BOLT FROM THE BLUE
Snigdha came running to her room and took out the incessantly ringing phone from her customised red purse imprinted with MJ pictures. Michael Jackson was her ultimate inspiration. Everything in her room—from the posters to the decorations—spoke of her obsession with international dancers—from Dytto to Melvin Louis. Who would say the owner of the room was a boring Chemistry lecturer?
The phone display flashed Romita’s name under the picture of a girl with a round face and long, shiny hair. Snigdha’s face lit up to see it was Romita’s call. She felt a strong yearning for her best friend. They had first met in college and as life had rolled on, Snigdha had found a true friend in Romita. They had become more like sisters in the last seven years. She pressed the receive option on the mobile screen and settled herself comfortably on the bed to talk to her friend. She wanted to hear about Romita’s latest business trip to London.
“Why the hell didn’t you tell me about the reunion party? I got the invitation card today. I’m so excited. I’ve sent them the confirmation e-mail as soon as I got the card. We’ll go to the party together, please, and what are you wearing for the party? Once I come to Kolkata, we have to go shopping. I can’t wait!” Romita continued blabbering without giving Snigdha any chance to speak.
Snigdha spluttered, “Hold on! What party? What invitation card are you talking about?”
There was silence on the other end of the phone for a moment. “What do you mean?” Romita sounded deflated. “Didn’t you get the invitation card for our college reunion? How can that be? You live in Kolkata and I’m in Chennai. You should have received it before I did.”
“Oh! It’s a college reunion. No big deal. Anyways, I won’t be going. I hope they don’t even send me an invitation,” Snigdha sounded off. But she perked up at the thought of Romita’s impending visit. “You are coming? Oh my God! You have to stay at my place.”
But Romita sounded hurt, “Please, Snigy, don’t be like this. It’s been too long. You will get the invitation card soon, I’m sure. I’ll send the confirmation e-mail on your behalf, I’ll buy your dress, shoes, everything. You don’t have to bother about anything. Just keep the evening of 29th June free and come with me. I promise to stay at your home this time. Don’t spoil the fun.”
All the happy memories and the disastrous ones flooded Snigdha’s mind at once. She wanted to make Romita happy, but she knew she had to avoid Abir Sen at all costs. She felt conflicted. “Romy sweetheart, please don’t make me do this. You have to attend the party alone, but I promise the next day we will go and check out all the new malls together and eat at Zings. We haven’t been there for so long.” Snigdha hoped that talk of shopping and eating out would divert Romita from the current topic under discussion.
But Romita was not to be diverted. “Fine. I’ll tell your mom to inform me when you get your invitation card. I’ll confirm it on your behalf. You can’t stop me. This time you will do what I want you to do. You can’t be this selfish. There’s a limit. I’m going to make sure you come to this party. End of story. I’ll bring you out of your self-imposed misery. I’m not in the mood to fight with you now. We can talk later. Bye.” Romita disconnected the phone before Snigdha could say anything in her defence.
Snigdha felt her head spin as she stared at the mobile screen flashing the message: Call Summary Duration 6:12. Images and memories she always tried to keep locked up suddenly started flooding her mind. She felt incapacitated for a while. She knew she would have to get herself busy with something else before she started crying. Her mother saw her crying at times in the past, and in those occasions, she was unable to give any satisfactory answers. It always made her mother suspicious and inevitably led to awkward questions. Snigdha couldn’t afford to get into such a mess again. She didn’t have any answers or explanations for anyone—not even herself.
She pulled out her iPod from the drawer in the bedside table, put the ear plugs in, and started playing her favourite Jonas Brothers songs. In a desperate attempt to calm herself, she started lip-syncing to all the songs. But when the iPod started playing the line “can’t stop the rain from falling, can’t stop my heart from calling you. It’s calling you”, she broke down completely, holding her pillow tightly to herself. It had been months since she had a meltdown like this and her sudden tears unhinged her for a while.
It was the message alert that got her attention. She picked up her phone with the intention of switching it off, but at the last moment decided to check the message. It was a WhatsApp from Romita. It read: Snig, I know you are terribly hurt. But you need to get out of it. You shouldn’t run away any more. Confront your fear, let the past go. That’s the only way to live. But right now, don’t do anything to make your mum suspicious. Pretend that you have fallen asleep. I don’t mean to hurt you. It’s for your best. We’ll talk more when I get there. Ttyl:)
It was out of fear of her mother, Srestha, finding her in tears again that Snigdha slowly got out of bed and wiped her tears. She looked at herself in the mirror and saw that her large eyes were completely bloodshot and her face was red and blotchy. Her tall and lean body seemed to be sagging. This sight saddened her further. She was usually proud of her graceful body. She knew her feminine features made her dance postures more beautiful, made her stand out on the stage. As she stared at her own reflection, she realised with a stabbing regret that she didn’t utilise her dancing talent. She simply let dance seep out of her life.
