I was returning home like cows and goats do at dusk. The autumn had begun. The scattered leaves on the road looked like my life. I was returning from village 190 km away from my home. The road was little paved and rough road like my life.
I was sitting beside my mother. She came back to her favourite subject. Nilesh suno “today again Priya’s mother called. What should I do?”
“Mom I can’t stop her.”
“Who is asking you to stop her, Mom asked? Just say yes for the marriage my son. You are going to be 35. Family is also important”.
It was nothing new for me. I had been listening the same for the last several years. Suddenly the doorbell rang. Mother hastily went and opened the door. Suman Aunty was standing in front of the door. “Suman aunty has come”, mother said. “Look, as soon as she came to know that you have come she brought four boxes of food as if I do not know how to make Food. Now she will feed my son. Why she comes and goes to my kitchen? She knows I don’t like her going into my kitchen”.
Mother loved her kitchen very much and why shouldn’t she? It was not only mother’s kitchen but was mother’s most favourite place. She often used to hide all her sorrows in the kitchen. When she was happy, she would make kheer and when she was sad, she would cut onions so as to conceal her tears. Since childhood, I saw mother hiding her sorrows in the kitchen. Mother loved her kitchen very much, she would not let anyone in and even I was not allowed to touch anything in her kitchen. Her kitchen was not less than a treasure, where so much was hidden. At times I wanted to fill everything in a bag and take it to a small room.
It was quite difficult to explain to my mother that I was well aware of the loneliness and its ache which he lived with. Memories of the past make a person very lonely. If the past is good, sweet memories lingers but if the past is bad, life becomes like a range of unending mountains.
Mother’s was a love marriage in her early age. She had run away from home without anyone’s consent. She left all her relations for my father. One day my father disclosed that he was in love with another girl. My father didn’t even think that the girl who married him leaving her whole world for him was a mother of a 6 year old child. Without thinking, father had handed over the divorce papers to mother to sign. “Sign it right now, I cannot bear you in this house anymore. I was too young to understand all these thing. I just couldn’t understand the cries of my mother. I would cling to my mother every time, she cried. She would hold me tightly to her chest.
After getting divorced, my father never looked back. I completed my education and got a good government school teacher job. My mother kept smiling face even while facing every difficult situation. She had the impression that I did not understand her pain. Perhaps she did not know that her every trouble touched me right up to the deep core of my heart. That’s why I didn’t want to get married. I had lost belief in love or institution of marriage.
I love my mother very much. For me love for my Mother was ultimate. I wanted to live for my mother. I did not want anyone else to come between me and my mother. I was unable to explain to my mother that I did not want to have a third person between her and me?
Suddenly I came back from the past realising that Suman aunty and mother were talking. I quickly got up again and went to have a bath. About 10 minutes when I came back after having a bath, I saw Priya’s message on my phone.
Priya was my best friend since childhood. But I could not think of making her my life partner, maybe because I was running away from myself or reluctant to shoulder family responsibilities.
Today, I was to join school. I had to leave early. Suman aunty was busy talking to the mother. Mother repeated the same question again in front of Aunty. “ Nilesh, you are 35 and Priya has also shown interest in you. What do you want? Priya is a good girl. I came and sat on the swing. This time, I looked at mother with angry eyes and I could only say that I love someone else. Suman aunt got up and left after hearing this. Now there was probably no reason left for her to stop. I told my mother “I will come soon and talk to her. I was feeling like hiding myself somewhere in the clouds, maybe, I myself could not understand, why I said so. The existence of the sky was disappearing amongst the questions arising in my mind.
The watchman of the school was happy to see me. “How are you Mangal?” I asked him. He was at 90 degrees position. “You recognized me?” “Why I wouldn’t Saab? I had worked in this school earlier too.
The old film song began to fill the silence of the car. . It was getting dark and I hurriedly put everything in the car because I knew I would be alone and the loneliness would eat me up so I ensured that I take all my things from home. I opened the door of the house. I played my favourite song on my music system. I don’t know when I fell asleep listening to the song. I got up early in the morning and got ready to go to school.
The noise of the children could be heard from the nearby school. There was the sound of the school bell ringing. An eighteen years old cute girl appeared from the back of my car. I asked her name. Devanti was the quick reply. She was a teacher. She came from a nearby village. She had studied till class 12. “I am the highest literate among the girls of the village”. She said with great pride.
I started taking some interest in her. She would talk a lot with laughter but was reluctant to talk about love. I felt Love for Devanti, to be honest. The girl was very sweet. I could not understand as to what was there in her which enamoured me.
I gave her some fresh magazines and books while congratulating her. Her face blossomed. How difficult it was to find books in the village. I knew it. From that day onwards she started coming to me.
She was always welcome at my place. Her sonorous voice used to fill the silence of the house. She sought answers to all her queries and laugh a lot. She asked- if you are an artist how many years did you study. She liked scanning the pages of the magazines.
She would stare at me constantly sitting quietly, I had noticed. I could not know that behind this constant gaze, love for me was blossoming in her mind.
