Raghu (Raghvendra), placed his laptop bag on the table and turned towards the window to unlatch the glass shield. It was an early start to the day as he had to go through the draft report, before filing it for the Annual General Meeting.
Lighting his cigeratte, he glanced outside the window ,where a DTC bus caught his attention.The bus was about to leave the stop , when a young adult maneuvered his way through the rare door.
The sight seemed so familiar to Raghu that he got teleported to another time and space.
He visioned the three years younger Raghvendra inside a bus, trying to locate a place to sit.
His legs rubbed against fellow passengers as he moved towards the vacant seat in the cabin.
Pulling out a wrinkled ten rupees note from his wallet, he passed it to the conductor. Then sat in the cabin, with his cheeks caught in his hands and eyes placed between his feet. His shoes were almost worn out, ready to ditch him any time and his shirt was inked by the fountain pen which he carried in his pocket. His silence had thousands of random thoughts flowing as under- water current. Raising his head, he unconsciously examined the fellow passengers.
It was the restless Raghu sitting in the bus, while the world around, seemed contented and at peace. No struggle to reach anywhere, but to their pre -determined stops. For a moment he envied their harmony with life for he was unsure of his own.
(It was that point of his life, when he was in a self assigned race, chasing his aspiration. Coveted to be in the central government service, he had dropped his private job and was preparing for the civil services examination.)
“Sir, may I come in”, louder than usual, the peon’s voice brought Raghu back to the present. His eyes ran around, closely observing his surrounding, while a series of occurence flashed in his mind, leading him to the moment.He was being served his morning tea in his 12×12 lavish cabin.
For a moment it seemed as if someone had replayed the past record, reminding him of everything he underwent to make up to this day.
There was a juncture in his life, where emotions had tried to overpower him. Her eyes would touch his soul everytime he set his glance on them. He used to call her Meenu. Her presence had the serenity that could revive even a tormented day. But Raghvendra had chosen to look beyond.
Sipping on his tea, Raghu opened his drawer . There lay a fountain pen and a small diary. He opened the last page of the diary and wrote ” Reached the finishing line. Exhausted! Dreams done but the weary nights disowned the sleep. Still awaiting the peace within.”
Recollecting his thoughts, which in no time had run down to his last tryst with Meenu, Raghvendra closed the drawer and leaned towards the documents lying in front of him.
Lately, Raghvendra had developed detachment towards everything and his heart was diffused with a constant feeling of unaccomplishment.
“Change of place will set it right.”said Kedar, taking the last puff from his cigeratte. He was Raghu’s friend from college and the only acquaintance in Delhi. Kedar had organised an exclusive farewell dinner for Raghvendra, who was heading for a deputation to Lucknow.
The flight landed and Raghvendra was driven to his new bunglow in the official vehicle.
Raghvendra had spent 8 years of his life in Lucknow. A lot had changed in the city since he had left.
Raghvendra’s mother was a cancer patient, survived by a 9 years old boy and her husband, Shambhunath Dixit.That was when Raghu’s father had shifted base from Bareli to this city.
The family and the social pressure had dragged Mr Dixit to the second marriage, but the little Raghvendra had developed an instant aversion to the lady who had been granted the liberty to replace his mother.
Raghu’s dad and the new mother, had left no stone unturned to brainwash him, but his innocent yet stubborn heart did not accept any of it, rather found it imposing. However, Raghu ‘s bitterness for the situation did not grow further as he never had a step sibling.
He was always on a lookout for an opportunity to leave the city and his partially imposed family. Finally he got through an engineering college in Delhi and since then the national capital was his home. It was five years ago, when he had last come to Lucknow, to perform the final rituals for his dad.
For Raghu, the city had no aquaintaces to look forward to, however his step Mom was still there, residing all alone in their old house.
” Bheem” called Raghu and a middle aged man appeared from the door. Raghu handed him a photo frame and asked him to get it hanged in his room.It was his mother’s portrait .
It had been a month since Raghu had joined headquarters. He recieved an invitation from Mayor for a get together at the town hall.
As expected there were bureaucrats, MLAs and some local businessmen at the party. But Raghu was startled to see a very familiar face looking at him from between the crowd. It was Meenu. She was married to a local industrialist and was settled in Lucknow. She smiled at Raghu, not at all surprised to see him there, as if was aware of his presence in the city.
Meenu broke the ice, asking him, “Have you been to your home?” Raghu looked at her. He had not been asked this question before, fairly because no one even knew about it. He felt uncomfortable and just conveyed a ‘no’ with a slight movement of his head. The party got over , Meenu once again walked upto Raghu and said, “Do visit your home once.”
Raghu came back from the party, made himself a drink and sat in his recliner pondering over what Meenu had said.
The first thought that came to his mind was “that was never my home..I have no one there “. Then he thought about the lady he would have to encounter if he happen to visit that place. She had urged him to visit home atleast on festivals. But Raghu never paid heed to it.
He dozed off in the middle of his thoughts.
The other morning, Raghu started his private car and headed towards somewhere, but certainly not towards his office. He was going to the same house which he thought, had no strings attached to him. It was probably Meenu’s words or something inexplicable, that had made him change his mind.
While on the way, he regretted his move, thinking – why would he even care to see the women who was substituted for his Mother. But till then, he had reached very close to his destination. He drove in and parked his car under the portico.
A middle aged lady opened the door, it was certainly not her. She welcomed her with utmost respect. Raghu didnt intend to go inside, so he sat in the guest lobby. The wall right infront had portraits of his deceased parents. Raghu least expected to see his mom’s reminiscence in this house.
