Then And Now

Then And Now

27 mins 25K 27 mins 25K

The air hostess announced in a crackling voice the arrival of the flight at Srinagar airport and gave instructions for the seat belts to be fastened and   other safety measures to be observed as the plane was about to land.

Suniti closed the book she had tried to read all this while on the flight from Delhi to Srinagar, without registering a word of it. It was one gifted by Ratandip and was addressed to her saying, “To Sonu, with all my love-Raj.” These were the names by which they addressed each other. He had taught her to read and appreciate writers like Hemingway, James Joyce, Steinbeck and many others. But at this moment, Hemingway’s, “Farewell to Arms,” was not helping her accept her situation at all. In fact it filled her with self pity as the spasmodic pain in her abdomen and the nausea rising threateningly seemed to get worse. Feeling giddy and cold she rested her head onto one side, closing her eyes and drawing her shawl tighter still around her frail frame. She had palpitations and her legs felt wobbly now that she was so close to meeting Ratandip again after almost two torturous and lonely months.

Having missed her last periods, she had panicked and written a letter to Ratandip almost every day, but there was no reply .The 1971 Indo-Pak war was just over. Since he had joined the Border Security Force and Kashmir was a sensitive area with frequent skirmishes still going on with Pakistan, she sometimes feared for his life but quickly snuffed such thoughts out.

 Staying awake most nights, added to the terrible morning sickness and knowing that neither his family nor hers, had any idea about their marriage, added to her misery and hopelessness. Just when she was trying to bring him around to disclosing everything to their families, he had received the letter of his selection and appointment somewhere in Kashmir to join the Border Security Force .This had been manoeuvred by his father who was related to some high ranking official in the Force and had wanted his son back closer home. Raj had promised to speak to his family as soon as he had joined duty and would then come back to Delhi, to sort matters out. But with no news from him she was getting more and more anxious and perplexed every day. The pregnancy had complicated matters further still and she was at the end of her tether. Bewildered and lonely she badly needed him to handle things. All sorts of fears and doubts assailed her making a miserable wreck out of the once vivacious, ebullient girl. She was always weepy and depressed these days.

  Raj had mentioned that he would be posted at Sopore, a small village near Srinagar. On an impulse she decided to go to Kashmir and try to find out for herself what was keeping him from contacting her. She had been posting letters to him at the address he had given her. Other than that she had no idea about his whereabouts.

    Three months earlier he had taken her to a nearby temple and in the presence of the Goddess they had exchanged garlands and he had filled ‘sindoor’ in her hair. It was a poignant moment and she was full of an exalted, glorious joy that pervaded her whole being with feelings of gratitude and reverence as she touched his feet. He had gently lifted her drawing her to his chest. They stood silently feeling the sanctity of the moment. She was basking in the ecstasy of being wedded to the man she adored more than anything else on earth. Having faced social ostracism, mockery, snide remarks and even reprimands, she was exultant to at last having seen this day. Now that they were one she could openly flaunt her married status in the faces of those who had denigrated her.

 Not once did it cross her mind that this was a marriage accepted neither legally nor socially. Nor did it strike her that there were no witnesses. As far as Raj was concerned she did not weigh her actions in the scale of worldliness. It was enough to perceive herself as his wife. She bought an artificial ‘mangalsutra’ from a roadside vendor before suggesting they have a photograph taken at a small photographer’s shop. She always carried that picture in her purse, looking at it lovingly and longingly, ever so often in a day. It had sustained her during those two painful months of utter dejection and confusion at his silence. During their two years relationship she had allowed herself to be deprived of so much that whatever little he offered was precious and she learnt to live on crumbs.

They had met at a youth festival campfire two years earlier when she had sung a wistful song from an old Hindi film. The pathos in the lyrics of the song had stirred her buried emotions that churned up a storm of painful memories which over the past one year had hardened into a knot of grief in her heart.

When he came up to her and said, “You sing beautifully and you look very pretty in white,” she was caught at a vulnerable moment in a state of longing, born out of past memories. The hunger reflected in her eyes as she looked up at him. Ratandip was stirred with a sensuous desire to get closer to her, to understand her, to touch her, to know her intimately and he resolved to approach her with that intent.

Taken aback and yet thrilled to hear someone complimenting her she did not speak immediately. Smiling faintly she became conscious of a light blush spreading slowly to her cheeks. A peculiar warmth grew somewhere within her chest and she felt a little flutter where her heart was supposed to be. As she looked up, she found him looking at her admiringly and smiling.

