The flight from Miami reached Frankfurt early in the morning around 6 am. Shakya had ample time in hand but practically nothing to do but wait for his Delhi bound flight in the afternoon. The terminal 1 concourse where the Lufthansa flight landed will be the same from where it will take off for Delhi. Therefore, Shakya was confined to that small area of Frankfurt airport not able to explore the other part of the airport without a transit visa. After taking two rounds and checking all the shops, Shakya settled himself at the American Express premium lounge. He took his bath and freshened up before settling down to have breakfast of three-egg omelette with assorted cold cuts and salads. Shakya always enjoys his breakfast more than any other meal, may be because it’s the first meal of the day. In any case, he hardly gets time for lunch in his busy schedule as an Investment Banker based in Fort Lauderdale and his dinner consists of soup and bread on most days. He had married Jennifer while doing his masters at Berkeley University but the marriage lasted less than a year. After that he has decided to never get into that path and is extremely proud and happy of his freedom. He does have many girl friends, mostly happily married, so as not to get emotionally attached to Shakya.
After finishing his breakfast at leisurely pace, Shakya found a nice cosy corner and settled down in the comfortable single sofa. He picked up “Scion of Ikshvaku” by Amish, from his cabin bag, a book he has just started reading and which is basically Ramayana retold in a new light. He still believes in reading books printed on paper, no Kindle for him. Soon, he got completely engrossed in the book and lost touch with his surroundings.
“Hi, isn’t that you Shakya?” a female voice startled him. He looked at the woman who had spoken those words. She looked like a typical Bong lady, wearing western clothes and clearly uncomfortable in them. It took some time, may be a few seconds but Shakya recognised the woman, after all, one doesn’t forget his first love! Her name is Shoma and she used to be Mukherjee when Shakya had met her at their ancestral home in Burdwan. Memories came flooding as Shakya remembered his first encounter with Shoma and thereafter…
Except for his parents, all his uncles had settled down in Burdwan, a laid back town in West Bengal after the partition in 1947. The Bunglow with ample garden was a joint effort of all the brothers but Shakya’s father had decided to settle down in Delhi. The top floor of the house belonged to Shakya’s father and by default to him. His parents have been to the house only on the occasion of weddings in the family and that too for a very short duration. His mother was asthmatic and the humid weather of Bengal did not suit her at all. Shakya, being the only child, longed to meet up with his cousins as often as possible and made it a point to visit his uncles and cousins once a year at least.
It was afternoon and he was alone in his top floor room. All his cousins were either gone to college or were at work. Shakya was engrossed in the detective novel by Sharadindu Bandhopadhyay titled Byomkesh Omnibus. His concentration was broken by a shrill female voice that asking, “Who are you and what are you reading?” Shakya was about to retort with “Who the hell are you to ask and how did you come here?”, when his mejo Boudi (sis-in-law) appeared and said, “Let me introduce you two. Shakya is my Bhaithan (Bro-in-law) from Delhi and she is Shoma, my younger sister. She is now studying at Shantiniketan and is here on vacation.” Shakya remembered the tragic event about 3 months back when his mejo boudi’s parents had met with a road accident on way to Kalimpong from Darjeeling and expired. Mr. Satyashadhon Mukherjee was the General Manager at a Tea Garden in Darjeeling area and was travelling with his wife when their driver lost control of the car while saving a group of pedestrians and plunged into the deep gorge.
Shoma was almost Shakya’s age, about a year or two younger, quite good-looking and intelligent. The two bonded very well in the next few days and by the time Shakya left for Delhi, the bond had transformed into something more. Both being student of economics, they had a leaning towards left of centre politics. They discussed, Marx, Lenin, Trotsky and Naxalism to the Left Front govt in West Bengal. Shakya and Shoma even managed to go Kolkata and spend the day watching Mrinal Sen movie and generally spending the day on their own. It seemed that there was tacit approval of mejo Boudi to their friendship. The day Shakya was to return, both were sad but decided to put up a brave front. They both agreed to write to each other regularly and exchanged their addresses. The long distance friendship was well established and flourishing.
Sometime in the beginning of December that year, Shoma wrote to Shakya that her University is planning a study tour to Delhi-Jaipur-Agra and she will take out time to meet him. Shakya was euphoric with the news and kept following her up with request to confirm the dates. He made up his mind to go Jaipur and Agra on those days as Shoma would be visiting.
