The crashing sound of the fish tank and the glass jar jolted Sumedh into the present. The fish wriggled and writhed for a brief while and then collapsed. Good for these creatures, thought Sumedh, their end has come quietly, remembering his own anguish and pain. There wasn’t any outlet for him to feel liberated from the agony of the past events. How could he release himself from this feeling of guilt? It was haunting and like a shadow it followed him shamelessly! He couldn’t shy away nor shoo them away. If only earth could swallow him up! If only he could escape the accusing eyes….if only….
There was no end to his distress and no redemption from the guilt. If he could lay bare his sin, it would relieve him from the troubled conscience. But he dare not. Pricks of conscience denied him peace and inability to pour out deprived him of sleep.
He threw up his arms in desperation, as though seeking forgiveness from God Almighty. As the day drew to a closure, the twilight seemed like a warning signal; darkness enveloped him like a shroud. He looked at the moonless, charmless, gloomy sky. Another sigh escaped into the emptiness. He scanned himself, browsed through his mind and heart, but all in vain! No solution to his predicament.
He looked at the broken fish tank. Water had splashed everywhere, fish lay motionless, glass splinters spread on the floor.
“Sudesh, you are incredible! You have such a humane outlook, you inspire me.” Sushil was tirelessly complimenting Sudesh.
Sudesh felt a stab of pain, not everything was fair in Sushil’s tone. There was an undertone of jealousy and sarcasm, which spoke volumes about his hidden agenda. He was nonplussed, never will he allow anyone, ….anyone to trample him and walk over him.
With a faded smile he patted him and said, “Let me be honest with you Sushil, I don’t think you really mean what you have spoken. Don’t wince Sushil, both of us know we have not been on good terms ever since that incident a year ago. Our frequencies don’t match, ideologies are diametrically opposite, thoughts are contradictory…. The list is endless.”
Sushil’s face contorted. He knew his sugar-coated words had rubbed Sudesh on the wrong side. Better to leave than to get into verbal duel, he thought and hurriedly walked away.
Sudesh stared at Sushil, till he disappeared from his sight. When he turned back it was as though he had snapped his ties with Sushil. He wondered at his decisiveness; it was as though he had conquered the world! He sauntered towards the tea corner, their favourite haunt during their hay days. As he sipped the hot tea, he felt some one brush against him and walk away rapidly. He wasn’t sure whether it was an intentional jerk or had happened by chance. But the rapidity with which that person walked away made him feel something was amiss. Quickly he paid the chaiwala and followed that person. Sensing that he was being followed that person increased his pace . Sudesh was astonished and couldn’t make out who, what, why of the incident. Now it was almost a chase. At the bend of the street corner Sudesh happened to have a glimpse of his face. He was a total stranger! Never had he seen him, then why was he avoiding him? Why did he dash against him and escape? Preoccupied with these thoughts Sudesh lost sight of him.
He ran a few paces to see if he could find him, but he had disappeared. Distraught, he stood there by the lamp post, leaning against it, as though for support. The incidents of the day had ruffled him, he couldn’t find any connection between the occurrences. What are these strange things happening with him? He felt disconnected with life. Such misery! No outlet. Mindfulness, resilience, everyone talks, such hype! Experiencing such devastating emotions was SHATTERING !
Smriti jumped out of her skin! What a narrative! Engrossing and had kept her at the edge of her seat. Sensing her co-passenger’s weird stare, she realized she was travelling and had literally gripped her co-passenger’s wrist. She gave a pale smile at her and jerked herself upright on the seat.
“You are travelling alone?” It was more of an affirmation than a question. “Night travel isn’t safe for a young girl, that too alone.” Unsolicited advice! Smriti squirmed in her seat. ‘Serves me right for having held her hand’, she admonished herself.
“Yes aunty, going home for the festival.” Again she chided herself for having connected to her conversation. “Long weekend, I work in an MNC….” Why, oh, why was she volunteering all info about herself?
“Oh, you are not based in Delhi?” She put her arms around Smriti as though comforting her. “I know staying away from family is not easy….” She tightened her grip making Smriti wince. She moved away and said, “Not really.” She snubbed her.
