Monday, 2 September 2019

part 6 : Crossroads

January 20, 2010


I can't do this. Ever since he left, I've been back at work, putting my mind to what I should be doing. But this is Sanjeevani...every little nook, every little corner, the canteen, the wards, the Fire Escape...the very air breathes him back into me. And I can't do this any more. I have to go...find some place else to begin again. I said that to Sid yesterday, but he was adamant to make me stay. He says I'm running away. But he doesn't understand. I can never run away from how I feel. How can I? My pain will stay with me no matter where I am. All I want is to not have tangible physical reminders of every moment I've spent in the past three years, telling me constantly that I've lost everything that ever mattered to me...I can't do this. I have to get away for some time. I can't do this.





January 22, 2010

Eleven days...of wondering what he must be doing, how he must be coping with the emptiness that I know pervades his heart just the way it pervades mine. And then this. This little brown envelope by the morning post. From somewhere in Pune. He's sent me Divorce papers. Divorce papers...

I suppose it's a good thing I'm leaving in a few days. Apollo, New Delhi accepted my application very gracefully. I have to get away from here.

I don't know why he's so determined to lie to himself, that I can do this without him. That he can do this without me...

* * *


20th January, 2010

I made this decision. I did it. And I know why. Then...why does it bother me? I know she can never be happy with me. She can never move on while my presence remains like a shadow over all her attempts to do so. No one could understand that better than I do. And yet...why? Why do I keep thinking of going back? Why do I want to see her just that one more time? I keep trying to concentrate on work. All the doctors at Pune Sanjeevani are quite happy to have me intern here, after Dr. Kirti's recommendation. I'm doing what I can, and I hope I don't let them down. But...I hope she's okay...she'll be okay...Sid's with her too...she has to be okay...




23rd January, 2010

She must have received the papers by now. I wonder how they made her feel...did it hurt her the way it hurt me when I sent them? I hope not. I really do...because it's only fair. To be free of me, she has to be free of everything that ties us together. And this marriage is the only thing that remains in the tangible world. A piece of paper it may be, but it's necessary. I had to do it. I had to.

But...should I go and see, nevertheless? That she's not taking it too hard? It feels like such a long time...how must she be doing? Should I...can I go back? Just this once? But that isn't the real question. I know it isn't. The truth is, if I do go back, will I be able to return? If I see her one more time, will I be able to let her go, again?


25th January, 2010

I'm here. I went to Sanjeevani today after what felt like an era. And just the sight of the building made me regret my decision of having come. I just wanted to see her once. See what she's doing, how she's coping with life...just once. But it hurt more than I had imagined while convincing myself that this wouldn't be too difficult. I had said to myself before I left Pune that this is just the one journey, just a matter of a few days, and it'll all be over once I know she's okay. But this isn't easy. It isn't easy...because I did see her, and it was such a strange mixture of emotions that welled up in me...I was so happy to see her, as she drove in to the hospital. I wanted to run out to her, tell her that I'm here, but I couldn't...I couldn't...I hid behind an Ambulance, and just watched her. And then...



Armaan looked up from his diary. He saw that Riddhima had taken out hers and begun reading it too. He supposed she looked to it for comfort as well, the way he did. He looked back down at the entry he had been reading. He could remember it so clearly...


He had driven to his apartment in Mumbai. And as soon as he had entered, he had instinctively reached for the key holder to hang his keys, his eyes had found the picture just under it, and the keys had slipped from his fingers. Everything he had been trying to let go of, everything he had been hoping she would be able to let go of, sitting right there on his wall, untouched by reality. He had run his fingers over it once, softly, and had known right then that he couldn't stay in that house any more. Not for a few hours, not for a few minutes...he couldn't. He had also realised in the same moment, that Riddhima had known too. Because the photograph was coated with a layer of dust, as was the floor, and the furniture. He could see that life had left this home. Riddhima was gone. And so he had picked up his keys again, and his bag, and left for Sanjeevani straight away. Seeing the hospital had been even worse. It had brought with it in a disorienting rush, all the memories preceding those which the house had evoked. How they had met, fallen in love, laughed together, cried together, fought, made up...everything. And then, he had seen her. Riddhima had driven in to the hospital, right up to the gate this time. Armaan had stood behind an Ambulance parked a few yards from where she was. He had been waiting for her to get out of the car so that he could see her face properly, but she had kept sitting in there, as though waiting for someone. A moment later, she had pressed the horn hard, once, twice...and then someone had come running through the front door, carrying a small black bag.

