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THE ELUSIVE ORCHID

“Stitched Heart” by Roshmila Adhikary

LOVE AND MARRIAGE 

Radha complains to Krishna,”You love me but why have you married Rukmini ?”

Krishna laughs and replies,”For marriage, there must be two persons but you and I are just one!”

Shaina avoided him as much as possible. And as often as she could. A chord had struck in her the very first time that they had met. It was Vishwakarma Puja in the workshop here and he had come to inaugurate the function. A small crowd waited patiently as the RD (Regional Director Finance) Indian Oil Coporation, Mr. Vivek Chandra stepped out of his chauffeur driven car and turned right and left, cordially accepting the greetings of the people. Shaina knew she was looking good. Just a sari and a bit of jewelry was all she needed to make an impact. She’d already received a compliment or two as she was coming with her husband to attend the puja of the company where the latter worked and was posted in this far away small town now. Later she was to realise she would never forget the date 17th September 1997. 

Shaina’s heart went pit-a-pat when her husband formally introduced her. Mr. Chandra acknowleged her greetings as she bent in a “namaste”. Eyes twinkling and a little smile playing on his lips, he liked what he saw. His suave personality, sonorous voice and a slight swag with which he walked made up for his medium height. At the back of her mind Shaina knew, in her bones it maybe very difficult for her to resist his advance, if he made one. Before this meeting she had heard a lot about him. Her husband Sagar Sen had praised him sky high. Being the highest ranking executive of the company in this far flung spot, it was his privilege to be invited to any function or occasion that was held there.

What was happening to her, she wondered. Married with two children, she was in her happy home with her husband. There was no chance of anything going wrong. They compare women with water. You pour it into any kind of vessel and it has taken the shape of that vessel with ease, in a trice. There is no doubt of adjustment as if they were so made, to fit in anywhere with anyone. So how was it now that her thoughts were arrested- or drifting- sometimes without even her permission.

She would save herself from any complication, she always thought. So if they were to go to a party, she would either stay at the far end of the hall or avoid going to the party at all. She knew Mr. Chandra would surely be there. Inspite of that he was a vital, living presence, wherever she went. In the Ladies Club where Shaina had joined recently. Chandra saab was discussed and talked about. He was here all by himself in this posting as his family refused to come with him in this far away locale. There was a ‘Man Friday’ who took care of his home and cooking etc. along with running errands for him. In this small place everyone knows what is happening, in the town, Shaina realised. Before this they were posted in Bombay. A city where you may not know even your next door neighbour, is what the city is like. A book exhibition was on the cards and she had planned to visit it with Sagar. The day dawned and they came to browse on the books. Just as they had finished visiting the stalls and were about to leave Mr. Chandra’s jeep along with his two armed commandos drove up. A quick exchange of hi, hello and Shaina was happy to sit inside her car to go back home.

Time went by and Sagar had to be out of station for a long period of time. The ladies club had arranged for a winter mela at the grounds. The stalls were taken up by several groups of ladies, choosing what they would sell on the given day. Only one stall was left. Mrs. Barooah, the club president looked askance towards her and she agreed to take up the stall along with Mrs. Mushtakuddin. The latter, till now had still not signed up for any stall. They both decided to sell biryani and some whole Chicken Tandoori stuffed with dry fruits. Mrs. Mushtakuddin was a very good cook, Shaina realised very soon and the former took up the cooking at her place. The arrangements had to be made by Shaina, which she gladly took upon herself. On the winter mela evening, Shaina dressed up in a Mekhala Chador and people started visiting the stalls. Her stall was not over-crowded as the other stalls were. The guests started coming in one by one. Then came Mr. Chandra. Mr. Chandra visited the stalls and then finally came up to Shaina’s stall trying to behave as normal as possible, she started explaining the items that were available in her stall. She had heard that Mr. Chandra had spent some time in Kolkata and could speak Bengali very well. However she spoke in Hindi for the benefit of the others. The food was packed and his commandos carried the packets to his trekker. 

