The hall was decorated with fresh flowers. Some sweets were kept on the table adjacent to the staircase. The table mats and window curtains appeared new. People were waiting for the Laxmi Pooja.
“Maithili Ji, come soon. It is time for the Pooja”, an old man shouted.
Maithili came downstairs. She was dressed in a pastel green cotton saree and a white blouse. Her salt and pepper hair was tied in a loose bun. She had big round glasses. She wasn’t wearing a single piece of jewellery. Maithili seemed to be pale and lean, however, very graceful.
Soon after, the Pooja was over. The people at the old age home were busy with the Diwali celebrations. The caretaker came inside with an unknown man. He was showing him the place. Tall and suave, the man appeared to be in his early sixties. He came to offer some donations for the renovation of the old age home. The caretaker introduced him to all the residents.
Maithili was standing behind. Finally, he introduced her to the man. “Mr. Dasgupta, Maithili Ji has been with us since last five years. She will be taking care of the renovation along with me.”
A million things crossed Maithili’s mind within a minute. Mr. Dasgupta couldn’t take his eyes off her. Time stopped for both of them. The events of the past flashed in front. The caretaker asked Mr. Dasgupta to hand over the donation cheque to Maithili. She turned and left for the kitchen without saying a word to anyone.
“I will come back some other time.” Mr. Dasgupta hurried back into his car and left.
Maithili couldn’t believe it. The ghost of the past had come back to haunt her. She lost her sleep and appetite. She would sit in the lawn for hours in silence. People insisted on calling the doctor, but she refused.
25th July, 1977.
It was pouring heavily on that evening in Delhi. A girl was coming home from college. She missed her bus. The bus stop was lonely and it was getting dark. She was completely drenched. A man was passing by on a scooter. He saw the girl crying alone.
“Can I help you?” he asked.
“I am waiting for the bus”, she said in a low voice.
“There is no bus. I advise you not to stand here alone. It is not safe”, he said.
The girl couldn’t stop crying. The man offered, “Can I drop you home?”
She was hesitant, but had no choice. They left on his scooter. It took more than an hour to reach home. He dropped her safely and went away.
That night she couldn’t sleep. Thoughts of that stranger kept crawling in her mind. She was unable to see his face properly because of the dark. His voice echoed in her ears in the cool silence between the raindrops.
After a week, she was standing at the same bus stop. A handsome young man came to her. “Hello. I am Varun Dasgupta. I didn’t even ask your name that day”, he said in a confident voice.
“Maithili Sinha.” She beamed. “Thank You for everything.”
Maithili and Varun met every day. Varun was a mechanic at a garage just opposite to the college. He would stand outside the college gate in the evenings. As soon as the lectures got over, Maithili would come outside to meet Varun. They would talk for hours. Each time Maithili saw him, she had butterflies in her stomach. It was a strange feeling for both of them.
Months swiftly rolled by. One foggy winter morning, Varun came to Maithili’s house. She saw him from the balcony and came outside.
“Maithili, I love you.” He had said, “I wish to spend every evening of my life with you. You mean everything to me. I never want to be parted from you. If you want the same, I will see you today evening at the same place.”
Varun was waiting that evening at the college gate. He saw Maithili coming towards him. She smiled. “I want to be with you all my life, Varun”, she said in a low voice.
The two lovers were inseparable. They promised to be together for the rest of their lives.
Eventually Maithili’s father came to know about it. He was furious. He had high hopes from his daughter. Maithili pleaded him to allow her marry Varun. He said angrily, “I want the best for my daughter. I will not let you ruin your life. I will die, but not marry you with an orphan garage mechanic who does not even belong to our caste.”
The family decided to marry off Maithili to another man. The wedding date was fixed within a month. Maithili locked herself in her room and cried for days. She stopped eating. The wedding ceremony was lined up in the next two days.
Varun came to meet her. He went straight to Maithili’s room from the backyard of the house. She ran to hug him as soon as he entered. Their bodies crushed against each other’s. Maithili was torn between a passionate girlfriend and an obedient daughter. There was complete silence in the room, all they could hear was the clock ticking.
Maithili said, “I am going Varun. I will always love you; irrespective of where I go and what I do. I don’t want to leave you”, she cried.
Varun burst into tears. He held her face in both his hands and looked into her eyes, “I will live only to see you again.”
He left without saying anything further.
Sound of footsteps behind brought her out of the memory lane.
“Maithili Ji, I need to talk to you. It is urgent”, the caretaker had come to her room that night. She followed him to his office on the ground floor. Varun was sitting there.
Their eyes met once again after forty years. “Mr. Dasgupta, you can sit in the lawn with Maithili Ji. She will tell you about the renovation plan for our old age home. You can handover the cheque to her”, the caretaker interrupted.
They moved to the lawn. Talking to Varun was like returning to the past to unlock skeletons from the closet.
“Maithili, where have you been for so long? I can’t believe you are living in this old age home.” Varun was still as warm as he used to be.
“I moved to Indore after I got married. My husband left me for another woman after a few years. I raised my children all alone. Like everyone else, they left me too. Both of them are settled in the U.S. I came to Mumbai to live here”, tears welled up in Maithili’s eyes.
“As soon as you got married, I left Delhi. One of my friends asked me to come to Mumbai and join his export firm. I did well for myself, earned a lot of money. But, I could never marry.”
“Why?” Maithili asked.
“Because you went away”, he said as softly as he could.
Varun gave the donation cheque to her and got up to leave the place. He walked a few steps and fell flat on the floor. Maithili rushed to him. His head was on her lap. She held his face in her hands. “Varun, what happened to you? Say something.”
Varun’s body had turned cold. “Maithili, I told you that I will live only to see you again.” He closed his eyes.
The doctor was called immediately. Varun was declared as dead due to heart failure.