“I am just sharing my opinion, don’t be upset.” “I am Sonali, a Social Worker, I keep travelling from Delhi to Gurugram, Amritsar, Chandigarh. So I know the difficulties of travelling often. I work for an NGO. I visit remote villages, small towns to do awareness programmes with my team. Health, hygiene, literacy, medical facilities, people are still so ignorant about the Government Programmes for the upliftment of the poor and the downtrodden. Most of the time funds are either not released or do not reach the needy……” She sighed
Smriti, still dazed from the unexpected ‘proximity of the lady, had no response to her elaborate talk. She still felt the uncanny touch and she tried to shake off the feeling desperately.
“I see, you aren’t listening. Youngsters such as you should be socially responsible. Why don’t you visit me sometime at Delhi, I can take you around our work areas. You will certainly be more sympathetic towards the underprivileged. More than sympathy I think you need to be empathetic, put yourself in their shoes (they have no footwear, ha,ha)…..”
Neither her light asides nor her sober talk interested Smriti. She was only concerned about her safety that this lady had been referring to a little while ago. She buried her head in the book and tried to snap the conversation. The dread of being touched and caressed kept her awake through the night. She struggled to keep herself out of reach by dumping her backpack between them.
Sonali, unfazed by Smriti’s apparent rudeness, continued her conversation into the night, enlightening Smriti about the hard work involved in such social service, issues of reaching out to officials, loopholes in governance….
Whenever Sonali turned to her, Smriti became defensive and guarded herself by distancing herself as much as possible in that little area of operation! Was she a genuine person or faking up? Could she trust Sonali.. Her mind was like a hot pot, so much brewing in it!
Sonali seemed to have dozed off , her mouth open, snoring lightly. The sun rays peeping through the window brought relief to Smriti. She had never experienced the beauty of sunrays or the warmth it exuded.
“Oh, we are almost reaching Amritsar. Ah! My work starts almost immediately. I will fresh up in the rest room and….”It was as though she was talking to herself. Smriti could only give a pale smile in answer. “Take my Visiting Card. If you change your mind you can connect to me either by mail or a phone call. I really hope you will get a few of your colleagues and join us in this noble cause.”
Ms. Sonali Kundra, M.A Litt, Coordinator……New Delhi.
Smriti felt embarrassed. How wrongly she had judged Sonali! ‘What happened to my better senses’? She asked herself.
Maybe the book had a negative impact on her senses. She willingly threw the blame on the book!
As they alighted at the Bus Stand, she shook hands with Smriti and hugged her.
“Do come. We can have fun, together…” She whispered.
SHATTERED, Smriti almost fainted.
Sumedh looked at himself in the mirror. The dark circles under his eyes were proof of his stress. The burden was unbearable, and confessing was the only way out, he decided. Should he do Confession at the Church? Or go to her house and confess his guilt to her parents? He knew admitting his mistake and confessing guilt would distance her from him for ever, but he had already lost the ground.. He has been outrightly uncouth, brutal, and ruthless with her. Meanness, ego, jealousy had blinded him to the reality.
He started scribbling in his journal of Gratitude.
Found new meaning, new value in Gratitude. This journal titled GRATITUDE has so much written in it , thinking that is gratitude, whenever I have said Thank you, whenever I have complimented, appreciated I considered that to be gratitude and happily I have scribbled my gratitude journey. How false, fake, and dishonest I have been, I have realized today. I have only been paying lip service to it, and what an awkward moment it is!
And now I apologise to all those whom I have slighted through this Gratitude journal. On this platform, I bow down to my bosses, my colleagues, my family, friends, and my wife, Medha, for the hollow feelings I have incorporated here.
Gratitude is not just a physical gesture, or a verbal thank you, it is much deeper and a three- dimensional phenomenon. How genuine were my thank you notes? I wonder now, did I feel an intense need to express my gratitude? Did the feeling lingered on for sometime or did it just vanish? I remember vaguely something akin to this and now am connecting to GRATITUDE with a renewed spirit.
