As soon as I entered the cafeteria, the time came to stand still. Everything has been same since last 10 years at this place.
The only thing which has changed is couple of faces & their expressions over the years. I still remember when I used to come over here during my college days with my friends & we were not so welcomed guests in this busy cafeteria.
I made my way through the busy tables and arrived at my corner table next to window. Why this table? Well let’s not get into details of that… but I have never ever in last 3 years I have rarely sat on any other table expect this one. If the table has been occupied I would have perhaps waited for the table to be freed before I could occupy the table with plain white cloth & red borders & a flower vase with lilies exactly in the center of the table.
But it’s not the table which brought me here always. The reason for coming here always has been personal & special. & today it is even more special.
I ordered a soft drink with one plate of French fries; with my current health conditions, these were not the ideal snacks for someone, but today I chose to take a little liberty; hoping that neither my body nor he would mind
I took the first sip of drink & I observed him carefully as he walked to the door. I knew that time was running out but suppressed the urge to check my watch. I took a deep breath and started counting in reverse under my breath. “Ten, nine, eight, and seven…” & by the time I reached one… he was right there on opposite side of table, smiling at me & that smile… I tell you… was something to die for…
“Happy anniversary”, I was the first one to break the silence,
“Happy anniversary dear”, he responded.
I tried to avoid the topic of oily French fries, but he was not in a mood to let it go without a complaint.
What are you doing? Do you realize how unhealthy it is for you? You are not at that age to have such stuffs? When will you grow up?
Well I guess.. I’m still young enough to be proposed by you once again.. I tried to counter his allegations.
He smiled, just smiled looking continuously into my eyes. It’s like he said thousand words without saying a single word.
Every time we made any arguments.. he always won with his smiley silence, resulting a whole new record of not any winning conversation from my side. So I guess nothing was new this time & he again won my heart with his smile.
“What would you like to have”? I asked him, pushing the crippled menu paper
“Nothing, I’m already done & obviously I’ll not have whatever oily junk stuff you are having right now”.
I pretended that his voice did not reach me in the noise of the cafeteria & continued to enjoy the taste of fries with sauce before the plate was snatched from me.
He looked around; “Nothing has changed in this place? Do you remember the day when I proposed to you? We sat right here on this table in silence & anxiety”
I smiled. “Of course I remember… you were so nervous that you nearly dropped the flower vase twice & spill the glass of water & completely drenched yourself in the process”
He laughed, “Oh yes, and I stammered twice while saying the three golden words.”
“Thank God that I managed to say those three words; & I was nervous because I realized that you already knew about my feelings.” – He said.
I said “From that day, we kind of created a relationship with this place. We have celebrated countless events of our life over this table since years; like our anniversaries; when we had our kids; when we had our first fight, when we got our first home and so many.”.
“Well actually not all events were celebrated… have you forgotten what happened to our first anniversary?” – he said
I smiled, “Yes I do. I waited at this table for three hours here; and you didn’t appear. I then went back home; thinking that this marriage was a mistake”
“And later I realized that you were busy searching streets for my favorite single red rose; which you could not get because of curfew in the city. I was so ashamed of myself that when you called me I couldn’t even say ‘sorry’; & more embarrassing was when you saw my personal diary in which I wrote about divorce thing.”
“But after that day although you have been late… but never forgot our anniversary.” – I said
“do you remember my goa trip?” – he teased me. I couldn’t stop myself from laughing so loud that people around the table started watching me.
“ofcourse I remember…I packed your luggage & went to drop you at the gate”
“yaaa…. Ok… I forgot to put your tickets & you had come back from airport to collect the ticket & to add spice to the wound, you saw me smiling & you thought I did it intentionally. it took my quite a while to convince you that it was not a practical joke.”
“but seriously you looked like a joker that day when you came back!!!”
“seriously.. you want to bring that discussion once again right here.. right now…” he tried to put some serious tone in his voice… which he always failed to do over these many years.
I laughed again…”Honestly no matter what you tried to hide… it was always visible on your face. When you had your first bachelor night now post marriage & you tried to hide your drinking experience…. It was clearly visible from your face…. But I didn’t say anything because I knew that you always knew your limits & I just smiled when you said…”
“Honey… you know that I don’t drink…:- He said smiling. He remembered exact words he said.
