Friday, March 31, 2017


It was a cold month of January and it was a full moon day, considered to be an auspicious by the Hindus
for propitiating gods. On this day, Ramchandra Jagtap and his wife Rajanibai had come to the famous temple of goddess Mandher Devi in the Satara district of Maharastra.
Ramchandra Jagtap was a farmer from Achera village of Igatpuri sub division of Nashik district where he owned a piece of land and a small orchard of oranges. Besides, he grew maize, millet and onion and other seasonal vegetables, which was good enough for leading an austere village life. Ramchandra Jagtap and Rajanibai were quite religious. It was after eleven years of their marriage that they were blessed with a daughter. It could have been because of prolonged treatment in a fertility clinic but the couple sincerely believed that it was a divine benediction. Ramchandra was happy to have a daughter and named her Aparna, a synonym of the goddess. The couple decided to visit the abode of the goddess with their newly born daughter to pay their obeisance to the goddess to express their gratitude.

There was a big crowd of devotees queuing on the ascending hill track going to the temple. The devotees had started arriving since wee hours. They were carrying flowers, sweets and gifts to be offered to the goddess. Some women were holding infants close to their bosoms and some children were tagging along their parents. And a few devotees were dragging sacrificial goats to propitiate the goddess. The temple hill had come to life with loud incantation of goddess Mandher Devi by men, women and children and deafening sound by scores of drum beaters. It was a super jamboree of humanity; everyone was zealous and enthused. 

Then, misfortune descended on the temple hill as a gas cylinder exploded in a make-shift shop, engulfing the cluster of temporary shops. No one could ever imagine that the auspicious day would turn out to be the most horrible day in the annals of the temple. With strong wind blowing the shops were gutted in no time. The devotees moving around the shops cried for help but in vain. Thirty of them were charred beyond recognition. Panic was writ large on pilgrims’ faces and the worst followed. The mile long queue along the hill track broke down as the devotees scampered for safety. It was total mayhem resulting in a stampede. The strong trampled the old and the weak; women and children were the worst affected. Over two hundred lives were lost in the frightful chaos. Ramchandra and his wife Rajanibai were amongst the dead. Five months old Aparna fell apart from her mother’s lap landing on a shrub of wild berries. She was badly bruised but survived miraculously and found in an unconscious state by the rescue team after ten hours.

Ramchandra Jagtap was the only son of his parents. His elder sister was widowed and lived as a recluse in a distant village. Ramchandra Jagtap and Rajanibai thus departed from this world without discharging their obligation towards the goddess and leaving their five month old daughter in no one’s care. 

Sadashiv Rao was a close friend of Ramchandra Jagtap. They came from same village. Sadashiv Rao was a small time politician and the president of the village panchayat. Contracts falling under government’s social security programmes were awarded to him or his nominees with the blessings of the political bosses. The district authorities were aware of his political clout and therefore refrained from crossing his path. 
Sadashiv Rao was a widower. He volunteered to take the responsibility of the child under his care.
“I am a close friend of the deceased and will take care of the child. He even went a step further. “I will deposit the sale proceeds of Ramchandra Jagtap’s farm produce after every crop in a bank account in the name of Aparna and hand over the same when she becomes a major.” 
“The child needs a woman’s love and care. We therefore cannot agree to place her under your care.” The court decreed, accepting only the second half of his plea and ordered to put Aparna in the care of the Children Home at Igatpuri, near Nashik.

Rajnikant and Kavita, both engineering graduates were colleagues working for Cairns India at Nashik. They were married for nine years but had no issue. The couple finally decided to adopt a child and in that, Kavita wanted it to be a girl child. They went to the Children Home at Igatpuri and saw Aparna there. The couple was moved, in fact, fascinated by little Aparna in their first visit and filed an application for her adoption. 
Sadashiv Rao, a trustee of the Children Home was happy that the couple had selected Aparna preferring her over other male children. He facilitated and accelerated the adoption process. When the entire proceeding was completed, Aparna was less than two years old. 
Rajnikant and Kavita were proud of Aparna; they dotted on her. Aparna was indeed a bright and beautiful child. Her teachers loved her and so did the neighbours. The three comprised a happy family. 

As chance would have it, Rajnikant and Kavita got an international assignment to work in Bosnia under the World Food Programme. They were happy to land an international job though they worried that Aparna would miss her friends. But for better prospects and lure of money they accepted the assignment and when they left Nashik, Aparna was a bubbly girl of five years. When Sadashiv Rao came to know of it, he was awfully pleased to see the back of the family for he always cherished the plan of arrogating the property of his late friend. Aparna’s going abroad added wings to his dreams. 
One day Sadashiv Rao went to the land revenue office and ascertained the land details of late Ramchandra Jagtap. He started cultivating the officers of the revenue department with occasional gifts and favours. Finally, with his political clout and huge bribe, he succeeded in getting the land and the orchard of late Ramchandra Jagtap mutated in his name by forging the documents. Thus, Sadashiv Rao became the owner of the land and orchard that once belonged to Ramchandra Jagtap. Aparna, the rightful successor was oblivious of the deceit and treachery perpetrated by the friend of her father. 
Rajnikant and Kavita were worried over Aparna’s education, which was not possible in Bosnia. There were no good schools in the country seized of civil strife. They therefore looked for a change of job. Luckily, a year later, Rajnikant got a job offer at Toronto. The family moved to Canada and after couple of years decided to settle down there.


