It was 5:40 p.m. by the clock.
As Saatvik peeped out of his platform-facing window, he couldn’t help but admire how the crowd was making its way across the station. It was disorderly and was yet full of patterns.
As he was pulling a book out of his handbag, a couple arrived. They had just embarked. The woman was clad in a saree and the man in a simple trouser and untucked shirt. He for first few seconds couldn’t keep his eyes off from the couple, but quickly then dug himself deep into his book.
The man placed the luggage beneath the seat and made the lady sit down by the window. He then himself sat beside her and made her check for all the travel essentials.
Surprisingly enough, the train was about to start and there weren’t enough passengers in the coach.
The train siren blew and the gentlemen got up from his seat. ‘Call when you reach.’ he said and then disembarked.
The coach then jolted in a jerk and the Sealdah-New Delhi Rajdhani Express started. Saatvik now for some reason was busy reading his book. The passing by station or the approaching tracks weren’t fascinating him enough.
The train finally moved out of the station. He kept on reading his book for a good five minutes when he heard that women speak.
‘Saatvik!’ she said.
He raised his glance and nodded in acknowledgment.
‘I didn’t knew you were such an avid book reader.’
‘People change, Kaavya. With time they do.’ he replied.
She then smiled and said ‘How is life treating you? I heard you got married.’
‘I did. As a matter of fact, I have a lovely four-year-old daughter.’
‘Does she have a name or four-year-old daughter is what you call her.’
Saatvik smiled and said – ‘Gitika’.
She smiled and nodded. He then placed his book aside and said ‘How about you?’
‘Well, no kids but life is good.’ she replied.
‘Where are you headed to?’ he said.
‘Mata Vaishno Devi. My in-laws want me to. My husband was busy with his work, so I decided to come alone, anyway. I have a halt at Delhi; need to take a connecting train from there. What about you what brought you to Kolkata?’
‘A client meet and now I am heading back to Kanpur to bring back my daughter from my parent’s place.’
‘Your parents shifted to Kanpur?’
‘My father first got transferred to Kanpur and after retiring he started his own venture there with some of his office colleagues. So, yes now they are living in Kanpur, far away from hustle bustle of Delhi.’
She smiled and said ‘Carry on with your reading. Just in case, I interrupted it.’
Saatvik picked his book up again and alternated between looking out the window and reading.
He didn’t realize when while looking out he dozed off. It should have been half an hour or so when voices of sobbing woke him up.
He looked around and saw Kaavya crying while looking out of the window.
‘Are you okay?’
‘My husband left me.’ she said while still sobbing.
‘Of course, he did. I saw him placing your bag safely beneath the seat.’
‘He was my brother-in-law, stupid. He is like a brother to me.’
‘See! We haven’t been in touch for a while. I don’t know what have you been through. But still, I can understand how it can feel.’
She then wiped her tears and kept on looking outside.
Saatvik couldn’t hold himself back and said ‘Why and when?’
She slowly turned her head and said ‘Two years ago. He said he had to go to an official trip but then snapped all ties with me and his own family.’
‘Is he okay? Did you enquire?’
‘He has started a new life in Bangalore. I heard from somebody. He sent few text messages to his parents asking them to not worry about him.’
‘So you live with your parents-in-law?’
‘I do. They behave as if nothing has happened. They have assured themselves that their son would finish his official work and will be back.’
‘Why are you putting up with this crap, then?’
‘Because they still genuinely love me and care for me and I have nowhere to go.’
‘But what when your brother-in-law gets married?’ he said.
‘He is already married. His wife and I are very good friend. She too takes good care of me.’
‘Why don’t you return to your parent’s place and start afresh?’
‘Afresh what, Saatvik? They barely talk to me now.’
He nodded and pulled a flask out of his bag. He then fetched two plastic cups and poured tea into them. Kaavya picked her cup without even waiting for him to offer.
She was sipping her tea while watching outside the window when Saatvik’s gaze shifted toward her. There was now nothing between them, except for the piping hot steam rising from the teacup which she was holding close to her face. He hasn’t been so close to her in years.