 She too smiled saying, “Thank you.”

 Throughout the rest of the evening she often caught him looking at her. More than six feet tall, fair with fine features, full lips and extremely sensitive poetic eyes, he was handsome and charming and she found herself drawn towards him irresistibly. Every time she furtively glanced at him she caught him too looking at her .The soft shadows cast by the dancing flames of the camp bonfire added to the romanticism of the evening making her helplessly vulnerable and she debated nothing as she walked towards him at the end of the programme.

 Together, without a word, they both walked towards the college garden, away from the crowd of dispersing students. Seeing a stone bench under a corpse of trees giving enough cover to be shielded from prying eyes, they sat down.

 The night air was filled with the fragrance of jasmines dotting the green bushes with silver as the moonbeams bathed them. The heady scent of roses blooming and whispering secrets about love and loving to those who cared to listen , wafted with the gentle winter breeze lending a mesmerizing charm to the intensity that hung in the midnight air. Nature itself appeared to be conspiring to create the perfect stage where the drama of their romance was to unfold.

There was no awkward silence between them as they sat there although they had spoken to each other for the first time that evening. Instead, there was magic in the air and both felt an attraction that neither had felt earlier for else.

 Ratandip spoke feelingly, “You know when you were singing I wanted to come up to you there and then and ask you to be my friend.”

“So, why didn’t you?”she retorted mischievously.

“How would you have reacted, if I’d done that?” he asked.

 “I would have said, most certainly,” replied Suniti.

“So, I presume we are friends now.”

Neither spoke for some time and during those eloquent moments of silence both felt an intense aching to know more about the other and to prolong those moments of raw passion and desire in which they both seemed to be equally consumed.

Suniti and Ratandip also whispered secrets to each other the whole night through. They talked as if they had known each other for a lifetime. Words , thoughts , past experiences, dreams and desires all came alive and were narrated as if  being acknowledged to oneself . There were no barriers and even though it was a chilly November night they sat there almost till dawn and were startled to see the night watchman as he hurried to go home around six o’clock in the morning.

Suniti shivered and realised how cold and numb she was and tried to wrap her shawl a little tighter. Ratandip took off his blazer and tenderly draped it around her shoulders. Before she could say anything he said, “Just go to your hostel now, get some rest and take something to warm you. Don’t worry about the coat, I’ll collect it later.” Reluctantly they parted and left for their respective hostels before any early risers spotted them together at such an early hour.

The day being a Sunday, seemed too long to Suniti. With no classes there was no chance of meeting Ratandip. She couldn’t control her thoughts as they kept going back to the previous night’s happenings. She went over each word spoken by both of them trying to find the underlying emotions. Even where there was no meaning her mind attributed meanings which she wished to hear and experience. She spent a long time looking at herself in the mirror trying to imagine how she must have appeared to Ratandip. Smiling at her own image she felt an expansion of her whole being making her feel generous towards the whole world .  Now it seemed not to matter that her boyfriend in the previous college had broken off with her and spread scandalous stories about her which had left her embittered and her heart closed to the idea of loving another.

In the evening Ratandip came to Suniti’s hostel and the two looked at each other shyly, yet eagerly. He looked rested and fresh while Suniti felt self conscious not having slept enough and felt she looked rather drained. Neither was she appropriately dressed as she had no inkling he would be coming though she had hoped he would.

They walked towards the college garden which was a sprawling large one with plenty of nooks and corners for those wanting a little privacy. But from the gate they turned towards a large ground adjacent to it which spread out between the different hostels for boys and girls. Nobody bothered to go there at night as it was barren and treeless. As they walked close to each other Ratandip spoke just as Suniti was about to say something. Both laughed spontaneously and Ratandip  again felt the stirrings of desire, as her tinkling laughter rang across the empty grounds. Although open to view, the large expanse allowed for them to be sitting in the middle of it without being visible from the road. Late into the night they sat and talked, asking and telling about matters important to themselves and some not important to either one of them. They both wanted to spend more time together but it was past dinner time in their hostels, so catching a rickshaw, they headed towards a suitable eatery not too close to the college.         

