It all started with Mr. Banerjee. All Enakshi saw was the gaze – his gaze directed at Mrs. Nirupama Thakkar who was cradling her six-month-old in her arm, her head thrown back in laughter at something her husband said. All it took was a look and Enakshi saw the naked truth. The pain and the longing, mingled with joy, was evident on Mr. Banerjee’s face. He remained silent, his eyes bright with unsaid emotions and sipped his lemonade. But for Enakshi, her farewell party was ruined.
Oddly, the idea of a party on the beautiful roof garden of the office belonged to her colleague Nirupama. Irrespective of the fact that it was two in the afternoon, the party was in full swing, the golden sun hovering over them. Laughter and music mingled with the wafting smell of nicely cooked meat and the tangy breath of lemons. Very early in her job, Enakshi realised that unlike most parts of the country, summer was a cherished season in the high mountains of Uttarakhand. Thus, sitting on a chair, nursing her lemonade, she enjoyed the sun until Mr. Banerjee happened. After that single gaze, memories – memories that she kept hidden – rushed back like waves on a beach.
It was a party just like this. There was laughter and music with the mouth-watering smell of cooked Hilsa and fried rice. Eleven years ago, Enakshi visited Uncle Sameer with her husband Indrajit and six-month-old baby in tow. Uncle Sameer was no blood relation to her but he was her father’s best friend and guardian to her and her sisters. During her years in boarding, Uncle Sameer became a fixture in her life because he lived only a few kilometers away from them. Over the time, he had become something akin to family, courtesy the absence of their career-driven mother.
The visit was an unplanned one. It was her twin Meenakshi who put it in her head to visit Uncle Sameer and their youngest sister Nikki, who lived nearby with her husband. Once the idea was sowed in her head, there was no changing it. Indrajit didn’t mind it; he was rather excited to meet them because theirs was a court marriage with only Enakshi’s mother as a witness. He had heard enough of Uncle Sameer and wanted to meet the beloved uncle.
A day before her arrival, she informed Nikki that she was coming. Nikki had shrieked with elation and the next day when Enakshi arrived, she had been greeted with warm hugs. Enakshi wanted to visit Uncle Sameer the very day but Nikki postponed it for two days. Her husband Meghnad, a man whose eyes always twinkled with mischief, in an odd turn of event, solemnly agreed with his wife.
At the time, Enakshi didn’t mind it; She was rather happy to be reunited with her sister. Two days later, on a summer afternoon, she visited the old Zamindar mansion of Uncle Sameer with her family, along with Nikki and Meghnad. The sun was shining high and bright, its golden rays upon the parched lands. Every leaf on the trees stood still and yellow, and stared pleadingly at the sky. The old mansion stood tall and majestic under the assault of fiery rays of the sun. But the residents living in the house were simple folks with warm hearts who were descendants of cold, awe-inspiring men of old. Aunt Poulomi, wife of Uncle Sameer and a short plump woman with a round lovely face, welcomed her with open arms, “My Eenu! How I missed you! Come inside. Oh, is that little Arin? Oh, what a sweet child! Come in.”
Aunt Poulomi led them to the living room where Uncle Sameer waited for them. Tall and lean with grey hair, there was only one word to describe him – stalwart. He was one of the respected individuals of the town and was well loved by his family. With open arms, he hugged Enakshi and said with a kiss on the top of her head, “It is so good to see you again.”
His soothing voice was husky with emotions but Enakshi didn’t address it. She knew the reason behind his emotions. She looked up, eyes full of knowledge and understanding, “It is good to be back.”
Uncle Sameer nodded, his eyes full of pain and then glanced over her shoulder. With a gruff to shake off his emotions, he asked with a wide smile, “Won’t you introduce me to the dashing man you have brought, Eenu?”
With a laugh, Enakshi had introduced him to Indrajit and the baby boy in his arms. He welcomed Indrajit with open arms and affection and doted on Arin. He was also attentive towards Nikki and Meghnad, and before long, Aunt Poulomi was taking them down the memory lane, narrating past events of childhood innocence to Indrajit. There were excerpts of what a fiend Enakshi used to be in her school days and how Meenakshi had been made a Prefect to rein her in. There were some embarrassing stories of the many boyfriends she had during her teen years, thanks to Nikki. Indrajit, who was never blind to her adventurous streak, heard the stories with interest and told them about Enakshi’s later adventures that had them laughing. Enakshi could see the approval in Uncle Sameer’s eyes, mostly in the moments when Indrajit talked about her.
It was one in the afternoon when Aunt Poulomi announced lunch. Though Nikki and Enakshi tried to get out of it, Aunt Poulomi was strict when it came to feeding her children and honorary children. No child of hers shall ever be allowed to leave her house with an empty stomach, irrespective if they had lunch earlier. She had prepared a lunch that resembled a banquet. Though Enakshi wasn’t hungry, she had a little of everything because she missed Aunt Poulomi’s delicious dishes.
