On weekdays, Ranchi Howrah Express does not have that much rush as it is on weekends, because of its odd timetable. Still, this is the best train to travel on this route. Aparna is already late because of typical traffic at Ranchi. She is almost running to find her compartment. Executive class is always near to the engine and the furthest from platform entry gate. Aparna enters the compartment and then looks at her wristwatch. Still, she has ten minutes in hand. Finally, she gets rid of hidden anxiety of missing the train by a close margin. Since her childhood, till the time she finally enters inside the train she can’t relax. A hidden anxiety inside her develops as the departure time comes closure. Aparna puts her luggage in the upper racks first, then sits in her designated window seat. Her seat is in the middle of the train and these seats are of face to face sitting arrangement. Rest all are in same direction. Aparna does not like this kind of arrangement, every time she looks straight, she will see a stranger looking at her, it’s irritating for her. Fortunately, only a few passengers are in this executive class compartment right now and in a very scattered manner. Aparna thinks in her mind that if someone comes to the front seat of her, she will move to any vacant seat nearby. There is no chance today that entire compartment will be full. She brings out a book from her handbag & placed it on the front table.
It’s almost eight hours’ journey, pure reading time for her. She takes her feet out from under her slipper and places in her opposite front seat. She puts her headphones on and immerse into the book and gets isolated from her surroundings.
She doesn’t notice that after giving a long whistle, the train drifts. At that moment, one more passenger enters the compartment. Suddenly someone says in a very polite tone,
“Excuse me, madam, would you kindly remove your feet from my seat?”
Aparna immediately lowered her feet and says,
“I am so sorry. Please don’t mind it.”
That person says,
“It’s okay, madam. It happens.”
This time Aparna hears this person’s voice more profoundly, and she looks straight at him. She says in her mind,
“No way. This can’t be true. No, God, you can’t do this to me. Rudra Roy is standing here. In front of me.”
Aparna removes her eyes from him and tries to hide behind her book, but she observes him secretly.
Rudra first puts his side bag aside and then looks at her in some confusion. Aparna is not sure. Is he able to recognise her, most probably not? She knows chances are very thin. Rudra brings his laptop from the bag & places it on the table. His face is now hidden behind the laptop screen. Aparna gets irritated. At least she could see his face now that’s also not possible. She curses her luck again & again. Train is now gaining speed. Very few stoppages this train has, so it’s running at furious speed now. Aparna keeps her book aside and looks through the window. All tress, fields & buildings are running equally fast backwards & so her mind.
Aparna just completed her higher secondary education and got admission to one of the prestigious colleges in Kolkata. Aparna was born and brought up in an insignificant town which is almost hundred kilometres away from Kolkata. One fine morning of summer, Aparna reached Kolkata with full of dreams in her floating deep eyes. No friends, no relatives, first time in this metro city, and she was alone. The excitement of first freedom got mixed with an unknown fear. Aparna started her journey to the college. Her small town dress up, zero fashion sense and innocent face makes her laughingstock in her department first and eventually across the campus. Sometimes it was so awful that she could not hold her tears. Like all other days, that day also, Aparna was slogging through the corridor, three of her batch mates were sitting on the stairs, one girl blurted,
“you know I think I need to change this colleague.”
Another girl said,
“Why are you saying this?”
First girl looks straight to Aparna and said,
“I was in an impression that this college has students from only good background. Now I see that any beggar’s daughter also can join here. Disgusting.”
Other two girls busted into loud laughter. Aparna tried to move away from there as fast as possible to hide her tears. But suddenly someone held her hand from the back. Aparna shivered in this unexpected action. A calm but baritone male voice came from her back.
“Yes. You should change college. As far as I know, educated people studies here, not the uneducated girls like you. So please change either your college or your behaviour.”
That man was Rudra Roy. He was a star student in this college. Rudra was a rank holder in higher secondary examination but refused to be an engineer or a doctor. He took applied physics as a subject to pursue his career. Rudra Roy was as brilliant as a student, same time equally famous for his violent rage. So, half the students respected him, and another half feared him. But no one ever dared to oppose him. Aparna got to know all this in the long run.
Rudra turned to Aparna and said,
“You are here because of your merits, capability and hard work. So never feel inferior to any of here. Remember one thing, you are unique, so no one is comparable with you. So, don’t get hurt by other’s words. Focus on your study.”
Aparna could not say a single word that day. After a long time, she heard a voice which comforted her, made her feel she was not alone. She could not understand why a moist cloud was choking her throat. She was just looking at Rudra like she had seen nothing like before.
“Excuse me madam, what would you like to have in snacks non-veg or veg.” asks the pantry boy of train.
