Tuesday, December 3, 2013

'Rights' and Wrongs

One could have easily misconstrued him as a member of a rebel outfit. His olive green shirt recalled some memories from TV news telecasts with someone 'reporting from Chhatisgarh'. A small dose of fear mixed with some feeling of uncertainty arrived in my heart before I could take notice of it. I was sitting on a wooden jute cot with Subhash at its other end. Small piglets were being locked away in kennels. Almost every kid below 5 was draped in mud and was playing without pants. One may call the area congested but not dirty. One of the reasons may be that people would go distances to defecate, to keep their neighborhood clean.  

An old man and a few middle-aged women listened carefully to the results of oral test of their children. Subhash seemed positive, unlike the earlier visit when he found students performing quite bad on paragraph reading. Though Subhash says he struggled hard for making it to 'Pratham' and harder to be good at the job, he believes that efforts shall be made on 'fertile ground'. (Pratham is the largest NGO working on elementary education in India and Subhash is Pratham's District Coordinator for Rohtas.) Here, expectations are the precursors to frustrations. But today, the ‘fertility’ found glitters through his smile. 'Geeta', aged 9, a Class V student is able to read a paragraph nicely. Better than expected. Enough 'fertile' to justify to us the time and effort being put in. 

I and Subhash have teamed up to visit Mahadalit Tolas to promote the evening sitting for learning of kids. A young person from the Tola is selected and is made responsible for arranging sitting space and maintain discipline in the sitting classes. Out of the three places, we have been able to run it at two places. Subhash has learnt a number of tools to engage with kids by creating a playful atmosphere. He creates the amicable atmosphere and then we do the sense-talking with Tola people. The sense talking has already been done here. Classes stopped after they ran for three days. So, we are here to postmortem the past.

Golden paddy plants are down due to self-weight possibly singing "It's harvesting season". Almost everyone from this tola has been engaged in harvesting business since; since they don't remember. The old man saw his grandfather doing that and he handed over the torch to his grandson, Sonu, a 25 years-aged young man cradling his two kids. 

Poonam runs to see machine harvester. She is small enough to comprehend that the way of her happiness is a source of despair for her family. The Old man complaints the decrease in demand of Human harvesters. "With machine, the big farmers are able to harvest a bigha in two-three hours. Normally, one person would take two days to reap one bigha paddy field."

Kids climb over to the driver's cabin to see the features that they couldn't see till now owing to their short height. Four kids have lined up. One jumps from the top of the ladder after watching and checking carefully, allowing the one-in-waiting to follow the process. This is a circus. Probably, not a circus. A circus brings happiness to everyone but this harvester does't. I avoided falling in the trap of mental debate titled “lessened opportunities due to industrialization” and focused on the kids instead.

The ladies shout at the kids. Here parents don't coax kids like the parents of cities. Or if they do, it is a rare occasion-probably when the kids are grown-ups and it's a matter of marriage. It seems that their shouts have produced the same effect as a crow's caw, unpleasant to hear but bearable. 

Just few moments later, Sunil shouts at the kids. For kids, this is surely not the crow's caw. It's raw, tough and harsh. The last kid has not yet seen the driver's chamber, but he jumps off and runs to us. The four add up to make the group larger, about 10 kids. Presence of Sunil turned the atmosphere grave, but the tests and the instructions on education continued. The olive dress had stirred up our curiosity. Our eyes exchanged each other's faces once. He intervened to know who we were. It was annoying to ignore him, but we ignored. 

Normally, a village meeting gets swayed in an unwanted direction if an attention is paid to a single person. But then, he was not a single person. Not with this olive green uniform often used by paramilitary. We didn't answer; instead asked him a question. "Can you read this?" 
Pretty confident, he replied: " Yes."
But, he couldn't read beyond few words. The middle-aged ladies erupted in laughter. 
"I can read the whole passage if you give it to me tomorrow.", Sunil said.
The laughter continued in the background, this time more members joining already laughing ones. My cat of curiosity finally belled the dress question "Where did you get this dress from?",
He laughed, "From a friend in the police."

I looked at the old man to see his response to the answer. He smiled. The laughter of the people dispelled the smallest traces of fear. From my prior experiences of visits to remote villages which had a recent past of left extremism, I could say that extremism doesn't leave the soil of conversation fertile enough for laughter. The conversations there are barren with suspicion, fear, resentment and logic.

