Disclaimer – “This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.”
A Tale of Inspiration and Love
“What’s wrong?”, I asked Aradhya.
She sat silent, her chin resting over her folded arms on her knees. Her scarf neatly tied to protect from the winter chill. Contemplation writ large over her face. It was the final year of college. We were sitting on a bench in front of Janu’s canteen in the lawn of our college in Hiranagar. The sun was shining bright, but her face wasn’t the usual; cheerful and radiant. If personality were an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about her. It was not the usual her that day, however.
“Is it something I have done?”, I asked again.
“No, it is not about you. It is not about anyone”, she said, turning her face away. “I just need some time with myself. Could you please leave me alone for a while?”
Humans are like onions, layers over layers of various kinds of emotions. The outermost is the defensive layer. After that, you will have to keep peeling until you reach the layer you want. However, judging by her pensive face, “Anything you need”, I said. I gently pressed on her shoulder and said, “Just know I am always here for you.” Then I left.
I was the nerd guy of the college, spending more time under the trees alone, reading books of all kinds, than in the class. I was the one person who could be bullied around by everyone, not that it affected me. I just deemed them not mature enough. I came from a rich affluent family. Aradhya, on the other hand, was a very intelligent girl. Bewitching eyes, round face, narrow eyebrows, fuller lips, medium height, lean, elegant gait, enticing hair and a shade of tan. She was the topper of her class and was the favourite of all teachers. Her father, however, was a drunkard and her family was burdened by economic adversities. Hardly could she find time to study amid household chores and occasionally helping her father on their farm. It had been a lean crop that season. Financial difficulties were mounting and so was the pressure on her to quit studies.
I attended an hour-long boring class of sociology, all the while thinking about what must be wrong.
“She doesn’t ever ask for ‘me’ time. Is this happening for the good or the worse?”
I was brought back to reality by the ringing bell marking the end of class. It was not the usual me. I don’t get worried very easily. That one time, it was different. Aradhya was definitely going through something. After the class, I went to check on her again. She hadn’t moved an inch. Right there she sat, looking towards the trees on the horizon, engrossed in thoughts.
I couldn’t help myself but go sit by her again. “Look if you don’t tell me what’s going on, I would not be able to…..”
“What’s life anyway for a girl?”, she interrupted me mid-sentence and said.
It was this question, and it dawned upon me. She was going through an existential crisis.
She continued. “A girl’s life is no more than just pleasing her male superiors. Girls are educated so that they get a good hand in marriage. In her own family, she has to compromise for the sake of her male siblings, while in her husband’s family, she compromises for the sake of everyone.”
I understood what the problem was. I listened to her patiently and when she had completed, I asked her. “What do you want to be in your life?”
She replied, “I just want to get a job so that I can be financially independent and escape marriage.”
As if on a cue, an idea came to my mind. I asked her to meet me outside Janu’s Canteen in five minutes and I left. I borrowed a bike from a friend and asked her to ride pillion with me without telling where we were going. She and I shared a bond of trust, so she hopped on. We left the college.
On the way, she kept asking repeatedly where we were going. I rode silently, shivering, having forgotten my jacket. She gave up asking finally. In about 15 minutes, we were at the Jasmergarh fort on the outskirts of Hiranagar town, at a distance of about five kilometres from our college. We got down from the bike and warmed ourselves up on the bike engine. Then I asked her to follow me on a trail inside the fort. After walking for over 200 metres through thick bushes and shrubs, we reached an old well in a dilapidated condition.
“Look inside, do you see water?”, I said.
“I am not going to go near this well. It is old and slippery, and doesn’t have any railings”, she said scared and genuinely so.
“See that branch of the Banyan tree overhead? Hold on to that. Here, let me help.”
Holding on to the branch she bent over, and surprisedly said, “The more I bend in, the deeper it seems.” I was expecting this response. “Yes! I can see the water. Yayyy.”
“Look Aradhya. Our consciousness is like this well. The more we look, the deeper it seems. This is because of our self-preservation instinct. It keeps telling us that unless we have walls, we are not safe. Thus we keep building them, unconsciously. But eventually, after uncovering all the sheaths shielding your mind, you reach the truth about what you want. It is like the water at the bottom of the well.”
“But you see Anukalp, I am not lucky like you. I have a shitty family, I am not financially sound and my future seems hopeless to me”, said Aradhya.
“Luck, my dear, is the marriage of preparation with opportunity. No one in this world has a life without problems. But there is a beauty to all the problems in your life, you choose which struggles to make, the struggles that will make you happy. Most people don’t know what they want but they will eventually have to choose. Life is all about choices. One’s destiny unfolds according to the choices one makes. It makes sense to choose today when you have the options than tomorrow when you are forced to accept what’s given to you.”
“Being born in a poor family was not your fault, having a drunkard father is not your fault, but it is your responsibility now. Responsibility is nothing but believing that you have the ability to respond.”
