My Last Return

25 01 2007

Those times were crazy. Those days were strange. Those times were eerie. I didn’t know what I was doing yet I did them nevertheless. I was like a man who loved burning himself. Those days were indeed eerie.

After emerging from a number of failures, disappointments, peer negligence I changed; became angry so to say. I revolted and rebelled at every accepted idea of others. It gave me a pleasure to be a bohemian and non-conformalist. So to say. I became frantic, I became desperate. Perhaps to prove my worth to the world, perhaps to prove my worth to peers or just perhaps to prove my worth to myself. Who knows what was in my mind. But I constantly subjected myself and those around me to my acts and ideas of rebellion, selfishness and freneticism. The waves of time just proved to be a catalyst in this concoction of my confusion. Soon from the laps of years a man utterly disappointed and rebellious emerged. It was not that I was performing badly in my academics. I was never a topper or the first boy, but my views on academics subjects were heeded, were listened to and most of the times executed. But the effects of my self destruction was taking tolls on every facet of my psyche. I realized I was kamekazeing myself but there was no return for there was no beginning.I desisted stubbornly any attempt by my well wishers to cure me of my self destruction. But I came to like it…soon the urge to destruct myself took over me and devoured me. Those were indeed the craziest times.

 

***

“Excuse me. Can you please show me the library”- a sweet feminine voice rang behind my ears… And I realized something is going to happen. I just didn’t know it was for good or bad…

I met her first that day. She was not supposed to be someone whom I was supposed to remember. She was just not supposed to be.

The next week it was an unexpected place which changed the course of my life. I, in my search of non-conformalism have found my own place to hide myself from the world, a place to hide myself from the scrutiny of my soul. Our college was set amidst the hills of Nilgiris. So behind the college there were many rocks and crevices which often proved to be a deterring factor for any human exploration. I chose one of the shades of a big boulder as my point of bodhi. Incidentally that day I saw somebody else occupying my refuge. It was her. At first I was angry, very angry at God knows what, but angry nevertheless. The next moment she looked back and seeing my anger she just smiled apologetically. I never saw that smile anywhere. It just gave a morphine to the beast inside me. That was the first day I saw her face ever so carefully. She said these six words and left-“ I guess it belongs to you”

Time flew. I didn’t see much of her except at library at times. And rarely anywhere else.

The leaves of maple turned yellow and then golden…The year passed showing us the glimpse of our destiny and the entire year we didn’t know each others name. But her memories were not supposed to leave me behind. I took it and fondled it with great care.

And I kept it safely in some attic of mine to save it from the conflagration I waged outside.

She was not beautiful but attractive. I don’t know why I felt that, and I prefer to not know it. I couldn’t understand what attracted me…I think her eyes had something very serene, very peaceful … something placid, which told me… I don’t know but I guess it told something to me, something especially to me. Or perhaps I read it that way. Or perhaps I preferred to read it that way. It was not that “I felt unbridled love at first sight” theory. No it was not that. I saw it as a calling I felt in her eyes which told me silently to calm the beast inside me. The puzzle still remained what her eyes told to me. But I didn’t pay much attention and quickly forgot about her at least for those days, as my academics were suffering this time pretty badly.

They say the greatest of pains takes you hold when you are least aware. It got me and teared me from inside. It shook me and this was a pain I could not tolerate.

I thought “What the heck! I am going to talk to her and convince myself this is just another girl with lots of honey in her voice and nothing in her brains. And I maybe for the rest of times hallucinating about her eyes”. I went up to her the very next day and asked if she could meet me in canteen at break.

Days went on and I realized this was one girl with whom I would like to be with. I didn’t feel some mushy mushy kind of love but I just felt secure. Those were the time when the fire quelled down inside me and the beast of self mortification put to sleep. I just felt live once again. Slowly we came to share each others company in most of our times. And as for me I shared my refuge with her. Because I didn’t require a refuge anymore, she was my refuge. We could never meet in the college hours. She used to be in some different floor of a different block and as for me I was never in the academic block. Always in canteen or maybe nowhere. The only place when we had each other was when she would come behind the college after college hours. At times I would be sitting behind that rock and lost in my thoughts when she would silently come from somewhere and sit besides me and at other times it was I who did it. We had lots of intimate moments and moments of lonely bliss of each others company. But I never touched her and she never touched me. And I felt good and comfortable in that way. We often spent a lot of time behind that boulder in periods of silent introspection when we didn’t have anything to talk about. She believed its better not to talk anything when we don’t have anything to say. So she in those times experienced the beauty of lush green moistly beauty of Nilgiris and I tried to understand what she was thinking. In those time I wondered who was she to me and perhaps she meditated on some greater truths of life. I started realizing she was far more matured than I was. Her ways were far more sophisticated and she read my thoughts far more easily than I read hers.

