I stood there as if rooted to the ground. What is she doing here? Is it really she ? I definitely am mistaken. How can she be? But a closer and more attentive look and I was sure it was she.

Standing there midst a group of guests, she was looking exquisitely beautiful. Her downcast eyes with long drooping lashes as if restricting the emotions from spilling out. A very measured, tiny smile playing on those juicy / succulent lips.The red bindi midst those perfectly arched eyebrows. Her smooth glistening face hallowed by the red resplendent aanchal of her saree. Her long tresses knotted in a neat bun at the back of head was impeccably decorated with twirls of faux jewels. Hands full upto elbow with red, golden bangles and kangan. Long slender neck adorned with traditional heavy necklace studded with colourful, sparkling precious stones. Yes, she was a picture perfect bride standing modestly besides her husband.

Her husband…!!! The realisation dawned upon me with a jolt. She is the newly wedded wife of Mr.Gupta. Mr. Gupta ..her husband who is of her father’s age. Why and how she got married to him, why somebody other than Sandeep. What went wrong.

I had first seen both of them in the temple near my home. This quiet little temple with huge open ground and ages old big trees is a serene place. They were such a strikingly beautiful and cut for each other pair that no one could have afforded to miss. I felt a sudden spurt of happiness looking at them. Kind of joy you feel beholding anything beautiful.

Since then I saw them there almost daily. I don’t know when I started waiting for them at the turn of the road leading to temple. Everyday I was there in the balcony with my evening cup of tea waiting for them. No, they were not residents of my locality. Perhaps they walked to temple from nearby bus stand. After their arrival I used to come down for my daily quota of evening walk in the park adjescant to temple and then went to temple. Gradually we developed that intimacy which grows in between people you meet daily at the same place, same time.

If they were in their sweet nothing kind of quarrel and I entered the park both of them will nod to me with a smile on their faces and then carry on the talk between them. Such small hints of acknowledging each other’s presence built a bond between us.

One day while they were in front of my gate it started raining heavily. I had already reached my home and was in the balcony. I invited them in. Over cups of coffee we were formally introduced. Both of them were working professionals living away from their families and home. They were not in the same company but met each other during an event for social cause.

Few days after this incident I had to suddenly leave for my hometown. Coming back after a month or so I could not spot Arpita and Sandeep visiting the temple. Every evening I waited for them but in vain. They must have been assigned to some other project at some other place, I thought or must have joined some new company out of town. And as often happens in life, they became a pleasant memory tucked in a corner of my mind.

And now suddenly I see her here in a Rajasthan town where I was visiting my friend who is Mr.Gupta’s neighbour. He is a very well established businessman .He lost his wife when his son was hardly two or three years old. All efforts of his mother and elder sister to get him remarried were politely but very firmly turned down by him. He plunged his head into his business. Despite his very busy schedule he never neglected his social and family responsibilities. His son was cynosore of his eyes. Both have always shared a unique bond. A kind of mutual respect and understanding for each other’s loss and efforts to compensate it to the best of their efforts. Mrs Gupta was always alive between two of them. Everybody was surprised by Mr.Gupta’s sudden decision to get married at this juncture of life. May be the loneliness of growing age had started to set in.

But why Arpita is here. Even after observing her for a long time I was not able to trace any sign of sadness, brooding or underlying restlessness. The smile, the coyishness, the cordiality everything was perfect, rather measured. Yes, a bit too tailored to produce the right kind of impact. She was playing her part perfectly but she was ‘playing’. But why?

Perhaps sensing my gaze she lifted her eyes in my direction. For a fraction of a second as if the facade fell off, or did I just imagined that CHHATPATAHAT in her eyes. But it appeared for a miniscule of second and was gone immediately. And when we met the couple to wish them I did not fail to read that silent plea in her eyes not to divulge and discuss anything with anyone.

I returned full of unanswered questions.

