“I like what I see,” Tanmay told the enthusiastic broker. “This penthouse is the right one for my family and me. Your asking rate is slightly steep, though. Be reasonable, and you will have the token amount today itself.”
Standing at the entrance door of the room, Anamika listened with trepidation. This was her house. Her husband had built this penthouse in Alibaug, in the outskirts of Mumbai, with his hard-earned money. She loved this house to death.
Her husband’s health had started to fail five years ago. There was no one to look after business, and they had to mortgage their house to pay the mounting medical bills. No expense was spared, and her husband was on the mend. But the car accident last year turned out to be fatal. Now the creditors had to be paid.
Tanmay shook hands with the broker. Anamika did not hear, and care about, the final amount they had agreed upon.
The broker went out, leaving Tanmay alone.
Aayega aayega aayega aayega aayega aanewala. As the song started to play somewhere in the background, Anamika approached Tanmay.
“Hi there,” she said softly to Tanmay, who had his back to her.
Tanmay gave a start and turned to see a petite lady with long hair, dusky complexion and kohl smeared wide eyes in front of him. Surprise, followed by recognition, showed in his eyes.
Aayega aayega aanewala. He could hear the words in the air.
“Oh, hi. I am sorry. I was admiring the beach and did not hear you come,” Tanmay smiled at the lady in white. He almost put out his hand for her to shake, then decided against it.
“No worries. I am glad to see you.”
“You are the owner of this house, aren’t you? I saw your photographs in the hall.”
“I was. Now you are going to be. Congratulations on your decision. This is a great house. I am sure your family will like it here.”
Tanmay’s face reddened. “I understand your sentiments towards the house. But I..”
Anamika interrupted him. “You want a house, and this one is available. That’s it. I do have one request, though, if I may.”
“Yes, please, Anamikaji.”
“I have no place of mine to go to from here. If you would be so kind as to allow me to stay in one of the servant rooms in the outhouse. I will look after your daughter in return.”
Tanmay’s eyes lit up.
“Of course, you can stay in the outhouse. Our five-year-old child does need a governess very much. It will solve a lot of our problems if you look after her.”
“Thank You, Tanmay.”
“My pleasure, Anamikaji.”
Anamika left as swiftly as she had come. Sounds of Aayega aayega aanewala grew faint before ceasing altogether as Anamika disappeared from Tanmay’s sight.
Tanmay and his family came to Nigam Villas with an entourage of a dozen servants. The helpers went about cleaning, refurbishing and redecorating the house as per the taste of its new owners. Nigam Villas turned Ruhi Niwas within a month.
Aayega aayega aanewala. Tanmay was having a cup of tea on the first day when the melody reached his ears. He looked up to see Anamika in front of him.
“Hello, Tanmay,” she said. “I have come to look after Ruhi. Where is she?”
“Here you are, Anamikaji. Let me call my wife, Sheetal, first,” Tanmay said and called out to his wife loudly. “Sheetal! Please come to the living room.”
Anamika saw a tall, imperious lady in a black gown walk into the dining room. She felt the lady’s eyes see through her before turning to her husband.
“Anamikaji, the owner of this house before us, would like to stay in one of the rooms in the outhouse. In lieu of this, she will look after our Ruhi.”
Anamika watched as Sheetal frowned at her husband.
“Ruhi doesn’t need a governess, Tanmay, ” she firmly said.
“But Anamikaji…,” Tanmay started.
“Anamika can stay in one of the servant rooms until she wants. I do not have any problem.”
Before Anamika could open her mouth, Sheetal said, “I have a lot of things to do. Will see you later.” She left the room without giving Anamika a second glance.
Tanmay went near Anamika.
“I am so sorry for Sheetal’s behaviour,” he said. “She can be cold sometimes. You can stay in the outhouse.”
“But I don’t want to live on charity. I will look for work elsewhere,” Anamika said.
“No need to. You are looking after Ruhi.”
“But your wife….”
“Don’t worry about what Sheetal said. Ruhi needs a governess, someone more than a governess, in fact. You be with her. Just keep away from Sheetal’s line of sight.”
“Well, that would be difficult.”
