It was fairly late when Aditi returned home form the studio. There wasn’t a single star twinkling and the moon played hide and seek amidst the clouds. Stillness prevailed in the air and it made the weather all the muggier. There were a lot of things playing on her mind. She knew she had to work overtime, sweat it out for the show. Deadlines always made Aditi give her best shot. She had to give the final touches to the canvasses, meet the guys at the gallery for the set up, get the invitation cards from the printers, call up the event manager to fix a time for the press release…
“Stop it Aditi. The first and the foremost thing you need now is a shower!” she said to herself!
As the lukewarm water touched her frayed skin it felt fine. The temperature of the water was nothing but just right! It wasn’t always so accurate as it was today, it was like making or rather mixing that perfect martini, and she mused. The lukewarm water sure worked like an aphrodisiac.
Aditi wasn’t really hungry. She poured herself a glass of chilled milk with a generous amount of cocoa. As she sipped the milk she felt the route through which the liquid flowed down her throat to her stomach. It didn’t take too long for Aditi to finish off her drink. She preferred gulping it down before the “chillness” faded.
“… now I lay down to sleep, pray the Lord my soul to keep, and if I die before I wake, pray the Lord my soul to take.” Aditi said her prayers, as she closed her eyes, switching herself off and finally slipping between the sheets.
The phone rang and it broke the silence as well as her sleep. It seemed it woke up the entire house and also her senses. She stretched out her left hand towards the receiver.
“Hello!” her voice was hoarse and broken, from the sleep and the chilled milk.
“Oh, my sleeping child!”
It was a voice Aditi could recognize amongst a zillion.
“Anand!” she exclaimed. “It’s been so long, where have you been?”
“Does it matter?” Anand asked.
“No it doesn’t. But I’ve missed you like crazy!” said Aditi.
“I’ve missed you too, my sweet little heart and I’ll see you in five days”, said Anand.
Aditi didn’t feel the excitement or the rush, the way she always felt whenever Anand came to her.
“So, its five more days before…”
“Ssshhh! My little heart” Anand interrupted.
“But…” Aditi protested.
“It really doesn’t matter. Does it?” he asked.
“No it doesn’t. But Anand, things will never be the same again for me I guess”, she said.
“Listen my little girl, things will always be the same for you, for me and for us. No matter what. Trust me” said Anand firmly.
“I trust you”, was all Aditi could say.
“Go back to sleep my child. You have five days to make a list of all your grudges against me… think what you want to do… yell at me, raise the hell or simply love me…” Anand chuckled!
“Anand! Stop that! I know what to do”, she replied.
“Love you baby! Take care and be a good girl now.’ Bye”, he said and the line went dead.
There were five more days – Anand was coming and so was Aditi’s first solo exhibition of her paintings beginning. She didn’t say it to Anand. It would be a good surprise for him. There possibly couldn’t be a better timing than this!
Of passion… Aditi
Ever since she was a kid, Aditi was always in awe for Anand. She preferred calling him just by his name. Anand was Jew’s friend and wasn’t Jew Aditi’s youngest mama (mother’s brother)? Aditi nursed a strong infatuation for Anand even before she understood the ways of the world and of the people. If anyone teased Aditi and asked “So, Aditi, tell us whom would you like to marry when you grow up?” “ANAND” – pat came the reply from her. That was the little Aditi. But strange ways of the heart. There are a few things in life that remain constant. And for Aditi it was Anand. She felt the same always; it was a healthy fixation towards Anand, which she had. So it really didn’t matter if Anand was touching forty, if his hair had a hue of salt and pepper, if his forehead showed signs of receding hairline and if there was another reason for his homecoming.
Of ambition… Anand
Anand – a guy any girl would love to take home and show momma and say, “So my choice ain’t that bad, right Maa?!”