One day while we were engaged in our bouts of self introspection which often happened when we didn’t have anything to speak on, she looked towards me and asked

“Why?”

“Why what”-I asked with a puzzled voice.

“Why?” sadly and placidly. As if she just wanted to hear it from my lips.

I didn’t say anything for I was puzzled. I at times cursed my inability to understand her thoughts.

With tears in her eyes she asked me

“Soham, why are you waging this war with yourself?”

I didn’t have anything to say. I didn’t know what to tell. What should I have told to her? How can I say I am a defeated man and I am taking revenge from this world? I am a man with disappointments and failure .How could I say, just how?

Her arm wrapped around me and she took me in her arms and asked once again “Why are you destroying yourself in this fire. This fire is not burning others, its devouring you., Soham just why?”

I couldn’t muster courage to face her. She was serene, she was sad and she was trying to save me. I couldn’t. My lips didn’t. What I did was a mute request and a whispering plea. I whispered to her- “Help me. . .save me from this wildfire. This storm is going to kill me….”

I realized I was lost. I realized somebody found me. I realized she found me.

My life became more beautiful. I liked it. I started liking her. As for her I didn’t know. But nevertheless her mute company was enough to make me feel secured. I didn’t particularly insist her to talk and break the serenity. So we often spoke nothing and just sat behind the big boulder, which came to mean so much to me.

One day when we were lost in the beauty of nature, I couldn’t control my urge to speak to her.

I asked-“So,what are you thinking?”

She looked towards me and told dreamily-“How unlucky is the nature that it cant see its own beauty”

“Stupid thoughts”

She jerked her head up and gave a look which told me that was not appreciated.

And again a lapse of silence. I was desperate to talk with her.

I flicked open one of her class notes and told her in a vain attempt to make her talk.

“You have got a nice handwriting”

She answered me back in something which I didn’t understand.

Silence.

I told picking a cue from nowhere “I would someday like to play guitar”

“Then why don’t you do that?”

“No time” I replied with a carelessness of a plunderer.

“And besides who will teach me. No time for a teacher as well” I continued.

“Buy a book if you want to.”

I continued “Who will buy me a book? Besides I don’t have money to buy a book”

She made another disapproving look and told “Don’t complain. Cribbing suits only the weak. If you want to, then learn else forget it.”

And I was mummed with that stoic advice. That was the end of the discussion.

Somebody told me “Change is the only thing permanent in this world”. I felt this doesn’t hold true for me. She proved me wrong once again. I was changing. I smiled more. I soon enough started hating the beast to whom till the other day I happily surrendered. She gave me a purpose and I made it sure it was something I will have at least for her sake. It was first her happiness which drove this change. But as I changed I changed for myself… and I changed myself for her. I didn’t understand what I was going through but I liked seeing my face again in the mirror. I looked forward once again to the new sunrise and her smile.

***

The best laid plans are often laid bare by the minutiae , they tell it. It was October 3rd that year. And she lost her parents in a freaky car accident. Police told us that the car with whom her parents collided with had inferior quality brake screws. So it was that day when the screws broke off and brakes just didn’t hit the rubber. Her father was spot dead. Her mother died on the way to hospital. And she broke down on my shoulders.

Days became weeks and weeks gave way to months. Five months later, I thought about for many times, but my guts and situation never allowed me. During those days she turned her already spiritual heart towards religion. She was left alone. Supported by her grandparents, she changed from spiritual to devoted. She started coming more to that place of ours and most of the times she used to sit there and sit there alone. That really worried me. I was worried about her.

We were in final year. I got placed with a great pay package. Once again I was devoured , but it was GMAT this time. I concentrated on my academics more and more. I tried being with her. But she simply was happy not to have me. She too got placed but it seemed she was no more interested in anything. I tried talking to her, but children can never make their parents understand. As for me I was a child in maturity to her. I would get frustrated talking to her and making her understand the futility of this act. She would simply heave a sigh of helplessness. One day as she was sitting in our old meeting ground behind the college, lost again in her infinite thoughts I felt it was coming.I once again started my old train of arguments, how she is destroying herself;But she told me this time blankly, “Move on Soham. Move on” This time it was far more determined and resolute. She told “Soham I can’t carry your burden anymore. Grow up and Move on.”

