In the midst of noise all around, Kanak’s eyes were blank as she sat on the couch in the crowd. She was rather lost. Neither was she in a hurry nor was she asked by anyone to attend to any urgent errand. Yet something within her was persisting her to do what she herself could not decipher. The noise all around was of the Christmas Eve at her cousin Alankrit Roy’s newly bought Duplex in Downtown, of Unitech. All the relatives had arrived as within a few days, there was also a marriage in the family. There was a fiesta of sarees, jewellery, decor… all attempting to strike a balance between sophistication and outrageousness. The trial was of finesse and refinement. All time silk was replaced with linen and handloom; zari with muga; but the colours still remained vibrant yellow, ochre, crimson, orange, magenta and fluorescent green… exhibits of Seema craft, Sabhyasachi collections, Ritu’s and many more. The sons and daughters-in-law had flocked from round the globe. Finland, Sydney, Chicago, London, Amsterdam and even China. Work had taken them to these places. The Roy family had emerged from mediocrity. In this generation all were well qualified, had attended foreign universities, won scholarships and were well placed.
The discussions went on in the gathering… meandering from Darjeeling tea, how good a connoisseur of Darjeeling tea their eldest son Deepayan was… to the policies of Modi, the demonetisation of Indian currencies and its impact on Indian Economy… to Bollywood’s changing paradigm of presenting the modern women in films like ‘Pink’ and ‘Dear Zindagi’. Their conversations traversed through various facades of life and Kanak was trying her best to participate in each of the intriguing topics. She was the sister-in-law and had flown from the small town of Siliguri for just four days to attend this wonderful Christmas Eve and the marriage. She wished to be riveted to her role of the daughter-in-law of the Roy family. Aakash couldn’t come. He was in London for a conference of chest medicine. He was to present a paper on ‘ashthma’, why was it growing with time and how it can be curbed. Now that Aakash had to frequently travel outside the county to attend the international conferences, Kanak wondered if diseases were the only danger that jeopardised life.
Thoi had come with her. She was just five, too sweet and irresistible.
“Mamma! Is this Christmas tree real? Are snowflakes made of cotton that you use to dab when I get bruises? Mamma, what is there inside those colourful balls on the top of the tree? Will Santa come from the sky on his sledge? Mamma! Do reindeer have wings…”…her questions were endless.
Thoi sat on Kanak’s lap hugging her and listening to the answers of all the questions she incessantly went on babbling… and not bothering in the least of the creases she brought to her muslin dhakai. Kanak was ever patient with her. She was her life.
“Mumma! Can I have cold drink?”
“No Thoi, it’s already cold. You may take some warm milk instead.”
“Mumma! But Baban dada, Raju dada are all having…”
“Thoi! Won’t you listen to your mom?”
Thoi was her companion, her joy, the reason of her being alive. She resembled Kanak in every way… she even had the same dimple on her left cheek. Just then Alankrit came in to say, “Kanak, eat some pudding specially made to your liking with caramel topping. Did he call you? Has he reached Hithro?”
Kanak had left her mobile in her purse and it lay in some corner of the other room. Alighting Thoi on the sofa, she got up to go to the other room. The pale pink colour of the saree seemed to align with her pink complexion. In her pearl neck-piece and earrings, she was an epitome of elegance. Suddenly she felt a pressing urgency to reach for her phone. She ever tried to keep her phone out of her reach. This was a strange restrain she tried on herself again and again. She kept her phone out of her sight as if it was the root of her emotions, it was the cause of her moral turmoil and if she could abstain herself from getting near it, she would win. The vibrations of the cell gave her jitters, even her subconscious self urged her to check if it was Neil.
Kanak was terribly lonely. She felt the pangs of her alienation within herself. Aakash had doted on her once upon a time. She was quite young then. Aakash’s parents too liked Kanak for her quiet, well mannered and reserved self and definitely for her beauty. Their parents had then fixed an auspicious date and both were tied in the nuptial knot.
Kanak often reminisced how Aakash was as an intern in NBMCH; and she in college then; how they had money enough to order only one plate of fried-rice and chilly-chicken in the Puja Hotel at the roadside, near the bus-stop; how she cooked on a stove and saved every penny to give him his birthday surprise. Never had she thought that time would distance them so much. It was eight years they were married. After the second year when he got into his PG, in AIIMS, Delhi for his MD, suddenly she had felt the change. She even tried to talk things out.
“Aakash! Don’t you think that you keep things to yourself? Why didn’t you tell me that you had bought that new… you even have taken a loan! You never felt me worthy of discussing important things of your life?”
He had reacted strangely. “Stop being your nagging self Kanak! I hate it. Don’t try to dictate my life. I have struggled enough. Five years of MBBS, no fun, then marriage, responsibility, night duties to meet the expenses of your college and studying so hard to qualify into MD. Do you know that there are only five seats in all India? And after all this hard work you are jealous if I buy something for myself.”
