Drama Romance Tragedy
I was in love. With the only person I could hope to be. Ever.
We had been best friends since the ninth grade. Our friendship was the toast of the school. He was the toast of the school. Your typical lean and goofy football player. The school adored him. He was, however, oblivious to it all. True to his nature, he kept his head firmly on his shoulders. He was always there for us. Always there for his friends. He loved his parents unconditionally and respected all those who deserved to be. The perfect person. A person I had trusted and valued for as long as I could remember.
And how incredibly serendipitous I was, that we got through the labyrinth of boards together and landed in the very same college- I, the nerdy, bespectacled girl, because of my 98% aggregate; he, the dashing footballer, because of sports quota.
We were still very close to each other and did all those things that crazy friends do with each other: bunked lectures, watched stupid slapstick fare at the cinema, ran to catch the U-specials, had ice creams every other afternoon and studied too, when exams drew nearer.
So life was pretty good and I, the orphan, never felt bereft of my parents’ love because he was always there. Siddharth. The perfect shoulder to cry on, the perfect buddy to laugh with, my perfect partner!
So, when the autumn break drew nearer, the entire college was caught in a frenzy of anticipation. Freedom, at last, no matter how short lived, was coming our way.
It was a time for celebration. Reveling in the madness, we were all crazily happy! One fine morning in late September, Sid came and sat beside me in the college lawns, under the shade of a yellowing peepal tree that was gently showering its multi hued leaves upon us. In all seriousness, he asked, or rather stated, “Come to Calcutta with me this Durga Puja.”
“Are you kidding or what? How do I leave everyone here behind? And what do I tell them? Would your parents welcome me there?” a flurry of questions in a single second!
My uncle and aunt would never allow me to go this far on a journey. And that too with a boy, notwithstanding that he was my best friend. What would I say to them?
Sid remained silent. I don’t know why, but he felt hurt. I tried to reason with him.
Durga Puja had always been the best part of his childhood in his ancestral haveli at Calcutta. The only occasion when every single member of the family would be present under one roof, singing, dancing, worshipping the goddess, making merry! He was so attached to the celebration and this time, he wanted to share it with me. Couldn’t I understand this simple logic?
Oh yes, I could! I wanted to go with all my heart, but I couldn’t explain this to my uncle and aunt. Especially now that Sid was no longer just my best friend. He had become the only person I cared for in life. And he didn’t even know that!
Failing miserably to win the battle of words, I gave in. The next day, he arrived at my house and sought permission for me to accompany him on the trip, or rather, his yearly pilgrimage to Calcutta.
Imagine my surprise, when my uncle agreed, without a single word of protest. Apparently, he trusted the guy even more than I did!
Glad, that all was well; I started packing my bags, with expert advice from Sid. The result- By the time I had finished, my bag had more sarees than jeans, a feat I had never been able to achieve before. Sarees, he explained, rocked at such occasions and just so I wouldn’t flinch, he poured in some flattery for the effect!
The train tickets were booked in tatkal. It was a long journey spanning more than 48 hours. On the way, I witnessed some of the most memorable scenes of the Indian landscape; from the yellow mustard and sugarcane fields to the dusty tracks of villages, from the azure blue sky to the polluted grey waters of the Ganges, the hustle and bustle at the station, the sights, sounds and smells of festivity, as Calcutta drew nearer….breathtakingly dazzling and beautiful! And the best part was Sid’s commentary. How well he knew that route and sharing the journey with him made it more alive somehow!
Finally, we reached Calcutta and I met Sid’s parents at the station. They were smiling ear to ear and aunty hugged me tight. We were meeting after a long time. However, when Sid came, carrying the luggage and stood before his parents, their smiles faded and tears sprang out of their moist eyes. I was perplexed, probably because I had never known what it is like for parents and children to see each other after a long time!
Sid hugged them both! Big, warm bear hugs that again caused brief smiles to appear on their tired faces. Something was amiss, but what! Nothing, Sid assured me, when I asked him. But there was still a nagging fear at the back of my mind. I was deliriously happy and somehow couldn’t shake the suspicion that it wouldn’t last very long!
The next few days flew by. Everybody prepared for the Puja while Sid and I went on a world tour in Maniktala, the district where their ancestral haveli was situated. The banks of the narrow village brook provided the perfect place to sit and talk.
Sid was no longer his happy go lucky self. When I asked him what was wrong with him, he mumbled some incoherent reply and with another one of those goofy grins, tousled my hair and started running. I couldn’t catch him, of course. He was simply too tall and too fast for me.
We wandered some more, plucked unripe oranges from the short trees and made faces at each other, wincing in disgust at their sourness! After hours of loitering about in freedom, we came back to the haveli.
The Puja was just two days away.
The landscape mirrored my heart. I was so overjoyed at his undivided attention and it seemed as if all of Maniktala was reflecting my happiness. With ladies and girls dressed in auspicious red, aalta on their feet, delicate jewellery peeking out from beneath the draped sarees, huge murtis and even bigger pandals to cheer our senses, nothing could be more perfect than this!
At night when the pujas were performed in the entire family’s presence, I somehow felt connected to them….like a part of their family….like a part of Sid’s family….like it was my own family. And then the Prasad, sandesh was already my favourite, I had confessed to Sid’s mom. And, so, she made it a point to feed them to me as Prasad, daily!! Love, in various forms and hues, was in the air. And I realized with increasing certainty that Sid was the one for me!
Yet, there were no butterflies in my stomach when I saw him, no apprehensions, nothing of that sort. Perhaps it was because I had already bared myself, my darkest secrets, my strongest emotions, my heart and my soul before him. I had confided in him like I had not done with anybody ever before. He knew me more than I knew myself.
