Tuesday 10 August 2021

Garima Singh, ShortStory 2021 Longlist


As soon as I stepped at the entrance of the railway station, my ears were struck by the commotion of the crowd. As usual the station was thronged with commuters, tourists and locals. It also narrates the grandeur of Indian Railways in some or other way.

The month of January is quite cold in Delhi, but being a Delhiite, I have got used to this severe winter. I struggled to get on the train and after a while sat comfortably on the seat allotted to me. Fortunately, it was a low birth. Getting a window seat makes the journey even more exciting. I have always been a fan of natural beauty and I love to enjoy beautiful views from my window seat. There was still some time left for the train to start.

The cacophony of vendors echoing through one compartment to another. I stopped one tea seller as nothing could compare to the heavenly taste of hot ginger tea in winters. I gave him 10 Rs. and grabbed the hot tea given in a small earthen pot. Soon I was immersed in the sweetness of tea. The train was also flagged off on time and the compartment was now buzzing with the faint chit chat of people.

As the journey progressed, I found myself caught between the reels of past and present. My mind became clogged up with the bittersweet memories of the past. The memories I used to cherish have now become a painful reminder of my past. Everything was going well in my life two years ago until that fateful day commenced. My father lost his legs in an accident and was terminated from the job. I left my post-graduation midway to support my family. I also have a younger brother who was recently diagnosed with blood cancer. This news came to me like a disaster and washed away all my hopes in a single wave. However, the doctor said that if he gets proper treatment, he’ll be fine. That’s why I made myself a machine. I work day and night to collect money for his treatment. But...now I am both physically and mentally exhausted. Without knowing it, I fell victim to depression, the silent killer.

Life is not something that acts on our wishes, it's us who acts on the wishes of life. We all are helpless puppets dancing on the beat of time, willingly or unwillingly, there is nothing in between. Anyway, I was suggested to go for a trip to get some relief. And here I’m going to visit the beautiful and divine place, Rishikesh. Hope I feel liberated after this journey.

Averting my eyes from the window, I took a brief look at the people around me. I could see a middle-aged couple, a young man who was reading the newspaper, a woman pampering her girl child and a group of college students who were having fun by playing games. If you want to enjoy any trip to the fullest then go with your friends as the level of fun increases tenfold when you’re with friends. If only I could have some friends too. In the rush to manage everything I couldn't manage to keep up with my friends.

A loud giggle dismounted me from the train of my thoughts abruptly. I looked at the girl who was telling jokes to her friends and burst out laughing hysterically before she actually told them the main punch of the joke. Well, this made me laugh too. The whole group stared at me and I cursed myself to laugh.

“Come. Join us.” The girl gestured to me to come.
With a little reluctance, I joined them. “Hello. Everyone. I’m Niyati.”

The girl introduced herself and her friends. Her name was Ritu. As we went on to discuss further, I came to know that Ritu is from Delhi and she is ailing from a deadly heart disease. Unfortunately, she only has a few months and she wanted to do everything in this short span of time before her time gets over. I felt devastated looking at her face while she jovially told me her dreams. But what amazed me most was her vivacity even after knowing she was on the verge of dying.

Noticing my sadness, she said, “I’ve accepted my fate and trust me, I’m grateful to God, who has given me everything in this short life. I’ve wonderful friends, loving and understanding parents. I’m the lead vocalist of my college band. I have everything that I dreamt of. The almighty God has given me every happiness in this life however, the number of days is limited though. Still, I’m happy because life is too short to live with sadness, regrets and complaints, I believe. Just accept what is served on your plate irrespective of its taste.

“You’re a brave girl, Ritu.” I appreciated her for her maturity.

“Everyone is brave, it's just that some of them waste their energy in thinking and cursing their fate instead of working with passion to change their circumstances.” She replied.

After chatting for some time with her, I came back to my seat. Our conversation was much more than the exchange of thoughts and experiences; it was like a therapy session for me. After a very long time I managed to break the walls of my insecurities and let the light enter into me to illuminate the darkest corner of my soul. Stealing some precious moments from the book of her life, she told me many stories of her previous trips and adventures. The girl’s life was indeed full of beautiful memories.

She believes that, at the time of departure, we see some glimpse of our most powerful memories, it doesn't matter if it is happy or sad. She shared that her only wish is to depart with a light heart at the time of her departure, she only wants to see happy memories, good days and smiling faces of her parents. I was very much moved by this thought of her.

Ritu and her group invited me to hang out with them during my stay in Rishikesh and without giving it a second thought I said yes. I really enjoyed their company, especially Ritu.