“Please! Stop speaking like this Aakash. How can you even think that I will be jealous of you? Wasn’t I ever by you? Didn’t I share all your woes, your troubles? Didn’t I equally share those days? Did I ever ask any expensive thing from you? Wasn’t I awake, beside you when you kept studying burning the midnight’s oil? Then when did you start speaking of yourself as ‘I’ and not ‘we’? When did you change this ‘we’ to ‘I’?”
Aakash had gone on arguing, blaming… things had turned too sour. After completing his studies, he had returned to Siliguri. Kanak too had completed her post graduations and her M.Phil. She wished to work but Aakash didn’t want her to. She once again had tried to build the house of her dreams, sacrificing all her personal desires of pursuing a career. With time Aakash had established himself; he was one of the sought after chest physicians. They had bought a bungalow in a posh locality. Kanak kept everything in the best way possible, even tended to the garden and every winter her plants blossomed with the brightest and the prettiest dahlias, roses, and petunias. Still the brooding loneliness within kept corroding her. Whenever she spoke of such loneliness, Aakash said, “All is in your mind. You are sick. You need a psychiatrist.”
Perhaps Kanak too had started believing so; but Neil had brought her out of this depression. They had met at the annual Conference of Medicine in the backwaters of Kerela; at Eleppy during Christmas. He too was a delegate and was settled in Bangalore. He had suddenly come and introduced himself while Aakash was still inside a lecture room and Kanak struggling to prepare the baby food with Thoi in her lap. He had offered to help and Thoi seemed happy in his company. Their friendship had grown since then. She could spontaneously share with him all about herself, though she was an introvert; he was without pretence. He taught her the lesson of being content, love herself; He even never promised her of anything but in her solitude she often confessed her own feelings to herself. She had begun counting him as an indispensable part of her life. She loved him. He didn’t; at least he never said so. But he did take care to attend all the conferences where she would accompany her husband. He took time to spend with Thoi and made STD and ISD calls for hours to listen to all she had to say. He never left her alone even while he was in Philippines, Glasgow, or Tokyo. Neil even casually mentioned her of the evenings he went out with his girlfriends; talked of his dalliances; and though she suffered silently, she never tried to stop him….but mostly he tried to compensate it by being for her more than ever, but never with any promises. He knew every bit of her life, her friends, her relatives, her childhood years, her likes, her dislikes, her hobbies, her weakness, her vulnerability…he knew her more than she knew herself….he knew that Kanak valued her self-respect; she would never be able to live with the stigma of an illicit relationship, she would not be able to live falling from Thoi’s eyes. He wanted her to be happy, he was the sun of the winter months- mellow, shining from far, exuding warmth that soothes, enveloping her and Thoi with radiance, that is pleasant but never trying to claim them, never trying to belong to them with the fear that he might scorch them.
Kanak had no assurance of his promises or vows, but she knew he was too lonely within; she knew well that underneath his masks of a womaniser, a Casanova, a freak, he was perhaps the most genuine person she had met. He was even associated with an NGO working for orphans, but he never showcased them, never tried to wear them as a badge of honour. He loved to portray his ‘care a damn’ attitude to the world, a ruffian, foul mouthed, short tempered, cool doctor who could party, drink, make merry, go around with girls in public and cut anyone with his sharp tongue. At times Kanak just felt that she could do anything to make him happy. But he never asked her of anything; he rather tried to make her a better person, a more caring mother, and a responsible home-maker, more fulfilled from within. He encouraged her to read and they had long discourses.
As she entered the other room, the kids were playing, rolling, tumbling on the bed. Her dark brown ‘Prada’ bag lay on a corner there. Taking out her cell and clicking on the ‘inbox’ she waited for the ‘new message option’. She had many ….three from Aakash and one from Neil. She clicked on Neil’s…It said that he had reached London safely and was with Aakash in the same hotel. He had confessed that he had not told her that he had already taken up an assignment of senior residency and research in London and would stay there. He urged her to be happy in life… but finally had said!
“Kanak! You are too special to me. With the commitment of staying here for long… in the long hours of this flight I realized every minute that the flight was taking me away from you. How I wished Thoi and you were here. Today I promise to be ever there for you; I am ready, I promise you of a home here Kanak if you ready to fly. Bon voyage!”
Kanak couldn’t believe what she just read. How she wished to cry her heart out… how often she had wished for it. She clicked on Aakash’s message. Its terseness didn’t bother her that day nor did the letters seem too black. Just then Thoi came running.
“Mamma! Can I go to the terrace?” Taking Thoi in her arms, Kanak said, “I’ll also go with you to the terrace. Today I too wish to have a look at the blue sky.”