Years rolled. Aparna was now seventeen; charming and beautiful, kind and affable. Her parents loved her and she was popular among her friends. Rajnikant and Kavita thought she was matured enough to know about her past. 
“You are a grown up girl now. We thought it was time that we told you of your past,” Rajnikant told her one evening. Aparna was curiously vexed as they unfolded the story.
“We picked you from the Children Home at Igatpuri. As per their records, you are the daughter of Ramchandra Jagtap and Rajanibai. They both died in a stampede in Mandher Devi temple. You were merely five months old then.” 
Aparna was distraught but accepted her past gracefully. But now she was keen to see her place of birth, the village of her parents. After completing her school, Aparna opted for sociology at the under graduate level. One evening, she told her foster parents that she was joining a group of students who were going to India for three months under an ‘Exchange Programme’ sponsored by Indo-Canadian Society for Cultural Relations.
“The students will stay with Indian families. I have opted to work in Nashik,” she told them. They were aware of her keenness to trace her roots. 

Shivaji Rao, a young business man from Nashik agreed to host Aparna. He was rich and ostentatious; owned a chain of tourist lodges and large tracts of farm land in the nearby villages. He was a suave, handsome and good conversationalist; popular among ladies though he had separated from his wife on the ground of incompatibility. 
He was the son of Sadashiv Rao.
Shivaji Rao loved wine, women and wealth. Aparna appealed to him. In fact, whenever he saw her in shorts and tea shirts, revealing her curvaceous figure, he was overly excited. He was desperate to win her favor. He treated her lavishly; taking her to exclusive restaurants and giving her expensive gifts. 
Aparna too was impressed by Shivaji Rao and liked his company. She often spent her evenings with him, eliciting information about people and events of the region. She moved around during day time meeting people and talking to them. She also visited the Mandher Devi temple. 
One day she asked Shivaji Rao whether she had heard of Ramchandra Jagtap. 
Shivaji Rao was surprised. “How do you know him?” 
“I heard of him from my father.” 
“Well! Ramchandra Jagtap and my father were good friends. Both came from Achera village. Unfortunately, Ramchandra died in a stampede at Mandher Devi temple. He had mortgaged his property to repay the loan he had taken from my father.”

Aparna was saddened to hear the story but deep in her heart, she was skeptical; not accepting its veracity. She decided to visit Achera to find out the truth. She didn’t reveal her plan to Shivaji Rao.

In Achera, Aparna met many villagers; elders and young ones. She had carried freebies for them. The women folk were moved to tears when they learnt that she was the daughter of late Ramchandra Jagtap and Rajanibai. 
“They were a decent couple and quite well off. You father was a hardworking and a progressive farmer and a very helpful person. After the death of your father, Sadashiv Rao forged documents and bribed the revenue officers to usurp your property. Because of his political clout, we are scared of him and his goons,” they told her. 
Aparna was grieved when she knew the truth. She was agonized that Sadashiv Rao, a friend of her late father had deceived him. She returned to Nashik resolute to avenge her parents. I have no interest in the land and property but I must avenge my dead parents. She vowed. 

Shivaji Rao was happy and excited to see Aparna back. I must win her over, whatever that takes. He was determined. Next evening he invited her to his place; Aparna obliged. Shivaji Rao offered her whiskey, an exclusive brand. Aparna accepted that too. The intoxicant had its effect on Shivaji Rao; Aparna’s revealing contours heightened his urge. He held her hand and wheedled her to stay with him. 
“I will give you a bungalow to stay and put a large sum of money in your bank account. I promise you all worldly comforts,” he implored. Aparna merely smiled and made another drink for him. Soon Shivaji Rao swooned in to oblivion. Aparna returned to her room.
Next evening, it was a retake of the previous day and it became a daily fixture. Shivaji Rao would fiddle with her body but fall short of his intended objective under the influence of alcohol. But there was an apparent development; Shivaji Rao wanted more and more of her company and more and more of whiskey from her. 
Aparna knew it was only a matter of time that Shivaji Rao became a captive of his weakness. She extended her stay in Nashik by couple of months.
Shivaji Rao was desperate for her company. “Aparna, I can’t live without you; I love you and want to marry you,” Shivaji Rao repeatedly pleaded before her. He was mostly in an inebriated condition, unable even to stand on his feet. 

This was the time when Sadashiv Rao, the wily father had delegated his responsibilities to his only son, Shivaji Rao and proceeded on a long pilgrimage. He was happy that he had completed the circumambulation of Pundharpur, the holy place successfully. All through his pilgrimage, he prayed for the wellbeing of his son. 
On his return, Sadashiv Rao was in for a shock. His servants told him that Shivaji Rao had been spending most of his evenings in the company of a Canadian girl of Indian origin. He saw Shivaji Rao in a pathetic condition and was deeply distressed to know that his son had become an alcoholic. 
Shivaji Rao a feeble man now, wept before his father. “Please persuade her not to leave me... I am guilty but the fact is, I cannot live without her... please give whatever she wants... please...” Shivaji Rao couldn’t continue further. Sadashiv Rao couldn’t hold his tears as he embraced his son. 
Next morning Sadashiv Rao knocked at Aparna’s room. Aparna opened the door for him. 
“So, you are the bitch who has ruined the life of my son. You seduced him with your body charm and made him an alcoholic. I will kill you for that,” he was furious. 
“Will that bring back your son?” Aparna was defiant. 
“Why did you do that? You have nearly killed him. What harm has he done you?” 
“Sadashiv Rao! I don’t want your son to die. Instead, I want you to suffer, to repent for your sins. That will be fair retribution.” 
“What sins? What retribution? What are you talking?” Sadashiv Rao was enraged.