Aparna opens her eyes and takes some time to understand where she is. Then she says,
“What do you have in non-veg?”
“Madam, we have two options: chicken cutlet and bread with omelet.”
Before Aparna says something Rudra suddenly says,
“Give Bread omelets in both the places. Your cutlet is something which doesn’t even have a smell of chicken.” Then looks at Aparna and continues,
“Sorry, I placed the order on behalf of you without your permission. I am so sorry. Please don’t mind. This cutlet is the worst thing I ever had in my life.”
Aparna knows it’s a pure lie, still she smiles and says,
“It’s ok. I was about to order that only.”
Rudra gets relaxed, he says then,
“Have we ever met before. I don’t know why I am getting a hunch that I may know you somehow, but can’t remember. Do we?”
Aparna looks at him seriously and says,
“Don’t you think this is an ancient trick to start a conversation with an unknown girl.”
This statement makes Rudra’s face stiffen. He says in a hesitation.
“No. I don’t have any such intent beyond those words. Still, if my words appeared offensive to you, then please excuse me for the same.”
Aparna brings her hair from the earlobe and starts playing with her fingers & then she says,
“So, you mean I am so unattractive that you don’t have any such intent at all. Thanks for blunt feedback.”
Aparna’s such contradictory statements make Rudra confused. He doesn’t understand why this lady is giving such abrupt & unexpected turn to all of his sentences. Now he opens his mouth carefully,
“Madam, I don’t mean that either. I am just saying your face is familiar to me, nothing else.”
Aparna smiles this time and says,
“It is ok. I was just inquisitive about your previous statement.”
A faded plastic smile appears on Rudra’s face momentarily, then he hides behind the laptop screen. Aparna again tries to concentrate on the storybook. But words are getting blurred in front of her eyes.
After that day’s incident, no one disturbed Aparna that much. The reason behind was Aparna’s confident body language or fear of Rudra, that only the almighty knew. But that incident marked a big impact on Aparna’s mind.
The moment Rudra touched her hand, it was like a thousand-volt current passed through her body. Her scientific mind could not justify that. She kept on thinking about it and more she thought about Rudra more her thirst for such thoughts increased.
She was completely confused about what she was doing, but her desire to watch Rudra secretly was increasing day by day. Aparna had only one friend in entire campus and that was Rupsa. Their department was different, but they shared the same hostel room. Aparna was in Botany Hons and Rupsa was in English. One-night Aparna could not suppress her feelings anymore, she told suddenly,
“Rupsa, I think I fell in love with Rudra.”
Rupsa was texting from her phone, and she continued the same with no reaction. Aparna again said,
“Rupsa, you are not listening to what I am saying.”
“Yes Aparna, I am listening.” Rupsa said casually,
Aparna said nothing further. She turns to the other side of the bed and stared at the blank, cracked & almost colourless wall of the hostel. Aparna’s silence attracted attention of Rupsa. She turned towards Aparna and said,
“What happens, drama queen, suddenly why so silence here?”
Aparna still didn’t respond to her. Rupsa got up from her bed and came to near Aparna’s bed. She sat near her side of head and then murmured,
“You poor girl, you could not find any other person on such a big campus. Now you die here.”
Aparna jumped on the bed and said
“Why do you say that?”
“Because, my idiot friend, half of this campus’s girls fall in love with Rudra, so you are not the only one. Second, nowadays this is not important who falls in love with Rudra, because it’s very common. Now the only thing matters is that to whom Rudra likes the most. And you, young lady, are at the bottom of the list. So, I suggest you leave this thought here and move on with your life.”
Aparna said nothing. One thought was roaming inside her mind, loves always needed to be reciprocal? Aparna closed her eyes and try to sleep.
Noise of some chaotic cacophony makes Aparna Awake. Train is standing in Bokaro junction. Suddenly her eyes fall on the front seat. It is vacant and there is no laptop, too. Some extra blood pumps in her heart. Then suddenly she discovers that Rudra’s luggage and handbag are here. She catches her breath finally. At least she has another chance to see him. Suddenly a plate of hot kachoris and spicy potato curry appeared in front of her from nowhere. She looks up; it is Rudra. A layer of innocent smile is all over his face. Aparna says,
“What is this?”
“Madam, I used to travel in this route regularly. I can tell you with full conviction that if you don’t have this food in this station, then your presence on this earth is meaningless. We will discuss this latter. Have it now because if it becomes cold then all of this will be meaningless.”