"Come here and sit with your books.", Sunil commanded. Then he ran to his house to bring a plastic sheet for kids to sit. Kids went to their homes and brought books and a dibiya. Few minutes later, they were studying and the Olive green-clad boy was the disciplinarian. Sunil promised to make kids study daily in the evening. Sunil is a resource, even if he cannot read or write. What is required in kids' routine is someone to enforce evening-studying habit and a disciplinarian would be a perfect match. This kind of solution seems sustainable and impact-promising. Two days later, Sunil is still making kids sit and study.  

After spending one more hour, we returned. In the midway, I saw some kids running on roads with gunny bags in hand. I stopped one kid and asked "From where are you coming?"
"Khet been ke
I turned my head a bit backward to seek its meaning from Subhash. 
"They are coming back after collecting the leftovers of the Harvester Machine." Subhash said with a calculated smile.
"And no one objects?"
"No, the big farmers burn the fields after harvest. Also, the amount is very feeble. The kids would sell the paddy at shops to buy something for their pleasure: chocolates, may be biscuits."

This was not considered as theft. It was like the act of collecting mangoes when there was a wind. Nature’s gift bestowed. Like millions of other kids, my house was also near to a small mango orchard that would keep us calling, sometimes in our dreams. In my family and neighborhood, even collecting the fallen mangoes was considered bad, but I and my brothers rarely submitted to those beliefs of our parents and elders at that age. Well, who first spoke the word "theft"? And who firstly said, that stealing is wrong? ‘Theft’ is defined differently in different social groups depending on their value system. Even in our childhood, we must be having something coded in back of our minds, something pure (If children are considered to be) that made the act of mango-stealing justified in our eyes. It was probably, the “right to possess mangoes”. It was foolish like “right to love and seek love.” Even throwing pebbles to collect mangoes was in accordance with our “right to possess mangoes” which my neighbors considered ‘theft’.

For a moment, I felt the “right to possess mangoes” true to the core, coming directly from the heart. Then the mind reasoned, "Does every ‘theft’ have to be balanced with a ‘right to possess’? Does against every 'wrong', there are few 'rights'? Does there have to be a boundary? And what that boundary would be? Is the "right to possess" morally strong enough to justify the "idea of theft" on grounds of creating a society that seems to move toward equality?"

Sunday, November 10, 2013

6 reasons why you should join Prime Minister's Rural Development Fellowship (PMRDF) Scheme

PMRDF has been in news for quite a time and many people have mailed me and phoned me to know more about the opportunity. From this batch, the fellows would get a degree in Masters in Development Practice from Tata Institute of Social Sciences.  Apart from the stipend and degree there are other aspects of the fellowship prospective fellows want to know. This is a small effort to sum up the answers in few bullet points.

  • An opportunity to get connected to a vast network of people who think like you. 

    If you don't feel good about the current state of country and
    have a desire to do something about it, you are looking at the right opportunity. The very first thing you can get confirmed by getting into this fellowship is that there are thousands of young people like you who are sensitive, desirous and able to devote their two years to make the face of rural landscape better. Meeting a huge number of young people who want India to change for good helps you get reinforced in your ideas and gives you an opportunity to be linked to people from diverse backgrounds (Agriculture, Engineering, Medicine, Law, Social Sciences, Economics etc.). The vast network may help you while helping others in the fellowship to realize yourself and your life goals. I consider the peer learning the best part of fellowship. After you get into the fellowship, the peer learning would be the best platform to get new ideas and support for your ideas.  

    For example: I assisted my district administration to implement SMS based monitoring system in Public Distribution System. Though my Collector had some previous idea about it, but most of the support on idea came from Jehanabad fellow. I discussed the idea with him and even visited him to see how that system works in his district. We are about to be done with the implementation. 
    There are numerous such examples where fellows have poured in ideas and they have been realized in other districts or other states.
  • Freedom to choose the area you want to work in

    If you ask a fellow about his/her role in district, you will get different answers. The reason: fellows are handling different roles, handling different tasks and working with several agencies. The freedom will allow you to choose the sector (Education, livelihood, health etc.) and agency you want to work with, provided your district magistrate agrees with it (he agrees in most of the cases.) Some fellows might be monitoring Flagship schemes in their district, some are busy converging departments at district level, some are working with NGOs to help them do their work effectively while some are working directly with community and government. Yet the inevitable role of reflecting and highlighting people's need to the district officials is being played by almost 90% of the fellows.
  • An opportunity to understand India's problems

    After spending two to three months in the field, you will get your answers why India is not doing what you think it should be doing? Why so many poverty-alleviation programs have not been able to eliminate poverty till now? How government sets priority for its projects/schemes and what kind of management practices are used in decision making in the government? What are the factors that are pulling back the process of much talked decentralization and participation in decision making? All these questions would automatically get answered within your three months in the field.