“It is possible. Nowadays, Sheetal doesn’t look after Ruhi and rarely cares what she is up to. My daughter is growing up on her own. Most of the time, my wife would be out of the house for work, so it would be you, Ruhi and me to ourselves here. The servants won’t say anything.”
“Don’t you go out for work?” Anamika asked.
“I don’t work now. Some incidents leave deep scars in their aftermath. Don’t worry about these things; just look after Ruhi well.”
“Sure,” Anamika replied. “Where is she?”
Tanmay called out softly, “Ruhi, Ruhi. Come and see who is here.”
The strains of aayega aayega aanewala grew louder as Ruhi came running into the room, crossed Anamika and ran into her adorable father’s arms.
Anamika fell in love again as soon as she spotted Ruhi. Tall for her age, the bony girl was dressed in a beautiful pink frock. A tiny pink bindi dotted her fair forehead, and her hair was tied up in ponytails on both sides. Ruhi looked angelic as she laughed.
“Ruhi, Anamikaji is your governess from today.”
Ruhi grinned. “Hello, Anamika Aunty,” she said excitedly. Her lower front teeth were missing. “Let’s go out and play.”
“Not right now, Ruhi. Let us study something first.”
Ruhi made a face but did not resist when Anamika led her by the hand outside the house to keep away from Sheetal’s radar.
Summer season made way to autumn as the bond between Ruhi and Anamika strengthened.
The open spaces in the colossal house were Ruhi’s playground. When the young girl wasn’t prancing around in the place, she was walking barefoot in the sand. She spent hours by the beach and asked Anamika all sorts of questions, which the latter patiently answered. Ruhi was like a daughter that Anamika never had.
Apart from Anamika, Tanmay was the only person Ruhi was interested in. The servants didn’t care about her, and Ruhi didn’t bother about them. She never mentioned her mother.
Ruhi was an early riser for a child. When Anamika used to go to the main house in the mornings, the father-daughter duo would be invariably talking nineteen to the dozen, with Ruhi already bathed and dressed up for the day. Anamika then prepared breakfast for Ruhi and herself before feeding Ruhi. She finished her breakfast quickly before taking Ruhi out of the house. They used to spend hours together until it was time for Ruhi’s lunch. The same routine was repeated for lunch and dinner.
“Tell me something about your mother, Ruhi,” Anamika asked one day. They were sitting by the beach.
“I don’t speak to her much,” the young girl confided. “She doesn’t have time to see and hear many things. She loves my father a lot, but.”
“Does it bother that she doesn’t speak to you?”
Ruhi shrugged. “It did at first; it doesn’t anymore. I have Dad. Now I also have you.”
Tears coursed Anamika’s cheeks as she hugged Ruhi.
Some more days passed uneventfully.
One day, Anamika was making Ruhi eat her breakfast when an agitated Sheetal unexpectedly arrived. She ignored the two of them and looked directly opposite at Tanmay.
“Another servant has given notice,” Sheetal said. “Are you even bothered with what is happening?”
“You are looking after the household affairs well, my dear,” Tanmay replied calmly. “Why should I interfere?”
“All this is too much for me, Tanmay. I go to work which has its own pressures. I have to manage the household budget and now the domestic affairs. This is the fourth staff to have given notice in the last five days. I understand that more may follow suit.”
There was a pause. Anamika and Ruhi got up from their chairs quietly, intending to leave the room.
“Don’t go. Stay here, please,” Tanmay said. They stood still.
“I am not going anywhere,” Sheetal frowned under the impression that Tanmay had spoken to her. “I came to ask you what’s going on in the house. You will know.”
“I don’t know why the servants are giving notices,” Tanmay protested.
“They tell me that meals get cooked in the kitchen on their own with extra dishes washed and kept neatly. They are afraid to come to the kitchen now. They are also saying that the outhouse’s largest room lights are invariably turned on, sometimes late into the night, even though no one stays there. Now they are afraid of sleeping in their quarters.”
“Anamikaji stays in that particular room. You had said that it was ok for her to stay, remember.”
“Oh. So Anamika has come. Where is she? She can be a good helping hand now that the servants are leaving.”
Anamika froze even as Ruhi tightened the hold on her palm. She only wanted to look after the child.
“She is right here. You can ask her if she is willing to help, though I have my doubts.”
Sheetal looked around.
