TEACHING SWEETHEART11 mins 173 11 mins 173
Vikrant had come into her life when she was about seventeen years old. He was forty-two years and was already a widower.
Piyali could distinctly remember that day when she had gone to him to understand a passage from Shakespeare's masterpiece - “Romeo & Juliet ”. She was perpetually at a loss to understand the literary work of that great author, but that was a part of her curriculum. She had no choice but to seek lucidity; Vikrant's elucidation really made her enlightened. She was the ever appreciating student.
Twenty long years had since passed and imperceptibly the relationship of a teacher and his student matured to a surpassing passion; their romance finally culminated when they became husband and wife, eternally tied to each other. Not that it happened unhindered; it took decades; parents of Piyali had strongly objected, but resolute determination gave away to acceptance, nevertheless at a cost; they ultimately disowned her- their only child. Vikrant had been an orphan since decades; no attachments, moreover, he was the master of his decisions.
Yes; there was an eternal bonding between them, the friends and relatives did agree. But they were sceptical of the age mismatch of the couple. She was 37 years old, and he had already seen 62 summers.
They went for a honeymoon in Munnar, Kerala- the God's Own Country.
While holding hands and looking down towards the rolling greenery, tended meticulously as acres and acres of tea gardens, the cool wind blowing in their hair gently and the sunlight kissing their faces, Vikrant had whispered to her, “Piyali, our ages may be so far apart, but our bodies and souls are so near.” He held her face near him and looked at her dreamy, beautiful eyes, perhaps expecting an answer, for the umpteenth times. She nodded, no words were necessary, they had been courting each other for decades, this was their consummation; what more was needed to be articulated?
Days and months had since moved, they were back to their routine. Their life was in a miasma of bliss. Those who had shaken their heads at their union, now reluctantly agreed that not everything singular could be jettisoned.
That was Sunday morning, Piyali was in the Kitchen cooking for breakfast. This was the day when both rustled up food together. Many times instead of breakfast, they had “brunch” - breakfast and lunch together.
Since early morning Vikrant had been in the study, he came into the kitchen and got busy, frying the Aloo paratha. Both had cups of coffee in their hands, sipping. This was the usual routine they followed every weekend.
Sometime later Vikrant came in holding two plates of food, one he kept on the dining table in front of Piyali and the next kept at the side. Pouring the fruit juice in two glasses, he sat down.
Picking up the newspaper he said, “ Piyali, I was thinking about this for the last few days... can we look for a house? A small independent one, there will be a garden.” He smiled, “This is an insurance against my advancing age, even when I am not alive the roof on your head will constantly remain.”
Piyali got up and hugged him, “It is a wonderful idea, but not for what you said...” She frowned slightly, “... It is wonderful because we will have our home, where only you and I will live and create our own world.”
The dream in her eyes said it all.
About three months later Vikrant and Piyali moved into their new home; a small house with a tiny quotidian garden; in the periphery of the town on the outskirts of Mumbai. He was keen on gardening, and soon enough, he planted several saplings. He had green fingers. As months passed, it was she who started nurturing this vegetation.
It was another Sunday morning when Vikrant got up with a severe sore throat, cough and fever. It appeared a common cold at first, but his condition began deteriorating. Many medical tests were carried out. Beyond any doubt, he was really ill.
Doctor Singh, the family physician, called her aside and said, “Piyali, this is a case of viral pneumonia, and you need to tend to him very carefully otherwise there can be a danger to his survival. It can be fatal.“
These words stunned her into prolonged spells of thoughtfulness, tinged with a deep sense of depression. Repeatedly her mind wandered into fatalistic ruminations, “What will happen if he is no longer there, create a void in my life, there will be no purpose to my living...”
She was crying, feeling very downhearted and depressed.
After three weeks of treatment, Vikrant recovered. But he was still in bed, considerably weakened. His advancing age had not helped.
In the evening Piyali got him a cup of tea and sat down near him. She held his hand in hers, “Do you know that Doctor Singh had stated that your chance of survival could have been at stake?”
