Kavya was reading when the bell rang. She opened the door and her eyes widened in delight. Her close friend Radha was standing in the corridor of the apartment with a wide grin on her face.
“Radha, oh my God so lovely to see you! It’s been ages.”
Rushing forward, Kavya enveloped her in a big hug. Elbows linked, they walked into the apartment together. A cool breeze was blowing in through the window from the other end of the hallway.
“I love your apartment Kavya, it’s so cool and airy. Today has been such a hot day and your apartment is like a haven.”
“I love it too. I thank my lucky stars that we have this apartment. I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”
They sat down on the sofa and Kavya turned to her friend.
“Radha, when did you come back from your holiday? I’ve really missed you. How was Europe, tell me all.”
“We got back a week ago. I’ll tell you in detail next time. Sudesh and I were on our way out, so I just dropped in to share some good news with you – Rohit and Anamika are getting married by the end of this year.”
“That’s wonderful news, Radha! I’m really happy for all of you.”
“Thank you! What have you been up to Kavya?”
“You know me, I thrive on being busy. I’m completely tied up for the next couple of months. My cousin’s coming down for a month from San Francisco and she’ll be staying with us. She wants to go shopping, and you know how much I enjoy styling people. What else? Oh! The Literary Club in town has asked me to be the chief organiser this year. We have a slew of events planned for the near future so that’s keeping me on my toes.” Radha hummed appreciatively.
The bell rang and Kavya hurried to answer it. She smiled warmly when she saw who it was.
“Hi Sudesh, come on in. Radha was saying you’ll be picking her up, but this isn’t fair. It’s only been a few minutes since she came.”
They walked in together.
“Relax Kavya, we’ll stay for a while. Radha was eager to share the news with you.”
“Exciting news indeed. Congratulations to both of you. They’ve been dating for a long time, right?”
Suddenly teary-eyed, Radha confessed, “More than two years, but things got a bit rough between them a couple of times and they broke up. I was so upset for Rohit. We could see he was hurting and it really worried the two of us. We chose not to interfere. They sorted out whatever was bothering them and now we can look forward to the wedding.”
“When’s the wedding? Have the dates been fixed yet?”
“Most probably end of this year. Kavi, please promise that you’ll keep yourself free, I’ll need you to help out big time. I know you’re perpetually busy so I wanted to book you before you get involved with some big event or the other.”
“Hey, of course I’ll keep myself free. I’m tied up only for the next two months. From October, I’m at your command.”
Sudesh who had been the silent onlooker thus far, took advantage of the brief silence and said, “Kavi, we have disturbed you on a Saturday evening so due apologies for that. We should make a move now, what say Radha?”
Kavya waved her hand in objection. “Come on Sudesh, you know I’m always thrilled to see the two of you. We’re at home most weekends. Ever since Girish had the heart surgery last year, we’ve taken it easy, so you’re not disturbing us at all.”
“Where’s Girish then, is he resting or something?”
“He’s gone for his usual evening walk; he should be back soon.”
Just then they heard the key in the door, and a moment later Girish walked in. Sudesh got up and went to greet his friend. They shook hands while the women watched.
“It’s great to see you both. Please give me five minutes, I’ll have a quick shower and join you.” Girish disappeared into the bedroom.
A few minutes later he joined them. He was thrilled to hear the news. They chatted and chatted and the time flew past. Finally, it was decided that they would have dinner together. All talk of going out was vetoed by Kavya. They ordered food from a cloud kitchen and enjoyed a very pleasant meal together filled with laughter and conversation.
After they left, Kavya was pensive. She looked across at Girish who was starting to yawn. It was past midnight and he was clearly very tired.
“How I wish our Sonali would find someone nice and settle down Giri. She’s been dating on and off and doesn’t seem to have anyone steady in her life. I’m worried she’ll end up alone.” Kavya’s eyes filled rapidly with tears.
“Kavya don’t stress yourself out like this. Every time there’s a wedding invitation, you start talking about Sonu. You know her views about marriage and settling down. She’ll decide for herself when she’s ready. The reason she probably doesn’t keep in touch with us is because she doesn’t like being pestered.” A frown marred his usual calm countenance.
Noticing Kavya’s tearstained face, he moved closer to her and put his arm around her.
“Cheer up sweetheart, let’s go to bed. I am sure things will seem better in the morning. Radha and Sudesh are so happy, let’s participate in their happiness and enjoy the wedding. It’s going to be so much fun. Let’s look forward to meeting all our old friends.”