Using these graceful words so haphazardly, I have disgraced GRATITUDE. Medha, I owe you an apology for taking you for granted and words are inadequate to express my heartfelt gratitude for being there with me, for me although the trying phases; your forbearance has empowered you to be a strong woman. Today as I THANK YOU, I know I am spiritually connected to you. My soul, my conscience feels liberated from the sense of guilt.
You have moved on. I too embark upon a journey….. to find my true self. Purging myself to absolve from all guilt may release me from the worldly bonds. Severing myself from all ties, isn’t easy but I am resolute. But how will you know, Medha that I am doing penance? That I am seeking mercy? My Gratitude Journal will reach you and many , let it be an eye-opener to men, who have wronged their families, who have forgotten humanity.
This journal shall rewrite the destiny of many; it shall redefine relationships.
This journal shall be published. Sudesh shall be the harbinger of change in the mindset of the male counterparts of the society through the revelations in this journal.
SUDESH…yes, Sudesh who stood by you when I abandoned you, disowned you. The most unpardonable sin of blaming Sudesh of usurping my business, and you of being an accomplice in it; how could I believe the vile talk of Sushil and accuse you both? If I had not overheard Sushil reveal his intentions of divide and rule to his friends, I would never have known the shattering truth!
The smouldering truth had driven me into a state of despondency. The searing pain had left me dumb. I now understand the intense pain you and Sudesh would have experienced at the baseless allegations.
I did see him at the same Chai corner, where we all used to hang around during our college days. Sushil too was there, the same sarcasm in his tone. Some people don’t change. Sudesh was in distress. He seemed to be going through a rough patch. How I wish I could comfort him!
Ah, Gratitude, you have transformed me!
“Smriti, you sound so disturbed, all well?” Sudesh heard a low sigh on the other end. “Smriti…… what’s upset you?”
“Sudesh, it was an appalling journey! This lady, Sonali…” she narrated her bitter experience in the bus.
“I was too shocked to raise an alarm in the bus.”
“The horror story was better one.” She quipped.
“It takes all kinds to make this world. Strange things happened with me….”
“I think ‘strange happenings’ of yours have rubbed on me too. I have a serious mind to track this lady and check on her. Social responsibility is what she preached me throughout. Let me check the website mentioned in the card. She could be a potential virus embedding herself into the lives of the underprivileged. If she could be so weird with me, a working woman, what disasters she can cause in their lives! We shouldn’t brush aside this incident…..”
Sudesh sounded impatient, “Smriti, you can’t ignore your safety and security. Let me do the initial digging into this NGO profile. Trust me if anything is uncanny, we will investigate. I appreciate your spirit. But no hasty work, OK?” He was firm and gentle too.
Smriti smiled. She knew a smile had brightened his otherwise sober face.
“Smriti, I have an inkling that these strange incidents are going to continue for a while. That person at the chai corner is lingering in my mind. Why did he dash against me and then hurriedly move away? I couldn’t get a glimpse of his face, but my sixth sense says, he is known to me.”
Smriti too was pondering over the incidents that he had spoken about. Where was destiny taking them? They were to be married by now, but the unexpected incidents had their impact on both the families; hesitation, uncertainty had crept into their relationship. Neither of them referred to it at the outset , but deep within, Smriti wanted to know why Sumedh had levelled such atrocious allegations at Sudesh? What ulterior motives did Sushil have? Sumedh should have probed to know the facts, instead he just shifted the blame.
Sumedh refrained from talking about it and became touchy if anyone mentioned it. Having resigned from Sumedh’s Company, he joined a Publication company and had within a year won the trust of the Management. When offered a share in the Company he took it as a reward for his dedication. Over a period of four years he started hi sown Publishing House. Now a well-known Publisher ,he had carved a niche for himself as an honest Publisher, who gave a fillip to young writers and supported them. Known for his generosity, he never sent back any writer due to money matters.
Smriti respected him for what he was but also felt he trusted people too easily. She had cautioned him about Sushil. He considered friendship as a noble relation and nothing could ever disrupt true friendship. Though her family disapproved of this alliance, she couldn’t break away from him. She trusted him and knew he would never deceive her.
