This is the last part of a series
Click here for Part 3
Disclaimer: This is an absolute work of fiction.
A/N: All’s well that ends well! Like always, I considered splitting the chapter into two given it’s length, but decided it would break the flow. My utter gratefulness to all who have survived this far…or managed to get by 🙃 Happy reading, and I’ll meet you at the finishing line!
Dadi and uncle conversed only for a minute, for it had taken no less than a second for anyone of us to analyse the background story, both uncle’s letter’s, and our running’s, and they exchanged their smiles and thanks and blessings, yet to my frantic mind, the short minute seemed no less than an eternity. Their words made no sense, it felt as if they were underwater, their voices deep and shallow; their faces blurred into oblivion. Nothing made sense. Absolutely nothing. I held my head for a few seconds to steady myself. I knew I was truly overreacting- after all, he could be just a platform away, humming a lilting tune, hands in his pocket, chewing on an old piece of gum, a habit that appeared to me as unhealthy as it was unhygienic and gross. Yet while my brain seemed to completely comprehend the logic of his being or not being there, my heart wouldn’t listen. It felt stuck, as if it knew something was wrong. It fell into my stomach.
I felt helpless yet again. The day of the phone call, although it wasn’t so, I felt like I had lost my father. And today, as I saw no sign of Chetan on the red bricks that paved the station throughout, I felt no less pain than when a sister loses a brother. But what could I do? After all, the few moments when he had felt like my sibling, he to me was the brother I never had. And I would never have. Whether I accepted it now, or later, he had left me. I needed to face it. Admit it. To no other than myself, and that was harder than any feat in the world.
I had spent only two months in his presence, which was subtly annoying as it was mightily joyful, a mere few weeks since we had started conversing civilly, just a few days since he had trusted me enough to allow me a share of the vast collection of candies in his pocket, and only a few hours since I’d last heard his voice. Yet, I felt the hurt that I would’ve felt after a lifetime of knowing him. Or perhaps, I didn’t. If that was the case, I didn’t want to know him for a lifetime either- if a few months could break me like this, I could think little of what decades would do to me.
Goodbye, Anu, the words repeated themselves in my mind over and over again, from the phone call that I had to endure a month or two back- I couldn’t be sure, time was going by too fast. I had come to the station in the morning, and yet, the afternoon Sun had already appeared, peeping from behind the very few trees in the station. Now as I stood on the platform, what difference was there to the situation? Another member of my family seemed to be leaving me. This isn’t the time, I told my mind each time the painful thought sprouted up like a weed amongst a plantation of daisies- unwelcome, frightening and out of place- This isn’t the time. Yet, my mind did not listen. It didn’t want to. For the mind and the brain are two different things, and my mind knew something wasn’t right, and no logic from the brain could convince it otherwise. I knew it was useless to complain and fret or shed tears, my father going away had taught me that- my crying had neither guaranteed his safety, given me a few days nor brought him back, and thus, the instance had taught me well. I didn’t cry. I couldn’t. Even my tears seemed to have deserted me. My feet made their way all across the railway station, but to no avail.
When I was little and used to come visit Delhi to visit my father, to see his beaming smile, to feel his warm presence, each time, I’d ask him to take me to the railway station to play, for it was any child’s dream playground: the metal poles, the paved ground, the tracks filled with little stones, a view of dusty tin at the top. The rumbling wheels and quaking grounds made it all the more exhilarating- like the hug of my father, perfumed by a tinge of the smell his uniform seemed to carry- it smelt of love, of warmth, of happiness. It smelt of him, of safety and of security. Most of all, though, it smelt, of India a unique, wonderful smell. My father would never let me come to the station, though. Being the logical man he was, he obviously told me the reason, although at the time, my undeveloped my mind couldn’t comprehend it.
‘It’s illegal, you can’t be there without a purpose, Anu.’ The way he said my name was something no one could ever replicate. It was too beautiful to copy.
‘Why, papa?’ My voice was quite squeaky at the time. Dadi said I used to sound like a little chick. Her reference, I realised, was that of a quacking duck, although she would not admit it in spite of being confronted several times.
He ranted on and on about public and government properties yet all that remained in my innocent thoughts was, I must not trouble my father, therefore, I will not go. Simple as that. My father’s sacrifices and troubles for me had taught me a lesson- everything refused for has a reason, and often a grave one at that.