Girish’s soft words and hug comforted Kavya and they went to bed.
Kavya’s cousin Sheetal arrived soon after. It was a month of non-stop socialising and shopping. They were the same age – Sheetal had grown up in the town and they had many common friends. Kavya enjoyed all the busyness that her cousin’s visit had brought with it. She loved meeting her friends and relatives. Apart from joining them on a few occasions, Girish chose to follow his own quiet schedule.
After Sheetal left, Kavya dived straight into the various events that had been planned by for the local Literary Club. There were writing competitions for children and adults, book readings and book reviews by leading authors and bibliophiles. Kavya had planned everything in minute detail with a team of assistants and nothing went amiss. At the end of September, she was feted and applauded as the best organiser of the town. Kavya revelled in all the attention.
Radha had been in touch with her giving her news about the various preparations that were going on for Rohit’s big wedding; the date was fixed for the last week of December.
In order to prepare for the event, Radha organised a meeting with her closest friends, hosted at Kavya’s apartment. Each of the friends were given duties, with Kavya taking on the maximum responsibility. Radha was an only child and so Kavya was pressed into all the more minute details of the wedding preparations. The Paradise Inn, the grandest hotel in town, had been booked for the weekend.
The days went by in a blur of trousseau shopping for the bride, the groom, various close relatives and friends. It was a constant whirl of completing tasks one by one.
During the last few days preceding the wedding, Girish joined in the festivities. He had been a little unwell but soon got into the swing of things. They enjoyed the busyness of it all and Girish joked privately to Kavya that perhaps this was a test run for them in case Sonali decided to get married in the near future. The bonus was that they got to see much more of their own daughter as she took time off and helped them put things together; Rohit and Sonali had grown up together and were more like siblings than close friends.
The day of the wedding dawned bright and clear. Kavya and Girish had spent the previous night at the venue along with all the close relatives and friends. They had stayed up late with last minute arrangements. Completely exhausted, they had gone to bed at 1 am. Girish had difficulty sleeping that night.
The ceremony was a simple one as neither of them wanted the entire gamut of rituals. The bride and groom were radiant with happiness and were seen holding hands and chatting right through the ceremony. Anamika’s parents had bonded with all of Radha’s friends and family over the months and the pictures portrayed one big riotous family, everyone beaming with collective joy.
Life went back to mundane normalcy after all the excitement of the previous months; and for once Kavya was happy to go back to routine. She was relieved to be free of commitments, because Girish’s health was worrying her.
It had started off as a mild cough and congestion. They had consulted their GP and he’d put him on some medication, and advised rest. Girish who didn’t like to make a fuss, had continued reporting at the local school and orphanage where he worked part time. After retirement he had found it difficult to stay idle at home and on Sudesh’s suggestion, he had taken up the job as a mentor for the older children studying there. The job wasn’t taxing and he enjoyed being with the teenagers. Their love for learning and their trust in him made him feel really grateful for the opportunity.
Unfortunately, the cough was persistent and Girish struggled to sleep through the night. The cold winter air, heavy with smoke from New Year’s festivities, worsened his condition over time. Their GP was now suggesting that they see a pulmonologist. He suspected that it could be something that needed more investigation.
“Giri, maybe we should see your cardiologist first. He’ll suggest a good pulmonologist. I went through your check-up schedule and your last visit with him was more than six months ago.”
“It’s nothing to worry about Kavi. I’m sure I’ll be fine. If we see Doctor Pradeep, he’ll insist I quit my job and take it easy. Frankly, I don’t want to stay at home. This is just temporary, I’ll be fine.”
“Giri, I insist we go see him. If we need to see a pulmonologist then it must be something that needs investigating. I don’t want to take any chances. I remember Doctor Pradeep mentioning that you should ensure you don’t contract any kind of infection in your chest area after your heart surgery last year. It’s best we see him as soon as possible.”
That night neither of them slept well. They had a hurried breakfast and left to see the doctor. Girish looked so unwell and worried that Kavya hugged him close.
“Giri, I promise you everything will get sorted very soon. I am sure your chest infection is something that can be treated. At the most, you’ll probably be advised to take complete rest for a few weeks. I’ll take some time off and be here with you.”
Doctor Pradeep examined Girish, a frown marring his features. “Your heart is in good shape, nothing to worry about there. But unfortunately, your lungs don’t sound so good. It seems like some kind of infection. I really can’t tell for sure how bad it is. You’ll need to have a pulmonologist take a look at you. I recommend Doctor Rajesh. He’s a senior pulmonologist and a good friend of mine. He’ll know what to do next.”
