Her Choice15 mins 226 15 mins 226
MANISH attempted suicide! Pooja and Gokul could not digest the news. Shocked, they rushed to the hospital where he was admitted. They were unable to comprehend that their dear friend could do such a foolish thing. His failure at securing a job had driven Manish to take that extreme step. He had survived miraculously, however.
Manish was in the hospital for a week and his two friends were by his side throughout, taking turns, taking care of him and cheering him. After Manish was discharged from the hospital, Pooja took him to task for his senseless act.
“I never thought that you are such a coward and feeble-minded as to attempt suicide!” she had burst out angrily.
Manish had no courage to face her. Ashen faced, he had chosen to keep quiet. He kept on looking away at the bellowing sea, hoping that her bombardment would mellow down even as he tried to fight his tears.
They were sitting in the beach-park. The air was surcharged with emotions. They were there for half-an-hour now. Pooja was so furious that she had been rebuking and reprimanding him ever since. He had been receiving it silently.
When Gokul joined them, both were lost in their own thoughts, allowing the roar of the sea to rule over. Finding the mood in the air to be sombre and sulky, he tried to ease the situation. He had generated a deep sigh and remarked,
“I have been blaming the traders all along for adulteration…till I have discovered now to my wonder that it could also save lives – occasionally!”
His comment drew giggles, lightening the moods.
POOJA, Manish and Gokul were good friends. They did their post-graduation in Political Science together. Their friendship had blossomed into a close fraternity. Even after two years since they left the University, the trio remained good friends. If anything, their closeness had only strengthened over the period. Like anyone, they too stepped out of the University with the degrees and colourful dreams. It, however, did not take much time to find their dreams and hopes shattered.
Even as the Universities transformed into ‘factories’ and churned out thousands of graduates and post-graduates in various faculties, very few were lucky to get a placement in the job market. The rest would be rusting, not knowing what to do with those paper qualifications. In a country where nepotism, corruption and recommendations ruled unabated, merit gets a severe beating. Their hopes and dreams severely shattered, the educated youth would get frustrated and lapse into depression. By the time they realized that their degrees were worth not even a morsel of food, they would be sure to become junk. The result is that the youth – the future of the nation – tend to lose faith in the system and forfeit self-confidence. This unfortunate situation is quite often exploited by the anti-socials and the selfish lot who are out to misguide and exploit the gullible youth for their own benefit. It is in this scenario that some like Manish attempted to end their lives out of sheer frustration and acute distress.
While Manish and Gokul were still in pursuit of employment, Pooja was lucky to join a computer institute as a faculty, with the diploma in computers she did after post-graduation.
Manish hailed from a lower-middle-class family like Pooja. His father expired when Manish was still at college. This had derailed the family. Manish wanted to discontinue his studies to support the family comprising his mother and a younger sister. But his mother did not allow him. She had started tailoring while his sister made papads, etc. and sold them to shops. This way they could sustain Manish’s studies till he completed his post-graduation. All in the hope that once he finished his PG, he could secure a good job bringing their trials and tribulations to an end. But, then, everyone’s hopes had dashed to pieces and dreams demolished, with the passage of time.
Manish was not lacking in his efforts at finding employment. What was lacking was the ability to fit into the nefarious nexus of nepotism, corruption and recommendation. Of late he became more frustrated at his inability to feed his family at whose cost he had educated himself. So at a weak moment, his mind gave in. And he had attempted to commit suicide. However, as the luck would have it, he could survive the attempt – thanks to the ‘adulterated’ poison he had taken!
Gokul, unlike Manish, was insouciant and easy-going. He hailed from a family that was below the poverty line. His father was a railway coolie whose earnings were hardly sufficient to feed five mouths. The family often went hungry. Gokul had studied with the help of the scholarship he had earned from his studiousness in studies. There was no door he had knocked at for a job. He did not lose heart at his failure in securing one. Instead, he had started doing odd jobs that came his way. He distributed newspapers and milk packets. He also undertook a few tuitions. And he had never allowed frustration or depression to take better of him.
With the encouragement and exhortation by his friends, Manish could soon recover from distress. With the constant prodding and motivation especially by Pooja who had taken a special interest in him, Manish could overcome his frustration and shake himself off the shackles of depression.
Meanwhile, the government happened to invite applications for Group-II services. The three friends had applied for the same and made a combined preparation for the examination. While Manish and Gokul could get through the preliminaries, Pooja had failed in it. This had taken the sheen out of the boys who felt immensely sorry for her. But Pooja brushed them off by quipping, “For me, getting through the selection by the prospective groom is more important than qualifying in the prelims!”
She would manage books from various sources and help them in their preparation for the main examination. She showed special interest in Manish, though.
Unsure of himself, once Manish had asked Pooja when they met at the beach park. “Tell me frankly, Pooja. Do you think that I could make it to the final selection?”
“Why not?” Pooja was surprised. “What made you doubt your own ability?”
“I have attended many interviews in the past and could not succeed in any of them. This thought often bothers me and shakes my confidence,” confessed Manish.
