It was 3 AM in the morning, but neither of us was feeling asleep. Madhu sat astonished and quietly asked “How could Madhav live normally after your soul came out of his body…”
I replied “The witch had told me that after my soul separates from his body, Madhav would remember all the incidents which took place in the last two months. So there was no problem in his life after the soul separation.”
“How could you face your life after that? I’m sure it would have been a painful experience. After all that how could you become so successful in your life?”
“My Father. Because of him I’m at this stage in my life. As I was living Madhav’s life, I lost two months of my life. I could not give my final exams. I was not able to give any explanation to my dean. I was expelled from the college. My life became miserable. I went home. The dean’s letter was lying on my father’s table. My mom and dad did not utter a single word. I couldn’t bear that silence between us.
It felt like I was living as a paying guest in my house. With the days passing I became quieter. I spent my whole time in the room, none of my friends came to me and no one cared for me. One fine evening as I was sitting in the balcony my dad came and sat beside me. He said “Why don’t you shave your beard Abhi”.
“I will dad.”
He put his hand on my shoulder “Abhi, even though you were not great in academics I always believed that you would achieve something great one day. This is because my son is honest. But today I can see it breaking.”
I did not utter a single word. Until now I have never paid much attention to my father’s words but that day I had a realisation.”
I looked at Madhu suddenly cautious of what I should say and then smiling, I continued “From then I never looked back.”
Madhu was surprised by my story. She quickly inferred that I wouldn’t answer any questions about the past so she encouraged “Your life indeed is a real success story. But how can you live happily without Leela, Abhiram? I’m sure she is very special in your life.”
I smiled “Loving someone is happiness, being loved by someone is fortune. I may not be fortunate, Madhu but I live happily. For the whole world my story might be a lie. But in that lie lies my true love.”
Madhu shifted in her seat hesitant to leave, “Thank you Abhiram for this wonderful interview. So what are your plans for this new year?”
“Every year I go out on a vacation alone. I spend time with myself. This year I haven’t decided any place. Why don’t you suggest something?”
“Nanda Devi. It’s a beautiful place. I’m sure, that trip would etch in your memory forever.”
While I considered her suggestion she handed me a small box and said “This is a small gift from me. Open it after your trip.”
She left my office. I finalised my trip to Nanda Devi. I packed my bags and was prepared to begin my journey.
The next morning I reached Uttarakhand. Nanda Devi was about 200 kms from there. I halted at a tea stall. As I was sipping my tea, glimpses of a familiar face appeared from blurry vapours of the steamer. It was the same perplexed face which I knew from 7 years ago, Leela. I began to cover my face with the scarf and slowly walked away from there. Suddenly, the breeze picked up and Leela’s eyes locked into mine. Before I could increase my pace she was already running towards me.
She gasped “I am so thankful to god that you were here. I wanted to visit Nanda Devi but I lost all my belongings Abhi. I’m in such a helpless situation…”
She sobbed “Please help me Abhi.”
I didn’t know how to respond to that. I was not ready to travel with her. I offered her my wallet and offered to guide her home. Saying this I walked away from there without looking back. I heard a voice “Why this change in you guys? On One hand there is Madhav, my fiancée who forgot his promise and there is you… who stops caring”
I turned back as I remembered the promise that Madhav had made. I had made. I went close to her. As I was wiping her tears I said “I can’t see you unhappy like this Leela why don’t you come to Nanda Devi with me.”
Without uttering a word she nodded weakly.
After purchasing a basic few amenities, we began our trek. She asked “It’s been a long time Abhi. What are you doing right now?”
I was pleasantly surprised that she didn’t know about me. I replied “I have a small business, What about you?”
She replied “My marriage is scheduled next month.”
I paused for a moment and replied “Congratulations!” I recollected my college memories, it felt both wonderful and better talking to Leela again. We halted at a night camp.
The next morning as Leela woke up we walked towards ‘Bright end corner’. Surprisingly that day we could see the moon setting down, in the morning. Leela was amazed.
“I always wanted to see the moon setting down in the morning.”
“I thought you would like it.”