“Can we see him after this Doctor?” asked Kavya.
“Yes, please go see him now. I’ll write a note for the reception, and I’ll also give him a call. It’s essential he takes a look today. I don’t like the sound of Giri’s breathing at all.”
At the hospital, Kavya handed over the note to the reception and was advised to wait. They waited in silence as patients came in and left. About half an hour later they were called into the doctor’s cabin.
The doctor waved them to the chairs opposite him and went through the files.
He examined Giri in silence. He looked at the two of them.
“Mr. Girish, I am making arrangements to have you admitted immediately. You seem to have contracted a bacterial infection. I need to run some tests before I can give a complete diagnosis.”
He looked so serious that neither Girish or Kavya said a word.
Girish was admitted, and a number of tests were carried out. The nurse in charge told them that the results would be given to the doctor and he would see them the next morning.
The next morning the doctor had some news for them. Girish was asleep, so the doctor spoke to Kavya.
“He’s got acute bronchitis which has turned a little nasty. There’s every chance that it’ll turn chronic. He needs to be cured completely. Medication will help to a large extent but what will help cure him is to get him away from the polluted air in this town, and into the country side. Continuous access to fresh natural air will help cure him completely. I am suggesting this move because he’s got two things against him – his age, and the fact that his heart will get affected if his condition worsens.”
Kavya had been imagining the worst possible scenarios, and felt much better after listening to the doctor’s advice. It was only after they had finished all the formalities at the hospital and were back home, that it hit her.
They had to leave town? How could they do that? They had never lived anywhere else!
Everything had happened so quickly that Kavya hadn’t spoken to anybody about the events that were occurring in their lives. She rued the fact that Sonali had flown to Paris soon after Rahul’s wedding; Sonali had secured an internship with a leading painter and would be back only after 6 months. Kavya debated whether to tell their daughter or not; then felt it was unfair to hide things from her. She gave Sonali a call, and told her everything. Sonali was understandably anxious, but Kavya assured her daughter that she had everything in control and there was no need for Sonali to come back.
Every day was exhausting; Kavya began to house-hunt with a local real estate agent but her heart was not in it. She didn’t like any of the houses that she was being shown; she hadn’t found anything suitable and she was beginning to wish that they could stay back in town.
One evening she received a call.
“Mrs. Girish, this is Varun here, Sonali’s friend. She mentioned you are looking to move into the country. May I know if there’s any specific reason for this? I may be able to help you find a suitable house.”
Thoroughly weary and disheartened by her many fruitless trips to the country, Kavya was unable to keep from blurting out everything.
“My husband is very ill and the doctor insists that we must give up living in town. It’s essential for him to breathe the purer air of the country, if he has to get better again. So, I have been feverishly house hunting. Of course, I have been seeing innumerable houses but there’s something foreboding about all of them.”
“I am so sorry to hear that Mr. Girish is unwell. Where did you go looking for houses? It’s strange that you are unable to find a nice place. There are so many housing units available all in the radius of a 100 kms. I hail from a small village nearby. I’ll check with my friends and family if there’s anything they know of. If you wish I can accompany you.”
Varun’s tone was calm and confident. Perhaps he really would be able to help them.
“Thank you, Varun, for reaching out and for offering to help. Please find out and let me know.”
She mentioned the unexpected call to Girish when they were having their dinner.
“Someone named Varun called this evening, Giri. He claimed to be Sonali’s friend and offered to help find a house for us. I must call her and get more details about him.”
“Oh, I happen to know Varun. I met him at the orphanage a while ago. He came over to talk to the boys about career options. I had mentioned to Sonali that I was looking for someone and she sent Varun across. I liked him, he’s a hardworking and sincere guy. If I’m not wrong, he’s a self-taught architect interested in designing eco-friendly buildings.”
“Are they close? This is the first time I’m hearing about him. I wonder why Sonali didn’t mention that he would be getting in touch with me.”
“I don’t know. Maybe she asked him to call and then forgot to mention it to you.”
Two days later Varun called to inform them that he had found a house in the same area that Kavya had been looking. She decided to go see it the very next day as time was running out and they needed to move.
The two of them drove down together. She pointed out the houses she had viewed previously and he agreed that they were unappealing. He informed her that agricultural land had been converted into a gated community. Most of the houses had been built more for size than aesthetics, and lacked the lighting and roominess Kavya was looking for.