  •  An adventurous journey (#Metro and Urban cities Youth) 

    During this fellowship, you’ll spend your two years in most backward districts of India and some of them really very difficult and dangerous. If you feel you’re capable enough to get through the fellowship test this time (It was easier a bit last time), then you’ll probably would never get a chance to spend two years in Naxalite-affected part of Underdeveloped India in any other case. The long series of adventure will include living in a nondescript district headquarters, meeting various kinds of people and your constant struggle with heat, shortage of electricity, potable water. You will discover your own idea of India that has been unexplored and is likely to remain unexplored if you don’t spend considerable time here. You'll encounter an altogetherdifferent world of problems of unique kind. In your young age, you'll listen to hundreds of different stories of hope, struggle, survival and loss of life. It is entirely subjective to say what all this may imprint on your brain, but most of the fellows have said: it made them a better person.
  • Opportunity to work with District Administration (Collector and other district officials)   (#Rural and Sub-Urban Folks)

    We have heard of the powers of District Collector/ District Magistrate from our caring parents and blaring neighbor uncles all the time. Probably, they would have boasted of their meetings with District Collector and Collector's inspections in district offices. But they didn't tell you everything about District Collector. They didn't tell you how many servants they have, 
    what kind of powers they do have, how much committees they head and how much head-crushing pressure they handle. You get to spend good time with different IAS, this will open insights into the governance of the country. The insights will evolve at utmost pace and you’ll understand how the government thinks and acts.
  • A sense of satisfaction making differences in people's life

    There are very limited working opportunities in India that offer you a chance to work in 'rural India' for 'rural India' while being in government. Though most of ideas you’ll put in government would die after some time and you’ll have sleepless nights and depressing days, still you’ll love making small efforts that might have good and meaningful impacts on ground. 
    The joys of bringing smiles to some faces could not compare any amount of pleasure that you might derive from solving excel sheets for soap or biscuit companies. (puns intended :) Well selling biscuits and soaps are also important for the economy to run from where the fellowship has been funded.).

    To the prospective fellows: Thank you for reading this. I know you would be having a bundle of questions, I hope the FAQ section in PMRDF website may be of some help.

    Present fellows: Hello fellow 'Fellow'. :-) If you feel, I have missed something important to say or the post needs some changes, please let me know.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

पांच मिनट में अभी भी हजारों लम्हें बचे हैं

An 8 year old girl has tapped the window pane of the back seat.
"Madam, Ye phool le lo naa. Bas 10 Rs."
Both were beautiful, the girl and the flowers. A red-rose and lily packed for 10 Rs. I handed over her a new 10 Rs note and took that lily and rose, packed in aluminium foil. I rotated it holding the stem in my hand. It was beautiful, fresh and smelled like heaven. The smell reminded me of the first gifted roses and there I was, six years back. 
Vivek, the cute one who dared to gift me a red rose in college. A single rose mayn't win heart but several roses gifted regularly, often do. We became friends and then more than friends very shortly and relished beautiful moments of college life which I call 'golden moments'.

"5 minutes" denote more than mere connotation of time. Standing at park's gate in front of my hostel, he would ring. "Hey ya! Come soon. I am waiting for you for so long."
"Bas 5 minutes."
I'll take few looks in mirror and change my dress. The best defense is more offence. Sensing he might complaint for being late I would frown at him "I don't have much time. I am here for 5 minutes only."
He would glance at his watch and smile "Sorry madam. You've just 4 minutes 30 seconds left."
A sudden laughter would erupt lasting for some seconds and topic would change. We would walk on the pavement talking how the day went, the mess-food, sluts of college and our thoughts over Team Anna. The talks would finish with the colored canvass of our future plans. But a sense of uncertainty was there. And nothing drives a women crazy more than uncertainty, it stops them talking. 

