Happy Mother’s Day.

Roshni ran to her room as soon as she entered the house. She opened the room, put her bag on the carpet, slided the curtains to allow the light enter the room and stared out of the window.

She noticed the mango tree in the backyard had grown taller and wider. The tree blocked most of the light entering through the window. She looked around the room. Everything was as it was when she left for college a year ago. Now that the summer vacation were on, she could sleep longer, eat home made food and hang out with her old friends. She looked out the window again. A smile covered her face as she saw the big green mangoes hanging from the tree. She loved raw mangoes.

Then suddenly she heard the caws. The crows were all over the mango tree. They continuously made sounds as if there was a fight going on. Then Roshni noticed a crow being attacked by other crows. The crow being attacked was a very small one and was a bit different. It took a while for Roshni to figure out that the little crow was not actually a crow but was a baby cuckoo. What stunned Roshni was the fact that there was a crow who was protecting the cuckoo from the attacks. Roshni had never seen this thing before. Her grandmother had told her stories about the cuckoo bird. These lazy birds don’t build their own nest. They instead lay eggs in other bird’s nest…mostly crow’s nest. Thus the crow…probably a female was not protecting the cuckoo but she was protecting her child. The crow knew that the baby was not hers but she knew she was it’s mother. Roshni kept looking at the crow and the cuckoo until they flew to a farther tree.

Roshni then walked slowly to the other wall. And gazed at the framed photo. It was her mother’s. She took out a match stick and lighted the candle kept on the shelf close to the photo. “Mom…I wish I had some memories of you…” Roshni was very young when her mom passed away. She had only heard stories of her mother from her grandmother.

“Roshni…” Called her father. Roshni at once went running to the dinning room. The table was full of all her favourite foods. Her Dad stood at the corner with a sweet smile.

“Dad…what have you done!”

“So you don’t want all this?” He frowned.

“Of course I do want all this.” Roshni uncovered all the dishes one by one, taking the delicious scents in and smiling all the time. At one such dish she uncovered the lid and held on for a moment. “Coconut prawn? Mom loved it when you made this for her…right?

“No darling…I made it because you love it and…who told you about your mother?” Roshni’s father seemed a little annoyed.

“Grandma did. You loved Mom very much didn’t you?”

“I…I don’t….why don’t you start eating. It’s getting cold.”

Roshni went closer to her dad and hugged him tightly.

“I know I’m not your…blood” Roshni cried as she tried to complete the sentence.

“Who told you that? You are my daughter and I am your father…” Her father couldn’t hold back his tears either.

“Grandma told me that mom cheated on you. You still accepted her. You accepted me and…oh dad.” Roshni gripped him even tighter.

“Stop your rubbish. You know I love your mom. I loved her with all I had. And will continue to love her till my last breath. And I love you my darling.” He kissed her on her head. “Don’t bring all this up ever… understand. Or…or I’ll never talk to you. Now please would you start eating!”

Roshni smiled and wiped her tears. “Dad?”

“Now what?”

“I think you are the best mother in this world!”

The Tumble

“You seem tensed son…What is that paper you are holding?” Viraj’s mother asked with concern. She couldn’t walk properly and crippled as she walked pass the door.

“Mom!”, Viraj stood up from his seat and held her mother, “Why are you still up? It’s already two…I told you to sleep early. Did you take your medicines?” He quickly folded the paper and put it into his pocket.

“I saw the lights were on…So…I am worried about you son!” She couldn’t hold back her tears any longer.

“Mom, come have a seat”, he made her sit on the sofa. He sat beside her and held her hand.

“You are my strength Mom and if you break down like this I ….” He reached to his pocket and took out the paper. He unfolded it and kept it on the table.

“Divorce?! Is she really doing this?”

“Mom don’t..You know this was coming,” Viraj sighed, “Please..I… Let’s get you to bed…We will talk about this in the morning… Okay?”
Viraj took his mother to her room. Made her take the pills and put her to bed. He sat beside her brushing her hairs until she was soundly asleep. He turned the lights off, took out a cigarette from his pocket, grabbed the keys and went to the terrace. He went to a corner and tried to light the cigarette. The terrace was dark. The bulb fused about a year ago but nobody in the building cared to replace it. The wind made it difficult for Viraj to light the cigarette. His fingers were not cooperating either. He had anxiety issues and his fingers trembled in stress. Finally he succeeded in the fourth try.

With each puff he realized how useless and futile his living had become. His fingers trembled badly. He couldn’t grip the cigarette properly.He let himself cry finally. He met Aditi his wife in medical college. They were good friends and till the last year were a couple. They married the way they wanted…It was grand. Life was going well…The perfect family…Perfect marriage… Their practice seemed good…But then it happened. The accident. The accident that ruined the perfect life. While coming back home from the hospital, Viraj’s car came in front of a lorry. It happened in a fraction of second. The driver lost his life then and there. Viraj was critical for about a week. The accident gave Viraj the anxiety to live with but took away his chance to become a father ever. The practice eventually came down. Aditi was not able to handle the stress and their marriage was not perfect anymore. These thoughts kept coming back and forth in Viraj’s mind until the cigarette burnt his fingers.
Suddenly he heard a sound. It was definitely coming from the terrace but from the other side. He rushed to inspect. He could only see a shadow in the darkness. He got closer. It seemed someone was standing near the edge of the wall leaning down. Suddenly it appeared to Viraj that someone was trying to jump off from the roof. He wasted no time and grabbed the person with all his strength and pulled towards the center.

“Hey! Dude…What’s wrong with you?” It was a deep but annoyed voice.

“What were you trying to do? Suicide is an offense and never an option!”

“What? Seriously…What?”

“Weren’t you? Okay but…”

Both of them panted and probably were hurt.

“God! My phone and keys fell on the lintel of the window while I was looking down. I tried to reach it. That’s it.”

“Hey…I am really sorry. You live in this building?”

“Yeah…Its been about two three months I guess.”

“Umm…I am sorry mate. But it really wasn’t a good idea. It could be dangerous. You could wait till the morning. The guard will fetch it. Don’t worry.”

“Yeah I know. It wasn’t a great idea,” he paused, “would it be alright if I crash at your place…You know the keys are..”

“Sure man… Absolutely!”

Viraj took the man to his apartment. The man seemed younger than Viraj. He was dressed up in a very casual manner. The hairs all curly and a long beard.
“So this is my home. Be comfortable. Mom is in the next room so try not to be loud.”

“Hey what’s this?” He casually picked up the divorce papers.

“Hey!” Viraj snatched the paper. “We have just…You are a stranger…Behave like one!” Viraj was furious. “So what’s your name?”

“Shantanu and you are?”

“Viraj…Dr. Viraj…”

“Oh.. so doc do you have something to eat…Actually anything would do. I am starving.”