“Do you remember Ramchandra Jagtap?” 
Sadashiv Rao was stupefied by the question. He paused and then said, “Yes. He was from my village. We were good friends. So what?
          “I am his daughter. You claim to be his friend and yet you deceived him. You forged documents and usurped his entire property.” 
Sadashiv Rao was shocked. He found himself defenceless. Tears rolled down his eyes. He was apologetic, “Please take back all the property but don’t leave my son.” 
“Sadashiv Rao you cannot reverse the clock. You cheated a dead friend. You did that for your son. I want to ensure that he is too debilitated to reap the fruits of your deceit.”
Sadashiv Rao fell on his knees. “Please punish me but don’t forsake my son... please. He will not survive without you.” 
Sadashiv Rao was a broken man altogether. 
“I didn’t have any knowledge of my father’s property and in any case, I don’t want it. I only wanted to avenge my dead parents.” 
And after a pause she added, “I am returning to my parents leaving the property and your beleaguered son with you.” 
Then looking at him disdainfully, she walked out of the house; hailed a taxi and left for the airport.

Sunday, March 19, 2017


Satinder Singh was one of the richest land owners of Gurdaspur district in the state of the Punjab. He owned over 200 hectare of richly fertile land in the doab region known for its effective canal system.  Though the Zamindari system was abolished long back in India, the land owners crafted means to hold on to excess land in connivance with the land record authorities.
The big landholders in India influence the lawmakers with their brute monetary prowess. Lording over scores of bonded labourers, they live an ostentatious life like feudal chiefs. Thus when Satinder’s wife gave birth to a male child, there were large scale celebrations in his village with liquor flowing unabatedly and dancing troupes and band of eunuchs entertaining the villagers for several nights. The newly born child was named Rajinder Singh.
Satinder Singh, himself a rustic farmer wanted to bring up his only son in an elitist ambience. He wanted to groom him to become an educated landlord and a sophisticated businessman. He therefore put Rajinder in an elitist famous boarding school in Kasauli, a small town in Himachal Pradesh.  Satinder Singh would visit the school couple of times in a year and give handsome donation to the school.  That enhanced the image of young Rajinder. The teachers and the principal of the school treated him as a privileged student.  
Rajinder grew a well built tall lad and a promising tennis player. He was in the school team and with the influence of his father, he became its captain. Rajinder passed out from the school as a bright and handsome young man. Satinder Singh was proud of his son.
 Rajinder was enamoured with glamourous army life and was keen to join it. This was not in consonance with his father’s plans who wanted him to take care of the family farm and the distillery he had newly set up.  Satinder Singh was aware of his advancing years and therefore wanted his son to assist him in managing the estate. But Rajinder was adamant to join the army.
“Babey! Do you want me to see happy?” Rajinder asked his father.
For Satinder was unsettled by the question. His eyes welled up.
“Son! For me there is nothing more important other than your happiness. If you are happy by joining army, go ahead. I too will be happy.”
 Rajinder took the entrance examination and was selected for training in the National Defence Academy, Pune.
Rajinder did exceedingly well as a trainee cadet. He was a robust and agile cadet with remarkable grasp of military manoeuvres.  In the final term of training he was short listed to command the passing out parade. Rajinder was very happy and so was his father. But then ill luck struck them. A week before the passing out parade, Satinder Singh died in a car accident.  It was a very sad and hurting moment for Rajinder.
His mother wanted him to leave army and look after the estate. It was a difficult choice to make. Rajinder had to choose between a career in the army and responsibility of looking after his estate and his ailing mother. He was pressured to choose the latter. A disappointed and bitter Rajinder returned to Gurdaspur with shattered dreams.
Rajinder was averse to farming and a greenhorn to handle the complexities of a distillery.  His ambition to hold the coveted ‘sword of honour’ in the passing out parade haunted him. Money was no attraction for him, which his father had left in plenty. He was a restless soul spending most of his time outdoor to assuage his hurt feelings.
Over the years, Rajinder recovered from the heart break. He joined city’s elite club and spent most of his time there. His ailing mother gave him space to get over his grief before asking him to get married.
“Son, I am not sure how long I will survive. It is my wish to see you married. You need someone to take care of you after I am gone.”
Rajinder was not prepared for it. He felt destiny was cruel to him in snatching away the glory and happiness of his life. He was in touch with all his batch mates who were now officers in the army and would go out of his way to invite them and entertain them in a generous way.
The distillery was doing well since liquor consumption was ever increasing in the prosperous state of the Punjab. Rajinder decided to enhance its capacity by installing another distillation plant. That required the sanction of the district authorities and the excise department other than the patronage of political bosses. He sought the appointment of the district collector to present his case. On the appointed day, Rajinder reached the collectorate with his senior manager much before time. They were made to wait for more than two hours. Rajinder was at the edge of his patience but was advised to keep his cool by his skilful manager who was accustomed to bureaucratic obduracy. It needled Rajinder’s ego further to learn that the district collector making him wait was a lady officer. 
Anjali Shrinivasan was the collector of the Gurdaspur district; an officer known for efficiency and honesty. Rajinder expected a word of apology from her for making him wait that long.  
There was none.
Anjali heard him and examined his papers.
“On the face of it, the documents seem to be OK. I will recommend your case to the excise department. They have the final say in the matter. Please see me after six weeks,” she summed up the meeting.  
 The much needed sanction was received though after a longer wait than promised.  Rajinder now wanted to hold a function to commission the new plant. He invited the minister in-charge of the excise department, the excise commissioner and the district collector.
Anjali Srinivasan belonged to the all-powerful Administrative Service. She was fair, slim and tall and she was beautiful. Besides, she was a pleasant conversationalist. Rajinder was attracted towards her. He found out her daily schedule and learnt that she played tennis in the evening. That was a welcome coincidence. Rajinder took out his tennis racquets and became a regular to the tennis court. It was not very long that Anjali was impressed by his skill, stamina and suave manners. Tennis brought the two closer.