Sitting close to each other, their bodies touching and their arms jostling and rubbing against each other as the rickshaw swerved in and around the traffic Suniti felt a warmth spreading throughout her body. Once or twice the rickshaw bumped badly through potholes and Ratandip held Suniti’s arm as she almost fell forwards with the jolt. The intimacy of his arm curving around her waist, his hand holding her arm excited her and although she wanted to be held closer still, she exercised all her will power to sit ramrod straight as if to avoid contact. She had known Ratandip since a few hours only and felt foolish at her own responses.  In spite of her resolve to act sensible and remain poised and dignified she felt an undercurrent of sensuousness in his touch and realised that she liked it. Ratandip let go of her arm as soon as the road became level and tried to sit a little straighter and apart from her . He too had been touched by the sensuousness that naturally arises when two young people are in an intimate situation.  During these two days he had felt she was someone to be respected and treated with great care and a protective instinct arose which kept him from exploiting the attraction she could barely conceal.

Later they headed towards their hostels and while dropping her at the gate he briefly held her hand whispering softly, ”Thank you for becoming my friend .” She smiled and said, ”Thank you for asking me.”The fleeting moment passed but the memory kept both of them awake for long trying to recapture it again and again.

Every evening they met at a fixed time in the same deserted grounds. At times they would lie down on the bare earth and looking up at the stars would fall silent. Speech seemed superfluous as they lay there with the heavens showering blessings. Many a dark night waxed and waned to illumine their lives as the full moon arose from behind the college buildings, peeping at them through the tall eucalyptus trees, sometimes an orange red, as if heating over the red hot furnace of desires that threatened to consume all. Destiny was unfolding as a magnetic attraction kept drawing them closer.

 Suniti was blooming and looked rapturous as they spent time together going to Connaught Place, eating in cosy little joints, spending hours browsing through books at one of the large bookstores or just sitting on the central lawns with the fountains sprinkling them gently. They watched old classic Hindi movies where the halls would be almost empty. The chill and frost added to their hunger and one day he suddenly pulled her close kissing her gently on her cheek at first and then a prolonged passionate kiss which she returned with equal ardour clinging closer still. She had been waiting since many days for this and used to wonder what held him back but was too dignified to make the first move.

  One day Suniti cooked some ‘biryani’ and carried it along.  As they sat eating, both felt the need to be physically close in the freezing December night. They sat covered by Suniti’s shawl with Ratandip hugging her around the waist and telling her what a wonderful cook she was. Frost started painting the brown earth to crystal silver. Suniti’s hands and feet were numb in the icy cold. Both wished to be in a cosier and intimate place.

  Without speaking they walked towards his hostel room. It was past midnight and most of the rooms were in darkness. One back door to his room opened outwards onto an open area with no boundary wall. She waited in the shadows while he went inside through the main door and opened the back door. She quickly slipped inside and bolting the door he made sure the curtains were fully drawn across the single narrow window. As she stood against the door afraid to acknowledge her own desire, Ratandip coming up to her drew her close clasping his hands around her waist. Both clung to each other with a hunger that was uncontrollable having been held in abeyance since long. Ratandip caressed her forehead, stroking the locks of hair that had escaped from under her ‘dupatta’. Suniti raised herself on her toes, clinging to him with her arms locked tightly around his neck. Shutting her eyes she turned her face upwards. Very gently he brushed his lips across hers, kissed her forehead, the eyelids and then closing on her mouth in a long and passionate kiss, neither wanted to end. His mouth slowly worked on her neck as he inhaled her perfume which like her was intense, cloying and reminded him of jasmines. Slowly he led her towards the bed and removed her ‘dupatta’ caressing her thick, curly hair which got tousled easily. Suniti let him open her sweater buttons and straightening the folded quilt lay down under it , moving aside making place for him. Their bodies fitted snugly into the contours of the other as they kept touching, fondling and caressing each other. Entering her gently Ratanjit made love to her with a passion that she returned with equal ardour  whispering sweet endearments. Suniti felt secure in his embrace and both slept deeply for a few hours.

 Just before dawn Ratanjit woke up and kissing Suniti gently on her eyelids kept looking at her fondly. She stirred in her sleep and Ratandip hugged her tightly which woke her.  Neither attended college that day spending the day talking and discovering more about each other’s physical and emotional needs, Ratanjit going out only to buy food. Suniti felt a calm descend on both her body and mind. The ecstatic mood continued that day but at night Suniti went back to her hostel for they both knew that attending college was also necessary.