“You knew back then…?” his facial expression turned pink… this usually happened when he was caught red handed.
I smiled with a winning attitude. “Of course I knew… I had known you for 10 years…? You think you could fool me… Darling… getting fooled was my choice…. Fooling me was your option… you choose yours & I choose mine”
He grinned trying to hide his embarrassment, “Honestly, speaking… I always feared when I came home after having drinks with my friends & never had courage to speak up the truth. It’s not that you never gave me a choice of telling the truth, but I always wanted to maintain the good boy image”
I couldn’t stop myself from saying this…“You were, are & will always be a good boy for me”
“Have you forgotten the car driving learning incident?” – he tried to find my weak points in the middle of the discussion.
I said” Of course how could I forget that… it was because of you I could never learn to drive again. You created a phobia in my mind for driving”
Now it was his time to be embarrassed. “Only If knew that for you neutral & zero are different meanings, I would have never done that…. We nearly were on the verge of collision with police vehicle”
“ Yaa… and you scared this innocent lady by screaming on the top of your voice…” I said
“Innocent…..Look who is talking…who sent my resignation to my boss from my laptop to make me April fool? And not only that you also told my colleagues about my new car because of which I had to treat them, that dinner cost my diamonds. Can you explain that please… innocent lady” – he said in the naughty tone.
I smiled with my lips between my teeth… “Of course I can…you were not getting me my favorite jewelry…. So what I could do…I loved to put in situations where you had no way to run….”
It had been already 2 hours & the evening crowd was arriving the cafeteria, but who cared… we had met after so many days & we had tones of things to talk about.
“How’s our daughter?” he finally asked.
“Good that you asked…She is fine; doing well and she is getting married soon.”
“Who is the boy… the guy from his office whom I met 4 years back?” – he enquired
Yes… I said
“That’s great news indeed; I wish her all the luck she needs.”
“You will come at her marriage, Won’t you?” I asked.
He smiled…. & held my hand and I could see tears in his eyes… & he said to me,
“You know I can’t come… not in the situation we are today…After being so many years together, you don’t need me to be physical present there to give my blessings. There has always been a connection between us which has bound us together over these many years. Physical presence has never been a bounding factor for our relationship we have had over these years…
I’ll be there at the ceremony; but through you.”
Tears rolled out of his cheeks, & I bet those were out of happiness. So I just lay my cheeks on his hands & said “ I miss you… I miss you a lot…I wish we could have been together…” & tears rolled down from my eyes.
It was a busy Friday evening at the cafeteria & being in the prime location of market place the cafeteria was doing a decent job in terms of customer inflow. Michal joined cafeteria very recently as a waiter & has been doing quite well. Being a new guy, he was very enthusiastic & made sure that he addressed maximum tables to get extra tip because of his prompt service.
He made sure customers were addressed during the meals with any specific requirements. But During past three hours he watched this table quite a few numbers of times, but he made no efforts to approach this table. He did not know what stopped him, but somehow he did not.
After the day was complete, all the waiters of the cafeteria sat to have dinner & drinks together.
This was the time when cafeteria was not a work place, but a home for these waiters. They had a lot of fun together after 10:00 p.m., where everyone shared their experience of the day.
Today was no exception; except that Suresh was a birthday boy today & he was suppose to give party. So he managed to get some local drinks from nearby shop. Eventually the party started & drinks in glasses rolled on topped with ice cubes.
But Michal was not in his sense today. He seemed lost; he made a good tip today with that foreigner who gave him a handsome tip for his exemplary customer service.
Michal was sipping from his glass but his mind was somewhere else; he was not even listening to the conversation going around.
“What happened brother? Where are you? Did that foreigner gave you her number before leaving?” Suresh tried to break his thoughts… by his poor Joke
But Michal replied with a question to Suresh, “Have you noticed anything strange today?”
“Yes?” Suresh said… you are running my birthday party & insulting the drink of the glass, he said in anger.
“No… it’s not about you or me….”
“It’s about the old lady in the cafeteria today. She was sitting at the corner table for almost 3 hours & the only thing she ordered was a French fries & cold drink.