“Yeah and you are bleeding too.” Viraj pointed towards his bleeding elbow.
Viraj brought him some leftovers and first aid. Shantanu was a very talkative person and just blabbered till dawn until they both were dead sleep. Shantanu told Viraj that he was an aspiring writer. He was all alone in the city and his parents didn’t support him. Shantanu was working as an intern in an online channel after getting rejected from many firms.

When Viraj woke up the next morning Shantanu was not in the room. Viraj went to his mother’s room only to find Shantanu and his mother laughing loud and munching on the fries. Viraj was happy seeing her mother laugh. It had been a while since her mother laughed so carefree. Suddenly the door bell rang. Viraj opened the door. The watchman stood holding a phone and a bunch of keys.
“Sir, Shantanu sir?”

“Yeah I’ll give it to him. Thank you”.

“Hey you got the keys! Thank you man.” Shantanu came from behind. “Hey Doctor! Good morning.”

“Good morning Shantanu. How are you feeling?” Asked Viraj.

“Good and well fed for a change”, he chuckled. “Your mother is a sweetheart. Now I think I should leave. It was great meeting you…Thanks for having me!”

“Yeah, same here. Actually Shantanu…umm…Feel free anytime to come here. Mom would enjoy your company very much.”

“Thanks dude. Bye”.

Viraj and Shantanu gradually became good friends. The divorce finally took place. Viraj and his mother were getting over the change quite well. And Shantanu did eventually get a publisher for his first novel. The novel was a hit. Shantanu threw a success party at his apartment. He invited all his novelist friends. The company people. Some people from the apartment and Viraj.

“Hey the party was fire dude.” Viraj went up to Shantanu after the party was over. All the people had left. Shantanu requested Viraj to help with cleaning.

“Yeah. You enjoyed yourself?” Asked Shantanu clearing the empty beer bottles from the table.

“Hmm…After a very long time I should say.” Viraj sat on the sofa smiling to Shantanu.

“Hey how is your practice going? I mean..”

“Quite well actually. I mean the anxiety returns sometimes but it’s fine. I am fine.”

“Good…I am glad.”

“What now? New story? You thought any plot?” Viraj stood up to clean the balcony.

Shantanu also went to the balcony to help him.
“Yeah…Its about a writer who…” He cleared his throat, “who fell in love with a doctor!”

Viraj froze at once. He looked at Shantanu with astonishment. Shantanu went close to Viraj held him and kissed him passionately.
“Shantanu behave…I am not…” Viraj took his foot back and pushed Shantanu.

“You are not like that. I get it. I wanted to just confess my love. And I have one more thing to confess…”

“What?” Viraj asked softly.

“That night I was actually about to jump from the terrace. I was broken to the core. Nobody was ready to publish my novel…My parents were embarrassed of me and…”

“Shantanu I am sorry but I cannot.”

Viraj came close to Shantanu. He held his hand and hugged him tight.

“Hey you need not to be sorry. You saved me. You gave me a new reason to live. I cannot ask for more. I am leaving for New York tomorrow. I just wanted to let you know what I actually feel about you.”

“When will you return?”

“I am not sure. It could be a month or a year or more than a year.” He sighed. “I think you should leave Viraj. Its late…I haven’t packed yet.”

“Yeah right…Bye..” Viraj took his coat and headed towards the door.

“Viraj…” Shantanu called from behind. Viraj looked back. “Good luck dude”.

“Good luck to you too.” Viraj smiled. “And don’t tumble off any terrace or roof top!”

“Yeah, your advice my command Doctor!” Shantanu chuckled. “And…I’ll be fine …Don’t worry.”

The Pain.

‘Sir, your name?’

‘John…John Thomas.’

‘What year Sir?’

‘2018.’

‘Thank you Sir, you may proceed.’

John walked past the entrance with a heavy heart but a smile on his face. The place was beautifully maintained by the keepers. The lush green bushes, the smell of the seasonal flowers, the chirp of the birds, the cool breeze…Everything was peaceful. He walked through the cobble stone road to reach the grave. He held the flowers he brought in his hand and smiled at the grave.
He remembered how 8 years ago he decided to end his life. John was going through a very difficult time at that point. His job was at stake, his savings were down with the crashing stock market and his love of life was being married to someone else. He only had his father with him who was mostly ill. The other support he had was his 2 year old dog, Pom.

He remembered the night when he took all his pills which were prescribed for his depression. He remembered losing himself with each passing second. He remembered the faint visuals and the faint barks. He remembered waking up the next day in the hospital bed. His father sitting beside his bed and crying.
‘What have you done my son!’

‘Father…I was…’

‘Pom saved you….And saved me.’

The neighbours had heard Pom barking aggressively. They had rushed John to the nearest hospital.

‘You don’t know John…I could not have lived without you. You cannot imagine the pain. The most unfortunate thing for a parent is to live with the fact that their child is no more! Thank God you are alright!’

He remembered how his father kissed his forehead and prayed for his long life. John’s father died that very year due to the chronic illness.
But still John was glad that his father was able to witness his prosperity. That year John had started his own startup which was a huge success.
He now wept as he looked at the stone on the grave.

‘I now know father…The pain you were talking about…You were right! Its unbearable but still I have to bear it everyday till I die.’
He kept the flowers on the grave and left wiping his tears.
The stone read…
‘ POM (2008-2018).
Boy.. You’ll always remain in my heart.
Love Dad.’

THE HERO.

‘Raman…That’s what your name is right? You want to marry my daughter but tell me one thing what made you think that? Neither your family has a good house nor do you have a stable job. I heard you work for the ironsmith…How you will pay for my daughter’s expenses? I must tell you your love isn’t meant to pay bills!’ the father spoke with distrust and disgust.

The lamps in the courtyard flickered as the wind blew. The wind was cold and harsh, swiping the dry leaves which cracked as they moved.

‘But father…I’ the girl tried to rebel but soon lost words after seeing the face of her furious father.

‘Diya!’ the father shouted, ‘Don’t you have any shame left? You are a disgrace to our family. How will I face our ancestors after I die.’ Diya started sobbing at once. Her father had never talked to her like that. She ran inside the room. Her anklet made a musical sound as she ran which rhymed with that of the crickets in the nearby bushes.
‘Believe me I would take good care of your princess and keep her happy all her life.’ His eyes were filled with passion and he trembled with the immense desperation to achieve his love. ‘I have got a place in the king’s army sir…I would not work as a ironsmith now. I love her and I would do anything and everything to be with her.’
‘The king’s army? That would fetch some decent money…Are you sure that you are not lying young man?’

‘I have brought the paper with me sir,’ Raman handled a rolled document to Diya’s father, ‘Please sir have a look.’

