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.’

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.

The Pride.

‘Papa please let me study there…Please papa,’ Gauri begged to her father who was busy solving the soduko in the weekly newspaper. ‘All my friends are going there too and that is the best in the country.’

Gauri lived in a small town with her parents. Her father worked in a big company and was a respected person there. Gauri went to the best school in the town and was a bright student. Once in a while the family would go on trips and vacations outside, mostly in the big cities. Gauri was always intrigued by the city life. While growing up she always thought of living in the fancy big cities. She was fed-up of the narrow roads and the even narrower mindset of the people living in the town. So when she did complete her school, she was determined to study further in a renowned college in the city. She thought it was the only chance to get out of the boring life she had in the town.
The father sighed and folded the newspaper. He could no longer concentrate in the soduko due to the constant whining, ‘I told you that I would not let you stay alone in an unknown city. It is dangerous and you would not be able to live there alone.’

‘You are seventeen now and still cannot tie up your hair or wash your clothes,’ Gauri’s mother jumped into the conversation, ‘How would you manage there without us?’

‘Then come with me mom. And I know how to tie my hair or wash my clothes. You didn’t ever give me my space to do those things myself. I wouldn’t be alone there. My friends would be there for me…Papa please ‘ Gauri sobbed.

The conflict went on for days until Gauri’s parents had to surrender to her stubbornness. They were reluctant to send their daughter so far but they couldn’t fight Gauri’s urge to get and explore the world on her own.

The first few days were the best for Gauri. She was finally out of the captivity of the overwhelming care and suffocating love of her parents. She was tasting freedom for the first time. The clean campus, new friends, the happening hostel life. She loved it but everything has a price attached to it. Soon she realised how badly she was missing her home, her mother’s food, her father’s boring speech. She missed the overwhelming care and suffocating love! She missed her small town. She missed the warmth she got in the town where almost everybody knew eachother. She got her new friends but missed the old ones she left behind.
Soon she found herself drowning in her routine. Her happening life started to becoming less and less happening. The boring lectures, the projects, the filthy canteens and the dirty hotel’s washroom. The only thing which she anticipated was the phone calls from her home and the vacations.

Then suddenly something changed. She once again started liking her life in the city. The change was a boy named Shoib. Shoib was a senior in the college. She met him in the second year of college. Shoib was like a fresh breeze in Gauri’s life. Gauri had many flings earlier but this time it was different, either Shoib was a perfect boy for Gauri or she was really emotionally vulnerable and looked for a support. Shoib helped her in her studies and projects, they would go out almost every night and spent the nights talking on phone. The bond was getting stronger. They were in love.
Shoib had an elder brother as his family. It was easy for him to convince his elder brother about Gauri. But for Gauri it was a difficult task to make her parents agree upon the relationship. When Gauri was in the final year of the college, Shoib got a government job and both decided to get their families involved. They wanted to get married.

‘Shoib?’ Gauri’s father frowned, ‘He’s a Muslim?’
‘Never. Gauri…this is too much. We have had enough of your tantrums but this time you have gone very far.’ her mother yelled.
‘But I love him and…’
‘Love…what about us? A Muslim boy? There was so many good boys in our community…’ her mother yelled again.
‘Mom..but I said I love Shoib… please understand…please mom…’ Gauri pleaded. She had cried enough to make her eyes swell. Her nose was all red and watery. She was trying hard but she knew this time it was hard to get what she wanted.
‘Enough is enough.. Gauri. We would never allow this boy into our family’, her father said in a shivery yet firm tone trying hard not to cry.
‘Then I guess,’ sighed Gauri wiping the tears rolling down her cheek, ‘I should get out of this family. I know you have done so much for me but …’ Gauri went to the door opened it uttered, ‘bye mom…bye dad.’
‘What are you saying…have you gone mad?’ the heartbroken mother tried to stop Gauri.
‘Let her go.’ shouted the father.
Gauri went out and slammed the door hard. She left her parents, her home and the town that day and promised herself to never return.

