“It’s not rocket science,” said the voice that suddenly turned squeaky like a mouse maybe because of nervousness. Nervous you would be too if you were a new kid and a thousand pair of eyes were watching you, no?
The auditorium exploded into laughter and rude catcalls.
Raghav quickly stood up. He was the college president. It was his duty to encourage newcomers. Thus, justifying himself, he turned around and handed a death glare. Immediately, there was a pin-drop silence. There was something about his tall frame and his eyes. His superlative achievements in academics, sports, extracurricular activities and in everything else, coupled with his stoic silence earned him the status of a demigod. He was kind of scary to even their professors and teachers. Nobody dared mess with him.
He now nodded at the newcomer and she smiled a little in gratefulness and continued, “It is not rocket science. All it takes is to believe in yourself…”
When she finished, she received a standing ovation and ended up winning the debate hands down.
A small smile tinged Raghav’s lips and he noted her name. “Vidya Prakash, 1st-year law student. Hmmm.” He murmured to himself softly.
That evening, as they made their way back to their homes, he met her at the bus stop.
They stood in silence for some minutes and then, “Thank you for today, Mr. President. I am awed by the power you wielded,” she smiled at him.
Color climbed up his cheeks and he nodded, “It was no rocket science!” He winked at her and she threw back her head and laughed.
Raghav stood mesmerized. Her laughter felt like the tinkle of a full-bodied bell that seemed to play a jugalbandi with his pulsating heart. He did not know what he was thinking but then thinking did not come into it. He just got swayed away by her beauty, her simplicity, an aura that was her. Add to it, her smile was magical. And so, surprising even himself, he blurted out, “I love you!”
She stared at him in surprise. And he stared back at her in shock. Had he really said that?
And biting his lips, he ran away in the opposite direction.
That had been twenty-five years back.
Raghav chuckled softly as he remembered the bygone days. How he had after that bus stop incident, studiously avoided her for the next few days until she had confronted him. And they had shyly acknowledged their growing feelings for each other.
The school president and the school all-rounder! It was an enviable combo. They were inseparable but waited until they completed their education and opened their own law firm before they confided in their parents about each other.
Their parents had been delighted with their alliance and in no time the college sweethearts had become life partners and almost immediately parents to twins. A girl and a boy.
Life had been good. Too good. Too perfect.
It would be if Vidya was your wife! Every time they were faced with any obstacle, she would simply say in her singsong voice, “It is no rocket science, jaan. We will work out something…”
And he would be reminded of the first time they met in the auditorium hall. He would fall in love with her again and feel invigorated to get up and fight any obstacle that they were facing.
But they say nothing lasts forever; neither joy nor sorrow. And not perfection.
And their perfect life had suddenly shattered.
It had been an indecently pleasant day when he had collapsed in the courtroom, while they were winning the case hands down.
They suspected cardiac issues, maybe propelled by stress. For nearly a month, they ran up and down hospitals, getting hundreds of tests done. But no cause was discovered. “It could be severe vertigo or middle ear infection.”
But Raghav’s condition only deteriorated. He felt like in just a few days, he had aged by several years. His head did not stop spinning. He vomited small pools of blood. His skin developed blisters and the tiredness that gripped his body was inexpressible.
But there was nothing he could do but wait for the final scan results. He was so grateful that Vidya was able to maintain a cool head during this time when so much uncertainty was hanging over their heads.
At last, the results came. Vidya had driven down to the hospital to collect them personally. Raghav sat in his easy chair, clenching, and unclenching his hands. He did not think he would get this anxious, as morbid thoughts appeared from everywhere and seemed to prickle him. “It won’t be serious.” He kept murmuring to himself.
At last, Vidya arrived with a thick file and a face that looked like someone had painted it grey.
She said nothing. She dropped the file on the dressing table and sat next to him. They sat in silence for some time. They knew each other too well to take the support of words to convey something important.
At last, Raghav enquired gently, “How many years?” and as an afterthought, “Or years?”
Vidya kept staring at the ground and then slowly whispered, “Maybe six months…”
The room resounded with a loud bout of silence. She looked up at her husband and recoiled slightly,” Raghav? Are you crying? I have never seen you cry…”
Raghav held her hands tightly and allowed his tears to just flow, “I am sorry, so sorry, love. I didn’t expect this. There is so much left to do. God cannot do this. I have so many dreams for you, for the children. I always thought there is a lot of time…”
And he broke down, breaking into little sobs. Her tears mingled with his as they hugged each other tightly like there was no tomorrow.
