Monday, 15 September 2014

Short Story 2014 Longlist, Arjun Mukherjee

That Thing Called Love

Some nights are so dark that you have to close your eyes to get away from that darkness.  When stars stop shining and the moon ceases to oblige. You fee like Adam without Eve, like Rob Crusoe without Man Friday. So cold that you feel like embracing the sun to rejuvenate yourself, so numb that you need a pain to reassure you that you are still alive. It’s not just a sad night, its saddest of all nights when that thing called love leaves you for ever.

Rajiv spotted her the first time in an overcrowded, overly loud new year’s party.  Wherever she went somehow his eyes followed her. Her effervescence made her omnipresent.  She seemed to know an old friend of his, Shalini. This was his chance. Rajiv mustered whatever courage he could and wrote a note to Shalini. ‘Who is this intriguing girl in the strange shade of blue?’ However as luck would have it landed straight to her. She betrayed little emotions as she scribbled something hastily on the crumpled napkin. It’s not blue its indigo- Sara. Just as Rajiv finished reading, the lights were off. It’s the new year, and the first thing Rajiv did was to walk up to her and confess, ‘I was dying to talk to you from the last year.’

It was so very magical from the very start. Straight out of J K Rowling’s stories. Time flied faster than ever before.  In just three months Rajiv proposed her in the weirdest of all places. It was a hot sultry afternoon in the busy streets of Kolkata with buses, taxis, autos, rickshaws all around and the signal which was red for so long that it seemed that the other two lights were temporarily dysfunctional. Suddenly out of nowhere, Rajiv said most unromantically, ‘Will you marry me?’ Perhaps he thought that stuck in this jam she had nowhere to run. Whatever be the reason, it worked. She said yes.

What followed was equally magical. They got married in the next six months in the St Cathedral Church. Sara was into hardcore sales while Rajiv was in advertisements. They both had long working hours and it was only much late in night that they reached home. It amazed Rajiv how could Sara look the way she looked after carrying a whole day’s tiredness and having so many heated arguments with intolerable vendors. Yes, the cranberry lipsticks were worn out at the edges, her kajal was out of its place but he could read her eyes. It spelt she was too restless to open the door too eager to jump into his arms.
Hectic working hours left little for them to spend quality time with one another. Strangely enough it was only when they were stuck in traffics they had time for each other. No rush for they can hardly escape it, so close with the dark glasses up. Suddenly it became the best place to talk.  Sara was not usual. You can never expect what she is going to do or say next. It was in one such jam that Sara said one such thing. ‘You know I looked so much like her when I was a little girl’, pointing to a misty eyed girl clad in a torn skirt cleaning the cars. Rajiv turned around. There she stood oblivious of the scorching sun. Barefooted but not daunted by the stones that hurt her soft feet. Busy polishing every inch of the windowpane as if it is the most important thing in her life. In spite of so many odds she was not shaken. Rajiv was not so sure whether she looked like Sara or not but she was indeed endearing.  Rajiv called her. ‘What is your name?’ ‘Kajri, I live there.’ Rajiv couldn’t figure out where; all he could see was one car after another. He gave her a fifty rupee note, a bit too much for her paltry services and they went away. It was only because of Sara that Rajiv made it a point to slow down whenever he passed the Linseys street crossing.  However, soon the casual encounters became a little special. Kajri would invariably come running whenever she spotted the black Swift. Sara would buy her chocolates, ice cream and loads of other stuff and Kajri would go on talking about her life. How it used to rain at a stretch for hours in her village, when it got dark it was so dark you can’t see the person standing next to you and then finally the moon comes up.  Kajri’s mother died when she was six years old. Her father came to Kolkata in search of work but one fine day he left never to return again. She stayed with her aunt but on the condition that she’ll earn 100 rupees a day. She was never short of stories and yet not repetitive. It surprised Rajiv that her life was more interesting than most people he came across. Every day was a new struggle for her to stay alive.

Seventeenth of September 2013 was the happiest day of Rajiv’s life. That morning Sara said, ‘Today I’m not going to office, so please don’t forget to get the weekly ration, don’t forget to take the keys, don’t be late and yes before I forget I am expecting.’ He was crazy about kids and she knew it. That was typical of Sara. Rajiv still remembers one night when he was desperate to go out for a candle-lit dinner but Sara was too lazy to leave the home. After lot of arguments she simply took the fuse off and ordered a large chicken golden delight pizza with extra cheese (Rajiv’s favourite). Not to forget the long candles, which Sara bought at an exorbitant price that Rajiv was sure will go to waste. 

