Aastha

Maybe it was her last painful scream। I hope, maybe it is over। No! She screams again, one more time, one more...

I am weary and even in the mild cold spring morning, my forehead is wet with beads of sweat sparkling in the rays of the rising sun. Seeing the sun, I suddenly realize I was awake for the whole night.

There was a stabbing pain in my head. The fear of something bad, something evil but unevitable had not let me sleep - I was fearful for her. Will she live? Or rather will she die?

She screams again.

The sun is rising. It rises everyday without ever tiring out. It was the same sun rising yesterday when all this happened.

It rose everyday even when I was in my college....

"PK, PK, Kahan jaa rahe ho bete?", Mungeri shouts from behind. Bangu, Chandu and Dhiru are with him.

"Going to meet her?", Bangu inquires, glancing mischeviously.

I nod an affirmative.
"Haan! Tabhi to. You are shining throughout.", demures Dhiru.
I leave them all grinning.

She screams again. My train of thoughts is broken as the nurse comes out and walks past me in a hurry.
I shift my position on the uncomfortable iron bench. I start dreaming again...

The farewell party. Everyone is sad - some because they are and others because they ought to.
Friends make promises - that prove themselves hollow as the friendships, in eventuality - to keep in touch.
I listen to them. I, too, make promises (of course, fake ones).
Minu is crying, she has been crying all through the day. I try to console her but am surprised to find tears in my own eyes.
We cry together, holding hands.
We roam around in the college for hours...

She screams. The screams are relentless on my ears. Why don't they help painless deliveries? I try to ignore the screams.
I light a cigarette. The smoke brings tears to my already strained eyes. I throw the cigarette into the dustbin.
I remember the day when she snatched a cigarette from my hands and threw it into the bin. She made me promise never to smoke again. The promise eventually broke up - same as we...

Rrring! Rrring!
The phone bell rings. Mom picks it up. I am at home, enjoying my holidays months after I had joined my first job.
"Hello!.... Haan, aap kaun.... Ya, sure beta.... Gunjan! Gunjan! Tumhara phone hai."
Mom hands it out to me.
"Hello! Who's this?"
"Hi!", a machinised voice chirps.
The sound rings bells all through my head. My heart aches, stomach lurches. I suddenly feel the need of cigarette again.
"Hi!", I said...

I go out and smoke after so many months. I drink for the first time. She is going to be married - to a doctor. This guy, Abhi, is a brahmin...
After so many months of vacuum she calls up to say this.
What was the need?
I was happy with my illusions...

Oops! The phone is ringing.
"Hello!... Haan baba, haan. I'll be back... I don't know. The doctors are hopeful... Ya, I remember I have got the meeting tommorow. And haan, khana kha lena. Love you. Bye."
It was Riya. This was almost her hundreth call since yesterday morning. Sometimes she seems to nag me a lot, or maybe its her love for me.

Two doctors come out - they deliberate on some topic, awkwardly staring at me all the time. They go inside again.
My head aches. I need some sleep.

Yesterday morning...

I am going at a high speed. My new car is responding good to the well laid tarmac. I love driving and this stretch is awesome.
Suddenly a few meters ahead I see something abnormal. In the wee hours of the morning driving usually takes all your concentration and I make it a point to respond to all external stimuli. At the speed which I drive, my life depends on it.
A heavy truck is trying to change lanes. "Crazy fucker", I mutter. Anyway, Mumbai - Pune expressway is full of them. The truck pulls up in my lane. I can't figure out what the hell the driver is upto. Trucks normally drive in the last lane and leave the other lanes for the cars and buses. It is about a hundred odd meters from me with a red ford in between, a distance comfortable enough for me to brake.
But the fellow ahead was a little clumsy. He rams into the truck, at around eighty. The effects - obvious...

"Mr. Kumar", The doctor is standing in front of me. I shake myself out of dreams. She stares down at me as if we were playing David and Goliath.
"Yes. How's She?", I enquired, almost pleaded.
"Not so fine but, umm... I think she will survive."
"And the baby?"
"Ah! She is a thorough survivor. Even after such an a.... Well! she is coping up nicely"She grins. I too break up into a mutilated smile.
"One more thing... She should not know about her husband, at least not now. Do you understand Mr. Kumar?"
"Yeah! Sure! Can I meet her?"
"Not now. She is still not out of danger. Her brain is traumatized and also the delivery has strained her a lot. She'll be kept under observation till tommorow."