Ironically, there really might be no tomorrow for them…
Three months had passed since that fateful day.
Vidya sat in her husband’s chair nodding her head respectfully, as their client shared his story with them. While on the outside, she looked elegant in a crisp white sari and her wavy hair encased in a neat bun, inside she felt all squirmy and out of place. Raghav and her had started this firm with so much love and expectations. While there, she had felt like she was really living. But after the children, she willingly bowed out of work and became a hands-on mom. She has loved every moment of the time she devoted to her family and their home. True that sometimes she missed the action and thrill of arguing in courts but she was more than happy to leave it all to her husband to handle it all. But today, her eyes threatened to explode with tears just thinking of him.
Rubbing her eyes surreptitiously, she willed herself to not let her thoughts stray and tried to concentrate on the case.
It was evening when she hurriedly reached home. The door was opened by her mother-in-law. An unspoken message passed between the two women. They were both playing the waiting game in their own way. The older woman hugged Vidya, kissed her head and said softly,” Beta, go to my room and refresh yourself. Take a good bath. Then come back downstairs. Raghav is on sedatives and is sleeping. Your papaji is with him in your room.”
Vidya had really taken her time. She had lathered herself with warm sarson ka tail and soaked in the bath while a soothing instrumental played on the music system. She changed into comfortable clothes and tied her hair in a high pony. She looked at herself in the mirror, “You look human today, Vidya!” she smirked at herself and walked downstairs.
A lovely smell emanated to her nostrils and she sniffed the air appreciatively, “What’s that amazing smell, mummyji?”
Radha gathered her into a hug and led her to the dining table, “Sit beta. Today, I have made all your favorites. I want you to stop thinking about everything and just relax and enjoy.”
Vidya rubbed her hands gleefully and both the women laughed as her stomach made huge protesting grumbling noises! “Litti chokha and gajar ka halva! I really felt like eating Halva. Mummyji you are the best!”
After Vidya had overstuffed herself, her mummyji took her to her room and holding her hands, said softly, “Beta, listen to me carefully. Raghav had a sudden brain hemorrhage. We called you several times but you were unreachable. Moreover, he told us not to disturb you. We rushed him to the hospital and…”
“Vidya sat there, like a wounded animal. Her large eyes stared at her mummyji, trying to process what she was trying to tell her. She felt something like the telltale signs of extreme pain creeping upon her. But right now, it was like all her feelings were put in the freezer.
Radha closed her eyes and murmured quietly,” Raghav is no more…”
Vidya got up, her eyes flashing furiously, “You are lying. And why did you feed me Halva? Were you waiting for your son to die?”
And then she threw herself on the floor and screamed, pinching and thrashing herself, slapping her cheeks. Radha could not hold her tears anymore. Grabbing her daughter-in-law who was more than a daughter, she wailed along with her, “I am sorry beta. Raghav insisted he did not want you to see him dying. He made me promise…sorry beta…”
Vidya would never know how she rushed to the hospital on her jelly legs and how she lived even after seeing Raghav’s body.
“You may view the body mam.”
“Body body…” she kept repeating to herself. Raghav was now a body. But that body was her life. Her universe. He was now just a body?
There was a lot of work, lots of procedures to be completed before they could take the ‘body’ home. Once home, there were so many visitors. Vidya had not realized her soft-spoken genius husband was so popular and well-liked. He had so many friends and well-wishers. She had to take care of all of them. She had to also take part in all the ceremonies.
She was grateful for the sonorous chanting of the pandits and the hustle and bustle. So, she did not have to think. She did not have to face the reality of Raghav having left her forever.
“There is time…”
“Vidya. Have some tea, Guddu.” her mother threw open the windows and sat next to her.
A splash of sunlight hit her eyes and Vidya turned her face away, “Amma, please close the curtains. I hate light. “
Her mother said nothing. Instead pushed the tea upon her daughter, “Drink” she commanded.
Vidya knew better than to disobey that voice. Sighing she grabbed the teacup and drained the hot piping liquid in one swag.
Her mother looked at her alarmed, “Guddu! Is your throat burnt? That was so hot!”
Her daughter threw back her head and laughed hysterically,” My entire life had burnt down Amma. My husband’s body has been burnt and I have his ashes here. See?”
Her mother pursed her lips and gently tried to take the bottle of ashes her daughter had saved from the main kalash. But Vidya maniacally pushed her away and held it to her bosom like her life depended on it, “Do not touch Raghav. I am not letting him go away from him. The traitor…”
And putting her head down on the floor, she sobbed uncontrollably.
