The First Step

Submitted into Contest #98 in response to: Set your story on (or in) a winding river.... view prompt


Contemporary Desi Sad

TW: suicide

The First Step


Lata woke up with a smile. The morning was bright. And why not? It was the morning of their wedding anniversary. Surely, she thought, on this special day Rahul would come out of his obsession with the Spiritual, and be a normal human, a normal husband. But will he? Lata thought of that fateful boat ride on the mighty Ganga river five years ago which had changed the entire tenor of their married life.

#   Lata and Rahul had been married for twenty years now. The first fifteen years of their married life had been normal, even happy. They had gone to movies, had frequent dine-outs and had a good circle of friends, who all enjoyed their birthdays and anniversaries together. Their happiness was marred only by the fact that they had no issue, but gradually they had reconciled to the fact that they were destined to remain childless. They had made the best of the situation; Rahul had immersed himself in his consultancy business, and Lata in her teaching job.

# All this had gone haywire five years ago when they visited Varanasi, the city on the bank of the mighty and holy river Ganga. They had visited the various tourist sites and had kept the last day for a boat ride on the river. When on the last day they arrived at the riverbank, the boatman they engaged suggested that they should visit the Saraswati Ashram, situated across the river. The ashram, he told, was headed by Maa Saraswati, a spiritual Guru with a large following. They agreed and, on reaching the ashram, they really found it a beautiful place with shady trees, flower beds and a block of rooms for the faithful who chose to live there. The head of the ashram, Maa Saraswati, lived in a separate block, which, apart from the Maa’s living quarters, had a large prayer hall and a meditation room. Rahul was keen to see the Maa though Lata was not particularly interested. Rahul luckily got an audience with the Maa who took them both to the river bank. There she talked to them about rising above the physical life, and about seeking the indwelling Divine. Life, she said, is like a river; if you kept yourself in mid-stream you remained clean and pure and ultimately merged into the ocean, but if you lived on the edges you got stuck in mud and sludge. Most people, she said, lived at the edge, where there was safety, but the essence of life was in the centre where there was spiritual magnificence. Lata had taken this sermon in her stride, as this is what all Gurus and all holy books preach, but Rahul was completely transformed. On his return home, Rahul had ordered the whole set of books penned by the Maa. His interest in his business waned and he started spending hours and hours reading the Ashram literature. He started making a pilgrimage to Varanasi twice a year and going across the river even when it was in spate to spend time with the Maa..Gradually, even his vocabulary became the vocabulary of a religious Guru. In his interactions with friends and family members, he would talk about nothing but the futility of living on the physical level and the necessity of rising to the Spiritual consciousness, in tune with the all-pervading Divine. They gradually found themselves without friends, without any outings, without any diversion from the routine. Lata was most unhappy at this change in Rahul’s nature but there was nothing she could do about it. For the last one year, Rahul had even started sleeping in a separate room. She had since then found that she could not sleep at night without taking a sleeping pill, though her doctor had advised her to take it only when unavoidable.

# But today, Lata thought, would surely be different. She approached Rahul with a cheery Good morning.

“Morning, Rahul. Happy anniversary!”

“Morning to you. But what is happy about it? I know it is our anniversary, but anniversaries and birthdays are only reminders from the Divine that He awaits us. It would be a happy day only if you take the first step today on the path to the Divine.”

“But isn’t it enough that you have turned to the Divine? Must both of us turn? And will the Divine forsake those who live what you call an ordinary life?”

“No; He will not forsake them, but why not bask in the boundless joy that comes from living in the Higher consciousness? You only have to take the first step. After that, the Merciful Divine will hold your hand and will take you on the Right Path."

Lata returned to her room with a sigh. She had been a fool to expect that at least on the anniversary day a word of tenderness would escape his lips. She managed to control her tears and got ready for the school where her students awaited her. She loved her students; at least, they cared for her. But how long could she stay there; the school closed and though she dreaded going home, she had no option. It was always the evenings and the nights that were terrible. Today she felt especially lonely. Her thoughts went to the early days of their marriage when on the anniversaries they always went out on a holiday and spent a couple of days wrapped up in each other.

She found that she could not sleep. As the hours advanced and the sleep eluded her, she thought she would take the sleeping pill. She opened the cabinet and took out the half-full bottle of the pills. She wondered what would happen if she took an extra pill today. Or two? Or three? What was the required dose not for sleep, but for eternal sleep? What was the point of her lonely life? Rahul had marched ahead on the spiritual path and she had not taken even the first step! She smiled, emptied the entire bottle and lay down on her bed. Her last words were,” Rahul, I have taken the first step. Tell the Divine now to hold my hand for the rest of the journey.” 

June 15, 2021 00:57

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Pritam Mugal
11:25 Jun 19, 2021

I could mostly understand her frustration towards her spouse and married life! Nice story


Ravi Srivastava
14:28 Jun 19, 2021

Thanks, Pritam for your comment


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