Days turned into nights and weeks into months as their relationship became known and they went around together openly. Sonu had by now planned everything in detail for their marriage though she did not mention it to him as she waited for him to propose. The day she discovered the pregnancy she was both elated and disturbed. On one hand she thought it would hasten their marriage and on the other, she knew that with a few more months of studies still left it was not a suitable time. But the thought of becoming the mother of Raj’s child fired her imagination with visions of a blissful life with him and she spent the day dreaming. In the evening she was excited and yet apprehensive about telling Raj. After hearing her out Raj sat quietly for a few moments and Sonu was surprised at seeing him disturbed and anxious instead of sharing her exuberance. He further puzzled her by going out alone for a walk. Coming back after almost an hour he sat down and taking her in his arms said,” Sonu, listen to me fully without interrupting and please trust me. Whatever happens I will always love you just as much as I do today.” Sonu did not know how to respond to his words, especially seeing tears in his eyes. Quietly, she went closer to him and clasped his hand reassuringly.

“I should have told you all this earlier but was hoping to resolve it before telling you,” started Raj. Apprehension gripped Sonu and she felt a constricting pain in her chest but sat silently listening as Raj continued.

“My elder brother is depressive so my sister in law has suffered a lot. They have a son and daughter. The children suffer too and the whole family has to support her in their upbringing.   So, three years ago, her younger sister Vijayanti and I were….. engaged.”

Suniti’s hand released his hand as it flew to her mouth in shock. She sat there looking at him stonily. She was numb with disbelief. Other than that she felt no reaction or emotion.

“During the summer break, I was planning to go home and talk them out of it but when I think of what havoc that will wreak I don’t know what to do. My mother is a heart patient and I can’t add to the problems of the family.”

With that he fell silent and lay down closing his eyes. Sonu lay close to him and stroked his hand.

“Knowing your family circumstances why did you get friendly with me?” she  asked  bewildered and hurt.

“Honestly Sonu, I couldn’t help myself. I was drawn towards you so strongly. Whatever happens in the future is not known to me but I will cherish these days and our love forever. It will be the most precious time of my life. I can spend a lifetime with the support of these memories”.

They cried for long in each other’s arms.

She clung to him feeling protective towards him.

Next evening they went to a doctor in Punjabi Bagh and had the pregnancy terminated. It was a busy clinic with small cubicles separated by curtains and the moans and cries of other patients were audible to Suniti as she waited to be taken into the theatre. The walls were a pale green with a dark green border where hands touched the walls. There was a smell of antiseptics, blood and chloroform which combined to create an intimidating effect .Most of the patients appeared to be there for abortions but Sonu saw a few women in advanced pregnancy too. It scared her but she smiled bravely at Raj as the nurse came for her. He looked pale and tense as he reluctantly let go of her hand.

“How are you, Suniti?” she heard the doctor’s voice from some distant realm as she tried to open her eyes groggy with the anaesthetic.

“ Give her some tea, she’ll wake up soon and can walk out with support,”  the doctor  told  Ratandip.

They spent the night at a small hotel close by. It was a sleazy place with a narrow flight of stairs going up straight from the road. She could barely walk and Raj heaved her up as her legs faltered and she held on to a thick rope greasy and filthy from being handled by all types of hands. She was beyond thinking what onlookers thought and the type of clientele that frequented that place. She fumbled with the makeshift wire latch to the common toilet next to the stairs trembling with nausea and repulsion. Washing her hands at the filthy sink in the verandah made her feel no cleaner.  As she lay down on the bed in the tiny, dingy room she shed tears of remorse, self-pity and loathing at the turn her life had taken. Drained with the effort of reaching the bed and crying along with the residual effect of the anaesthetic, she drifted off into deep sleep.  Sometime in the night she woke up with severe pain and abdominal cramps. Softly she shook Raj who woke up a little confused after a hectic day’s fatigue. He gave her the prescribed medicine and she slept again soon.

 At the hostel next day a letter from her parents was waiting for her. They wanted her home for the winter break. Two days later she was home, weak and shaky from the abortion. Her mother wondered why she looked so pale but thinking she was tired from the journey told her to bathe and rest. Since her studies would be over in six months, her parents had started looking for suitable matches. Stunningly beautiful, tall and slim, Suniti had plenty of marriage proposals coming her way. Her mother showed her two photographs, one an engineer and the other a doctor. Suniti refused to meet either, saying she wanted to finish her apprenticeship first and came back to Delhi hoping Raj was making some headway with sorting his family affairs.