She smiled. We resumed our journey. She said “There was a time when Madhav gave me countless reasons to love him. But, now I only convince myself that I love him. When I ask him to come with me to the orphanage he sends the driver but does not accompany me. Sometimes I wonder is this the same Madhav who I loved… I don’t know if I would be happy with him.”
“We are always unsure where our real happiness lies Leela. Don’t worry.”
She gave a gentle smile. We headed towards Chitai temple laughing and talking about our school friends and canteen. And most interestingly who Miss Divya must be married to now!
Mid-way, she asked “Did you love anyone?”
I hesitated to answer that question. But I manged to tell her a lie, “No!”
She said “I hope that lucky girl finds you soon.”
I replied “If you say so.”
After all this time, she hadn’t changed. She was the same lively girl.
“I wish I could see the peak of Nanda Devi floating in the air.” she giggled.
With my luggage wearing me down I suggested we take rest under the shade of a tree.
Leela shouted “Abhi wake up! There is a hot air balloon coming towards us. It’s so amazing.”
The pilot called out to me “Sorry for the delay sir. It’s good to fly now.” Leela was shocked. She said “Abhi this was not at all needed. I just asked casually.”
I said “Let’s float above Nanda Devi!!”
She was excited. We climbed into the hot air balloon and gently lifted off the ground. It was very serene as we were flying. We could see the shiny peak of Nanda Devi illuminated by the morning sunrise”
“It’s like a dream” said Leela.
I felt happy. After this exhilarating experience we went to a restaurant. Leela was reading a magazine.
“Your company is listed in the Forbes? Wow! You didn’t tell me about this.”
I smiled “Yes!” After a long chat we got out from there. We went to the car rental shop. I asked for a car but they had all of them taken. He asked me to wait for an hour. Leela came in and said “Let’s go on a bike.”
I was surprised. I asked if she was sure. She said confidently “Yes.”
I took a Bullet. We started our return journey. I intended to drop Leela at Rishikesh where Madhav would come and pick her up. Even though the trip was ending I felt happy and content that day. Finally I could spend time with Leela being myself. But Leela did not look happy at all.
We reached Rishikesh as the sun was setting down. I could see Madhav from a distance. I bid Leela goodbye by saying “I really had a nice time with you Leela. It’ll surely be one of the most memorable days in my life. Congratulations again.”
She asked “Come to the marriage ceremony. You will right?”
I replied nervously “Sorry Leela but I have some important work.”
She left without turning back. I closed my eyes could before they could fill with tears. I felt a sudden push.
Someone hugged me. It felt unreal- It was Leela. She was crying.
“Why did I sit on your bike Abhi? I sit only on special people’s bike. I am unable to find the answer. During this whole trip I didn’t mind to call Madhav even a single time. I forgot that I have my own wedding until you reminded me just now. I am unable to find the reason for this Abhi.”
My eyes softened as she continued “When I was walking towards Madhav, I didn’t feel happy that I would see Madhav, instead I felt sad that I would leave you. Why is this Abhi? Madhav left me hundred reasons to love him but you didn’t even leave one but I still love you Abhi. I still don’t understand Abhi.”
“I don’t know if this is wrong or right, I don’t care about what others think but I love you Abhiram!” saying this she hugged me.
My life was complete when I heard my name from her voice. It was magical.
“I love you Leela.”
The next morning both of us came to my hometown. I went to my office with a smile on my face everything seemed fresh and different. The memory of yesterday’s trip would etched in my memory forever thinking about this I called Madhu’s news agency.
“We don’t have any interviewer name Madhu, sir. Moreover we didn’t send any interviewer.” Their answer left me bewildered. My eyes fell on the box which Madhu had left on my table. As I opened it I could see a small note.
“The incident which changed your life happened because of the witch’s gift. You lost your loved one but you grew in your life. My interview was a reason for you to find your loved one. Indeed these both are true. The witch who changed your life is my grandma. We both played a vital role in your life, but we are just small pawns in this game. It is destiny which separated you both and it is destiny which made you come together.”
My assistant Siri asked “Sir, why are you smiling looking at the blank note?”
PS: The author would like to thank Aditya Badola for help with editing and Ananth Charan for content suggestions.