I flipped on all the lights and brought a jar of cool water and glass from my little kitchenette to my somewhat spacious drawing room. Before flopping on the bean bag which was my routine. I turned on the Sony music system to a melodious Kishore- Asha number. That was also my routine, listening to music, mornings and evenings. More than the noise of the idiot box, I loved to listen to the music. Mornings would be peppy numbers, even dance numbers and evenings would be Kishore-Asha, Lata and Moh’d Rafi. Sometimes I felt I was retro. I loved music of the 70’s more than the 80’s and 90’s. I enjoyed watching movies as well. I was kind of a movie buff and thoroughly enjoyed watching Hollywood flicks with great plots. I am a sucker for thrillers, rom coms, mysteries, but never liked sci-fi, maybe because I never understood science and maths as a kid, the dislike and bewilderment continued to movies as well.
Horror movies? I stayed miles away from horror. After all, I was staying alone and even a glimpse of horror would spoil my nights, light sleep to no sleep at all. Today as well I played the music and sipped the rejuvenating drink. While drinking I glanced out and sighed, it was already getting dark and misty. It was the month of December and Punjab experienced chilly weather with dense fog and here I was sitting all alone in my tiny army quarters, lonely, nobody to talk to. But, since yesterday I felt better than many other days. Stronger and stable.
I had never imagined, let alone experienced such utter silence coupled with loneliness in my life. All my life I had lived in a crowded place with ten family members living together in one house on the main road of Pune city. We slept with the noise of horns and the wheeze of the cars and scooters as our lullaby’s, when we shifted our residence to another crowded area of Pune, there as well, I was surrounded by my kith and kin, so the world cup cricket matches, movies of prominence were watched together, even though every family had their own television set.
Here everything for me was exotic, the silence was deafening. The flora, the fauna, the weather and even food, everything looked and tasted differently
After a long honeymoon or should I call it a long trail of traveling to various pilgrim places, so it was actually a pilnimoon. First to the in-laws, well that was my first visit to my in-laws. Before marriage, I had just heard about the house, in conversation with my husband and had not actually seen it. So the visit to my in-law’s house was followed by Vaishno devi, Rishikesh, at last to Mussorrie, where I actually felt honeymoonish, and then to Dehradun, as hubby dear wanted to show me his alma-mater, the third. Yes, the first is the Sainik school, it is the most cherished, where these cadets have the strongest of bonds, then of course the academy, which is again a dear to life place, where they have spilled their sweat and blood, and then the third one where they take their ultimate training in the arm of their choice.
This was my first journey to the north. I enjoyed it thoroughly. We were just the two of us very much in love, roaming. I was starry eyed, following, as I did not know anything, about this part of the world, not that I had seen much of west or south of India. My family was not much into traveling, so whatever I had seen was due to school trips which used to be close by, around 100 kilometres and the other opportunity to travel would come once in a while, because of some very important family function or a wedding, maybe even a death too. So, this was my first travel for leisure and that too quite far away from home. I loved every bit of it. Some discomforts were felt but were brushed away efficiently. At a place or two, I experienced repulsion as well, thanks to the humongous number of human population lying around, eating, spitting, urinating and also defecating in public areas. This was a first of its kind vision for me and I had become desperate to move away from there. It amazed me that the people were least bothered about sprawling and making the station their second home, not bothered about the filth around them, or even about the other people and what would they think seeing them lying python like on the station.
Yes! On second thought I did realise that with the waiting rooms filled to brim, where would these people go. Our train system is so that one cannot think of leaving the station as well. At least not 20 years back, with no apps for assistance. Traveling was extremely unpredictable, especially during winters, with not a single train running on schedule thanks to the dense fog in north India and no technique developed by the Indian rail to handle it. The people were not left with any option but to use the stations to perform all dam things which we take for granted at home.
And then we came back from the honeymoon and on that very evening I was greeted by the MES lampshade with a bang just like the humans with so much love, that blood spilled on the ground while meeting the lampshade. Actually it was fitted loosely and it fell on my head. We had to rush to the Military Hospital. This was a minor accident for which I did not suffer mentally, but the one which I was undergoing a lot of mental ache till almost yesterday, is the operation Parakram which happened after the parliament attack. Within a month of that attack our army was deployed at the border and I felt I was also one of the casualties (death) of that attack. I was clueless, I was just settling down with the help of my husband and now I was living all alone in this completely new, drab, lonely situation.
I hated these evenings. The days would pass well. As it is, lately I had joined a nursery school, as a teacher, which kept me occupied till 1:30 in the afternoons. After coming home, I would cook something, which was not anything great. As, I hardly knew how to cook, neither had any motivation to cook for just me. Usually after having food, I would pick up a book and read till I would doze off. Then in the evening after a cup of tea I would get ready for a long long walk. Such a walk which would tire me out, stop me from thinking anything and immediately put me to sleep. One day after coming back from my walk, I rushed to drink a glass of water. Without switching on the light I made my way towards my kitchen which was propped on a study table. One glass was kept a little behind the stove. A small rack was there to keep the glasses but it was not there. I stretched my arm to pick up that glass and whoa! Since when the feel of steel changed from hard and cold to slimy, slippery and cold. Then it moved and my vision adjusted to its movement. It was a huge six footer green snake. It moved once again at the speed of light. I rushed out of the main door, closing it behind me, as if it had knocked and come inside and was going to leave the house saying me goodbye. But still as a precaution, then I called out to a couple of faujis who were passing by ; they came immediately. They found the snake after about 40 minutes. But my little room, which was a bedroom cum kitchen, I felt later as if it was tossed in a whirlwind.