Her skin was still dusky and bright and her face’s contour sharp. The eyeliner she was wearing was now little off due to tears. She hasn’t aged a bit and except for that uncanny sadness, she was the same Kaavya. In fact, with her nuptial marks (vermillion, bindi and other accessories) she was looking more beautiful than ever before.
She finished her tea and then returned his gaze. He smiled and went back to his reading. She too pulled out a magazine from her handbag.
After an hour or so she placed her magazine aside and said ‘Where are we?’
‘We just crossed Asansol.’
She fell silent and turned her gaze outside. ‘Why? What bothers you?’ he said.
‘This is for the first time in years that I will be faring so far from Kolkata. I was pretty much home-bound.’
‘You haven’t visited Delhi either?’
‘No one talks to me there. Why embarrass everyone?’
‘What actually happened, Kaavya? You were very happy when you were about to get married? What went wrong?’
‘We use to live in Kalkaji, B-Block..’
‘I know Kaavya, I was your neighbor..’ he said.
She then realized her folly and giggled. ‘I was the talk of the town. There wasn’t a single bachelor boy in the whole of Kalkaji, who didn’t approach me or wanted to talk to me.’
‘Will you just cut the crap, I was a bachelor from Kalkaji once, so I would know..’
‘If I have to narrate my story, I will do it my way. Why am I even talking to you anyway? Who are you?’ she said and flipped the magazine (she was holding) aside and turned toward the window.
Saatvik remained silent and mindlessly gazed outside the window for a good ten minutes or so. He then looked toward Kaavya and said ‘I am sorry.’
‘I too am, I shouldn’t be talking to you like this. We have known each other since childhood.’
‘You were the talk of the town, and then this prince charming came along. Then what conspired?’ he said.
‘I was my father’s princess and I was the coveted maiden of Kalkaji. I was thoroughly pampered and I was up there on that pedestal of youth.’
‘You sure were.’
‘Then my parents started searching for a suitor for me. They did give me an option, but every guy I could think of, none of them actually appealed to me. Then Diwakar came along. Do you know Diwakar means Sun? And I thought he would brighten my days and night.’
‘Never had a Sun brightened anyone’s night, ever, Kaavya!’ he said.
‘But my mind intoxicated with youth couldn’t understand this. That even a Sun illuminates your life only during the days. The dark & cold nights, those you have to endure alone. He held a huge job and used to be out of town most of the time. His grooming was impeccable; heck he had a car too. I couldn’t see anything beyond that glaring surface, not even the fact that he hardly called me twice or thrice before our marriage.’
‘When did you shifted to Kolkata?’
‘Some six months after our marriage, he got promoted and was shifted to Kolkata office. We shifted to a big Company home here and got even a bigger car. His whole family shifted. He now had his own corner office in the company and even had a Secretary.’
‘Seems like a fairy tale coming true.’ he said.
‘That is what I was chasing, a fairy tale. The problem started surfacing after we shifted to Kolkata. He used to be quiet and distant but he became unavailable after shifting here. He used to stay in office past mid nights. Never used to eat at home and sometimes even slept on living room’s couch with TV still on.’
‘Maybe he had not adjusted to the new city pretty well?’ he said.
‘Oh! He adjusted pretty well.’
‘Maybe he was doing all this for a foreseeable family, I mean you and someday kids?’ said Saatvik.
‘The only thing he was doing was his Secretary.’
Upon listening to those words, Saatvik cleared his throat and said ‘Beneath the surface, you still are that unbridled and bindaas Kaavya aren’t you?’
‘I am sorry, I forgot I should be behaving like a married woman and keep my language in check.’
‘Never mind. You alone don’t have to carry out all the terms and condition of the bond.’ he said.
The train slowed down and stopped at Dhanbad station.
‘You knew it all along and didn’t confront him?’
‘In those six months, I too had grown apart from him. It was like living with a stranger. I couldn’t stand up to him, probably because I never wanted him back. He was just a stranger doing strange things.’
