21 00 HRS.

Retrospection is always painful. No matter the memories are good or bad, they always make you cry.


Rajpath by Debmalya Mukherjee


The boy sat silently at the corner of the basketball ground. He took out his mobile and looked at it. The glowing screen of the device was too bright for his eyes, which had become accustomed to the darkness that had settled all around him, by then. It was quarter to seven in the evening, he noticed. He had been checking his watch quite frequently for the last half an hour as he sat there, lonely, waiting for his junior to come back as he had lost the duplicate keys, which were supposed to be with him, and so had no other way but to sit alone.

The time was towards the end – which he knew. He would not come back – that was well decided. And so, as the clock ticked away, second after second, his mind moved back and forth between the present and the days when that place had belonged to him. He was now just a guest. And guests are expected to leave for their journey as soon as business is over. No one waits for anyone, anywhere in this world.

It was Diwali. The man in the basketball court was busy setting up the sound system for the occasion, when the entire campus would shine bright in the dark, with the street lights turned off by request of the organizers; bathed in countless burning flames of the numerous rows of diyas all around the Rajpath. Stars step down to earth in those nights.

The man switched on one of the halogens, which took some time to gain its brightness and that finally lightened up the massive court, although only a corner of it. The boy looked around. Two hours from now, the place would be jam-packed with ladies in saris, moving in for dandiya along with their male counterparts; fellows, drunk and stoned, dancing, maddened by the deafening music, and the Rajpath would be the most dangerous place to stand and sit – booming with brain bursting crackers and deliberately misfired rockets flying all around the place. He thought.

But it was all silent while he waited. He looked up towards the sky and then turned back to see the students, busy placing the diyas on and around the Rajpath; some pouring oil into them which would fuel the burning beauty of those small vessels of clay throughout that wonderful night. He closed his eyes for a few seconds trying to imagine, how the place would look. He had seen it for the past four years. Now, he was seeing it again, but times had changed a lot.

The convocation was over the previous day. Many did not come. One of them was away to a place, which was reachable only over the ISD. One of them was busy with his hard-earned project at IIT Kanpur. One of them just had his joining, and so had no leaves at hand. One of them promised that he would come, but later could not make it out as his manager refused him a long holiday, which he was planning initially. One of them was a bit uneasy with his eccentricity, which had possessed him all of a sudden. One of them was busy with his girlfriend, who hardly left him free so that he could have him with himself. It was, after all, months later that she was seeing him again. There was one, with whom he spent a considerable time, but unfortunately the guy had to leave early as his examinations were nearby, the very next Monday. The training period was hectic for him. Hundreds of plans were made, many expectations were there, but none got fulfilled as life was different for everyone then, as compared to a few months back.

So, he was the only one who was finally left alone in the end.

He felt a bit lonely. The place seemed to make him feel like a stranger; new faces all around him wherever he looked. People who knew him were not close to him, and people whom he wanted to know were not interested in him. He remembered the times he had spent with his fellow mates, in the same basketball court, maybe smoking a few cigarettes, hiding away from the prying eyes of the faculty, or maybe discussing a broken love, an unacknowledged effort, a wasted dedication, and a few unfulfilled dreams. Sometimes they talked of friendship, of companionship, of power, of politics, of ragging, of life, and sometimes the conversations went down to fighting over a single piece of chocolate, or maybe discussing about a hot cup of coffee in the canteen, which had to be drunk like a glassful of pineapple juice, in fear, as canteen was a prohibited place for a fresher, by orders of the seniors during those initial days of stepping into the institute. Sometimes the conversation belonged to an emotional poem, typed on mobile by him and saved in the drafts to hide it from the cruel world around, which would never have understood it, and sometimes he had tried his best to explain how it feels when the heart beats beyond control, trying to dial the most valuable number in the phonebook of the handheld device, every alternate night at nine o’clock sharp. Valuable, yes, it was so valuable that he had read the number and the name of the contact, innumerable number to times and kept on repeating the same in his mind during those days, when someone had made that one terrible mistake of giving it to him.

He repeated the number to himself once again. He then smiled and lowered down his head. He still remembered it, as clear as ever. The nostalgia had begun to grip him terribly. He thus took out a cigarette from his pocket and lighted it up. The pressure of his jeans had spoiled its shape. He could see that. But that hardly mattered to him as long as it burned and he could drag the smoke in.

Once he had been to the football ground, just beyond the court, late at night with his comrades, he remembered. They had lay down on the grass and looked at the sky upon them. The moon had shone so bright. The stars were insignificant. But they were so far away. The shrillness of the sound, made by some insect somewhere around, had added life to the night when the world slept all around. He tried to look at the ground again, but it appeared to be lost this time. A huge newly constructed lecture complex stood like a giant devil on the earth which had harbored so many of their voyages on the oceans of friendship during those childhood days. It was so frightening to see that, he felt.

