Friday, May 30, 2008

The wake up call

The key finally turned and I gave the door a slight push to open it. Putting the key and the bag of groceries on the counter I proceeded to the shoe rack to put my shoes in. I’m a very meticulous person and why not? I’m a Virgo right? I’m supposed to be a perfectionist. I flopped down on the couch and put my feet up on the coffee table. It’s been a long grueling day. What with deadlines to meet and Sujata on leave, so more work and that important meeting tomorrow and I’m not really complaining, after all I live to work and I happen to love my work and in any case I don’t have anyone to come home to or someone I’m dating and this just works fine for me. Lonesome? Not really. I have Bruno to keep me company and ‘no-one dare’ call him a dog.

He is still a pup, I had bought just four months back when I moved into this one bedroom apartment, it is small and sparingly furnished but it is mine, somewhere I belong and Bruno is now my family. I do have a perfect set of friends contrary to what most believe. They are this fun gang, radically different from me, they turn up once in a while and dig me out of my paradise and drag me all over town and hooking me up with one of their friends or other but with no such luck till now. Actually I don’t want to date I’m happy this way. Seeing people getting hurt, boy friends cheating on their girls friends, marriages breaking, the youth indulging in drugs and liquor really makes me want to puke so I’m happy to be away from all the things that threatens even remotely, to link me to that dark world.

I had had a nice cool shower and was on my way to cook my dinner when I found out that the gas cylinder had finished. Now to get dinner I would have to haul the cylinder from the small cloak room to the kitchen, I was reluctantly starting at the job when the door bell rang, I just peaked in through the eyehole to find this naughty pair of eyes staring at me. Vexed I opened the door. And I was hardly prepared to encounter what I was about to witness. A drop dead gorgeous man, with his tee clinging to his lean frame was staring at me. He must have been working out because sweat had stained his tee and he was in his work out suit. He had the curly hair that I found so cute and the crinkles around his eyes made him look adorable. I jerked my attention back to reality and let my senses get the better of me; I had an aversion to good looking men, even those who were not the typical hunk material. Back on my guard I look at him quizzingly.

“Umm… I’m your new neighbor, I just moved in today and I thought id drop by to say hello.” He said

Mentally I groaned, he is going to live beside me so there is no way I can avoid him. But I’ve never been the one to be rude outright so I replied instead “ well that’s great, I do hope you have a good time.” I added without thinking “would you like coffee?” now why did I ask, I surely didn’t want a hunk running around my paradise in his shorts while I played the perfect host to him.

“Sure, if you don’t mind.” He said as he strode in. “I’m Anirudha Banerjee, a software developer working in a multinational company.” He said when he had seated himself.

“I’m Ankhi, I’m a copywriter in an advertising agency.” I said as I got up to get the coffee when I remembered the gas cylinder that had to be replaced. I went straight to the cloakroom and started dragging it out. I could have asked Anirudha to help but no man is going to teach me how to live my life when the only man who mattered had not even bothered about me when I was growing up.

As I proceeded to fix the cylinder my thoughts were all clouded and I was decidedly angry at letting this unknown man in my house, a safe haven away from the male infestation. But he was not really unknown, I had heard so much about this man, the lift man of the building was singing praises of his kindness. Mrs. Sen couldn’t stop ranting about his ability at his field and even hinted of he being promoted to the position of CEO in a few months on the basis of sheer hard work and skill. Mr. Agarwal my old companion in this new city and this multistoried apartment, too seemed to be greatly impressed by this man. The fact that this guy managed to make the grumpy and gruff Mr. Agarwal like him was no mean feat and this made me immensely angry. What arrogance! What makes him feel so happy and cheerful, I just hated his temperament. His disposition unsettled me and I was almost sick of hearing about him, that I couldn’t believe that I was actually making him coffee. Arrgh! I do land myself in all sorts of trouble and this man surely was one with a big “T”.

While I was making coffee, Anirudha had walked to the veranda close by and was reading my favorite book of poetry. He seemed lost and abruptly turned around when he heard my footsteps. “I didn’t realize you were here. I hope you don’t mind me filing through this book, this one happens to be my favorite.”

There he goes, trying to impress me. Drat not one man can stop at just a plain conversation. My attention shifted when he said. “so which poet is your favorite in this compilation? Mine is Toru Dutt ‘The Casurina tree’. Pity she died so young, quite a talent she had.“ So he has some knowledge about the book and he wasn’t really fibbing.

