The birds were flying low over the lake, trying hard to catch a fish or two. Devika sat on the parapet for over an hour. Is this how it is in nature and in life? Her eyes were moist. It was a year today since her life had come crumbling down. She held the letter in her hand, her tears had erased some of the words, but alas that was the only thing Maheel had left for her. “I will always love you, please forgive me….” He had abruptly ended the letter.
Hi Devika? She looked up and her jaw fell…
Maheel stepped out of the car. The December morning was cold with fog surrounding the area, visibility was only a few feet. He felt refreshed. “Kuthey jaycha ahey?”, (where do you want to go?) a passerby asked them when they tried to locate the address. Maheel took out a slip from his pocket and read out the address.
The surroundings were still green from the late monsoons. The roads were narrow and had a number of potholes. “Is this the first time you are coming here?” the cab driver enquired. “Yes” said Maheel, “I have come on work. My company is setting up the new cement plant.”
The river Kukadi was flowing parallel to the road. Some buffaloes were bathing in the water. Women were carrying earthen pots on their heads, filled with water. Maheel was amused by the sights. He had only seen such visuals of rural India in Hindi movies.
“Namaskar Saheb”, the caretaker of the guest house greeted Maheel while taking his luggage in. “You relax while I make some hot tea for you,” he said. Maheel smiled, the tea tasted awesome. “I had a great day dad, just trying to settle down, many things we take for granted back home are a luxury here. I will talk to you end of the week, you take care,” he kept his mobile down and stood by the window. The full moon was shining brighter than normal, probably because there were no city lights around.
The project site office was worse than what Maheel had imagined. Everything was lying unkempt around. His assistant engineer Prakash did not look too happy to see Maheel. He probably was hoping to get the position.
The site visits and meetings took up most of the days of Maheel and evenings were taken up by reporting and phone calls to the head office. It was almost a week since he had come. He was enjoying his work, or was he trying to forget something back home?
It was a month since Maheel had come to Ojhar. After a very long time, he had a day to himself. His caretaker Manu suggested he visit the famous Ashtavinayak temple for which Ojhar was famous. Ganpati here is said to grant any wish if you ask for it with a pure heart. Maheel was not the religious kind but nevertheless decided to pay a visit to the temple. The temple was crowded. Today is a very auspicious day, he heard someone saying. He stood in the queue for the darshan. “Is this your first visit?” Maheel looked back to see the person who asked him the question. For a moment he thought he was dreaming. A girl in her early twenties stood with a pooja thali in her hand. The light of the small diya (or lamp’) made her look ever so beautiful. “Yes”, Maheel could barely say the word. He looked away. “They say, whatever you ask of Ganpati bappa will be granted”. He just nodded. The queue began to move and soon the pujaris were urging the devotees to move fast. Maheel was feeling claustrophobic. He quickly moved towards to the temple exit. “Prasad…” the lovely voice of the girl resonated in the courtyard of the temple. In the bright light Maheel could see that she looked even more beautiful than he had thought. Her black eyes met his eyes for a second. “Are you new in the village?” Before Maheel could think he had told her everything about himself except for the reason for coming to the village. She too had told him everything about herself. Devika was the daughter of the retired head master. She had studied in Pune and after completing her graduation had started a primary school for girls in her village.
Does God answer prayers so fast? He was finding it hard to believe. Maheel had prayed to God for finding his peace. He had agreed to take the transfer to the village because he wanted to forget Neha. Neha was his neighbor and childhood sweetheart. But because she was from a high caste as compared to Maheel’s her parents had forcefully married her off, much against her wishes. The image of Neha’s eyes filled with tears as she told him that it was the end of their relationship, often flashed into his mind and hurt his heart. He had promised himself never to fall in love again.
Maheel had immersed himself in work. But whenever he had even a moment free, the image of the beautiful Devika would come to mind. He felt an urge to meet her and spend time with her.
“So you haven’t answered my question?” he mischievously caught her hand and she desperately tried to let herself off but before she could think, she was in his arms, her breath meeting his breath and her entire body seemed to be on fire. “I love you’, he whispered in her ear.
There was a long silence as they walked back towards the house. “I am sorry if I hurt you in any way.” Maheel was feeling guilty and not sure if what he had done was right or not. “Tell me Devika, will you marry me?” he knelt on his knee and kissed her hand. She barely nodded her head and ran ahead as if to get away from him. She looked back and gave him a smile before she went into the house.
Maheel was whistling along the way. Finally he had mustered the courage to ask Devika. Her simplicity and innocence had impressed him. He had found solace in her company and peace when she was around.
“I promise you sir, I have not done anything wrong. The sub-contractors are chors they are all working for the politicians…….” The police were dragging Shambhu to the van, beating him with their sticks. Maheel stood at the edge watching the scene. He felt nauseated. Is humanity dead? He wondered…
“Saab, food is served,” the ever chirpy Manu also could not hide his anger. He went into the kitchen without saying anything to Maheel. The prime time news was flashing the strike of the workers at his project. The politicians were involved, making matters worse. Pictures of Shambhu being beaten by the police were being aired again and again.
Devika was worried, it was more than a week and she had not seen Maheel even once. What was the matter, she wondered. He had never been away without telling her. Her father had come back from a village meeting and was fretting and fuming.
Maheel’s phone rang. “The press is ruining us. The Board is in an emergency meeting. Wait for further action, but be prepared to close shop and move out on orders.” The click of disconnection of the phone made Maheel’s heart beat faster. He was torn between his work and his love. He had avoided meeting Devika and not answered her calls. The workers’ union had beaten up some of the engineers and the whole project had gone into a mess. Added to which, the local political parties had got involved one siding the project, the other opposing it. Maheel had never imagined that life would once again take such a sour turn.
”I am really sorry this had to end in this way. Please forgive me”, he turned and without looking back went as he climbed into the car and drove away. Devika stood dumbstruck for a long time with the envelope in her hands. He had not even given her a reason for the breakup.
Days had turned into months. Devika tried her best to forget the past and move on in life. But that did not happen. She lived life aimlessly. Her freshness and charm seemed to have gone away and she barely spoke to anyone.
“And that’s how I decided to come here.” Maheel had narrated the entire story for the last year. His low self-confidence had made him give up his love, but when he returned to his town and realized that the sacrifice he had done for the company was not at all acknowledged and he was blamed for the fiasco, he decided to leave his job. Life was dull and routine. He was trying hard to run away from his past and immerse himself in his work. But it did not work. He felt immensely guilty about what he had done to Devika and decided to make amends. “On the way here, I was desperately praying that I wish my Devika believes in me and is still waiting for me… I know I am not worth forgiving, but I promise, I’ve learnt my lesson. You and only you will be my first priority and my life.” He took her close and kissed her gently.
The audience applauded and gave a standing ovation as the curtains were drawn. “Devika,…I mean Renuka let’s not do this play again, I am falling in love with you…” Renuka patted him and said, “Remember your rule no.1. We are all characters in the play and never become the character!” she laughed and went away, Maheel knew he had to try something else to win her over, after all this was true , and not a play!!