Even I thought I was his closest confidant with whom he loved to share all that bothered him. I believed I was the one who had the privilege of being privy to all his secrets. I felt I knew more of him than anybody else could possibly hope to know, ever.
How utterly wrong I was!!!!
It was Ashtami- The day the mahapuja was to be performed. Maniktala was bathed in light and colour and joy. Sid’s haveli wore a new look that day, a look that captivated every passerby, a look that left me speechless.
With inexperienced hands, and with a lot of help from Sid’s mom, I managed to apply aalta on my feet, wear tiny gold earrings, and drape the classic white saree with the scarlet border onto myself. Aunty applied a big scarlet bindi on my broad forehead, before exclaiming with joy as to how pretty I looked! It was 6 in the evening and the festivity was about to begin.
But I was waiting for Sid. I had not met him since morning and wanted to know how I looked, secretly hoping that he would like my “bangla” avatar!!!
So, I rushed to his room on the first floor of the haveli, smearing fresh aalta on the stairs and disturbing the neat folds of mysaree in the process. Without warning him of my arrival, I pushed open the door to his room, and, in a bid to surprise him, shouted in excitement, “How do I look?”
It was my turn to be shocked.
Sid lay unconscious in a pool of blood. Blood that flowed scarlet, as scarlet as the aalta on my toes, as scarlet as the bindi on my forehead, while the only person I loved, lay there, unmoving, in its wake.
I froze. I wanted to scream with all my might but no sound came out. It was only when aunty came, following me that I managed to escape my trance and pointed towards Sid. With a blood curdling scream, aunty called out his name and suddenly, I felt dizzy. A feeling of falling into a dark abyss was all that I remembered!
When I woke up at night, I found myself in a hospital ward, under the shocking white of the tube light in a room that reeked of phenyl and disinfectant. In a flash, the events came rushing back to me and I could hear my heart pounding in my ears.
Where is Sid? The only question that came to me; the only name I could think of, was his. I felt torn inside with nobody to tell me where I was, where he was. I stepped out of the ward and found aunty waiting, tears in her eyes, ruining the kajal she had applied with so much care.
I collapsed into her arms.
Breathless with emotion, and choking on my own words, I asked her about Sid. She was silent before she finally gathered the courage to speak. He was in that very hospital in a ward on the same floor as mine, fighting a battle which was already out of his hands. Aunty helped me to his room and asked me to go in alone, for Sid wanted to talk to me.
He was sitting upright on his hospital bed, and I was relieved to see him grinning like before. And then, I spotted all the needle patches on his arms and the tubes poking out of him. I bit my lip so he wouldn’t have to see me cry.
I fell on his bed. But I could no longer hold my tears. My eyes burned with tears before they finally rolled on to my cheeks. Sid’s grin faded and I collapsed into his arms. It was an eternity before I could stop myself from sobbing so hard. All the while he stayed silent and let me be, stroking my hair with all his gentleness and love.
When I was done, and when his hospital robe was completely drenched at the shoulders, he looked into my eyes and began to speak.
“Promise me you won’t cry anymore and promise me you won’t speak a word till I have finished.”
Lost and disoriented, I did as told.
He continued, “There are times in life when we have to let go of the people we love the most. At times it is because of our stupid fallacies and at times it is destiny. Today, as I hold you in my arms for the first time, it could very well be the last.”
At his words, tears sprang out of my eyes again but I wiped them quickly, not to break my promise.
“I have lung cancer, Jia. And I don’t have long to live. And I am sorry you had to find it out like this. I am sorry because I thought you did not deserve all this pain and yet, you had to bear it like this. I am so sorry for all the hurt I have caused you.”
The dam broke and a flood of tears gushed out of my wet, stinging eyes. He wiped them all away with his warm hands and continued, “There is no hope, no matter what my parents tell you or themselves. The chemo hurts me more than it heals and I do not have the strength to go on any more. You must know that life will go on even when I am no longer by your side in the physical form. And you can always count on me being there, watching over you like an angel, as long as you promise me that you will keep me in your heart.”
“I love you”, was all that I could manage to say through my incessant sobs.
“I know. And I love you too. I want you to know that no matter where you are, and no matter where I go after I die, we will always be together in our hearts. You were my first and last love. And I know I was your first too. But that does not mean you will never love again. A time will come when you will have to open your heart to another person again, and when you are ready to do that, then, I will be truly free. I command you to love, because that is the most wonderful thing that can happen to you and also to me….because I will always love you, beyond this lifetime and into the next.
But that does not mean that you will keep on crying like silly and drench my robe.”
But, I could not stop myself this time and I don’t know for how long I wept, before the nurse came and took me away from him. All night long, while Maniktala danced and reveled in celebration, I sat outside his ward, praying and fighting with Maa Durga, pleading with all I had, to let him be healthy and whole again. I offered the goddess my life in the bargain.
But, she must have declined the offer. The next morning, Sid was no more. My life had ended with his. And nothing people said or did could ever bring me to life again. I was as good as a corpse, ready to be cremated, my ashes scattered over the place by the cold, harsh winds.
Sid was gone. And I had to keep my promise of living without him.
It has been ten years since that fateful Durga Puja night.
The autumn I fell in love for the first and the last time, became the autumn in which I lost him and myself, along with him, forever.
I broke my promise to you, Sid. I could not learn to love again. And I know that makes you sad. But I am going on today; I have learnt to live without you, discovering that I am strong enough to carry on. I am living my dream of travelling the world, writing what I love to write, and being loved by all.
But still when darkness falls, and night devours the world in its wake, I can’t help crying. I can’t help myself from missing you and I wonder if my life without you is anything more than an eclipse.