Sid : (Loudly) "Aa raha hoon, aa raha hoon...!!"

Riddhima : "Why're you never on time? Seriously?! We're already late...it'll be a miracle if we don't miss the flight..."

Sid : "We won't miss it, relax. Chalo, let's go. Baaki samaan rakh liya?"

Riddhima : "Haan. Tumhari tarah nahin hoon main. I've kept everything, and I kept it on time. Ticket tumhare paas hai na?"

Sid : "(Heaves a sigh) "Haan haan, hai mere paas. Wo agent subah hi Reception pe deliver kar gaya tha. Tumne ghar pe kyun nahin deliver karvayi, by the way? Why Sanjeevani?"

Riddhima : "Uh...bas, aise hi...ab time waste na karke chalein, please?!"

Sid : (Shaking his head) "Haan bhai, chalo..."

And they had driven away. Armaan didn't know for how long after that he had stood absolutely still, until the Ambulance had honked him out of hiding. He had walked very slowly towards his car, got in, taken a deep steadying breath, and set off on his way back to Pune. His work here was done.

* * *


January 25, 2010

Finally, I've left. It took a while getting everything together. I had already taken my things from home, when I had shifted into the hotel two days ago. I couldn't breathe in that house. I had to get out. That had been the hardest part, but things were easier after. Two days of running around the hospital finishing the formalities. It was very difficult to convince Dr. Kirti. But even more difficult than convincing her, was convincing Sid. He reacted so strongly when I told him...I could see that he was worried about me. But I had made my decision, and I stood by my reasons for it. It took some effort, but he saw that I wouldn't change my mind. I suppose that's why he sort of resigned himself to it. And really helped out, too. Collected my air-ticket from Sanjeevani, where I'd had it delivered, cleared my locker and packed all its contents in my old black bag, came all the way to the airport, and even took charge of my car from there, when I left. He's been with me, all this while, like a true friend. I can never thank him enough for it.  And to think that he wasn't around for so long...but we go back all the way to med school. Friendships like that don't just fade away.

There is so much more that doesn't fade away too...I'm changing where I work, where I live...but I can never change what's inside me. That's what Sid won't understand right now. Not until he knows what it is to have loved, and lost so painfully...

And I think my pain is beginning to play tricks with my mind too, now. It's this place, perhaps. Because when I was waiting for Sid outside the hospital today, I had the strangest feeling that Armaan was there, somewhere nearby...I could sense him...feel his presence, in the very air I breathed. But how could that be? He's gone. He left two weeks ago. And he's not coming back. He's not coming back...



February 11, 2010

Apollo's working out decently well. Delhi's a nice place. It isn't home, though. Not yet, and perhaps never will be. I now know exactly what people mean when they say that home is where the heart is. It is. It really is. And home isn't here. I don't know where it is...but it isn't here.

Which is why it is perhaps a very good thing that life is hectic, otherwise. I've no time to think much about anything at all. Of course, some things are embedded in my mind and won't go away...but all this work spares me from constantly dwelling on them. We're getting ready to host a National Medical Conference in a little more than two month's time, and I have most of the organisational odd jobs on my shoulders. It's coming along pretty well. Let's see how things go.

As I write about my day, I can't help but wonder...how must his day have been? What would he be doing right now? Sleeping already? No. It's too early. Then what? Could he be thinking about me too? Would he ever...no. I have to stop this. Focus. Focus. It'll be okay, it's just a matter of time...just a matter of time...