"I am leaving!", I'd say with a serious expression.
"It's just 8:05. Let's take one more walk.", A begging face with sincere urge would say.
"No, I have to go back to hostel. I am leaving"
"What is wrong with you? I can't understand why your mind suddenly stops talking." He would say looking disappointed.
"Nothing wrong. This is me.", I'd smile.
"Please stay for five minutes." 
"Only five minutes. OK?"
"Yeah sure. Let's take a walk."

Did five minutes ever complete? The minute hand of clock would turn from 8:05 to 9:00, but the world seemed out of clocks, timeless. We would just walk and speak nothing. I would just feel his presence and take delight in knowing he was there for me. It was just the sense of being with him that gave me fulfillment. When there would be more silence, I would touch his hand to know if he is still here. I always sensed my world has a different meaning with him and particularly when we parted.

The nature would showcase her ordinary possessions in a beautiful way. Even chirping of birds would be able to arouse love and silence would sing thousand songs of love. It would turn 9:00 in zero time and we would have completed five rounds of the elliptical road.
"Ok Vivek. I am going back to hostel.", I'd say looking into his eyes.
"Or you can stay with me outside.We'll take a room in hotel.", He would wink and smile.
"Screw You." I'd shout with a shy smile and would return in the hostel.

Now there is one ground rule for girls hostel: Never ever mess with the guard at reception. I had received first hand experience of breaking this rule. I and Sumi were laughing over a lab-incident where Damru was caught by the professor for making a fake signature. The lady guard felt bad, probably because we didn't share our joke with her or she assumed herself to be joke's subject. 

I have always been a punctual girl. Though I reach classes late by 5 or 10 minutes but I have never broken the rule of 9, the entry time of girls hostel. When the clock struck 9 P.M, you shall find me there. But that night, the doors were closed 5 minutes before and also my watch and the hostel clock didn't match. It didn't take a second to realize this. Cruel whore! It took an hour to persuade her to let me enter the hostel.

Two days later, I befriended her with a sorry and two Haldirams Laddus. She was elated and asked me to get the recipe on how my mom has made laddus. The 'im-punctual' girls would bribe the guard by sharing eatables and bakshish. Sometimes a 5 minute call from mobile to her daughter would be enough.  

Our engineering session ended exactly two years back in  June. On 29th June, we both took same train. Vivek will get down at Allahabad and I'd go up to Delhi. We got seated and stared at each other. The eyes were heavy and words demanded efforts to come out.  Almost whole journey, he went on to make me realize that everything would turn normal after a few days. His efforts were aimed at making the last journey tear-free.

"We would keep in touch through phone and Skype. Now a days, it is not like before. We can always be in touch. I'd come to meet you in few months.", Vivek said.

I was in rapt attention and recorded his each word. It seemed that everything would fall back in place with right time. Then he started taking out his luggage from the berth below. "The train would reach Allahabad in few minutes."

A heavy cyclone begun to form in my heart and i grew stronger as he pulled out the luggage. I came taking his bag in my hand. We both looked in each other's eyes for few minutes silently, closely watching. For a moment, it seemed like a competition where the one who blinks first loses. The lips didn't move. Probably, we realized that in the 8 hours of travel we have spoken everything we wanted to or probably, we wanted to capture each other's glance for the last time as a memory that will pass the tests of time.

He looked grave. The sense of parting made him look the best male in this whole universe. Cute and extremely lovable. The train started slowing down and the loneliness started moving up, from heart to the throat.
"Sweetheart...We are meeting on 16th August.", Vivek said holding my chin with right palm.
"Okay. Now, the train has stopped Mister.", I tried to ease down the tensed romantic situation. We both pulled the luggage down on the platform.
He smiled "Give me a call after reaching Delhi."
"Take this as dinner.", He bought a food packet from the store and handed it to me.

Now, the lonely eons were to follow the small reunion of five minutes. We sat on a platform seat and hold each other knowing in our hearts that anyone may break into tears anytime. A random illogical fear entered into my heart if we are meeting last time. He always says "Life after college will change very fast, so plan it in advance." My heart always went to that statement.