Gauri and Shoib got married two years later after Gauri got into a decent job. Shoib mostly had to stay away from Gauri due to his posting. It was more like a long distance relationship except for some lucky days when Shoib had his vacations. It went like that for a year or so but one day Shoib left Gauri. Shoib went away from Gauri and never came back. Gauri was devastated and angry. She always questioned herself why Shoib left her alone. She sometimes thought if she got her parent’s support everything would have been different. If she didn’t marry Shoib everything would have been different. She often questioned the decision she had made so far.

Two months after that Gauri came to know that she was pregnant. She didn’t know what to do. She was happy that she has got someone to live with but at the same time she was worried whether she could give birth to the baby alone without any support. She was tempted to return to her home; to her parents but there was something inside her which didn’t give her the affirmation. It was very difficult. The monthly visits, the abdominal cramps, the frequent refluxed. She managed them alone. She again started questioning the decision she had made. She was approached by many people mostly males for help. She had many proposals for marriage again. But she denied them all. She still loved Shoib. She wanted to live with dignity. She wanted to give birth to a healthy baby with dignity.
After few months she gave birth. She gave birth to a healthy boy. She named him Armaan. Raising a child in the economic conditions she had was tough. It was tougher for Gauri as she even didn’t have the emotional or mental support. She missed Shoib badly but was strong enough to not breakdown. She again had questions to herself that whether she could give the boy a good life, whether she could make the boy a good human. Self doubt once again surrounded her.

Now Armaan was four years old. It was time for him to enter the school. Gauri made sure that Armaan got the best education. She wanted to get him admitted to the best school in the city. She got him trained to answer the questions ususaly asked during the admission interview.
‘What is your name son?’ the teacher asked Armaan in the interview.
‘Mohhemmud Armaan…miss!’ he replied in the cute voice. Gauri sat beside him and filled the admission forms and heard his son answering the questions without any fear.
‘What do you want to become when you grow up?’ the teacher asked. Gauri lifted her head to look at her son. She had not rehearsed this question with him. She was tensed. She then looked into the form. The next point in the form was ‘FATHER’S NAME’. She rolled the pen in between the fingers and continued to look at her son. She could feel her heart thrombing.

‘I want to become…’ Armaan paused, ‘l want to become a soldier like my father … Caption Mohammed Shoib…he died protecting our country.’ he then looked to his mother.
With his answer all the questions Gauri had in her heart were answered. She knew she had made the correct decisions. Her eyes filled with tears and her heart filled with pride. She took a deep breath and wrote in the form ‘Late Captain Mohammed Shoib’.