“Well I happen to love her. I can connect to her emotionally and the ethereal quality of her poems fascinates me” I found myself blurting out.

“SoAnirudha what brings you to Pune? I assume you are from Kolkata since you are a Bengali.”

“Primarily work. I got myself transferred. And I wanted a new reason to live. What about you? Are you from here? Or are you a migrant here too?”

“Well after landing myself a job in my campus-ing, I permanently shifted here. This is my home now,” I proudly gestured towards my minuscule apartment

“This is one helluva apartment madam, it has been done up with great taste. Moreover since it’s your apartment, something that is owned by you makes it even more precious.”

Whatever I heard wasn’t what I was expecting he would say but I was rather glad that he understood my need to possess something that is solely mine; and I found my guard slipping and myself relaxing in his company. For once I was able to overlook my prejudice about men and actually begin to talk to a man who was not ready to pounce on me.

“I see no family pictures here? So where is your family?

I was immediately back on my guard. I’m not really comfortable talking about my family, and anyway I hardly knew one. I was saved from answering as a whimper diverted our attention to my bedroom. I had forgotten all about Bruno, who had been locked all this while and hearing voices he too wanted to be present there.

Anirudha walked over and opened the door and out came Bruno almost running him over, sniffing suspiciously and ultimately he came over to nestle in my arms. Anirudha came back and sat down.

“This is Bruno. He is all I have. He is my family.” I said as I hugged him to me.

He is darn smart. A golden retriever right?” I smiled. It dint take Bruno anytime at all to be friend this bespectacled man whom I had almost hated all morning. This was surprising because Bruno was very possessive of me and hated strangers.

“So where is your family? You are old enough to be married now and have kids. So did you leave them behind in Kolkata?” I saw his face cloud and a painful expression adorn his face for a flicker of a moment when the calm and collected mask came on. I must have hit a nerve, I thought.

“Yes I have left them behind, or to put it mildly they have left me behind. And I do have a wife and kids.”

It didn’t strike me odd so I didn’t question him. Time had passed so quickly that I hardly noticed it was almost 10 and I needed to make dinner. Not wanting to make him leave yet, because I was beginning to enjoy my conversation with him; it wasn’t everyday that I had company, so I decided to ask him to stay over for dinner. He readily accepted.

“I was about to order food when I came over to talk to you. You see my kitchen hasn’t been set yet so I couldn’t cook. I’d like to stay if it is not a big problem for you. I’d really appreciate it” he had said.

While I hurriedly set about making dinner, Ani, [that was what he preferred to be called he said] went about setting the table. I never had guests over and neither did I ever bother to make preparations for dinner but Ani was in his own world. He asked me where the cutlery and plates were and went ahead placing them with precision. I was surprised, usually men never did this sort of a thing but Ani, was full of surprises. Dinner was pleasant with companionable silences and idle conversation. It was when we moved back to my couch beside the open balcony with desert when I finally asked what had been on my mind from the moment he had mentioned his wife.

“So did you have an arranged marriage or did you fall in love with your wife?” I asked, he looked stricken but answered, “It’s a long long story, will tell you sometime.” But I was adamant I wanted to know about this man and what made him so cheerful about life when there was so much to ponder about and so much to battle with each day and the biggest enemy was my emotions and the fear of being abandoned. But this guy seemed perfect. He was good looking, seemed to be quite prosperous, had wife and kids and to me his life seemed perfect; maybe that’s why he was always so cheerful. Thank god! At least someone has a good life, nowadays happy people were minority and so were good guys. All guys wanted were some meaningless fun and she wasn’t yet that progressive. The fact that Ani was married with kids somehow eliminated him her hit list and she relaxed visibly.

“Was that too personal a question to ask?” I asked.

“No it wasn’t really. But really that is a long story and it may not be that rosy.”

“I have the time of the world now. And I’m all ears for a story and I’m not that delicate that I cannot handle a story with its gruesome parts.” He gave me a ghost of a smile. I wondered why there were these sad and anguished expressions that surfaced for a fraction of a second and then disappeared. I hardly had time to ponder on that more, because he had begun his tale.