* * *


16th February, 2010

Life's come to a standstill. I have to get it to move, somehow. I'm working, day in and day out. My senior doctors keep telling me to go home and rest. But how can I? If I rest, I think of her. I think of her even when I work, but I have other things to fill up the void that comes with that thought. And home...I had one, once upon a time. I don't think I'll ever find it again. I try to stay at the hospital for as long as possible. Lately, I've taken to concentrating extra hard on a paper one of my colleagues, Dr. Nikhil Malhotra, will be presenting. We're writing and researching it together, and he's going to present it at the National Medical Conference at Apollo, New Delhi. He's been insisting that I accompany him when it happens, in April. He doesn't know me very well, but he can sense my sadness somehow. I suppose I'll go with him, perhaps another change of scene might be a bit of a relief. I don't know what I'm doing with my life. I don't know where I'm going. But I'm plodding on, hoping someone or something will show me the right road...

* * *


February 23, 2010

Happy Birthday, Armaan. There are no cakes in Apollo's cafeteria, so I cut a muffin for you. And I don't know why I did it.  I don't know why I keep thinking of you like you're still a part of my reality. Because you're not. But you are a part of me. I can't lie to myself about that. You always will be. I hope you have a good day, and a good life...I love you...



I love you...Riddhima read the last three words of that entry over and over again. She had tried so hard, so hard, to move on, to leave behind the pain, leave behind the love...but destiny evidently had other plans for her. Because the Conference had brought them both face to face again. She could see that day playing out like a reel of film, on the pages open before her...



The corridors of Apollo were abuzz with activity. Senior Doctors welcoming Delegates and leading them to the Auditorium, Interns running around all over the hospital, all an enthusiastic part of the behind-the-scenes rigmarole, Ward boys darting from one room to another laden with bundles of files and pamphlets...and Riddhima right at the center of the hubbub, handing out tasks and instructions to every one she saw, and managing the potential chaos quite deftly.

Riddhima : (Standing in the wings behind the Auditorium, gesturing at a group of Ward boys, in a whisper) "Jaldi...jaldi...saare Delegates aa chuke hain, unke liye ye refreshments le kar jao. Jaldi...!!"

As they left with trays laden with tea, coffee and a variety of snacks, she took a deep breath to calm herself down. She had been feeling uneasy all day. Perhaps it was the stress of organising the event. She had been working nights for it the whole week, after all. Things were going really well too. And yet...she snapped herself out of it. She had to concentrate, the Conference wasn't over yet, and there were still a million things that could go wrong.

Everything went off as perfectly as could have been hoped. The speakers came on and presented their papers, there were discussions after each presentation, and the session finally reached its concluding ceremony, where Apollo would present an award to the best paper presented at the Conference, based on the votes of some of the most highly esteemed minds from across the country.

Riddhima readied herself to go out onto the podium to make the announcement as well as the closing speech for the event. She walked out into the spotlight, confidently strode to the podium and began, hoping that the nervousness of giving the speech would drown out the uneasiness that had only increased with every passing minute. "A very Good Evening..." she began, but the discomfort persisted as she went on. She was finally handed a card with the title of the winning paper, its presenter and the institution he was representing.

Riddhima : "And the award goes to...'Cardiovascular Diseases and the Indian Subcontinent', presented by Dr. Nikhil Malhotra, from Pune Sanjeevani Hospital, Maharashtra. Could we please have Dr. Malhotra on stage to accept a token of merit and appreciation..."

A tall young man stood up and came forward to accept the award from one of the senior-most doctors of Apollo. But just as he reached the lady he said something to her, she smiled and nodded, and he came walking towards the podium where Riddhima stood.

Nikhil : "I'd like to make an announcement with regard to the award, if that's okay..."

Riddhima : "Oh...(Stepping aside) Yes, of course, go ahead."

Nikhil : " Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I am extremely honoured to have been bestowed with such a prestigious vote by some of the greatest minds medicine in India has seen. But in accepting this award, I believe it would be unfair if I did not accord credit where it is rightfully due. I was the one to present this paper to such an esteemed audience this evening, but the hard work that went into researching and writing it is by no means mine alone. Which is why I would like to call on stage to share this honour, my colleague and co-author for the winning presentation, Dr. Armaan Mallik."