“If you are an artist, why don’t you fill colour in your deserted life”. I asked her “you tell me how to fill it”. She would laugh and say “get married. Life will look very beautiful. Live life”. I asked “why don’t you marry”. She laughed and said, “Oh sir I am still a child. Her childish innocence was taking me closer to her. It was nice to hear her voice. ”Will you teach me to paint a canvas”. She asked like a child.” If you will teach me I will open a big school”. I laughed loudly. She said “it is not that I do not have big dreams, sir. I also want to become an artist but it is a very expensive hobby. So I cannot afford”. I am also an artist. There is a very big family, Sir. I have younger brothers and sisters in my house. There is a mother and many relatives. There are aunts, uncles, maternal grandparents, grandmothers, grandfathers”.
“Everyone is there then why do you work”, I asked?
“Everyone is there sir, but there is no one to bear our expenses. So I have to come here to earn. I get a little money from here, I go to the office and do little help of the teachers and the villagers think, I am a teacher so they send their kids to me for tuitions. I teach the children of the village”.
With great hesitation I asked “what does your father do”?
She said her father was no more. Filling her eyes with tears, she quickly ran away from my room.
After a few days, when I was sitting in the room listening to music, she appeared and said that she brought kheer for me. “Do you like it? Have it with my hands and tell me how it tastes?” I asked her again “you didn’t tell me what your father was”.
My Bapuji was Pradhan of three Villages. He was well educated and very handsome. There was no one as educated and as tall like him.
But Now I can only see a plain gloomy face of my mother. All her decorations were gone with Babuji. He wanted to make me exactly like himself, he wanted me to have a big name but, maybe, the God did not approve of this. So called him early.
“Relationships are only names. I realized after his departure. Father died 3 years ago, after that all the relatives turned away from us. No one came to us. Even the last rites of father were performed with great difficulty. There was nothing to eat in the house. With great difficulty I got a small job in this school. I work here. I get some money and the somehow bear the household expenses”.
“My dad used to help everyone. My father had a great reputation in all the three villages. He used to help everyone but did not save anything for us. Mother used to quarrel again and again, but father would not listen”.
I was listening to her with great uneasiness and felt that she might have faced great difficulties. I only used to consider my life difficult but my life was much better than her life.
After the arrival of Devanti in my life, time used to fly. She would come to my room and use my perfumes. She would make some things on my canvas. She would pick up some things, put some things in my bag or would put something in her bag quietly.
Now often Devanti would come to my room sat for hours and talk to me, make tea for me. Sometimes she would bring something from home for me. We sat together and eat food and sometimes played with colours on canvas and sometimes make pictures. She had done magic on me. Her knowledge and choice of colours was extra ordinary. I started feeling love for her. One day I asked her “Devanti, do you want to study further. She replied in affirmative. I told her, “ Devanti, I can help you if you want to study further. But ultimately, you will have to put in labour to complete it. One should have dreams in life. What will be the purpose of dreams that you have seen. You are born to full fill your dreams, not your parents’ dreams. If you don’t want that no child should face problems like you did then you have to set up a platform for them. You have to go ahead and study a lot, you have to full fill your babuji’s dream too and earn a big name for yourself.
Now I started realizing that there is a law of nature that closer a person comes the farther she goes and perhaps the same thing was happening with me. I was telling Devanti that the distance from the the house to the school is the same as the distance from the Kitchen to the moon. The only thing, you need is courage to tread that path. You take the initiative and don’t worry. I shall support you at every step.
Waking up the next morning, I called the watchman. Mangal, come soon. Mangal came running to me. I asked Mangal to go quickly and call Devanti. Mangal went to school and came back after few minutes and informed that Devanti had not come. Madam ji was saying that she has gone to get her admission in the college. In the evening, when I was reading the newspaper sitting in my garden, someone closed my eyes from behind and asked “tell me who I am? “My mad Devanti”. I asked about admission. She happily said “yes, admission is done and I have to join tomorrow”. I offered some amount to her but she refused to take. She said she got good Marks in 12th class that’s why they gave her a scholarship. I did not have to pay. “Sir, you were right. Mujhe meri Manzil mil gayi hai. Now I will achieve the heights I dreamt of, become a great painter like you, I will study very hard. It will not be feasible for me to go from village to college every day so I will stay at hostel. But I will come soon to meet you.
I waited a lot for Devanti but she did not come back. Then after five years I got posting in a school in Moradabad.
When you don’t have a companion you get friendly with the songs, colours and the nearby buildings.
It is necessary to do this because life does not run with two meals a day.
This morning I had to leave early. There was an annual honour ceremony organized by Agneepath in Gandhi Art Gallery located in Greater Kailash Part I, Delhi. This program was organized by The Lalit kala Academy to promote Artists. More than 40 Artist were to be honoured in this program who had made a different identity by working in different fields. I was the Chief Guest. As I reached the New Delhi station there was a strange rush. Everyone was running. I quickly packed my luggage and started for the exit gate. I knew that a car would be waiting for me. I quickly exited the gate. Suddenly my eyes fell on a lady in front of me. There a girl was fighting with the auto driver. I tried to recognize her but couldn’t. I face was very familiar.