The father opened the knot of the golden thread to spread the sheet. He went close to the lamp near the well.
‘So you are appointed in the chief’s troop…’ he said touching the king’s seal at the bottom of the paper. ‘Is it a permanent position?’.

‘I will be trained and examined for three months sir after which I could make it permanent’.

‘I work in the ministry…’

‘I know sir, Diya had told me once that you are very dear to the king. I would prove my worth sir and then come to you.’

‘I may seem harsh but I am a father. Diya is my only asset and I want best for her future. You are a good man and so I would be glad if you get a position in the army.’ he looked at Diya who peeped from the room with teary eyes. ‘If you prove yourself…I will take you as my son in law.’
‘Oh father!’ Diya ran to her father and hugged him tightly. ‘You are the best father in the world!

Jannagar, the state that they lived in was a Hindu state ruled by an Islamic ruler. Unlike the neighbouring countries here no one was compelled to convert to Islam, no temples were destroyed, the tax system was good, people lived in harmony. It was a rich country in terms of culture, mines, grains and education. This rising power filled the neighbouring rulers with insecurity and jealousy. Enemies started forming alliances to stop the growth and bring down the ruler of Jannagar.
Hence it was necessary to increase the army strength and put more skillful people in the ministry. Raman thus got a chance to get into the army. He went through three months of rigorous training. He learnt to use the sword which he once used to make. Meanwhile Diya eagerly waited for him religiously in front of the masjid everyday and dress his wounds. The masjid was a magnificent structure which the ruler had made. It had four pillars in the four directions, more than thousand cells surrouned the major body which had large pieces of mirrors attached to it. At night the light from the numerous lamps would reflect from the mirrors and the place would look unbelievable. In the morning the mirrors would be covered with large pieces of cloth. In the evening the prayers from the masjid and the prayers from the nearby temple would merge beautifully to create a divine sound. Raman and Diya would sit around the pond behind the masjid for hours gazing at the flickering bright lights and listening to the soothing prayers.

‘The king is in danger dear… Enemies are all around us.’ Raman said to Diya. They sat near the pond dipping their feet in the cool water. The setting sun looked mesmerizing.

‘I trust you. You’ll save us and the king.’ Diya smiled at Raman.

‘I am serious Diya…Why do you think the sudden recruitments were made? Tomorrow the chief told us about a special troop training…’

‘Special troop training?’, Diya became serious now. Something was disturbing Raman and she could sense that. ‘What do you want to tell me Raman? You can tell me everything.’

‘The special troop would be appointed for the king’s safety. That means we would no longer be able to meet like this.’
‘You are on national duty Raman, I understand. The King’s a great man and he should be protected. You do your duty. I am so proud of you.’ Diya brushed Raman’s hair with her finger and touched his would in his forehead. ‘ I will wait for you. I promise.’

‘And what if I never return? What I …’
Diya put her palm on Raman’s lips and stared at him with teary eyes.
‘ You will… and if you don’t…I will come to meet you, I promise. You are my hero.’

The next day onwards Raman’s training for the special troop started. He with the other few soldiers were taken to the Royal palace to understand the structure of the great architecture. He was amazed to see the marvellous buildings and the concept. The ministry hall was giant with huge mirrors in all four walls. The officers told them to take close look into the mirrors. Raman went near to one the mirror. As he moved forward he could see the reflection of the other soldiers who were standing in front of the mirror of the opposite wall.
‘Incredible!’, Raman whispered to himself and as he uttered the word the whole room filled with the echoes of his voice.

‘Yeah! We can see any person, any weapon he is holding and can hear every word he says or even whispers…So boys each and every thing has been specially designed to aid the security.’ the officer told the soldiers. ‘Now you may look above…Look at the ceiling’, the officer ordered.
Raman looked above. It was a chandelier. Sparkling and reflecting light.
‘It’s not any chandelier…It is made of diamonds! There is no fire allowed here to light the hall. Now…In the morning the sunlight is reflected by the diamonds and during the night the moonlight does the work. The hall is closed during new moon and I think you are smart enough to figure out the reason!’

Raman was overwhelmed by the palace with each fact he got to know and every thing he got to see. For the next few days Raman and the fellow soldiers were briefed about some unknown and hidden facts and paths about the palace. There was always something more interesting thing to learn than something they had just learned.
Diya on the otherhand was passing her days dreaming about meeting Raman and being his wife someday.

‘Raman! What a surprise…What are you doing her?” Diya’s father saw Raman outside the ministry hall. ‘Are you allowed to come here?’

‘Sir I have been appointed in the special troop…I am…’Raman stopped as the officer arrived.

‘Raman!’, the officer shouted, ‘What are you doing here? Go to the field now.’

‘Sorry sir…He is a kid…New recruitment…’, the officer said for justification.

‘Oh I know him actually…Is he doing good?’, asked Diya’s father.

‘Yeah, He’s bright sir and can be counted on.’ replied the officer, ‘I have to return to field for the class. It was nice talking to you.’

Raman went to the field all confused. He wanted to ask about Diya. He wanted to talk to her father about his progress. He wanted to show him his capabilities. But why the officer didn’t let him talk? Why he didn’t let him talk about the special troop?

‘Raman how did you forget about the secrecy?.’

‘Sir I am sorry but isn’t he in the ministry? He already has the knowledge about the troop. Doesn’t he?.’

‘No. And you did a horrible mistake for which I could punish you. The ministry doesn’t know about many things which the army and king decides. I am forgiving you this time. You are a good soldier but you must know to assess people.’

‘I don’t understand sir’

‘ I cannot say anything more than this. Return to your training.’

As the days passed, the heat between the countries increased. There were numerous meetings to dissolve matters and avoid the war. All was in vain. It seemed that war was inevitable. The enemy had also built an army…An army bigger than Jannagar…An army well equipped than Jannagar. Their soldiers were as pumped as that of Jannagar. But was only the opposite army the reason that the king and Jannagar was unsafe?
‘What do you think…Can we defeat them? Their army seems big!.’ one of the fellow soldiers asked Raman. There were sitting on the terrace and keeping an eye on the surrounding. The night was silent but windy. It was a new moon.The lamps and hurricanes went off every now and then. The light was enough to see each other’s faces.
‘They might be big…But we are more brave and size doesn’t matter my friend.’

‘Are you not afraid that may be we won’t be able see the faces we left at home?’.

‘Yeah…A bit but remember we are fighting for them. We have to protect them.’ Raman got tears forming as he thought about Diya.

‘What is that noise?’ the soldier cried. The bushes from the nearby jungle shuffled as a fire surrounded the palace.

