Thursday 15 August 2013

Short Story 2013 Shortlist, Neelam Chandra Saxena

The Hiatus

As Edward Becker raised his hands to bowl the last ball of the innings, different thoughts raced in his mind. It was his first international match. His captain had reposed complete faith over him and he being assigned the crucial task of bowling the last over in this critical match. He was feeling a bit insecure and unsteady. Would he be able to deliver? Just then, Diya's face flashed in his mind. She was bubbling with joy and chirpy as ever. Her face beamed as she said, "Edward, you can do it." He closed his eyes for a split second. He suddenly felt an inrush of energy. Yes, he could do it. Had he not already taken five wickets since the starting of the match? He spun his ball with renewed enthusiasm and vigour. This ball could make or break the game. The rival team was just three runs short of victory.

The ball went briskly to the batsman and he had no chance. The ball touched the edge of his bat and landed in the hands of Edward once again. He jumped, he danced, he shrieked. He was extremely overjoyed. The captain and all his other teammates hugged him and threw him in the air. He felt that he was at the top.

Edward was getting married to Diya in the evening and he wanted to share this moment with his sweetheart. But he knew that with the festivities around, he could not leave. He was the centre of attraction of everybody – the cricket fraternity in general and his teammates in particular. Paparazzi were up with the slogan 'A star is born'.

Edward just wanted to see Diya – her chirpy eyes, her naughty gaze and her silky hair. He had asked her to wear a red saree for their wedding. He had seen a few Indians wearing saree before and had always been fascinated by the saree. It really looked glamorous and stunning. Diya was a Hindu and he knew how she would have loved to have a Hindu wedding. But the Hindu weddings were more elaborate and they had decided that they would arrange for it soon, once the one day series were over. He knew that she would be delighted to wear the saree for the time being.

While the champagne bottle was opened for him, Edward was again taken down the memory lane. He had pursued English Literature earlier, not because it interested him but since he could not think of something better to do. Similarly, he had applied for this post of Assistant Editor in the famous social magazine 'Buzz' because he could not think of anything better. He had reached the venue of the interview without any expectations or goal.

The interview was postponed by two hours. He was sitting lazily when a beautiful girl came and sat next to him. She looked stunning in her red tunic top and denim. But what bemused him most were her eyes which had a naughty look in them. He felt electric sparks flying. To start the conversation, he asked her her name. With a glimmer in her eyes she replied, "Diya".
“Your name sounds interesting. What does it mean? Is it an Indian name?” he asked her. He had heard the name 'Diya' for the first time and it sounded not only different, but also intriguing.

She scrutinized his tall and narrow body frame before replying, "Diya means a candle in Hindi; a candle which lightens the world while it itself burns."
“Too philosophical for me!” he continued, “And what makes dear Diya apply for this job as an assistant editor in this magazine?”
He had asked this question without giving it much of a thought, but she replied almost instantly, vigorously and forcefully, "Of course, because writing is my passion. Why else do you think one applies for a job?"
Edward had never thought about it that way. But her reply made him think, reflect and contemplate. While he sat pondering, there was a phone call on Diya's mobile. Although she was speaking very softly, her conversation was quite audible. She was going through a financial crisis.

After some time, the receptionist announced the sequence in which the candidates had to go inside. He was happy to find that Diya was second last, just before him. He felt drawn towards her in a strange way.

When Diya was summoned, he watched her tall figure merrily going inside with a confident gait. The phone call had made him sure that she was going through hard times, but her poise reflected none of it. To Edward, the tall figure was a manifestation of dynamism and vivacity. He wondered if he had even a little of the passion which she exhibited.

When his turn came, he went inside leisurely. The lady conducting the interview asked him, "And why do you think you deserve the job, Edward?"
"Madam, after coming here for the interview, I am sure that I don’t deserve the job at all. I may be having a lot of degrees, but I lack the passion which is necessary for this job. I think Ms Diya deserves this job," he replied after a small gap.
The lady smiled and said, "So did we!" Then after a pause she asked him, "And what do you think is your passion Edward?"
"My passion is cricket and I am going to pursue that." Edward could hear the words being uttered from his mouth, but he was not sure if he was really speaking them.

There was an initial selection for the cricket team of 'Best Club' the next day. He had really enjoyed playing cricket, but never thought of it as a career. Now, he knew it was his heart speaking and he had to follow his heart. He suddenly made up his mind to attend the selections. He wondered if he could really make it to the final Australian cricket team someday which he had often dreamt as a child.
As he took out his car, he saw Diya walking leisurely. He stopped and asked, "Could I give the beautiful lady a lift?"

She mumbled, "My house is quite nearby and I do not really need a lift."
But Edward was insistent and finally she got inside. They talked and chatted on the way. He knew that he wanted to hear her melodious voice, see her lovely eyes and just enjoy her company again and again. He asked himself if it was love at first sight. He wondered if she liked him. But, he knew that only time could provide answers to his questions. If it was an infatuation, it would wither away. If it was love, it would stay with him forever and forever and forever.