Varun brought the car to a standstill in front of a small whitewashed house with a sizable garden. It was smaller and stood in isolation away from the other houses. It was simply designed and she decided that perhaps this would do for them.
What really stood out for her was that there were lots of trees and open fields all around. Varun warned her that there were no shops in the vicinity. They would have to do a weekly shop at the closest village. Milk would be supplied by a family that lived on a small farm close by.
Once they had finalised the house, the next few days whizzed past with packing and moving. The apartment, their only home all these years, was rented out on a short lease; Kavya intended to return once Girish’s health was fully restored.
Kavya spent her time setting up the new house. It felt like they were on vacation. She refused to think of the town or how much she missed her family and friends; Her top priority was to get Girish’s health back on track.
They settled into their new life. Kavya had nothing to do so she woke up late. They went on long walks in the evenings. It felt like they were taking a much-needed break and both of them enjoyed the sensation of living in isolation.
Four months went by and Girish’s health improved steadily. His cough disappeared completely. When they drove down to the hospital for a check-up, the doctors were happy with his progress. Much to Kavya’s disappointment, they were advised to stay back for a few more months just to ensure complete recovery.
They returned to the countryside, but Kavya was restless. What she hated most was that there was little to no internet coverage. She was totally cut off from everyone she knew in town, and could barely communicate with Sonali, who was still in Paris.
At first, the novelty of visiting them in the country had brought their friends to see them, but the visits soon tapered off. The commute was simply too long.
Kavya started feeling frustrated and angry, more so because Girish had settled down and hadn’t spoken a word about moving back. She found herself engaging in petty arguments with him just to provoke him.
Girish was reluctant to move back to the town. He was quiet by nature, and enjoyed their new life here. Bird song woke him up early, he went for long walks enjoying the cool fresh air, eating fruits that hung from wild trees; it was the life he’d always dreamt of.
When another 2 months had gone by, Kavya decided it was time for them to move back home.
“Giri, I have had enough of this place, let’s go back home. Our tenant will be moving out soon. You are so much better now and frankly I am fed up with nothing to do.”
“Kavya, I am very happy here. I have never felt so much at peace with myself. I’d prefer to stay here for a few more months. Why don’t you go back and stay there for some time?”
Kavya’s voice rose in agitation. “Giri, I am talking about a permanent move and I am not going without you. I am sick and tired of living this life of solitude. Please let’s go back.”
Giri was adamant about not leaving and Kavya lost her temper. Screaming at him, she stormed out of the house and walked away briskly. Without realising, she had chosen to walk in a direction which she hadn’t yet explored and came to a sudden halt when the glint of water in the distance caught her eye. It was a small lake, surrounded by trees. There were even a few ducks swimming around. She sat down on the bench there and gazed dully at the ducks. The tranquil atmosphere did nothing to calm her down. Recalling her fight with Girish and the misery of being all alone, Kavya burst into tears.
“So sorry to intrude but may I help you in some way?”
Kavya turned around, startled. The voice belonged to an older woman who was standing a little away, smiling benevolently at her. There was something very soothing about her.
“Would you like to talk about what’s bothering you?”
The woman sat down on the other side of the bench, turning sideways to face Kavya.
Kavya needed no further invitation. Words came tumbling out; and soon she had told the stranger everything. While talking she had been crying but when the last words had been spoken, she had calmed down and felt a little ashamed as she wiped away her tears.
The older woman was silent for some time.
“This is what I understood from what you shared just now. I think you do like living here, the real problem seems to be that you are restless with nothing challenging to do. It’s not the town that you miss, you are probably missing all the things you did there. Instead of moving back there, why don’t you start something here? You’ll be helping the community, too. Some of the residents here are recovering from various lifestyle diseases. Like your husband, they too were advised life in the country. You are the right person to start something to get everyone together. You mentioned a Literary Club. That’s the first step you could take. Start a community club where people can interact and get to know each other. You feel that no one is friendly here, that’s because many of them are caught up with their problems and not doing anything about it. Much like you.” She said with a twinkle in her eye.
Kavya smiled back at her, pensive. “Thank you for listening to me and for offering your insights. What you just said makes sense. I haven’t met anyone yet. The houses seem to be shut all the time and on the rare occasions I have seen some of the residents, they didn’t seem interested in connecting.”
“It takes time for people to talk to strangers. I am sure you didn’t take the first step either. Everyone is lonely, they get sucked in deeper because they don’t do anything about it. If people spent less time thinking and reached out more often to others based on instinct then perhaps all of us would have more friends than we do. I am Radhika by the way. I forgot to introduce myself.”
