Winter has a unique way of exhuming the pains of the past, be it the sweet little nostalgic feelings or those bone cracks & sprains or so thought Sreeni. Being a weekend afternoon, he was enjoying the temporary solitude which his wife & three year old son lets him indulge in for a couple of hours while they enjoy the favourite pass-time since time immemorial; sleeping. The idiot box was playing on with one the many “phone-in” programmes. He was hardly paying any attention to the continuous string of gimmicks & artificial emotions by the nubile anchor. He didn’t know what to think nor did he want to think at all, he wanted his mind free of all thoughts of present day. It was longing to delve deeper & deeper in the chasms of eternity but how, when? Perhaps it was too early for such an escape; the mind must have thought or was it him only as it was caught in a swirling of memories driven by a sweet melody from yester years. Little did he realize that the channel had changed to the next programme & was playing one of his favourite songs who was the real culprit behind that reversal of memories and aptly titled “Nostalgic Moments“.
Involuntarily his fingers trekked over the irregular surface below his right eyes. He could never forget that horrifying accident that had almost killed him but lucky enough to escape with a badly bruised face. He had a wry smile musing over the string of happenings which he was not sure could have been the precursor to that ghastly accident.
Fourteen long years and the pictures were still fresh in his memory. It was winter vacation and he had thought about going back to his hometown in the north, a steel city where he had all his schoolings & upbringing and how much he longed for his favourite season; winter. He couldn’t help but enjoy the slight tingle it gave to his heart when he thought about Ipshita.
Ipshita..that small Bengali petite figure with bright shining eyes looking through a stubborn strand of dark curly hair which refused to be part of its collective lot. It was those eyes that had attracted him as he felt there is always some mischief lurking around those dancing eyeballs. He knew there was something more than the good friendship between them when they were in +2. They were the talk of the class but they never did try to deny it nor accept it. This continued along till they finished school but neither of them had tried to contact each other, why?….the reasons were still unclear to him. He had already made up his mind of meeting her this time.
The first few days went off with enjoying the coziness of home and mother’s special mouth watering dishes for him. One bright sunny day he decided to go and meet her. On the way he was vary of how both of them will react but for now he was really enjoying the feeling with the cool winter breeze stroking his icy cheeks & nose; he turned his bike towards Sector-5. He often liked idling around this place. The dark neat road was lined on either side by yellow Acacia & Flame of the Forest, the stretching out branches of which, competing to out-grow each other provided a colourful canopy. He slowed down as the familiar outline of house number C-54 came into view.
It felt like ages before he could finally wheel-in his bike & park it near the gate avoiding the overgrown hedges. He still had to fiddle with the stubborn clasp until a small lift finally gave away the tight grip with a noisy clank. Hope it won’t annoy Mr.Bhowmik, Ipshita’s father, he prayed. Mr.Bhowmik was the last person he wanted to be confronted with, at least for this day. Not that he was afraid of him from the perspective that he was Ipshita’s father but there was some air about him which seemed to him that he may not be in his real senses. He went up to the portico with a heavy thumping heart; is it the anxiousness to meet her or is it the fear of confronting her father? Well, maybe both, a sing-song tune started playing as he pressed the calling bell.
Huh ji kaun? A middle aged woman with a tired face & ruffled hair stood there opening the door just enough for her face to be seen. That was more than self-explanatory but he had to take the pain of explaining to her & giving all the apologies for the inconvenience caused to her. He had a hollow feeling as he stepped down into the walkway. Ipshita & family has moved out from here but to where? He felt disheartened; would he be able to meet her? He spent some days meeting his old friends wherein he enquired about her. Even though he didn’t get any valuable information regarding that, they were never short of pulling his leg about his old flame.
One evening while strolling around in the nearby local market he chanced to encounter one of his ex-classmate, Ashutosh. Ashu was one of those front-benchers types and Sreeni hardly expected any help to come from him. He was surprised when he quipped in with “so, did u meet ur Ipsi?”. Sreeni was at pains to narrate the whole episode again, maybe the umpteenth time & how he is feeling lost now. “She is working with Brilliants as Programme Counselor, I saw her last month only” blurted Ashu with a surprised look. “Just in case you don’t find her there, try out at TM-72, NC Colony; that’s her new house.” That was music to his ears; he thanked Ashu and went home a happy man but couldn’t help wondering “already working?”.
He planned to call her up first thing in the morning. Leafing frantically through the yellow pages he found out the number & called up the institute.
Good morning! Can I speak to Ms. Ipshita Bhowmik?
Sorry, she is on leave right now.
He didn’t like the cold reply. Why is it that every step he makes is running into cold waters? He didn’t like the thought. Well, better pay her a visit then. He was ready in a jiffy, gobbled up the soft idlis, caught hold of his windshield & rolled the bike out from the porch. As he was about to kick the machine alive, his mother came out with a worried look on her face.
Sree, Where are you off to in such a hurry?
Nothing Ma, just remembered that I was supposed to meet a friend in half-an-hour.
Okay, have patience and drive carefully & remember to be back before 12:30, father needs you to go somewhere with him.
Don’t worry Ma, I will be fine; I will be back soon.
He kicked the bike alive and let it roll along slowly till he felt that he was still within his mother’s eye sight & then vroomed out into the main ring road. It was 8Kms to NC Colony, enough to freshen up his memories with the sweet old nothings he shared with Ipsi. This time he was hoping he would meet her somewhat feeling let down by the previous two episodes. Even though the ride was perfectly fine, it felt like ages before he could enter NC Colony. NC Colony was an extension of the old township area where all the businessmen had their bungalows built and it was a sad picture in contrast to the Steel Township‘s well planned layout of independent cottages. It took him around half-an-hour before he could locate the TM Block. The count-down for the house number started as he idled along till he hit the destination.
