It was Mahashtami (the 8th Day of Durga Puja); the festive season was in full flow in Kolkata. The festival of Durga Puja, the most popular and awaited festival of the Bengali’s was being celebrated. The milk-white cotton clouds have brilliantly decorated the beautiful blue skies of Autumn. The sound of dhak (a drum-like popular Bengali musical instrument played mainly during festivals), the dancing of the white kash-ful (Kans grass or otherwise known as Saccharum spontaneum) in the fields to the tunes of wind, the smell of new clothes, the fun of pandas hopping, the fulfillment of eating outside, the excitement of get-together, the whole of Kolkata just waltzes at this time. The city gets a new lease of life, rising up above politics, lethargy and pot-bellies. The sheer enthusiasm all over the city is just a treat to watch. But the excitement of one person in the hustle and bustle of this city was immensely higher than others, Abhi. And why would he not be excited! It was his first date with Preeti. The propose-episode completed 6 months back but Preeti neither said a yes or a no. Even after rounds and rounds of cajoling from Abhi, their friends and even from Abhi’s parents, there was no answer. But the day of Mahalaya, the day when Goddess Durga arrives on this earth, brought happy news for Abhi. In that meeting of half-an hour, Preeti said a lot of things. But the only thing that continued to ring in Abhi’s ears is that she said yes and that she did something also.
Whatever pocket money Abhi had, he took them all; even loaned some amount from his parents. Off went Abhi-Romeo in his father’s car, the feeling was exhilarating. The sound of his heart-beat overshadowed the sound of the traffic outside. He was so tensed about so many things- what would they discuss, how would they even start talking, how would she react to whatever he said, what would the passers-by do and most importantly, would Preeti be able to go out with him? So many questions just clogged his mind. His friends had given him a lot of confidence and courage and so did his parents but none matched the palpable tension that Abhi was going through. His face had an uncanny smile, a smile mixed with slight teardrops. But why teardrops in such a happy condition? Well perhaps, they were the tears of joy.
Well, it’s important to note that these two main characters lived just at a walking distance of 10 minutes from each other. They both visited the same school till their final board’s exams of class XII. They did change their colleges though; while Abhi joined a reputed private engineering college to pursue a degree in B.Tech, Preeti joined Saint Xavier’s College for B.Sc degree in Microbiology. They were the best buddies all through and made sure that they do catch up with each other every day, via phones or Skype. As time passed on Abhi’s friendship changed into love. He used to love her everything, her face, her eyes, her grin, her innocence, her jovial and helping nature. But he being a foodie, the only thing he hated about her is her apathy towards food. She was growing pale and scrawny, which he thought was, of course, for her eating habits. At times it used to drive him mad. Preeti on the other hand, became a recluse. She was not her vivacious self anymore, something which he liked the most in her. “Oh! Come on; she has grown up now. Girls tend to become shy as they grow up, there’s no need for me to get this tensed or nervous”, this is how Abhi used to placate his mind.
All these thoughts and Abhi was driving his car. He crossed the Sulekha bus-stand and took a right turn. He would meet his love soon; the limits of his happiness had reached their threshold. He remembered what happened on the day he proposed her, that evening was one crazy evening. “Are you insane? I just proposed you and you’re crying”, this is what he said to her after he proposed. What actually happened that evening?
Abhi knew that Preeti has skipped college that day for her upcoming exams. He told her to meet at a nearby park at 6 PM sharp. Preeti reached on time but could not find Abhi. He came in about 15 minutes later with a big bunch of red rose in his hand. He went near Preeti and completed saying everything in one single breath, “I love you. If you reject my love, please don’t reject my friendship. I was practicing how to tell you all these for the last half an hour standing on the other side of this park. These are for you”, and he stashed the roses in her hands. Preeti was taken aback by the abruptness of the event but when she realized everything she started crying and finally said, “It’s better that we stay friends.” As she was about to leave, Abhi hold her hands and said, “So, what’s your answer? Say something; I just can’t take this anxiety anymore.” Preeti said nothing and left the park with teary eyes.
Thereafter life became tricky for Abhi. He did not get any answer from her, no matter how innovative was his way of asking. In this condition, friends become so helpful but all his friends failed. Things got really difficult when her friends were also unable to get an answer. Finally his parents stepped in much to his unknowing and this helped a lot. One night, she called him and told him to meet the next evening at same place and same time where he proposed her 6 months back. The apprehension and thrill of what would happen the next day got the better of Abhi and he could not sleep that night, at all.
It was the day of Mahalaya, the day which Bengali’s feel will cure all their problems as their beloved Goddess and Maa (mother), Maa Durga arrives. How could Abhi ever forget that evening! He was literally shivering and was getting chills, every now and then. He was sure that he would hear a no, maybe she had a boyfriend. “Perhaps she loves someone else and so she can’t give me any answer. She just can’t see me pensive, right? But then again, if she already had a boyfriend, she would have surely shared it with me; I mean I am her best friend.” Contradiction was the only constant thing that gave him a constant company.
