Tring, tring…the phone rang. The phone’s ring had an annoying creaking metallic sound of yester-generation.
“Hello, is it Rachit Gupta?”
“This is Jes.” The voice on the other side of the line said.
“Oh! Oh yes, Jes. Why do you sound so serious?”
“Meet me as soon as you can.” She sounded business.
“Is your mother alright?”Rachit had an obvious sense of anxiety brimming in his voice.
“Yes!” Jes emphasized and then added very calculatedly, “It’s not only about her this time. It’s also about us.”
A pause followed.
Alright. Evening that will be?”
“Cool!” And with a swift movement of her arms she disconnected the phone.
On a rainy day Jes sat in the balcony watching the raindrops drip on her palm.
Jes kept retreating to her reverie.
She had a dream of Mr. Gupta last night and it kept coming back to her. When she woke up in the morning, she felt relieved, but that relief was momentary and she started worrying again.
A colony of ant was hurrying beside her in a line, keeping close to the part of the wall that was still dry. She imagined clutching one of the raindrops in midair and swiftly climbing to the sky and feel powerful and in charge.
In the dream last night, she saw herself standing beside her mother as Mr. Gupta talked to her. Strangely, he was looking at her and talking to her mother.
“Why don’t you come to see me these days?” Mr. Gupta seemed to ask her mother with an added sweetness in his voice. She was sitting with him with her head ducked in to avoid his gaze in the dream.
She kept quiet. Mr. Gupta nudged her by prodding his finger in her shoulder. “It has been raining Rachit, that’s why” she gave a hurried and timid reply.
“And yesterday?” Mr. Gupta’s voice seemed to be getting bolder.
“It was so cloudy. I thought it would start raining any moment.”
“Okay. Listen,Sunny and Cloudy were two people. Now, you love Cloudy and hate Sunny. Now tell me why, why is it so?” shouted Mr. Gupta and then fter a second resumed himself and began stroking Jes’ hair as she stood beside them. Her mother thought for a moment and then replied, “That’s because I love it when Cloudy showers his love but when it is Sunny, it’s unpleasant and I find myself waiting for Cloudy again. ” Mr. Gupta stooped a little and turned Jes’ face towards her.
Mr. Gupta wore a face which changed expressions very swiftly. In the dream, when the shimmery colorful cellophane papers that Jes’ father had hung from the window danced with the wind and reflected on Mrs. Gupta’s face, he looked like a monster this second and a dragon that second.
“Sweetie, Cloudy will be murdered by Sunny tomorrow. I will take you to his grave. ” Mrs. Gupta had a sly smile on his face as he mustered Jes’ cheeks between his two fingers and laughed devilishly and she felt disgusted.
It was with this sensation that she forced herself out of the dream.
Jes peered from the balcony into the rain and tried to wash the touch of Mr. Gupta off her cheek as if his touch in the dream had truly left an impression. She decided that she needed to do something. She had to intervene before it could get worse. She stood unmoved in the balcony for some minutes and then went in to ring up Rachit fixing an urgent meeting with him.
On a rainy day six days ago, Jes entered the room trying to duck her head out of the raincoat hood. Mr. Gupta set her eyes on her little fragile figure wrapped in a yellow raincoat. He had a desperate urge to gather the little girl in his arms. But then something came over him and he turned his gaze away from her. The strings of her hood were entangled with her hair which she was trying to sort out when she saw Mr. Gupta for the first time. He seemed so familiar to her and yet, she realized that she had never seen such a tall creature except her own father. Everything was just so intriguing about him, especially the expression that he wore. He had a towering personality which immediately captured Jes’ interest. She forgot about the hood and her hair in it and kept staring at him open-mouthed like a fool. His hands were toying around his professional camera that was kept on the table before them
“Hello kid! How are you?” the man said in an animated excited voice but could not conceal a hint of astonishment, more like a shock, from his face.
Jes was lost in the sound of his voice. It had a strange influence on her. A hundred thousand thoughts rushed inside her tiny skull and she couldn’t keep track of any of them. At last, she stammered as she gave away a small hello and a light smile.
He waved his hand to indicate that he wanted her to come to her.
He was sitting with his mother who had a serious grave expression on her face. She did not seem to notice me. Without looking at her, she introduced the man Rachit Gupta as her childhood friend.
He looked at the young girl more carefully once and then averted his attention towards her mother. He was trying to disentangle her hair from the strings and Jes did not resist. Jes suddenly grew conscious of the touch of Mr. Gupta’s finger on her cheek as it brushed gently against it. His gaze remained fixed towards her mother. The area below his eyes was wet as if he had cried recently. For a moment, it seemed to her that his chin shivered as if it would drop from his face any moment. He stood up and looked away from her for a moment and then took Jes’ hand in his as if asking him to escort her to the door as he prepared to leave. Her hand felt smooth, weak and tiny in his grip. When Mr. Gupta had turned towards her, the expression on his face had changed again. His eyes were no longer red and teary. His chin was firmly stuck to his face and he was smiling. Jes wasn’t sure if she had seen him any different a moment ago.
