He thought it would be an ordinary journey. Standing behind the pillar he watched the train snort arrogantly into the station. With each snort he was reminded of his grandfather’s words “You will fail in the city and return penniless”; with every heavenward whistle, he heard his cousin, “Don’t worry. Come here and I will get you a job at the construction site.” Now he had a 34-hour journey to prove one of them wrong, and he expected the excitement at the end of the journey. He looked at his ticket once again: compartment S9 berth 23.
Pushing his luggage under the seat, he sat close to the window. “Papa, when will you be back?” – his four year old daughter Munni asked innocently. He stared into those soft brown eyes of the motherless kid. He held her frail palms in his, through the window. “Munni, Papa will get you a nice gudiya from the city..Say tata,” his sister spoke to the kid, to avoid an emotional outburst. In a minute, the train pulled forward, and Munni’s little fingers parted from between his. “I need to go..”, he thought, “I have to, at least for Munni’s sake..”
The humid summer breeze and the rattling train coaxed him into an uncomfortable state of drowsy consciousness. He dreamt that Munni ran away, the closer he ran to her, the farther she was, like a mirage. He woke up with a start and squinted at his watch.”What is the time please?”A smallish woman, a meek voice as if she was scared that her existence would annoy someone. Her only noticeable feature was her rather large, expressive eyes.”4.30″Something made him look at the woman again. He had stopped noticing women long back. Ever since Meenakshi passed away…
But this woman was different. She reminded him of someone he knew. In an instant he realized who and the painful memories came flooding back. She looked exactly like his childhood sweetheart Madhu. As teenage lovers in a conservative society, they had often met secretly and had declared undying love for each other.
Then someone had found out and all hell had broken loose. The elders in the village Panchayat had ostracized Madhu’s family as she was from a lower caste. Unable to bear the humiliation, she had committed suicide by drowning. That was twelve years back…
Could it be? Could it really be him? He seems different, weary and downcast. Oh no will he recognise me? No, I am dead to the world. Still she cautiously wrapped her saree end around her head and across her face. Behind the cotton screen, her mind drifted to happier times, languid strolls in the corn fields, games at the riverbed, his gentle caress, whispered sweet nothings, stolen glances at the temple fair.
Tempted to take one last look, she consoled herself that he wouldn’t notice. Slowly
she lifted her eyes only to find Rupak staring back at her.
‘No, this girl looks too close to be any other person. She is infact Madhu!! “Hey, Madhu!” he called.
She struggled hard not to respond to that call. And successfully managed it too.
“Hey Madhu, you forgot me?” he inquired her and came closer.
The old lady sitting opposite to him was looking at this unapprovingly.
“No, you are mistaken, My name is not Madhu.. I am Supriya” she lied.
“Hey Ram!, a young girl cannot travel safely in this country without being stalked!” the old lady muttered angrily.
The girl walked briskly away from him, trying to escape his glances, as though she was hiding something, not wanting to be discovered. He stood confused, she had said her name wasn’t Madhu, and should he run after her? Or should he let it pass, after all he still had a train to catch.
His heart told him it was Madhu, followed her, all thoughts about going to the city vanished; he was on delighted to have met Madhu after such a long time. He was filled with memories of their time together. He finally caught up with her. Looking into her eyes he said ‘ Why Madhu? Why this to me?’
“Please dont lie to me anymore”; sounding more like the Mani he used to be ten years back when he had first met her at the Village temple, rather than the arrogant side that seemed to rule his life now. “I know it is you, nobody else but you Madhu”. Tears roll down her cheecks as she tries to remember why they ended up this way. Was it destiny or fate that they had to meet now?
As she speaks up, the train which for a while had be at a halt, slowly starts to move.
Now,he was not in a state to loose her again .Though they didn’t speak any word ,everything was clear .
Now also ,they were able to read what was running in each others mind.
He slowly held her palms into his. She couldn’t stop him though she wanted too.
For a moment ,they forgot everything.All that was felt,they want to live a new life together.
He later discovered that both were going to the same construction site for the job..
Same job at the same construction site?!! Same destination?!! He was too shocked to react.
“How could this be possible?” he wondered. His mind went reeling to the past. The hidden past. The past of which he wanted no more.
“Remember? Remember Mani??? 5 years ago…” his mind talking. He does not like to be called Mani but his mind was not listening. His mind, which always was within his control, was rolling back to the past.
“5 years ago in the train. Both you & Madhu to the same destination unknown to eachother just like today. That’s when it happened…”
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