‘Enemy…Bloody cowards! They attacked us in this dark.’ Raman ran to inform the chief. ‘You wake the other soldiers. Our brothers are sleeping they must be awaken!’ Raman shouted.
Raman ran as fast as he could to find the chief. Battling his way…Killing enemies…Facing the fire which was in the palace too. He reached the hall only to find out something he couldn’t even believe in his wildest dreams. The king was surrounded by the ministry officials. They were not protecting him but ready to attack him. The chief stood in front of the king to protect him. He was hurt himself. He was stabbed several times on his chest but still he stood like a true warrior.

‘Sir!’ cried Raman. He felt disgusted. He was filled with anger seeing the enemies within. They not only betrayed the king… They betrayed the country…The people.

‘Raman…Go to the city… Wake people up. Send the soldier here. Being killed in sleep is the worst thing to happen to warriors. Everyone must fight for freedom!’ the chief ordered.

Raman ran at once to the secret path to the core of the city that was the masjid. He looked back. The fire and the enemies were engulfing the palace. The silent night had turned to a storm of warcries and prayers. He reached the masjid. His legs were giving up. He panted heavily. He heard the prayers. The prayers of the masjid and the temple. The night was dark and it became darker with each moment though the city burned. He ran to Diya.
Diya was standing with other people. There was fear in their faces. There was uncertainty in the faces.
‘Diya we have been attacked. The cowards have shown their true colour. We have to fight. The whole country has to fight. Gather the youth. Man…Woman…Anyone and everyone has to become a warrior. The country is asking for blood.’

‘We will unite. We will fight.’ shouted one of the people. ‘Our country needs us….We have to fight till the last drop of blood in our body!’

‘I will bring the youth together. Raman…We will fight.’

‘I am going back to the palace. You all have to protect the people…Keep the spirit alive.’ Suddenly the fear and uncertainty in the faces turned to a strange spirit to do something. There was fire in everyone’s eyes…The blood of each citizen boiled.

‘Diya… I love you and you must know…There are enemies within…The betrayers. One is very close to you and me…’

‘No…Father?’ she uttered.

Raman sighed and looked at the ground. Diya came close to him and kissed him.

‘Kill him…Kill the betrayers…Kill the wolves.’ she said looking into his eyes.

Raman returned to the palace. The chief was aided by the other soldiers. Raman went in to save the king. Probably this was the closest he came to the king. Suddenly the chief collapsed on the ground. The king who was fighting with the enemies came running to hold him.

‘Raman! That’s your name right?’ the king called Raman.

‘Yes my majesty…’ Raman nodded.
‘Take the chief out of here. I am here with the soldiers’

‘But…’

‘I am the king…Its my order!’
Raman at once lifted the chief and went towards the door. He looked in the large mirrors. There stood Diya’s father with a dagger. He swiftly kept the chief beside the door and took out his sword.

‘You were never worthy to marry my daughter…The new King would make her the queen!’ Diya’s father attaked Raman. Raman at once passed his sword across the chest of the betrayer.

‘Your daughter will decide what she wants not you. You deserve death and that’s what you get!’ Raman took the sword out to stab him again.

Raman then took the chief to the masjid to keep him safe and told the students to serve him. He returned to the palace only to see the king lying in a pool of blood. Raman was exhausted and seeing the king dead broke his spirit.
He was losing himself. He was blacking out. He bleeded badly. Now the wounds started hurting. He closed his eyes for a moment. All he could see was Diya with a beautiful smile on her face stretching her arms and calling him. He opened his eyes. There was light! The first sunray hit the diamonds. There was light! He then saw his soldiers and the citizens rushing in. He closed his eyes again.
When he opened his eyes. He saw white cloth overhead. He tried to get up. It seemed as a tent. They were under medical camps the people had set up.
‘Let me help…’, the chief held him.

‘Sir! You are alive! What happened? I collapsed…I couldn’t save the country…the king.’

‘We couldn’t save the king and his family. But the country is safe for the time being. You saved us!’
‘We saved us. We fought….But where is Diya?’

Chief had no answer. Diya died fighting the enemy. She sacrificed her life. The silence of the chief was enough for Raman to understand. He went out of the tent and went to the pond behind the masjid. He dipped his feet in the water and closed his eyes. Diya flashed infront of him. She still stood smiling and happy. She was content and satisfied.

The chief came and sat beside Raman.

‘You have the right to grief but the country wants you now…The throne is empty and the neighbouring states won’t wait for long to attack again.’

Raman looked at the chief and asked, ‘But who is worthy to sit on the throne? The Royal family is destroyed. The ministry has fallen.’

‘True…The king was one of a kind. He was like god and should be worshipped. We have kept his body beneath the centre of the masjid as he wished.’ The chief handled a small vessel to Raman. ‘This is Diya’s remains…Her ashes…She wanted you to put her in this pond. Take your time and when you are ready…Come to the ministry hall.’

Raman took the vessel close to his chest and cried his heart out. He put the ashes in the pond water and waited till the sunset. ‘You are my hero…Diya. You will live with me.’

It was midnight when Raman reached the palace. The chief and other officials who fought the war waited for him. Raman went slowly towards the chief. He limped as he took steps.
‘Raman… We thought about it…We want you to sit on the throne.’ said the chief.
Raman was shook. He couldn’t speak for a moment.

‘I am not worthy…I am an ordinary ironsmith!’.

‘You are a warrior…You are a brave soldier! You guided the people towards the win. You filled them with spirit.’

‘I don’t know how to be a king…How will I …’.

‘You became the bravest soldier…You learnt. I will be there to make you a great king. I will get you close to the greatness of the fallen King.’

Raman had no answer to this.

The next morning with the blessings of the maulvi and pandits Raman took the responsibility of the king.
He ruled the state with glory and kindness. Jannagar once again stood back with the same prosperity. Raman declared Diya as the queen.

Diya lived indeed not only in Raman but also in the folksongs and stories as a hero!

Fifteen years of pure joy.

‘It’s just a dog!’, some people would say.
‘He is my brother…Tuffy Chakrabarty.’ I would shout at them.