She took 3 hours to finish that & the strangest thing was she seemed to be talking to herself all the time.
At first I didn’t notice; but when I was serving the foreigner with sweet dishes, then I overhead her speaking about her daughter marriage..
Initially I thought she was ordering something on phone about her daughter marriage; but when I looked at her , I noticed that she did not carry the phone at all & Infact her both hands were entangled on each other & she was constantly looking at her hands & then she placed her cheeks on her hands & she started crying.
I tried to talk to her a couple of times, but somehow she was not hearing to me. Isn’t this strange?”
“You must have seen Mrs. Srivastava” Suresh replied.
“Do you know her?” Michal asked
“Everyone knows her…She has been our oldest customer & a good friend of our cafeteria owner. Infact her husband was a dear friend of our boss., but her story is very sad. Mr. & Mrs. Srivastava have been the best couples we have seen in past 10 years. They used to come here very often. Three years back Mr. Srivastava died with a heart attack. At the time of his death he was out of town with Mrs. Srivastava was not near him & all she heard was a call from Mr. Srivastava with pain in his voice…
His last words were… “I miss you a lot…I wish we could have been together”
Mrs. Srivastava couldn’t bear the loss & she also had a heart attack, but destiny did not favor them in death. Mrs. Srivastava survived & as per doctors she developed some kind of mental problem.
People say she can still see her husband & talk to him anytime she wants. Her family tried many remedies, but nothing seemed to work on her.
All doctors said Mrs. Srivastava want to live that life & hence she should be allowed to live that life.
A life which is based upon a lie that her husband is alive & away from her. This gives her a reason to live with a hope… at the end hope is what helps us survive through all the rough times…right?
Since then it has been 3 years she comes here once in a while; sits at that particular table and talks to herself under the impression of she is talking to her dead husband.
“She is mad…. But she is the friend of the boss, hence we don’t say anything”- Suresh Said
Michal looked at him with a blind expression… and asked…
“Are you sure it is not Love?”
Category Archives: Uncategorized
As soon as I entered the cafeteria, the time came to stand still. Everything has been same since last 10 years at this place.
In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Connected.”
Close to the city of Paithan, in a small village called Sauviragram, which lay along the banks of the great river Godavari, lived a woman named Ilaa. Being cotton farmers, her family was well to do, but not among the richest in their area. It was the harvest season, and cotton had to be picked from the plants. The wholesalers and traders from Paithan would be arriving in just a few weeks, carrying gold and goods for barter. They would exchange what they carried for the cotton that the farmers grew. The bales of cotton had to be ready in time! Work was at its peak!
But Ilaa was not to be found in the fields. She wasn’t working. Instead, she was sitting by the banks of the great river Godavari.
‘I am sick of this!’ she grunted loudly.
She has not been in herself since last few days. Kalyan her father has not been in good health since a couple of months & being the only daughter she has to take care of the family needs.
The bales of cotton were to be plucked from fields, cleaned & segregated into different categories to exchange them with customers who would travel from Paithan in exchange of gold, which will be used to weave handmade Paithani saris. These saris will then be sold in market at good price & will help her family to survive the entire year.
She has been strong till now, making sure that her father adverse health does not affect the crops, but now it is time when she needs to be ready to handle the bigger work i.e. barter of cotton.
17th century was a free society. Families usually preferred male child over female child. However, females were as free as their male counterparts. Education was equally open for boys and girls. She had a leverage to study the Veda and fine arts.
She had spent her childhood in these fields playing around the cotton crops & seeding them, but all this was done while playing. This was never a task designated by her father on her.
But today it was not a choice for her.. She had to do things which she enjoyed doing through her childhood as a responsibility.
She had never dealt any customers directly although she had assisted her father during the barter process & has seen him negotiating the best price for his cottons.
At times, she would intervene & support her father, but that was always taken as child interference in a business meeting
“Are you coming or not?” her mother Kanti, screamed from behind
“We have to reach field early to make sure that the work is finished today before sunset”
“It might rain tomorrow & we need to make sure that we have picked everything for our needs”… Her mother continued to shout
After ignorance of few shouts, Ilaa could not resist herself looking back at her with tearful eyes.