The house set about thirty meters from the gate with a beautifully laid simple driveway, was a small single-storied crude design unlike its towering pompous neighbours. He opened the picket gate and started walking up the driveway Why again?….as he felt an uncanny feeling of silence which seemed to be too deafening for him. The shrill sound of the metallic bell was even more deafening as he released his finger from the switch. No response, he tried again & again but it seemed as if the house itself has slept along with all the inhabitants. He waited another 5-8 minutes, gave one more last try hoping someone will ultimately open up the door. Feeling dejected he was walking back when someone called out from behind Hello. Startled, he turned back to see where the sound had come from. He saw someone waving from the grilled door of the garage. The garage looked like an add-along to the main structure of the house jutting out in an ugly way with those grills. He slowly went up to the garage. Mr.Bhowmik! Oh God! But he was even more surprised to see him only in a bathing towel wrapped around his waistline in a careless manner, the hairs ruffled & dry & those inquisitive eyes embedded deep into the eye sockets.
Good Morning Uncleji! He said with a cautious approach.
Who are you & what do you want? Mr.Bhowmik didn’t seem to be in the mood for pleasantries.
I came to meet Ipshita.
Why do you want to meet her? How do you know her? You haven’t answered my question; who are you? He seemed to him like “Siddharth Basu” with his volley of questions in the rapid-fire section of his famed TV programme Quiz Time.
Huh…I am her ex-classmate Sreeni, am on my vacation from my college in Madras. Thought I would drop in just as a courtesy call.
You are looking for Ipsi? His tone changed to that of softer one.
Yes. He said, hoping after all he might be able to meet her.
She is not here.
Oh, OK can you please tell her that I had come; maybe I will come some other day. He quipped in, somehow feeling to get away from there as soon as possible.
No, no, you don’t understand. She is not staying in this house anymore. I don’t know where she is. I have been looking for her for the past two weeks. I am all alone here. She married someone & she along with her mother left me. If you find them please will you say that I am having sleepless nights? If they come home soon they can find me alive or else…
Sreeni was in a shock. He didn’t know what to say. He looked at the fragile figure of Mr.Bhowmik. He felt compassion gaining over the revulsion he had for him. Didn’t know what soothing words to console him, his mind still reeling & trying to come to terms with the situation. Somehow he assured him that he will definitely try to convey his message if he ever got to meet her anywhere. He walked out briskly, kick started the bike and was on his way back home. He looked at his wristwatch, it was 12:00pm, he had to speed-up.
Landscapes ran past him as he sped along the main ring road but his thoughts were somewhere else. This can’t be Ipsi. Ipsi, whom he had known was not the kind of girl who could be so callous as to fling her father into such an insulting & tormenting abyss. More than the news of her marriage, it was this thought that was disturbing him. “How could she?”. He took the exit near to the Govt. Rest House from the ring road. There was a steady stream of hurried traffic by the plant employees trying desperately to reach in time for the afternoon shift. Next left cut into “Sector-6″ and he would be home soon. His stomach was churning, hungry maybe. Need to go and sleep; forget what happened now.
“Oh God, my head, its aching too much. Must have slept too much”
“Ipsi hmmmm ..that was a bad dream after all” time to get up & have a cup of tea, seems like the lunch was too much, thought Sreeni. He was startled to hear some voices talking.
Is he moving? His forehead seems split.
No, no I think its his eyes. He is breathing .make it fast bhaiyya!!
Sreeni opened his eyes ..ouch! there was a stinging pain. Where was he, he seemed to be moving in a car. He looked up straight. What met his eyes, made him almost faint. He was seeing his own reflection in the rear view mirror above the driver’s seat and that too a ghastly bloody one. Except for his left eye, the rest of the face & head was covered in blood. Slowly it dawned on him how he ended up here. A bicyclist in his hurry to be part of that speeding traffic current failed to notice him coming from the opposite direction & ended up right in front of Sreeni. He had to use both the brakes with maximum force to avoiding hitting that old man. He might have succeeded in that but he was thrown off the bike and fell on the road hitting the right side of his face first. He was hoping that nothing happened to that old man when he heard groaning on his left side. The poor man seemed to look perfect except that he was holding his left knee. The sudden pressure with which he had tried to disembark from the cycle had snatched some ligaments in his knee.
He was rushed to the nearby hospital and straight to the operation theatre.
“Clean him up!!” shouted the doctor. A nurse hurriedly came and began wiping his head and face off the blood. “Ouch, Doctor his face is embedded with glass splinters and the lower bone of the eye socket seems to be crushed.” Sreeni could see her picking out small bits & pieces of glass from his face “my favourite Ray-Ban glasses”. Another nurse started shaving off his hair here & there to find if there are any cuts on the head. They didn’t find any which could be of concern. He lay there as the nurses trimmed away the jutting skin & stitched it up; one of the older nurses praying that it was “not so bad after all“. What a day!! Thought Sreeni as he slowly lifted himself up from the operating table thanks a lot Ipsi!
Sree!….Sree!….That was his wife calling him. Here is your tea. What were you thinking .huh? another escape down memory lane? Sreeni took the cup from her with a sheepish smile, his fingers still caressing those scars.
“Oh God, not again!!” smirked his wife as his son jumped on to his lap happily with his choco-bar.