Pooja studied him carefully. Pointing at the raging waves of the sea, she said calmly, “Have you ever observed those waves carefully, Manish? Feeling trapped in the sea, they constantly try with fury to free themselves and to reach the shore. They are shattered as soon as they touch the shore and would recede into the sea again. Yet they never get discouraged or lose hopes and confidence. Hoping to achieve their goal someday, they keep on trying constantly with renewed vigour. And with a vengeance…They are a great source of inspiration to a man, if at all he cares to understand, you know? We have a lot to learn from them, I strongly feel”.
Manish stared at the sea and the ever-rising waves as if he was seeing them for the first time. He seemed to find a new meaning in them.
“Manish!” continued Pooja in the same vein. “Whenever you seem to lose your self-confidence, you should try to remember those waves, I suggest. It could boost your spirits”.
Manish eyed her admiringly. He always revered her for her uncanny ability at analyzing any problem in-depth and with insight.
“I am sure you can make it to the top one day, Manish, if only you have faith in yourself”. Pooja touched his hand reassuringly.
Manish was touched by her inspiring words, even as her touch had injected fresh enthusiasm into him, restoring his self-confidence… He loved her silently and wished that she would be by his side throughout his life, guiding him. But he did not dare to express his love to her, till he is settled in life. Once he secured a job he would propose to her, he would tell himself.
The examination was over and only Manish could get through it. He had also passed the viva and was selected to Group-II. After completion of the training, he had been inducted as an Assistant Commercial Tax Officer and posted in the State’s capital. Pooja and Gokul felt exultant and rejoiced the triumph of their dear friend. They were happy that at least one of them could make it. They became sad albeit as he was separating from them to join his posting. Manish moved to the new place with his mother and sister.
Pooja was stunned when Manish told her abruptly at the railway station, “Pooja, I love you!” Even before she could react, the train had started.
Gokul, who had overheard it, was all smiles. He squinted at Pooja and said teasingly, “Congrats! He would make a perfect hubby!”
Pooja stared silently at Gokul. ‘Does this fellow not have any jealousy at all…?!’ she wondered.
As time passed, many things had happened. Manish had completed his probation successfully and got confirmed in his post. Pooja had joined a private college as a Lecturer, while Gokul joined a government school as a P.T. teacher.
Of late Pooja was dominating Manish’s thoughts. For, his mother was pressing him to marry. Manish loved Pooja more than anyone else. He had never dared to express his love to her, though, when he was closer to her. For fear of being rebuked and rejected. Now the situation was different. He was a government officer now and bestowed with status in society. She would have no reason to turn him down. Rather she should jump at the offer. Even otherwise he had a strong feeling that Pooja too loved him. Else, she would not have evinced special interest in me, he told himself. He was sure that his ‘I love you!’ to her at the railway station would set her mind towards him by now.
Manish told his mother about his love for Pooja and obtained her consent. He went to meet Pooja to propose to her. Pooja and Gokul were pleasantly surprised at his sudden visit. For, it was two years since they had met personally. In the meantime, they kept in touch with one another by telephone and mail, though. Manish looked more handsome and robust now. His job had apparently added grace and dignity. Pooja and Gokul enquired about his job and how he liked it. They talked about their own jobs and lives.
Later in the evening, Manish met Pooja at their usual meeting place, the beach-park. And expressed his wish to marry her. Pooja looked at him in surprise and disbelief. She turned her head away and started looking at the evening sun that was setting into the sea.
Seeing her falling silent, Manish said, “I love you, Pooja. I could not lay my heart before you earlier for fear of rejection”.
Still, there was no response from her. She seemed to have been lost in thoughts.
“Pooja, are you listening?” He asked again trying to jerk her out of her thoughts. “I love you and wish to marry you. I would make you happy, I promise”.
Pooja could hear him clearly despite the clamour of the sea. Shifting her eyes from the setting sun, she looked at him. To her, Manish looked like a new man. “Really!?” she smiled.
The darkness crept on to the horizon even as the sun had disappeared into the vast sea. The roar of the sea had increased with the nightfall. With the full moon showing up, the environs lit up driving away the darkness. As the moonlight danced on the sea-waters, the waves appeared to vie with one another to reach the sky and to kiss the moon. The sands were shining like silver in the moonlight.
Manish’s eyes stay fixed on Pooja’s face as he tried to study it. Her stoic silence made him uneasy and restless.
At last, Pooja said with a smile, “Do you think that one-sided love can culminate into a marriage?”
He was awash. “Don’t you love me, Pooja?”
“Did I ever behave with you so as to give you such an impression?” she shot back.
“But…” he stammered. “Ok, I am proposing from my side now. Will you please marry me?”
“Sorry, Manish!” She said quietly, shifting her looks away.
“But, why?” he was perplexed.
“Do you need a reason for everything? Don’t you think that a woman too would have her own likes and dislikes?” she asked in wonderment.