He heard a voice, “Raghu, I am so happy to see you son”. Raghu turned and he saw his step mother, who immediately hugged him. Raghu could not reciprocate. She asked hundreds of questions to which he gave the shortest possible response. In the meanwhile the middle aged lady appeared with a tray of eateries in her hand and said “Raghu bhaiya, Amma keeps on telling us your childhood stories, she even tells that you have become an officer now “.
The old lady interrupted saying” Yes, he will listen to you, but prepare him lunch first.”
Then she turned towards Raghu and said, ” Son, your luggage must be in the car, I will ask Hari to put it in your room”.
“Do not forget to change the bedsheet and the curtains of his room,” Raghu’s step mother instructed the maid.
Raghu intervined saying ” I have to go now” He was loud enough but she pretended as if she did not hear and continued giving her instructions.
“I am staying in the government quarter near my office”.Raghu uttered in a slightly raised voice, which brought grief mingled with fear on her face.
Raghu started to leave, the lady held his hand and said “it’s our festival tomorrow, don’t “. She tried to get up from the chair and lost her balance. This was what Raghu assumed. She was fentish, so Raghu called for her doctor.
The doctor gave her an injection and asked Raghu, if she was regular with her medicines, for she had high blood pressure. Raghu called the maid and enquired.
” Amma never takes her medicines regularly, she does not get sleep at night. She says she has no purpose in life , so she must die. Bhaiya, she misses you alot and blames herself of not being a good mother to you.” The maid said it all in one breathe, her face turned pale as if she had done something wrong.
The doctor said to Raghu, “I am treating her for last one and half years, her condition has been deteriorating . It seems she has lost the desire to live.”
Raghu didnt know how to react. He was caught in a moment of dejection.
“Was he responsible for her plight”, the thought echoed in his mind.
Raghu, with the help of the servants, had put his step mother in her bed. She was in deep sleep. He sat in the chair next to her bed, looking at her wrinkled face. He was reminded of his childhood, what not had he done to avoid her presence around him, while she would make silly excuses to get involved with him.
She would cook his favourite food, celebrate his birthdays in the best way possible, plan outings with him, but at the end of the day Raghu would shut himself in his room, infused with a sense of betrayal towards his real mother.
Raghu jolted out of his thoughts, checked her nerves. She was breathing. He closed his eyes and went off to sleep.
Prayer bells rang in his ears and he was awake.It was quite a day now.
His step mother entered the room smiling, ” I know you couldn’t sleep last night” . I have prepared moong dal halwa for you, come have it.”
Raghu said ” But you are not well and you are not supposed to be doing all this.”
To which she replied “I am absolutely fine, I have never felt this good before, come , I will serve you the breakfast”.
Raghu wanted to go back to his bungalow, but could not say so.
Raghu joined his office from the next day. Forced by his conscience, he continued to live with his step mother, but was not very comfortable. Whereas, the old lady never complained about his years long absence and behaved as if Raghu was always there with her. Preparing his favourite meals to sending him lunch to the office, everything seemed so seamless to him as if he had been a part of this household forever.
However, the nine year old Raghu seated within this young man, would rebel this quiet acceptance and proximity with the lady, whom he grew up hating the most. But he would calm the agitation, suggesting himself that it was just transient.
Raghu’s sleeplessness persisted, the inner battle continued. He felt suffocated in his mind, as if something desperately trying to vent out.
When Raghu was lost in his intricated thoughts, her mother stepped in. ” Raghu I have noticed you are not sleeping well. You need to have a good night sleep. Let me give you a head massage.”
Before he could convey a ‘no’, she already had poured oil on his head and started to massage.
Next morning, Raghu was sitting in the courtyard and reading newspaper. His step mother tried to start a conversation, but Raghu interrupted saying he had to leave early, as there was a very important meeting.
Raghu was ready for his office, when the old lady came there and gestured, asking him to turn towards the portrait of his deceased parents, and said “you should always seek your parents blessing before setting out for something important.” Raghu did as told and advanced towards the door.
Before stepping out, he stopped and looked back. His step mother was standing there, she waved at him.
Raghu felt a numbness in his legs. The inner conflict was at its peak. “Enough! I can not be so callous”, Raghu told to himself. This was the first time in his life,he had tried to shut down the rebel in him.
The old lady stood there perplexed. With heavy steps, Raghu walked towards her. Every step he took, was as herculean a task, as pushing aside mountains, errected within.
Son, have you forgotten something”, the old lady asked. Raghu looked at her, bowed down and touched her feet. She was dumbfounded for a few seconds and then hugged him and burst into tears. This was the greatest reward of her life, which she always longed for.
Raghu immediately went and sat in his car. As tears rolled down from his eyes, he could feel the dwelling somberness vanishing away. He had found his solace in the moment which he always tried to run away from.
Finally, he was at ease, having discovered the thread to unwind his entangled self.
It was the beginning of a new chapter in Raghu’s life. He had opened the doors within and there was a gush of happiness flowing in, washing away all the abhor that he had carried so far, only making him feel better and better.
It was late in the evening, Raghu came back from the office. The doctor was there for his routine visit. They exchanged greetings and then, Raghu went to his room.
His mother was complaining to the doctor about the efficacy of his medicine. ” Doctor saheb, please make sure that I get well soon, for I have got responsibilities to fullfil. I need to be alive and healthy. I have to find a daughter – in – law and also have to raise my grand children.”
Raghu entered the hall where this conversation was going on, the doctor looked at him and they smiled at each other. The two of them knew that she was on a speedy recovery.