He came closer to my face and kissed me on lips gently. I hugged him for few seconds and I said "I love you" slowly in his ears. The train started and his waving hand vanished with the train. But the life doesn't go as we have planned it.
The taxi-driver has managed to bring me station at right time. My cell-phone rings. It's Vivek on the other side.
"Hello! Vivek, I have just reached."
"Madam, Rush to the station. If you miss tomorrow's date, I am not going to marry you."
"Ha Ha. I am not worried. Who else is going to waste her life with you? It's only my bad fate.", I chuckled
" Come soon my Superwomen. Call me after taking your seat.", His words came along with small bits of laughter.

I have taken my seat in the train and possibly would get engaged to Vivek tomorrow. Our families had to agree with our decision and they have arranged for this engagement. I am getting engaged to him in a hope to re-live my life as countless packets of those 5 minutes. Still a thousands moments of life are left in those five minutes.

(As narrated by Akansha to me during my train journey from Delhi to Patna. She is getting married at end of this month.)

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Her last cup of tea

The door-bell has rung. Usually, it does not ring in the afternoon. It might possibly be a postman or a new visitor, if it's not an emergency. I walked out to the mirror, took a look at my face while keeping dupatta and then moved towards the door. 

When I watched through the door-lens, my lips pursed and a fountain of heaviness emerged from heart rushing towards neck and finally choking the throat. Tears are about to knock on eyes' door any moment. 

Whenever I remembered him, his image was that of the last time we had met. Memories are like Old paintings. An update is needed to bring them back to life and to present. The deep lines on his face has the history of eight years stored it in. His face has changed too much or say 'has metamorphosed'. He is an old acquaintance, an old friend. More precisely, Old Beloved.

I kept watching him through the door-lens knowing he would not notice me watching him. By then, the bell rung twice. Slowly, I lowered the door-nail and pretended to look surprised. He looked at me and smiled. I smiled back and cleared my throat. 
" Oh My God! I can't believe it's you. How did you land up here?", I asked while I gazed at his face.
"Sushi told me you're staying here. So, I thought of saying you 'hi' " He said with a smile. "Hi Rekha"
"Come in."
Slowly, he walked up to sofa, kept a small bundle of papers on table and sat gently. I sat on the sofa facing him and asked him what and how is he doing? 
"Nothing great. Just working on a script. A struggling writer." he took up today's newspaper and averted his gaze from me. Perhaps, he was sad at his lofty dreams being shaken to ground.
"hmm.. What would you like to take? I mean something hot or cold.", I rose from the sofa and asked.
He raised his gaze to look at me, "Tea. I love tea prepared by your hands."

Shyly, I smiled and entered into kitchen. His face has lost the warmth and handsomeness of the past. Youth all gone, old clothes and some traces of white hair in his mustache speak of unpleasant confrontation of his dreams with reality. I feel a bit satisfied for making the decision to move away from him at the right time. I have all the pleasures and comforts what it takes to have "a good life." I loved him then but not anymore. There are numerous things more important than love in this world. I have a happy family to live with and I love them dearly.

I moved into the kitchen and put water on the stove. Ram, my husband and I don't like tea but we serve tea to guests. It has been three months since I last prepared tea for someone. I struggled to find tea, till I found the empty container.
I walked into the Balcony and looked if anyone from Mrs Sharma's house would be there that I may ask for tea. I came into the hall room to go to Mrs. Sharma's house.
"A happy family, all over smiles.", he said looking at me holding a photograph of me, Ram and Shanya in his hand. "What is name of this little angel?"
"Shanya" I smiled broadly, "Wait a minute. I'll just be back."
I rushed to Mrs. Sharma's flat to help me get some tea. But with disappointment, they too have stopped taking tea. I came back and thought of going to the nearby shop to get some packed tea. 
"Will you come with me? I have few things to shop, then we can come back, sit comfortably, take tea and then talk.", I asked him from my bedroom looking into the mirror. 
 "Yes. Must not be too far?" His stammered voice coming from hall was added with confusion. Possibly, he was willing to come and see me in front of mirror. Possibly, the debate of entering versus not-entering made him stammered for a while. 
"No, a hundred meters from the Campus gate." Within seconds, I came out in the hall "Let's go." We locked the flat from outside, took the lift and pressed ground floor button. In the lift, while he looked towards the door, I tried to bring him into a conversation.
"Do you remember Nishi? She is staying in this colony only. We meet sometimes in the evening. Mostly on Sunday evenings."
"Yes. She is unforgettable. At least for me.", He laughed for a moment, then again the shy passive look returned to his face.

