are free this weekend, can you come over to our place for a coffee. It's just that we feel, we should know you in person. Not everyone helps like that braving such odds."
Manish paused for a moment before replying.
"Hey, it's okay. It was on my way, so... it was nothing really."
"Still could you please come over this weekend, we would like to meet you."
"Okay, I'll be there. Sunday? Time?"
"Sunday at 6pm."
On Sunday, at 6 pm, Manish rang the calling bell at Malini's apartment.
The bell was answered instantly and Malini opened the door.
"Yes, how can we help?", she clearly was not expecting him.
"You invited me today!"
"Oh! That was you? Why didn't you say?"
Manish paused for a moment.
"I thought you would have rejected my offer of help if I had revealed my identity." Manish smiled.
"So, anyway, I just thought of letting you know. I'll go back to my apartment. Have a good evening."
"Hey wait... come inside, please. We are sorry."
For the first time he had been welcomed at her home... and possibly in her heart.