Armaan sat completely still, his eyes fixed on the one figure that seemed to him for a moment to be the only tangible human presence in the entire room. The applause, the beaming faces turned in his direction, the nudges of colleagues who sat beside him...all the sudden attention didn't register. Didn't matter. Because his focus lay entirely on the expression on her face as she heard his name spoken out loud for the first time in three months. A sharper nudge brought him back to life, the rumbling applause washing over him as he blinked and was made to stand up, almost against his will. He had to walk to the stage, he knew that. Only, he seemed to have forgotten why...Nikhil stood there too...yes, and he was walking towards him to collect the award. Yes. The award. But was that really all he was walking towards? Was that all?

"...Dr. Armaan Mallik..." The name seemed to reverberate through the air, ricocheting off the walls, the hands that struck the applause, the faces, the chairs and tables...Riddhima stood frozen next to the podium. There he was. Walking towards her. She lowered her eyes to stare at the ground, but she knew that his eyes were trained on her alone. There was something so disorienting about that moment that she felt as though she didn't know where she was. She didn't know anything. Only that he was there, and he was walking towards her. He was there. He came closer and closer...climbed up the steps to the stage, reached the podium...and passed by. She felt him move right across her, leaving behind only the faint aroma of cologne, and nothing more. Nothing.


April 28, 2010

I came all the way here to be away from your presence, your memories...I knew you wouldn't come back. And I know today that I was right. You passed me by. Never looking back even once...never turning, to see me crumbling to pieces all over again...why do you do this to me, Armaan? Why won't you let me let you go?

I shouldn't have come. Sid was right. I was running away. I was running away from Armaan. From everything that spoke to me of him. And no good ever came out of evading what hurts most. I have to face it. I have to go back, and find a way to live within the realm of the life I wanted so desperately to leave behind. I have to go back.

* * *


28th April, 2010

I've never wanted anything in my whole life more than I did when I saw her, to stop walking...to turn to look at her...to reach out and touch her...but I had to pass her by. I couldn't betray my decision. I couldn't hurt her again. But I did hurt her. That's what I end up inflicting on her every time, no matter what I do. I'm sorry. I had to do it. I'm sorry, Riddhima...

12th May, 2010

I hope she's happy. I hope she's found something to live for. If only I could...no. No. I hope Sid's taking good care of her in Delhi. I saw them when they left together, after all, and they seemed okay...I hope they're happier now, with time hopefully having healed at least some of her pain...

25th May, 2010

It's been nearly a month since the Conference, I've been back in Pune all this while. And I have nothing to keep me alive. No extra-hours of research, no double-shifts since my seniors have become insistent that I take as much rest as I can. It feels all wrong. It's like I'm slipping into a void.

And then, this afternoon, I received a call from Mumbai Sanjeevani. My internship is coming to an end in a fortnight, and there is a problem with the transfer certification I had applied for when I shifted to Pune. The options open to me now are to wait for a month for the documentation to be cleared in totality, or return to complete my internship there, saving them as well as myself a huge load of paperwork and inconvenience. I've been struggling to find balance here. And I know it's not working. This new development seems almost like a sign telling me that I have to go back. I have to find balance within the space I've been trying to run away from. It is perhaps the only way. Riddhima is in Delhi anyway, and so my presence in Mumbai should do no one any more harm. I must go back.



Armaan was distracted when Riddhima stood up and walked towards the table for a glass of water. As she gulped it down, he looked back at the page, moving on to the next entry as the memory it contained seemed to rise out of the paper and play itself out right before his eyes...

Having arranged for rented accomodation in Mumbai on his return, he had made his way to Sanjeevani on the morning of the 9th of June. He had been hoping to try and find peace of some kind, even if it was in knowing that Riddhima was settled somewhere with someone who cared for her. And now all that remained for him to do, was work. Work, to fill his empty days, to dull his pain...work. But the moment he set foot in the hospital, his heart skipped a beat. No. It wasn't possible. She's in Delhi, at Apollo. She couldn't be here. He closed his eyes to steady himself, took a deep breath and stepped forward towards the Nurses' Station. And then he saw her. Engrossed in studying a file, walking towards where he stood. But she sensed him too, and stopped in her tracks with her eyes still fixed on what she had been reading. She looked up slowly, tentatively, as though hoping that her gaze would find nothing at all, and that she could explain away her accelerating heart-beats as the result of nothing more than a figment of her imagination. But it wasn't imagination. He was there. She was there.