Anjali belonged to a conservative Brahmin family from the South.  Whereas she was awed by Rajinder’s opulence, the latter was overwhelmed by her élan and charm. Their courtship flourished into intimacy. One evening Rajinder invited her to his place and introduced her to his mother as his friend. The old lady understood the nuances of their relationship. She was pleased to see Anjali and wished, her son married her.
Rajinder and Anjali were married with great pomp and show not witnessed by the people of Gurdaspur in their living memory. It was the talk of the town with almost all senior bureaucrats and several ministers landing in Gurdaspur. 
A year later when orders were issued shifting Anjali to another district, Rajinder used his political clout to get the orders rescinded. The young couple were elated by their success; Rajinder giving all credit to his political reach.
A couple of months later Anjali was selected for a fellowship by the University of Duke. It was a highly prestigious fellowship, one that would help Anjali in the furtherance of her career. Anjali was quite excited; it was a momentous occasion but Rajinder wasn’t enthused.
“Why do you want to go away?  We have everything one needs in life and it is in fact time we have a family,” he argued.
Anjali was flummoxed at the suggestion. But she was not prepared to concede.
“Perhaps you don’t understand how significantly this fellowship will impact my career? Family can wait, the fellowship will not. Let’s think of raising the family after I come back,” she said with a sardonic smile.
Rajinder wasn’t convinced. Pressing his point further, he said, “Please try to understand ... I am not a male chauvinist... I am making a rational suggestion.  Everyone considers you a brilliant officer. Time now, you prove to be a good homemaker.”
“I don’t have to prove anything to anyone,” Anjali retorted and then added sarcastically, “You think my career is of no importance?”
“Frankly speaking, I do think that way. In fact, it is time you left the job,” Rajinder shot back.
Anjali was furious. “Look, I am dedicated to my career; can’t ever think of quitting midway. You should have known before marrying me.”
 Both were adamant. They had frequent altercations widening the fissures in their marital life. One evening after a serious altercation, Anjali shifted to the circuit house and flew to USA three weeks later. She didn’t even come to see Rajinder or his mother before leaving Gurdaspur.
Rajinder’s self-esteem was hurt. The hurt was grievous, taking him to a point of no return. He wrote a nasty letter to Anjali followed by a divorce notice. Anjali never thought the situation will worsen to that extent. Though the divorce notice pained her, she signed her consent and sent it back to Rajinder.
The two were divorced after a married life of three years.
Rajinder’s mother couldn’t bear the shock and left for her heavenly abode without seeing a successor to her family.
Rajinder shifted from club’s tennis court to its bar. He became an alcoholic neglecting his duties towards his business and the farm. He would be the last man to leave the bar; mostly helped by his chauffeur or at times by his friends who enjoyed his perennial hospitality.
Excessive drinking finally landed Rajinder in a hospital.  
Amarjeet was a trained nurse in the multi-speciality hospital where Rajinder was admitted. She was a young and dedicated nurse considered highly proficient by her seniors even at a young age.
 For six days Rajinder Singh was in the ICU under constant watch of the doctors duly assisted by Amarjeet. He found her around attending to him whenever he came to senses. Rajinder was impressed by her dedication and fell in love with her.  
That was the beginning of a new story.
After discharge from the hospital, Rajinder kept in touch with Amarjeet. He would go to the hospital and look for her. Amarjeet knew that he was a rich businessman of the town and her sixth sense alerted her that he wanted to meet her for reasons beyond professional care.  She discouraged him politely but Rajinder wouldn’t give up.  
One day when Amarjeet was taking coffee in the hospital canteen, Rajinder came over and took a seat beside her.
“Can I talk to you for a few minutes?”
“Of course, you are welcome.”
“Not here. Can we meet outside ... any day when you are free?”
Amarjeet was reluctant. She wanted to stay away from him but Rajinder pleaded relentlessly.
They met in the district club. Rajinder told her about his life and that he was a tired person and wanted to get rehabilitated and that he wanted her help in it.
Amarjeet guessed his intentions and pointed out the inequalities in their background. “We are poor people,” she conveyed to him in many words. Rajinder simply shrugged off.
“I don’t want more wealth. What I am looking for is a life companion. Please think it over,” he pleaded.
“Look, I lost my mother when I was very young. My father didn’t remarry. Instead, he brought me up. Now it’s my turn to look after him in his old age. He is my responsibility,” Amarjeet portrayed her family picture.
“I understand. In fact, he can live with us. I have a big enough house.” And then he requested Amarjeet to take him to her father. “I would like to meet your father and seek your hand.”
Amarjeet took Rajinder to her place. Her father was a small time haberdasher. The father daughter duo lived in a small room in a downtown locality.
 The old parent was flabbergasted. He was overwhelmed that the richest man of the town was asking for his daughter’s hand. “We are impoverished people ... not anywhere near you ... can’t ... even dream of ...” the old man couldn’t complete as tears rolled down his crumpled cheeks.
 “I like Amarjeet and that’s enough. I want your blessings.”
They met few more times. Amarjeet had started liking him and told him one day that she was agreeable to his proposal.
Both of them went to Amarjeet’s place and apprised her father of their decision.
“I want it to be a small affair, a quiet marriage in a Gurudwara.” Rajinder’s suggestion was accepted by the poor parent.
That evening Rajinder and Amarjeet went for a dinner. They were sitting quietly musing over their future life. Rajinder wanted a child from her at the earliest. He wanted her to be a full time wife, a genuine homemaker.
“Amarjeet, I want you to be free from all encumbrances to give your full time to our family... I mean after marriage there is no need to work.”
Anjali was stunned by the suggestion. She never expected Rajinder would ask her to quit her job.
“Why should you work? We have enough to live a comfortable life.” Rajinder said laying emphasis on his affluence.
Amarjeet was shocked at the logic advanced by her future husband.
“How can you talk like this? You think we can weigh everything in terms of money. I am rendering humble service to the society for which I have been trained. Besides, all of us have right to cherish an ambition beyond money.”
It was now Rajinder, astounded and gaping at her fiancée. . He could not believe that a girl from a poor origin could deprecate his opinion.
“I mean, why should you slog when I can take care of all your needs? We can travel all over the world, lead a luxurious life,” he fumed.
“Sorry, you are wrong here. Money cannot substitute human values. I have a duty towards the society; I cannot pawn it for my personal comforts,” Amarjeet said and left leaving Rajinder alone at the table.
Rajinder Singh, the rich man of Gurdaspur is seen again in the bar until late hours, waiting for someone to take him to his palatial house. 