The man had started testing the microphones again. He was quite loud this time. The boy kept looking at him. Desperation began to grab his heart. The sound made him remember his past years. Memories, memories, memories – there were so many of them. He remembered those numerous nights when life had just seemed to be his. He remembered those evenings when time used to be at its best – the times, which he had so much wanted to relive ever after but which never turned back to him. Time is always cruel. It never understands how much it hurts human emotions. He remembered those countless moments when he had burned, watching the most desired person of his life far away from him, ignorant of his presence. She never came out of the oblivion, he thought. He took out his mobile again. He did not want to look at the time. Maybe because he thought that ignoring time might cause time to ignore him as well. He wanted it to stop for him – stop forever. But after all, its ‘Time’ – it never spares anyone. He navigated to the sent messages folder. There were just six messages, which he had forever preserved. Those were the last communications, which went, without any reply from the recipient. As he read through, his blood rushed into his brains, when suddenly the mobile began to ring. There was a call. It was Ankit calling. He took the call.

*   *   *

The track stopped playing with the sound fading into the air. The boy sat for a few seconds. Ankit sat on the mattress lying on the ground of his room. The crackers could be heard at a distance. He looked at Ankit.

‘Hey boss, I think I should leave now’ he said slowly, his voice heavy.

‘When’s your bus?’ asked Ankit.

‘Nine thirty… reporting time’ he said.

‘Oh… its quarter to nine already… you will run late’ Ankit said.

‘Yeah, I should take an auto’ he said.

‘Should have stayed one more day. It was an absurd idea on your part to travel on Diwali night’ said Ankit.

‘Why?’ he asked back in surprise.

‘No one does it. Why would someone try to travel on Diwali night?’ asked Ankit again. He then kept quiet.

He took the only bag he had brought with himself and began to move. Ankit locked the door behind him and followed.

They walked. It appeared to be a long walk for both of them. The sound of the cracker became louder and louder. As he walked towards the Rajpath, the boy caught a glimpse of the basketball court. His heart pained. Everything was still the same. Still the same loudness, still the same happiness all around, and maybe still the same sadness too, hidden somewhere in someone’s heart. The crackers were as loud as ever, or maybe even louder, and people mad as ever. He took out his mobile and placed a call. The call went on waiting. He thus disconnected. He continued to walk, as he had no time left with him. Suddenly someone called from his back.

‘Hey Chaki… Chaki..’ she waved. He looked back. It was Meenakshi. Somehow she had spotted him in the darkness. It was she whom he had just tried calling. He had promised to meet her before he left.

‘Leaving?’ she asked.

‘Yup’

‘Fine… come I will walk till the gates’ she said and began to walk along with him.

‘Read my letter?’ he asked.

‘Yeah, partially’ she said. He also smiled.

‘Where is she?’ he asked her.

‘I don’t know… wait I will call’ and she began to call.

‘No need. Leave it’ he said.

‘Why? She is my friend. I can always call her’ she said and put the mobile to her ears. She spoke for sometime.

‘She is somewhere near the NLC’ she said.

‘Fine…’ he said and continued to walk.

‘Don’t you want to see her?’ she asked.

‘No’ he replied.

‘Maybe the last time… think again’ she said.

He paused for sometime. He felt as if someone was trying to tear apart his heart into pieces as she spoke those words.

‘No’ he finally replied.

They continued to talk as they walked. His mind still thinking if he could see her – maybe by an accident, maybe by good luck, maybe by magic, maybe by miracle – by some existent way on earth. But miracles do not happen anywhere and everywhere. That is a rule.

‘I won’t cross the road. I will have to go back’ she said.

‘Okay fine… So goodbye… stay happy and take care’ he said her.

‘Sure. It was good that you came here’ said Meenakshi. He smiled.

‘Keep coming to Hyderabad’ he said.

He crossed the road with Ankit and hired an auto. They hugged and patted on each other’s back before bidding goodbye.

While the auto moved on, he tried looking back to get the final glimpse of the memories which would remain inseparable from him and his soul forever, but then he did not. Rather he could not. The intoxication had caught hold of him by then. He could hardly keep his eyes open. He was thirsty. He felt her, smiling at him as soon as he closed his eyes. That one smile. He could hear her feeble voice, calling his name as she did sometimes over the phone. He felt numb. He felt helpless, while the engine roared through the silence of the highway.

The cool air was a bit comforting for him, as it dried the tears which he found so difficult to prevent from flowing down his eyes. He did not cry.

He took out his mobile with a lot of difficulty and checked the time again. It was 21 00 HRS. He smiled.

‘What an irony my life is’ he whispered to himself.

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