After sometime I ate lunch packed by mom as she is always concerned about me eating junk food or anything from the train. I called her and like any other mom she kept asking if I had lunch or not. I could sense her agitation as I was travelling alone but I assured her that I was fine and I even made a few friends here. Feeling elated that I have got company of good people for my trip, she hung up the call asking me to take care.

In front of me, I saw a young mother trying to make her daughter sleep by singing a sweet lullaby. I couldn't restrain myself to compliment her for her sweet voice. “You are blessed with a lovely voice.”

“Even my name is Mishti.” She replied and we both laughed.
“Thanks for the compliment. Are you also going to Rishikesh?” She asked politely.

I nodded my head and said, “Yes. Don't mind, but usually people go on trips with family.”

“But, I’m not on the trip. I’m going for my job as a yoga teacher. And... I divorced my husband before I came here.” She answered bluntly.

“I am sorry to hear that.” I felt ashamed for scraping her fresh wound. It would be really difficult for her; the child is also too young to understand the split between her parents.

“Don't be sorry. I think I'm happy now. Being a woman, I invested a lot of energy and effort to ignite the extinguished flame of happiness in my married life. Sometimes it's good to let go of people in our lives. A relationship without love and respect is like a soulless body, there is no life in it.”

“Well, he was not like that before. He was a nice man. Constant losses in business lead him to alcohol consumption. He thought that he would feel good but instead he became abusive and addicted. I did whatever it takes to help him come out of that state but all in vain. He became violent too.”

“For our child, her father was a hero. However, I couldn't manage to hide it all from my baby as it happened in front of her eyes.”

“And one day, she came to me and said that she doesn't like her father anymore. He is no longer a hero to her because a hero is never abusive.”

I tried to convince my husband to at least think about our daughter but he turned deaf ears to my requests. I decided to divorce him as I wanted my daughter to grow under the umbrella of love and protection. I prepared papers with utter difficulties and asked my husband to sign on it. While he was looking at the paper my heart was thumping really hard. With every passing second my hope of saving my shattered home was fluctuating. Even at that time I was praying to God to change his heart and mind toward his wife and daughter. After a minute he took a pen and... signed the papers. My all dreams shattered but there was no noise. If he had asked me to not leave him, I would have stayed. But to my shock, neither did he ask me where I was going with the child nor did he stop me. That was the last nail in the coffin.”

“Maybe I failed as a wife and as a woman to save my home but I certainly won as a mother. Had it not been for my daughter I would have stayed with him tolerating his abuses. But as a mother this was something against my will to see my innocent child suffer.” Her eyes were pouring with the grief of separation. She quickly wiped off her tears and said, “I’m sorry. You must be wondering why I’m telling you my personal matter. Sorry, I couldn't control myself.”

“Not at all. In fact, I admire you for your bravery. You have proved that no warrior is as strong as a mother. I’m happy for you and your daughter.” I replied softly, caressing her baby.

I don't know why but I really felt liberated after listening to her story. Although it was not easy for her, it's a relief that she is happy now. Sometimes it's not about choosing right or wrong, it's about choosing happiness, choosing peace and above all, choosing yourself.

While I was consumed in my thoughts the screeching sound of the train whistle jolted me. The train reached the destination. We all collected our luggage and were super excited for the days to come.

I gave a tight hug to Mishti and wished her good luck for her new journey. She also hugged me back and asked me to take care.

The seven-day trip with Ritu and her group felt like heavy rain in my barren heart. I met many people during my time on the train. What I found most common yet surprising was everyone has a story and that everyone has their own definition of hell and heaven. It's just that we came across those devils and angels at a particular time and on a particular level of life. We all are different yet alike.

Here every person is going through a tough phase. Somewhere I felt ashamed to hold such a small problem, making it a big misery of my life when I saw many people suffering from problems far bigger than me. I felt that my problem was nothing.

A month later, I got the news of Ritu’s demise. I was told that she was on her trip to Ladakh when she passed away. She refused hospitalisation as she knew beforehand that she wouldn't survive. There was a smile on her face like she was ready to leave. Her departure was just as peaceful and painless as she wanted it to be.

She taught me many things about life, one of them is to never celebrate miseries and never cherish them. Whenever there is any in your life, just smile and say, let's kill it. This attitude makes your life a little easier.

Life is not easy; it is full of struggles. But it is also true that there is no fun in living life in the absence of struggle. We all are just mere characters in this stage of life and the play goes on the stage of life until our story reaches a happy ending. There is a beautiful reminder that perseverance, determination and good intentions will prepare you to take advantage of any opportunity in life. It is said that good things happen to good people sooner or later, till then we have to go on our journey with a new hope and faith, no matter how many times we fall and get lost, we will definitely reach our destination by staying on that path.

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