“What is wrong with me? I have a good job and status. I don’t think I am unhandsome to look at. Also, I am not a stranger. Rather we have been long-standing, intimate pals. Above all, I love you very much. What else does a woman expect in her hubby, after all?” Feeling hurt and irked, he quizzed her, trying to suppress his disappointment and annoyance.
Pooja cachinnated at his words and said chidingly, “My dear ninny, why do you get so much upset? Why don’t you realize that I too could have loved someone else?” She put her hand on his, trying to soothe him, to mollify his feelings.
“You…you love someone else!?” He exclaimed in disbelief.
“Why not? Just because I happen to be a girl, don’t I have the privilege of choosing my own life-partner?” she asked burlesque.
He felt stumped. “I…I don’t mean that. I mean, who that lucky guy is…!?” he stuttered.
Shyness engulfing suddenly, she looked at the sands and said, “It’s Gokul…if you really care to know”.
Manish was stunned. Gokul, of all the people! … A low-paid drillmaster who could hardly make both ends meet. The son of a railway coolie. A man with enormous personal responsibilities, how would he be able to satisfy even her minimum needs? Even by the looks, he was such an unimpressive figure. What, then, had attracted Pooja to him!? … Manish could not stomach it. He did not seek to hide his feelings and the disappointment over her ‘unwary’ choice. He could not help asking her in what way Gokul was superior to him to deserve her love.
Peeved at his observations about Gokul, Pooja eyed him wistfully. His face looked sallow and solemn. “Manish!” She said staring into his eyes. “True, the marriage would provide the woman with social and financial security. That is the reason why the parents always try to give their daughters into a well-to-do family. But, that does not mean that women always hanker after the riches. What attracts more in the man is his manliness rather than his riches. Don’t mistake the word ‘manliness’ for his sexual ability. I am not talking of his virility, mind you. I mean the admirable qualities like the courage, confidence in himself, daringness, etc. in him".
Pooja stopped as the pea-vendor approached them. As Manish brushed him off curtly, she continued, “Did you say that I would be better off if I became your better-half? Owing to your prestigious position and status? But, then, when do you realize that there is something called contentment? That there is nothing greater than one’s contentment??” She slapped her hand to drive away the insect that had just landed on her.
“You have asked me as to what is there in Gokul that is not in you, for me to love him. Since you want to know, let me be frank with you … What is lacking in you but abundant in Gokul is the self-confidence! … You do not have faith in yourself. You are timorous and diffident. You tend to view the problems through a magnifier and get easily distraught. Gokul, on the other hand, may not be having affluence but is affluent in self-confidence and courage. As you know, he has never allowed the adversities to take better of him. He faces the vagaries of life with a smile”. She halted for a while trying to study the impact of her words on him.
“Manish, do you remember what you did two years ago? You had tried to kill yourself, betraying your cowardice, for failing to secure a job…a job befitting your qualifications! Instead of facing life bravely, you had chosen the path of escapism. And you did not hesitate to ditch your mother and sister, who had pinned all their hopes on you. Don’t you agree that it is nothing but sheer lack of self-confidence and fear of life?”
Manish hung his head as he could not deny what she had said.
“And my friend! As you know, life has brought nothing but bitterness for Gokul. Yet, he possesses great faith in life and the system and exudes confidence in himself. He nurtures hope in the future. As has been the case with the present-day youth. That’s why he is able to smile all the while”.
“I know my drawback, Pooja. That’s why I need a woman like you…for support,” insisted Manish.
“That exactly is your weakness!” She chided him. “Be a man! Rather than falling back on the woman, you should be supporting her. You should learn to stand on your own. And not on somebody’s support”.
“This precisely is the reason why I love Gokul. He aspires to stand on his own. Through thick and thin. He may not be having riches, but he has a rich heart and a great attitude towards life. These are the qualities that have stolen my heart,” she flashed a charming smile.
Suddenly there heard big claps piercing through the wind and the din of the sea. Startled, both Pooja and Manish turned around. Gokul was standing behind them smiling and clapping. Fully engrossed in the conversation, none of the duo could notice his arrival.
“Well, Pooja! Tell this to your dear brother and he is sure to throw me into the sea…without even a second’s hesitation!” Gokul said laughing.
“No, Gokul. My brother knows all about you, and he likes you,” Pooja corrected him smiling. “He is a typical middle-class man. In these days of exorbitant dowries and uncertainties of marriage, he would be too glad to offer you his sister in a platter”.
“Oh, my! I’m trapped!” Gokul sat opposite them.
Pooja blushed at his bewitching looks.
Manish got up abruptly. “I’m sorry, Pooja. I have bothered you. I should have known your mind…I wish you both all the best!”
Pooja felt sorry for him. She too got up and took his hand into hers. “Are you upset, Manish?”
“No, no, Pooja. I am wishing you whole-heartedly,” said Manish albeit out of the heart.
“Manish! Promise me that our friendship will remain forever“ said Gokul extending his hand.
Manish took it and pressed it with warmth, “Sure, Gokul!”
With Pooja at the centre, the trio walked on the beach hand in hand, even as the moon watched them cheerfully.