By Anindita Baidya
Anand, Gujarat, India
The bus took her through long trails in the woods, by the undulated roads, passing by some rickety wooden houses. Innocent faces of the village children, with sleep still stuck at the edge of their little eyes, looked at the bus curiously while some dust-clad little bodies ran here and there.
In an hour, the bus halted by the ‘bus stand’, which was a structure made of four crooked wooden sticks roofed by a blue-painted shade. Village Daam, they said. She alighted from the bus and paused for a while to breathe the fresh air.
She was there, at last. After 12 hours of long journey, she had reached the little tribal village of Daam, nestled in the hills of Dalma.
She had found herself at the crossroads in her little life. Rehana was already about to be engaged to Rex. Her father was suffering from abdominal cancer. Since the past six long years, she had kept her parents waiting, along with herself, waiting for Aahaan to decide about their wedding. But in six years, things changed and they did not really take a direction which Rehana wished.
With her father in the death bed, she decided to put an end to the wait and decide for once and for all. And that is how she landed in the small little village of Daam.
While travelling to the place, her mind was cluttered but once she landed in the village the cold wind refreshed her mind and she was instantly at peace. Now she knew why Aahaan never wanted to leave this place and never intended to quit his work as a medical practitioner in the village. Aahaan had decided to spend his life at this place.
Rehana reached the terracotta coloured single storey building, the only brick one, in the neighborhood. A medium sized pathway lined with jackfruit trees led her to what was named, ‘Mariam kee aashish’: the hospital-cum-home-cum-guest house of Aahaan which housed one doctor, two nurses, some staff and million dreams and commitments.
No sooner did she knock the door, a young, merry lad came out to welcome her, “Aap Rehana didi hain naa?” So, this boy already knew about her. A ray of hope remotely shone in her heart. “So Aahaan has told them about me…is he…….well, decided about the marriage?” she thought.
The lad, who said his name was Shibu, led Rehana to a guest room which had a neatly made cot, a writing table, a prayer corner and enough drinking water. Then Rehana’s eyes fell on the small glass bowl with jasmine floating in water. Memories of past gushed in to fill the room with a familiar aroma. So Aahaan remembered how she loved jasmines and would always have the flowers in a glass bowl in the apartment she had in Kolkata, where the two of them had spent countless moments drowned in love, passion, dreams, smiles, sunshine and rainbows….Rehana was now sure that Aahaan still loved her intensely and could not let her go.
Shibu informed that Aahaan would return only by late afternoon since he had four faraway villages to visit. Aahaan had left very early with his team but had ensured that Rehana’s stay was comfortable. Her return journey was scheduled for early next morning.
Shibu supplied her hot water for a refreshing bath and by the time she was ready, her lunch was ready too. She took her meal in solitude at one edge of the big dining table in the large living room. Shibu had prepared some hot Chila (a dosa made of rice powder) and steaming chicken curry. While she enjoyed her refreshing hot meal in the winter afternoon, she looked around to observe the room which was an evident display of the neat taste which Aahaan had.
After lunch, she moved around the hospital and the neighbourhood. To Rehana’s surprise, she discovered that most of them knew her. It seemed Aahaan often talked about her.
By late afternoon, Rehana was actually beginning to imagine herself living in this secluded place; she mentally planned her future years, managing a comfortable home for two of them, raising children and she also planned that her Ammi would stay along with them, right here. Only if Aahaan agreed to all these, she thought and smiled to herself, mocking at her elusive thoughts.
Aahaan arrived at about 5 p.m. while Rehana was sipping some tea, sitting at the footsteps of the kitchen. The screeching sound of the wheels of the jeep Aahaan was driving sent untamed waves of excitement in her arms and down her spine. In another minute Aahaan was standing just in front of her.
Her Aahaan. Her tall, well groomed, neatly dressed Aahaan. Her Aahaan with million dreams in the deep black eyes. Her Aahaan with the most assuring smile in the world.
Rehana was holding tight, the reins of her wish to run into his arms. She had tanks of tears which would burst any time, she had questions more than her mind could hold, she had complains, she had doubts and more than anything else, she had love. Unending, unfathomable love for Aaahaan.
After tea, Aahaan found a calm solitude place for the two of them. To ‘talk’. They sat on a wooden bench near the hospital, overlooking the Dalma hills. Sitting at the lap of the mighty and beautiful Dalma, Rehana was ready with her questions. Strangely, her voice failed her when Aahaan took her hands into his…
“Look Rooh,” Aahaan started, “I know, I understand, why you are here. I also know what I am here for. My life belong to these people here..you know everything about this place, you also know about what I feel about the people, about my life’s commitment. I have done enough injustice to you. For six long years, I have led you…..to nowhere. I am your culprit. You know where this relation is headed to….to nowhere. It is time we come to a decision. Rex is a nice person, I am sure. He will shower you all the love, care, affection and wealth which I cannot. He will also care for Abbu and Ammi and will build a comfortable life for all of you. As for your Aahaan, you and I will be forever friends for life’’
Rehana looked up at the Dalma. The evening grey clouds were hanging low by the hill side, as if they were trying to concentrate and keenly witness, whatever was happening in Rehana’s life.
They did not have much to talk. Aahaan continued for some more time but the words did not fall into Rehana’s ears. The cloud was getting denser and bigger.
“Will you say SOMETHING at least?” Aahaan insisted.
“Hmm? Well…no, can I have a cup of tea?” They had their dinner quietly at Aahaan’s co-worker’s house. A couple invited to dinner at a friend’s place? She thought and smiled once again. Her mind never failed to tickle her with deviant thoughts!
The wind was harsh as they returned after the dinner. Rehana spent the night in the guest room. There was a heavy storm followed by torrential rains which damaged the telephone and electric lines. So, as planned, she could not talk to her Ammi and Abbu nor watch her favourite , “Man versus Wild” on TV. In the candle-lit room, she was lying, in the cosy white bed. “What a gentleman Aahaan is, he let me sleep in a separate room!” the stray thoughts again smiled in her mind. It was raining very badly outside. She put off the candle and dived into a deep slumber.
The next morning, while they waited for the bus, Aahaan said, “You will be okay, happy and healthy, Rooh, promise me.” The cold foggy morning made her eyes so wet that she could hardly look up.
They could hardly spot the bus arriving in the dense fog. The bus driver and conductor took some time off to have a cup of steaming tea while Rehana and some other passengers boarded the bus. Aahaan’s voice was shaky and wet, “Goodbye Rooh, keep in touch please”. After she had placed her bag in the seat, she came down to shake hands. As she again boarded her bus, she turned her head to utter softly, “Aahaan, I can never be JUST FRIENDS with you. Goodbye.......!”
The bus left for the nearest town. As it moved through the u-turns in the valley, the sky became clearer. In another hour, the sun shone. After the storm yesterday, the clouds had cleared and the sky was much much clearer today. And Rehana headed homewards..
“Jiski aakhon mein katee thi sadiyaan
Usne sadiyon kee judaayi dee hai
Phir wohee laut ke jaanaa hogaa
Yaar ne aisi rihaayii dee hai”