ARPITA

Seeing that Aunt here, so many miles away from her home that too on this day here at my reception, I was shocked. Why God why…why that witness to those precious lovely moments has to be here. What do you want to indicate. I still have not fully come to terms with the fast moving events. I am trying to douse the bleeding and gaping wounds. A kind of numbness was setting in, but as I saw her my armour started cracking. How I wanted to fling my arms around her and weep inconsolably. I did not even get an opportunity to weep alone, what to talk of sharing my pain with someone.

Different people have reacted differently to my decision to marry Mr.Gupta but none of them have an inkling of the agonizing torture I have borne before arriving at this decision.

You know aunt, we missed you a lot the last day we went to the temple together. Sandeep had suddenly got a call from a U.S. based company. For him it was a dream come true. He had always wanted to work there, developing softwares for the field of his choice. He was happy and full of his plans for the new assignment and I heard him with a sense of forbidding, not even once he mentioned about our future together or the pain of leaving me. He was so carried away by his success.

That day from temple we went to his place. He wanted me to help him in packing and discarding the unwanted things. Once within the security of four walls, I could not contain myself anymore and burst into uncontrolable sobs. His chattering stopped and he realised my predicament for the first time during that evening.

And then the evening blossomed into one of the most beautiful one .For two days we were practically inseparable and on third day he left for his home town from there he was to leave for his destination.

It was decided that the first leave he will be able to manage he will be coming home to marry and take me with him. Before his arrival we shall be talking to our respective parents and then rest will follow. However both of us knew that he can not come before a year or so. I was not much bothered about that. I shall be missing his presence but now a days being in touch is never a problem. Now when everything was planned and decided I was ready to wait and dream.

But a month or so after sandeep’s departure, I realised that I am in deep seas. Those last two days……I was pregnant.

That night when I told Sandeep about it, he was silent for a long time and then as I feared he suggested an abortion. He could not come back so soon. He was not shirking from his responsibilities but was not ready to sacrifice his chance for ‘this foolish mistake’ we committed.

Howsoever practically I tried to reason with myself, I could not bring myself to kill the life inside me. For me it was not just a ‘foolish mistake’ I agree that it was not the right time for it to happen but it was a life we created together. The sentiments, the emotions involved in it meant a lot to me.

I had neither much time nor any options open to me. Sandeep was not ready to listen to my wish of keeping the child. He started sounding irritated on my insistence. All my pleas as if fell on deaf ears. I sensed that gradually he started cutting our talks shorter on one or other pretext.

I was falling in deep abyss of despair. Am I loosing Sandeep? Is he asking me to choose between him and the baby. Whatever the odds and consequences but I could not think of sniffing the life out of my baby. If it was a fault, it was ours ,not of the baby. I was also a bit shaken by Sandeep’s lack of emotion towards the fate of our baby. When it comes to prioritize between his work and his dear ones, can he be so ruthless? Was I really becoming irrationaly adamant.

I wanted to run away somewhere far away. Well I could not have left everything and run away for ever but at least I could go away to some place for few days. May be some solution, some way out will open up.

I applied for leave and while thinking about places to go somehow booked a ticket to Sandeep’s hometown. I did not do it conciously. Once in the town I wanted to visit his home. It was as if an urge to be near him.

I went to his home. Told the family that I was Sandeep’s friend and as I was holidaying in the city I wanted to meet them. Knowing that I was alone his father insisted that I shift to his home from hotel.

Oh, my baby belongs here. How welcome he would be here …..so many such thoughts bombarded my mind. Perhaps my conflict was apparent or Sandeep’s father guessed something. That day he came home early and offered to take me for sight seeing. There in the lawns of birla temple I poured my heart out to him.

‘Did you tell Sandeep that you are visiting here?’ he asked

‘No,I myself was not sure. I don’t know how and why I came here.’ I stopped midst of my confused thoughts and then blurted out, “He does not want to talk about it. In fact he has almost stopped calling me.”