I was six at the time, now I was thirteen, yet for me, there remained no clear answer to whether I was indeed illegally spending my time at the railway station, and I hadn’t seen the proof of it, either. I had easily spent the last two months here without a problem, without being thrown into jail, and I couldn’t see what harm another evening would do. Yet, spending it here would be of no use, either. It was clear- Chetan had left. I didn’t leave any loose ends, though, and nor did he. And nor was he planning to as he would leave Delhi soon. Uncle told me he was packing away for Rajasthan at home, he didn’t feel like going to the station today. ‘It will make him miss Delhi, he says, and he doesn’t want that,’ said his father. While it made no sense, it wasn’t nonsense, either. I could understand him. The pain of parting- I was used to it. And Chetan just gave me more experience. The brother I never had had indeed proved it- I would never have a brother. I imagined him tucking away a rolled up pair of purple socks into the corner of a suitcase. Or perhaps, he loved them too much so he would wear them. Only he knew about what he would do. He hadn’t bothered to grace me with his presence before leaving, after all. I didn’t know whether to be angry, sad or disappointed. Anyway, how did it matter? It wasn’t like he’d come back, no matter what my thoughts. I felt miserable.
Soon, as it washed off and I faced reality, I was feeling empty, yet again. For someone who was the star performer of class, which no longer existed in my life, for I had taken a year’s leave from school given my father’s absence and it’s effect on me, and whose head was filled with wise thoughts, I didn’t know what to think, what to say, or what to do. I simply went to whatever place my feet took me to. And somehow, to my heart’s further regret, my feet carried me away from the bustle of the Delhi station to a forlorn bench. My bench. His bench. Our bench. The one smack dab in the middle of the platform. The useless one that had a use for a few months and as for now, had become useless once more, which was the case with my tears- they were useless, they served no purpose, they made no dent on the universe.
It appeared blank, empty, it was no longer to me a memory of our sibling moments and cat fights but a lonely bench on the platform of a station in Delhi. The bench, however, wasn’t as empty as my mind, as blank and as white. There was still a crumpled paper lying on it. It reminded me even more of Chetan and his messy attitude. For a few minutes, I stared at it. I didn’t want to do anything, I didn’t know what to, after all. But it seemed my hands did, for they picked up the rolled up paper and opened it in front of my eyes. And this time, I could not help but cry, and a lone tear skidded down my cheek, forming a lump in my throat.
It was a rough, hand drawn map of India and Pakistan. With Rajasthan marked on it. And near the dot labelled Rajasthan, were two roughly, or rather, very roughly drawn initials. C.G. G must be the starting letter of his surname. I sighed. I didn’t know his full name- there was no requirement. And, it seemed to not just me, but also to him, since he hadn’t bothered to write the full thing- there wouldn’t be any requirement in the future, either.
Oh well, I thought. At least he didn’t leave without a goodbye.
What does leave often returns, yet one must stress on the word often. Not always. But a large part of my heart that had left me came along with me back to Haridwar, and I couldn’t be happier about it, although it wasn’t under the best circumstances. Six months later, as I sat in the Shatabdi, this time, I was the one staring out the window, while dadi was fast asleep, perhaps dreaming some dream. To me, the station from the window seemed a beautiful place now. It had taught me so much. Or perhaps it hadn’t, and all the positivity and wisdom was merely a result of the warm presence of the man beside me, the one who had dealt with all of my tantrums, the one who had taught me all about me, himself and all around me. A man kind, compassionate, gentle, yet strong. My father.
It almost seemed surreal, and for good cause, for it hurt too much to be the truth, or at least his wound did, not mental or emotional but physical. My father had been injured during the war, a bullet piercing his right arm, and he had to make his way home. At first, I didn’t know how to react- Was I to be happy that my father was home again, or was I to shed tears for his massive injury, that seemed to hurt as much as it looked? But I soon came to know, for my thoughts helped me out. I guess my wise self was returning, although somewhat slowly. After all, I told myself, Chetan used to say, the battle with time, emotions and parents is a one none can win.
After that one thought about remembering Chetan, I remembered another one every single time I thought about him- It was always going to be used to say with him. Never was it ever going to be says again, no matter how much I fervently prayed, cried or sighed.
After all, six months had passed. So much had happened in two months when I had met him, who said Chetan couldn’t forget me in six, he had plenty of time to do it, anyway. The thought hurt, but I couldn’t do anything about it. Truth hurts. He would eventually forget me and I knew it.
I couldn’t forget him though, ever, and I realised it as I stared at the mantel of the drawing room, where beside my mother’s beautiful picture stood a small idol of Krishna, with a Rakhi just as beautiful on his wrist, and he smiled at me ever so benevolently. Why had I tied a rakhi on him, some people would ask.