I drive back home, feeling satisfied, if not happy.
I take a short nap. Oh! how much I need it.
I wake up, take a quick shower and go to office. An important meeting is scheduled and had to be present for it.
My head is killing me. I have to rest, I think. I go home early.

Rrring! Rrring!
I get up, not wanting to disturb Riya. Oh! how beautiful does she look, sleeping peacefully.
Its one o'clock in the morning. Who the hell is at this time!
Rrring! Rrring!
The phone rings again. I pick it up.
"Hello!... Yes... Yes, Doctor... What?... I am coming soon. Thanks."
I run downstairs and down to the garage. But then I have missed the keys. I again run back to the bedroom - wake Riya up, kiss her good bye, take the keys, run downstairs again - and make haste to the hospital.

Thankfully the roads of Pune are not crowded at this hour, just as that of Delhi.
Delhi - where my love started, flourished and withered away...

She wants to talk to me. She is not going to live long - at least that was what the urgency in the Doc's voice hinted at. I knew I had to get there and get there fast.
I don't blame Minu for our breakup. No one was to be blame but our fate. Anyways she was happy with Abhi till yeterday when they met with the...

I reach the nursing home.
I run upto the ICU.
The doctor comes and shows me in. I am alone with her, not for the first time in our lives. We have been left alone, so many times, years ago.
She is lying there - so calm, as if dead. This shocks me. How can I even have such a dreadful thought?
She moans and turns her head slowly and painfully towards me.
She opens her eyes, she is crying, she has been crying all through the day. I try to console her but am surprised to find tears in my own eyes.
We cry together, holding hands.
"Do you hate me?", she murmurs painfully.
"No."
"Do you blame me for all that happened?"
I slowly negate with my head.
"Anyways, I am sorry. I caused so much pain to you..."
"I too am."
"You.. but why?", she is dismayed.
"Because I can't see you in this condition. I love you . I still love you, Minu."
She is all the more dismayed. She turns her eyes away, perhaps she can't face me or perhaps she is disgusted with me.
"How is Abhi?", she asks.
I suddenly feel my stomach tied into a knot. The long forgotten feeling starts again. I feel the need to smoke again.
"He is dead. That bastard Abhi is dead", I utter out, full of hatred for him.
She looks at me in disbelief. She cries again. I look away.
I stand up, disgusted with this bitch of a girl. I felt I would puke. She was not worth all the love and pain I had for her all through these years. I feel cheated. I feel destroyed. I walk out on her.

As I drive back home, my head starts reeling...

I recognise them on the first glance.
I see her lying in the pool of blood - that of Abhi - on the Mumbai Pune expressway.
Abhi was dead - the bonnet smashed in his chest. Minu, seated in the back seat, was miraculously saved. She is heavily pregnant. She is pregnant with the child of Abhi.
I shudder at this thought.
She too recognises me.
"Hi!", she murmurs vaguely.
Her voice raise the old, long dormant dillemmas in my mind. My thoughts go crazy.
I, somehow, control my emotions and call up the PCR and the hospital.
Suddenly, she started moaning and lurching.
"Oh my God! Her water just broke. She is having labour", shouted a woman behind me. I didn't realize, a few cars had stopped to look at the aftermath of the accident.
I knew I had to rush her to the hospital. The ambulance would take time. I had to take the chance. I carry her to my car and lay her on my back seat - her clothes all soaked up in Abhi's blood - dirtying the plush, spotless interiors.
I race away to Mumbai - to the nearest maternity home...

I find myself at the gates of my home. Riya is waiting for me. I realise I had not given her the due share, but still she has loved me, unconditionally. This increases my hate for Minu.
Walking towards Riya, I suddenly come up to a great realisation. Minu was not a true love, it was just another college crush. Love is what Riya is.

As I write today, Minu is dead. She died a few days after the accident, heart broken, full of grief. I sometimes tend to beleive it was because of me but then it may be because of Abhi.
Her child is with us. I didn't want her to go to an orphanage. We have christened her "Aastha" - just as Minu and I had decided years ago. That was to prove my faith in our love.
Ha! my 'Aastha' is alive but my love Minu is dead.

Sometimes I have too many doubts :
Maybe Minu loved me...
Maybe she was forced to marry Abhi and was fulfilling her marriage obligations...
Maybe she wanted Aastha to be with me..
Who knows... No one and no one can, possibly, except my love and my 'Aastha'.



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