Aparna thinks. Rudra has not changed, still the same as he was three years back. Rudra never fulfil the criteria of so-called good-looking man. He is tall and his complexion is not dark, you can say it is chocolate colour. But one thing is unique about Rudra, that is his eyes. There is always an invitation in his eyes from its infinite depth. The rest part his charismatic personality does alone.
The thread of her thoughts breaks when Rudra asks,
“Madam, hope this tasty food helps you to forget my earlier stupid statements. I am extremely sorry for all that.”
Aparna laughs loudly and then says,
“You bring all this for that incident only. I was thinking you do this for all of your fellow female co-passenger.”
“With your due permission, may I ask you a question?”
“Yes, you can, but there is no surety of getting an answer.”
“Somehow, are you a lawyer or in some legal profession?”
Aparna again loughs loudly and then says,
“No. Not at all. Why you think so.”
“The way you extract a complete different meaning from my actions and statements, I thought you must be a lawyer.”
“No sir, I am a teacher of botany in a small school of Kolkata.”
“That’s great, but you could be a terrific lawyer too.”
Rudra picks up the book lying over the table and says,
“So, teacher of botany reads love story. Interesting.”
Aparna sharply looks at him and says,
“Why interesting? Botany teacher can’t read a love story. Is there any rule?”
“look. Again, you are questioning like a lawyer. Have I ever said that? I am just saying that who studies science, how she can believe in such an illusion called love.”
Aparna now leans forward and asks with a stiff voice,
“What makes you conclude that love is an illusion?”
“Well, according to my book in today’s world, love is nothing but satisfying our ego only.”
“Interesting comment, indeed. Please elaborate then.”
“Okay, assume you love someone. Then what are the things you try to do next. Let me tell you one by one. First you try to showcase him and try to prove how valuable boyfriend you have. Then try to observe how many of your friends are jealous of him. The more people are jealous more valuable your possession. Next you will start monitoring him all the time to cover up your insecurity. Like, why he is online so late, why he gives likes to that girl’s picture on Facebook, why that girl gives a wow expression on his Instagram profile picture. Then you assume if his replying time gets delayed, but he is online meaning he is chatting with some other girl. He is not giving attention to you as he used to. He is not caring about you anymore. One fine morning your assumptions just become your concrete belief. After that the rest is history, each day fight, crying, emotional torture & finally break up. You tell me in this entire story where is love? Where is togetherness? It’s all about self-ego, self-pride. The entire story is about what I want, what I love, what I feel, what I think & what I like. Everything is about me and myself, it’s never about him. One more thing this is not from one side, the other side also behaves the same.”
Every word Rudra says, with deep conviction and passion, that touches Aparna. She grapes each word attentively. Once Rudra pauses, she says,
“You have an excellent experience in this, I presume.”
“Madam, every knowledge does not come from experience, some come from observing others too.”
Aparna smiles and says,
“yes, that also can be a possibility.”
“Madam, love is nothing but a self-hypnotised lie. It is all about your ego, your satisfaction, and your wish. That’s why you become unrest and violent in love.
Tell me one thing, which book of love justifies that if you don’t accept my love proposal, then I will burn your face with acid. Which rule of love justifies that if I don’t say yes to your proposal, then you will commit suicide and ruin my life. These all acts can be anything but not love.”
A tremendous rage is radiating from Rudra’s face. His baritone voice and the sound of friction of rail’s wheel on iron plate create a distinct atmosphere. Aparna listens to him like a statue. She never has such in-depth interaction with Rudra, ever. Rudra continues,
“Love is such a binding that makes people suffocated, irritated and annoyed. More we get the options for communication, our connection becomes weaker. You are not replying me back within a minute means you are not giving me proper attention. You are not commenting first on my Facebook means you are ignoring me. Everything is about self-pleasing. We are so obsessed with ourselves that we can’t accept rejection at any stage of life.”
Rudra takes the water bottle in his right hand and then opens the cap, but before drinking, he says,
“In this world nothing called genuine love, that is the only truth. Now let me know what you understand about love.”
Behind piles of book, Aparna was preparing her notes. Final exam was only a month away. A cracking sound in door declared Rupsa returned from campus. Entry of Rupsa was so dramatic that Aparna could not contain her concentration further. Rupsa’s big eyes became much bigger, entire face was white like dead. A piece of paper was held by her, like it was untouchable or poisonous. Aparna asked in curiosity.
“What is this drama-queen? What is in your hand?”
Rupsa did not respond. She walked like a somnambulism patient. She just murmured,
“How does this happen?”
Aparna took the paper from her hand and started reading. It was a college internal circular. The entire circular described that this year, authority decided, a mixed stream expedition would take place. So, they form a group of students from different streams. She looked with surprise at Rupsa. A visible question was in her eyes. Why Rupsa was reacting to this general statement. Rupsa read it and says in a husky tone,
“check the group number twenty-seven.”