It has been almost three months now that he has left…left forever. He left us on 2nd Nov 2018.
I know I could not hold him back forever but I know that I would hold the memories till my last day. It’s really difficult to believe that I cannot touch him or feed him or pet him. It’s sometimes difficult to breathe. You feel so heavy that you have to sigh. The pain around your throat when someone’s around and you want to cry out loud but you can’t. It is indeed difficult.
‘That’s why I don’t have a pet…it’s painful when they leave…’ people say.
I agree it’s painful but the pain is far less then the joy I would say. I know I am crying writing this piece. But somewhere deep down I have kept safe the happy moments our family had with Tuffy. Tuffy was around two months old when we adopted him from the streets. Sunita Masi who used to work in our house brought him to us. It was 12 Nov 2003. I was in fifth grade and my elder sister in seventh. I remember when I first saw him ticks were running all across his face. Tuffy was so fat that time that we called him ‘fatty’ but then dad pointed that what if he looses the weight. Dad named him Tuffy after dad’s favourite bowler from New Zealand. Thus was named my fifteen years of pure joy.
Now you must be wondering that this seems fun. Well sometimes it wasn’t. We never wanted Tuffy to be in chains. He was Indian Street dog and they don’t want to be chained but his naughtiness complelled us to do so. He would enter our neighbours house and eat their food. He once ate and defaecated in a neighbour’s house and need I say how furious the person was. Eventually when he learnt what’s wrong we let him roam without the chains. He would run around the colony, fight with other dogs, play with some of them and when was tired would scratch our door to get in. We would vaccinate him time to time, bathe him frequently (which he didn’t like at all) and sometimes even dress his wounds. Tuffy liked fighting I guess.
During those mating months he would be gone for four- five days. I would be worried thinking what if he doesn’t come back home…what if something happened to him…I would cry for him so much and every time he would come back on the sixth day proving my all ‘what- ifs’ wrong. When we brought Tuffy there was no internet or cell phones and thus we knew very little about how to do anything. Tuffy ate human food (which is in many ways may be harmful for dogs) and when we came to know that our food is not safe for him and tried to give him boiled unseasoned food but he didn’t touch it. He always demanded what we had.
My boy was not so brave but naughty enough to hunt sparrows and rabbits. Pom his friend would join his naughtiness and often both of them would land in trouble. Tuffy would tear currency notes, run away with shoes, chew furniture and destroy cloths.
In his later years he was as energetic as a pup. He never stopped to pick up fights. My dad had a transferrable job and so we had to move to different places. Tuffy moved with us to all those places. He loved to travel…he loved to explore new places or I should say mark new places…and most of all he loved to make new enemies.
People often ask whether I would get another pet since Tuffy is gone. Tuffy was more like my baby. I fed him, I bathed him, I cried when he cried. In his last few days he was unable to stand properly. I would support him and make him walk. He wanted to walk badly but he himself could’nt. It broke my heart each time he fell. It broke my heart each time he cried to pick him up. He eventually gave up food. As adviced by the doctor we ran some blood tests and the results were extremely painful. His kidneys were not working. I called up his doctor in trembling voice about the reports. We discussed about the last resort which was dialysis. But the prognosis was poor and Tuffy was too weak to take up the hastle of long queues and painful procedures. We continued the fluids for few days. Then one evening when I was all alone in the house watching television and petting Tuffy I thought of auscultating his chest. I took out my stethoscope and heart his heart sound and breathing sounds. They were perfectly fine. I kept the stethoscope aside and continued brushing his fur with my fingers. After a minute or so Tuffy had a convulsion and suddenly everything was so silent. I palpated his heart and could feel the beats slowly disappear. All I could feel was my heart pumping hard. I still don’t know what I was feeling. He was gone and I knew that but I just kept crying and calling his name. He didn’t respond.
I often feel empty and often find myself crying. I sometimes want him so bad, I want to pet him…Touch him…Feel him. Its hard indeed after he left. Would I get another pet? Yes I might. My boy has a special place in my heart. He was my baby. None can ever take his place but Tuffy taught me many things. While growing with him I understood what trust, friendship and love is. And these are not just terms… they need to be felt and made…These words need a chance! And if I could give that love to someone again…Make someone trust in me again ….Make a lifetime friendship again, then why not.! Yes it will break my heart again…Yes I would be left empty again but what about the life I would give that someone. Tuffy enjoyed his life to the fullest. He visited places, ate good food, made new friends (and enemies) and made others happy. Why would I not give another soul the chance to be happy? I sure need sometime to recollect my broken pieces now and till I am not fully ready for the responsibility, I do need to wait.
So go ahead. If you are in a place to give a soul a happy life don’t let the chance go away. And I ensure you that the love and happiness you get in return in insane. Do your research…Know your responsibilities…Know your limitations and get ready for the journey.

And please adopt…Don’t shop!

Miles Apart.

Hey…So how was your day?’ Payal smiled as she held the phone tightly to her right ear. Her excitement could be measured by her tone.

‘Good. Yours?’ replied Randeep in an incredibly dull tone from the other side of the phone.

‘Great but I missed you so much! The best thing today was the girl I met..I…’

‘Payal…Baby can we talk later?’ Randeep interrupted Payal, ‘The head has come.’

‘Yeah sure…’ Payal’s excitement dissolved at once and now her tone matched that of Randeep’s, ‘ I’ll call you later’. Payal kept the phone on the dining table, finished the noodles she was eating, washed the dishes and went to her study. Her study was a small room with thousands of books and even more number of spiders and webs. The room was not at all well lit and had a layer of dust on the floor. But Payal never bothered to work in that space or else never bothered to clean the space. There were a bunch of papers lying on the study table. Payal sighed. She put on her spectacles and started counting the papers.
‘Sixty five? ‘, she uttered to herself, ‘But there are Sixty seven students in the class right? Payal count again!’ she counted them once again and this time seemed satisfied with the result.
Payal was a girl in her early thirty’s. She was a teacher by profession and was married to Randeep since the last five years. Payal and Randeep met in a matrimony portal. Randeep’s parents liked Payal a lot. Though before the marriage they never actually met each other in person they talked quite a lot on phone. Still after their marriage while Randeep worked out of the country and only came to his home once in a year, most of their ‘precious’ moments happened over the phone. Randeep worked for a hospital as a psychiatrist and was most of the time stressed due to the work load. Payal on the other hand was in love with teaching. She thought it as a way to express herself to people, though the people being ten years old but still this was her only way to be happy.
Payal while assessing the answer scripts suddenly looked at the wall clock. It was 1o’clock. It was already the next day. Payal wrapped the bundles, kept them at the corner of the table, she absentmindedly as other days forgot to switch the lights off and went to her bedroom. When she entered the room , the first thing she saw was the wedding picture. The wedding photo of Randeep and her wedding, framed in a beautiful wooden antique work. She purposely hung the picture in that wall so as to see it first when she enter the room, so as to feel that she is not alone, so as to never feel upset that she still after five years of marriage lives alone. She wanted to feel the warmth, she wanted to be loved, she wanted Randeep badly. The days were passing with a very little difference each day. She would write in her diary every day about her monotonous life but that day was different.
She took her diary kept under her pillow and started writing.

