Sonali Basu



Sonali Basu


United By Love

United By Love

18 mins

The first snowfall of the year started when Jhelum descended from the first-class compartment at the station of Simla. It’s another end of a year and upcoming bright New Year. She looks around to take an overview of the station before leaving. It has a changed look but she could remember the look she last saw when she left Simla last time. She comes out and hired a cab to go to Chail. But the moment she goes to board the car a man attired in a hat, coat, shoes with a bag in his hand comes running towards her cab. She looks astonished when he reaches near and said the driver, “I want to hire the cab.”

“I’m sorry sir; this madam has already hired it,” replied the driver. The man looked around but there wasn’t a second cab in the vicinity. He looked embarrassed at him and said, “But there’s none and I’ve to reach Chail immediately; it’s urgent.”

“Then you’ve to ask her if she is willing to travel in a shared cab.”

“Will you share the car with me?” he asked turning towards Jhelum. She looked at his face to find the tensed lines scripted on his forehead then answered: “Yeah, you can come along.” The man thanked her several times and then boarded the cab and sat beside the driver. Jhelum felt relieved while she slipped in the back seat and looked out of the window. 

The journey from Balasore to Simla by train is very tiring but she preferred it when her travel agent asked her giving the options of air or train. She wished to rewind the whole train journey she traveled thirteen years ago with Mr. Indranil Ghose, her father. That was the last time they(she and her sister) came with her father because that was the date he had promised his wife, Jhelum’s mother Mrs. Ghose to hand them over to her. But! Who knew Mom would leave the world soon and they have to return back to their father’s home! After that, she often came here when she wished.

 She closed her eyes to shoo off the tiredness but fall into a deep sleep and only to wake up when the driver calls her “Madam... madam... we have reached your given address.” She looks out of the window to see the same wood house in front of a picturesque backdrop. At the very instant she remembered of her co-traveler. She asked about him when the driver said, “He got off near the market.” She gets down from the cab and pays the driver.

The house looks the same as she left it five years before. She enters the area opening the gate and walks through the neatly kept garden to the verandah. The glass fitted wooden doors opened the moment she stepped on the stairs. An elderly man came out with a broad smile on his face and said, “Please come in bitiya. I got your letter two days before.”

She smiled and handed over her bag to him. Chahaji is very active compared to his age. He got ready everything even before anything was demanded by Jhelum. She went to have a bath in warm water then had hot chicken soup and roti and went to her room to take rest. She felt as if she is at home after so many years. The hostel life was always boring for her but she and her sister was pushed there even before she understood the meaning of the home and the bond between the persons living there. After entering the house, sleep slipped away from her eyes and she felt fully energetic. After a long roam within all the rooms she felt very sleepy and went to bed.

In the evening she sat near the fireplace and sipped in the hot cocoa that chahaji had given her. She remembered when they were young, they used to play in this room in the winter evenings while their Mom used to sit beside the fireplace and drink tea.

The next morning Chahaji woke her up. “Bitiya someone has come to meet you.”

“Who? Any woman?”

“No, a man.”

“Do you know him?”

“No, but he says he knows you and had come to give you something.”

“Ok, ask him to wait in the drawing, I’m coming. Meanwhile, greet him with coffee.”

When she reached the drawing she found Neel sitting reading the morning newspaper. He looked up and wished Jhelum, “Good morning Jheel.”

“Morning. May I know the reason for your coming?”

“Please Jheel, please for God’s sake don’t act like a stranger. You know the reason for my coming.”

“But you know my answer. Don’t you? You are very much aware of my past. I can’t follow my heart’s wishes to leave my duties towards Di.”

“I know you love your Di and have some duties towards your sick sister but don’t you have any duty towards your love?”

Jhelum broke down. “She isn’t sick but depressed. She needs me.”

“And what about me? Don’t I need you?

”I don’t know. I don’t. It would have been best if I never met you in my life”

Neel came near and sat beside her. He slowly placed his hand on her shoulder and said, “I can understand your situation but mine too is pathetic. I just can’t live without you. Please feel my condition.”

Jhelum looked at his face and said, “Please spare me some time. I’ve to think once more about what I should do.”

Neel stared at her face for few moments then said, “Ok. I’m leaving for now. But you can give a ring if you need any help?”

She nodded and he left. She remembered the way they met a year before. Jhelum was going to the library to get some reference books on economics when someone called, “Excuse me can you show me the route to this address.”

She looked at the stranger. He was a guy in his post-twenties dressed in jeans and a T-shirt with a backpack on his left shoulder holding a marriage invitation card in his hand. She took the card from his hand and looked at the given address. Then she said, “You are just fifty yards away from the marriage hall ‘Ashiyana’. You walk up to that rotary and turn towards your left, you will find the hall.”