Aparna flipped the pages and check the mentioned list of that group. Her eyes got brighter, breathing became faster. Rudra and she were in the same group and their expedition would start within three days from then. She could not believe that how did it happen. Last two years she crossed Rudra’s way many a time, but he never noticed her. People said Rudra had an attitude problem, but Aparna felt it was his indifference. He noticed nothing which did not fall in his area of interest.
With the rule of time, one fine evening, they all boarded to a big bus for their trip. As usual, Rudra didn’t notice her. This trip would also end as other incident happened so far in her life. Unless an unusual thing happened on the second day of their trip. For field survey they all came in some interior part of Odisha, a village called Baliguda. It was all most out of reach from modern civilization. Limited access to modern facilities it was the raw but pure form of nature. Tiny hills and forest surrounded the entire village. They all were staying in a primary school; it comprises six concrete rooms. Aparna and another girl from zoology were staying together at night. An exciting conversation in a low tone outside their window made Aparna awake. She got up on bed then looked at her watch; it was half-past two at night. Her curiosity brought her out of the room. A tensed face of professor Bagchi made it clear to her that something terrible had happened. Like a thunderbolt from a clear blue sky, the information struck her. It was Rudra. Since evening he was suffering from high fever, his health condition was completely out of control. Unfortunately, that village had neither a doctor nor a hospital. All members were helpless. The local school teacher finally suggested calling the Father Cristofer of the local church. He was not a doctor, but he was the only last hope for all the villagers nearby in an emergency. Within half an hour, Father came there and observed.
He said after his observation,
“Well, my child, I am not sure, but my experience says that he got exposed to some kind of deadly pathogen. I can’t suggest an antibiotic to that pathogen. For that we need to culture blood & that will take time.”
Father stopped and observed their tensed faces. Then he continued,
“Most importantly, the problem we have right now, is that we need to keep his fever in control or else this could be extremely fatal for him. It is our misfortune that we don’t have even a nursing facility here. We need someone to take care of him for twenty-four hours. Let me check with nearby tribal village if I get someone.”
Father Cristofer was about to move suddenly, Aparna said.
“Yes, my child.”
“I want to do this job for him. Just please guide me through what to do.”
“Well, my child, let me tell you one thing, we don’t know the nature of this pathogen and this could be infectious too. You also could fall sick. So please think again my child.”
Father heard a determined yet divine voice.
“Father, I am not worried about myself. I know it might be risky, but I want to do it.”
Father Cristofer was an aged person. His eyes did not miss the spark in Aparna’s eyes when she was telling the same. He said nothing further. He took Aparna to Rudra’s room and explain step by step what she needed to do. Aparna brought a chair from empty classroom and sat near Rudra’s bed. A senseless face of him stirred Aparna from inside. An unknown pain turned his face into blue. Aparna placed her hand on his forehead. A deep calmness came to his face, as if his some of pain relieved.
No one saw Aparna going out of Rudra’s room any time during the day or night. From checking the temperature, providing food to him on time, putting water on his head when fever was too high, she was always there for him. She was not even taking her food and sleep properly on those days. Some time she was taking her field notes, even sitting there only. Rudra sometimes opened his eyes blankly for a moment and then again went back to his unconsciousness state.
Father Cristofer finally able to arrange an ambulance to move Rudra to Kolkata. The trip also would end. The night before Rudra’s movement to Kolkata, Aparna was checking the temperature and updating the chart for reference. Father came and sat along with Aparna and then said,
“My child, you did a splendid job last three days.”
A melancholic smile floated on Aparna’s lips. She remained silent. Father continued,
“I know in Indian culture people don’t talk their feelings directly, but I am a European so saying straight. You love him deeply or else dedication could not reach a level of devotion.”
There was neither fear nor hesitation in Aparna’s eyes. There was only a strong conviction radiating from her deep & dark pupils. She said calmly,
“Yes, Father, I love him. No doubt about it.”
“Does he know it?”
“No Father. I never told him.”
“Why so my child, at least now once he recovers you should tell him.”
“No Father, I would not.”
“My child, why are you giving yourself a punishment.”
Aparna sat near Rudra and put the wet cloth over his forehead. Feelings of comfort were prominently visible on his face. Aparna stared at him with pure affection and then said,
“Father, I am not. At the same time, it is not mandatory that if I love him, he also needs to love me back.
Love is not about to grip someone in your fist. Love is nothing but a pile of sand. The harder you hold it, the faster it will slip through your fingers.