Knowing and having accepted the fact that Raj was engaged to another did not change Sonu’s feelings for him. Emotions were not controlled mechanicaly which one could switch on or off. Hoping matters would be settled in her favour somehow, she continued her relationship with him with the same fervour. As for Raj, he became complacent having told Sonu everything and so absolved of any guilt at deceiving two people who loved him crazily. Both were in denial of the facts of the whole affair. Both fared badly at the exams barely managing to pass.  Just when they were looking around for joining some company as apprentices, possibly in the same company, the letter of appointment in the BSF arrived and created an urgency to finally take decisions. Sonu was distraught with the idea of being left alone and yet felt that Raj would now be forced to make their relationship known to his family. At the airport he bought  Hemingway’s, “Farewell to Arms”, and  inscribed on the front page. She asked for nothing, only telling him to take care and do what was right for everyone concerned. They hugged, Sonu clinging to him. He kissed her on the forehead and then he was gone to board his flight.


      As the passengers disembarked Suniti realised that most of them were Kashmiris. She casually asked a lady behind her how far Sopore was and how one reached there. It was already past three in the evening and was getting on to the evening. The lady told her in a hushed tone to take a taxi but to be cautious as there had been many cases of abduction. Although scared and apprehensive Suniti had no option and trying to appear confident and bold she got into the taxi that drove through small villages with slushy and broken roads full of potholes filled with rainwater from the down pour now reduced to a drizzle. Little, rosy cheeked children romped around in the rain and screamed with glee as the cab sloshed water onto the roadside. A few people hurried to reach wherever they had to, clinging to their coal ‘kangris’ held under their flowing ‘phirens’.  Pulling her warm ‘pashmina’ shawl tighter around her neck and shoulders she covered her head with her ‘dupatta’ trying her best to shield her face from passersby. By sunset they reached the BSF contingent posted at Sopore. Years later, she was to wonder how she ever reached that place as she did not have a proper address even and the contingent was in a highly protected area.

On providing her own name and that of Ratandip Raina she was escorted by a guard to a small barrack where two officers were accommodated. Ratandip came out of the room and looked stunned at seeing her. He quickly took her inside. Her heart missed a beat on seeing him as she smiled and caught his hand. He quickly pulled it away, smiling weakly while avoiding eye contact but showed concern by asking her about the flight and drive up to Sopore. Deeply distressed  and confused at his aloof behaviour she kept giving short cryptic answers waiting to see some signs of genuine concern in his voice or countenance. Expecting him to be overjoyed at seeing her and taking her in his arms she was bewildered as he made no effort to come close to her even and she felt she was talking to a stranger. He made a sign towards a tarpaulin stretched like a wall that divided the room into two portions. From the other side one could hear the voices of a woman and a man arguing over something. Suniti was too worried about her situation to bother about someone overhearing them.

Dinner was brought by the orderly after an hour during which she washed and changed. An extra narrow bed had been laid for her and they lay separately. Suniti tried asking him about his silence over her letters but he told her he could not tell her anything at that moment as they would be overheard by the couple next door. He slept after some time but Suniti stayed awake the whole night through wondering what relationship she had with the man lying on the bed next to hers. He did not once touch her. When she tried to embrace him he brushed her aside. She regretted having reached out to him at all.

Next morning early around seven they were ready to leave for Srinagar. Ratandip told the cab driver to take them to 96, Zainab Mohalla. On the way, he told her that Vijayanti had tried to commit suicide which was followed by his mother having another heart attack. They were married two months back and he lived in Sopore most of the time. Dry eyed and silent Suniti did not ask anything more. She only wondered why he was taking her to his home at all but was too numb to question him.

Suniti entered the old house with a sense of apprehension and fear of how she would be treated by his family. Ratandip had probably informed Vijayanti about her visit for she met them at the door as soon as he rang the bell. She spoke very politely but patronisingly. Suniti saw how beautiful she was and felt a pang of jealousy. She took Suniti to her bedroom on the first floor. It was a large room with windows that opened towards the inner courtyard across which were more rooms where the other family members looked out of windows curious to know who the visitor was. Suniti looked around at the unfamiliar surroundings and wondered what life for Ratanjit was like within these four walls on which hung a few photographs of their wedding. Suniti quickly glanced away and stared vacantly at the fire blazing in the fireplace. They sat on the wooden floor on thick mattresses covered with Kashmiri rugs, old and intricately woven. The room had a musty smell as happens in the hills. Vijayanti brought in a tray of ‘kahwa’ with some homemade snacks. Climbing up the narrow wooden stairs she chatted gaily with her mother in law sitting in the room below, establishing her right of relationship over Ratanjit and his family. Suniti cringed like a whipped dog and felt the intruder she was meant to feel in no uncertain terms by Vijayanti in a polite but satirical manner. Sipping the hot tea which eased her nausea, Suniti asked Ratanjit for her letters.