“Where is Anamika, Tanmay?” she asked with a note of panic in her voice.
“Sitting on the chair beside you,” her husband replied.
“Tanmay, there is no one here except the empty plate and spoon on the table.”
“That’s the plate from which Ruhi had her breakfast. Both Anamikaji and Ruhi must be finding you very rude for not acknowledging them.”
“Yes. Somebody needs to look after Ruhi. I don’t know how to cook, and you and your servants don’t have time for her. That is why I asked Anamikaji to look after her, despite you saying No.”
“Ruhi has been dead for about a year and a half now, Tanmay,” Sheetal said with tears in her eyes. “She was in the car with you when the other car collided headfast. You survived. She didn’t.”
“Her body may have not survived. But she is still here with us, as I keep on telling you. You will also see her if you believe me.”
Echoes of aayega aayega aanewala were the only sound that Tanmay heard for some moments.
Sheetal looked at her husband, distraught. His imaginations were growing in intensity and frequency. Tanmay had looked happier lately, so she had assumed that the change of home that their family doctor had insisted upon was working for him. She was mistaken.
She was used to her husband speaking about Ruhi as if she was alive. But how come he was going on about an absent Anamika in the same way?
Sheetal dialled the broker who had arranged the sale of this house. She had discussed all the details with the broker before Tanmay had accompanied him to see if he liked the place. She was happy to close the deal once Tanmay had expressed his interest in the house.
“Sheetalji, Good Morning.” The voice at the other end of the line greeted her.
“Mehtaji, can you provide me with the number of the lady who was the owner of this house before us? I have to speak to her.”
“Lady? Oh, you mean, the wife of Mr Nigam, Anamika? Madam, Anamika died in the same car accident that killed her husband.”
“Are you sure?” Sheetal whispered.
“Absolutely. Their car collided head-on with another one a year and a half ago. I remember reading that the other car had a man and a young girl. Mr Nigam died on the spot, and his wife breathed her last two days later in the hospital. Tragic story.”
“Which hospital was that?”
“Now that you ask, I remember their son, who is abroad, tell me that they were admitted in the Christchurch Hospital. You can speak to their son about any work that you might have. He was the one who had put the property on the market. Hello, hello. Sheetalji. Are you there?”
The cell phone had fallen off Sheetal’s hands. She stared at Tanmay.
“You had met Anamika at the hospital where you and Ruhi were admitted, hadn’t you?” Sheetal found her voice after several seconds.
“Anamikaji was the one to donate blood to Ruhi,” Tanmay said, “notwithstanding that I had killed her husband.”
“It was an accident, damn it! Even we lost our daughter in the same,” Sheetal shouted. “Did you know before that Anamika and Mr Nigam lived here?”
“I didn’t know until I visited this place and saw Anamikaji’s photographs on the walls. Then when Anamikaji came and spoke to me, I knew that we had to buy this house. For Ruhi’s sake. Ruhi is so happy and calm in Anamikaji’s company now.”
“There is no Ruhi, there is no Anamika. All this is your imagination.”
“Anamikaji, please forgive my wife for being so rude,” Tanmay said to Sheetal’s right. Much as it pains me, she has the right to be rude to Ruhi, since she is our own, so. Not so with you.”
Sheetal’s hysterical voice interrupted him.
“So you think that Anamika is staying in the outhouse? Well, I am going to call a mason and destroy that part of the building and remodel that wing. Anamika can’t stay here. Do you understand?”
“You can’t do that,” Tanmay said in dismay. “Where would she go? What will happen to Ruhi?”
But Sheetal had already walked away in a huff by then.
Tanmay’s eyes went to his daughter, who was unnerved by the exchange. Then his eyes went to Anamika.
Anamika was composed. Not all humans understand the happenings of a world beyond their realm. She knew that Tanmay was among the exceptions when the telepathic song Aayega aayega aanewala had started to play the day when Tanmay’s mind had come nearby her soul. She had approached him then, overcoming her initial surprise of meeting Ruhi’s father again.
It was her good fortune to meet Ruhi again, with whom she had forged a bond in the hospital. Anamika was restless ever since their mortal bodies were separated. She had found peace after reuniting with her.
