As she stared out of the car window, the images of the capital city entered the vicinity of her vision, but didn't register in her conscious mind. She saw it all subconsciously -- the tall buildings, the too-small slums; the filthy rich, the poor who gave a new meaning altogether to the word filthy that had nothing whatsoever to do with being rich, an utter chaos but unique in itself, a chaos that to her had always been a trademark of Delhi. She saw it all the familiar sounds, the sounds that she hadn't heard for some months now. The unfamiliarity of the familiar sounds had a signature of homecoming to them.
But this didn't feel like homecoming.
The setting sun was at its evening best. Anu, at such time, often used to fantasize that the sun, having donned its best evening costume was performing just for her. Right then the sun was at its evening best, performing just for her, trying to pull Anu out of her retrospective mood. For once, it couldn't capture her attention.
Her mind wandered. She realized that they had taken the same route on way to the restaurant. Then she had been sad, now she felt better. Did that mean she had resigned herself to it all? It wasn't exactly resignation, just a compromise. Anu believed in destiny, had faith in God! Mrs. Singh, an atheist teacher of hers, had once said that belief in God was the easier way out and Anu had said, You can't change me, I can't change you.
Yes, she believed in a power superior to her own self and those like her.
Most of Anus friends used to describe her as a sensible, practical girl, with her head firmly on her shoulders. Anu knew how others thought. But she wasn't all sensibility. After much thought she'd come to the conclusion that she was practical, practical for an eighteen-year-old that she had been. Anu was the hostels unofficial agony aunt.
Others thought she was wonderful. She knew she was just a good listener.
Two years back, Anu had gone to the same restaurant. Now, she thought of her first meeting with Anil. Nice was the only word she had been able to come up with to describe him. It was ironical: Anu, the poet, at a loss for words. But then another irony had been Anu, the tomboy agreeing to her parents choice about whom to marry. What had come as the greatest surprise to most people who thought they knew her was that the ambitious Anu was engaged. The idea of getting married had been a surprise to Anu too. But the fact that she had agreed hadn't been!
The imploring look on Papa's face had been the deciding point. All the surprised acquaintances didn't have the slightest idea about what her parents had done for her. The struggles, the sacrifices. It would make a great film story, thought Anu. And an oft-repeated one, at that. Nothing so dramatic, just the small things she herself was sensitive enough to perceive. On their first meeting, they had talked. Anu had gone there feeling as if she was letting go of her life. But somewhere along the line, the optimism had surfaced.
She had felt as if she could dream again.
Suddenly, Anu snapped back to attention, as if woken from sound sleep with a start. She looked around realizing what she was missing, all that she was ignoring. Is this home? It always had been. But in the last couple of years, something had changed. Her home had changed. Anil had done that. By giving a new home to her.
Neha looked undecidedly at Anu, wondering what to say. Anu hated it. The fact that everyone had been treating her with an uncertain pity since Anil's death.
"It's beautiful," Neha said, for want of something, anything, to say.
"Huh!" Anu had once again been lost in her mind's world.
"The sunset. Its beautiful, right?"
In her brown salwar kameez, the same shade as her eyes, Anu looked at the sun. Hey Sonu, she said to it, as she did so often. Anil used to find it fascinating the way she could hold serious, engaging mental conversation with anything, as he put it. Not anything, anyone, Anu would amend. They live as we do.
Hey yourself, came from the sun. Missed you. You haven't even looked at me for the last few days.
The unconscious smile hovering on Anus lips disappeared, as she remembered the last few days.
I am alone, too. I survive. I am strong, Anu heard.
Anu closed her eyes. Waned to put hands on her ears to keep the voice out, but that would have attracted Nehas attention and worried her all the more.
And despite all the pretensions, Anu knew it was all her mind's voice. Or was it, her mind asked.
Leave me alone, then! Anu told the intruder.
What if I refuse to?
You are supposed to set in a few minutes, anyway.
You never grudged me on that before. And even when Anil was there, you always made time to bid me bye. Why the closed eyes now?
Monu's on his way. Will you say the same to him, too?
You know, I think Anil was right. I am crazy to have given you guys names Sonu and Monu, indeed!
Hey, the insult hurts.
Just say bye and go.
It hurt. The conversation reminded her of the many pervious ones she had had with her Sonu. Anil would stand beside her, mesmerized, staring at her, a curious loving smile lighting her face.
Anil was the only one she had told, the first time they'd met. He had been fascinated, and confused.
"Are you making fun of me?" he had asked.
"Does that sound like a joke?"
Anil had heard the hurt in her voice. Since then, he had always lent a serious ear to her relating her conversations with the trees, the clouds, the sun, the moon. He understood her love for it all. But he didn't envy having to share her love.
He did! And you know it, heard Anu.
Yeah, I guess. But he understood. That's what counts. And he knew it made me happy.
He still wants you to be happy.
Me. I am closer to him now, than you are. You know, he would want you to bounce back with that energy of yours he always loved.
Yes, he would, thought Anu. But could she?
Can you see him, she asked.
Will you narrate this conversation to him? He must really miss hearing them from me.
He hears it all.
"So, what have you decided?" Neha asked.
Anu thought of her conversation with the sun, mentally
smiled at it and said, "All right, I will join you for the dinner
© 2002 Parminder Kaur Arora, all rights reserved
appears here by permission