Arun was very calm. That was what broke her. She screamed at him, she yelled, she reasoned, she cried and she begged. They had promised each other forever. How could it be over?
She sat on her bed in her hostel room and looked at photographs. He'll come back to me, she said. She wept once more. She wept for a month.
Her friends dragged her to parties, movies and cricket matches, and set her up with other guys. "You need to get over him." "No," she said. They gave up.
When Radhika went home with a bad report card, she told her parents she didn't want to go back to college. Pati said, "Why don't you come and live with me for a while?"
"I'll never forget him," she said, lying in Pati's lap. Pati merely ran her hand over Radhika's head. It had been two months since she had moved into Pati's house.
She had spent the first few weeks lying in bed till late or moping around. Pati didn't complain or ask any questions. Then she shrugged off her lethargy and made herself useful around the house.
The days shaped themselves into a soothing routine. Thangaraj thatha dropped in often. He lived alone next door. He liked to come over and talk to Pati. Now he found a new audience in Radhika.
"As a little boy," he reminisced, "I was always running away. I wanted to see the world. But I would come back whenever I got too hungry. I was 14 before I left for real. I landed in Calcutta. While stepping out of the train, I remember thinking to myself, 'The world is so big it never ends. I'm like a bird, free to go wherever the moment takes me.' I did all kinds of jobs, earned enough to get by, and wrote the occasional letter home.”
"So when did you decide to come back?"
"When I became old."
Radhika laughed. "How did you know you had become old?"
"Ah, you see, the young are restless in spirit. There is always something out there that calls to them. Then one day, they wake up and long for home. That's when they know they're no longer young. So I found my way back home."
"Do you have any regrets?"
"Regrets? Ah no. I've come full circle. If you're able to do that, you're blessed."
"Look at you go on," Pati admonished him as she walked out to the verandah, "this child doesn't have time for your useless meanderings."
Thatha chuckled, "Don't grudge an old man his indulgences. It's all he has."
Radhika and her grandmother stopped by at Ravi anna's cart to buy vegetables.
"Ah, I see your granddaughter is getting some sunshine these days. That's good, that's good… men like healthy girls. Anyway, it's time you got her married, you shouldn't leave these things too late."
Radhika laughed. "Maybe I don't want to get married, maybe I want to go see the world like Thangaraj thatha." Ravi anna hit his forehead with his palm. "You keep that senile old man away from this girl," he told Pati. "Putting silly ideas into her head. What does he know of life? He ran away. He didn't have anybody to think of but himself. If he had five brothers and sisters to take care of like I did, all his airy-fairy ideas would have evaporated in an instant."
"Wouldn't you have liked to visit new places and meet new people?"
"Why would I, I ask? Does a different sun shine on the rest of the world? Do other people not do the same things we do—eat, sleep and work to keep body and soul together? One should be content with what God has given you." He overturned the basket of tomatoes into Pati's bag.
Radhika told Pati, "Everyone has such a different opinion of life. Their dreams and desires, they’re all so different. What are we looking for? Are we all looking for the same thing? How do we know if we’re right or wrong?"
"Is there a right and wrong? I’m not sure. You make your choice and then put your trust in life."
"I used to think love was the only thing that made life worthwhile. But there are other things, aren’t there? I don’t know."
"Keep faith, my dear. Life is its own healer. It will take you where you should go.
"My first love was the daughter of my landlord. She was as fair as milk. She lived in the building opposite mine; I would see her everyday when she watered the plants in the balcony. Ah, she gave me a lot of sleepless nights, that one."
"Then what happened?" Radhika asked thatha.
"It was a grand romance," he chuckled, "all in my imagination. But I had many loves after that."
"Didn't you ever find the one person who is meant for you?"
Thatha titled his head a little, "You really think there is someone like that?
"I know so. And when you lose it, you've lost everything."
He shook his head a few times, "No, no, love is never that cruel. It keeps coming back in different forms. You never really lose it."
Radhika was drawing water from the well in the compound when Revathi walked in through the gate with a bucket of jasmine flowers in her hand. "We haven't seen you around for a long time," Radhika said. Revathi grinned widely, "You know how it is. There's so much to do, there's never enough time."
When Radhika brought out a vessel to collect the flowers, she noticed bruising on the side of Revathi's head. "What happened there?" she asked. "Oh, I am such a clumsy klutz," Revathi laughed, "What, so little flowers? Put lots of flowers on your hair girl, how will you impress your groom otherwise?"
Pati told her later that Revathi's husband had a drinking problem and would often beat her.
The next time Revathi came by, Radhika asked her, "Why don't you complain to the police." Revathi looked shocked. "What are you saying? He's my husband, and he only beats me when he's drunk. When he's sober, he's the most loving man you could ask for."
Ravi anna came over with the wedding invitation card. "It's such a good match. The boy has done his M.A and has a good government job. Now all my girls are settled, I can rest in peace."
Pati and he discussed the wedding arrangements. Radhika thought, "How easily he accepts that his daughter will be happy. And maybe she will be."
She asked Pati about Thatha. "Thangaraj thatha?" "No, my thatha."
"I was 15 when I got married to him. He was 17. We were both very shy. We hardly spoke to each other. Within a year, he fell ill."
"How did you manage?"
"I went back to my parent's place with your father. I worked in the fields. I made sure your father got a proper education and made a life for himself. When my parents died, your father bought me this house."
"Didn't you want to move to the city with us?"
"This is all I've ever known. What would I do there?"
"Don't you feel lonely? Or angry?"
"No, where was the time for loneliness? Everyday living itself takes up such a lot of time."
"Now, what? Like I said, this is all I've ever known. So I have nothing to cry or be angry about."
"It's funny how you can run around in circles and still end up in the same place," Thangaraj thatha said. "But, you see, the journey is important. How would this place have meaning otherwise?"
Radhika sat next to the window and pushed her hands out through the grill. Pati and Thangaraj thatha held her hands till the train started to move.
Love? Journey? Destiny? Acceptance?
"Memory," she thought," as she leaned back into her seat. "All life is memory. And through memory lost, we lose so much of ourselves, every minute of our lives. In the end, we're left with very little—only those wisps of remembrances that slip through the fingers with which we try to hold them.
"This too shall be forgotten someday, like I have forgotten Arun.”
She sat by the window near her cubicle with a glass of tea in her hand. A letter was folded and placed on top of an envelope. Thatha was gone. It was three years since she had seen him.
She had returned to finish college. After a couple of nondescript jobs, she was now working for a top IT company. Then she met Sameer. She was cautious, constantly trying to discover if there was a way to know for sure.
Sameer dropped her off at the airport. "I'm here for you."
She stood by the pyre and fished for memories of thatha and realised that some of them had already been erased. She looked at Pati; she was looking much older too. And calm.
"Maybe, it’s the imprint of memory,” Radhika said, as she and Pati walked back to the house. "Even if I forget everything about him, he's still a part of me, meeting him, and you, changed me, just like every person you meet changes you. Every place you visit. Every thing you do. Every truth you shape for yourself."
She lay in bed, looking up in the darkness. "There is no way to know for sure, not unless you make the choice and see for yourself." Life with Sameer would be what they made it. She would tell him tomorrow.