“Thank you,” he smiled and left. She too advanced towards her destination. This could have been the one and only meeting between them but destiny thought something else for them.

The marriage hall which he asked for was booked by her uncle Mr. Dhiraj Ghose. Her cousin Titli was getting married. The marriage hall was full of hustle and bustle of the relatives, friends, family members joining the party. Titli’s bridal makeover was going on when both the sisters, Jiya and Jhelum, entered the marriage venue. They aren’t twins but their look, height, and complexion were so much alike that everyone thought them to be twins. Both wore bright designer sarees with embellished necklaces, earrings, bangles, finger, and toe rings. The duo was looking so gorgeous that even their aunt i.e. Titli’s mom Suhana said, “We must start searching grooms for you too as soon as possible. Your beauty is creating a burning desire in every man’s heart present here.”   

Jiya turned red hearing this but Jhelum smiled. They did not say anything but Jhelum knew Jiya is in love with Sahil Sanyal, her English professor. She even took special coaching classes that Sahil held though she did best in her subjects. Actually she was madly in love with him and tried to spend as much time as possible with him. But Jhelum wasn’t aware that Jiya still couldn’t disclose her feelings to Sahil.

The evening had set in when the groom and their guests and relatives showed up at the doorsteps of the ‘Ashiyana’. The whole set of elderly men and women hurried to receive them. Jiya and Jhelum were sitting beside Titli chatting with her when the groom arrived. So they hurried to the balcony to have a look of the groom whose photo Titli had sent them over Whatsapp.

They were enjoying the reception of the groom when Jhelum saw someone clicking their photos with his digital cameras. She hurriedly went near and hissed, “Why did you take our photograph?”

He replied, “Is taking a photo of anyone, a crime?”

“It is a crime when you didn’t ask permission from her.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I’m asking for your consent to take pictures of you.”

“And I’m not giving the permission. So delete them immediately.”

 Jhelum might have poured out some more bitter words but Titli’s brother Vivek came in rescue. He came near and said, “Bitterness leads to good friendship without a doubt. Jhelum let me introduce him to you. He’s Neel (Neelesh) Roy, my bosom friend, and a wildlife photographer. And Neel, she’s my cousin Jhelum.”

Jhelum said, “Wildlife photography is a good profession indeed but this isn’t a forest and I’m not an animal.”

Neel said, “I didn’t know that wildlife photographers can’t take pictures of humans. I’m sorry.”

At that Jiya appeared in the scene. “Hey, Jhelum it’s time to take Titli to the pandal. Come on. We have to take her.” Jhelum went away with her sister postponing the clash for a later time. In between, they met several times and Jhelum avoided speaking with him though her intuition assumed Neel’s wishes.

The marriage ended and it’s time for the bride to leave for her in-laws home. After they left, Jiya and Jhelum went to their uncle to ask permission for returning to their hostel. Mr. Ghose was discussing the reception the groom’s house is going to throw and who is going to join from the girl’s side. Jiya said, “Uncle please give us permission we have to leave now.”

Dhiraj said, “How will I approve it dears? You two will join the party given by the groom tomorrow. Titli will be expecting you and if you don’t meet her she will be sad. Please stay back.” Everyone asked them to stay back. At such an earnest request, Jiya said they are ready to stay back. Even Neel whispered when no one was near, “Please stay back Jhelum. I promise I won’t take a single photo of yours.” At this Jhelum giggled a lot. After attending the groom’s party they returned to their hostel. In between this time, Jhelum and Neel shared some good moments. While leaving they shared their cell numbers; though, she wasn’t sure, if she should call him or not.

Their normal monotonous routine started. Both attended their classes, Jiya was doing Masters in English Literature and Jhelum in Economics. Jhelum didn’t think Neel will message her the next morning – "Good morning friend".

She was preparing some notes when the message arrived. A smile appeared on her face. She replied – "Good morning".

"What are you doing now?"

"Preparing notes."

"Oh, then you are damn busy. I’ll talk with you later."

From that time onwards messages came and went. Messages ferried their thoughts and both could feel getting attracted to one another.

On Valentine’s Day next year, he gifted Jhelum his name inscribed platinum chain and said, “I love you Jheel. Will you be my better half?”

Jhelum answered, “I too love you Neel but let us share some more moments with each other then we will decide about our marriage. Let it be in the lap of the future.”

They were very happy spending time with each other, going to the cinema, eating lunch dinner together, going for long drives when they could spare time.

But one night when Jhelum returned to the hostel she was shocked to find her sister crying hysterically. She ran to her and tried to stop her from crying. Ultimately when she stopped Jhelum asked, “What happened Di? What has gone wrong?”