The expression on Mr. Gupta’s face changed as he turned towards her mother again. Jes kept looking at him and noticed the change in his expression but never understood it until the day she met him again.
After a minute, the expression had vanished but continued gazing at her mother. He said, “Ghalib once said Jes:
“Tum jaano tumko gaiir se jo rasm-o-raah ho
Mujhko bhi puchte raho to kya gunnah ho”
Mr.Gupta then laughed out in a way which seemed hollow and artificial. “Yes. Ofcourse” as if he had forgotten something and then said, “Come let’s go” to Jes.
Jes brought him to the door all this while thinking so much about Mr. Gupta that she forgot her mother.
Later that evening the phone rang. Jes picked the phone before it could stop ringing.
The voice from the other end was Mr. Gupta’s. She knew it very well even though she had only seen and talked him today for the first time. It was a very pleasant and yet a very commanding voice. Jes faltered again but gathered herself well on time before she could embarrass herself again.
“How are you darling?”
“I’m fine. How are you?”
Jes imagined him smiling as he had when he was walking with her to her home in the afternoon.
“And how’s mother?”
“She is in her room.” Jes kept gazing at the further end of the wall trying to imagine Mr. Gupta’s face as he must have held the receiver in his hand.
“Can I talk to her, Jes?”
“Yes-yes. Just a minute” Jes removed the receiver from her face and shouted, “Mommy! Mr. Gupta’s phone. Pick.” She heard her mother picking the phone on the parallel line but, she was so enamored by Mr. Gupta’s voice that she forgot to keep the receiver.
He said in his slightly husky honeyed tone,
“Kabhi neki bhi jo uske ji me gar aa jaye hai mujhse
Zafayein karke apni yaad sharma jaye hai mujhse”
(It’s not that
She has not kind thoughts
When the past
And she recalls
She shies away
“That’s Ghalib again, isn’t it?” The voice of her mother was strangely animated.
“Yes!” Mr. Gupta’s voice was emphatic this time matching the energy of her mother’s response.
“You don’t mean to say these lines to me, isn’t it?”
“You have got me wrong, man. It was never like that. You’re misinterpreting me. I am not shying away from you. I just don’t like you enough to indulge with you.”
“But, you liked me once.” Mr. Gupta’s voice was weak this time.
“Yes, I did. But Rachit…”
“I have loved you, and only you. You know this. Please come back to me!” Rachit interrupted her before she could finish.
“Rachit, you’re not the person I want to be with. I have told you this over and over again. I have never wanted a romantic association with you, never. Not even once. Not then when we first met, not then when you proposed to me, not then when you kept trying and making the kind of request you are making now.”
“Ok! Forget the romance. It was only me, I agree. But, you liked being with me, didn’t you?”
“Yes.” The voice was low and helpless now.
“So, why aren’t you with me?” Rachit asked
“Because I chose to be with someone I love in every sense of that word, with the person I want to be with more than I have ever wanted to be with you.”
“But, you would have loved it, had you been with me.”
“No! I have long had that realization that I don’t like your kind. You are not following me Rachit. I don’t like you. It’s very simple, really. If you think I am dilly-dallying or saying such things only to hurt you or tease you, you are mistaken. I am, as I have always been, i.e. very clear in my mind. Now, you’re harassing me.”
Jes peeped into her mother’s room to catch a glimpse of her mother’s face. She looked tortured and tired.
In the evening when they met, Rachit had the same smile pasted on his face which reminded Jes of last time she had seen him. Jes returned the smile. They settled down.
She brought her face towards him so that she could have a better look at him. She started with firmness and conviction in her voice, “I know what you are upto Mr. Gupta.”
“What?” Rachit feigned innocence which, if Jes wouldn’t have been so convinced, could have mistook it for real.
“I heard your conversation with my mom on the phone.”
Rachit moved back on his chair.
“I want you to stop all this immediately.” She almost spitted out the words as if she was peculiarly disgusted to have to mouth them.
“You don’t understand kid. I can’t. I met your mom even before you were born.”
“I know. But, do you know that she loves me more than she has ever liked you?”
“So, the length of your acquaintance does not matter, you see, Mr. Gupta.”
“Meri kismet me ghum gar itna tha
Dil bhi rab kaii diye hote” He spoke with his stare suspended in loose air.
“That dreamy honeyed voice and these sweet talks aren’t going to take you anywhere. Their effect is no longer there.” Jes remained firm with her obstinate gaze piercing through his expression of self-pity.
She started again. “I am seventeen years old, if you don’t know. And my mom and my dad know each other before I happened. And in these years, my mother has never called you or taken initiative to rekindle the relationship. Isn’t it obvious, Mr. Gupta that she does not want it? It should be to me if I were you.”
Rachit had a tortured look on his face now. “The genius that you are, tell me what should I do.”
“Just leave her to me and to my dad.”
“Do you think it’s that easy?”
“Do you think I am bothered about your problems? I am here because I am worried about my mother and I don’t want you to harass her. I want you to stay away, will you?”
Rachit looked defeated as he rose from his chair and left silently.