Friday, March 10, 2017


Ajay Purohit was seventy now, leading a solitary life in Paori, a small hill town in the foothills of Himalayas. He had relinquished his medical practice in Delhi and handed over his clinic to his son who was also a medical practioner. In Paori though he did see the patients coming to him but he didn’t encourage them to revisit him and since he didn’t charge any fee, his patients didn’t have much confidence in him.
He loved to see the sun rise from his bed room and as the sun rays entered his room, he felt elated in body and mind. He would get up, make coffee for himself and lie down leisurely on his bed, drinking coffee and waiting for the newspapers. He was a newspaper addict for he disliked TV news channels. He was irritated by their innumerable repetitions. In fact, he felt the news reporters were ill-educated and lacked depth and sensitivity. Basic approach of most of the TV channels was to sensationalize issues to enhance their viewership. He therefore seldom opened news channels of his TV. He had made arrangement to fetch newspapers from the market, which came late in the morning. For him reading newspapers was an engaging past time.
Ajay Purohit was a man of few words. In fact, he didn’t speak when he should have and that was the bane of his life. He knew his family members were more than unfair to him but he never showed his demur or voiced his dissent. There were occasions when they disagreed with him even when he was right and yet he gave in most of the time. Besides, his wife always favoured his son unduly. But in his private moments, he would mull over the events time and again and get agitated.
Finally he handed over his clinic to his son and shifted to Paori where he had purchased a small cottage. He wanted to live a peaceful life. He had engaged a helping hand as a cook and for the upkeep of the cottage. He would go for a walk in the evening through the forest lane of fir trees in the east of the town towards the famous Kinkaleshwar Shiva temple. This was the best part of his day. Walking in solitude with fresh breeze even during the summer months and fragrance of the wild flowers invigorated his spirit. On his way back, sometimes he would go to the market to buy vegetables and grocery.   
Ajay had a good collection of old melodies. He spent the latter half of the day listening to the music.  He hardly missed his family even though he answered their calls. It used to be brief talk bordering niceties; both sides eager to conclude at the earliest. However, at times he missed his grandchildren. But he always missed one person all through his life. He longed to talk to her even though he had no clue of her whereabouts.  That was Anita, his school time friend and neighbour during his childhood days in Dehradun. They loved each other, had dreams of a life together but could never discuss them together for they were the cagey youngsters of sixties.
He remembered watching Anita play with small children and at times feeding the street dogs. He remembered her ever smiling face and compassion in her eyes. He had this picture imprinted on his mind and he loved her for it. They would exchange glances and brief smiles but no words were spoken between them.  And when he was to leave Dehradun to join a medical college in Delhi, he mustered courage and decided to ask Anita to come with him for a movie.
He invited Anita for a movie a few days later. For the entire duration of the movie both of them sat quietly; their eyes were on the screen but their minds were wavering.  They were daydreaming; floating along with their dreams. And finally when the movie was over and they came out, Ajay took her hand and said, “I am going for the medical course; will be leaving for Delhi by next month. It is a five year course.”
“I know. Your mother told my people,” Anita whispered.
“Will you wait for me?”
“I would wait for you all my life if it were left to me. But my father is already looking for a match.” Then after a long pause she added, “He thinks I am old enough to be married off; doesn’t want me to go to college.”
Ajay knew her father. A retired soldier, hardliner, brash and unaccommodating. Anita had sounded her mother of her love for Ajay but the poor lady lacked courage to talk to her husband. “He belongs to a different caste. Your father would never agree,” she cautioned Anita. A month later, Ajay left for Delhi and his father was transferred a month later to Agra.
For nearly two years they exchanged letters.  Those letters were far from being romantic; they were prosaic and platonic since they were apprehensive of their alliance because of caste barriers. They could not commit to each other.
Ajay was in the second year when Anita was married off. There was no contact between them thereafter. He even didn’t know to whom she was married or where she had moved to. But her memory remained firmly imprinted on his mind. He often remembered her.
After completion of his medical course, Ajay got a job in Delhi. 
Years rolled on. Ajay was married and had a son who also became a doctor.  Ajay left his job and opened a clinic in East Delhi. His son joined him there. They were doing well professionally and financially but he always found himself a loner for his profession kept him busy and there was hardly any compatibility of mind and head between him and his wife. Luckily, his school friend Dinesh had also joined a private firm in Delhi. The two often met in the evening.
Dinesh was the only person to whom Ajay could pour his heart out and in his personal moments he remembered Anita.
One evening when Ajay was in his clinic, Dinesh came over after attending a marriage function. Ajay was also invited but he had regretted.  
“How was the marriage? And you seem to have been well looked after. By the way, which whiskey was it?” He chided Dinesh.
“They missed you,” Dinesh shot back.
“I am sorry. There was an emergency in the clinic.”
“Well you not only missed the function but also a pleasant surprise.”
“What is that?”
“Well, met someone who mattered to you.”
“Dinesh, please no riddles.”
“Well, for old time sake let me not lengthen the suspense,” Dinesh said with a wide grin.  
Ajay waited.
“Anita was there.”
The coffee mug Ajay was holding crashed on the floor. He was virtually shaken.
“Are you sure and how do you know it was her?”
“First, I am good at remembering faces and secondly, Anita was my class mate. Can you forget a dear friend?” Dinesh said with a mischievous smile.
Dinesh paused and then added, “I talked to her.”
Ajay kept quiet.
“She lives in Delhi. In fact, she has been living in Delhi for last twenty five years. Her husband was an army officer. Unfortunately he died few years ago.”
 Ajay was still quiet.
“And I have given her your telephone number.”
Ajay was a bit upset to hear that.
“Dinesh, I always knew you were an irresponsible person. Why the hell did you do that? What is the need to rake the past?”
“She asked for it.” Dinesh replied playfully.
“Dinesh, you are the biggest idiot I have ever come across.”
“Thank you sir but be assured, the compliment is reciprocal.”