The Second Chance

THE SECOND CHANCE

‘What the hell is going on between my husband and that woman?’ Subha’s patience was at it lowest ebb.
Sanjay knew that she was serious. ‘Look, Subha. There is nothing going on between the two of them. Just a little bit of healthy flirting, I’d say.’
‘Flirting? Healthy flirting? Really Sanjay…’ she rolled her eyes in disgust. ‘There is nothing healthy about flirting, Sanjay, not for a married man’. She got up from her seat and walked around the room muttering something to herself. Suddenly she stopped, turned back , looked at Sanjay and asked, ‘Did my husband sleep with her? Did he ever tell you anything about it?’
‘What! Subha you are stretching your thoughts too far…stop,’ Sanjay shouted in anger, ‘We both know that Sukesh would never do that.’ Sanjay looked at Subha with disgust. Suddenly Sanjay’s phone rang and he went out of the room banging the door behind him. Subha knew Sanjay was hurt.
Subha, Sanjay and Sukesh were friends since college. Though both the boys had feelings for Subha. Sukesh was the first to confess and Sanjay didn’t want to jeopardize their friendship so didn’t speak a word about his love for Subha. Sanjay had nothing with him when he passed college. He was not one of the brightest minds in batch and so didn’t get placed in a decent company. He came from a middle class family and all he had was a small house in his native village. It was Sukesh who supported him. Sukesh gave Sanjay a decent position in his family business and even a proper residence in the town. Sukesh thus became more like a brother figure to Sanjay. It has been two years since then. Subha and Sukesh have been married for a year now and everything seemed good until Deepa came into their life.
Sanjay went to Sukesh’s office and without even knocking the door he stormed straight to Sukesh’s cabin.
‘Sukesh…’ He uttered in anger but stopped. Sukesh and Deepa sat on the sofa, a file lied open on the desk in front of them.
‘Sukesh I want to talk to you.’ Sanjay said clenching his teeth as if suppressing the anger between his teeth.
‘Go ahead…I’m listening.’ Sukesh answered casually sipping the coffee.
‘I want you alone.’ Sanjay said looking at Deepa.
‘I’ll leave…’ Deepa nodded and left the room with her usual grace leaving behind the wonderful fragnance of the perfume she wore.
‘What is the matter with you? That was rude Sanjay…’ Said Sukesh this time looking straight at Sanjay.
‘Exactly…what is the matter with you?’ Asked Sanjay with a certain restlessness, ‘Seriously …Is there something going on between Deepa and you?’
Sukesh’s face went pale at once. He didn’t know what to say or where to look. He gazed at the file for a moment and then took up the cup to take another sip of the coffee. Sanjay at once got the answer.
‘Are you insane?’ Sanjay shouted with anger and then took a deep breath and sat beside Sukesh. ‘Subha is a wonderful girl…you love her…she loves you… Don’t ruin all this for any random girl!’
Sukesh got up from the sofa and went to the window. He moved the curtains and stared outside through the window glass and said, ‘Deepa is not any random girl Sanjay… At least not for me.’ He turned around to Sanjay.
Sanjay stood up and started walking towards Sukesh with slow steps. ‘Do you love her?’ Sanjay asked but feared what the answer would come.
Sukesh looked at Sanjay and shrugged his shoulders saying, ‘I do.’
Sanjay came to Sukesh, held his collar and dragged him to the wall.
‘How could you even say that!’
Sukesh took himself out of Sanjay’s grip.’I know that you are concerned about Subha,’ said Sukesh adjusting his tie, ‘but…’
‘What?’ Sanjay uttered in anger.
‘I know Sanjay that I am ruining my marriage, I am being selfish but I never want to hurt Subha.’ Sukesh sighed, ‘ I love Subha but what I feel when I am with Deepa is just so beautiful that I …’
‘But you can’t be with both of them!’ Sanjay interrupted, ‘It would leave all three of you wounded.’
‘I know and so I have made my decision.’ Sukesh looked at Sanjay nervously.
‘Are…are you thinking of leaving Subha?’ Sanjay stammered as he asked.
Sukesh just nodded.
Sanjay was left speechless. He at once lost all the respect he had for Sukesh.
A month later while Sanjay was in his apartment suddenly the door bell rang. It was Subha. She looked worried.
‘Subha…Is everything alright? You could have rang me, I …’
‘You knew everything, didn’t you?’ Subha was furious.
Though Sanjay knew what she was talking about but still asked, ‘ About what?’
‘I thought you were a friend. You knew about the relationship blooming between my husband and that Deepa.’ Subha took a deep breath. ‘We are getting a divorce Sanjay… You could have saved our marriage.’Subha burst into tears.
‘That’s insane. You two are responsible for all this. I thought it was best for both of you to sort things out yourself. Moreover who am I to interfere in your matter.’ Sanjay came closer to Subha, ‘I was a third person between you two then and I am a third person now.’
Subha came even closer to Sanjay, stared at him for a moment and kissed him passionately.
‘I love you.’ Sanjay said softly.
‘I know that…’ Subha leaned over to kiss him again but this time Sanjay pushed her back with a thrust. He was not able to believe what just happened. He was frozen.
‘Since when do you know that I …’ Sanjay’s heart was racing.
‘Since college Sanjay. I believed Sukesh was the best man for me but clearly I made the wrong choice.’
‘But this isn’t right either!’
‘Why? Is this because I am married? Didn’t Sukesh do the same thing to me? Why didn’t you stop him then?’
‘This isn’t about you. Sukesh is my best friend. He gave me everything I have today in my life. I can’t do this to him!’
‘Fine…save your friendship and kill your love once again!’ Subha left his apartment leaving him confused and restless.
Sanjay couldn’t sleep that night. He held his scotch and thought about Subha over and over. He knew that deep down somewhere in his heart he wanted the divorce of Subha and Sukesh. Life had offered him a second chance to be with his love. He might lose his friend but he had the most precious thing to gain. He picked up his phone and called Subha.
‘I know some good lawyers for your divorce!’ Said Sanjay.
‘I love you too…’ Replied Subha to which Sanjay couldn’t stop smiling.
The next day Sanjay went to Sukesh’s house along with the lawyer. When he reached there the discussion had already begun. Subha, Sukesh, Deepa and Sukesh’s lawyer sat on the sofa. Sukesh was shocked to see Sanjay. Subha got up and offered her seat to the lawyer Sanjay had brought.
Sanjay was not able to look at Sukesh. Subha grasped his hand and made him sit beside her.
‘I didn’t expect this from you Sanjay…’ Sukesh uttered, ‘I never imagined that you would go behind my back like this.’
‘I didn’t do anything wrong,’ Sanjay finally looked at Sukesh with confidence. ‘It is you who is to blame.’
‘Please settle all this peacefully. We don’t have all day.’ Deepa held Sukesh’s hand to pacify him. After an emotional and long discussion Subha and Sukesh decided to file a petition for a mutual consent divorce.

