Madhura stepped out of the airport and for a moment the bright glare of sunlight left her stunned. She had almost forgotten the brutality of Indian summers, 12 years was indeed a long time, to Madhura that life felt like another lifetime, one which had ended bitterly and one which she did not wish to revisit ever again. But here she was in the middle of May, setting out to go to that same place from where her journey had started. As she stood in the queue to book a cab, she was surprised at the wave of nostalgia surging through her. The crowd, the noise, even the heat seemed welcoming to her. Had she missed the chaos or were the memories of the past crowding her mind?
Madhura looked out of the window of the taxi to be greeted by roads full of vehicles, hardly any mortal braving to walk in the heat. Even the stray animals lay curled in the shady corners. Not many people willingly ventured out in the heat, but she was different. She used to love the summers, April and May had been her favorite months. She “enjoyed the heat and sweat to the fullest” as her mother would scold her. She had always been different, had she not prided the fact? Suddenly her eyes fell on the swanky shopping mall as the taxi took a turn at the traffic signal. “Where is Kala Kendra gone?” She uttered in shock. “That theater where they had dance and stage plays, it has been shifted to the other end of the city closer to the suburbs. It’s been more than 7 years; you seem to be coming back after a long time?” the taxi driver responded. “Oh, OK” was all Madhura could manage to say, she did not wish to have any further conversation. She felt a pang of immense sadness, knowing that the place which had once been her second home had now been pushed to an obscure corner of the city. Lost in her thoughts Madhura did not realize she had arrived at her destination until she saw the taxi take a turn near the once familiar Peepal tree. Seeing the tree still standing tall at the entrance of the lane gave her a feeling of much-needed reassurance.
Madhura got ready to descend from the taxi when she noticed the blue colored compound wall and looked ahead. The only familiar sight was the compound wall. The building standing in its confines bore no similarity to the old bungalow, but that window on the first floor brought back memories of those wonderful childhood days. She looked to the right of the window, eagerly looking for the mango tree, but it was nowhere in sight. This was a reminder that times had changed and the time that had gone by hadn’t left many remnants behind. “So, you, did come after all? I can see you haven’t changed, it’s still that house or should I say that window, which is important to you. At least keep your luggage inside the house, I know the staring passers-by do not bother you, but it bothers the rest of the family.” Madhura turned to face the speaker.
Her little sister Disha looked like an entirely different person. Though Madhura had not expected to see the 20-year-old bubbly and enthusiastic Disha, the woman who stood before her looked pale and troubled and her words gave away the bitterness that seemed to fill her. A change of this magnitude in her sister worried Madhura, but she gave her a warm smile with the hope that she would get a glimpse of the Disha she had known all those years ago. But she only received a cold stare in return. Madhura followed her sister inside the house. This house unlike the one opposite remained the same as she had seen it 12 years back. “Your room is taken, Neeru bua is staying there and none of the other rooms has a great view of the opposite window. But it’s ok, you can stand on the terrace and keep looking at it, anyways he vacated the place years ago, all you have is the window.” Disha added with a sneer, as she led Madhura to her room.
The scathing tone of Disha’s voice and the words hurt Madhura. Was it really Disha speaking those words? It sounded more like Neeru Bua’s words. Neeru Bua had always disliked Prateek, no it wasn’t him that she disliked so much, it was their friendship which she despised. Prateek and Madhura had been neighbours since the age of 4. Most of their communication happened through the first-floor window. It had been Prateek who introduced her to the world of music and theatre. If she had to credit one person for her love for the stage, it had to be him. Disha had always bonded well with him, she had adored their friendship. Then why this surge of hatred, Madhura wondered. Had Neeru Bua managed to poison Disha as well?
Those words of bua all those years ago as Madhura was rushing for a rehearsal, played clearly in her mind to this day. Madhura was telling her that she was running late, that Prateek and the group were waiting for rehearsal and she had said “oh yes, I knew, I always know when he’s here, and what all you’re up to, but you must understand that you’re older now. Just like childhood ended, and school ended, and college ended, your childish ‘best-friendship’ with that boy also has to come to an end.” That day Madhura had left in anger, making a mental note to come back in the evening and give an earful to bua for her contorted thinking and defaming her friendship with Prateek. Little had she known, that bua was intent on cooking up a storm, that evening was going to be one among Madhura’s darkest memories.
