Retracing the Steps

Retracing the Steps

“Let’s run away!”

“Are you sure?”

“This is our last chance, you know that, right?”

RAKSHA 

Raksha was a flamboyant, outspoken and extrovert girl. She loved making friends and had a big group. She loved being the centre of attraction; an excellent sports person, singer, dancer, you name it and she would ace it. Even as a kid she would finish her work faster than the rest of the kids of her age and then move around the class, asking questions. Her teachers had a tough time keeping her busy, but they adored her none the less. She was a no fuss child, pig tailed and plumpy. She carried her chubbiness o her teens even though she was athletic.

Her parents were both working as doctors and she spent most of her time by herself which had made her very independent from a very young age. She was headstrong and knew exactly what she wanted. She did not have any siblings and her parents doted on her.

Her parents were very proud of her and never forced her to do anything. Any decision she had to make was discussed, contemplated with pros and cons and then it was left for her to decide, this had made her level headed with clear idea of what she wanted in life. 

Her parents, Dr and Mrs Baweja were renowned ophthalmologist, but when she decided to become a journalist, they supported her whole heartedly. Raksha was selected in the best college which meant her leaving home. 

Raksha soon settled in her hostel and college, where she was becoming popular soon, among her seniors and classmates. She garnered a lot of attention from the opposite sex too but was not really interested in pursuing any sort of romantic relationship. She had her eyes set on being the best journalist ever, till she came in touch with Ranjan.

RANJAN

Ranjan came from a village in Himachal, and wasn’t a regular student in the college. He had lost his father when he was very young and he supported his mother and two sisters who were staying back in the village, by working here in the city to earn enough money. He made sure that his sisters complete their studies and he was determined to let them choose whatever they decided to do. His father had been a professor of Sanskrit and was an acclaimed scholar, Vishnudatt Shashtri’s grasp on Sanskrit text was known far and wide. Along with this he was very social and a big philanthropist who took it on himself to take care of anyone who needed help. Even wounded animals and birds found their way into his home. They lived in a joint family and Ranjan’s father was the sole earner, yet he spent a large part of his income on helping other. Vishnudatt’s younger brothers took care of the land and apple orchards, but never shared any expenses at home.

“Why can they never spend a penny toward the household expenses. We too have our children to take care of and your extended family is there too.”

“Don’t worry, by God’s grace I have enough money to take care of everyone.”

Growing up Ranjan was unaware of all of this. He had his cousins to play with and it was always a happy atmosphere at home. He loved taking care of the animals his father brought home and it gave him a great deal of satisfaction when the animal would recover and walk or fly. He was a silent kid, never spoke much and always took responsibility of his little brothers and sisters on himself, helping and guiding them. He was mature beyond his years and even tried to lend a helping hand to his father and mother. He did well in his school and was studious and exceptionally good, though he had no interest in sports. He wanted to become an officer in the Indian army and was preparing for the same when the dreadful news came.

His father had gone to the village to help arrange for the funeral of a young man who had died an unfortunate death. It was late in the evening when he began his walk back home, the cloud cover in the sky and the light drizzle made it darker than usual. As he approached his orchard, he was attacked by a leopard, who was hiding in the thick bushes. When he did not arrive till late at night his wife requested her brothers-in-law to go look for him.

“Have you seen how heavily it’s raining outside. How do you expect us to go in this rain, besides we are sure he must have taken refuge in someone’s home.”

“Perhaps they are right,” she thought but she felt uneasy. Ranjan was the first to leave home at the first light of day and he discovered the bloody trail and his father’s half devoured body not very far from home. His uncles played fowl and turned their family out of their home. His mother had no money saved and now she had three kids to look after, she wasn’t even educated enough to take up a job. They went to live with their maternal uncle and Ranjan decided he would look for a job and moved to the city.

RENDEZVOUS

It was in their second year that they came across each other. The youth festival was in full swing and Raksha was the star performer in most events. She was returning to her hostel after rehearsing a play they were to showcase the next day. When she reached back, her friend Deepak was waiting for her to give her her costume and accompanying him was Ranjan. He was lost in playing with a kitten and they barely exchanged hellos, but Raksha was surprised how attracted she felt towards this dimpled cheeked frail boy whom she had seen for the first time. 

Next day she was quick to find Deepak and gathered all information she could about Ranjan. 

“So, when is he coming to attend his next workshop?”

“I am not sure, maybe in a week, but what has happened? Did he cross you in anyway? Do you want to beat him up or something? Look he is a very quiet kind of boy, so, please let me know before you decide to threaten him or something.”

“Why would I want to threaten him silly. I really really like him.”

“What? How? Why? I mean you haven’t even spoken to him ever and since when did you start liking him? Have you met him before?”

“No, I saw him for the first time yesterday. Where does he work?”

And sure, enough she was at his office in the evening. 

“Hi! I am Raksha.”

“I know, but why are you here?”

“You know?”

“I saw you yesterday, in fact have seen you several times before in the college, but why are you here?”

“Because I like you.”

Ranjan was just staring at her wide-eyed. Had he heard it right? 

“Can we talk some place else,” Raksha asked him.

“Yeah, just give me a minute.” And they left the office together. 

They met frequently after that, Ranjan never confessed to her that he liked her, he wasn’t really sure of his feelings, though he did admire her. Raksha was sure she wanted to marry him and spoke to Deepak about it. 