“I met my wife while studying engineering. She was my classmate and my best friend and my greatest competitor. We had this love hate thing that lasted for four years and it was during our last month in college, when we were distraught at the mere thought of leaving college, the hay days of our youth to embark upon a new journey onward; that I realized just how much my future seemed bleak without having Esha around. It wasn’t until almost the last day of college that I managed to muster the courage to confess my feelings to her. it was now or never. I was aware that I could loose her forever but I took the plunge. Surprisingly, when I dared to look up into her eyes. I saw tears, she told me she knew I would someday tell her that I loved her but what she had never anticipated was that I’d take four years to figure that out and even bother to ask her, for her feelings were out in the open for all to see. That was the happiest day of my life. I had hugged her in class with all our classmates cheering on. We cried harder thinking of just how much of courtship we had missed out on. While the other couples in our college bunked classes and gone out to watch movies. We had attended classes, solved sums trying to outdo each other.

Things didn’t seem to brighten because I would have to remain in the city for my first job while she would have to travel to Bangalore for hers. Amidst sobs and promises she left seven days later. Life almost fell apart for both of us. We managed to pass the days somehow for the next year. Then one day I she turned up at my doorstep early in the morning. She had come back to the city quitting her job. She had said that living a life apart was proving fatal for her and that she’d rather stay near me than work so many miles away from me. We decided to marry but not before she found herself a job in Kolkata. And that didn’t take her long and she actually managed to find work in my office and that too as my colleague. What luck! Our parents didn’t even raise their eyebrows when we declared that we wanted to marry. Then a year later I quit my job and stayed home to study MBA while she became the bread earner, we never had ego clashes. After I got my degree I joined a reputed firm; while Esha went back to business school. It was then she had gotten pregnant and incidentally our baby choose the day of her exam to put up an appearance. Esha had given her exam despite the labor pains racking her body. And only after the exams when she got out that she confessed as much to me. Arka was born within the next twenty fours hours and we were proud parents and I was even more proud of my wife. My life was blissful until tragedy struck almost a year and half later.

I had returned home from work. Together Esha and I put Arka to sleep and came back to the dinning room to celebrate the news that she so wanted to share. Over dinner she gave me a card that read, “Congratulations to the new dad” I was puzzled but when I looked up and saw the smile brightening my wife’s face I knew it. We were going to be blessed again. I almost cried. That night I almost clung to my wife, overwhelmed with love and happiness. My life was perfect and it was complete. But things fell apart that very night. A short circuit caused a fire and spread all over our apartment. We woke up only after the fire had reached the veranda of our room. We ran grabbing our essentials, Esha slowly made her way to get the fire extinguisher from the kitchen, while I ran to get Arka who slept down the hall. I tried, I really did to get in. I got charred and burnt but by the time I could just manage to enter the room Arka was lying still apparently he had fainted from suffocation. I picked him up and ran as fast as my legs would permit. I looked in the kitchen which was ablaze and Esha was nowhere in sight. I ran down the stairs praying arka and esha to be safe. In the streets I was Esha lying on the ground as the paramedics treated her, I ran to her, the doctors tried to make Arka breathe but didn’t so much as stir. Once he had spluttered but then he just fell lifeless in my arms. I had lost my son. My wife was overcome by grief and what with smoke chocking her mere existence she fainted; and was rushed to the hospital. After an hour of examination the doctor came out to say that the baby had died in her womb of suffocation and my wife was struggling to live but the burn was too severe. Esha never saw the morning dawn and she died in the darkess of the night. There I was abandoned, by my bundle of joys and my true existence, my kids and my wife. Then it took my almost a year to get back to office. But couldn’t. I went off to NY for a few months but then memories called me back. The love that Esha and I had shared gave me faith in my darkest hour and I found the strength to fight, to survive to live again. And here I am a new man trying to figure life, to look beyond the dark clouds that threaten to plunge my life into obscurity. Here I am fighting, like a warrior with life, to keep the memories of my wife and kids alive, to keep the youthful love alive; the love that taught me to be fearless, to hope and to give.

When he stopped, I found tears running down my face uncontrolled. I looked up to see a lone tear slip unnoticed from his youthful naughty eyes that looked so melancholy and anguished that I could barely breathe. He had suffered and suffered so terribly; yet he had the hope and the faith to look beyond his loss to try and live life because the dead had passed on and he was still alive.