She continued-“ And if you want to help me, please give your this refuge to me”

That day I came to my room and wept for her. Today when I think about it I feel I was selfish not to go back to her and return the favor she did to me. This time her fire was burning her up. Deep inside me, now I feel, I thought I had a career to build. Selfish me!

 

***

 

That year I cracked GMAT with a score which led to a scholarship call from Harvard and I kicked my job in India. I left for US. Slowly I lost her contacts, she moved on I leapt ahead. I graduated summa cum laude from Harvard. Two years flew by when top financial company McKinsely hired me with an astronomical pay packet. Before I joined I felt I should go back once to India to see my old friends. In those days I heard about her. After graduating she joined her job and suffered a severe nervous breakdown. She was terminated from her job on grounds of medical clause. On last news one old friend told me about her. Her new neighbour  infact lived near her grandparents home. She took to religion in a great way after she quit her job. She found her refuge in celibacy in one particularly obscure spiritual organization whom my friends talk about on a very positive note. I never expected things to go about this way. This friend of mine even gave the name of that math. I jotted it down on a piece of paper. That evening I was very upset. The next month I returned to US to join my job.

 

***

 

Today it had been almost 40 years that I am living in US. Many things happened in between. My brother got into IIT and he is now working as a top honcho of a top company. He is in Singapore. Dad passed away with heart attack. Ma couldnt make it more than 6yrs without Dad.I got married to a woman whose smile reminded in some ways of my old flame back in hey days of my college. My brother got married. Our children have made it big in their lives and are living comfortably. Retired six years back as the Head of Operations of McKinsely. Five years back I became a widower. I have become hard nosed and luxury seeking man. I today drink Coca-Cola instead of water and see Indians in Lincoln with the eyes of an American.

Long years back I received a small parcel from India. I didn’t know what to expect. I never asked for anything which I needed so urgently that it had to be parceled. With great doubts I opened it to find a thin book which was titled “Guitar Chords”. I was stunned at having received a parcel of a thing like this. I opened the book to be even more stunned. It was sent by her. Inside there was a small note

Best of Luck for your guitar

From Me

The handwriting told me everything about the sender.

For some time I kept it safely

Stiff with 60years of experience, my bones are giving me ultimatums.

I still carry on. I am still carrying on.

 

***

Today I woke up in the morning with a dream of hers. Till breakfast a smile hung around my face. This old fatigued memory still remembers those rare instances when we used to laugh each others heart out. My memory still lived with me, I was glad. Slowly the benign smile changed into a storm of regret, shame and remorse. For the first time in my life I felt a tornado of guilt at leaving her in her dire moment. I just regret if only I tried to pull her out of this… if only…

I am getting ready for my next odyssey. My odyssey back to India… my odyssey back to find her… my journey back to life. As of now I don’t know what has possessed me but I have to find her. I will make this journey for her. Covering half of the globe I will make this last journey for her. I have to find her not for anybody’s sake but for my sake.

 

 

The board read in big blue letters Swami Vedatirth Gyanpith, Badrinath,UP. I took out a rumpled sheet of paper long forgotten and yellowed long back by the mehendi of time. I compared my handwritten note of the math she was in or perhaps she is in. I gave a silent thanks to that friend of mine who gave this piece if information in a pub some forty years back. Before me stood a decrepit building which still showed signs of human existence, but the level of existence nevertheless betrayed the truth. Full of apprehension, I opened the creaky wooden makeshift gate which just served its purpose or none at all. After three months of heartbreaking searches of a math which the resurgent India’s new children have forgotten. It took three months of tear-streaming search to find the result of my selfishness. I went up there and saw a sole woman of middle age tending to a destitute woman. My affluent looks and dress stood to be a misfit amongst the decrepit shanty remains of what was supposed to be a math. The woman turned towards me and stood there for a long minute. I was puzzled and confused at the same time. I didn’t know what to do. Guess, 60 years of experience never taught to live through these things isn’t it? She slowly walked towards me and asked me just one question “ Are you searching for her?”