Tears welled in her eyes, ”What would have happened if you had left me?”
Vikrant said, “ Why do you worry so much, Piyali? Nothing will happen to me, and even if anything happens, you will be well taken care of.”
She shook her head and hid her face in his chest, “ No, I don't believe, you are so much older than me, you are becoming so frail, your and my togetherness--how can I protect this? How can you be always at my side...? ”
Her voice trailed away into silence.
He gently caressed her long open hair, “ Don't think like that my darling, death is not in our hands, who knows what will happen to us, I may die before you or think about it, you may die before me.”
She looked at him, “ I cannot live without you, and...” her voice was imploring, “... you cannot live without me?” It was more of a question than a statement.
Vikrant kissed her softly, “ Do we ever think differently, my sweetheart? No, I cannot live without you.”
"Well," Piyali moved a little, “... can we not make a pact that if one of us dies, the other will also follow the journey... death cannot take us apart – it should not!”
There was a long pained silence.
Vikrant met her intense stare for long moments, “ I agree with your pact,” he said, “I well understand your feelings, but like I said, who knows I may depart before you. After all, I am a quarter of a century older than you...” He left it unsaid.
He then smiled at her, more to keep her happy. She too seemed happy to know that he agreed with her pact; holding him tightly, she murmured quietly to him.
But all was not good. Piyali was repetitive in her fears. Months passed with no improvement. It was the first sign of a psychological problem.
That day Vikrant met the Doctor, “ I need your help Doctor, Piyali has become quite neurotic about my health and life, she thinks that I will die before her, leaving her alone.”
Doctor Singh heard him carefully, “She needs a lot of psychical support from you”. He pulled his pad and started writing a prescription, “Meanwhile to keep her calm, I will prescribe certain anti-anxiety sleeping pills. Please do keep a watch.”
After that, about three years had rolled by; life was a routine. Not much has changed since then, though.
That day it was a morning of June, Vikrant came in the Kitchen and said, “Piyali, I have been invited by my University to deliver a lecture in Kolkata; shall leave by early morning flight tomorrow and be back by late-night flight.”
Next day Vikrant left for Kolkata as per his schedule.
The day and the evening passed uneventfully for Piyali.
But soon it turned out to be different. She was watching the late-night news on TV in her drawing-room when suddenly -” Breaking News”- started flashing. A casual glance at the caption made her eyes transfixed, to the screen.
The words in the caption were being displayed... the aircraft of Indian Airways, which took to the sky at 9.30 pm from Kolkata for destination - Mumbai, had abruptly disappeared from the radar screens of control towers; it was not traceable. The aircraft had 137 passengers and crew members on board; the technical fault was suspected; efforts were going on to locate the aircraft.
The news was devastating beyond comprehension. It was absolutely unbelievable. Her Vikrant had taken this flight!
Her breath then started coming with difficulty; beads of perspiration appeared on her brows.
She continued staring at the screen, her mind was numb.
Little later the Airway's spokesperson appeared on TV and sounded hopeful.
Slowly she could take hold of herself, reasoning that perhaps the aircraft had diverted and landed on some unknown place. They would discover it. Vikrant would never leave her, not like this.
But what if he had already left her, had gone forever; what if the aircraft had crash-landed, there were so many tragedies in the past. Dark, foreboding thoughts, then started clouding her judgment.
Unsteadily she walked into her bedroom. Her sleeping tablets were taking effect. Optimism was yielding to pessimism which dominated her thoughts. She wanted to think coherently, but drug-induced sleep was taking over. Unfortunately, that night she had taken an extra tablet.
When she woke up in the morning, she had a strange feeling. He was already gone. She was in a pensive mood. Why did she imagine that he had died? He was not actually dead. There was no such information.
She took a glass and filled it with water.
Had she been thinking in contradiction; was he alive, or was he not alive? Should she call up the Airways? Or check up the TV news? Or call her friends?