It was sheer coincidence that Anita met Dinesh in a marriage function and learnt about Ajay. Old memories soared in their hearts. She was keen to meet him; she longed for him. Buy she was in two minds.
Would he be still remembering me? How would he react on receiving my call?
Thoughts of all kinds were flocking her mind. Finally she got over the dilemma and rang him after a week.  She requested him to come to her place. Ajay agreed.
They got in touch after three decades. Their appearance had changed. They had greyed. Perhaps they might have missed each other while crossing a street or walking past a shopping mall. Ajay expressed his condolences over her husband’s death but didn’t know what else to talk. Anita recalled, Ajay was always cagey and coy. He had not changed much. She talked of her past and of her daughter who was married and settled abroad. “After my husband’s death, I am living a lonely life in this small flat,” she told him.
Anita remembered, he liked strong tea. She made one for him. “I have made strong tea for you but haven’t put sugar. Not sure whether you take sugar in your tea.” Ajay was moved; that she still remembered his choice of tea. “Yes. No sugar for me. I am diabetic, in fact, on insulin.
They met thereafter several times, talked of their past and would leave with an unsaid promise of meeting again.  Ajay learnt that her husband, an army officer was ever inquisitive; always keen to go to the depth of the matter. He was a careerist appeasing his superiors and keen to curry their favour. He would entertain them lavishly and he wanted Anita to act a perfect hostess; drink, dance and socialize; neo-culture anathematic to her basic nature. For a girl from a conservative background, it was difficult for Anita to adapt to her husband’s demands but he was persuasive as well as aggressive. Unfortunately, the pressure didn’t work. She tried her best but could never come up to her husband’s expectations for he wanted a un-inhibitive, trendy, fashionable wife.
“I often thought what life would have been with you,” she told him once. Ajay sighed. Anita took his hands in hers and suddenly asked him, “What did you find in me? I mean what attracted you towards me?”
Ajay smiled and said, “I saw compassion, love and piety: all combined in you and I loved you for your soberness.”
Ajay talked of loneliness in his life and that he wanted to run away from his family and move to Paori where he owned a small cottage. She was awfully pained to hear that and tried to persuade him to stay back. Ajay delayed his departure but one day when he had heated arguments with his son and wife, he thought it unbearable and decided to leave. 

Ajay had moved to Paori. His contact with Anita remained through phone calls. Ajay would wait for her calls. They would have lengthy talks, talking of their lives and acting as mutual counsellors.
One day Anita surprised him; telling him that she wanted to come to Paori.
“I am missing badly and want to see you,” she told Ajay.
Ajay kept quiet. He was concerned.  
Anita could make out that he was diffident. “Look, I don’t bother about my folks. But tell me is it alright with you?”
Ajay paused for few seconds and then he was reminded of his family’s indifference towards him. He made up his mind.
“It is cold here. Bring adequate warm clothing,” he advised Anita.
A week later, Anita was in Paori. It was a winter evening. Anita was cold. Ajay made hot tea for her.  They talked throughout the evening.  Anita who was always short of words had turned garrulous; she wanted to keep on talking. Ajay was pleasantly surprised.
Suddenly, Anita started crying, tears rolling down her cheeks.
“Ajay, I missed you all my life; always remembered you.” After pausing a little she continued, “We were like the two banks of a river, like two parallel lines that never meet. But a week ago, it suddenly dawned on me.
Why can’t we live our own life?
“The thought changed my attitude towards life. Then and there, I decided to break the shackles; come out of the fetters and here I am in front of you,” she said with a smile.
Ajay took her hands in his and kissed them. Anita was overwhelmed. She went in to his arms. Their lips locked. Time came to a standstill. They forgot the chilling world outside.
They felt warm and cosy; lost in their own sweet world that had deluded them whole life.  