He woke up with a start!. The journal had fallen on the floor and he had dozed off in the armchair. He looked at the clock. Past midnight. The night was dark and dull. A silent night , crickets too seemed to have stopped their communication. He rubbed his eyes and peered into the blinding night. Why was the night so dark? Was it trying to hide some unknown truths? Just the way Sushil had done? He knew till the published journal reaches Medha, he will not have peace of mind.
‘Sumedh Publishing House’, on seeing the banner, Sumedh was astonished. When he enquired about the owner, he was pleasantly surprised to know that it belonged to Sudesh. But why his name? He had humiliated Sudesh in the presence of his colleagues and subordinates, had lashed out and accused him of fraud and scam, of an affair with Medha…..Such mean allegations! When Sudesh walked out of the office, he neither retaliated nor broke down. The silent departure had puzzled him. Must be guilty, so has walked out. Sumedh had concluded. He could never understand that Sudesh valued his friendship and did not want to rupture it further by arguing or presenting the facts.
When you are in a frenzy your senses fail you. Sensibilities desert you. I have nothing to say in my defence……It was as though his unspoken words had hit him, he collapsed in the sofa. How I wish he had refuted the allegations, had shown anger, had…….
He sighed. True friends are like gems, rare to find….he remembered the quote from his Slam book. He knew only Sudesh would publish this story of Gratitude. He would have received his mail and checked it too. What would be his reaction? Will he avenge him now? Naming his Publishing House after him, is proof enough that Sudesh bears no grudge, no ill feelings towards him.
HOPE! It propels the world towards its destination!
He had mailed the Manager and had asked for an appointment with Sudesh. He had waited for a week but had received no response. Disappointed with the unexpected turn of events, Sumedh mailed again. A series of mails without a response from the person concerned. Should he approach him? Face to face? Or will it turn out to be a faceoff?
Before meeting him he wanted to tap the possibility of a congenial response. He had been following him for a week and that day at the chai corner, deliberately he had brushed against him. He had seen the curiosity in Sudesh when he tried to track him, it was as though he was trying to figure out the identity of the stranger.
His decision to meet Sudesh kept him awake through the night. He tossed and turned in his bed restlessly. Will he forgive him? It struck him that their friendship was a precious gift which he had misplaced. I shall do amends to smoothen out our relation. No hesitation, no doubts.
He heaved a sigh and closed his eyes. Sleep blessed him.
“Sudesh Sir, there have been quite a few mails from one Mr. Sumedh, he has been asking for an appointment. You were quite busy, so I hadn’t informed you. He seems to be desperate and anxious too. Should I fix up an appointment in the coming week?
“It is so strange that our Company is named after him! A mere coincidence Sir?”
“We have other things to talk about, I think.” Sudesh wasn’t keen on continuing the conversation.
“Shall I fix the appointment….” He said hesitantly.
“I will let you know.” He walked away abruptly leaving the Manager gaping at him. He had never seen his boss snubbing anyone.
“Looks like some serious matter…” he mumbled and got engrossed in his work.
It dawned Sudesh that the stranger was Sumedh and he was trying to connect to him again after these many years. Why did he want to meet him?
“The intercom buzzed, Sir Mr. Sumedh is here, he is insisting on meeting you, should I ..”
“Yes, send him.”
Smriti’s agitation kept growing. The bus incident had driven away her sleep and she just wanted to probe into the matter at the earliest.
She had browsed the Net for preliminary information about the NGO. It had a good rating and had info about the projects it was working on for upliftment of girl child, health, and sanitation of villages. It gave a brief info about the members, the activities and the Board members. It looked like a fair enough organisation.
“Sonali, this is Smriti, remember we had travelled together from Delhi to Amritsar. I would like to meet you and know more about the NGO. You are correct in saying that the younger generation need to shoulder responsibility. I would like to associate with the NGO and do my bit of social service.”
