iotama Tiklu felt very light when she got off the bed this morning and went straight to the washroom to clean up. She had a sound sleep all night and was rested well. It was not late to start the day as she found herself dressed up and ready for action. The past few days had been hectic and she had managed to garner enough support from her teammates and colleagues for the project she had taken up as a challenge in her career. And it had not been that long for her that she was in the employment of the software firm that was very well placed in the market with its market share pegged at 14% of the total value of trade in this business in the United States. The stakes were high and the expectation even higher as the project poised to take off with her in command. The reason she had bagged the project was because of her impressive presentation to the bosses and an equally impressive educational background and experience that she placed before the board of Directors, notwithstanding the fact that she was with them for only two years as of date. She well knew she could not afford to fail them.
The ageing Ford coupe was parked at the backside of her ramshackle part-rented house in Queens, a New York suburb. She got in the driver seat and backtracked from the back lane on to the main road. She took the motorway to her new office in Jersey City through the Holland Tunnel crossing the Hudson and managed to reach a good ten minutes before time. She convinced herself she would shift to a better locality soon enough and perhaps in New Jersey itself that provided a better and larger living space. It was no longer wise to waste time commuting long distance. Staying at Queens was acceptable so long she worked in Long Island and she already did that for the past three years. She also wanted to buy a new car, may be a Chevy sedan that she greatly admired. She could now afford the luxury with her salary hike that came along with the project. She was excited she would work with a new team and at the company’s new location. The only thing she did not know was that this change in her plans would change her life altogether.
Tilotama was the only child born to Shyama and Motilal Tiku who had made Gogji Bagh their abode, having shifted there from their old house at Alikadal after their marriage. Both worked for their living and they gave good education to their only daughter and brought her up in loving care. She went to Vasanta Girls School where her learning graph was always on a rise and her good grades in her class shot up her self-esteem. She adored her parents for all the love and support they gave her and she vowed to be more than a daughter to them and let them not miss having a son. She did not have an overwhelming beauty that girls of her age always desire, but her mental faculties far outweighed that shortcoming. Her days of girlhood were soon over as she graduated from school to college. There was hardly a change in her appearance but her mental faculties expanded as she learnt her lessons solidifying her knowledge further. In fact she had no time to reminiscence about the realities of growing up and no emotions that young girls of her age kept talking about in class. Boys did not really interest her. She did yearn at times about having a brother to live with but a relation outside these limits was not touching the rhythms of her heart, not for the time being at least.
“Hello, my name is Raj. What is yours”? As she turned her head to see who was talking to whom, she realized it was a young handsome man addressing her. She averted his gaze and kept her pace without bothering to respond. No strings of her heart vibrated and she soon lost interest in this incident. A few days later as she was returning home from college the incident got repeated and this time again she ignored the young man. It was obvious that this was a college student who studied at Amarsingh College close to her residence and was probably going home after the classes. In fact her own college was a Girls College and no male student ever interacted in her life. This sudden attention from the opposite sex felt a bit strange to her and she did not know how to react to this situation. For many days she missed the man and she took no further notice. Almost a month later she bumped into him again as the boy stood defiantly in her way and demanded to know her name. “Look my name is Raj Raina and there is no reason why we can’t be friends”. She looked sheepishly around to see if any one was a witness to this encounter and not finding anyone watching she side stepped and walked towards her home without further trouble. She observed him cross her path a few more times during the next couple of months sometimes in company of other men, when the college finally closed for the long winter vacation and she lost interest in this episode. It did, however, raise some feminine instincts in her that signaled to her she was wanted.
For Tilotama getting a first position in her graduation, topping the list amongst all the students was no big deal. She was aware of her abilities and her hard work paid up. It was now time to decide about the future plans when her maternal uncle proposed her to join the engineering college at Bangalore where he worked as a professor. In four years flat she graduated as an engineer in IT and started looking for a job. There was no dearth of jobs at Bangalore and with her good grades she was offered one by three reputed companies and she had the option to choose the best. This she did and worked with a company while staying with her maternal uncle and his family. A year later she had an opportunity to go to the US on company work and she did that with a resounding success in the project she worked on. An upcoming US company offered her a career change at a tempting salary and she could not resist staying back and severing her ties with the company that initially brought her to the US. She was happy with the work culture and the freedom in her work brought out the best talent in her. And here she was now feeling absolutely sure of herself and her work and she knew it was worth all her efforts.
Back home in Srinagar both her parents were busy finding a suitable boy for their adorable and talented daughter. They did get offers from various families but were not sure they would make the best choice. Getting Tilotama involved in the selection was an uphill task, as she deferred the decision on one pretext or the other. Suspecting that she may already have made the choice while away from home they even gave her a blind acceptance of a soul mate. She was getting older by the day and would perhaps be old enough when finally she would get married and this left the parents worried. On her part Tilotama did sometimes give a thought to this aspect of her life and apparently she found no easy solution. She knew no one with whom she would feel comfortable except the memories of a boy who had crossed her path a few times when she was in college.
Within a month Tilotama found a suitable apartment in New Jersey and settled for a lemon color pre-owned Volkswagen Beatle in replacement of her ford instead of a Chevy sedan she very much desired. May be later she told herself. Her job was exciting and she loved every moment of her work and made good progress in her project. She had a good team working with her and an equally appreciative boss who was all praise for her speed of work and the adherence of target schedules of the project. At the final and successful testing of her program she invited all her teammates for a pizza feast at Milano’s on West side street in Jersey City. As they were enjoying the meal she happened to notice a familiar face staring at her and she felt alerted. She knew the man but did not remember where she had seen him. Much later as they all stepped out from the restaurant did she realize it was Raj Raina. What in hell is he doing here, she thought to herself?
