The train that brought me all the way from Kerala, into this big city was whistling its way into the next station. Just getting down in this station is making me nostalgic. Twenty years ago, getting down here, catching a local train to my college, all that was a routine we all loved. And now, I am back to the place so dear, back to the memories – alone. Let me sit on this cement bench and wait for the local train.
Today, I, Meera turn 50. Yes, 50 years since that dark, rainy night of June, when I announced my arrival into this world with a fierce, defiant cry. The fact that I was the first child of the third generation in the family did, to a small extent, reduce the disappointment of my being a girl. And I went on to disappoint another family 23 years later by delivering twin girls. Well, that is another story, for some other time.
My married life was not exactly what you’d call tough. Hari was a nice man who used to do all the right things. He used to buy me gifts at the right occasions, pays all mandatory visits to my house, and was a nice dad to our twin daughters; he was pretty good in his own way. I had a nice job, a ‘respectable’ marriage, two beautiful daughters – everything that a woman could hope for.
My life was so smooth and ‘normal’ until that day my daughter told me that I had breast cancer and I need a mastectomy. I was only 42 and I felt God was being unfair to me. Now, I loved my breasts, I loved the way they made me a woman. The resentment that I had for my breasts in the adolescent days was gone. Back then, as a child who grew up a bit too soon. I was pretty unhappy with my breasts. They drew a hell lot of unwanted attention – groping fingers, hurting nails, from all places – crowded buses, visiting ‘uncles’... Well, that was long back; I’ve grown up now.
I survived the fear, the pain, the agony of loss, everything related to the operation. I felt of myself was being taken away from me. But my daughters understood, I would not have made it but for their support. Hari also tried his best to be supportive. But somehow, for him, the change was a bit too much to come to terms with.
After I came back from the hospital, I could sense the difference in his attitude towards me. In our bedroom, he kept his distance from me. The loss of a breast has made me unappealing for him, I guess. I, his wife of twenty two years, have suddenly become a Stranger, a not-so-wanted woman. Day after day I found the resentment, the disgust, taking shape and choking me with its cold fingers in the dark confines of our bedroom. He thinks I cheated him, purposely denying him his rightful happiness, by losing one breast.
It was one of those terrible, isolated and miserable days of my life that I saw His face in the obituary column. It is shocking, you know, to get up on a lazy Sunday morning and glance through the newspaper to find that someone who had been so close to you have passed away. Never before had I felt a more acute sense of loss in my life. Well, that too for a man I haven’t seen in last fifteen years. Still, the face in the newspaper looked so very familiar. As I traced my fingers over the picture – the hairline that has receded much farther, the shaven face that once had many pimples, the thin framed glasses- memories came flooding. And then I decided I am making a trip to that far off city, to visit my college. A trip would definitely do me good.
Hari was a bit suspicious of this official tour that came up without a prior notice. And if he realized I am lying, he chose to remain silent about it. There must have been something about the way I told him that kind of scared him into silence. In our 28 years of marriage, he had never seen me this stubborn, this firm. And now, I am sitting on this cement bench in a crowded platform, waiting for that train which would take me to the college.
I get on to the train and manage to find a window seat. The train moves fast and I get a glimpse of a city I fail to recognize. 30 years is a long time.
A whole gamut of emotions ranging from nostalgia to immense joy hit me the moment I entered the campus. 30 years did not do much to this place. A new building here or there, a few trees cut down, few others growing up, new faces all around; but in general it was the same. I couldn’t stop myself from rushing to our old haunt – a flight of stairs leading to an old pond near a dilapidated building.
All I could think of were the shrieks of joy, laughter, relaxed chatter, gasps and sighs of a young boy and girl. These sounds used to fill this place, years ago when we lay down beneath on those giant trees that covered the area. This was the place where we explored each other – bodies, hopes, dreams, fears. I couldn’t stop thinking about the boy who taught me to forget and move on in life, to love, to dream, to live, and then again, much later, to forget and move on. I tied to recollect the smoky walls of the small hotel, where we met for a spicy biryani for the first time. Many plates of biryanis later, our bond was strong and passionate. He could understand me in a way which Hari never could. Now, that is a bit unfair to Hari; he was also a victim in this system that matched horoscopes and ignored people.
Hot tears that welled in my eyes – for the memories, for the man I used to love, for my doomed marriage? I really do not know. It is getting dark and I need to get up. One last look at the dear place and I leave. On my way back, I enter the college chapel. I pray for some time and a sense of peace engulfed me. I light a candle in the chapel and walk back. A candle lighted for love, for memories, for peace. The flame flickers in the wind and then steadied itself. And it is time for me to forget and move on.