“But why does God have to put me through so much?”, interrupted Aradhya.
I answered thus. “God doesn’t make the choice in that. You do. God applies filters in the selection of the best humans for the best gifts that he wants to award. These filters come in the form of obstacles. When people give up in the face of obstacles, God is happy.”
“God is happy to see us give up? Why would you say that? Isn’t God supposed to be our friend?”, she said bewildered.
I continued. “God helps those who help themselves. God is now happy because he has eliminated those who don’t deserve the best that he has in store. Obstacles are nothing more than tests designed to measure how seriously you want the rewards that your ambitions seek. We humans have to prove ourselves worthy of what God has in store for us. The lesser your struggle, the quicker you accept defeat in the face of obstacles, the less worthy God deems you, and rewards you accordingly.”
“When I asked you what you want to be in your life, you made a choice for yourself that will get you rid of an immediate problem. You chose what you ‘have to’. Remember; never do anything because you have to. The only reason to do something is that you want to and because you know it is the right thing for you to do. Unfortunately, most human beings tend to label their compulsions, their limitations as their choices. You will have to distance yourself from the compulsiveness of your genetic information, only then will life be unburdened and incredibly effortless. Do not let the hero in your soul perish in lonely frustration for the life you deserved and have never been able to reach.”
I could see the cheerfulness returning to her face. The radiance coming back. She spoke as if out of enlightenment, “I need to take things in my hands, rather than letting the external circumstances dictate what I do.”
“Let’s go back, lest we should be late”, she said.
“Not before we have paid obeisance to the ‘fort goddess’ Kali”, I said. (Kile Wali Mata)
We paid obeisance to the ‘fort goddess’. It is always important to be thankful for what you have in life, every single day. Not all people have had the advantages that you have.
The temple priest gave us different blessings. To her, he said, “Yashasvi bhavah”, meaning I bless you to be successful. To me, he said, “Ayushmaan Bhavah”, meaning I bless you with a long life. I couldn’t understand why, until later in my life.
“I give you a mantra”, the temple priest said, “that a great thinker once gave to me. Say this to yourself every day. ‘Sure I am that this day we are masters of our fate, that the task which has been set before us is not above our strength, that its pangs and toils are not beyond my endurance’. This is not the usual Sanskrit verse that you expect from a priest but this will go a long way in transforming your lives.”
Then we left back for college.
And so with the sun changing its path in the sky and trees bursting with leaves, just as things grow in fast movies, I could sense that life for her was beginning over again with the spring. There was a different conviction in her everyday tasks now. But after a couple of days, I couldn’t find her in college. I didn’t see Aradhya around for a month or so. I was worried. She wouldn’t even return my calls.
Then one day I spotted her in college. I waved at her from a distance and went running to her.
“Heyy! How are you? Where were you? Why weren’t you returning my calls? Is everything alright at home?”, I said panting.
“Hold on! Hold on! Catch your breath.”
Then after a few seconds, she said with glowing eyes, “Anukalp, you made me raise some serious questions to myself. I have been contemplating what you said, for the entire last month. Now I know what I want to be in my life.”
“What is it?”, I asked.
“Oh! You will know eventually. Let’s have coffee at Janu’s”, she replied.
I let her enjoy the dramatic sentence that she had just said. I didn’t ask her again.
If you have not figured out by now, I loved her and I have always believed she loved me too. I always wanted to confess my love to her. Not a day passed when I didn’t want to do that. But then was not the right time. It was the time to let her be on her path to success. Whatever she chose, I didn’t want to be a distraction. After all, what is love if it is not unconditional.
Aradhya got selected for Fullbright-Nehru Master’s fellowship and enrolled at Stanford University in the US. We decided to stay in touch. We didn’t. Meanwhile, I went on to become a banker. I shifted to Delhi, carrying my love for her inside me. ‘It is love if it is unconditional, otherwise its just a business deal.’ Its been five years since that trip to Jasmergarh fort. I still read books. The nerd inside me is still alive. Books remind me of her.
“Oh, how, indeed, could I tell them that for thee I wait, and that thou hast promised to come.” (Rabindranath Tagore)
I visit my favourite book shop in Delhi, Om book shop in Select Citywalk Mall, every week. The owner, Mr. Boscoe, knows me well as a regular. On my last visit, he came over to me and said “Mr. Anukalp, we received a book titled in your name yesterday. Would you like to take a look?”
Excitedly, I said, “Yes uncle, why not!” He fetched the book for me and handed it over.
The title read, “Anukalp: My Panacea”. Author – Aradhya Sharma.
With tears in my eyes, I said to myself, “She wanted to be a writer.”
Then I decided to return to Jasmergarh fort and read it under the shade of the Banyan tree by the old well.
Sourav Kumar Sharma