All her life Sara barely took leaves which she encashed at the right time. The only person who was really bothered by her absence was Kajri. ‘Why is maam not with you?’ Rajiv was not ready for such a demanding question and was unsure of what to say. One day all of a sudden Kajri said, ‘Can you buy me some ribbons?’ ‘No, I can’t’, Rajiv said on her face. ‘Maam would have got them in a jiffy.’ Rajiv was perplexed but nonetheless he assured her he’d get it for her. For the next two weeks Kajri constantly pestered him for the ribbons, which he’ll most obviously forget. She was also kind enough not to charge him as an advance payment. Then finally one day she stopped asking. The very next day Rajiv brought her the best ribbons he could get hold of. Kajri never looked happier. Just out of curiosity what she would do with something she waited for so eagerly Rajiv followed her. Three lanes down the corner Kajri reached her home. There was no one inside so Rajiv peeped in. She took out a broken comb with very few sticks remaining and gently combed her hair and tied the ribbon. Then with all the care in the world she took out a broken piece of glass. She turned left then she turned right, again turned left. Kajri definitely felt like a princess for that one moment. For that one moment Rajiv doubted if there was anyone happier anywhere in this world.

There were no complications in Sara’s pregnancy, until the very last month. The doctors used one jargon after another, which Rajiv could barely understand. ‘I don’t know all that, but if it is between mother and child save the mother.’ The doctors assured him of that but they failed. ‘She was adamant for the baby. Unfortunately we couldn’t save the baby and she is sinking.’ Rajiv went in her room where Sara laid motionlessly. ‘Why did you do this to me?’ Sara could barely talk. ‘I wanted to have our baby, someone so very you, someone so very me.’ Rajiv was chocking.  ‘I am sorry’, she said as she lifted her hands and held his hand tightly. It was an unexpectedly rainy cold June evening when Sara passed away. As she lied still in the coffin Rajiv kept on looking at her face. The face he saw for the first time in an overcrowded, overly loud new year’s party and instantly fell in love. He could never really tell her how much he loved her. He was not that expressive. Sometimes too intimidated by her presence and at others too conscious to make a shameless proclamation of his emotions. Yet Sara would know. ‘Why do you love me so much’, she asked now and then.

Three weeks has gone by and it was for the first time Rajiv cried tonight. Nights like these never end and there was little that could mitigate this pain. As he closed his eyes, he experienced a freefall. Nothing to hold on to nothing to aspire for, no destination, no destiny. Rajiv decided to leave Kolkata for ever. Everything here reminded him of Sara. The lazy Sunday mornings when she would cuddle in the bed not ready to get up even for her favourite breakfast. The busy working days, when she had hardly anytime to talk and her conversations over the cell were unusually short, with her usual ok byes. Not to forget the nights when she held him oh so very tightly in her arms; for Rajiv it was the safest place in the entire world.    

Rajiv applied for a transfer in Bangalore and in about a month’s time it was sanctioned. As he took the Linseys Street crossing for the one last time it reminded him of Sara more than ever before. It was in this very place where he proposed to her, with full surety of rejection. It was here only Sara kissed him for the first time. Rajiv was never so nervous before, he felt as if the entire world was watching them. Rajiv was lost in his thoughts and hardly noticed Kajri as she desperately waved behind the closed windows. Rajiv lowered the glass. ‘Where’s maam?’ ‘I don’t know.’ ‘You look sad.’ ‘I am.’ ‘Even I am sad.’ ‘Why?’ ‘I heard my aunt telling my uncle yesterday night to get rid of me for I can’t earn enough for them.’ It was then that it struck Rajiv. ‘Will you come with me?’ ‘Where?’ ‘A new place, a new world.’ Kajri didn’t answer but her silence said it all. ‘Come in.’ ‘Wait, I will come in a minute.’ ‘You don’t have to take anything.’ ‘No, I must.’ She went away and soon came running back with her only possession, the broken glass. Rajiv was about to ask what will you do with this, but stopped. He realized all she had was this broken glass and all he had was a broken heart and somehow they fit perfectly to complete each other. ‘You know you look like your maam used to look when she was a little girl.’ Kajri blushed and held his hand tightly. Rajiv realized for her it was the safest place in the entire world.  Rajiv felt happy as he drove away. He knew he was taking a part of Sara with her. That thing called love never ever dies.    

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