It has been almost a year now since I am living alone, yesterday I had a heart tugging experience which changed me. Living alone which is challenging, is extremely mood swinging as well for me. I don’t remain in the same state of mind. Sometimes happy, exuberant, at other times low, blue, weepy, this goes on, in these last 8-9 months I have created something of a cycle of these moods. I try to remain busy, happy, active, jubilant when hubby dear comes for couple of days and then again weepy, listless when he goes away. So, lately I started feeling that I am living here all by myself for no apparent reason. As it is there were very few newly married women in the cantonment. The ones who were staying, were staying with the help of their parent and in-laws. I was the only one who was staying all alone.
I had gone to meet one such young, almost my aged lady at her place. I saw her house; the way they had planned their visits. Right now the in-laws were there and before they would leave the parents were going to be present. While coming back I started feeling low, this was not happening with me. My in-laws were never coming. My mother had come but even she left after couple of months. Normally I felt proud of my own independence, confidence but that day I felt bad about everything. Why I was not pampered? Why I was not living in a proper house amongst people? I was living in a bachelors’ accommodation, as it was still time for my husband to become eligible to claim for a married accommodation. I started thinking like this and the more I thought of it the more I felt that I was staying here alone pointlessly and should go back home and not come back till my husband comes to take me.
So I decided to give a call to my husband. I was angry with him. Neither he was getting leave, nor he was coming to meet me. Till now this news I was taking very patiently but now the patience had evaporated and I was not ready to stay here all alone. As if it was a crime to stay alone. In a fit of anger, I decided to immediately make a call to my husband and tell him that I will be going back to Pune and only come back if and when he decides to come and fetch me. I went to the phone booth, walking in the dense fog, very angry talking to myself, even occasionally crying. I was immersed in self- pity. I had planned everything, how I will speak, what I will say and quickly keep the phone down. On reaching the phone booth I saw a huge, twisting turning, queue, occasionally leaning, sitting, waiting patiently, hope manifested into human form waiting to talk and basically gain human warmth from words and laughter from back home, bringing encouragement to the lonely life full of discipline, hardships, challenges and high stakes. The queue had started from the enclosure of the phone booth and had come out for half a kilometre or so. I started despairing. I stood there for a while but realised I had no chance to speak to my husband today. So I moved out of the queue and started walking farther towards another telephone booth. I kept walking at a brisk pace and when I reached there, a sigh of relief escaped my frozen conscious. I saw just a couple of soldiers ahead of me and the same snaking hope crawled in my heart. It was a room with benches set by the wall for the visitors to wait for their turn. There was no private cabin to sit in and make the call. I settled on one of the benches pretending not to hear anything that the soldiers spoke, but actually I could hear everything. The first one spoke for about 10 minutes talking in Rajasthani language with his father, mother and his sisters. He kept the phone with some effort, after all he had to see the metre as well. Then got up another young soldier, a Rajput, I felt, he was the one and then was my turn. I checked the time. It was already 10:30 pm. I just hoped that my husband would be still in the dining room tent, where the phone in their unit had been placed, as he had told me. The soldier dialled a couple of times, on his second attempt the call went through. He spoke to his mother first. I guess she was asking him, if he was coming home in the new year. He just mumbled in the negative and shrugged off his mother’s complaints, “Ok ma, give the phone to others father, Chhote, Poonam where is everybody, please call them. I don’t have complete night to talk, I have unit duties to do.” I could hear his mother mumbling something from the other side. “haan, haan unit, unit or unit pata nahi kabh ghar aayega?” Then there was a change in the pitch of the voice. It was his wife speaking, worried as well as sad. “Aren’t you coming in January as well? What happened? Aren’t you getting your leave?” The young man took a deep sigh and with great difficulty told her. “Haan Poonam it has been long, more than a year, I know. It pains me to tell you no. But the times are not good. Hence there is no leave. Saying so he blinked rapidly. Then he asked about his younger brother, their village and others. She told him something, on which he nodded his head and said “ok, ok.” Then she must have told him something funny as he laughed a bit. Like this they went on talking for a while. Then very reluctantly he asked her if he could keep the phone down. And also promised that he would call twice in a week, hence forth. She seemed to be happy and said yes. He paid and then left. It was my turn to make the call. I stood up with great effort. I mechanically went to the telephone and picked up the receiver, but instead of dialling the number I kept it down and in a daze walked out. Surprisingly the fog had lifted its shroud and I could see the long stretch of the road clearly. The view was magical. I missed him more intensely, but knew in the heart of heart that even he must be remembering me right now.