I am alive

Standing on the porch of her hotel, Shikha wonders about the tenacious mountains wrapped in blankets of fog, under the soft sun. The mountains are battered by the treacherous climate and natural calamities but their patient determination helps them to survive and reign. Shikha looks back at her life events, still gazing at the majestic mountains. Shikha reflects, “There is so much inspiration to draw from the mountains – life lessons in patience, perseverance, tenacity, resilience”. Her life had been the opposite of easy and she was merely 34. She had witnessed annihilation and had had to muster the courage to re-construct her life, joining the broken pieces again.

Shikha was the youngest of the three Gupta siblings, protected and pampered by all in the family . Shikha ‘s father had been the eldest brother in his extended joint family, providing for the huge family with the limited income of an honest government official. Shikha’s eldest brother Satish was now an established Chartered Accountant working with a reputed company and her elder sister Smita was a lecturer in English . Shikha was pursuing Chemical Engineering in a top college. Shikha and her siblings were exceptionally brilliant in academics, rising from anonymity to prominence by dint of merit, determination and hard work. They even managed to have much of their education funded with prestigious scholarships.

Smita and Shikha were too engrossed in their careers and studies to think about romantic relationships or marriage. Shikha was the talk of the neighborhood and college, with people comparing her to this or that Bollywood beauty. Satish’s friend Anant was no exception. To Anant however, shikha’s single-minded dedication towards her career was as fascinating as her radiant beauty. In contrast to Shikha, Anant would easily go unnoticed as far as looks was concerned, his only striking feature being his honest brown eyes. Anant was well-liked by all on account of his affable nature and calm disposition. He would admire Shikha silently, from a distance . Anant was caring and compassionate towards all, hence, his compassionate helpfulness for Shikha wasn’t conspicuous.

Shikha’s father’s volatile health conditions and her elder sister Smita’s marriageable age pronounced the verdict in favour of Smita’s marriage. Within six months of the first matrimonial advertisements, Smita“settled down” with a groom of her preference. Satish had to move to the United States for work . In satish’s and smita’s absence, Shikha’s responsibilities increased manifold. Anant kept in touch with satish’s family , even in his absence, helping them in every possible way. Anant was shikha’s advisor and confidante on her career and family related issues. Shikha found recruitment with a reputed company during her “campus placement”. However, she was posted in a different city. Satish had returned from the US just in time to be available for his parents when Shikha had to leave the nest.

Anant would keep in touch with Shikha, through letters and emails, bridging the geographical divide. Shikha always thought of Anant as his brother’s friend turned confidante who was always by her side in her difficult days. However, she had never imagined that Anant would be so much a part of her days in the new city , despite the hectic schedules, many transitions etc. She missed him and it surprised her because she had never found herself “lost in thoughts” through her school and college days . Shikha had always been a focused, ambitious, determined lady. Even the most handsome men had failed to distract her. Shikha wondered “ am I falling in love?” she visited home after one year and she had been dying to meet her family and Anant. Anant had proposed marriage to Shikha during her visit, confessing his love for her in unambiguous words, his long undivided admiration for her that no one knew about, not even her brother. Shikha had asked “would you still be the same person , would I still be allowed to be the same?” Anant had responded “always , for sure “.

Two years and many letters and emails later , Anant and Shikha got married . Anant was the most caring, sensitive and supportive husband in her history of time . He would wake her up with a morning tea and kiss her goodnight in their peaceful nest. Shikha was living the romance of her dreams . On weekends, Anant would cook for her and be her travel guide through the city. Around her birthday , Anant would surprise her with a getaway to Shikha’s favourite destinations. At the end of a stressful work day, Anant would hug her to calm her down and even happily put up with her occasional temper outbursts. He never kept a credit , debit account of his deeds. He just loved her as generously as a human could possibly do. For Shikha, Anant was still the confidante and guide that he had been through her rough days before marriage , only, he was now her lover too and a great one at that. She knew , her life wouldn’t have been so full without Anant, without his love.

A few years later , they welcomed an angelic princess to their abode, their beautiful daughter Sristi. Anant was the most patient and affectionate father that Shikha had ever come across . He would worry about Shikha ‘s postpartum recovery and make room for her rest by helping as much as he could . Shikha was so proud of Anant and knew Sristi would be the luckiest daughter ever with an affectionate and caring father like Anant. Even on resuming work after the end of her maternity leave, Anant had been the most patient and co-operative partner. Shikha had heard about fights and estrangement between husband and wife with the arrival of a baby but their bond had only grown stronger with Sristi. There was no blame-game for returning late from office , no irritation in Anant for having to wake up at night to bottle feed the baby or to change her diapers, there was only more love , more support and more consideration for Shikha and their child.