As Sanjay had guessed Sukesh took away his job. After about six months the divorce finally happened giving Sanjay and Subha the freedom to get married.
Subha and Sanjay planned to do a registry marriage. At the day of their marriage Sanjay got before time at the court to do some special arrangements. He brought all his close friends and relatives with him. He waited eagerly for Subha to arrive. He was confident of the decision he had made. He was finally getting married to Subha and his joy knew no boundaries.
Sanjay waited for two long hours but Subha didn’t arrive. He called her but her phone was switched off. She was no where to be seen. He called everyone who might have had any knowledge about Subha but still he couldn’t trace her. Finally the registrar called their names, it was time. The registrar told him that they couldn’t wait any longer and that he had to choose any other date. Sanjay was embarrassed in front of his friends and relatives but the only thing he was worried about was Subha’s well being.
He thought of checking his apartment before filing any missing complaint.
When he got home he saw a parcel lying on the floor. He opened it. There was a letter. It was from Subha.
‘I never intended to hurt you Sanjay but I had no other way. I know you are worried about me instead of being angry but trust me I am fine. In fact I am the happiest person in this world today. I wanted your help in this divorce and so had to put up this little drama. But the truth is …I love someone else. You know the person very well. It’s Deepa. Deepa and I met in London last year when Sukesh took me with him in his business trip. We met at the hotel where I had to spend most of the time alone. She is the most beautiful person I have ever met in my life. Explaining all this to Sukesh and our parents was difficult so I had to go the other way. I plotted everything; from Sukesh meeting Deepa to me kissing you. Everything went great according to the plot. We are together now. I am with my love. I know it’s hard for you to forgive me but still …I am sorry.’
Sanjay didn’t know how to react. He could not believe to the piece of paper he was holding. He was confused. He was angry with his life. He was filled with disgust. But finally he was left with a smile on his face thinking about the second chance Subha got.
‘Good luck Subha!’ Sanjay uttered with a smile and threw the letter in the dustbin.