“Hi Radhika, such a pleasure meeting you. I’m Kavya. I’ve never seen you before. Where do you live?”
“If you go past this lake, the road curves to the left – follow the road till the very end. I live in the ashram there that I run. We do nature therapy for those who have been recommended the treatment by doctors. Ah, I must carry on now. I have a patient coming in at 6.30 and it’s nearly 6.15. Please come and visit any time you want to chat. I would love to be a part of the community too once it’s formed. I suggest you start talking to the others as soon as possible. I assure you they’ll be very happy to welcome you into their homes.”
Kavya sat there for a few more minutes after Radhika left, feeling much better. With a smile on her face, she started heading towards home. It was dark by the time she reached their gate. She found Girish standing outside looking anxious. She hurried up to him and burying her face in his T-shirt, she apologised for yelling at him and for rushing out without letting him know where she was going. He put his arms around her and patted her back.
Over dinner, which he had cooked while she had been away, she told him about her meeting with Radhika and the sage advice that she had received.
“I am going to start visiting one house at a time. I don’t know how many of them will be interested but unless I take the first step, how will I know?”
“That’s the spirit girl. I know you are capable of anything. This is what you need to keep you going. It’s good you did rush out the way you did, otherwise you wouldn’t have met Radhika. The ashram sounds interesting. Maybe we should go visit, I am very curious to know what nature therapy is.”
The next day as Kavya had promised herself, she went to visit the house closest to theirs. The minute the door opened and a frowning face stared back at her, her courage dropped and she almost turned to run away.
“Hi, I’m Kavya! I’m a new resident here. We have been settling down slowly. I just thought I would stop by to introduce myself. I haven’t met anyone here.”
“That’s great, but I’m afraid I don’t have time to chat. I have a very sick mother so I’ll say bye now.”
Kavya watched as the man shut the door in her face. Feeling dispirited, she was about to give up when she decided that she wasn’t going to be put off that easily. The next house appeared empty. She carried on and knocked on the door of the third house. This was a fairly large house and she had to wait a few minutes before the door opened.
“Yes, may I help you. Are you looking for directions?”
“Hi, I am Kavya. I am just going around visiting all the houses introducing myself, as my husband and I just moved in a few months ago.”
“Hi Kavya, please come in. I am Harini. It’s so nice of you to do this. Frankly, I have been living here for 2 years now and I don’t know anyone. I was under the impression that the people here aren’t interested in meeting anyone.”
They got along really well, and Kavya left after inviting Harini over the next day. Meeting Harini gave her the courage to keep going; and so, Kavya continued knocking on doors.
After two weeks of interacting with various residents, a small group of them met at the Ashram; Radhika had insisted they meet there. Kavya discussed her idea of a community club of sorts. She was thrilled with the enthusiasm by which everyone embraced the idea.
The first meeting led to more meetings. Word spread and soon there were people knocking on Kavya’s door asking for details. When the number of members crossed fifty, they took a joint decision and gave their group a name. Serenity Club was finally official. Steadily, the number of members swelled. A membership fee was levied and all expenses met with the same. Kavya was supremely happy with her constant engagement in the community.
Sonali finally managed to visit them, and loved the atmosphere. The three of them bonded over long walks and conversations. Before she left, she promised that she would visit more often.
One morning Kavya sat outside in the garden and reflected on how drastically her life had changed in the last few months. She had hated this place in the beginning and wanted to escape to the familiarity of her old life. It was only when she changed her perspective had she realized that this had been a gift to herself and Girish. A place they could cherish their moments together. They saw more of Sonali than they had ever done when they were in town.
Kavya blessed Radhika for being the catalyst in her life. She had been happy living in the town; it had been a whirlwind of activities but she had missed that inner satisfaction. When she turned her world view around and made an effort in this community, she had felt a greater sense of peace. People had started to interact with one another. Even the houses looked different. Most of them had been painted, windows and doors were kept open and residents were always moving around visiting one another. The pace of her life had slowed down and yet she didn’t feel restless. She spent more time outdoors and the surroundings really helped in understanding herself better. She felt an immense sense of gratitude surge through her and bowed her head silently to the universe that had conspired to bring her here. She had never felt happier!
Though the doctors approved their move back to town, Girish and Kavya decided to stay on. They visited their friends in town on occasions but it always remained just a visit.
Unanimously, they had made the country their home.
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