Next day in the mid morning, when she least expected it, the intercom phone rang. It was Mr. Chandra. “Tomake kaal gorgeous dekhachchilo!” Shaina was flustered to hear this. They got talking and he told her about how she had been avoiding him deliberately. He had noticed this pretty well. They hung up after a while, but Shaina knew that they would speak again. And speak again they did, almost everyday. “Ki korchchile?”, he would begin, and they would be chatting. Sagar’s absence was well made up, specially in the evenings. Shaina noted that Mr. Chandra had mastered the best part of conversation- listening. She would gush forth with so many things to tell all at the same time. The days passed and Sagar returned. Life was as usual. Once when they were out shopping and afterwards returned home, the phone was ringing- It was Mr. Chandra. Sagar was amused to see that she was talking away with him so well. A year went by and another six months. The millenium year had arrived. 

The Ladies Club members by this time had got to know that Shaina could speak well and delivered speeches, on special occasions. On the Women’s Day, 8th of March, she addressed the ladies and they admired her speaking so well on stage. The most important function- the millennium year program- drew near and by now lot of preparations were going on. A cultural program was chalked out and Shaina was presenting the program. All the guests were to be honoured with a gamosa and an orchid each, true to Assamese tradition. The guests had arrived except Mr. Chandra. The program began as it was already time. After a few songs someone rushed to her to ask her to make the announcement of Mr. Chandra’s arrival. Shaina froze to hear the name. From the corner of her eye she saw him enter and take his seat. After she announced his name, designation etc., a ladies club member came and facilitated him. The program continued and was very well appreciated. After the national anthem, Shaina rushed back home as she wanted to avoid meeting someone. Later she came to know how everyone was looking for her. Next day Mr. Chandra explained how his trekker had broken down, and he reached only after the inauguration and after the program had begun. He liked the program and the presenter immensely in fact some people were asking him who the presenter was. 

As the days went by, Shaina found herself thinking more of the RD than not. Once she phoned up at his office and an OS (office superintendent) picked up the call. The RD had a chartered helicopter for himself to visit certain sites and he was on one of those trips, the OS said after finding out all about Shaina. Since the ULFA incident, a few years back security was beefed up and was of top most priority, Shaina found out. Restlessly she spent the afternoon and called him up at 4pm. This time round he was busy in a meeting. “True love is irresistible”, she had read somewhere she remembered. The song

Dono ke dil hai, Majboor pyaar se by Jagjit Singh, came to her mind. Even in the night she thought, he was standing beside the bed, and actually lifted the mosquito net to check!

Mr. Chandra’s closeness with the family group grew and one day he invited Sagar to come over to his place with his family. He lived in a beautiful bungalow in Nazira, a few kilometres away from where the Sen’s resided. Shaina dressed carefully, yet simply, for the visit to his place. It was a casual evening out, yet why did she feel nervous and jittery she wondered. 

Terror stalked the streets and fear lurked the corners, Shaina noted when they reached Nazira in the evening. Darkness set in so early in this most eastern part of the country. After the extremist incident in which a company official was killed, people took a lot of care not to be seen out, specially after it turned dark. Mr. Chandra was only too happy to welcome them and his Man Friday took care of the guests very well. As they were leaving Shaina looked him up and down and said cryptically, “Thanks, for everything.” Mr. Chandra smiled and nodded. He was at least 12 years older to her but age never came in between their relationship. 