‘Simmi … That’s the name of the girl I met today. We shared the cab to work. She said she worked in the office opposite the hospital. There was something so charismatic about her! The elegance, the look on her face, the smile…She was so nice and the way she talked! I could talk to her for hours. After so long I felt that I actually connected to someone. Someone I could talk my heart out. Someone as lost as I am. But there was someone as annoying! Aggh…The driver. He kept looking back through the mirror. He kept staring at Simmi like a stalker. Except for the ride nothing interesting happened today. I hope I get Simmi again someday and if I do……’

The most unusual thing happened. Payal fell asleep while writing. She fell asleep without her sleeping pills. She fell asleep without setting the alarm. The next morning when she woke up the diary was still in her hand and the pen lied on the ground. She looked at the clock. It was exactly six in the morning. This was the first time in the five years that she woke up felling fresh and charged up. She felt as if she had completed her sleep which was incomplete for a very long time.
The first thing Payal would do after waking up was check her phone for any messages from Randeep. And everyday she would be upset seeing the inbox empty. Payal still managed to stay in a good mood after doing her morning yoga while listening to the morning radio show. She would get ready for the school. She had a good collection of bright coloured salwar suits from which she would choose her outfit after her bath. She would apply the vermilion in a hefty amount on her partitioned scalp and put a small bindi in the centre of her brow gap. The bindi would be in a matching colour with tag of the salwar. After packing her lunch and books, she would book a cab in share to her school.

That day she followed the same routine. When the cab arrived she was a bit surprised to see Simmi again sitting in the car.
‘Hey! Good morning!’ Payal greeted Simmi.

‘What! It’s you again. Good morning! Get in.’ Simmi was equally amazed.
The ride started and so did their talks.

‘How is your child?’ Payal asked. Simmi told about her four year old daughter the other day.

‘She is good…A little upset when mummy leaves for office.’ Simmi smiled at Payal. ‘What about you? Aren’t you planning to have a child? Five years is a long time. With age the complications of having a child would increase.’

Payal sighed, ‘Yeah I know but…Actually my husband…’

‘He is working abroad…You told me. Why don’t you go there then? I mean you can work there too, right?’

‘I am too afraid to go there.’

‘Why? Its just another country… Moreover you would be with your husband. You two would get chance to spent time together.’

‘Thats what I am afraid of…Spending time with him, knowing him. We have been married for five years now but we still haven’t talked much. When he is there he is so absorbed in his work and when he comes to visit me once or twice in a year, we usually spend time with his parents and seldom get any quality time.’

‘So basically you two are still strangers to each other?’

‘Sort of’ Payal shrugged. Payal noticed that this driver was also staring at Simmi like anything.

‘Sir…What are you staring at?’ Payal shouted at the driver.

‘I am sorry madam..’ the driver apologized.

‘You should ignore them,’ Simmi tried to pacify Payal. ‘So you don’t love your husband?’

‘I do but I am not sure he loves me or not…Sometimes it feels as if he agreed to marry me for his parents satisfaction’.

‘So you are afraid that if you found out that he doesn’t love you…You…’

‘I will be shattered. I am not ready for this. My parents separated when I was very small. I heard that they loved each other before marriage but I fail to understand what changed after marriage so I decided to go with an arranged marriage but here I am thinking…What if my marriage fails?’

‘But if you don’t try to get it sorted, your marriage will definitely fail. You..’
‘Enough of me!’ Payal interrupted Simmi, ‘Tell me about your marriage. You seem happy with your life!’

Simmi laughed to it, ‘The grass appears greener the other side. We have your school look!’

‘Oh! I again lost track of time talking to you. Hey! Can I have your number? I love sharing with you. We might not get lucky in cabs another time.’
They exchanged their numbers and Payal then went to her school. Payal as usual called Randeep after reaching the staff room.

‘Randeep …I have reached school. Have you had your breakfast?’ Payal asked while she took out the answer scripts from her bag.
‘Not yet…I will have it from the canteen. Did you sleep well yesterday? How are the new pills working?’
‘Actually I…’ Payal stopped for a moment, ‘Yeah the pills are great. When will you come home Randeep? I want to…’

‘Payal we have had this talk hundred times now…You know how important my work is! I am almost…’

‘I am getting late for the class. I am sorry to bother you ‘. Payal hang up the phone with frustration.

Payal went home early that day. She didn’t feel good. The way home she thought about her parents over and over again. She felt as if her fear was taking the shape of reality. Her marriage was failing. She went home, took the bottle filled with pills, opened the cap and poured all the tablets into a glass of water kept at the dining table. She looked at the pills. She looked at the pills settling one above the other. She saw the pills dissolving slowly and slowly with time. She took the glass and placed it near her lips. She was about to sip it but suddenly her hands seized to move. Her grip was loosening and she felt the glass slipping from her hand. The glass fell on the ground with pieces of glass scattered all over the floor. She sat on the floor for a while and then she suddenly stood up to reach her bag. Her fingers trembled as she searched for her phone. The tears were blurring her vision but she didn’t bother to remove them. She called Randeep who was the only person on her speed dial. It rang for seven-eight times but was not answered. Then she tried to call Simmi. The phone was unreachable. Payal tried to call them again and again hoping she could talk to someone or anyone. She finally fell on the ground unconscious.

The next day when she woke up she found the phone held with a tight grip in her hand. Her hands had some minor scratches due to the pieces of glass. When she checked her phone she saw 23 missed calls from Randeep. She looked at the time. She was amazed to see that she again woke up at 6. She wanted to call Randeep back but she didn’t. She didn’t know what to say or how to explain all the things she felt. She feared Randeep would not understand her.
She got a hold of herself and convinced herself to go to work. She wore a gorgeous salwar suit with matching gold jewelry. So wanted to feel good about herself with those glittery things. She skipped her breakfast intentionally and booked the cab.
Simmi was again sitting inside the cab smiling at Payal.
‘How is this happening?’ Payal got inside the car and tried to put on a smile on her face.
‘Hey…I tried to call you yesterday but it couldn’t connect.’

‘I don’t know what’s wrong with my network..You are not the first to tell me this. You seem stressed…Is every thing alright?’
Payal sighed and looked outside. She knew she needed help but wasn’t sure if she should tell Simmi everything. ‘Yesterday I …I fell…On the ground…’

‘Oh you have scratches too! Are you okay now?’.
‘I guess…So you didn’t tell me about your husband yesterday…How is he?’

‘I have a baby Payal but not a husband.’ Simmi smiled at Payal. She smiled as her eyes became moist. She tried to hide her pain with the smile.

‘What are you saying? Simmi you can tell me anything you want. I am listening.’ Payal forgot all her suffering for a while.

‘We were in love Payal…We were happy together…But not married yet. Then one day I came to know that I was pregnant.’

‘Did he not want the baby?’

‘He doesn’t know it yet.’

‘Why didn’t you tell him? I am with you Simmi. What happened? Did he do something wrong to you ‘

‘When I got to know that I was pregnant I wanted him to marry me. I had no other option. I didn’t want to abort the child nor did I want to pressurize him…He too wanted to marry me but…But his parents were rigidly against the marriage.’

‘Did he not ….’