‘I wronged you too, didn’t I?’ she then said.
‘No, you didn’t.’
‘You graduated and couldn’t find a job for six months and I ditched you.’
‘You did what you deemed was right.’ he said.
‘Everybody does what they deem right, but then they forget that they have to live with the consequences.’
He now looked puzzled. ‘It was you who drew us apart.’ she said.
Saatvik was now half smiling in disbelief and half frowning in frustration.
‘A month into our marriage, and I couldn’t stop thinking about you. I felt guilty how I ditched my childhood friend and love, in his hard times.’ she said.
‘So you never fought for him?’ he said.
‘I could never assume that right. You were all over my mind. I could see the ship sailing, but I never tried chasing it. The only thing I used to think about was the time we spent together.’
‘I am not sure what ever you are trying to imply, but I have a four-year-old daughter. Those days are over and gone.’
She covered her lips with the loose end of her saree and was probably sobbing again. He stood up and took her handbag and placed it beneath her seat. ‘Lie down and take some rest. You will feel better.’
She soon dozed off and slept.
It was around eleven in the night, when she woke up by the sound of Saatvik collecting his stuff and stuffing into his bag.
‘I am happy for you. You are one lucky guy.’ she said.
‘I found you on this obscure train ride, well you can call me lucky.’ he said and smiled.
‘I meant you have a loving wife and daughter to look forward too.’ she murmured.
‘Daughter yes, but who told you I have a loving wife. I didn’t even talk about her even once all along.’ he said.
‘She doesn’t care for you?’
‘She probably never did.’ he replied.
‘She gave you a lovely daughter, why would you be so harsh on her?’
‘She did give me the most adorable daughter, no doubt. But didn’t stay back, neither for me nor for her.’
Kaavya was now puzzled.
‘If it makes you any feel any better. She fought and left for her mother’s place six months after delivery, leaving Gitika behind. And never came back even for her own daughter.’
‘Why would it make me feel any better? I don’t gloat on other people’s misery. You never tried going to her parent’s place, to bring her back to her senses?’
‘I did. But by the time, I reached there; she had left the town for a new job elsewhere. She wanted to start a new life. She was not happy being a Homemaker or raising kids. But the great part is she realized all this while she was seven months pregnant. Or at least this is what her parents told me.’
‘She fled? She abandoned you? She wouldn’t find a caring guy like you, ever. What an idiot she was.’ she said.
‘It didn’t happen for the first time, or did it? There have been some prior idiots too who have abandoned me.’ he said and smiled.
‘I really was an idiot too.’
‘Happens.’ he said. He then pulled out his phone and placed an alarm for quarter to five in the morning.
‘You should catch some sleep too. You need to get down at Kanpur Central.’ she said.
He nodded and smiled.
‘Wake me up too. I owe you a proper Goodbye.’ she said.
He smiled and lied down on his berth. She meanwhile read her magazines for a while, before going back to sleep again.
The sun had already risen and bright lights started pouring in from the window. She gradually came out of her slumber. She pulled her phone and checked the time on it. It was seven in the morning. Saatvik didn’t wake her up, she thought. She removed the blanket from over her face and saw the vacant berth in front of her.
She sat and couldn’t help but think that she deserved this cold adieu, after all. How they both could have made a happy and fulfilling future together but she chose otherwise and made both miserable. Her eyes started turning starry and tears started trickling down her cheek.
From the edge of those mist laden eyes, she noticed something. Saatvik’s bag was still docked under the berth. She then heard some approaching footsteps and as she turned toward the aisle, he was standing there.
She was now crying more prominently.
‘What? I went to the bathroom.’ he said, startled.
‘You missed your station?’
‘Who would pick Gitika up now? She needs to be at her school tomorrow.’ she said while still sobbing.
‘Now she gets to stay with her grandparents for another week.’ he said and smiled.
‘What about you? Where are you headed to?’ she said.
‘New Delhi Station! Shall wait for next connecting train to Vaishno Devi, along with you.’
She rose from her seat and hugged him.