Coming from a family of traders, Madura’s father could never understand her passion for music or theater, but he never objected to her pursuing her interest. The only time he had not been entirely happy with her decision was when she had decided to major in theater for her graduation. Her mother had put in her best efforts to talk her out of it, but she had had her way and she performed well in the course as well. She had been hoping to convince her father for the Master’s program in Netherlands. But this time she was not going to be lucky. That fateful evening the rehearsal had taken a little longer than expected. Madhura entered the house as the clock just struck 10.
Madhura saw her father sitting on the living room couch with a livid expression on his face and her mother was sitting opposite him and Madhura could see her face was clouded with anger and worry. “What happened ma? Why are you and papa looking so worried?” “They should be joyous to see their daughter come at this unearthly hour, that too riding pillion on a two-wheeler with a boy.” The response was from bua, while her parents sat on the couch glaring at her. “It was Prateek and we have been coming back home together for years. You know that papa?” But Madhura’s words did not affect her parents, especially not her father. The days that followed were a blur for Madhura. Her always encouraging parents, made her withdraw her participation from the play she had been rehearsing for months, strictly monitored her movements in and outside the house and even kept a tab on her phone. In all of this, she had missed her best friend. But strangely there was no call or messages from Prateek. She wondered if bua had spoken to him in the same tone or worst, had she gone and spewed venom to his parents? A few months later Prateek informed her he was moving abroad for higher education. That was the last she had spoken to him.
A month after the disastrous evening, her parents had introduced Madhura to Atul. His family had joined them for dinner that evening. Much to her shock, Madhura was told Atul and his family had agreed to the wedding and the wedding was scheduled 3 months later. Madhura had been livid, nobody had thought of asking her. But all she got to hear from her parents was “forget that boy, Atul is a much better person.” She wanted to scream that she had never wanted to marry Prateek, he was a friend, a precious friend and nothing more. But did they not know already? But they had decided to trust a relative over their daughter and she saw no point in having any conversation with them.
Madhura remembered those 3 years of her married life as quite uneventful. Atul had been happy managing his Company and liked spending weekends with his family. He had involved her in his Company as well. She looked after the accounts and helped him with new recruitments. But this was not the work she had been cut out for and despite making all the efforts she longed to get back on stage. A couple of months before their second anniversary, Madhura spoke her mind to Atul. She told him about her plans for going to Netherland to enroll in a master’s program in Theatre Studies. He had seemed a tad uncomfortable and told her “let us take some time and think it over.” She waited for six months, but there was no response still. She had approached him with her acceptance letter from the University and that day all hell had broken loose. Atul had got her home to her parents to talk sense into her. But this time she was determined not to bow down to their demands. She knew if she went ahead and joined the course, she could not come back here and she hadn’t until she had received the phone call from Disha a month back.
Madhura stepped into the living room, unlike earlier in the day it was full of people. She could see a crowd of her relatives gathered there. In the midst of the crowd, she saw her parents sitting on the couch, and headed straight to them. As she was about to greet her father on his birthday, she heard that voice she detested from the core of her heart, “you decided to come. What’s more surprising is you still remember us. You seemed to only be concerned about yourself and your supposed friend. Saw the end result, you are left lonely now. Time you apologised to your father.” Madhura stood in shock listening to Neeru bua’s spiteful words.
“This is the reason you called me?” Madhura questioned her sister angrily. “You can see for yourself, papa is not in the pink of his health, he might not be around for his next birthday. I don’t want him to pass away with the hurt of your betrayal. You, owe us an explanation, specifically me. Your act of betrayal destroyed all my dreams.” Disha’s words shocked Madura, She had never expected this kind of animosity, least of all from Disha. Or had she been naïve to think that finally she had been understood?
“I took charge of my life and sought my own happiness; I do not owe an apology to anyone for that. I do not know and neiher am I intrested to know the reason for bua’s animosity, but Disha, you and mummy, papa were family, but you guys chose to trust a third person over me. I am the one who has been betrayed. You all knew very well Prateek was only my dear friend, a friendship which you destroyed. Disha, sadly I was used as the excuse to make you toe the line and you fell for the trap. Anyways Happy Birthday Papa, today is indeed the last we meet. Let’s be happy in our worlds.” With this Madhura set out to get back to her life knowing well, she was never going to return now.