Oh No! What have I done? The story I started telling has now started telling itself. By some divine intervention, life has stirred within it, like it stirred on the barren earth billions of years ago, and the vitality, the life force is growing with each passing hour. Words keep forming, emotions that had lain coiled up deep inside the recesses of my heart have suddenly woken up again, and are moving, speaking out, wanting to be heard. They torment me, the emotions, the words; they don’t let me sleep. They will have their way. The story must be told.
But not all of it, right? The whole story cannot be told. Some must remain hidden deep inside the dark corners of my heart, shared tacitly with those of us who know. Some parts of our lives best remain untold; they will offend sensibilities – mostly our own. I will not be harsh upon myself; I will not be harsh upon others. At least I will try, I may not succeed.
And thus, the day of our departure dawned – bitterly cold and foggy. The earth was enveloped in a blanket of fog, hiding the sun. We woke up early that day – we had to leave by seven in the morning, and pick Appu on the way. He had arranged for the vehicle and had also arranged for us to be picked up first. That would mean nearly an hour of sleep less for us. Although, I do not think it really mattered, for even if the vehicle had picked us up later, I still would not have been able to sleep soundly that night.
The vehicle which had been booked for us, an eighteen-seater Traveler, was coming from Banaras and was to reach Lucknow early in the morning after travelling the whole night. This troubled me, and I had kept calling the driver every few hours in the night to make sure he was on his way safely, and on time. He reached inside the city limits around 2 AM, and it was only then that I dozed off and dreamt fitfully of my days in college.
I was sitting on Tulsi ghat and Dhar was there, and Vineet, and the Ganges beckoned us, speaking to us in hushed tones, its waves crashing gently on the stones of the ghat. And then there was Appu and Sutanu and Mona, and we were going to appear for our PSM professional exam, burying our heads in books, surrounded by teacups and cigarette butts. Soon afterwards, I was driving my bicycle in the campus and into my room in Ruiya hostel and then, after a moment, I was on a scooter, only, it was borrowed, and a feminine figure sat on it behind me. I could smell her perfume distinctly…feel the wind buffet her hair. She laughed; it was a familiar laughter.
And then Vaishali was there, calling my name….. ‘Div…..get up….’.
‘What?’, I said, and the scooter jerked to a stop.
‘Wake up,’ said the voice from behind me.
‘No’, I said, ‘Let me sleep’.
And then she was shaking me, ‘Wake up!’ The urgency in her voice was startling. I opened my eyes and saw Vaishali smiling at me.
‘You have been out like a baby’, she said.
I looked at the clock, it was not even five o’clock. I rubbed the sleep out of my groggy eyes and got up to get ready. The perfume still lingered.
The children were already getting ready, chirping in their excitement.
I reached for my phone, to call the driver. He picked up after a couple of rings. ‘Ji Sir’, he sounded drowsy. ‘Did you sleep well, Pappu,’ I asked him, worried that he would doze off on the way back to Banaras.
‘Yes sir, I have slept enough to last me another day’, came the reply.
‘OK. Have some tea and then pick us up from the address I gave you yesterday. Call me up if you lose your way anytime,’ I instructed and put down the phone.
It was time to wrap up things and get ready for the journey now. A quick call to Appu to check if they were up too and then we were ready, and shuffled downstairs in a file to have our breakfast. I called the driver again while sipping my tea.
‘Reaching in five minutes, Sir,’ he said, putting me at ease.
Preparations for a journey were always strenuous events for me. I would be ill at ease, at least till the journey started and we were safely on our way. Also, these were disturbed times. The country had been rocked by protests over some legislation that the central government had brought in some time ago, and there had been stray incidences of violence in the villages and highways. My hand moved involuntarily to feel the bulge on the right side of my waist. It was a reassuring feeling.
I had hardly finished sipping my tea that we heard the honking outside – the bus had arrived……………………
To be continued………………………………….
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