“Smriti, that’s so thoughtful of you. Why don’t you come right away? I will introduce you to our Madam, a very special person. You know the address, just hop into an auto and be here.”
Medha pinged Sudesh, “Meeting Sonali. Sorry couldn’t wait for you to do the digging.”
“Yes, come in.” Sudesh tried to sound normal. He was shaky and his feet had turned jelly. Why was he feeling so nervous?
He chided himself.
A knock again.
“I said come in,” his raised his voice.
The door opened and there stood Sumedh, looking grave and perturbed.
“Good afternoon, I am ……”
“Sudesh, don’t be so formal. Cant we talk like old times?”
“Old times? Never, I have forgotten my past. Tell me how I can help you?”
Sumedh walked towards him, hugged him, and whispered, I am sorry. Do forgive me. Sorry is too insignificant in the context of the sin I have committed. I have been going through hell ever since I came to know the truth. I am shattered. Believe me. Shattered. I have driven away the best people from my life, and since then I have lived a miserable life.”
Sumedh’s voice faltered and he sunk into the chair.
“Have a sip, you will feel better.” Sudesh held a glass of water.
“Th…Thank you Sudesh.”
“I have come to ask a favour of you.”
“What favour can I do for YOU?”
“Medha had left me the same evening. My sins have bogged me down. My journal, the only thing left in my life, holds all my feelings, my compunction, guilt. I have penned down my innermost feelings. I have a request- kindly publish it. I wish to see the lives of many being transformed through this journal.
I hope Medha too will read it and forgives me. My only wish, will you fulfil it?”
Sudesh was too startled to respond. Sumedh mistook his quietness to be unwillingness and turned back to leave.
“Sumedh, for old times sake, I will gift it to her, wherever she is.”
“I shall be indebted to you forever.” And he walked out into the hot sun.
“Smriti, good to see you. Meet Ms. Medha… our friend, philosopher and guide.”
“Medha? Medha…. Unbelievable. Not even in my wildest dreams did I think that we would meet here….”
“Sonali, can have some privacy?”
“Medha, I am overjoyed.”
“What brought you here?””
“Tell me Medha, how come you are here? I still can’t believe.”
“My life has turned a new leaf, ever since I associated myself with this NGO. We are creating social and economic awareness among the lower classes and helping them financially. Lack of facilities, lack of awareness of government schemes has been a big blow to our economy. I have found a purpose for my life. I have no regrets now. Everything happens for a cause.” She looked calm and relaxed.
“I met Sonali sometime back in the bus. We travelled together. I found her a little weird. Her talk, her activities don’t match with her intentions and behaviour….”
“I am still in shock, but I thought I should bring it to the notice of the other officials of the NGO. Kindly keep vigil on her, she could be a threat to the society. Maybe she bundles up kids and sells them to other countries, or young girls to Gulf countries…”
“I do suspect something. I know I am no one to ask you to probe and investigate, but as a responsible citizen I thought
I should do my bit.”
“Am happy to see young people sharing social responsibility. I value your suggestion. Promise I will look into the matter.”
“Medha, if you don’t think I am interfering, have you ever made an attempt to meet Sumedh?”
“That is a closed chapter.”
“Now if you excuse me, I have meeting with the Board…” She walked into the corridor majestically.
“Sudesh, I cant control my excitement. Guess who did I meet?”
“What? Where, how, why…”
“Can we both go and meet her? Sumedh was here a while ago. He is burning in his guilt. He has asked me to publish his journal of gratitude and ensure that it reaches Medha. He will be so happy to know her whereabouts…”
“No, Sudesh, she has moved on in her life. She has no past. She lives for the society. She has carved her way and is happy in it. It is unfair to disturb her peaceful life.”
“But what about Sumedh? He will be shattered again.”
“Let the two live as two entities and not try to unite them.”
The book shall open new pages of his life to her. Gratitude at last has found a meaning in his journal.”
Neither of us shall reveal to either of them that they do exist somewhere in this universe, he hoping to be forgiven, she hoping never to know about him.”
The Gratitude Journal was finding its way into the world in Sudesh’s ‘SUMEDH Publishing House.’
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