Jiya muttered “Sahil, I’ve lost Sahil forever. How will I live without him?”

After asking many questions Jhelum could find out the matter and it was grave. Sahil is engaged with Tamanna, Jiya’s classmate, and a good friend too. She was totally blank about love affair blooming between the two till she was invited by Tamanna to her birthday party. Jhelum remembered Di had told her about the B’ day party and knew Di was going to join it. Jiya said she won’t ever forget this B’ day party. She wore beautiful party wear and accessories and was the first person to reach the venue. Tamanna tried to show she was glad to see her. One by one all the guests arrived and the party began. When the party was at its peak Tammana’s father announced the engagement between her and Sahil. Jiya was shocked. She immediately left the party to return home.

She was angry at Sahil’s behaviour, he broke her heart. How could he do this, she thought. Jiya was depressed. The more she thought, the more she cried, spent sleepless nights, ate almost nothing and Jhelum had to take her to see the doctor. The psychiatrist prescribed medicines but Jiya was reluctant in eating them at the time prescribed by the doctor. Jhelum had a hard time looking after her sister. She loved her sister very much and did not wish to lose her at any cost. She couldn’t share this hard situation with anyone not even Neel. He was out of the city due to his photography assignment.    

Jhelum felt she should do something. She went to Di’s college and asked for Sahil, the professor of the English department. Sahil came to meet her in the college canteen. He said, “Good morning Ms. Jhelum. You are Jiya’s sister. Good. But she isn’t coming for lectures. Why? Is she sick? I heard you have come to meet me. May I know the issue of this meeting?”

She said, “Yes, my sister isn’t well and the meeting is about Jiya and you.”

“Why about us?” Sahil looked amazed. Jhelum said, “Why, don’t you know she loves you?”

“Me? Have you gone crazy?”

“No, I’m not crazy.”

Sahil came to know all from Jhelum and could understand he had done wrong with Jiya so he wished to meet her.

Jhelum returned from college to find Jiya sitting on the window sill grumbling. She could understand something has happened terrible. But she stayed cool and wished when Di will share with her everything. Jiya shared everything with her sister at last. She revealed that she cannot concentrate on anything from the moment she has received the mail. Sahil wishes to meet her but she don’t. Why should she? He didn’t think twice before getting engaged with her friend Tamanna. She sobbed the whole night, Jhelum was beside her to console but still, she couldn’t stop sobbing. Suddenly in the early morning, Jiya declared “I’m going back to our home.”

“But Di, your classes?”

 “I don’t know... but I can’t stay here any longer.”

After that point, she left the city with a promise of never to return. She had come from Balasore to complete her studies in one of the reputed colleges of the city. She had a lot of plans about her future but after her heart broke she couldn’t deal with the situation and went back to her place.  Jhelum was sad. She couldn’t understand what could be done. She too went back home. Their dad Mr. Indranil was happy to see his daughters after a long time but a little surprised as their classes were going on. He instructed his cook Ramu to prepare dishes that would be liked by them. They sat together to have lunch.

He asked, “How was the marriage ceremony of Titli?”

Jhelum replied, “Very good Dad. Everyone was asking about you.”

“I was aware of that but you know after your mom left I never felt remaining connected with our relatives. The reason is they won’t console you actually rake up your pain to make it sore.”

Jhelum kept quiet. She still has some of the letters of her mom. Her Mom Deepshikha was of very soft manners. She loved someone but he betrayed her and she never met him again in her life. Her father married her off to a rich businessman known to him but their marriage wasn’t a happy one. But she went to carry on with the marriage until her father died and then she returned to Chail never to return back. Jiya and Jhelum went to their Nana’s home with their mother but often came to Balasore too to visit their father.

Indranil found his daughters very quiet at the dining table. He could understand something is amiss so he asked, “Why are you so quiet? Is something wrong?”

Jiya just left the table without saying anything. He said, “Won’t you eat any more Jiya?”

She just denied and left. He asked Jhelum, “What happened to her?”

She explained everything to him. Indranil was gloomy but didn’t know what to say. He just murmured, “Deepa wasn’t happy in her life and ultimately ended it to get peace. Will Jiya’s future be the same?”

Jhelum was upset at these words. She believes Jiya is almost like their mother. Will she too attempt to take away her life? No! This can’t be. But what can be done? Di is no mood to meet Sahil and she cannot find a good way to make them unite. Sahil is still hoping he will get a chance to meet Jiya. He requests Jhelum every day to think out a solution. 

Jhelum is sitting in a beach restaurant with her Di and having coconut water. Jiya was very depressed and Jhelum feared something severe can happen. So she just forced her to come out of her room and have a walk on the beach. At that instance her phone rang and she saw the caller name, ‘Neel.’