I was given a very warm welcome. The programme began. The first name called was Ms Devanti. I got conscious hearing the name-Devanti. I got an utter surprise when I saw Devanti coming towards the stage. She was still as beautiful as 10 years ago. Round red dot bindi on her broad forehead was looking very beautiful. The white coloured sari was also looking very nice on her .She looked no less beautiful than a fairy. Seeing her I felt like I had waited to see for ages. Devanti’s dream was really fulfilled, she had done all that she wanted to do since childhood. Today she had become a big artist, bigger than me and getting the prestigious award. She did social service. She had won the biggest award as a social worker. As I proceeded to give her the award, all the cameramen of the TV channel surrounded us. I wanted to talk to her but could not. The programme continued for about 4 hours and after that there was a dinner programme. I stood with a mug of coffee in my hand. My eyes were searching Devanti. I quickly finished my coffee and as I was about to put the cup of coffee on the table, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned back. Devanti was standing in front of me. She said, “Sir, because of you I have fulfilled my dream. I could not have accomplished it if you had not motivated me that day. I would never have reached here. Thanking me, she folded both her hands and with great affection she handed over a big packet to me as a gift. I asked her “what is this”? She said, “Sir, I cannot gift you anything for what you did for me, but yes, one day I had told you that I would become a great painter like you. I don’t know whether I have become a great painter like you or not but I have made a painting for you which I am gifting you. I opened the painting. It was a very beautiful Painting but I could not understand anything. I asked her what you have made. She said “sir I have depicted love in this painting. Love is not always wrong. Yes, it may be wrong if you do it at the teenage. Sir, you have seen only one form of love. There are many forms of love. Every form of love is lovely. Love can change your life. I realized that when I loved you and your love helped me to move forward and after that I fell in love again which helped me to reach here. She called Rohan. Please come here Rohan. Rohan came there. She told me how Rohan helped her to get here. How Rohan helps many poor children as a social worker. How they together run a very big organization. Today both of them get awards. Then she told that 3 years ago she married Rohan and they both are very happy with each other. She said, Sir, we should not run away from responsibilities. The institution of marriage is not wrong but running away from the responsibilities arising after marriage is incorrect. I realized She was telling the truth. Suddenly I felt an emptiness that was eating me. Now with that emptiness I did not want to spend my life any more. I wanted someone who would sit and talk to me. As soon as I got back to Moradabad, I called my mother. I wanted to return home. I was very tired, didn’t want to run away anymore. Just wanted to stop, wanted to stay where I was. I reached my home in the afternoon and rang the bell. Mother opened the door and hugged me tightly. As I touched her feet, she asked “Nilesh kab kar rahe ho shadi”. I asked her to search a girl. Mother asked what was the need to find a girl. Priya is still waiting for you .she hasn’t married yet. I asked why Priya didn’t marry as yet. She said Suman persuaded her a lot but Priya said that she loved only you and she cannot love anyone other than you. If you were not in her life then she world not let anyone into her life. Even today she loves you as much as she used to do in her childhood. Mother further said “Nilesh go. She is still waiting for you”. I got up and ran desperately. I rang the doorbell. Suman aunty opened the door. She was very happy to see me. She hugged me, blessed me a lot and asked the purpose of my coming. I asked where Priya was? She replied “Priya is sleeping in her room”. I rushed to her room and saw she was in a deep sleep. I did not want to disturb her. I slowly put the blanket on her. She was sleeping very soundly and I wanted to wrap the sleeping beauty in my lap. I wanted to kiss her, wanted to love her so much, wanted to tell that I loved her so much and I can’t live without her. I had not seen Priya, for very long time. I was thinking Priya must have forgotten me but seeing her room I realized how much she loved me. In her room dried flowers were lying which I had brought for her. She kept all her childhood pictures in a single photo frame. At many places She had written – Missing you Nilesh .she had put a small tag of love you Nilesh. I wanted to pick it up but I was not having the courage. I picked up a small slip and wrote a note on it. We often used to write such notes in childhood to convey our messages. We would keep those notes in the diary or in the copy. Then whoever got the time used to reply to that note in the form of a note. I picked up a note from her table and wrote it. I left a blank space in every line as she could fill her name in those spaces.
My life is…..
You are mine……..
I am yours ……
My best friend is…..
I am waiting…….
Leaving the note near her pillow, I came home quietly. And started waiting.
The hands of the clock were not moving ahead.
Suddenly the doorbell rang. It was raining heavily. I ran to open the door. Priya was standing at the door. I shouted “why you came in such heavy rains”. Priya smiled and said “you made me wait for a very long time Nilesh. You made me wait a lot. I closed his mouth with my hands and put her head on my chest. Now I did not want to lose this feeling anymore. Just wanted to hold it with me for the rest of my life. I wanted time to stop that moment there and then.