The Longing

I was traveling from Jaipur to Hyderabad to attend one of my friend’s wedding on an early winter morning. While I was waiting in the queue of the airline counter, I happened to see my ex-crush collecting her boarding pass ahead of me. I immediately went in to a state of nostalgia. I wished to exclaim in joy and wave out to her—‘Suhaana…wait for me’. Gosh! I always wanted a reunion with her but never expected it at such a chaotic place to start with.
I remembered my time in college with Suhaana –be it at the library or the promenade near the hostel. We had been together for almost two years. But I was never able to speak my heart out or express my budding feelings to her which I longed for. So, here I am in the queue at the airport, in a restive mood, speculating–Would I catch her eye? Would I be able to strike a much-needed conversation? Would I be able to get a seat next to her in the flight? At my turn at the counter, I almost pleaded with the airport staff to allot me a seat next to her, but unfortunately, they did not agree. I was however able to grab a seat in the adjoining aisle.
Our eyes met while waiting for boarding after the security check-in. To my dismay, she gave me a cold shoulder. I walked up to her and murmured softly, “Suhaana, where have you been all this while? No phone calls, no e-mail responses. How are you doing? Do you work in Jaipur or in Hyderabad?” She gently responded. “I am fine Benoy. I am sorry I did not return your phone calls and e-mails. Well, how have you been? How come a Hyderabad trip surfaced?” “It’s Rakesh’s wedding tomorrow. Do you remember him?”, I asked. “Of course, I do. Is he getting married to Sudha?”, Suhaana inquired. I replied, “Oh yeah”. ‘So you too are coming there, isn’t it? “No Benoy. I am not in touch with any of our former colleagues,” she responded. “But you didn’t tell me why are you heading towards Hyderabad then?”, I questioned. Well, the boarding announcement came through and we stopped our conversation mid-way. She had a window seat while I was at the aisle on the other side. I gestured, seeking a solution to my unsettling query. She tried to avoid the glimpse at first but then for reasons, her eyes brimmed with tears. I was taken aback, saddened. I had never seen her like this in our college days.
“I remember her as an intelligent, social, outgoing and outspoken girl. What has she reduced to within?”, I mumbled. After three hours of flying, we landed at the Hyderabad international airport. I was in two minds—“Should I go ahead to Rakesh’s place? Or, should I stay back and try to be with Suhaana for some more time?” I called up Rakesh immediately. “Dude, I am sorry. If anyone has come to receive me, I am afraid I would not be able to make it till the evening today. Hope it would be fine?” “Hey, Benoy, come-on! That’s fine. You are anyways here tomorrow all day for the wedding. Take your time and let me know for anything,” Rakesh said. After the baggage pick-up, I reached out to Suhaana and found out that no one had come to receive her. “So, where are you headed to, Suhaana?”