On that cold January morning , Shikha had woken up to pack extra food and snacks for Anant who was to go on a tour for one week. Shikha and Anant had never lived apart after marriage and it pained them both to imagine 7 days without each other . It was harder for Anant as he would have to part from not only his beloved wife but his darling daughter too. The 1.5 year old Sristi had cried while waving a good bye to her dear father, a strange co-incidence. Anant’s parents had come over to help Shikha out with the baby. Anant’s mother was much like Anant , loving and compassionate. The home, however, was so empty without Anant . Shikha couldn’t wait for Anant to return . Anant would message every now and then to fill in the void until that fateful night . Shikha had been returning from her office when she received a call from Anant’s colleague. Anant had met with an accident and was in a hospital . Shikha could feel her heart beating faster than ever before, her cold hands trembling , her mind numb with the distressing news. She kept praying for his safety and safe return . Three anxious and stressful hours later, she received the call from the same number again, hoping to heave a sigh of relief. Instead, Anant’s colleague requested to talk to another family member. With a blank expression on her face, Shikha looked at her mother-in-law as she disconnected the call. Anant’s mother hugged Shikha and pronounced “Anant is no more “.

There was a long pause of grief and disbelief before the tears started tearing the insides of her. She couldn’t imagine that Anant was gone forever, even before Sristi had learnt to utter the word “papa” with ease . Now , he would only be a name and a story for Sristi and a million precious memories for Shikha. It felt like a lie to her , life . what was life without the love of her life? She howled in their attached washroom hugging their honeymoon portrait and the memory of his brown eyes. Next day morning, her red bangles were taken off, her vermilion mercilessly wiped by the same cruel fate that had made her a woman without her husband. Shikha had become a recluse in the bed room. Her parents in law would take care of Sristi through the day. Shikha couldn’t bear to sit in the living room or the dining table that echoed with Anant’s words and love.

Shikha’s parents in law took care of her just like Anant would in her difficult days. However, nothing would inspire her to smile , not even her daughter Sristi . Sristi looked exactly like her father. Shikha would hug her and cry profusely, as she could see her Anant in Sristi. To Shikha, each day felt like a hundred days in Anant’s permanent absence. It had been 7 months since Anant’s loss but Shikha still hadn’t been able to get herself to join back work . Sristi had started going to play school but Shikha was bereft of all excitement or specks of happiness . she spent countless hours watching Anant smile in the photograph. She had no heart to talk to her family or friends. She was reluctant to even meet them . Shikha’s mother in law had been thinking about a counseling session at a clinic for Shikha when Disha Shikha’s best friend came on a surprise visit as a God-sent.

Disha had been Shikha’s childhood friend and had seen Anant and Shikha closely . That Anant’s sudden, untimely demise had traumatized and shattered Shikha saddened Disha deeply. She had seen the meaning of true ,unconditional love in shikha’s and Anant’s loving relationship. She knew ,even years of tears couldn’t wipe out the pain of loss of a love so pure and generous but she couldn’t bear to hear Shikha die each day in her empty bedroom . Shikha had to learn to live for herself and for her daughter Sristi . Disha held shikha’s cold
Palm tight and told her “ Shikha , I know how very broken you feel but dear , you would have to start living again . Start investing in the job that you were so passionate about , teach Sristi the meaning of love and fill her life like Anant would fill yours. Learn to smile again, pamper yourself and Sristi . Anant would hate to see his Shikha dying each day. Please Shikha, for Anant’s sake , be alive .“ Those affectionate words had woken Shikha up from her sorrowful slumber.

She stepped out of the room for a lunch with Disha, her daughter and her in-laws in the dining room, after almost a year. Slowly Shikha started becoming more involved in Sristi’s life – coloring , watching TV, playing in the living room. A couple of months later , Shikha re-joined work , after more than a year of unpaid leave . The company had waited as it didn’t want to lose an efficient employee such as Shikha. Shikha tried to live as though Anant were still alive and watching her be the most dedicated disciple of life.

“Mammmaaaa, can we go to the zoo?” her 5 year old daughter animatedly asked Shikha, breaking her reverie in that patient porch overlooking the majestic mountains. Shikha affectionately looks at her daughter Sristi and nods her head. Soon, the vacation in the hill station would end and they had to make the most of the time in that enchanting place. Shikha looks at the shadow of the little girl holding her hands, as they walk towards the moments, waiting to be discovered, for, it was a brand new day.

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