Nishi was our mutual friend and the one who introduced him to me. Nishi, me and him would go on dinners, watch movies and sit in canteen. Slowly, she started missing on the dinners to give we two more time together. Just we two. That went on for five years till I got married. Married to Ram.

The lift opens and we reach to the ground floor. We came out and I asked if he could walk a half kilometers. We walked towards the Campus gate.  
While we walked, he soon moved ahead to keep me on his right as if any car would hit me. He would do it in college days when we walked together. While crossing the road, he would hold my hand. It was so lovely that time.

We reached the shop but this time he didn't held my hand while crossing the road. He preferred to stay outside the shop. I took some pasta and a tea packet and came out after paying the bill. It was a long queue. 

When I came out, he was smoking. He threw the cigarette and rubbed it with his shoe as he saw me watching him.
"Can we have tea in that shop?", he said and pointed at a tea shop some hundred meters away. It was around 2 P.M and two hours for Shanya to come from school. 
I said "Ok. let's go."
We walked. He still digresses and goes in the middle of the road like in college days. I had to pull him back to keep him near me, on my right, at my arm's length. And when he would leave me near hostel he would say "Keep me like that always. At an arms' length. That will keep me close with life." 
"Your daughter is very cute. She has your eyes."
"And my hair too."
"Yes. You know there is something different about kids with broken teeth."
"What? They look more cute with less teeth."
"Ha Ha", I joined him in his laughter. The laughter has eased the mood and had evaporated the heaviness of the moment.

For a moment, I felt transported eight years back. There is one time machine in this earth that exists: meetings with people you love most, you care about most. I felt I haven't had this kind of laughter for too long.

He has moved nearly to the middle of the road. I pulled him, possibly my sub-conscious wanted to remind him the fact that we were in love sometime. Possibly, I felt like a pampered child of that old-love time.

We reached the tea-stall. He ordered two teas and two biscuits, bakery biscuits round in shape. The ones that I loved since my childhood. I am surprised to see him remembering my favorites. When I was leaving the college, what he gifted me along with a bunch of roses were two packets of bakery biscuits.
"You still remember them?"
"What? The biscuits."
"What I have forgotten? You can have a quiz to know your favorites." He chuckled. 
"So, Where have you been these 15 years? I can't believe I am seeing you after 10 years. Last time, it was John's marriage.", 
"No, Tom's marriage. 8 years from now."
"Oh yeah! I remember."
"I was in Mumbai. I worked with some script-writers, earned some money. Then, I had a big quarrel with one script writer who refused to give me due credit for my work.", He took one sip of tea making sound. I hated that sound. Too rustic. 
"Then?", I looked into his eyes as a kid looking into eyes of the storyteller. 
"He took credit of my work and spread a bad name for me. I went to several screenplay writers to ask for a job. Everybody denied." He said with a proud laughter expressing his disgust over his fate. 
I tried to spread gloominess over my face that I thought-would be sympathetic to him. 

"So, what are your plans now?"
I waited for an answer for around 20 seconds. My eyes fixated on him and his eyes lost on the road. I cleared my throat to indicate my presence, yet he didn't respond. Probably, he wasn't sure about his plans or he didn't want to answer this to me.

I moved to the counter to pay the tea-bills. While I stood in the line to pay the bill, he was at the door in the same posture I had left him to be. I kept the change in my purse and reached the door of the shop. But he wasn't there. I waited for sometime thinking he might have gone for a pee. But when he didn't come back after few minutes, I started feeling awkward standing there alone with no purpose. 

I walked towards one more shop thinking he might be smoking there, but he wasn't there. I went up to a hundred meters more and then turned back. I was annoyed and was confused to why he suddenly disappeared. I walked back to my flat. While coming, unusually, I turned my head in each direction to find him. Probably, he was gone. Forget about knowing him, I couldn't even see him properly. 

I unlocked the room and put the tea and pasta on the table. His bundle of letters was lying below the photograph of my husband and my daughter. I untied the bundle and opened the first letter. It was dated on my birthday 15 years before. Then second 14 years. I opened the last letter which was dated on yesterday. 

"Dear Rekha,
It was really difficult to find your current address. I don't know when you moved to Mumbai. Everything has changed from my mood to my face, from my dreams to my reality, everything has changed. If anything has not, it is the ever flowing love for you from the depths of my heart. The lightnings of the reality has hit me so hard that I'd not be able to speak this to your face.