After lunch, they went back to the living room. Aunt Poulomi was on the chaise lounge, cradling young Arin in her arms and cooing at him. It was evident that she had fallen in love with the little imp. Uncle Sameer was talking to Indrajit and Meghnad, discussing about the threat of imminent war, looming over the nation, in one corner of the room and Nikki and Enakshi were talking about their old school mates in the other when they heard the creak of a door, coming from the courtyard that laid across the living room.
Everyone looked at each other with confusion but Aunt Poulomi said, still smiling at Tintin, “Don’t mind it. It’s Shanti. She uses the kitchen door.”
The moment of confusion was gone and they had returned to their former selves when a tall, lank figure in blue shirt and black trouser, strode across the courtyard, entered the living room and stopped in front of Enakshi. Enakshi was stunned to see the golden-haired man and in that moment, she knew she had made a mistake by coming to visit. The piercing blue gaze of his eyes fell upon Enakshi as Nikki rose from her seat and addressed the man with wide eyes, “David! What are you doing here?”
David grinned at her but there was a cold anger in his eyes and his voice held a faint accusation, “I can ask the same of you, Nikki.”
At that moment, Uncle Sameer joined them, his face grim, “David, I didn’t expect you to come back so soon.”
David said with a crooked smile, “I wasn’t expecting myself too. But thank the gossiping ladies of our town. I met Mrs. Pal on my way and heard about Enakshi visiting. I came back and went to Nikki’s place. But the nieghbour said that she, along with Enakshi, came here.”
He turned to Enakshi who was holding her breath and said, “Well, Eenu! You look beautiful. And I see you are married too. Won’t you introduce me to your husband – the man who slayed the great temptress?”
Though he laughed at the end of it, no one was deaf to the sharp edge to his voice. Indrajit and Meghnad were standing a few feet away from them, the former with curiosity and the latter with dread. Aunt Poulomi still cradled Arin but she was biting her lips and tapping her left foot silently against the floor. Enakshi rose from her seat and did what she wanted to do from the first second she saw him – she hugged him.
David wasn’t the only one who was stunned. Nikki barely managed to stifle her gasp and Uncle Sameer took a sharp intake of breath. Indrajit watched the episode with an interested smile while Meghnad rubbed his forehead with the back of his hand.
Enakshi said, her face buried in his chest, the familiar scent of papers bringing back past memories of love, “I have missed you terribly.”
A moment later, David’s arms wrapped her and he whispered, “So did I.”
She looked up at him and found his blue eyes, shining with unsaid words. But those words had no place in this life – in this world. With a smile that made her chest ache, Enakshi led him to her husband who was waiting for them with enthusiasm, “Indrajit, this is David Phillips, Uncle Sameer’s nephew and one of my oldest friends. Though he is Nikki’s best friend, he and I have been partners in crime when we were young. David, this is my husband, Lieutenant Commander Indrajit Dutta.”
Indrajit offered his right arm and said, “I have heard so much about you, David.”
David took the proffered arm and said, “I hope it was all good.”
The men laughed when David glanced over Indrajit’s shoulder and said with narrowed eyes, “Is that Eenu’s child? Dear god! No one told me that you had a baby!”
His eyes sparkled with unshed tears but David smiled and approached his aunt. He took the baby from Aunt Poulomi’s hesitant arms who kept muttering “Mind the head!” and rocked the baby in his lean, strong arms. His eyes were wide with astonishment, joy and pain and he said, his voice breaking a little, “Well! What a fine child! He looks like Indrajit mostly but he has Eenu’s eyes and nose. I hope he has Indrajit’s temperament – his mother is quick to emotions.”
Indrajit agreed with a chuckle, “You are right, David. She is quick to anger but she is a very intelligent woman.”
Indrajit beamed at her with all the love and pride in his heart and it made Enakshi smile with joy. The love between them was not lost upon David who grinned at them, his eyes soft, “You are a fortunate man, Indrajit. My Eenu loves true and she loves you.”
Those words twisted Eenu’s heart and she saw David, cradling her baby and talking to him in hushed whispers. The rest of the afternoon was bitter-sweet. Her interactions with Aunt Poulomi and Uncle Sameer were filled with love but the ones with David were fraught with grief and agony. She never understood why David sought the company of her baby and Indrajit. It was evident to her that the presence of Indrajit and her child was shredding his heart.
It was during one of the conversations between them when David suggested a pet name for her son, “You know what, Indrajit? You should call your son Tintin. After his mother’s favourite detective-journalist.”