Since then, Edward's rise in cricket had been phenomenal. He had become everybody's envy as a spin bowler. When he got selected for the Australian cricket team four years later, he was ecstatic. He knew he owed it all to Diya for her continuous encouragement. Otherwise, he would have been an Assistant Editor – a field for which he was not so suited. It was Diya who fitted the job and had already carved out a niche for herself in the field. She had written fiery articles for which she had won a lot of accolades. He decided to propose Diya as he went to her with the news of his selection. After all, he had known Diya since four long years!
Since the first match of the one day series were going on, Diya had suggested that they keep their marriage low profile. It was decided that they would get married in the church in a simple ceremony and then announce their marriage after the one day series. She did not want Edward's attention to be diverted to anything other than cricket at that point of time.
Edward heaved a sigh when the party was finally over. He wanted to reach the church immediately. He wanted to see Diya in her red saree. He wanted to feel her in his arms, he wanted to hug her, kiss her and tell her how much he loved her. He knew that Diya must have been waiting for him with equal anxiety.

However, Edward was astounded when he found no trace of Diya at the church. He tried to call her on her mobile, but it was switched off. He had sent her atleast twenty messages since the match was over. When he did not find her, realization dawned upon him that Diya had not replied to either of the messages. He called up her brother, Divesh. He was equally stunned. He informed him that she had left home almost two hours back! Where was Diya?
Edward was mad. He immediately took out his car and headed towards her house. Was she caught in a traffic jam? He could not see her familiar face anywhere on the way. Divesh also informed him that he could not trace Diya.

As he was wondering what he should do next, finally there was a call from Diya's number. He was overjoyed. Even before she could speak, he yelled, "Diya, what is this? Where the hell are you? I have been searching you all over like mad and..."

Somebody silenced him on the phone before he could complete the sentence. He heard an authoritative voice say, "Inspector Thomas here. Diya has been badly hurt and we are in the Concord hospital. We saw your messages in her mobile and decided to call you. Can you come down immediately?"

Silently, Edward informed Divesh and they rushed to the hospital. Edward watched Diya in disbelief as he peeped through the glass partition. She lay unconscious in her red saree – the same red saree, which Edward had requested her to wear! But, her body was also red – red with blood all over. The doctors were trying to revive her. He wanted to go and hold her in his arms. But sadly, no one was allowed inside.

The Inspector had also reached there by then and he patted his back as he said, "Congrats for winning the match, Edward. I believe you love the girl. She had been attacked by some fellows. While we are still trying to nab the culprits and ascertain the cause, it is being said that it was a racial attack. Please have patience and help us catch the culprits. I know it hurts, but we are trying our best..."

Edward could hear no further. He sat down on the floor and started sobbing loudly. Why had he asked her to wear the damned saree? He glanced at Diya once again. Somebody came and patted his shoulder. It was the Doctor. He informed him, "Edward, Diya is alive, but she is in a coma. In such cases, sometimes the patient comes back to life almost instantaneously and sometimes it takes days and days."

Edward interrupted him, "And sometimes, the patient never comes back to life, isn't it?"
The Doctor lowered his head as he said, "Yes, in some cases the patient never normalizes."
Edward shouted, "Diya, please draw out your passion and zest to live life. I need you Diya, I need you. I can't live without you. You are my passion for life Diya, you are my passion." He rested his head against the wall and cried for hours.

Next day, Doctors allowed him to go and meet her. He held her hands for hours, cuddled her and embraced her. But, there were no signs of life. He was devastated. He did not want to live. Paparazzi had come to know the developments in his life and they were following him and the case. The two youths who had attacked Diya were caught. But, he could simply not come out of his shock and distress. After all, catching them would not bring back his Diya.
One day, as Edward entered his apartment, he saw Diya's face mocking at him from the life size poster in his living room. Her naughty gaze was asking him, “Won’t you kiss me darling? I want to savour your lips!”

He rested against the poster and wept inconsolably. Suddenly there was a tap on his shoulders. He looked back to find it was Divesh. He embraced Divesh and sobbed. Divesh asked, "Edward, I hope you are you are going to play your match tomorrow?"
Edward squealed, "Divesh, how the hell can you think of the match. Our dear Diya is lying in hospital – lifeless. Have you forgotten this?"

Divesh replied, "No, I have not forgotten it and can never forget it. But, do you remember why you loved Diya in the first place? For her zeal and passion for life, isn't it? Think from her point of view. Will she be happy to find that you have left playing?"

Edward was stunned by what Divesh had said. As he sat on the sofa, Diya flashed in his mind once again. He loved her. He had never thought of her nationality or her religion or his own nationality or religion while falling in love. Love is so pure, selfless and noble. It encompasses all boundaries of race, nation, religion and creed. But hatred is selfish and self-centred. It wraps itself with differences, hatred and biases. Why can't people simply love people? Today it was his Diya who was attacked. Tomorrow it could be any one else – some Amy, some Zeenat or some Manisha who will have to go through all this in some other part of the world. Why?

By morning he had taken a firm decision. He was going to play. Not for himself, but for his Diya and for all the Amys and Zeenats and Manishas. He was going to play and tell the world through the paparazzi to love human beings as human beings. Diya had told him once that Diya means a candle which lightens the world while it itself burns. True to her name, till Diya burnt, the world would atleast give a thought before committing such acts of hatred!

In the morning he was quite calm as he reached Diya's room in the hospital. He whispered in her ears, "Diya, you know I have learnt something more in life. Till now, we were both working for our passions. But now, I shall be playing for love – love for you and love for the mankind. And I no longer feel perturbed or insecure. I know I am going to help my team win today. When we get married, I will have much more to tell you."

For a moment Edward felt that Diya smiled. However, when he touched her again, there were no signs of life. But he was sure that Diya would come back to life one day. And he was ready to wait for her forever and forever and forever.

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