There was another storm that was blowing in Preeti’s mind. She cared a lot for him; he was more than just her best friend. She just could not see him sad. That’s why she was incapable to give him an answer. These 6 months had been so complicated for her too. It was not easy for her to say him no and watching him wrath in pain for not getting the answer he desired to hear, as his dreams would get shattered in front of her eyes. But she had to do that, suffering from immense pain which she couldn’t share with anyone. How would she tell her the truth? How would he react? Would he be able to take the jolt of the truth? But she knew it was time for her to tell him the reality, no matter how much it might hurt him.
As usual, Preeti reached earlier and waited for Abhi. He knew that white is her favorite color and that’s why he wore his brand new white shirt which he got from his parents for the Durga Puja. He combed his hair several times to get a fresh look but he liked none of them. Then he just ruffled his hairs which reminded him about what Preeti used to do with her fingers. When he reached the park, he was just numb. Preeti looked like an angel. She was wearing a red salwar, which she knew was his favorite color. Her hairs were untied and they were covering a part of her face every time the wind blew. With a small bindi and not even a dash of make-up, she was looking every bit what Abhi used to picturize her as in his dreams.
“I am suffering from lymphopenia, last stage. It was diagnosed about 7-8 months earlier. I am already undergoing chemotherapy treatment. You knew that I did not eat much and thus I was suffering from Zinc deficiency even from my school days. Sorry that I hid that from you. Then remember that at the beginning of our 1st year in college I suffered from Influenza which did get cured though then. Well apparently only. This zinc insufficiency and the disease combined nicely together and here I am suffering from this disease. I am a guest in this earth for a year or so, at max. The hairs which mesmerized you so long is actually a wig. So many times, I have tried to tell you this but could not. How can I see you poignant, dejected? All I ever wanted was to see you happy and spend my life with you. You’ve no idea how much I love you. But I can’t be selfish and destroy your life for my temporary bliss. I can never give you all the happiness and contentment that a wife can give her husband.”
Abhi heard all that she had to say. For a moment or so, he was in disbelief, denial. Then he smiled and said, “Whatever you say or do, I love you and only you. I am not leaving you. It’s not possible for me to forget you or love someone else. All my moments are passed by just thinking about you, I had sleepless nights for you as you did not give me any answer. Tonight I can sleep peacefully after so many days. Even my CGPA i.e. grades have decreased for you. I was not able to devote my attention towards anything properly. I’ll live with you for you. And who the hell said that you will die? You fool, nothing will ever happen to you. Chill dear. Mai Hoo Naa (I am there for you).”
Then after a brief pause he added, “And if you actually escape from me, which you don’t even ever dare to think, then I can happily spend the rest of my life with your thoughts and memories. Please enough of this sorrow and sadness. Aare, you still crying? Why are you crying?”
“Why won’t I cry, you fool? You love me so very much and I…..”
“Please yaar (friend) stop crying. Think about the other people staring at us. Enough of sadness for one day, now we will have some food and have some fun. Phew! This is some day.
Preeti was completely perplexed with what just happened. She picturized that Abhi would be sad and leave her forever and she would somehow endure this pain also. What actually ensued, she was not prepared at all for that. She invented Abhi again and found that his love for her is unblemished. He was still the child, taking decisions in hurry but this was something that she always wanted. She was bewildered to say the least, not sure how to react, whether to cry or be happy. She wanted to scream and let the whole world know that the love of childhood days was finally a truth. But it was a bitter pill for her to swallow. At the end what she did, Abhi would never be able to stop thinking about this ever. As Abhi came back with two Cornetto-s, she hugged her and gave a small peck on his cheek.
This was all he thinking while driving. Preeti was admitted to Fortis Hospital on Panchami (the 5th Day of Durga Puja) as her condition suddenly worsened. She got slightly better after being admitted but the doctors were not optimistic enough about her survival chances which had hugely decreased from about a year to less than a month or so. The doctor uncle was known to his father and it wouldn’t be of much problem to take her out. He had planned everything. A bit of pandal hopping, a trip to the nearest mall, lunch there and a movie after that, where she could rest her head on his shoulder, something which she always wanted to do but never told Abhi. Abhi somehow did manage to divulge it from her. And just then it happened.
The blood stained body of Abhi was rushed into the emergency section of Fortis Hospitals from the ambulance. He was so immersed in Preeti and her thoughts that he never realized that the red signal was on for his lane. A running bus came from his left and hit his car. His head got smashed and there was blood all around.
That day two dead bodies came out of Fortis. Although two families got devastated and there was gloom and screams and moan engulfing the hospital environment, there was an unnatural smile on their faces, a sense of content, a feeling of getting united marked their faces. There was not a sign of pain of losing the loved ones, what there was, was unbridled joy and satisfaction. There was an unworldly and mystical beam of ecstasy brightening their faces.
Their love story became immortal through their deaths.