“But Raksha I do not think he is thinking of marriage anytime soon. He has too many litigations going on and he is the sole bread earner for his family.”

“I will only help him with his responsibilities, plus I am willing to wait for as long as it takes. Let’s go talk to him today. We will be graduating in a fortnight.”

“Look I don’t think it’s a good idea.” 

Raksha, however, was not in a mood to listen. She managed to take Ranjan and Deepak to a restaurant and here she put forth her proposal. She was shocked when Ranjan said no. 

“You do like me, don’t you?”

“Yes, but I cannot get married now?”

“I am willing to wait and also share your responsibilities.”

“But I don’t want you too. You are a smart girl and have a better chance at life.”      

Even though Raksha was heartbroken she was not ready to give up just yet and decided to go visit his village home and meet either his mother or his sisters. Ranjan was shocked when he saw her at his doorstep. She met his family for a brief moment without mentioning marriage or her interest, but as Ranjan escorted her out he made his displeasure known.

“You shouldn’t have come here; my mom will never agree to this marriage.”

“I didn’t see any problem. Why are you saying that?”

“Look, you belong to a different community, she will never accept you.”

“If you are ready, I am willing to take the risk. Let’s run away and get married, I know she will accept me later. I know my family won’t have a problem.”

“You are out of your mind Raksha; besides you haven’t spoken to your family yet. Listen, it’s an absolute no for me. I cannot go against my mother.”

LIFE

Raksha went back, utterly disappointed, but another surprise waited for her. Once she reached Delhi, she was welcomed at home by her father’s long time friend Chadha uncle and his family. They were a business family and had left for States many years, set up their hotel and had now come back to India. She was shocked to learn that her father had promised her hand in marriage to Chadha uncle’s son without consulting her. She had never even heard of him much less seeing him. This was something she had never expected of her father, she was planning on telling him about Ranjan, but then she recalled how Ranjan had dismissed her and tears pricked at her eyes, tears of disappointment and tears of anger. She was feeling lost and defeated. Ranjan was the only boy she had fallen for ever and loved with all her heart and now she was being married to a stranger. ‘Why is everybody betraying me today?’

She was too crestfallen to argue with anyone and agreed readily to everything and soon she was married to Vibhor. He was a good guy, also trying to come to terms with an absolutely new country, new culture and new wife. Together they were trying to understand each other and building their life. Raksha lost interest in everything, her hobbies, her ambitions and her activities. She threw herself completely into her new life, changing herself completely. She chose to be a housewife and looked after her home and two boys. Vibhor got busy with the chain of hotels he had developed and though both of them were happy, they were never actually close to each other. 

It seemed the initial hesitation never left either of them. Raksha often thought how her life would have been with Ranjan, she was leading a very comfortable and luxurious life, not something she was aspiring to have, but now she had fallen into this comfortable zone and did not want to leave it. As the years passed, she got busy and didn’t think of Ranjan as often. When her children were small she spent her time looking after them, but as they grew up and she craved for companionship and her husband was not available. She was nearing her fifties, and it was then that she got the shocker of her life. Vibhor had been living with another woman in US and now wanted to shift with her permanently. Raksha had trusted him and never questioned his travel plans and all the time he spent away from home.

“Look, admit it, you never really liked me. I do not know the reason but I do know that you were always aloof, always cold. You can continue living with the children and keep the house too. I will keep visiting, but I wanted to come clean with you, I’ve been living with Amanda for almost ten years now.”

Raksha wanted to move out of the house the very next day, leaving the children to Vibhor. This was an insult to her self-respect, but she had been dependent on her husband for so long that she was scared she would not be able to survive on her own after so many years. What was she going to do? She felt helpless just like the day Ranjan had rejected her. 

RENDEZVOUS

Raksha wanted to leave and went to her parent’s home, though no one lived there anymore, only the care taker, but the silence gave her solace, it felt it belonged to her, was her own. It had been almost a month since she had escaped from her home, but she had decided to go back. She was sipping her tea, when she heard the door bell ring. ‘Who could it be, probably some one has come to collect some bills,’ she thought. The house help came and informed her,

“That saab has come.”

“Who?”

“The one who comes at the beginning of every month looking for you.”

“What? Why have you never told me this before? Who is it?”

“You never stayed for so long since you got married didi.”

She went to the door to see who it could be and stopped in her tracks. “Ranjan!”

He stood there his mouth agape he wasn’t expecting her.

“Hi!”

“What? How? Why?”

“May I come inside,” he asked gingerly.

She invited him in, unsure of what was happening. 

“I am sorry for what I did all those years back. By the time I came to your home you were already getting married. I was actually happy for you that you married into a good home, but I visited every month in the hope that I might get a chance to tell you this. I won the litigations against my uncles and got my sisters married. I sat down to think how irrational I was when you were willing to help me all the way. I haven’t got married, but I haven’t come here seeking forgiveness. I am truly happy for you.  

Raksha broke down and told him how Vibhor had betrayed her and how much of a mental hell she had just gone through. She wanted to stay but wasn’t sure of anything anymore.  

Ranjan embraced her hard and whispered in her ear.

“Let’s run away!” he said smiling. 

“Are you sure?” she asked.

“This is our last chance, you know that, right?”

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