Snigdha knew if Srestha saw her like this, she would start asking tricky questions. In order to avoid that Snigdha decided to take a shower before going down for dinner. The sounds of some Bengali serials were coming from downstairs and she felt grateful for the television shows that kept her mother busy at night.
Snigdha quickly got out of her clothes, wrapped the towel around herself, and went into the bathroom for a relaxing shower. But even the cold water running over her body couldn’t calm her. She was still wired up and lost in thoughts. The memories that she wanted to give into, that she wanted to cherish were the ones she had to constantly run away from. Neither could she hold on to them, nor could she let them go. Suddenly she heard her mother’s voice from her bedroom. She knew she wouldn’t get better any time soon, so she decided to get over with dinner as quickly as possible.
Snigdha dried herself, put on her faded, sleeveless tees and shorts that functioned as her night clothes, and got out of the bathroom. She quickly brushed her hair and went downstairs to the dining room where her parents were waiting for her. She was thankful that her eyes weren’t bloodshot any more.
Snigdha sat on the chair next to her father, Jatin Basu. As was customary, he was busy watching a Bengali news channel. He didn’t notice that Snigdha was not her normal chirpy self. On most days when she was in a good mood, she would sit with her parents and tell them everything that had happened at work. But today she wanted to escape to her room and either get immersed in her futile fantasies or try and fall asleep. She didn’t know for sure what was in store for her that night, she was not sure what her heart was craving more—the dream and pain or the dreamless sleep. Both were such sweet options in their own ways.
Snigdha’s mother came in with two plates of food and placed them on the table. As soon as Snigdha saw her favourite paneer parathas with chicken curry, she smiled up at her mother who was looking at her expectantly. “Why didn’t you tell me you were making paneer parathas? It’s been ages since you made them.”
Her mother replied very happily, “Your dad bought the paneer when he went out for his evening walk. But why did you get late for dinner? You missed such a great episode of Bokul Kotha. Oh, how I wish you get a husband like that Rishi! Bokul has got the best husband in the world.”
Snigdha hurriedly mentioned Romita’s call to change the topic, and the plan worked. Srestha started asking about Romita and Snigdha gladly told her about Romita’s London trip. She told her mother that Romita would be coming to their house for a few days, though she lied that it was on work. This news made both her parents very glad. Snigdha made a mental note to plead with Romita not to mention the party at all in front of her parents. If her mother came to know about the party, she would insist Snigdha to go and meet her friends. She had never been able to explain her mother why she avoided the people whom she had loved so much in her college days. She was not worried about her father because she knew he wouldn’t say anything if she didn’t attend the party—he always wanted his wife and daughter to stay at home, away from people. Her mother was an entirely different story—she had to know every tiny detail of Snigdha’s life, and she had always wanted to know what had happened between her and her friends.
Later Snigdha went to her room, telling her father not to wake her up early the next day. The next day was a Sunday and she fully intended to sleep in. The eight hours she spent daily, teaching Chemistry at Narayan Chandra Girls College tired her out. As she went to bed that night, she wanted to succumb to her fatigue, but she was wide awake. Her mind was buzzing with all the failed dreams, the failed promises, the ache in her heart, the emptiness within her. “How can I forget you? That would be infidelity.” She didn’t want to recall those words any longer.
She was convinced that if she went to the party, she would undoubtedly have to face her past and see indifference in those deep and smouldering eyes. There was no way she could tolerate that. But the idea of seeing him again was invigorating her in a way she knew was highly dangerous. She resolved to fight her conflicting wants, and hoped that the damned invitation card wouldn’t reach her. That would solve all her needless confusions.
Four years of practice had given her some idea about how to cope with her hopeless and pointless pain. She started playing antakshari in her mind. Long practice had shown her that this exercise kept her mind occupied, and slowly she drifted off to sleep.
Hardly did she know that she wouldn’t be able to escape from everything, from her past, for long. The invitation card that would mix up her past and future was making its way towards her very rapidly.