Thursday, March 2, 2017


Arun Pratap decided to visit his village after six decades. He was nine years when had left his village along with his mother to join his father, a poorly paid employee of a private firm in Delhi. Arun was excited that he was going to see Red Fort, Qutab Minar, Birla Mandir, Rashtrapati Bhavan and many other monuments he had read about in his books. And above all, he was eager to see aeroplanes flying in the sky. Never did it ever occur to him that it will take him sixty years to return to his native village.
His schooling was in a government school of Delhi but he was a bright student and on his own merit, he was selected for law graduation by the Indian Law School, Bangalore. After qualifying his law examination, Arun started his career as an advocate in Delhi High Court. Since his parents had returned to their village, he shared a small room with another bachelor friend. He was doing well in his profession and couple of years later when he got an offer to join Bradford University Law School as a research assistant in the Faculty of Oriental Customary Law, he accepted it.

For Arun, life thereafter moved at a faster pace. He married a British woman of Indian origin; had two sons from her and purchased a house in Bradford. He was a generous father but could never become a good husband.  Perhaps somewhere at the back of his mind he perceived his wife to be like his mother; always submitting to her husband’s command. The differences between them widened over the years and ultimately, their marriage of fifteen years broke off. He never thought of marrying again.
He became a British citizen and was honoured for his contribution as a ‘Greenpeace Volunteer’ and his work for the under educated Asian immigrants. His fame reached the pinnacle when he was elected Mayor of Bradford City Council. 
Arun travelled worldwide and evinced interest in the technological innovations around the world.  As Greenpeace Volunteer he had visited several nuclear reactors, giant hydro-electric projects; motorways running over the sea and condominiums piercing the sky. Strange that whenever he returned home from a trip abroad, he remembered his small village in Betul district of the state of Madhya Pradesh in Central India.

He was sixty nine now; a frail and feeble man after a bout of pneumonia and he felt lonely after his wife and later his sons moved away from him. In fact, he was leading the life of a recluse. Now he longed to visit his village but there were several impediments. He had no contact with his folks other than his cousin Satya Prakash who lived in Delhi. He had no knowledge of the conditions prevailing in his village.
It was a cold winter in Bradford. Arun Pratap was sitting in his study listening to melodies from old Hindi movies and smoking a cigar. He was found of smoking cigar even against the advice of his doctor. His wife used to admonish him for it and his children frowned at him. Now that he was a loner, there was no one to reproach him.
As he lit a cigar, he was reminded of an old incident of his childhood days in his village. His grandfather had asked him to prepare a hookah for a guest. He readied the hookah and sucked it hard. And then he coughed and coughed until he fell on ground, exasperated. There were tears in his eyes and his lungs were full of smoke.  His grandfather rushed up to him and the first thing he did was to spank Arun hard couple of times on his hind side. That was the way children were managed those days.
A thin smile appeared on his face. He called Satya Prakash and told him of his intention to visit his village. “Tell me what the conditions are in general? I mean road, housing and water supply ....”
“Road connectivity has improved. You have to walk less than half a mile.”
That was quite encouraging for he remembered they had to walk nearly twenty miles to come to the bus stand though he knew walking even half a mile was now a challenge for him.
“Unfortunately, your house is no more there. Sixty years of neglect has brought it down. Only walls are there with weeds all over,” Satya told him.
Arun was sad but he knew that was expected, inevitable. 
“You stay in my house. It has Indian style toilet but water has to be collected from the drum kept outside the house.”    
Arun laughed for he remembered the good old days they would carry a lota of water and ease in the open behind some brushes. And it was always a thrill to bathe in the open in the natural stream, splashing water on each other.


On a sunny April morning Arun Pratap landed at Delhi airport. He was wonder-struck to see the expanse and elegance of the airport.
Fabulous; can be compared with the best of the world.  He thought and felt proud.
That night he stayed with Satya. He didn’t want to hurt his cousin by staying in a hotel. Besides, he wanted to acclimatize to lesser comfort living. As directed by him, Satya had hired a jeep for a week to visit their village.

Next day, Satya and Arun started from Delhi early in the morning. Satya’s wife had made stuffed paranthas for them for lunch. Arun relished paranthas. After nearly nine hours, Arun was delighted to see his village but the realization that he had to climb a plateau to reach there depressed his spirits. Walking the craggy track was painful but Arun didn’t give up. He stopped after every few yards; took long breath and resumed walking. He was returning to his village after sixty years. Finally, they entered their destination in the evening.

The first look at the village shocked Arun. He was appalled to see the condition of the houses. Most of them still had mud walls and thatched roofs. Many roofs were crumbling for want of maintenance. He could see men, women and children compelled to share space with cows, oxen and goats. He was pained to see young boys smoking in the village chowk and fooling around in inebriated condition. Satya could see the grief in Arun’s eyes.
“Poverty stalks the village life. These boys cannot continue schooling. There isn’t any skill development center here. Some of them do menial jobs and have taken to these iniquities.” Satya told Arun Pratap.
It was dark outside and also inside Staya’s house. There were electric poles in the village but without power. Satya lit a kerosene lantern and asked Arun to settle down. “I will see if I can get you a cup of tea from a neighbour,” he tried to comfort Arun.
“Satya, can you arrange some hot water? Hot water bath is very refreshing after a long drive,” he said with a wry smile.
Satya laughed aloud. Arun Pratap was baffled.
“Skip the bath to night. I will try to get some hot water from neighbouring house tomorrow,” Satya told him. Arun realized, perhaps he had asked for too much.