Rekha, since you walked away from my life. No, since I was pushed back away from your life, I have written a letter on your each birthday. These 15 letters are those letters. The 16th one which you're reading now is the last one. Not the last because I would stop wishing you on your birthday from now on. or not because love for you has stopped flowing in my heart and blood. But because, I am walking away. And I am walking away with no desire of coming back. 

Four days back, I came to your apartment in the evening. I thought of giving these letters to you when you were in the basement. Then I saw you, your husband and daughter laughing over some joke, over which I also giggled. But I didn't like that yellow suit of yours, please don't wear that. Your husband is a happy humorous man and your daughter is very pretty. These letters are my monuments for you. Each letter would tell you a different love-story. These are your assets, read all of them at least once before you trash them.

I have already started looking like 55 in age of 40 and the health will deteriorate further. It's cancer. The reverse counting has started. 90 days and I'll celebrate your next birthday somewhere in the sky, may be midst stars and moon. I will hug you today. 

And I am sorry for that. That will be a small gift from you to me. Remember, you said once that we would die in each other's arms. I'll consider the last hug to be like dying in each other's arms. Sorry if you feel bad about the hug but consider it one of those missed hugs near the hostels where I used to drop you in evenings. It's one of those missed hugs. Rather than receiving love from a million people, my deep wish would be to just receive love a million times from one person, Just you. Bye."

I read the last line again.  "Rather than receiving love from a million people, my deep wish would be to just receive love a million times from one person,  Just you"

I hugged the pillow and hold it tightly. Droplets of tears that I was fighting to hold back made the pillow wet. Doorbell rang and I ran to open it hoping it might be him. 
"Mama, It was a boring day. I am hungry", Shanya said.
I hugged her and wiped my tears with dupatta. 
"Mom, why are you crying?"
"I am not crying baby, something went into my eyes."
"Let me see what is it."
"It's ok now, my sweetheart. Now, get fresh. I am preparing your favorite thing, pasta."
"Ok", Shanya rushed to her room.

Love doesn't die, it sleeps in the backyard of our memories to be awaken by few hints of the old beloved. Silently, the heart always craves for those hints. However, bad and sad courses love stories may have taken, yet when we meet our beloved, everything we find is the same, even the time moves back to 8 or 10 or 20 years. I understood him and I understood him more than anyone. I understood him like his mother. And he did me too. The difference lied in the sacrifices we were ready to make for each other. Possibly, he would have gone for a job if I would have married him. Or possibly I would have supported him financially. We could have lived in a semi-urban city, possibly Ranchi and not in Delhi. He would have continued filling my soul with inspiration and positive vibes and I could have been something else. Anyways, I am not doing anything great in Delhi?

"Mumma, Can I watch cartoons for an hour?", Shanya asked candidly.
"But only for one hour."
"Ok.", And she put on the TV to watch her favorite 'Pokemon'.
I drew myself back from Ranchi to my kitchen and lighted stove to prepare pasta. 
But still, I wish I could have trusted him. 

Anyways, I'll prepare tea today. Two cups of tea, after 6 months. 

Cheers to me. Cheers to Ashutosh. 

"Ashu, I will join you someday. Up there. And I want to say you sorry, a million times. I know I have said it a hundred times, but still I never feel I have said enough to make you understand that I really mean. If I could have known that you loved me this much, if I could have known that you'd still miss me after numerous years have passed, I would not have made that single bad decision. I am happy with my life even now, but living with you was not just happiness. It was like being in heaven. If God ever asks me to go back in past and undo one thing, I'd most certainly undo that decision of us being separated.

Despite my love, there is one more truth to me that I am a married woman, a woman with a family to handle and a kid to grow. But I promise, I'll join you there. To be happy and to make you happy, we'll meet again some other time, at some other space. Wherever you are, just know that I remember you like you remember me. And there is one truth, I find you there in my loneliness. Yes, you're still there.

"The pasta is ready, honey"

"I love you Mamma"
"Love you too beta."


I thank all readers who spent time with Rekha and Ashu and appreciated their story. I have deep regards for people who took pain to read this long story and gave valuable feedback. The feedback provided by Sarveshwar, Pradeep Kumar Gupta, Nasir Mehandi, Arindam Banerjee, Neeraj Kumar, Swagato Ghosh and Siddharth has helped me make this story better. Thank you all. :)