Animesh pushed through the crowd with Anir, his 3 year old atop his shoulder, to get a glimpse of the 30 feet Durga. Anir squealed with joy, oblivious to the heat and noise. This was Anir 2nd visit to India after almost 3 years. Though Animesh was born and brought up in Calcutta, he had been away for 10 years now…California. They did have a Bengali community there which celebrated Durga Puja with gusto, the dhakis, the dhunuchi naach, shonkho dhani protijogita, cultural programs…the works; but as he stood in front of the 30 feet Durga protima smelling in the heat and sweat, his ears buzzing with constant chatter of the crowd, jostling for space even as their bodies involuntarily swayed to the sound of the Dhak, he smiled. This is what he had missed for so many years. Anir jumped on his shoulders excited, clapping his hands, laughing….that’s when he heard her.
‘Ani…Ani…’ it was her….she still had the same music to her voice
He looked around…that lal tip…was that her? She emerged from the crowd, a big red bindi on her forehead, her hair falling over her shoulders, like maggi noodles, clad in a red and golden saree.
‘Ani’ she shrieked and hugged him
Anir lunged at her…..’Oma ki sweet…is this your son?’
Animesh nodded…still unable to fathom if this was real.
Parna, his crush, his love and his ex-girlfriend was right there in front of him.
‘Where were you so long?’ she continued without pause…’You didn’t even come for the reunion, we tried searching for you all over social media….are you on Facebook? ki re?’
Animesh, managed a feeble no, apologetically…he still was a geek…wasn’t that why she had dumped him!
She rolled her eyes….she hadn’t changed a bit he thought
Someone called out to her ‘Pari, we need to leave…fast’
‘Where’s your wife….?’ She had begun to ask. A friend of hers was tugging at her…’let’s go’…
She handed over Anir to Animesh….and hugged him again.
As she turned to leave, she said…’Tomorrow, college canteen, 4 pm…okay?’
She flashed her phone…’phone number’…before Animesh could respond…the crowd had pushed them apart.
As he sat in the car, he pinched himself. He met Parna, just like that, in a Puja Pandal. The first time he had met her, was also in a Puja Pandal, Maddox Square. She had shamelessly flirted with him that day. Parna was everything he was not, she was smart, outgoing, fearless. He had fallen head over heels in love with her but could gather the courage to tell her. In fact, she was the one who proposed to him, in front of the whole college. So embarrassed he had been that day. They dated for almost 3 years.
Animesh sat at the window of their north Calcutta home, overlooking the lighted up street below. It was well past midnight, but the street was still milling with people, in their finery. He remembered the first time he had come to India with Sarah. It was during Durga Puja. She went about the city clicking photos, talking to people, this was a completely different world to her. His mother had helped Sarah drape a Lal pare sada saree. How beautiful she had looked.
He went over to his study table, wasn’t there a picture of hers still somewhere there. As he rummaged through the drawer, he came across a neatly folded piece of paper.
He picked it up and re-read it. His love letter to Parna…which stayed with him…all these years.
Was Parna married? He wondered. She was dating Rajeev after they broke up. He tried recalling if he had seen any signs of marriage on her but couldn’t…
Parna gazed into the mirror as she wiped off the last speck of makeup on her face.
It had been so great seeing Animesh today. She had been such a fool. Everyone had tried to reason with her, but she was young and stupid. Rajeev’s flamboyance was too much for her to resist. He had wooed her openly, like some film hero, serenading to her, sending her flowers, something Animesh had never done.
She knew Animesh loved her, but why didn’t he stop her, he didn’t even try. He just silently retreated. Even today, he hardly said anything, didn’t even want to know how she was, and didn’t ask her a thing. Does he know about her?
How silly of her to ask him to meet her. What will she tell him, that Rajeev cheated her? That he walked out on her without a thought. That she was now fighting a bitter battle for a respectable alimony. Maybe Animesh would understand, he did love her didn’t he? But what if he doesn’t? She is the one who dumped him, and now he has a beautiful life…a son, a wife…She can’t go to….she wouldn’t go…may be even he wouldn’t come. What if he brings his wife?
Animesh reached the college canteen sharp at 4. She wasn’t there, as usual, late. He shook his head and smiled.
He had decided to hand over the letter to her. The one he had written to her when he met Sarah. Closure, he needed closure. He hadn’t been able to love Sarah the way she deserved to be loved. That day when she had adorned the lal pare sada saree, had he not secretly compared her to Parna. The day before his wedding with Sarah, had he not frantically tried to reach out to Parna? Maybe….
Even in mourning Sarah’s death 2 years back due to a sudden cardiac arrest, had he not missed Parna, to share his pain, his tears? He would ask her to read the letter and decide what she wanted to do. He wanted her to know. He was okay if she wanted to destroy it. Atleast he would be able to put it behind him. May be they would be friends again, just be a part of each other’s lives?
Parna deliberately kept herself busy that morning. She offered to run errands for her grandmother. She readily agreed to play chauffeur to her cousins going to the airport. She even convinced her mother she would make the sandesh at home instead of getting them from the shop like every year. Anything to keep her mind off Animesh. She was in the kitchen, kneading the cottage cheese for the sandesh, when the clock struck 4
2 hours later Animesh finished his 4th cup of coffee and was about to pay the waiter, when Parna walked in. Clad in a pair of jeans and t-shirt, big goggles covering half her face, her hair tied in a messy top knot.
She came and sat at the chair opposite him, a big red smile plastered on her face. She pulled out her hair clip to let her hair loose and dumped the car keys on the table.
‘Rajeev made this impromptu plan for lunch…’ she declared
‘Sorry, got so late…’ she continued, Animesh signaled the waiter to get a cup of coffee.
‘So tell me where have you been? Last I heard you weren’t in India’
‘California’ Animesh softly answered
‘We went there for our honeymoon, no not California, but the east coast…that’s the place to be I tell you…I loved New York…such beautiful people’
‘Do you want something to eat’ Animesh asked as the coffee arrived
‘Umm, not really’ she said amidst quick sips of the coffee
Animesh’s eyes still had that softness. He was no longer the lanky, under confident boy. He looked self –assured, content, his smile still innocent. Was he still in love with her? Should she just tell him the truth. Maybe go down on her knees and tell him how sorry she was, that she still loved him?
Tears were welling up in her eyes, ready to break down her defences any time now.
She chided herself, how could she? Now that Animesh was happy in his life, how could she just walk in and destroy everything. He deserved better.
She stood up abruptly ‘I need to leave…’ she turned away without paying any heed to Animesh’s protest
‘Why the hurry Parna? We need to speak…’
She was out of the door as swiftly as she had come. Nothing had changed he thought. Isn’t that how she had come into his life and wasn’t that exactly how she dumped him.
He took out the letter and read it again. Maybe it was best forgotten, Parna had clearly moved on…far away…far far away. Maybe he was destined to lead a lonely life. He thought of Anir…
He crumpled up the letter and threw it on the table…signaled to the waiter, paid him the money and walked out.
Parna realized when she reached the Car Parking that she had left car keys in the canteen. She easily spotted the table. Animesh had left, her half-drunk glass of coffee was still there, and so was her hair clip and the car keys. She picked up the car keys and the hair clip. She then picked up the crumpled piece of paper and was about to read it, when the cleaner arrived. She stepped aside, dumping the paper in the garbage bag the cleaner carried and walked out of the canteen.
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