She took a glance at her Di then took the call, “Hello.”

“Hi, Jheel. What’s the matter? You did not call me for the past week. Is everything right?”

“Oh. I’m fine. How are you? And how was your photography assignment?”

“Jheel, I’m asking you something but you are going around the bush. Why?”

“I’m at present in a big problem. I cannot find out a solution to it.”

“Why? What happened? Share everything with me.”

“Wait for a minute. I’m messaging you everything,” and she typed back everything. After a few minutes, Neel replied back, "the situation is bad indeed but how will you convince a person who isn’t even agreeing to meet her ex-love! And what about our future? What is your plan for it?"

Jhelum messaged - "I’m not sure. Jiya is going through depression. Until she gets well I can’t even think about other things."

After a few moments, Neel called her back, “Jheel I need to talk to you, and it's urgent. I’m in Dehradun at this moment. I will wait for you till this weekend. And I’m sure you will come.”

Jhelum could understand Neel is very determined but she is in a tight spot. But at last, she has come to meet him.

The sun is setting behind the Himalayan Mountains creating a heavenly impression in the valley lying below. Jhelum is standing on the bridge over river Ashwini and casually looking at the river water. A few minutes before, she left the cafe and Neel behind and came here to get a whiff of fresh air. But the conversation that took place a few moments back between her and Neel made her judge her decision once more. Is she doing wrong to Neel when he loves her very much and wishes to stay with her in all odds and evens of life? But she can’t forget all the past events of her life nor the problem Jiya is facing.

“Hey Jheel, see who has come.” Neel’s excited voice made Jhelum looked back. Sahil was walking beside Neel towards her. Sahil said, “Good afternoon Jhelum.”

Jhelum said, “Good afternoon.”

Neel said, “I requested him to come here.”

“May I call her?” asked Sahil. Both nodded and Sahil gave a try but failed. Jiya just switched off the mobile. “Should I try?” asked Neel.

“But what’s the use, Di isn’t ready to hear his voice.”

“Did you think how to make Jiya meet him?”

Jhelum shook her head in denial. Neel thought for a while then said, “I have a plan and everyone has to participate in it” and then he shared his plan.

Indranil was watching television when the mobile rang. He was so engrossed in watching that he did not even hear the ringtone and the call went missed. Jiya picked the phone and said, “Dad someone needs you. And you didn’t even receive the call". He said, “I’m sorry, beta. Who’s it?”

“I didn’t see. Should I ring back?”

“Oh yes, When someone answers please give me the phone.”

Jiya redialed the number. Someone said, “Hello”

Indranil took the phone and said, “Hello, Who it is?”

“Sir, I’m Neelesh, friend of Jhelum”

“How did you get my number?”

“From her phone. She is very sick and so Chahaji informed me to call a doctor and contact you too. Please come to Chail as soon as possible.”

“Oh ok, beta. I’m trying my best to reach by tomorrow.”

 Jiya was still in the drawing-room. She heard the one-sided conversation and felt curious. The moment her father ended the phone call she asked, “Who called Dad?”

“Jhelum’s friend. He said she is sick and we need to go there as soon as possible.”

Jiya was very worried about the news of her loving sister. She said, “Dad please do something so that we can reach there as soon as possible.”

They boarded the next flight from Bhubaneswar to Chandigarh. They reached Chail within the evening. When they entered home, Jiya asked, “Chahaji, where is my sis?”

Chahaji said, “Jhelum Bitiya is in her room. Jiya bitiya, you can go there and meet her.”

Jiya hurriedly entered her sister’s room and then stopped suddenly. Then she turned to move out but Jhelum said, “Di please don’t leave the room. He has come specially to meet you.”

Jiya turned and looked at her sister sternly, “That means you aren’t sick. All this is just drama.”

“Please Di, he wishes to talk with you. Won’t you give him a chance?”

Sahil said, “Please Jiya. I need to talk to you. I’ll take just five minutes.”

Jiya looked at him for some moments and said “Ok.”

Jhelum and Neel left the room. Jhelum walked towards the garden and Neel followed her. She was in big tension. What will be Di’s answer, she thought. When Jiya and Sahil came out of the room after some twenty minutes, Neel said, “I feel everything is settled. So Jheel can we now think about our future.”

Jhelum smiled and nodded.

Indranil was happy to meet his future sons-in-law. He asked their parents’ numbers to call them and fix a date for his daughters’ marriage. Everything was arranged in jet speed and within fifteen days Jiya became Mrs. Sahil Sanyal and Jhelum Mrs. Neelesh Roy. After they left for their in-laws home, Indranil stood before his wife’s photograph and said, “I fell you are happy for your daughters.” He felt Deepshikha smile back!   

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