The Unending III
The Unending III10 mins 12 10 mins 12
'....and relax.....' My smartphone kept on instructing. The tightness in my shoulder muscles relaxed. It would be wrong to say that the Relaxation Therapy suggested by my psychiatrist Dr Biswas wasn't helpful. It always helped me to breath fresh and easy after the 30 minutes session. But, today was different. Sure my muscles were highly grateful to the therapy but my mind...not so much.
In fact, the turmoil at the pit of my stomach had now reached my head. It has started aching and I could easily feel what fraction of it had already entered that state of unease, restlessness and panicky right from this morning.
It's Raksha Bandhan today. My brother Sujal is still in Auckland. Of course, me, Sujal and Maya had three hours long talk over skype. Too bad he couldn't come home this rakhi due to the international barriers subjected to the pandemic. But, we were calmed only because we knew New Zealand was a safer country.
Maya seemed quite happy after the talk. Actually, Sujal is the most relaxed and happy-go-lucky one amongst the three siblings. So, anyone who connects with him is vested with a positive influence all over. I guess I should've felt the same too if it was any other time of the year.
It was Raksha Bandhan. On a traditional Indian belief, a sister ties the sacred thread of rakhi over her brother's wrist to ensure his protection from all evils of the world. It was one of my favourite times of the year until five years back.
I stopped the recording on my phone restlessly as the memories started haunting me till the last bit of my skin. I walked out of my room and saw my mom preparing pineapple juice for my Dad. Maya was sitting quietly with Dad in the living room, each of them going through loose sections of the local daily.
'Swara!' My mom smiled upon seeing me. 'Your therapy is over? Great! These are pineapples from Mohan's orchard, the sweetest in the city. Come sit... I'll be making juices for all of us.' She said switching on the juicer.
I gave her a tight-lipped smile. My mom didn't have her roster duty in the office today. She seemed pretty fresh and happy to spend some time with the family. I didn't want to spoil that. So, I gave her a tight-lipped smile. 'Yeah. Sure. Let me help you...' I walked to her.
After having a full glass of pineapple juice and swallowing them while gathering all my strength, I knew it would not be safe for me to put on this happy facade in front of my family. It wasn't the pineapple juice. Trust me, mom is right. Mohan's orchard had the best pineapples in the city. But, my bloody stomach was swirling so bad that I would not be surprised if I feel a tendency to puke any time now.
'Uh...I better get back to work. My team must be online.' I excused myself off the sofa.
'Why? Didn't you take a leave for Raksha Bandhan?' My Dad asked surprised.
I looked away from his piercing eyes questioning me through his hypermetropic eyes covered shielded with rectangular glasses.
'Nah. No leave.' I said with a sigh. The thing is...it's true that I didn't take a leave but the team mutually decided to take it easy for the day. We would work only the number of hours we wanted to. This was to ensure that no one felt frustrated despite not being on leave. It was the most liberal team I ever had with very friendly people. Even the big boss was fine with our decision.
I went to my room and my eyes fell on my bookshelf. D.H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers...and Vikram Seth's An Equal Music laid on the middle shelf, fourth column. I opened the shelf and subconsciously picked up the dust-laced paperback of An Equal Music. I don't remember when was the last time I read this in these five years, or if I actually did. No. I definitely didn't. But, I still remember the impact it had on me upon my first reading. I was so thrilled that I couldn't help but call him at 3 in the morning after finishing the book.
'What?' He asked in a raspy voice but the amusement in his voice was too evident for me to get a signal to continue.
'I just completed it. An Equal Music. Wow! You were right about everything in it. The language, the passion...Thank you...Thanks a lot for lending me the book.' I said with my heart pounding in excitement.
Soft laughter came from the other side. 'I knew you would like it. But, hey! You completed it in one and a half-day! Kudos girl!' He said.
I smiled taking the compliment. 'Not my fault. It was such a gripping read that I took breakfast in my lunchtime and finished it at my dinner and now I'm scared my mom wouldn't get me any of the three tomorrow.' I laughed.
He laughed harder. 'Oh my Swara! You should take care of your health too girl and I wasn't actually in a rush to get my book back. You shouldn't have ignored your meals...and as evident...your sleep like that.' He said.
I bit my lips feeling the excitement in my blood, making them flow over to my cheeks and making them hot. 'Guess you're right.' I said faintly. 'By the way, what are you doing? Didn't expect you to pick the call at the first dial at this time!' I asked.
He chuckled. 'Expectations Swara! That is what has made a joke out of us. I assume you, you assume me and we keep waiting for the moment. But, we don't know anything for sure.' He said with a sigh.
I was pretty confused with his statement. 'What do you mean A...?'
'You don't have to worry about that Swara. You'll know everything in a few days...' he said.
I couldn't sleep that night. I assume you. You assume me and we keep waiting for the moment...I tossed around my bed thinking of his words. What is the wait about? I was 99.99999 per cent sure what it was about and what expectations were he talking about but it's safe to say I too was waiting for the right moment.
