After a long tiring commute, Vijay reached home at 11.15 pm.
As he sat in his chair , he untied the shoe laces and taking off his shoes, he massaged his weary feet.
“Vijay, there’s a letter for you on the cabinet”, said Akshata as she set his plate on the dining table.
Akshata had already had her dinner.
“I am going to sleep now.” and she proceeded towards their bedroom.
“And checkout the letter”, and added in the same breath, “keep the plate in the sink”
“Goodnight Akku”. After having his dinner Vijay plonked himself into his throne with the letter in hand.
Upon opening it he was intrigued, for scrawled across in bold letters there was only a one line message,
“SARAS BAUG, PUNE. 10th DECEMBER, 11.00 AM. BE THERE”. There was no senders name.
It made no sense. Why would anyone call him to Pune?
He had now lost all contact with Pune where he had done his Engineering.
So who was now calling him to Pune? And why Saras Baug, of all the places?
And then it dawned upon him suddenly. He decided then and there…
Vijay arrived in Pune from Mumbai by the Intercity Express which reached at 10 am. dot.
He was now at the entrance of Saras Baug, which is famous for the Ganpati temple inside surrounded by a garden and a man-made lake.
He reminisced on that far off day in the past. The previous night he had lost his virginity to her and early next morning she had dragged him to Saras Baug. She had taken charge of this shy boy who was younger to her by 5 years.
They bowed before the deity and then before the priest. She then put teeka on his forehead and proceeded to utter a silent prayer with her eyes closed.
Outside the temple, standing on the bridge leading to the temple, she was still holding his hands, leaning against him.
“You know what I prayed for? I prayed for our eternal togetherness. You will never leave me, Viju?”, it was more a command than a question.
All this was very puzzling to Vijay. He was basking in her attention right from the time he had shifted into her house as a PG but was not ready for commitments at such a young age.
She, Aradhana, stayed alone with her grandmother and desperately needed money for survival for which they had decided on renting out a room.
But, as Vijay discovered, she was desperate for something else. Something called love which manifested itself physically.
A young boy at that age, Vijay got sucked into it totally, his hormones triumphing over his other faculties.
The frequency of the morning ritual, a visit to Saras Baug, increased with time. But for him it remained a ritual, a tick mark activity, done only for continuation of their physical closeness.
And as it happens, his grades fell.
“Viju I think we must part. I don’t want your studies to suffer”, she said on one of their visits to the Baug.
Vijay looked at her for a long time before saying a mild, “Yes”.
Within a week he had found an alternate accommodation, and shifted out her place by the end of the month. She, being genuinely in love, had kept her distance so that his studies didn’t falter.
At the end of the course he visited her house again. As soon as she opened the door, she embraced him tightly. He remained cold.
After an awkward silence, he blurted , “I came to tell you, I am leaving tomorrow.”
“What about us?”, she asked, a smile playing on her face.
He hesitated, he was unsure how to break it to her.
Finally he said, “Aradhana, I am sorry to say this but I no longer have any feelings for you.”, he was being dishonest.
“And you are elder to me…I have only respect for you”
“Elder to you! It didn’t come to your mind when we spent all those nights together. Get out of here! I don’t want to see you again. Get out!”, and tears streaming down her face, she pushed him towards the door.
It was only curiosity that had brought Vijay to Pune. He climbed up the stairs and entered Saras Baug.
An emancipated frame was sitting on a bench inside. He would have ignored but as soon as he entered, “Viju”. He recognised instantly.
“What happened? Are you not well?”, he asked in disbelief.
“Forget about me. How are you doing Viju?”, she was almost inaudible.
He gave an account of his life and asked again, “But what happened to you Aradhana?”
Smiling wistfully she said, “I am being eaten up from inside Viju. Cancers are like that. They come into your life on a tiptoe, get a toehold and then consume you bit by bit. Slowly at first, then galloping away, dragging you towards the other side”
“After you left, I obsessed with your thoughts. I did not sleep hours on end, thinking how I could take revenge. But all this negativity affected me from inside. I never knew when hyper acidity developed into Stomach cancer.”
Holding her hands he knew today he had to listen.
“I needed closure Viju, so I called you. I don’t want to die a negative person. I wanted to see you, talk to you, remember our good time hence…”
By now tears were trickling down Vijay’s eyes as he felt her grip tighten on his palms. They sat in silence for a long time, hand in hand.
Perhaps it was the cool Pune air, Vijay suddenly started feeling cold.
“Let’s go home, Aradhana, I will leave you home”. Not a word escaped her mouth. She just sat with her eyes lowered.
He tried withdrawing his hands but the grip around them was tight. He tried pulling; her body fell towards him…