“I don’t want to do this”… she wanted to say, but could not because she saw her mother standing right in front of her. She knew that Kanti was too old to work in fields & yet she was ready to be with Ilaa in the fields.
She stood up, removed the dust from her clothes, grabbed her slippers & walked unwillingly towards the field
The field was nearby & she saw workers ready waiting for her to arrive before they start their day job.
As soon as she arrived on fields, she felt like a queen had arrived. There was smile on everyone’s face. Kalyan although being a farmer was also a local priest of the temple. He had earned their respect through selfless devotion to temple’s day to day activities.
He made sure Ilaa gained adequate knowledge of Vedas & rituals so that she can perform rituals in his absence.
The respect of Kalyan was automatically transferred to Ilaa. The workers, worked in his field not only for money, but also for the respect they had for him.
“we were waiting for you…” – raghav, one of workers shouted in excitement. As if they were waiting for the queen of cotton dynasty to arrive.
“let’s start the work” – Ilaa said with a reaction of a royal queen.. it was already mid noon & sun was on the brightest point of sky. The summers were tough especially for field workers. The temperature could go upto 50’s during bright sunny day.
But the workers did not stop, they continued their job of plucking the cotton & putting them in baskets.
Ilaa did not interact with anyone & continued roaming around the field to make sure that right cotton was being picked.
Now & then she would talk to workers explaining them how to select the right cotton.
All this came from years of her working with her father in the fields.
The day went well & by the end of the day the work was finished.
She thanked the workers & left with a promise to give them their share once the goods were sold.
Then came the day, when all the villagers loaded their vehicles with their cotton bales & got ready to go to Paithan.
“I got a good deal today” – Ilaa told her mother on her return in happiness.
“We have managed to get enough gold & make good saris & sell them later on” – she said after having a glass full of cold water from the clay pot kept in the corner of the home.
In the evening she called all the workers & equally shared their duly earned wage & thanked them for their efforts.
Standing in front of her hut, draped in blue cotton sari with slipper in her foot, she looked awesomely gracious.
“Your daughter is lucky for you…” – said raghav with a smiling face. I got a good share this time.
Kalyan smiled with a satisfaction on his face. He never thought her little daughter would suddenly grow so big that villagers would praise her for 1st independent job
After completing day’s daily scores, she settled down to have rest, when her mother came & sat behind her to oil her hair.
This was the only time, when they both got time to spend together.
It is then when she broke the news to her about a marriage proposal received from a prospective groom from far away village.
“He is from a well to do family” – Kanti said.
You will live happy with him – she continued.
During 17th century, marriage was an important association for both men & women & women had a right to choose their husbands.
The only which was not allowed to women was divorce.
Ilaa was her in early 20’s & marriage was a dream come true especially when the proposal came from a groom side.
Being a housewife is what she always wanted. She had dreamt of a life in which her husband would come after day hard work & she would cook food for him & spend time with her family.
She would milk cows, feed animals, & grew herbs & vegetables. She would take care of her family needs.
“What happened? Where are you dreaming?” – Kanti asked shaking her shoulder
“No where… I’m here listening to you…” – She replied
Her silence was understood as an acceptance by her mother & within a month she was married to Surveshwar, a money lender from a far away village.
On the marriage day Surveshwar managed to get some time to speak to her & he said…
“I’ll keep you happy, I’ll keep you protected… I’ll give you the world you ever dreamt of” – he said to Ilaa in her ears.
Surveshwar was a well built guy with a good business of money lending & belonged to a well to do family.
His house was made of bricks & had a chimney. Chimney’s in houses were quite in fashion in 17th centuries & well to do families had these glass windows to natural lighting inside the house, unlike Ilaa parents house which was made of wood & had no windows, but just a small opening at the top of kitchen to let the smoke out of the house, which hardly solved the purpose of being the exhaust.
Ilaa had 3 servants to her disposal who would cater to all daily needs of her & complete the entire household work for her.
She did not have anything to do. Everything was made available to her on her wish.
It was more like a fairy tale for her. Isn’t it that what she dreamed for her entire life…?
“I’m the luckiest girl in this world” – she told her mother once when she visited her.
What would a girl parents need more than this… that their daughter is happy in her married life…
Surveshwar would leave for his shop early in the morning & would come late at night, have dinner, talk about daily routine stuff & go to bed.