One evening he called up as Shaina and her whole family were in the drawing room. As he showered loving words and she blushed, Sagar was watching. After some time when Shaina turned to look at him, Sagar had a plaintive look in his eyes. “Like a dog about to be whipped”, Shaina surmised. Was he guessing that something was cooking between them? Thank heavens for Graham Bell, one who invented the phone she thought. On some pretext she concluded the conversation that night. Shaina realised she was a free person when she had come here. Now, she was free no more. She was engulfed all the time with the thoughts of someone. Soon enough the month of April came. The Rongila Bihu festival took place with great fervour filling all with delight. Shaina remembered the line, “April is the cruelest month”, from a poem she had read a long time back. The transfer orders were being prepared and Sagar had opted to go back to Bombay where they stayed previously. From a  colleague, Sagar learnt that Mr. Chandra had personally enquired about Mr. Sen’s next posting. It was in Bhuj, Gujarat. Shaina decided to go to Bombay as they had their flat there and it would enable her children’s studies to go on undisturbed. So that meant Sagar had to go to Bhuj and join only when someone came to relieve him here at his present place of posting. The time came when Shaina and her children had to go by themselves as Sagar had to stay on for some more time.

The flight to Bombay was from Dibrugarh via Delhi and would take a long time. The Delhi stop itself was for 6hours. The drive to Dibrugarh Airport was 60kms from their colony. They reached Delhi airport at the expected time.

Settling her children she went to the phone booth to make a call. “Missing you, Missing you”. Mr. Chandra was shattered to hear where she was calling from. After they had reached Bombay and settled, a few days later Sagar accompanied them. He would be in Bhuj from Monday to Friday and come only in the weekends. Shaina joined the MNC where she was working earlier. Things went by as usual till a neighbour called her as there was along distance call for her. Shaina remembered having given the number to Mr. Chandra as their own phone line would take some time to be set up.

“Oh god, why did we ever meet”, Shaina thought almost loudly. Chandra saab was helplessly, frustratingly lonely without her. With no family to alleviate his anguish, he had no support to relieve his present painfully lonesome situation. In the weekends he played golf, but that was all. A realization dawned on her, 

You don’t live with just someone who you like but who you can’t live without.

They were sailing in the same boat. This thought saddened her endlessly. She ran back to her flat and cried hard into her pillow.

Whenever she was alone she would cry, sometimes even loudly. Once when she was with Sagar, he looked at her unable to decipher her subdued moaning. A man of few words, Sagar refrained from asking her any embarrassing questions. After a few days, Mr. Chandra was coming for a board meeting to Bombay and was put up in JW Marriott, Juhu, where they could meet. Shaina dressed up well and took a taxi. “Juhu Beach”, she told the driver and stepped out near Palm Grove Hotel. She walked up to the beach front. The sea-side always filled her up with a sense of freedom in its vast openness. After a while she traced her steps back and sat in a sofa in the lounge of the seven star JW Marriot Hotel. 

The 15 minute wait for Chandra saab was insufferable. Finally he arrived. They were only so happy to see each other. They chatted for a while. He was too matured to let her know about his sorrow or how he missed her chatter, Shaina observed. There was a tacit understanding between them. They would never discuss their personal matter openly. It was as if they were both walking along a pitch dark road when a truck came up unexpectedly. Both were for a few seconds bathed in its powerful headlight, blinded almost for a while. The darkness increased tenfold on its departure. Both knew that the other felt the same way and this was the consoling part of it. “Bye Chandra Saab”, Shaina thought as she left him smiling at the entrance of the hotel who was waving her a goodbye.  

4 thoughts on “THE ELUSIVE ORCHID

  1. Characters , emotions, events are thoughtfully depicted and well knitted in this nostalgic fiction.
    Roshmila : good work “ stitched heart”
    Thanks,
    Pinaki

  2. After a long time it is good to read something ‘straight from the heart”.
    As always, u have successfully attempted to express complicate relationships tacitly. I like that style of yours…👌👌👍
    Roshmila has proved yet once again how talented she is…keep doing the creative work… God bless you dear…👋

  3. well , well , well
    wow ,superb ,

    its like —-
    “You both sat on a bench saying nothing , but when u get up , you both feel , you had the best conversation of life time ”
    “Radhe Radhe “

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