MEMORY GAME – III

Dr. Rajan didn’t allow her to speak anymore and when she was a bit stable, he drove her home himself.

After sometime, at home, Neha was lying on her bed, in her bedroom pretending to be asleep. Her family surrounded her, asking Rajan about her health, her well being and yet she was pretending to be asleep. She was not ready to say she was fine, not yet.

Rajan reassured his concerned family and ushered everybody out, to let Neha rest a while. They filed out one by one, her Grand Mother-in-Law, Mother-in-Law, Father-in-Law and Sister-in-Law who carried her 18-month-old nephew, Neeraj with her.

Rajan was the only one left behind, he kissed her forehead and whispered in her ear, “Sleep, I have important surgery scheduled, I will be back soon.” with these words he left the room after closing the lights and shutting her door.

A couple of minutes later, when Neha was sure she was alone, and no one was coming back, she opened her eyes and sat up in her bed, rubbing her eyes with the heels of her palms. She had a severe headache; she hoped to pass out again; the waking reality was too harsh to face.

Denial was always her best friend. She used it as a shield when her family died in the Mumbai riots of 1992, but she was saved by the police along with her 5 year old brother and put into an orphanage. The 7 year old Neha told herself they were just lost; her family will come back and find her. It will be a lovely reunion. She loved fairytales, and this was only a Hansel and Gretel kind of event. They would be back home soon enough.

She used denial again when three years later, her brother was never found one evening in a game of Hide and Seek with other kids at the orphanage. She kept looking for him under the beds, in the closets, on the terrace but he was never found again. She convinced herself he was like Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up and one day he would come to Neverland.

Again denial came to her rescue when she was molested by a man in the park where she went for a stroll at the tender age of 15. She told herself she was sleeping like Aurora, and someday she would wake up, and all this will turn out to be a nightmare.

At this point, her psyche was fragile and flexible at the same time. She needed direction, motivation, a soothing presence and like heaven-sent Shraddha Ji entered her life. Neha was supposed to spend one hour with the lady twice a week. Initially, she was closed and cocooned, never talking much but with the kind and comfortable demeanour of Shraddha, Neha started to speak to her. Tell her about her pain, her expectations, her shattered past and aimless future. Shraddha knew the girl had been through a lot and with her calming voice and affectionate warmth, she mentored Neha into a stronger version of herself. She encouraged her to be more social and less secluded, to make friends, to get a college degree and make an independent life for herself.

Neha finally accepted that no fairytales are happening for her. She turned eighteen and got admission in a college on her merit. With little help and recommendation from Shraddha Ji, she took up residence in a girls hostel and a small job as the library assistant that earned her enough to pay for her hostel, food and some basic needs. She was studying hard and getting facilitated with scholarships and had stopped hoping for any fairytales, deciding to be her own knight in shining armour and make a good life for herself.

But the fairytale did happen when she least expected it. Sourabh came into her life like Prince Charming and swept her off her feet. She fell for him head over heels, and he turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to her.

He was the college alumni and had come for a guest lecture on the subject of History. She loved the way he touched some untapped topics and went to him after the class with some doubts. He had invited her for a cup of coffee with him in the college canteen, and she came to know more about his personal History than her subject. He was 27 years old and was assistant to a known historian who couldn’t come for the lecture and sent him instead.

That first meeting turned into many sessions that turned into dates, and eventually, they became inseparable. She poured her heart and soul to him, he shared everything about himself, and they didn’t hesitate to accept they were deeply in love and committed to each other for the rest of their lives.

She called him Rishi instead of Sourabh with fond love. He loved her with all his heart and accepted her painful past with the same willingness as Prince Charming received Cinderella. Here was her fairytale at last. Her hero had arrived.

Sourabh decided to get married as soon as she finished college. He spoke to his mother who denied to accept an orphan girl with no background as her daughter-in-law. The mother-son duo had a fallout and Sourabh decided to marry Neha against the wishes of his mother.

Neha, on the other hand, feared he might leave her and decided to end her life if that happened. He reprimanded her severely for having such thoughts and to assure her he decided to marry her in the court of law. The date was chosen, Sourabh chose to bring a colleague/friend, Shubham as witness and Neha picked Shraddha Ji as her witness who was not only her closest friend but also her mentor.

On D-Day, Neha wore a red saree gifted by her Rishi and added his favourite jasmine flowers to her hair along with some red glass bangles in her Henna decorated hands. She sat in the waiting area of the marriage lawyer’s office along with her witness, waiting for Sourabh impatiently, fidgeting with the thin gold ring in her palm, one she bought for him with her savings. One by one other couple went in and came out wearing that beautiful, glowing smile of a newlywed couples on their faces. Neha kept looking at her watch, but Sourabh never came, their names were called, and he was not there.

Neha’s heart sank. She was not ready to believe that her Rishi would ditch her. It was closing time when Sourabh’s friend Shubham came running to her. She looked around him; Sourabh was not with him; she felt weak in her knees and mouth went dry.

Shubham looked haggard and cried as he broke the news to Neha, “Neha!!!” Sourabh….” he couldn’t go on, and Neha knew her fairytale has ended, “Sourabh died in a car crash while he was coming to pick me.” These words hit Neha like a physical blow, and the Earth slipped from under her feet. There was no Happily Ever Afters in her life.

She fell on the floor in a heap, like a puppet with strings cut and fainted. She had a nervous breakdown. Her mind couldn’t take the pain, and she passed out. Something rolled away from her open palm, and Shubham picked it up. It was a golden ring, one she was going to slip on her Rishi’s finger when they exchanged vows.