“I am going to Swami’s Ashram, Benoy.” “Do you have someone there whom you are supposed to meet today?”, I asked. “No. No one. I stay there Benoy”, he answered. “What? Seriously? Why do you stay there? What is the matter? I want to know dear”, I was concerned and perplexed. “Benoy, don’t worry. I am staying here in the ashram since the last three years and keep visiting our ashram’s various branches across the country.” “I have been living as an ascetic since…,” she abruptly stopped, and headed towards the prepaid taxi booth. “I too could come with you to the ashram now, Suhaana”, I insisted. She tried to talk me out of it but I accompanied her and tried to understand her association with the ashram. In some time, we reached the ashram—a serene place, calm and close to nature. We alighted at the check point near the reception area as I had to furnish my credentials. After a while, Suhaana took me to an open air auditorium. She then gradually continued her conversation after offering me some savouries. “So where did I leave our discussion?”, She asked me. “You mentioned that you are here since…”, “But not only the ashram, Suhaana, tell me everything since we last met…”, I promptly continued. “Oh yes. After our farewell, I had a short stint with an IT firm in Gurgaon, where I was recruited through a campus placement through our college. I was there just for seven months.After that I had to be with Dad in Kolkata and joined his firm”, she specified. “How is Bashir uncle doing? He was alone after your mom’s sudden demise in your first year, right?”, I was getting anxious. “Benoy, Dad too passed away within four months after my joining the firm. He was shocked to learn that…”, she almost choked, this time inconsolable. “Oh God, Suhaana, please calm down. I am sorry to hear about your dad”, I offered a glass of water to her.
She continued, “During my earlier days at dad’s firm, I was learning the nuances of advisory services. On one of my critical assignments,
I was assisting one of our business partners. He was once dad’s trusted former colleague as well. I had been burning the midnight oil on the project, which had the potential of providing unique business solutions, to recurring problems in the private banking domain. It could have been a masterstroke in the beginning of my career itself, given the exposure and the corporate assistance. That day, Friday afternoon, it was raining. I had to appear before the client to present the project findings along with our business partner. We both were waiting for the rain to stop, but then decided to board a taxi. We were on the backseat and started discussing the research outputs. Our business partner, I observed, was paying more attention to me than the presentation. He might have judged my thinking and told me that he was noting my presentation skills. Post this presentation, we headed back to our office; excited to celebrate success of our first client meet which had gone well.”
“Strange things happened on our way back. Our business partner was still gazing at me and for sure, he was no more observing me professionally. I began to get nervous and a sense of fear and uncertainty prevailed. I somehow just wanted to get back to the office in the shortest possible time. We reached the office and he suggested for celebration at the very evening. I agreed. He had saved a champagne bottle for the occasion. Since I do not drink, I grabbed a soft drink. We discussed our presentation and future project scenarios. After a while, I had to use the washroom. When I came back, everything appeared normal. I resumed our talks and was sipping the soft drink. Suddenly, I started getting a headache and a sense of disorientation and drowsiness enveloped me. Was I drugged? ‘God please save me, save my integrity’, I prayed. Though I had stopped drinking, I was heading closer to unconsciousness and suddenly, unknowingly, I had a strong urge to sleep.”

“Next morning when I woke up, I found myself disrobed, in a dishevelled state on the couch, with a painful gait. The known culprit had vanished after the awful act, leaving behind a broken world which could never be the same again. Completely devastated, I wept with angst and decided to fight back at any cost.
I locked the office, called up my lawyer friend to reach the ‘Mahila police thana’ immediately. After the medico-legal processes, the culprit was nabbed. By then, Dad had come to know of all this and suffered a heart attack. Law took its own course and the accused was proved guilty. He is serving his sentence, but my world changed from that day.
I lost everything—myself, my Dad, my aspirations, my future.” By this time, I was completely upset and felt traumatised. I could only sympathise Suhana.
I could now connect the dots and realised the reasons for her seclusion and choosing an alternate life post this ghastly accident. I did not have any words of condolence to offer, as the words appeared to be meaningless and trivial.
I held her hand and said, “Suhaana, I still need you. I know it will be very difficult to forget the past, but the entire future still awaits you. Please come and start a new phase of life with me. I have always wanted your companionship. I do not have any qualms about spending my life with you.”
“No, Benoy. I appreciate your proposal. But I do not think I could do any justice by letting you accept me as I am now. I have long back given up my past. My solace lies here, in serving the needy and being close to nature. Had I thought of returning, I would have approached you much before. Benoy, the world awaits you. Please do not think any further of our sacred union.”
I tried hard to convince her, but to no avail. “Take your time, Suhaana. I am here, in Hyderabad till tomorrow late night. Let’s share our numbers and give me a call to accompany me to Jaipur, forever. Though I am leaving now, I will wait for your call. I am sure, we will speak tomorrow.” Saying this, with a heavy heart, I left for Rakesh’s place.
The next day arrived, Rakesh and Sudha’s marriage was solemnised. I was mentally absent in the ceremony all day long, waiting for Suhaana’s call, which never came. I decided to call her. I persuaded her to come along; she didn’t agree. But she promised to always remain a distant companion. Though I was dejected at the very thought of her not being with me, I respected her decision and took comfort in knowing that her purity, her concern and her wishes would always be with me.
-Devesh Kothari

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