It was not that he was not a good husband… but he was too busy with his work & could devote time to her…
Days & months & years passed & the inevitable happened…
“We need to talk” – Ilaa said one day while handing him over his Tiffin.
“What” – Surveshwar replied in hurry wearing his sandals.
“Can I come to your shop along with you…? I get bored sitting idle in the home” – she said in one gasp of breath.
“I have experience of handling accounts, I used to manage temple accounts where my father was priest” – Ilaa tried to sell her skills like an enthusiastic candidate trying to convince the interviewer to take her on the job.
Surveshwar freezed for a moment & looked her with shocking eyes. The eyes had a reaction of both surprise as well as anger.
Ilaa could not understand the reaction & stepped back in fear of a heated reaction from his face.
“Are you out of your mind?” – Surveshwar screamed
“Money lending business is not a women’s job. You are born to handle house activities. If you think you are getting bored, do the housework yourself & I’ll ask the servants to leave” – he said in a affirmative tone & left without any further discussion.
Ilaa went into silence mode… a deep remorse…. She never expected this response from him with whom she had spent these many years with dedication & selfless devotion.
Tears flowed from her eyes & continued till late afternoon & then stopped, but they blocked her heart completely. It was a mental shock instead of a physical one which was torturing her as if it was game of fun.
Life suddenly felt as a trap in which the queen of cotton dynasty was trapped & there was nowhere to go…
If she lived, she lost her dignity & if she left she lost her respect in society…
She was born to fly & live her life but her wings were cut as society constructed a cage for her to live & die without any expectations
She was crushed & the thoughts of being ruled by a man boiled her from inside.
Later in the evening when Surveshwar arrived, he was tired & exhausted & had completely forgotten the morning conversation.
Or maybe he choose to forget the conversation & excuse her for crossing her lines of boundary set by society.
He placed his Tiffin on the cot kept beneath the tree & laid to rest for some time, before Ilaa would arrive with a glass full of butter milk.
This has been a daily routine for him on his arrival. He was so tired that he didn’t notice that Ilaa did not come with glass of milk this time, Infact she didn’t come at all.
“Ilaa … Ilaa where on earth are you…? You know that I need milk when I come back home… Are you so much upset by my anger today morning…? This is not expected from you…. Ilaa…” – Surveshwar shouted lying on the cot.
No response… a pin drop silence from house… servants had also gone back home after day work… the lights were on in the house… but no movement was seen….
Suddenly a fear of unknown gripped Surveshwar & he ran towards the main entrance of the house… shouting her name…
“Ilaa where are you…” – this time there was anxiety in his voice.
On the door was a letter stuck to the key chain, addressed to him
He opened the letter & read it in hurry. When the letter ended… he broke down in tears & dropped to the ground…
The letter said….
Over the years, I have been with you without any demands & questions. I laughed when you laughed, I cried when you worried, I woke when you slept, but I have been alone all these years. I have been all alone in this world; wandering over things which only I have felt & never spoken to you…I have been broken inside… I have laughed but my soul cried inside.
I had dreams about you…. I dreamt of an ordinary life… but an extraordinary love life with you…I tried to behave normal with all your ignorance & I don’t blame you for it… it was my choice…. I choose to stay…. But today I chose to leave…
Almost a decade after I ask a reason why I stayed… & today I have an answer….
You offered me life … which & when I needed it…
You offered me protection…. Which I believed it…I was in love with you… I was living you…
You broke your promise when you said… I’ll give you world you ever dreamt of…. Because today I realized I have a world of my own…
A world where I can live my dreams & not think of boundaries of society which are made by males…
I’ll build my world of my own… I’ll fly by my own… I’ll live by my own…
In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Symbol.”
The image of this cycle in the shine of early morning represents the chance to live the day with new tracks & new strength to meet the new challenges & targets which day gives you ….
शाम की चादर लपेट मैं खुद मैं सिमट गया।
जिंदगी के लमहों को आँखों में समेट गया।।
देख कर आईना पूछा मैंने की तू कैसा है…
आईना बोला खुद से ही पूछ ले… तेरा ही हिस्सा हून…