“Do you know why I told you this Aankhi? That too on our first meeting? It is because I know there is wealth of pain that you harbor too, and I just wanted to share my grief to make you acknowledge your grief and finally let go of the past. We all need a little help, a comforting hug and some sound advice to prevent us from being sucked into the vortex of grief.” I was silent for a few minutes as his words sank in.

“My mother died at childbirth. Dad was heartbroken and withdrew completely from the world. I was just a child who needed love and reassuring but I got none. The only loving person in my life was granny. But she too died when I was just eight. I craved for my dad’s attension and hoped that someday he would look beyond his grief and turn towards me and embrace me. but he never did so much as to look at me. probably I reminded him of her, because I was told I looked like exactly like her; or maybe I brought back the reality of the fact that my mother was no more and I was the cause of his grief. That it was for me that he had lost her, forever. Then one day when I was fourteen, I had gone to his room with his morning tea when I found him lying lifeless. The doctors said that he had suffered a heart attack and the grief finally killed him. I was orphaned and I swore not to love and that would ensure the loved ones from abandoning me. I was thankfully left a large sum as inheritance which saw me through school then college. Until I finally landed a job in this city and the firm I’m working in.”

I hadn’t realized I was speaking until I left a pair of arms enfolding me in a warm tight hug, the arms held me securely as I cried my eyes out. Years of pent up emotion, pain and anguish. Ani’s pain helped me heal, to acknowledge my grief, and it was his optimism and outlook that now became mine. He held me long after my sobs had muted and the tremors had subsided. it was late into the night when he finally helped me up, and took me to my room. He pulled the covers back and tucked me in. for the first time in my life someone cared and I let him. Maybe life was like this, it flings in our lives the good and the bad and it also gives us the hope to brave through our distress. If the courage is within us we duel with life and wake up to a new life. And those who choose to dwell in grief lost the opportunity to live life again, for the second time.

Ani loved his wife but he lost her to death, yet he didn’t not despair but choose to keep her alive in his memory, his son will always be on his mind as will his unborn child; they will be reborn again; maybe if someday he choose to remarry and gave a family. But he would always love and remember them He gave a chance to life and life welcomed him back. And today he saved my soul and gave a newer meaning to my life. And this time I would fight, I would live, I would let life lead me forward and not dwell in the agonies of the past. I will survive.

As the sky lightened, and dawn broke I drifted off. For the first time in years I slept blissfully and at peace. It was almost 8 when the alarm woke me up. It took me a moment and then the memories of the last nights events came rushing back. It’s a new day! A new beginning! I thought as I got up with a spring in my step and feeling cheerful: I set about running the water for my bath deciding what clothes to wear for that important meeting. Bruno too seemed happy today! Life seems a lot better and finally I felt free.


Sunshine gal said...

Bhiiishon Bhalo...Very Very well written...The length of the story just adds to the enjoyment-like the harry potter books-the fatter, the better!...But sumhow, i wud hv liked ankhi to kip her own personal grief to herself-draw an important lesson of life from Ani but not divulge everything for she is an uptight who feels it easier to mask her emotions than show it up to the real world..But trust me u do have a way with out own stories-kip it up-hone your skills and sumday your easy flowin language and simple stories will rival that of Mr.Bhagat's.HONEST!

I'll try 2 be truthful said...

interesting, insightful , heart rending and has a feel good feeling in th end , dont mind my saying but its definitly a much better effort , u'r only getting better with time
ps - ask srimoyee wat "having coffee" means ( pun intended)

phoenix said...

god!you have no idea how you have managed to calm me...i was desperately hoping youd like it....and after the discussion if you didnt id feel terribly let down.thank you.i feel encouraged :)

@i'll be truthful
thanks a lot :)
btw do you mean srimoyee samaddar???

I'll try 2 be truthful said...

ya ya the same srimoyee samaddar , arre im amrita , the grl u met wen u payed heritage a visit

Ashu said...

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Light up your blog and your weekend…..

phoenix said...


phoenix said...

oh sorry i didnt know this "i'kll be truthful was you" :)

Minko said...


Kaylee said...

omg love it i want to talk to you and guess what i go home wednesday :)

Matangi Mawley said...

tht was a gr8 post.. i like u r blog..

starry nights said...

Very well written..that was a gr8 post