Indrajit had laughed but had warmed to the idea. Once the sun had set, Nikki announced that it was time to go. It was a tearful goodbye because Enakshi was leaving the next day. Aunt Poulomi’s face was laced with tears as she made Enakshi promise to send them letters. Uncle Sameer needed no tears or promises. All he wanted was a warm hug and a reassurance of the next visit. His old dark eyes were filled with memories and loss as he let her go. Finally, the dreaded parting – David gave her a quick hug. But in that embrace, she felt all his pain, longing and joy. When it came to Indrajit, he parted with a smile on his face, cheering Aunt Poulomi, promising Uncle Sameer a visit and a hearty laugh of goodbye for David.
The next day, Enakshi alighted the train to Dehradun, waving goodbye to her little sister, her eyes full of tears. During the train ride, when her baby was sleeping and Enakshi was tugging the blanket around him, she felt her husband’s keen eyes on her. With a smirk, she asked, “What is it?”
Indrajit smiled, the left corner of his lips tilted up a little, “It’s David. Something that he said.”
Enakshi said with a smile that hid her fears, “What did he say?”
“He said that I am fortunate to have found you. To have your love and our baby. It was the way he said it that made an impact on me. There was longingness in him – an emptiness that pains him. It felt like he was unlucky in love.”
There was an odd twinkle in Indrajit’s eyes. Though he said the words without a hint of accusation, Enakshi knew what Indrajit was asking her. Asking her to bare her heart. To share her pain even if it meant that their marriage won’t ever be the same. This was the moment for Enakshi. She could tell him the truth, set herself free from the lies that had dragged her down during the entirety of her marriage. Her marriage would break but Indrajit would never abandon her. He would stay with her, the bitter knowledge shredding his heart.
Enakshi smiled, “I can’t say I am aware of any such lady in David’s life.”
Enakshi was pulled out of her memories by her twelve-year-old son who joined her at the table with a plate of kebabs. Bespectacled with dark hair, Tintin resembled his father closely and was growing taller every year. One day, she would have to look up to speak to her boy. At that moment, her son was hungrily devouring the kebabs.
“The party might be lousy but the food is good.”, Tintin said, his undivided attention on the food.
Enakshi chuckled, “It is a party for adults! It is natural for you to feel bored. But the party is not for me – it’s for my colleagues who…”
“…suffered you for fifteen years!”, Tintin said with a grin.
“Oh, Tintin! I was going to say that they needed a break. You really are a fiend! A sly fiend!”, Enakshi said with a frown. But it made Tintin laugh, “I’ll tell Aunt Nikki that you called me fiend! She says that you were one too!”
Enakshi frowned disapprovingly but her eyes couldn’t hide her humour. Tintin knew that his mother wasn’t truly angry at him and said with bright eyes, “Ma, I spoke to Uncle David and he said that he is coming back from England a day before we reach. He says that he would take me and Marya to the Science Auditorium. Do you think Aunt Nikki will let Marya come with us?”
Enakshi said with a grin, “She’ll let Marya visit hell as long as it is David who is taking her there. Don’t worry and enjoy your kebabs.”
Tintin saw someone over her shoulder and said with a drawn face, “Ma, Mrs. Pattanaik is here and if she finds me, she is going to take the flesh out of my cheeks. I am hiding with Mrs. Thakkar. Bye!”
Enakshi laughed as she saw her son, running to Nirupama and asking her to shield him from Mrs. Pattanaik. Nirupama didn’t fail Tintin and let him hide behind her. Enakshi’s eyes found Mr. Banerjee, talking to his best friend and colleague, Mr. Thakkar. But every now and then, his surreptitious gaze would fall upon Nirupama’s glowing smile and his heart would be once again ablaze with pain.
Enakshi knew that there was only pain for Mr. Banerjee. He would never cross the line with Nirupama who was the wife of his childhood best friend. The agony in his heart would be his lifelong companion. She wondered what Nirupama felt. Is there an ache in her heart too or does she live in blissful ignorance?
Enakshi wondered if Indrajit knew the truth. Had he known that she was the cause of David’s misery? Had he known that in their brief marriage, even after bearing his child, she couldn’t be faithful to him? That her heart always belonged to someone else? Was she disrespecting the memory of her husband by going back to the town where she grew up – where her heart lived?
No. Indrajit was not an unkind man. He would have never wanted her to live a lonely life. He would have wanted Tintin to be surrounded with his family. Indrajit wouldn’t have begrudged her for wanting to return to the place she loved. Enakshi knew that she would never have the answer to her innumerous questions. But she was certain of one thing – Indrajit wanted her to live her life to the fullest. He knew he wasn’t going to return home and this war would be his end. In his last letter from the trenches, he wrote that all he ever wanted from her was that she keep him alive in her heart and live her life, and that is what Enakshi was going to do. She smiled at Tintin who was laughing with Nirupama.