‘He fought for us Payal but I backed out. I never wanted to separate him from his parents. I went away and gave birth to my daughter. When my daughter was born I heard from a common friend that he had got married and this time the girl was chosen by his parents.’

‘So he still doesn’t know about your daughter. She’s five now. What’s his name Simmi? Maybe I could…’ Payal looked at the front mirror of the cab the driver was staring at her with astonishment. Then she looked at the road. The car was about to hit a truck. Payal shouted at the driver to look in front and hugged Simmi as tight as she could.
Simmi whispered to Payal’s ear, ‘His name is Randeep.’ Payal felt a thrust and fell unconscious.

Payal woke up at the hospital. The first person she saw after waking up was Randeep. He was sitting next to her bed with his hands placed on her head.
‘Where’s Simmi? Is she okay?’ Payal asked with a trembling voice. She had bandage over her head and right hand.
‘Simmi? Is she someone from your school?’. Randeep asked holding Payal’s hand to calm her down.

‘She was with me when the accident happened. How is she?’
‘But I was told that you were alone except for the driver. The driver survived but still is under critical care.’
‘No Randeep. I shared the cab with Simmi. You know her Randeep!’

‘Calm down Payal. I saw your booking history. You booked the cab and it wasn’t on share. The company showed me the details. They are investigating into the matter.’

‘You loved Simmi very much… Didn’t you Randeep?’ Payal sobbed as she talked to her husband.

Randeep was taken aback. He didn’t know what to say for a moment.

‘Who told you about Simmi?’, Randeep asked impatiently.

‘Simmi herself said me that how deeply you two were in love with each other. You are a father Randeep. You have a lovely daughter. She is five now. Her number is saved in my phone… Please call her and talk to her!’

‘Your phone was destroyed in the accident…Why didn’t she tell me…’, Randeep looked at Payal. He knew how much pain Payal was feeling. He hid his past for five long years. He could not believe that he had a child. He wanted to meet Simmi and his daughter but he felt terrible that he took Payal for granted all these years.

‘She told that you two had a common friend. She knew about our marriage. I want to know if she is okay. Please call your friends Randeep.’

Randeep went out of the cabin and called all the common friends he had with Simmi. None could tell about her whereabouts except for one. He listened to his friends quietly and then went inside the cabin again.
‘Did you get anything? Randeep! Tell me…Why you seem so upset?’ Payal tried to sit straight with all the strength she had.
‘She named our daughter Preet and kept her with her aunt.’

‘Randeep please marry Simmi. I would love to step aside. I know you never loved me and you only loved Simmi. Randeep…Say something…’

Randeep came close to Payal and sat on his knees,’Simmi died a month ago…Payal..She is dead!’ Randeep kept his head on Payal’s lap and cried like a child. ‘She had a car accident and was bedridden for a month. She wanted to meet you and wanted you to own the child but before my friends could find me…She left! I was so obsessed in my work that I didn’t care to check on my friends or call them back when they called. I even ignored you…Payal I am so sorry.’

‘Randeep…I want to be the mother of your child…Please get her to me. Simmi was in immense pain and insecurity even after her death. I have seen her, talked to her ,felt her. She loved you so much!’

Randeep held Payal’s hand tight and took her into her arms.
‘I love you…Payal.’

The Deal.

Shilpa was meeting Kunal almost after a decade now. She couldn’t believe that she would ever meet Kunal in such conditions.

‘Vitals?’ asked Shilpa to the paramedic standing beside the strecher.
‘BP 80/50, PR 110, SpO2 84%…The CT and X-Ray plates madam’, the paramedic handed over the plates to Shilpa. Shilpa looked at the plates carefully and exhaled with her mouth.

‘CT is within normal limits but the lower limb bones are crushed…Admit him in the emergency surgery unit.The patient has lost too much blood. Please run the routine tests and arrange 3 units blood for transfusion. Also inform the blood bank to keep units in reserve. The patient may collapse any minute.’ Shilpa ordered the intern. The intern started to jot down the advice. ‘Its a road traffic accident right?’ asked Shilpa to which the intern nodded yes. ‘It would be a police case then…Send the ticket to my room after it arrives…Okay?’ The intern nodded a yes again.
‘Umm…Also write a refer to the orthopedic department and after they had seen the CT and X-Ray plates, sent the plates for a proper report.’

The intern ran and began to do things she was told. Shilpa went to her room and wrote a detailed note about the findings and the injury report. Meanwhile Kunal was placed in a bed and was visited by various doctors from different departments for opinions.

‘Police is trying to reach his family. There is nobody to give consent.’ Shilpa explained to the panel.

‘He should be operated now…His condition may worsen.’ suggested a surgeon.

‘But he’s not stable yet…And blood has still not arrived.’ the anaesthesist argued.

‘Doctors,’ Shilpa said in a low deep tone going closer to the monitor, ‘Tall peaked t waves!’ she pointed to the ECG.

‘Crush syndrome?’ the anaesthesist looked at Shilpa, ‘The lower limbs were crushed…We have to operate but there is chance of hypovolemic shock. Doctor Shilpa…What do you suggest? Its your case. Anyway the patient may…’

‘Call the team immediately. We will operate. We have to take the chance. As soon as blood arrives we have to transfuse’ ordered Shilpa.

The surgery was started and one hour had passed. ‘Doctor Shilpa you seem nervous…Your hands are shaking. Are you alright?’ one of the doctors asked Shilpa, ‘Its the first time I am seeing you so stressed, we have done such emergency surgeries earlier…’

‘Nothing doctor… Actually I know the patient personally’ replied Shilpa looking at Kunal’s face.

‘What! Shilpa are you okay? We can manage. The patient is almost stable.’

‘No. I am fine. I was in school with him. I didn’t remember his name until I got his ticket. I just…’ Shilpa stopped and again looked at Kunal. The surgery went on for another hour. Kunal was out of danger now.

Shilpa was exhausted by the long surgery and couldn’t go home. She slept in her cabin and was awakened by a knock on the door the other day.
‘Goodmorning Doctor…The patient has returned to conscious state, the police is here to meet him. Should we…’ the nurse stopped when she noticed Shilpa shutting her eyes. ‘Should I tell them to wait?’

‘Yeah…First I would examine the patient’s state, till then tell them to sit in the waiting room.’

Shilpa quickly freshened up and headed to the ward. Kunal was sitting with the help of the back support. He still had his oxygen mask on his face and looked drowsy due to the pain medications he was put on.

‘Goodmorning! Mr. Kunal…I am your Doctor, Doctor…’

‘Shilpa? Hey we were at school together! Don’t you remember me?

‘Yeah I do Kunal. How are you feeling today?’