                Next morning he got ready early and came to the village chowk. He saw children; some of them merely six or less going to the school through the forest track. Many of them were barefoot; only a few had slippers. 
He remembered the situation was nearly same sixty years ago when he used to go to school. It was the same track, leading to the school. He had always found it difficult to walk with the satchel on his back. And then suddenly his mind swerved to his grandchildren who would not even carry their water bottles and had to be placated with cookies and chocolates to go to their school in a luxury car. He decided to follow the children.  He gasped for breath negotiating the rugged track and it was a great relief when he finally reached the school.

The school was a dilapidated structure; half of its tin roof opening to the sky. The school teacher greeted him and asked a boy to bring a glass of water for him.
“You seem to be too tired,” he told Arun Pratap sympathetically. Arun Pratap did need water quite badly. He drank the glass of water even though he was unsure whether it was potable.
“This school building is in very poor shape. Don’t you get funds to repair the building? And what happens during the rainy season?” He asked the young school teacher.
“We have no say in the allocation of funds. The best we can do is to gather the children on one side below the roof when it rains,” the young teacher replied nonchalantly. By then the headmaster arrived. Arun introduced himself briefly.
“I am Arun Pratap from Bhatkoti. I was as student of this school over sixty years ago. Just come to village and was keen to see the school.”
“We are honoured to have you here,” the headmaster said and offered to take him around. As they went around, he saw a splintered blackboard hanging on a wall. A teacher had done some multiplication sum on the board.
“How many classes are here?”
“This school is up to eighth class.”
“You mean eight classes being run in three rooms?”
“During fair weather, we hold classes in the open also,” the headmaster volunteered the information.
“What about teaching aids?”
The headmaster laughed. “Have you come from villayat?” You seem to be unaware of the life in villages.”
Arun didn’t want to tell him that he had in fact, come from villayat- a foreign country. And then he suddenly remembered his grandchildren.
“I want my Tablet,” one would demand and the other would scream for his video game.
 “I mean you surely have heard of overhead projectors or electronic screens or computers? He asked the headmaster.
The headmaster laughed sardonically. “Yes, we see them on TV.”
After a little pause the headmaster continued, “Sir, you are talking of teaching aids? We don’t have enough chalk pieces to write on black boards. We pool money from students and buy them from market and we use worn out ‘pyjamas’ to clean the black boards.”
Arun was pained to see the abysmal condition of the school and then he asked, “Incidentally, what do the students do in the sports period?”
“We ask them to fetch water from the PHC- the Public Health Centre building. Girls help in making tea and mopping the classrooms.”
“Do you have any library?”
“Having seen the school and the conditions prevailing here, don’t you think it is a silly question?” The headmaster had grown bold after the long conversation. Arun was dumbstruck.
Then he saw a little boy dipping a plastic mug into the water canister. Arun Pratap noticed that child’s hands were filthy and after he drank from the mug, the child dropped it in to the canister.
“Is this water potable; I mean properly filtered?” He was getting impatiently curious.
“We are lucky that the PHC guys allow us to take water from their tap. You think we can ask them whether it is purified or not?”

Arun Pratap knew in several African countries children had tape worms because the supply was from a stagnating source and there was no system of purification. He was sad that situation was no different in his village.

Arun then noticed a board reading ‘Government Public Health Centre’ on the adjoining building. He was curious to see the PHC. He asked Satya Prakash to accompany him and as they entered the building, they saw about a dozen villagers waiting to collect medicines. There was a shabbily dressed middle aged man dispensing medicines to the villagers. He was the compounder. Arun found out that out of the two doctors posted there, none was present.
“Where are the doctors?” He asked the compounder. The man’s authority seemed to have been outraged by a nincompoop asking an impertinent question.
“What have you got to do with the doctors?” He frowned.
“I understand there should be two doctors here.”
“Yes, but what’s your problem?”
“Where are they? Shouldn’t they be here?” Arun Pratap was seemingly curt.
The waiting patients joined him. “Sir, the doctors are seldom here. In fact, they come in the first week of the month; indent medicines, pick up their salary and go away to practice in their home towns.”
Arun was taken aback. “Are you suggesting that you are competent to dispense drugs to patients?” He asked the compounder.
“What drugs? The doctors take away all the medicines to their personal clinics,” the impatient patients said in unison.
“In that case what do you do here?’ Arun Pratap asked the compounder.
“I am here to disburse pain killers, analgesics, apply bandages or ointments in some cases.”
It was a distressing revelation. Arun Pratap was shocked at the quality of medical facilities available to the villagers even after sixty years of independence. 
“Do you have any female nurse here?”
“One female nurse was posted here a year back but she is yet to join; has appealed for cancellation of her posting. No one wants to work in these remote areas.”
“What do you do in cases of a child birth; I mean what happens when a maternity case comes here?” He asked the compounder.
“There is an old midwife in the adjoining village. She comes on call basis. In fact, she knows all the would-be mothers and knows when an expectant mother is brought here. In some cases, she helps in child birth at expectant mother’s place.”
Arun Pratap was shaken. Satya Prakash could see tears rolling down his cheeks. He arranged for a chair and asked Arun Pratap to sit down.

Arun had read about India’s successful Mars Mission. He had read about the increasing number of Indian billionaires in the Forbes list. He had seen the TV news item splashing Anitilia - as world’s costliest house owned by an Indian. He knew India had the best of luxury hotels, exclusively fashionable spas, endearing entertainment parks and beaches; and that India provided the largest number of software engineers and doctors to the world community.

Why has my village been left out? In which century are my people living? Why this uneven distribution of wealth? Will the fosse between the thatched roofs of my village and the world’s mammoth living abode, Anitilia owned by my own countryman be ever filled?

Arun Pratap was an anguished man.

“Let’s return to the village,” he told Satya Prakash.