The Change9 mins 694 9 mins 694
The promotion letter was in her father’s hand and there was joy written all over his face. He had strived so hard and he was finally getting it. A transfer and a promotion to the post of Managing Director in the Gujarat unit.
Aradhana stood at the door concealing herself from her parent’s view and listened to their animated and cheerful conversation. She could hear the words promotion and Gujarat repeatedly. After twenty years of staying at the same place, her parents had an opportunity for a change. They were thrilled and absolutely looking forward to it.
Aradhana was heartbroken. She would have to leave college and her friends. They were her lifeline and she would have to say goodbye to them.
The horn of the college bus broke Aradhana’s train of thoughts and she quickly left her house to catch the bus. She wasn’t sure how long the routine will carry on. It would just break one fine day when the familiar bus and its seats would no longer be a part of her daily life. The rhythm of her existence was about to be mercilessly muted and she knew she didn’t have a say. She could always throw a tantrum, but she loved her father too much to do that. She had seen him work so hard amidst all the office politics, get disheartened but again pull up his spirits to work with new vigour. She could never be the reason for any grief in her parent’s life.
So, she had to surrender. A silent surrender to the chaos of time.
Aradhana got seated and waited for the bus to start. There were many students from the bus stop. The colony housed over a hundred families and this was one of the best colleges in the small town of Vidisha. Aradhana was in the second year. She was a brilliant student and good grades had now become more of a habit for her.
“Good morning…” the owner of the cheerful voice sat next to her with a thud.
Aradhana smiled at Ashutosh. Their eyes met and exchanged the first greeting of affection for the day.
Ashutosh was in the same class as Aradhana. They were in the same study group and also the same lab team. Barring the lunchtime when Ashutosh would go out with the boys of the class, Aradhana and Ashutosh were mostly together during the college hours. They had become the best of friends and confidante of each other over the last year.
“You look a bit unhappy today,” Ashutosh asked Aradhana looking intently at her solemn expression.
Aradhana was not sure what to tell him. Her parents had not yet shared the news with her. She had just eavesdropped. What if her dad was already contemplating not to take it, she wondered. She didn’t want to voice it with the fear of it becoming the reality, which it would, even though she wanted to deny as long she could.
“Nothing. I am not confident about today’s test” Aradhana lied.
“That’s all? In fact, I was also a bit tense yesterday, but my brother really helped me out”. Ashutosh took out the Chemistry book and for the next half hour, they both immersed themselves in the concepts of organic chemistry for that day’s test. By the time Aradhana reached college, she was back to her cheerful self and looked forward to the day in college.
Ashutosh and Aradhana met each other scores of times during the day. They attended classes together, did lab experiments and chatted on the way back. It was like any other day full of moments of youthful charm and happiness. This had been the routine for the last year since they had become friends.
As soon as Aradhana entered her house the remembrance of the morning discussion between her parents hit her hard. She paused before entering her house. ‘Would they break the news today?’, she wondered. She was almost certain they may not. Her parents would wait till all their plans were chalked out to perfection before sharing such big news with her. They would never let the face of uncertainty disturb her daily curriculum.
For the rest of the day, Aradhana watched her mother’s facial expressions, if she could guess what was running through her mind. By dinner time, Aradhana was jumpy with anxiety. None of her parents had uttered a single word. They were behaving exactly the same as they would do every day. The only difference was that Aradhana’s mother looked a bit happier than usual.
“Is there any good news?” Aradhana finally asked her parents at the dining table.
Aradhana’s father looked a bit perplexed by the out-of-the-blue question from his daughter.
“It’s the usual. Why should we have good news?” he asked his daughter and with his, he went back to chatting happily with his wife.
Aradhana got the clue. She was not supposed to poke her nose. Her father would tell her when the right time came.
The husband-wife on the dinner table looked so happy in each other’s company as if Aradhana didn’t exist at all. Aradhana’s parents were the epitome of what marriage as an institution could stand for. Now, that Aradhana was in her late teens, she had started understanding the nuances of marital life. She had heard about a lot of sour relationships around but theirs were too saccharine that sometimes it left Aradhana to ponder if she would be as lucky in life.