Only way to remain in love is to keep your palm open, not a single sand will fall. Even my love is not about him, it’s all about me. If my love does not give me enough peace and a feeling of freedom of soul, then it is not genuine love. Love is all about to devotion to him and his wellbeing. I love him for a long and I am happy. If he doesn’t have any feelings towards me, it does not change my sense of being loved. Second, I strongly believe that if my love is true then one day, he will definitely feel it and reach to me. I have all the time.”
Father Cristofer walked from back and put his hand in Aparna’s shoulder and then said,
“You are not an ordinary woman. You are a part of divine power. In such an early stage you have understood the so deep philosophy of life. I will pray to god that your love to be a genuine one. My child. God bless you.”
Next day morning Ambulance took Rudra to Kolkata, evening they all left Baliguda. After returning form trip Aparna became busy for final examination. They kept Rudra for all most twenty-one days in hospital. Rupsa told her many times to visit him in hospital at least once, after all he should know what effort she has put. Aparna tactfully avoided this discussion with Rupsa. She knew they he not need her presence anymore. She didn’t meet Rudra further. After examination she went back to her native town and from there to her new university for a master’s degree.
“Madam, I am waiting for your answer.” Rudra says this little loudly.
Train is running too fast. Durgapur Junction has just crossed. It will take another couple of hours is to reach Kolkata. Aparna looks straight into Rudra’s eyes. A screaming question is coming out from there.
“Rudra still don’t you get it. My love yet cannot touch your soul. Then may be my devotion is still not yet up to the mark that it shakes your stone throne. May be my austerity is not yet complete.”
Aparna breaks into a loud laugh and then says,
“I don’t have any view about it. You men are so shortsighted. If you see a lady reading a love story, then you quickly assume that she would be very emotional. Actually, I am enjoying your long lecture on modern day love.”
With a confusing body language Rudra shrugs and the says,
“Madam, this is not fair. You completely got me.”
Aparna keeps on smiling. For so many years, smiling is the only shield for all women to hide their tears.
Finally, the iron serpent reaches its destination. Aparna takes her luggage and handbag and moves towards the compartment exit door. She just gives a courtesy smile to Rudra and starts walking. She knows if she looks back again, it will stir again her resting pain. After getting down from train she slowly moves towards the taxi stand. Suddenly an electric shock flows through her entire body. Someone holds her hand from the back. Without looking back, she knows it is Rudra. She turns back and face Rudra with a smile. Rudra says,
“Please don’t start your lawyer intuition on this. You forgot your book on the train, so I am just here to return it.” After saying the same, Rudra gives the book to her hand.
“So, madam. Goodbye then, till the time we are meeting again.”
“Yes. Goodbye till then.”
Rudra walks opposite direction of Aparna. After so many years, Aparna feels so lonely even standing in the most crowded railways station of India.
After reaching home, she is feeling so exhausted that she skips her dinner and straight away jumps into her bed. But sleep today is out of her reach. After some time tossing in her bed, she gets up. She switches on the bedside lamp and then pulls the book from her handbag. Before she reads the book, a piece of paper pops out from within. It is a letter. Aparna reads,
You must wonder how I know your name. In entire journey we don’t say our names to each other. I am sure you know me and my name as well. So, I am not introducing myself. In Baliguda when I was not well & most of the time unconscious, but whenever I opened my eyes, I saw only one face and two fascinating & deep eyes. After two months, when I recovered from the infection totally, I started looking for those eyes. I asked all the concerned to know about your identity, but no one told me your name. I presume you asked them not to disclose that. But believe me I was mad to see those eyes again, to get that hand on my forehead again to end my all suffering. I was helpless. By any means I could not get your identity. Then, suddenly, one day I found one piece of paper within the bundle of my prescription. A torn page of a field notebook, which had the owner’s name, Miss Aparna Mitra, Botany third year. After that, by some means, I collected your native place address. But till the time I reached there, you and your family shifted to an unknown city. Your neighbours could not provide your new address. Since then, last three years I am waiting for you only. Today when I saw you first, my entire world gets turmoil. During the journey, I understood you don’t want to reveal yourself. Maybe my feelings are sided. I don’t know you have the same feelings for me or not. So, Even I recognise you and confirmed your name in passenger list at Bokaro junction, I didn’t mention it. I have written my phone number in the backside of this letter if you have the same feelings for me then please call me. If I am not fortunate enough, then don’t feel bad. I can live my entire life in the devotion of yours. Love is not always getting together, sometimes we need to let it go to complete it.
Aparna cries on the pillow. Her austerity finally ends.