For if there was a lookalike of Krishna anywhere in Earth, it was Chetan. And whether he liked it, or I did, or I did not or he didn’t, either of us or neither of us, with some strange bond, we had become siblings and so we were to be, till the end of time. I only hoped the rakhi would do the job of keeping my brother safe. For that was all I needed to hear. That Chetan was safe. If he was going to meet me next with a bullet in him, on the verge of dying at the border, it was better he didn’t meet me at all.
As I’d stared out of the windows of the Shatabdi, subtly clouded by the mist, I thought I was leaving Delhi and its memories, pleasant and unpleasant behind me for good. For a new, fresh start in my old city.
But boy, was I wrong. For soon someone with blood like mine flowing in their veins would make their way to Delhi in every few months. Although the people who were coming mattered to me, a lot, blood didn’t really matter, for family could be found anywhere. All of us Indians were brothers and sisters. Just like Chetan and I were. And little did I know, we would continue to be. And this time, with the same blood, for everyone in the army shares the same liquid flowing through them.
There was an echoing bang as a bullet whizzed out from the end of my gun and within microseconds, left a mark on the targets in front of me. A scorching black dot proved to me that I had fired exactly at the spot where I was to. I grinned to myself, a grin that had improved over the years, a grin that was no longer childish but that of an adult, partly with the joy of having become much better at shooting, partly because dadi and papa would soon arrive in Delhi, and also because I knew a voice would soon echo across the room, causing me to smile the same smile that I had when I was twelve and in grief and agony, for I had received a phone call that had shattered me. It was a voice that I liked, though. It was once that had become deep over the years, it was one that I’d first heard at the station in Delhi.
“Captain Sharma. Good to see you, you seemed to have actually become smarter.” A chuckle followed and I smirked. At least he had accepted it. “More skilled too, may I add. Although I cannot say much about you yourself, you seem as petty as your comments at the railway station.’ He laughed. His laugh was what aroused me. I beamed with joy. I was bursting at this point.
I turned around and shrieked with happiness. I had to even ignore his snarky comments, I was too excited by his presence. “Bhaiya!” I cupped my mouth, bursting with joy to see Chetan behind me. He had most certainly changed a lot in the last seven years, even more than I had, and I seemed to have changed a lot as well. His voice was a raspy one much like that of my father’s and also his father, his skin darker, with all the training in the sun perhaps. But he seemed as much a Krishna now as ever, with his subtle smile, dark eyes, gleaming with intriguing magic.
“It’s Colonel Gaur to you, Anu. After all, you are only a captain. Ah, the days when I thought you were smarter than me, ignoramus. The days I couldn’t read a map!” He laughed, and I rolled my eyes, but it was mere pretence. I was too happy to be mad at him, and that was saying something, for I hardly needed an excuse to be mad at him.
‘His presence brings out the worst in you,’ his fellow colleagues had explained as they narrated the story of his having played a prank on them during their training.
“Dadi is coming, colonel. Shall we make our way to the station?” I shook his hand sarcastically, and my fingers could feel on his wrist a Rakhi that was as beautiful as the picture of my mother on my mantel. My heart nearly melted. He still hadn’t removed it. And that meant a lot, considering it was no longer too pretty having survived seven long years.
“Yes, captain, indeed we shall.” We gave each other solem stares as we saluted each other. It lasted no longer than a few seconds, though. We soon burst into laughter. We were both so happy to have met again, after the gap of almost an year, which felt like 365 years more than days.
I stared at him, slightly amused, but also greatly fascinated and inspired. While Chetan was like Krishna, while he was like an imp and a monkey, he had his solemn nature as well, although it rarely bubbled to the surface in my presence. The other officers, though, were scared of his quick temper at times. He was truly diverse. He was much like India- each time I talked to him, he never ceased to surprise me.
We made our way through the throngs of soldiers like us in the corridors of the building, and many of them, while they saluted me, most saluted my brother- after all, he was a colonel. I felt quite tiny, too, beside his tall, huge form.
I felt like a princess, just as I used to when I used to drink lemonade when I’d meet my father at a restaurant in Delhi, and all around him, officers and people would salute him. Those times, I was in my father’s shelter, and I would feel secure. As for now, circumstances had changed….
I felt the same safety in my brother’s one. A rakhi brother indeed, but a brother all the same.
A/N: Missed me? 🙃
Thank you so so much for reading this series! It’s my first time writing something in parts, so please excuse the long long chapters, I promise I’ll try and do better next time. That being said, I’m so grateful to you, all the more because since my new school term started, I hardly have time to comment on other posts, and it makes me feel really guilty. I promise I will try to improve! Much love and utmost grafetulness to each one of you out there. Thank you! Thank you again. Jai Sri Hari!
To be continued…(Just kidding…)
STAY HAPPY FOREVER!