He looked at my face intently. “Sandeep has told me about you, not about this development but about the relation between you two.”

He fell silent and then continued….”He is very busy over there. Talks quite infrequently. I also did not get any chance to inform him about your visit.”

Don’t please. Don’t tell him. I don’t want him to think that I am trying to pressurise him in any way. To keep the baby is my decision not his.”….hurt in my words could not escape him.

‘I lived those moments, those emotions very sincerely. I want my baby to live with all the dignity. The baby has a right to live.’………….I was mumbling to myself …albiet aloud.

“I know he is very passionate about his work. Though he cares about me, loves me but can not abondon his work to rush to me. I know my son.’…………he almost gave voice to my emotions.”Perhaps he is not to be blamed entirely for this attitude. After his mother’s death I also involved myself in my work with the same passion. For me that was the only way to bear my pain. But Sandeep was too young that time to understand this fully. He might have imbibed that unknowingly. ‘He stopped as if reliving, analyzing the past. With a deep sigh he continued, ‘I was the world around him during his growing years. His tender mind must have started following me and I felt so proud of my son’s concentration and passion about his work …….I mean projects, studies etc. It was in a way convenient for me as well.’

I listened to him mutely. What a horrifying thing am I doing. This gentleman had so graciously invited me to his home, is listening and believing me and I am sending him on a guilt trip.

‘No, Don’t say that. Sandeep used to tell me that you were always there when he needed you. You took time out for his excursions and sports and those night strolls where you two enjoyed talking to each other. You are a wonderful father.’

He smiled indulgently as if guessing my thoughts. ‘Yes, we shared a beautiful relationship. But in our time perhaps the world was not that competitive. It was easier to balance the work and family but now the career front is a bit too much demanding. Balancing the practical and emotional parts of life has become more difficult.’

Here were two persons, who love Sandeep with intensity. Both of us perhaps wanted him to be with us at this moment. How smooth will be sailing if he is here. But none of us wanted to be selfish.

After a spell of silence he told me, ‘If Sandeep can not come here, you can go there. I can arrange for that. There it will not be difficult for you two to live together and then you can get married there itself. We can formalize the knot once you come back’

For a moment I was elated. Yes that is the best solution. I can tell my family that I am proceeding on an official assignment. Later on things can be managed. But an apprehension inside me checked my fancy flight. Why has Sandeep not suggested this? Does he really wants me there? Does he consider a family an encumbrance at this particular point of time?

‘You will talk to Sandeep or I shall do that? ‘His question brought me out of me reverie.”

‘No I will do it myself.’ I said.

Next day I called Sandeep. Could catch up him after many attempts. He sounded tired but very enthusiastic. His work was getting appreciated, the recognition he was getting…..after a continuous outpour and a brief silence came ‘How are you Arpita?’

I did not know how to start. Was he expecting to hear that I have done away with the baby? He was avoiding referring to it. Collecting myself I said ‘Sandeep should I come to you. That way we can keep the baby……………….

There was a stunned silence at the other end for few moments. I was waiting with a batted breath. ‘So soon….I don’t have time …..my work, a wife, a baby at this time…….I don’t know …let me think…..I will get back to you…..soon….but you still have not……ok……’and the fragmented conversation came to an end.

I sat there with a bowed head, a numbness spreading upon me. So, Sandeep was not ready for encumbrances. He definitely does not want any kind of distractions from his work at least presently. Is he harbouring certain block towards filial ties …………I had no answers but of one thing I was certain he is not ready for commitments other than his work.

Still I decided to wait. A week passed and still no communication from Sandeep. In between he called his father had a usual talk and that’s all. He was full of his work and progress.

That perhaps was the defining moment. we were two persons loving sandeep despite knowing that his work, his ambitions will always rank first on his list. That baby breathing inside me was his part as well.

So here I am, Mrs.S. Gupta.

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