Coming in the drawing-room, she switched on the TV. And it was the headline news! The untraceable Indian Airways aircraft had been located; it had crashed to the ground in the mountainous region of Maharashtra! All the occupants had been found dead. They were giving the names of the passengers!
At that moment, all her doubts were set at rest, she saw that everything was gone and the world around her started collapsing. This she had feared for so many years, the fear of losing Vikrant, without whom she could not think of living. Truly, at once there seemed to be no grounds for her to live... no good reason at all, in other words... without Vikrant why should she live? Her mind was becoming hazy. Her tragedy was too deep.
The death pact she had made with him... She now remembered vividly.
She would honour it – immediately!
She got up and went to the kitchen. The knife was lying on the table. Picking it up, she came slowly in the bedroom. On the bedside table, there was a photograph of Vikrant. She sat along the bed and intently looked at her husband for long minutes, her eyes in tears. Her face was sweating; she closed her eyes, then, with gritted teeth, she hit the knife on the left wrist. It was too light... she again hit with the knife with considerable force and twisted it! A deep cut appeared. The warm blood started flowing, trickling down her wrist and spreading on the white bed sheet - an ever-increasing red patch, her life was slowly ebbing away with the increase.
And so, she remembered nothing more.
When her eyes opened, she felt an acute pain in her left wrist; a pulsating headache, her mouth was parched. “Am I really alive... where am I?”
Slowly, her eyes revealed that she was resting on a bed, the walls were white, there was an open window in front at the far end of her bed, it had white curtains, gently swaying in the gentle wind, she could watch the turquoise blue sky outside.
A man came forward wearing a white coat with a stethoscope around his neck. He was undoubtedly a doctor. She seemed to be in a hospital room. The doctor bent down and checked her pulse for a few moments. He straightened and spoke to a person standing behind him, “She looks fine, will take some time to recover. ” He walked away.
That person came forward near the bed.
She saw him then. All of a sudden, her heart started pounding wildly. “Oh my God “, her reaction came spontaneously, she couldn't believe her eyes, her husband, in flesh and blood, was standing near her! He was alive, how could he be? He had died in the plane crash... did he not? Was she delirious?
This was just too much. She couldn't bear it any longer. She closed her eyes once again.
And then she felt the gentle touch on her forehead, so familiar that her eyes opened involuntarily... indeed, she had seen correctly… it was her husband!
She could only utter, “Vikrant... is that you?”
His face was very near her; she could feel his breath.
“Yes, my sweetheart, it's me, it was God's wish that I would survive the plane crash.” He took her hand and held it gently, “Yesterday evening, at the last minute I had missed my flight, that's why I am before you. I tried to call you frantically, so many times, but you didn't respond.” ・
His eyes were moist, “I would have lost you forever, Piyali! What have you done? Why did you slash your wrist? When I reached home, I found you lying unconscious on the bed with so much blood around.” He shuddered involuntarily.
Piyali whispered, “How could I live when I thought that you had left me... don't you remember our death pact?”
Both of them held on to each other, giving strength and solace.
A week later, Piyali, having recovered sufficiently from her traumatic experience, was released from the hospital. Vikrant was with her all along; that gave her immense mental strength to recover.
She came out of the hospital and sat in the car. He was driving. Their house on the periphery of the town, was a short drive away if he took the National Highway. He turned left and took the bypass road to the Highway.
It was bright and sunny - bordering on the maximum temperature of the day, Piyali was sitting next to Vikrant, their minds were in a state of sublime happiness, the road was relatively free, and their car was moving at cruising speed.
Minutes passed, they saw a truck was moving languidly in front of them. Vikrant increased his speed to overtake it when unexpectedly the truck swerved to the right, just at the point in time their car was overtaking. The large, heavy bumper of the truck touched their car, ever so lightly, but it was sufficient to throw it away bodily; it went cartwheeling.
The traffic on the Highway had come to a crawl. The car had crashed against the road divider, breaking the iron grills.
The occupants of the car had unfortunately not survived. Both would have died together!