Finally, the day came when Shoma and her nine friends along with two teachers landed up in Delhi and checked into a hotel in Paharganj near the New Delhi Railway Station. Shakya went to see her and got introduced to the others. The girls were quite interested in him but Shakya had his eyes only on Shoma. He spent some time at the hotel in the hope to talk to Shoma in privacy but that did not happen. Also, she informed him that they would be leaving for Jaipur early next morning and from there they will proceed to Agra and then come back to Delhi again in five days. Shakya was very dejected as he could not tag along with her to all those places. To cheer him up, Shoma said, “I have taken permission to stay back for two days once the tour finishes. So don’t be so melancholy my sweetie pie”. The news of her exclusive extra days in the city did cheer him up and he promised to show up again when the team comes back to Delhi, as he left her reluctantly.
Those two days with Shoma were the most memorable day in the life of Shakya. They went to see movies, theatre and art galleries as these were not part of her itinerary with the university group. They had the famous Delhi street foods – gol-gappa & paapri-chaat of Nathu’s at Bengali Market and bhatura-chana at Sita Ram, Paharganj and also dined at fine restaurants. On the last evening of her stay, Shakya mustered up courage and proposed to her. In her reply, she simply gave him the most passionate kiss and then they made love, initially awkwardly, because it was first time for both and then with more passion and vigour till both were completely exhausted.
The love did not whither or diminish when the following year Shakya went to IIM Ahmedabad to do his MBA program having graduated in high first class and securing a score of top 50 in the CAT exams. The correspondences continued between the two but Shakya had no opportunity to visit Burdwan because of the pressures of study, all he could manage was 2-days sojourn to home in Delhi twice a year. And in the second year, Shoma also moved to London to do her masters at LSE. The letters that were exchanged twice a week became twice a month but in every one of them, both professed their undying love for each other. Shakya graduated in PGDBA with a score of 8.2 CGPA and was hired from the campus by Citibank and got posted at Chennai. He was diligent worker and soon rose to the position of AVP in a short span of 4 years.
Shoma, meanwhile, finished her masters in Economics and had returned to Kolkata to do her Phd from Jadavpur University. The choice of JU was purely economical as the cost of doing it in Europe or US was highly deterrent. Shakya in all these years have never been to Kolkata or Burdwan during the Durga Puja festivities and decided to visit Kolkata and also look up Shoma with whom now he wanted to settle down. He requested his parents also to go but his father flatly turned down the offer saying he doesn’t want to visit the chaos called Kolkata. So, Shakya having taken 10 days leave took the flight straight from Chennai to Kolkata. He had pre-booked a room for the duration of his stay at a guest house near Deshpriyo Park, which is the happening place during the festivities. He did not inform Shoma with the intention of giving her a surprise at her flat near JU.
On the Shasti day (beginning of Durga Puja), Shakya went to meet Shoma at her girls hostel just outside the campus. He had bought a diamond ring for her and it was now safely sitting in his pocket. He got off the taxi at the JU gate and asked the tea vendor for the direction to the address. It was a short walk inside the lane and he found the house without much effort.
He knocked on the door and an elderly woman came out and asked, “Who do you want to see?” Shakya asked for Shoma and the lady shouted back to someone inside to send for Shoma. All the while, the lady had been guarding the door lest Shakya get inside, there was clear sign that no male is allowed inside. After a while another female came and told the lady that Shoma is not in her room, in fact she had left early in the morning but she does not know her destination. The elderly lady in turn started to tell Shakya the news but he had already heard so he simply thanked the lady and left.
On reaching the guest house, he called up his Mejo Boudi to check if Shoma had reached Burdwan but the call was picked up by his youngest uncle. He said, “Mejda & Boudi has gone to Darjeeling the day before, and Shoma hasn’t come to Burdwan. Where are you? Are you coming home?” Shakya had no intentions of going there so he simply said “No Chhotka, not now, may be next year I will spend the Pujo with you all.” After disconnecting the phone, Shakya contemplated his next course of action. The guesthouse keeper had already informed him that in case he was to pre-vacate, the minimum charge will be for three days. So he decided to stay put for now and visit the near-by Puja Mandaps and fly down to Delhi to spend some time with his parents.