It was two days later that I and my girl gang sat at the university cafeteria talking trash. But, it was Ananya who today, was the focal point of discussion. She seemed so happy. Her skin glowed as she smiled. Our other friends Rina, Ankita and Mercy started teasing her to tell the secret she's been hiding from us. I was excited too but for some unknown reasons, I just didn't want to push it much. Suddenly, her phone rang and she excused herself to receive it.
'Wooooooaaa...' Mercy and Rina teased and Ananya blushed a lot, moving away.
I gave the girls an annoyed look. 'Stop it, girls! There are our juniors in the cafeteria! What will they think? And who knows if that's an important call...what will the other person think about your stupid hooting?' I said.
Rina chuckled. 'Seriously Swara! You still think it's from an important person other than the special one...?' She said in a teasing tone.
'Hmm...and didn't you see her blushing? Aww! Our girl is so happy!' Mercy said.
'Whatever!' I sighed focusing on my sandwich.
'By the way Anku, I think you were right about the mystery man. I saw him talk till dusk with Ananya yesterday and I have no idea when they left...' Rina chuckled.
'Mystery man? Ananya's?' I felt a strange curiosity building.
'Who else?' Ankita said. 'But, of course...you won't know anything if they even start making out in front of you.' She said pointing out my naivety with regard to relationships. Others laughed.
'Ugh! Stop it guys! Now tell me which guy are you talking about and why is Ananya taking so long?' I asked looking around.
'Ding dong! You know him so well sweetie! And this morning he was talking with us about the new NGO he is opening. Take the hint.' Mercy winked.
My jaw hung and I almost bit my tongue instead of the sandwich. 'Arnav..?' I asked with no expression.
'Who else? They were in the library till the dusk yesterday and ever since that our Ananya couldn't stop smiling.' Rina said and all laughed. I joined too fisting around the fork. 'Great!' I muttered.
'Hey, girls! Sorry...got to go.' Ananya came in a rush to take her bag. 'Arnav needs his book back. I kinda borrowed An Equal Music from him...' Ananya said.
'Ooooooooooohhhhh' the hooting from Rina and Mercy started again.
An Equal Music!
I nodded and Ananya ran with a smile.
Time was a tide to me ever since...at times high and then low. Expectations...assumptions...whatever you say...but the time wasn't just it. It was so mixed up and so were the hints life was giving me.
And then after two months, it was the day of the Raksha Bandhan... I remember making a rakhi for Sujal all by myself. My little brother was beyond delighted. He gifted little Maya a big box of Cadbury and me a book... It was packed tight.
'What is it?' I asked Sujal.
'See for yourself. You'll love it.' He smiled. I smiled ruffling his hairs.
But, then he walked away chasing Maya who now possessed the greatest asset of her life with no intention to share. I laughed trying to open the book but just then my phone buzzed. It was a Facebook notification.
He had tagged me. My heart jumped. It was a post from his NGO wishing everyone a very happy Raksha Bandhan and explaining the power of the sacramental thread as a bond of love and care. I froze and so did my thoughts.
What does that imply? My head spun. The time was here and I never saw it coming. I went to the bathroom and threw up immediately. I fell sick. I was depressed for three months. All asked whys and whats. Nobody got the answer, not even me. Finally, it was Dr Biswas.
'Miss Swara! Your parents are worried a lot. You have your final exam in a month dear. You can't just treat yourself like that. Whatever you told me was just a psychological projection of your mind. It was an illusion you lived for believing the same about people that you want to believe. Whatever the thing meant, it's good for you. At least, it broke your illusion and would now act as a lesson all your life. You deserve a better life Swara. Chase your dreams. They aren't your illusion. Live your life to the full.'
I was on leave from the University all these months. I didn't respond to any post and deleted all my social media accounts. I promised to listen to Dr Biswas, not for myself...but for my family.
I topped the exams. It was a record-setting score. I wasn't aware of anything happening around. Rina came once to tell that her parents looked for an NRI guy for her. She also said Ananya and Arnav were now dating. I was happy for my friends.
It was around six months later that little Maya once opened the gift wrap and discovered An Equal Music. I was in a very confident and moving mood then...or at least I pretended to. I was listed for the HRD training at Stanford too.
'See... I and Sujal Bhaiya saw how you were into this book and even skipped your meals for that. He brought the best gift for you.' She chuckled.
I couldn't control the gritting of my teeth. Those memories were only reminding me how big of a loser I was.
....just a psychological projection of your mind. It was an illusion you lived for believing the same about people that you want to believe...
Dr Biswas' words got me enraged.
'Is that a good book? Seems old. You mind if I..?' Maya tried opening the book.
'No!' I shouted. 'That ain't kids' books. Keep it on the shelf and go do your homework. Don't waste your time.' I shouted angrily.
Maya was shocked. Never did she ever expect her sister to be that rude to her. Her eyes were filled with tears. She nodded and kept the book to the shelf. I still regret shouting at her. My poor little Maya. I was at Stanford for the next one and a half year before coming back to join my job. As I reminisced, I felt the book almost slipping off my unmindful hands.
'Oh, dear!' I steadied myself mopping the dust off the cover. I opened the book for the first time with a sigh. I have moved on a lot from those days. But, as I was about to turn the page, something struck me. On the introductory page, just below the title, was a name written in dark black in quite familiar handwriting. I gasped internally.