Anand, not really flamboyant, you could never call him flashy or loud but there was a certain degree of charisma that made females drool over him! He enjoyed the finer things in life – a game of golf, caviar and champagne! He was the doting son for his parents until the day he decided the ways and means to earn his bread and butter. It took coaxing, persuading, convincing, pleading and off course arguing in great measures for Anand to tell his parents that he wanted to study aeronautics. He wanted to fly, to be a pilot. And it took a dose of emotional blackmailing for Aai (Anand’s mother) to make him vow that he would settle down with the girl whom Aai chose. For Aai wanted her son to study medicine, to be a doctor – to heal a few people if not the whole world. Anand would have done anything at that point of time to get the “green signal” from his parents, especially from Aai. So it really didn’t matter whom Aai chose as his life partner. That was Anand as a young lad – who just wanted to fly. Even now it didn’t matter a lot, for Aditi would always be close to his heart. Things would be the same for them, no matter what. Anand only wished, if Aai could see things the way he did, maybe just once. If Aai could understand what Aditi meant to him, that Aditi wasn’t a disgrace, that Aditi would have made it as his ideal life partner even if she was some fifteen years younger to him. It was a stake Anand had gambled so long ago. Yet it didn’t matter if in the next few days there would be another woman in his life… Saarika!
Of dreams… Saarika
Saarika, a simple and happy go lucky soul. She had the fineness to cheer up and make anyone around her happy. She wasn’t or rather she didn’t have the looks of a Cover Girl, yet there was a charm in her. It was her doe like eyes, her dimples and it was the joie de vivre that made her so lovable and admiring. Saarika’s mother and Aai had been friends for a very long time, and it didn’t take much on Aai’s part to do the needful. Saarika was happy – the very thought of being a bride, to be someone’s wife and to spend a lifetime together made her smile almost all the time. And off course she knew Anand. He was senior to her, they didn’t hang around with common friends nor they shared similar interest, yet she knew him… as her mother’s friend’s son… as the guy so many girls swooned over. So it really didn’t matter when her mother accepted Aai’s proposal. And also that once upon a time there was this little girl who said she’d marry Anand when she grows up. It was just a couple of more days. Anand would be hers forever. Anand was after all a nice guy.
Five days never seemed so long. It was a Saturday; the curtains would rise at four in the afternoon for Aditi’s exhibition. Anand would arrive at twelve noon. That was as per the flight schedule. She had known his arrival timings so very well. She woke much before than she usually did. She knew she had a long day ahead. She was at the gallery but her mind was not where it should have been. She kept on looking at the watch every now and then. And it was nearly time, Anand would land any moment.
Saarika reached Anand’s place quite early. Aai wanted Saarika to be there. She kept on looking at her watch also. And as seconds went by, a sense of exhilaration seemed to build up within. And it was nearly time; Anand would be home any moment.
It was already forty-five minutes past noon. The flight must have had touched down. Yet Anand didn’t call Aditi, the way he did always. Aditi perhaps was assuming… was having pre-conceived notions. The flight must be behind schedule; she hoped because Anand’s cell phone was not responding. It was switched off.
The cell phone was still switched off even after forty-five minutes and Saarika was not tired dialing the ten digits over and over again. Everyone at Aai’s house seemed a bit tense. “Anand would be here any moment”, Saarika kept on telling herself. And then buzzed the telephone. Saarika rushed to take the call. It was a call from the Airline’s Office; and she wished she never had taken the call. Saarika’s dreams were aborted, her dreams died prematurely.
Aditi was wondering what could the reason be. She decided to call up the Airline’s Office to know the status of the flight. As her queries were being answered, Aditi couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “There must’ve been some error”, she said to herself.
“One of the worst plane crashes in the recent times…. no survivors…was it a technical fault or was it a human error… a panel formed to probe into the grave accident… the government falls weak against the opposition…. the government would compensate the families of the deceased…the search for the black box is on….”.
The headlines were on the papers… news flashed from the T.V. screens…and blasted from the radio sets.
Aditi looked up at the sky. Though her tears ceased, she was still crying, deep down inside her heart. Tears didn’t matter now. She recalled the way Anand had teased her and had asked her to make the list of grudges she had against him. She had none. She just wanted to surprise Anand with her paintings. But God, she supposed had a surprise for her too. That she would never see Anand, hear his voice and be close to him – ever again.
No, it wasn’t Aditi alone. Wasn’t there Saarika also? If Aditi wasn’t destined to be Anand’s so was Saarika. And nothing really mattered anymore….
“Thanks”, Aditi said, still looking up at the sky. As she walked towards the gallery a placid smile came on her lips…
Mama: mother’s elder/younger brother