Shakya made whirlwind tour of some of the most famous Durga Pujas of Kolkata starting with Deshapriya Park, Ekdalia, Suruchi Sangha, Lake Town, Badamtala, Bose Pukur, Kumartuli, Bagbazar, College Square etc. before flying back to Delhi. His parents were pleasantly surprised at his unannounced arrival. His mother was inquisitive about his Kolkata visit but Shakya just said that the place is maddening during the puja time and his father took the right call of not going. He spent the rest of his holidays at home only barely moving out. He was outwardly very calm but there was unease inside his mind. The day before leaving for Chennai, he had called Shoma’s PG only to be informed that she was not in her room.
Shakya returned to Chennai and his work and became busy during the day but remained restless in his free time. He had called the PG every alternate day but every time the answer had been the same that Shoma was not in her room. He could not somehow make out as to where had Shoma disappeared. Finally, after almost two months, he gathered courage to check with his mejo Boudi and called her to find Shoma’s whereabouts. “Helo, mejo-boudi, how are you?” he started off with usual greetings and then asked, “Do you know where is Shoma? Hope, she is fine.” The answer made him gasp for some air as felt breathless. “Oh, you don’t know, Shoma just got married last month with Ronald. They had met in London while she was in LSE. She has moved to Houston USA where Ronald teaches in the university. I wish you could come for the wedding but everything happened so quickly that we could not inform all you guys” said mejo-boudi over the phone but Shakya had stopped listening. He was feeling very unwell and took the rest of the day off and went for long drive to Mahabalipuram. The drive on the new highway and the relentless waves of the sea somehow calmed him. But he just couldn’t believe that he has been dumped so unceremoniously by Shoma.
“Hey, what’s up?” the shrill voice of Shoma brought him back to present from his reverie. He got up and shook the extended hand of Shoma and said, “Hi, it’s been long time. How are you?” “Am good” said Shoma and sat down across Shakya. “So, where are you going? Are you travelling alone?” Shakya wanted ask so many more questions but controlled his emotions. “I am going to Bangalore and from there to Chittoor, where my daughter Priyanka is studying in Rishi Valley School.” There was an awkward silence which none of them wanted to break. “Will you like some coffee?” Shakya finally asked and got up to get the coffee without waiting for Shoma’s answer.
Getting back with two mugs of coffee, he placed one in front of Shoma and sat down. “So tell me how’s been life with you?” Shakya asked Shoma with a purpose. Instead of answering his question she said, “You tell me first.” Shakya thought for moment then said, “Well, I am settled in Fort Lauderdale with a Green Card. Dad and Mom both passed away two years back and I have no one to fall back in India now. This is probably my last visit wherein I intend to dispose off the Delhi property.” “I am sorry to hear about uncle and aunty” Shoma said softly. Then as an afterthought asked, “Didn’t you marry? What about your family?” Shakya took a hard look at Shoma and then calmly said, “I have none. Now tell me about yourself.”
Shoma looked a little uncomfortable but composed herself and said, “I know, you have not forgiven me but to tell you the truth, I have not led a very happy life. Ronald died in a car crash when Piku (Priyanka) was just five years. I had my University job, so managed somehow but Piku in the western cultural influence was getting out of hand, so two years back I got her enrolled in Rishi Valley. Now, I am moving to Hyderabad permanently, got an offer from ISB for Professorship in Economics.” Shakya did not say anything for some time, looked at his watch and realised his flight might be announced any time soon. He looked Shoma in the eyes and said, “You are mistaken Shoma, I had forgiven you then and there only. I realized that if a person can run away without telling, then that person is not worthy of any memories.” Then changing the cue, said, “My flight will be announced any time now, must move towards the gate. What time is your flight?”
Shoma did not answer. She simply sat there and sobbed softly. Shakya came around to her side and with his kerchief and wiped her tears, then turned to go as his flight is being announced. Shoma suddenly got up and gave a tight hug to Shakya and started crying visibly. Shakya was taken aback completely as a few eyes were directly upon them. He wriggled out her hug and looking straight into her eyes said, “I told you Shoma, I had forgiven and forgotten you. Today, there is no place for you in my life. Please control yourself and get grip on your life. Goodbye.”
Without giving a second look to her, he walked away towards the Gate no. 7A to board his flight. As he sat down in his Business Class Seat, he felt light, having finally erased the memory of Shoma. He felt truly liberated, free, albeit selfishly.