The news of her parents unplanned shifting to Jammu in early January 1990 worried her as she realized the gravity of the situation and the circumstances leading to such a move. It became evident they had narrowly escaped an unwanted attention from some elements out to destabilize their life. More news filtered in as the turbulence spread all over, engulfing the rest of the community in the valley. She wanted to return and be by the side of her parents in such an emergency situation and provide support to them in this hour of need. Who else was there to take care of them and provide the much needed help? Even though her parents wanted her to stay put she quietly took the next available flight and was at Jammu within two days. The parents had rented a one-room accommodation, the only one available after rest of the fleeing people from the valley occupied most of the others. They had left all their belongings back home and did not have much to fall back upon in this hour of need. Soon enough they got busy building up their life all over again. Tilotama made sure she left the parents in good shape as she readied to return to the US within a month. She had a lot to do and much to achieve and time could not wait.
As time passed by she realized that the calls she made to her father were a bit worrisome. Every time she called home to learn about their welfare, she would face a question from her father who repeatedly asked her to take him home. Firstly she ignored the essence of these calls thinking her father was playing a prank but as she spoke to her mother she realized this was getting tougher. Her father was slowly turning nuts and his constant demand asking that he be taken home assumed larger proportions. It soon became apparent that the ailment that started on a very easy note and nobody thought much about it in the beginning her father now cried at times and wondered why he is at a strange place surrounded by strange people. He ignored his work and stopped going to his office. He had got hold of a key that he said was of his house in Srinagar and he kept it with himself all the time and placed it under his pillow at night. He kept asking people who visited him as to when shall he go home and no appeasement appeared to calm him. All day through he harped on this tune over and over again and he did not seem to tire with this activity. As an additional pursuit he clung on to a steel trunk that he kept near him and kept asking for the lock to be opened claiming that his property documents were safely kept inside. In fact it just contained his own clothes that he would not allow anyone access to and he hardly changed his dress, even refusing to take a bath in the hot and humid conditions prevailing at that time. The heat of the place had gone to his head and he was deteriorating fast. In a few weeks his condition took a serious turn and one evening he quietly folded his arms over his chest and searching for his wife and feeling her close by he sighed deeply and then breathed his last. The turn of the events was so sudden that Tilotama was taken aback with the developments and she rushed home to take control of the family or whatever was left of it. She performed the last rites of her father whose body had to be kept in the morgue until she could arrive from the US.
The death of her father shattered the resolves of Tilotama and she did not know what to do with her life. She could return to US and restart her life, but the concern of her mother was uppermost in her mind. First she thought to take her along but her health was not so good to risk her taking into this new environment. Her medical treatments in the US would be a drain on her resources. So she decided to pack up her stuff in New Jersey and settle down at her old trusted Bangalore and pick up new threads of her life that she had begun a few years back. She soon left for US to pack up her things. It was during this time she met Raj Raina once again when she was at the Bank one day to close her account. She had seen him around a few times and all they did was to say Hello or nod to each other. She had also learnt that he worked for a software company. This time she felt her heart warming towards him and she threw caution to the winds and approached him with an open mind. Raj was alarmed at what he heard from her and invited her to a café close by where their conversation lasted a full one-hour as she recounted her story to him. He listened with concern and promised to be of assistance with her ordeal.
Tilotama was booked on American Airlines flight from Newark airport on a Saturday and she had all her belongings checked in and was brooding at the departure terminal when she sighted Raj entering with a bouquet in his hand. On sighting him she got up and with a heavy heart signaled to him about her presence. She had told him of her decision to take the evening flight home the previous day and now he was here to say Good-Bye perhaps. As he neared she sensed a worried look on his face and she could do nothing about it. They had both started a friendship and it was very late in life and at a stage when parting was imminent. When Raj came closer he brought a wide smile on his face, came down on his knees and presenting the bouquet to her he proposed marriage. She suddenly stiffened and did not say anything for a long time until she realized that Raj was still on his knees holding the flowers. Looking around amazed and sensing a hundred pairs of eyes watching amusingly she finally got back her nerve and accepting the bouquet she calmly said yes and as she did that she recollected a handsome boy who used to tease her on her way home from college many years ago. Amidst a spontaneous applause from the onlookers they felt this as the culmination of a silent affair that had gone on for so long where very little love phrases were uttered or notes exchanged or any promises made to each other. This time the bonding was spontaneous and the acceptance equally hurried on both sides for fear they may not lose each other, a long way away from home.
Today, many years later, Raj and Tilotama are happily settled in their cozy home in New Jersey and they have a baby who is growing up in the care of her Maternal Grandmother who joined the family just a month after their marriage was solemnized at Jammu. Mother has vowed to stay put with the children after giving up all her interests at Jammu and selling off the property at Srinagar that her husband missed so much in the later part of his life and the parting of which had overwhelmed him until he gave his life for it.
Shri BL Dhar was born and brought up at Srinagar. After completing his Master’s Degree in Mathematics he ventured out of the state and found a job in the Civil Aviation Department joining as a Gazetted Officer. His area of activity was at Delhi and Mumbai International airports. He was selected to undergo training at the school of aviation; Luxembourg under the UNDP program and later posted at the Corporate Headquarters in New Delhi. He had in the meantime joined the newly formed PSU, Airports Authority of India, from where he retired as a General Manager in 2000. He has written innumerable articles about aviation that was published in the house magazine. He is now settled in Delhi and keeps his interest alive in writing..
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There are as many stories in this world as there are stones. This one has been woven around to describe the scene to which I was a witness that says all about "take me home" and the penchant about the dying person clinging on to a key and his steel trunk.
Added By BL Dhar
very nice and touching story,i hve read it today and nostalgia that i was feeling since morning about lost parental home(that i visited again in my dreams today)got nenewed. nimi
Added By nimi kakroo