‘I don’t know…I mean you chopped off my legs and…’

‘It was necessary so as to save you…You were dying and I had to save you anyhow. We didn’t had any of your relative or friends for the discussion and you were totally unconscious…We did what we thought was right.’ Shilpa sighed. ‘The police wants to talk to you and before you tell them about the accident I want to…’

‘What do I tell the police? I don’t remember a thing from the night. I only saw lights coming towards me and the next thing I remember is lying in this bed without my legs!’

‘I am sorry Kunal. What happened is unfortunate…But the police will investigate into it and I would not… rather cannot stop them from doing their job.’
After examining Kunal, Shilpa let the officers question Kunal while she attended other patients.

‘So what do you remember from that night? Anything and everything.’ the officer asked.
‘I was returning from my studio late that night on my bike and suddenly a speeding light came towards me. That’s all I have officer.’ Kunal sighed. ‘I might have had a little alcohol but certainly not much to jeopardize my riding. But wasn’t there any clue of what happened there? I mean the vehicle or something?’

‘I am afraid but no.’ replied the officer. ‘We checked the road thoroughly but haven’t got anything yet. Also to our bad luck the CCTV camera on the road was out of order. It is indeed difficult to find the culprit but we assure you we’ll try our best. Till then take care Mr. Kunal and if you remember anything…feel free to give us a call.’

‘Yeah sure..Thanks officer’. Kunal smiled overcoming the pain he felt.

Shilpa was heading home after the tiring shift she had but before going she stopped by the ward to talk to Kunal. Kunal was talking to the nurse and seemed disturbed.
‘Is everything alright Nurse?’ Shilpa investigated.
‘Doctor I have given the adviced pain medications to him but he is arguing to give him more. I told him…’

‘It’s okay, ‘ Shilpa smiled at the nurse and patted on her back, ‘I will talk to him…Please attend other patients.’

‘Kunal…I know you are in pain but we cannot give you more of the pain killers. It would be harmful to you.’ Shilpa tried to calm Kunal down.

‘It’s too hard. Its paining a lot. You can never ever imagine the pain.’

‘Hey, did you tell the management about your family or any known person? I am sure if you have a good company you would feel and heal better.’

‘I have friends but nobody is so much close to me. Moreover they have their lives to life…Many of them are my mere drinking partners.’

‘Family?’

‘Only my father who is least bothered about me.’ Kunal looked at Shilpa . ‘He disowned me when I denied to run the family business and started to follow my passion.’

‘So what’s the passion? May be that could help!’

Kunal laughed to it and looked at his legs which ended soon after the knees. ‘Dance…Dance is …Or I should say, was the passion of my life.’

Shilpa felt as if a dagger went straight through her heart. ‘Kunal I …I had …I am so sorry…I .’

‘You took my passion to give me life. Pointless life?’

‘No. Life is never pointless. I will help you Kunal. I promise,’ Shilpa held Kunal’s hand.

In the coming weeks Shilpa spent her spare time sitting beside Kunal’s bed and talking to him. She tried her best to provide the emotional support and confidence which seemed to be lost in Kunal after the amputation. They talked about the stupid stuffs they did in school. The classes, the classmates, the gossips of the classmates and more. When Kunal was stable enough to be discharged he had nobody or no place to go to.

‘Where would you go?’ Shilpa asked.

‘I only have my studio and that too is of no use now I guess… but I will figure something out, I have the strength now.’

‘I know you are better now but I still insist that you come to my place. It would be good for you. You have some disabilities now and…’

‘Right…I forgot I am handicapped now.’

‘I didn’t mean that besides you are not handicapped. You are a man with disabilities who still has the ability to serve the society and hence not a handicapped person…until you give up!’ Shilpa said in one breath.

Kunal smiled at Shilpa with astonishment. ‘You have done so much for me Shilpa…You even paid the bills. I don’t think I could take anymore favours from you.’

‘Okay then do me a favour…Live with me!’ Shilpa teared up while speaking. ‘You know I had feelings for you since a very long time. You ignored it. Even I ignored it afterwards thinking it may be for the good but it never turned any good for me. I still…After so many years have not found anyone for whom I could feel the way I feel for you!’

‘Shilpa I know that but think about it… I am not a good choice…I am not even a choice for you. I think it’s the sympathy talking. You will eventually feel burdened. I will make you slow. I will…’

‘May be I am ready to slow things down a bit.’ Shilpa shrugged and went closer to Kunal who was in the wheelchair. She bend forward to kiss him. ‘Please! I am literally begging you.’ They kissed.

‘You don’t have to. Last few days were something different for me. I was happy. The only thing which made me happy was dancing. And now that I can’t dance the way I did… the thing that brings me joy is you!’

Kunal went with Shilpa. They started living together and seemed to be enjoying every bit of it. Kunal started a new passion that was music. Shilpa would go to work as usual in the morning and when she returned in the evening, all the tiredness would just vanish listening to Kunal’s music. They would talk for hours.

‘Hey! Isn’t this your slam book?’ Kunal picked up a fancy thin book from the magazine rack.
‘Yeah…My first one.’ Shilpa replied. ‘I always keep my firsts in a special place.’
‘There is my note too…’ Kunal laughed as he turned the pages. Kunal rolled the wheels of his chair and went close to Shilpa who was sitting on the sofa. Kunal brushed her hair with his fingers.

‘Will you marry me?’ Kunal proposed.

Shilpa closed her eyes and took a deep breath. ‘I have something to confess to you…’ Shilpa seemed nervous. She took Kunal to the garage and handed him a broken rare view mirror.
‘It was my first car. I couldn’t get rid off my first so I had to at least keep a piece of it. It is the car…’

‘Which hit me?’ Kunal completed. ‘I know.’

‘What? I don’t understand you told that you didn’t remember any thing…’

‘I lied. I was conscious till you came out from the car and checked if I was alive. I also heard when you made the call to the hospital.’

‘Why did you not tell the police? Why did you save me?’ Shilpa cried.

‘To save me…Not you.’ Kunal laughed while Shilpa looked at him with astonishment. ‘I was finished…I was a complete failure. The studio was gone from my hands. I was heavily drugged and was about to finish my life. Then the best thing happened to me…The accident!’

‘So you used me to get all this..’

‘To get a decent life…You almost killed me but you saved me.’ Kunal winked at Shilpa.

‘You didn’t love me? I did all this for you and…’

‘Oh! You loved me? You too pretended didn’t you? You hoped to get out of the guilt.’

Shilpa wiped her tears and stared straight at Kunal’s eyes. ‘Yeah it’s true…I didn’t love you. But what next? Would you tell the police about that night?’

‘No but I want my reward to keep it a secret…’

‘So you are blackmailing me?’ Shilpa lifted her eyebrows.

‘Not at all… Think it like a deal.’ Kunal replied with cool.

‘Its a deal then…But marriage is off the table.’ Shilpa clarified.

‘Absolutely Doc!’ Kunal threw the rare view mirror in the bin.