It was getting late enough to be worried. I once again stepped into the balcony and looked down. Except for a drenched street dog that was lying down miserably near the gate, there was not a soul to be seen anywhere. Rain water had puddled under the lamp post. A breeze ruffled the mango tree in the courtyard and a few twigs fell down and broke. Thunder rumbled in the distance. Did I hear a soft knock at the door? I turned back….
When I opened the door, I didn’t see anyone. Was it my imagination? Well, I was too worried to think of anything. I went back to the balcony once more. Where is Manish? In spite of myself I wondered how night blindfolds our very own familiar city. Even the known streets, lanes and by lanes turn so unfamiliar. And the effect of the light from the street lamps on the blowing trees, adds a ghastly aura to the shadows. An eerie feeling crept on me as I kept looking on the road outside.
These untimely rains jeopardise the traffic situation completely. The only saving grace is the drop in the temperature that it brings along – brief respite from the scorching summer heat.
My thoughts again came back to Manish. He is never this late from office. His number was coming switched off since 9 PM. He is new to this office so I hadn’t yet taken any of his colleagues’ numbers. Manish is also not the type who appreciates such gestures of becoming friendly with his colleagues and friends. My thoughts drifted back to those days of college when one of his friends had dropped at my place after 7 in the evening to gift me a biscuit packet that I was particularly fond of back then.
Manish was furious. He thought it was extremely sluttish of me to entertain the guy so late at night. I wanted to laugh aloud at his statements but I decided not to. Deep down I liked Manish’s possessiveness towards me. It used to make me feel more in love, more complete in the relationship.
I knew this was no time for all these conjectures. I was really worried about Manish now. It’s true that the years of courtship and then so many years of marriage had taken away the passion from our relationship, but had replaced it with a sense of concern and dependence for each other. I knew deep down how essential he was for my own sustenance but at this age he no longer made me go weak in the knees or grow wild with passion. Middle age is a funny phase in one’s life. You know life won’t give you any kind of excuses that youngsters often seek for all the mistakes that they make, and at the same time you are not yet ready to accept the responsibilities and maturity of being old.
The cool breeze that blew on my face felt good. I wish I had the option to stand and quietly enjoy the nature outside. How long had it been since I stood at the balcony without any worry in the world. There had been immense financial crisis these last few months along with Manish’s ill health. He had also lost his job and along with that the self confidence that comes with it. Being with him and giving him the much needed motivation was taxing for me indeed. Manish’s new job seemed like manna straight from the heaven. I knew he didn’t like it much, still the job gave him the financial security that becomes essential as one starts maturing with age. And then there is only a handful of people who actually love their job. I just wish Manish would come home now. I was so worked up from within that I felt I could have fallen asleep any time.
The light at Sudha Didi’s house was on. The entire neighbourhood was aware of her self-obsession and night was the time for her beauty regime to begin. I could catch her distinct silhouette scrubbing herself away to glory just in a petticoat, oblivious to the entire world. Rashid Chacha was playing Rafi classics on his gramophone and the neighbourhood seemed to be humming along those soulful songs of Rafi’s mellifluous music. Suddenly, a shout seemed to break the symphony of the ambience. Varsha was shouting at her husband, accusing him of cheating on her.
I had a crazy neighbourhood where each family was a complete entertainment on their own. They were a funny lot, who could be nosy, irritating, boisterous and annoying, but kind-hearted and helpful nonetheless. If I would tell any one of them about my current plight, all of them would take a break from their personal preoccupation and go for a Manish-hunt. But I decided not to bother them, at least as of now.
The street dogs had now formed a group and even though it continued to drizzle, the pack didn’t seem to pay any heed to it whatsoever. Their timely howls created an echo that had a melancholic feel to it.
Suddenly I felt I was no longer in my lonely balcony. No longer in my current surrounding of middle class locales, burdened with middle-aged problems. Was I having a déjà vu? I was not sure… It was a similar night… a night with a drizzle. There was a power-cut and my aunt was crying aloud. My father was not in town and all that my mother could do, was console her. Even today I could sense the anticipation back then in our house, the sense of waiting for the worst to happen. I was young and hungry and so were my aunt’s daughters. But no one cried for food, no one cried out for attention. Only my deranged grandmother kept on clapping. What were we waiting for I don’t know or else I don’t remember. Suddenly I was left with a sense of fear, an uncanny feeling of uneasiness took over me and I started shivering.
My aunt had been middle-aged back then like I am today. Middle-aged with middle class problems. Daily dose of domestic disputes along with a failed business had hurled my aunt’s family and especially her husband into the nadir of despair. Suddenly, I started thinking of how lifeless my own marriage had become, how pointless, how listless. It’s true we stood by each other in times of need but now I begun questioning myself whether it was out of sympathy, duty or for love. The worst part about our marriage was that we had stopped communicating. There weren’t even fights left in our relationship. All that was left were familiar conversations of domesticity, the mundane, insipid everyday humdrum. Was it over-familiarity, was it the commonplace pattern of our daily existence, was it just time, or was it middle-aged middle class problems?
Years back on that forlorn night, after a prolonged wait, for what I didn’t know initially, my uncle’s lifeless body had arrived. He had committed suicide by putting his head on the railway track. The children of the house had been prevented from witnessing the gory scene. We were kept locked up in one room. The fear, the sense of dread, a feeling of panic for the tension building up, still remains within me. From the room where we were locked in, all we could hear was my deranged grandmother who kept on clapping.
Suddenly the sound of clapping became too intense, too suffocating, too loud. I covered my ears but still could hear the noise. The sound seemed so close by. Soon I realised the sound of the clapping had changed into the sound of my front door banging. There was a power-cut and that explains why the calling bell was not functioning. I had been keen to receive Manish for a long time and now when I realised he must be outside, I was very scared. Too scared to walk, too sacred to open the door, too scared to face the reality. What if it’s not him? What if it’s someone with news about him? I was fully aware how depression and despondency had taken over Manish lately. He only tried to remain sane in order to keep me happy. I knew it but still tried to evade the reality. What if that same old chapter from my childhood is being read out to me once again?
I knew I could no longer delay opening the door. The banging was becoming louder. And finally I opened the door!
Manish’s face was tired but still smiling. Bad traffic, crazy work pressure were a few words that he mumbled. He greeted me with a bunch of roses and a small card that read ‘Happy 17th Anniversary’. Oh how could I have forgotten our special day together! Years piled up on each other had rusted the essence of anniversary. There was a time when days of planning would go into making this very day special. Gifts, parties, trips all surrounded only on a day and how years have changed all that. When did I become like this? When did I become so unresponsive, morose and glum about life?
I hugged Manish and started crying. I needed this day, this evening to learn how to count my blessings. Instead of harping on the ills, the problems, the misfortunes, I needed to look at the brighter side of life. True we had problems, we had financial crisis, ailments, but at least we had each other.
Perhaps nothing is lost, perhaps it’s time to start, perhaps it’s not too late to bring alive that long gone spark, perhaps it’s not too late to once again fall in love – with the same old man.