As Aradhana winded up for the day with these thoughts, she reminisced Ashutosh. Would he be like her father? But it was too soon. While she had seen affection and care in Ashutosh’s eyes, quite frequent to be missed, but she was unsure if those feelings would go a few yards further to bloom into any beautiful relationship.
That day she had disturbing dreams of her parents separating her from Ashutosh and she woke up in the morning with sweat trickling on her forehead on the cool winter morning.
Aradhana felt sick.
For the next few days, Aradhana couldn’t go to college. While she was recuperating from her physical illness, her mind was playing strange games. The anxiety level head reached its zenith with her parents acting all normal while taking excellent care of her. Aradhana finally asked her mother that day if they were planning to move out of the town to which her mother gave her a perplexed look. “Why should we move out? If there is anything, we shall tell you. Don’t let that affect your studies or college”, her mother said.
Aradhana felt confused and slightly embarrassed in case she was overstepping by asking intruding questions. The only saving grace was her evening talks over the phone with Ashutosh.
Aradhana would daily lurk around the landline that was kept in the main hall till the phone shrieked at a loud pitch making her dance with joy. She and Ashutosh would first go through the college curriculum for the day with Aradhana making quick notes which would gradually lead into light banter making Aradhana’s heart flutter with happiness. Finally, Ashutosh would end the call with a few shy statements about how the days were not the same without her. Even though Ashutosh wanted to come and visit her, but their parents had never got along well with their fathers generally competing in office. Aradhana’s father always believed that Ashutosh’s father had created many hurdles for him. Hence Ashutosh avoided any appearances at her house.
Aradhana’s mother did guess that her daughter was extremely overjoyed these days for a person who was dealing with illness. But she ignored it assuming it was just silly youthful exuberance which adults like her had long left and moved on.
The topic of her father’s transfer never came up during any of the conversations and Aradhana assumed that it was something that would happen after a few months and not in the imminent future. She thought she could let it out of her mind and wait for the disturbing reality to knock later, but for now, it was time to join the college back with her friends, especially Ashutosh. After a week’s hiatus, she was really looking forward to starting her usual life again.
The college building was the same but that day it looked luminous against the backdrop of lush green vegetation, some of the trees more than fifty years old. Aradhana had picked up her favourite dress to wear that day. The day was cloudy, but her mind was clear. The clouds of doubt and uncertainty that had shadowed her life were finally making way for days filled with happy times.
Aradhana didn’t find Ashutosh in the bus that day and assumed that he might have commuted to the college on his motorbike. He seldom did that when he was running late to catch the bus. The first lecture started but Ashustosh’s seat was empty. Aradhana wondered if he had also caught any virus the way she had last week. Nobody had much idea about his whereabouts. In fact Aradhana doubted if anybody really missed him in the class the way she did.
Finally, during lunchtime, Aradhana decided to give him a call at home from the phone at the main reception of the college.
And there he was! Sitting next to the admin office with a file of papers in his hand, head drooped in deep thoughts.
“Why are you not in the class?” Aradhana broached him.
“I have come to take the transfer certificate” Ashutosh replied simply without any expression.
Aradhana couldn’t make sense of what he just said, “Whose transfer?”
Ashutosh had to explain to Aradhana. And there he was assuming he would just vanish without having to face her. The reality hadn’t sunk in - not to him and not to his family. His father was getting transferred to the Gujarat unit with immediate effect while Aradhana’s father was getting promoted to Managing Director in Vidisha. He knew his father deserved to be promoted – he was much senior to Aradhana’s father. But there was only one position and here he was, applying for a transfer certificate.
Today would be his last day.
He was told only yesterday evening as everything was so sudden. The transfer orders were out only a day before. They had to leave town today evening, for him to get admitted to the college in time in the new city, away from the known faces, far away from Aradhana.
“Congratulations. I have heard that your father is getting promoted” – his voice was about to choke with emotions. “I will call you now and then.”
Ashutosh finally signed the forms, his hands quivering under the weight of the change forced on him.
Aradhana stood there next to him probably for the last time watching him collect his belongings. She held her breath as if it had been suffocated by the propensity of the change. No words came out of her, as she managed to savour the final memories of their life together, a life which was about to indeed change.