“If Sheetal doesn’t want me to stay here, I can’t stay,” she said to Tanmay. As a spirit, she needed the consent of all humans living in the house to roam freely here. Not all ghosts are antagonistic to humans, contrary to perception.
“Where will you go?” Tanmay asked.
“To my world. Since I was restless and agitated earlier, I couldn’t find the door to that world. After spending time with Ruhi and finding peace, the door to that world was revealed to me. I resisted joining my husband there because of my attachment towards Ruhi. Now I have no choice.”
“Nooo. You are not going anywhere,” Ruhi broke in.
“I have to, little one,” Anamika said.
“Then I am coming with you,” Ruhi declared.
Anamika’s face brightened.
“Ruhi, you can’t,” Tanmay said in dismay. “What will happen to me?”
“Dad, you have Mom and other people in this world. I have only you and Anamika aunty here. You are with Mom and other people most of the time, and I can’t spend time with you. I was pretty bored until Anamika aunty came. Now I will be miserable without her. Please let me go. I will wait for you till we meet again,” Ruhi pleaded.
“Don’t worry about her, Tanmay,” Anamika reassured him. “Ruhi is a daughter to me. My husband and I will look after her well there. She will be a fine grown-up young girl by the time you join us there.”
Tanmay was devastated. But he had never said No to Ruhi. Not when she was alive, not after her death. He wasn’t going to do so now.
“Go then. Go to a world where you will be respected and loved. Go in your world where you belong.”
Ruhi lunged forward and hugged her father. Both of them were in tears. It was several minutes before the two separated.
Ruhi held Anamika’s hand. Waving goodbye to Tanmay, the two went through the living room window towards the beach. Sounds of Aayega aayega aanewala grew faint and distant as Tanmay watched their figures retreat into the beach waters. Finally, they disappeared from sight.
Tanmay could not hear Aayeaga aayega aanewala any more. He thought that he would never hear it again.
Sheetal flopped down on the ground in her bedroom. The room was as dark as she felt inside her heart. She was too broken to be tired of the long day.
The last rites of her husband were completed, and all the guests had left. She was alone in the night with her thoughts.
She did not wipe away the tears coursing her cheeks. The one she loved more than herself was gone.
Her husband wasn’t the same ever since Ruhi’s demise in that dreadful car accident. However, last year’s incident over Anamika resulting in the remodelling of the outhouse turned out to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Tanmay’s health had steadily deteriorated since that day. He had taken to sit in front of Ruhi’s pictures for hours. Sometimes, she had caught him in the storeroom, enquiring about Ruhi to Anamika’s pictures. It was almost as if Ruhi had died again.
In retrospect, she should have let Tanmay be with his imagination about Ruhi and Anamika. At least he would have been alive today.
Sheetal sighed and closed her eyes. “I am sorry,” she whispered in the air.
Tanmay had looked unnaturally peaceful on his death bed the day before yesterday. He had held her hand for a long time and smiled. Sheetal thought that she heard him sing a song a few seconds before his death! That’s how the mind starts to conjure things when in disarray.
Aayega aayega aayega. Aayega aayega aanewala. The words suddenly reverberated in her ears.
She opened her eyes with a start. The TV was switched off, her cell phone lay silent on the bed, and the window was closed. Where was the music coming from?
As the ball of silver in the horizon cast its rays through the glass window, the words grew louder in volume. Sheetal could make out the black silhouette of a man against the bedroom door. Suddenly the shadow entered the door and came towards her.
Sheetal’s hair should have stood on her neck, but didn’t.
The intruder’s face glowed in the moonlight as he sat opposite Sheetal.
“Tanmay,” she gasped.
The two gazed into each other’s eyes as a melody pulsated in the otherwise silent room.
Khaamosh hai zamana
Chup chaap hain sitaare
Aaraam se hai duniyaa
Bekal hain dil ke maare
Aise mein koi aahat
Is tarah aa rahi hai
Jaise ki chal rahaa ho
Man mein koi hamaare
Yaa dil dhadak raha hai
Ik aas ke sahaare
Aayega aayega aayega
Aayega aayega aanewala.
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One thought on “Till We Meet Again”
It was so spooky. Loved reading it. You have developed the characters very distinctly. Finding Ruhi was also dead was big surprise to me because the flow of the story is so seamless.