A few days later, her mother came to her room and started packing her stuff.
“Why Amma? What is happening? Where are you sending me?”
“Guddu, your parents-in-law are coming over to pick you up. You must go back. The children are having their board exams. They need you.”
Vidya gaped at her mom and pulling her blanket closer to her, screamed vehemently, “I cannot. I cannot-go-back! How can, I Amma? I cannot go there when Raghav is not there anymore…”
Her mother faced her and gripping her shoulders tightly, said staring right into her eyes,” My Guddu is a fighter. You have to go back. The house needs you. The children are waiting for you. Besides, Raghav is always with you.”
Vidya looked at the bottle of ashes she had clutched in her hands and then looked at her mother like a child who had suddenly been plucked from her home and sent to boarding school.
It was past midnight when they arrived at the place, she had called home. The home she had built with Raghav with so much love and camaraderie and sacrifices. But there was no Raghav now. Then this was not home either. She walked like a zombie and allowed herself to be taken to her room.
Their children were waiting for her. Wordlessly they ran to her and hugged her tight. Vidya felt nothing but instinctively hugged them back, “It’s late. Go to your rooms and sleep…”
Her mother-in-law offered to sleep with her but she refused. Her mother’s words whispered in her ears, “My Guddu is a fighter.”
Yes, yes, she was a fighter. She had fought so many battles but now there seemed to be nothing worth fighting for. She lay spread-eagled on their bed and stared at the ceiling fan. The fan went round and round; never-ending- cyclical like good and bad – joyous and sorrowful…. disjointed words seemed to fly at her as she felt sucked in by the circulatory motion of the fan…. her eyes seemed to be drawn to it until at last sleep blessed her even though it was punctuated by Raghav’s handsome face transfiguring into the face of a cadaver…
The next few days flew into a haze. Vidya merely existed, performing her duties mechanically. She had taken complete control of their firm and the future looked very promising. She knew she had to bounce back for her children. She tried, really tried hard to cope and move forward. But how did you cope with such a betrayal? He had taken the seven vows with her and had promised to always stay by her side. But…
Vidya shook herself and put on a big smile on her face as she greeted her family and prepared to drop her kids to school.
“Mom, you look stunning today. Your smile is my good luck charm. I am going to top the exam today!”
The smile left her face like the snake had swallowed the moon. She could hear Raghav’s voice echoing in her ears, “You are my good luck charm, love. I am going to win the case today…”
Smiling again, she excused herself and ran to her room. She looked at the wall that held Raghav’s picture. A fragrant sandal garland encircled the frame. She had avoided looking at him all this time. She would punish him, she would hate him for abandoning her but today, those smiling eyes drew her to him.
She walked towards him and the dam broke, “I love you, Raghav. Why did you leave me alone? I cannot go on anymore. Take me…take me, Raghav…”
She shook the frame violently and suddenly something that had been attached to the photo fell down at her feet.
She bent to pick it up.
A small message written on a piece of her favorite pink notepaper,” How will you go on without me? Of course, you will because, it’s no rocket science…
Love you, Jaan
It was the proudest day of her life when both her sons took charge of their firm. As they touched her feet and took her blessings, she smiled, “Raghav and I bless you wholeheartedly. May you reach the skies. Yashasvi bhava”
After the function, Vidya drove to the park that she used to frequent with Raghav and sat in their favorite corner where there was a lone bench surrounded by many trees full of talkative, chirping birds. She remembered every moment, every walk, every memory they had made here.
Her next trip was to the Bhairav temple. She went to the peepal tree where Raghav and she had tied sacred threads around the girth so their wishes got fulfilled. Her wishes had been dashed to the ground or so she had thought. But today as she unwound the thread and sent her prayers heavenward, she could see Raghav’s smiling face in the skies, as if reiterating that their wishes had indeed been fulfilled.
Her last stop was the sea. As she stepped into the deep, her heart felt constricted. Art this time of the day, hardly anyone was there. There was emptiness all around. Only the sound of the waves. They nipped at her feet, as if urging her step forward. But she stood frozen. She could hear Raghav’s rich laughter and her giggles, mingled with the hum of the sea. How many times they had come here and he had smashed her phobia of the water by throwing her directly into the waves.
Vidya wiped a lone tear and stepped into the waves allowing them to wash her feet.
Laughing, she extracted a glass bottle from her handbag and emptied Raghav’s ashes “It’s no rocket science, love…
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