MEETING OF THE PARALLEL LINES
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.
“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.