“I’ll advice you not to give things in writing in future. You will land up in big trouble some day,” said Vijayanti as she took the packet of letters out from a box in a cupboard. Sneeringly she continued, “As for him you can see for yourself what he thinks about you. Girls like you come and go in the lives of men while they lead decent lives themselves. Carrying on with him knowing he was engaged to me was your choice. Leaving you for me is his choice. I was ready to sacrifice my life for him,” saying this Vijayanti handed the letters to Suniti clenching her jaw that gave her a hardened expression and almost made her look ugly.

Ratanjit sat quietly near the blazing fire hugging his knees with his head bowed down . He looked like a punished child. Suniti looked towards him to see any reaction to Vijayanti’s words but he sat with an impassive face, with not even a fleeting emotion of resenting those insults and humiliations being piled on her. Leaving her cup of tea unfinished Suniti got up , shoving the letters into her bag, ready to leave.

 Suniti had not mentioned anything about the pregnancy to Ratandip even the day earlier.

Climbing down the stairs she saw his mother looking at her lovingly, probably unaware of the reason for her visit. She was gentle looking and very beautiful like most Kashmiri women. ‘Jigri’ was the name by which Ratandip called his mother recalled Suniti, as she bent to touch her feet and she in turn blessed her in Kashmiri.

Walking behind her and Vijayanti, as he reached the last step Ratanjit tripped. Suniti caught him in time and averted a bad fall. Gripping Vyjayanti’s hand she said, “Take care he does not trip again”.

Something inside her had died the night earlier when she first saw Raj after two months of mental and physical agony and was met with his cold aloofness. She left that dead portion of herself behind in that room on the first floor.        A woman reborn and much wiser, walked out into the street while the couple behind her kept looking at her receding back as she walked dignified and head held high.

 Getting into a cab at Delhi airport, she told the driver to take her to Dr. Ahuja’s Clinic at Punjabi Bagh.


There were long queues at the domestic flights entrance gates at the Indira Gandhi Airport.

Suniti carried their tickets and ID’s in her right hand while with her left hand she held her purse with a light shawl flung over her shoulder.  Draped in a deep pink chiffon saree that set off her beautiful complexion along with a string of pearls and small matching earrings, she looked elegant and dignified. The large bun out of which wisps of her thick curly hair kept escaping accentuated the beauty of her slender, upright neck. Her sprightly gait and bearing belied her fifty summers of living as she carried her age with grace and poise. Soham walked ahead pushing the trolley with their bags.

 Slowly the line ahead of them shortened and then there was only a middle aged couple ahead of them. Though not too old but stooping slightly, probably due to his tall height, the man ahead kept fumbling with his papers. His wife,  greying, frail and asthmatic , must at one time have been a beauty. But now looked sickly and harried, as she struggled between pushing their trolley and helping her fumbling husband, who waited while their papers were scrutinized.

 As the guard at the gate checked and handed their tickets back to the man, they slipped from his hands. Suniti who was holding her tickets towards the guard was caught unawares as the man turned around and bent to pick up his tickets. He bumped against her and tripped against the wheel of Soham’strolley. Holding him with one hand Soham steadied him. The man straightened up and turning towards Suniti said ,”I’m sorry, I hope I didn’t hurt” . Stammering, “Thank you.... son..... ,” he kept looking at Suniti as she looked back at him.  Both froze, staring at each other in recognition. His wife turned around to see what was keeping her husband back. She too paled seeing Soham, the split image of her husband when she had first met him; more than six feet tall, fair complexioned, sharp featured, dreamy poetic eyes with full lips. The strapping young man differed only on one account. He had the expression of the determined and indomitable spirit of his mother. While the couple looked aghast, visibly shocked, the woman stared open mouthed as she recognised Suniti who said, “Take care he does not trips again.”

Looking up fondly at Soham she walked ahead while the couple behind them stunned with disbelief, stood staring at their backs, both walking dignified and heads held high

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