Following the change of government from an encouraging Hindu one to a string of secular Congress one the math’s administration fell into the hands of corrupt men. What the local politicos couldn’t do, the immoral and corrupt administrators did. Public became antagonistic to the math and once proud looking math reduced to a state of neglect. As for her she stayed here till her dying days. She passed away seven years back exactly the day I was made the Head of McKinsely. It seemed an irony to me that half the globe across I was celebrating while she was dying in a shanty decrepit so called math.

“Can I ask you a question?” I hesitatingly asked not knowing what the answer will be.

“Please do.”- she told offering me a glass of water from the mossy pitcher nearby. Three months back I would have never touched that water I guess her search have humbled me. I can today sleep on hard ground and drink unpackaged water. I drank it up and posed my question.

“ How come you know I was looking for her?”

“She told me on her death bed that one day you will come, you will be dressed smartly searching for her but your body betraying every bit of apprehension and doubt. You will not know what to do and will be stunned at the condition of the building. And yes….”

She went to a broken wooden cupboard which used to be a good antique but now a mere proof of time. She opened it and took out a yellowish paper which boldly took the lashings of time.

“…she left this letter for you. On her death bed she wrote it. Didn’t allow me to write it. She told me you will need it” and handed me the paper to me.

My eyes got moist and with infinite fears I opened it to see the same handwriting I found on her class notes. The woman left me with my solitude and her letter. It went on:

“Dear Soham

By the time you find this letter I will be long gone, but be brave and don’t cry. Look I can see and feel your tears. Please for my sake don’t cry.

You know Soham I always knew you will come back. That day when I told you to move on and be brave, I was trying to convince that to myself. Didn’t know we were so much together that I will confuse you as my heart. You see I realized I couldn’t live without you but I was stunned when you never even came back once to me. I guess that was the punishment I was supposed to suffer. You remember that book of guitar notes which I sent to you? You know that was my first salary. Hope you took to guitar.

You know Soham, I was searching for a support and I expected yours. I didn’t find it and took refuge to God. At times God too played cruel on me. But I won’t complain.

Cribbing suits only the weak. When I joined this math I thought I will be at peace with myself. But the mahants of this math didn’t do me that favour. At times I had to adorn their beds to live in the math and at others the pleasure of power holders. Soham be brave, I wanted to tell these things badly. I couldn’t that’s why I am telling it to you. Don’t think about these if they disturb you.You can think them, if you want to, as an insenile woman’s rantings. Soham go home. I will always be with you. My best wishes will be always with you. Please do me a last favour. I have told Sunitha to preserve my ashes. If she didn’t she must have faced some problem, if she has then please take them to our old place where we used to be together and bury them there. This way your precense will be always with me.

Go back Soham. Your kids would be waiting for you. You must have got kids strong and happy. Great isn’t it? You by now would be a grandfather .Sometimes I dream about our kids. Long time back I used to think how they would have looked. Would they have inherited your nose and my cheeks? Stupid thoughts aren’t they?

I am getting tired, dear I am getting tired. The darkness of time is enveloping my thoughts, the tentacles of wither is spreading. Take me to your refuge for one last time,I want to be there once again”

 

(c) Soham Das

 

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4 responses

6 07 2007
surya loyalguy

hey man…truth is after i read this in coll…i got a flavour of eritting short stories…it was serene…

15 08 2007
prakrithi

Soham ….

well, that was reallllyy beautiful a story…sad, but beautiful..n specially the letter…
great work.. keep writin 🙂

16 08 2007
Soham Das

Thanks Prakrithi, I couldnt visit your blog. Why dont you enable your profile. That way, we can both access each other thoughts and views.
By the way, I have moved this blog t oa different site.: http://www.soulwitness.wordpress.com

Expecting you to drop by.

2 09 2007
The Soul and the Witness: My Last Return « The Soul and The Witness

[…] The Soul and the Witness: My Last Return This story is very dear to me for many reasons. The girl in the story is a reflection of at least two women, whom I met fleetingly, yet left a deep afterthought in my psyche. The reader should not understand that the writer fell in love with both of them. No, at least not with one of them. Just a bitter sweet rendezvous for a fleeting moment. One more reason is, it showed me what I can do. I would like to believe it’s a good story with lots of different technical points to note. There was no mention of the name of the most important character of this story. Its written in a very brisk style and so on and so forth. Without much further ado, read it and let yourself lose in that world in which protagonist often finds himself when he is in his sitting all alone amidst the lap of Nilgiris. […]

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