So much erupted within her the moment her eyes found his face, that she didn't know what to do. She wanted to run to him, and yet she wanted to run away from him. She wanted to speak to him, to hear his voice again, and yet she didn't even want to look at him. She wanted to weep, to yell, but no tears would come. All the hurt, all the resentment, all the anger made its way to the surface, and she couldn't trust herself with words anymore. And so she walked towards him, and walked on by without sparing him a glance, setting about her work at the Nurses' Station and going on for her rounds.

Armaan saw her pass him by, and closed his eyes. Perhaps they had been brought together again this way for a purpose. So that they could learn to be without each other, while still being in each other's presence. They had to confront it, instead of running to solitude for shelter. It would be more painful than anything imaginable, but it had to be done.

He resumed his duties, and as time went by they would cross each other in corridors, in the locker room, in the canteen, but never exchanged a word. There was so much building up within each of them...eluding the eyes of the rest of the world as it watched two people who had been in love, were no longer together, but were managing just fine. It wasn't nearly as simple as that, for the two of them. And then one day, they reached breaking point. Both made their way to the Fire Escape to clear their heads, and found themselves facing each other again. They couldn't take the silence any more.

Armaan : (Halting, hesitant) "Uh...tum...kaisi ho? (Appalled at himself for asking such a question. Fumbling.) Um...I mean...uh..."

Riddhima : (Looking straight at him, quite surprised to find herself completely in control and dry-eyed) "I'm fine, thank you, Dr. Mallik. Aap?"

Armaan was taken aback, and didn't know how to answer or carry on the conversation. He stumbled through a few sentences, but then his mind stopped working altogether. And a question that had been burning inside him for quite some time burst out from his lips before he could stop it. The Divorce papers. Had she received them? The question was more a plea to know what she wanted. Somehow, even after everything that had happened, deep in his heart he hoped she wouldn't...perhaps she'd still...had she made her decision?

Riddhima : (After a fraction of a moment's hesitation) "What Divorce papers?"

Armaan : "I...uh...I had sent you the papers after I had...left. (The word seeming so small for what he had done. Looks down.) You...uh...didn't get them?"

Riddhima : (Now beginning to lose hold over herself. The mention of the papers has made something give way.) "Nahin, Armaan. (Can feel everything rising to the surface again, struggling to find balance) Don't you think I'd have responded if I had? And...for all you know, you might not even have sent...you're only saying this because...(desperate to return to rational ground, seeing herself losing the thread of reason and speech)...I...I don't really care, actually. (Finds a stronger voice) It's a piece of paper that doesn't mean much if you look at what the last six months have been like, nahin Armaan? Do you still think we need a document to seal this? Isn't it enough to see the way we are today, to know where we stand? Where our relationship, our marriage...? (Voice breaks again, but she turns away from him, regains control) My life is now solely my own, papers or no papers. So whether you're here or anywhere else, it makes no difference to me. I don't care, Armaan. Not any more."

And she left, leaving Armaan feeling wounded without knowing why. What else had he been hoping to hear? Holding himself up, he walked out of the Fire Escape. As he turned to move towards the General Ward, someone who was evidently in a great hurry crashed into him, leading to a loud exclamation and a flurry of papers flying in the air. Armaan squatted down to help him pick up the scattered documents. Having rounded them up, he handed them back to the man, also squatting on the floor trying to order them in the right sequence, and saw his face for the first time. It was Sid. It suddenly struck Armaan that he hadn't seen him around all this while he'd been here. They stood up, and the expression on Sid's face went from that of flustered annoyance to cold hardness when he saw who had handed him the papers.

Sid : (Curt, cold) "You...you here?"

Armaan : (Senses the hostility, and knows it is well-deserved) "Uh...haan. Just till my internship's over next week. I'll go away after that."

Sid : "Again?"

Armaan : (Knows it isn't so much a question as a statement. Looks down.) "Um...you're...how are you?"

Sid : (A little taken aback) "I'm...fine. You look quite okay yourself, so I don't think I'll bother you with too many questions in that regard."

Armaan : (Stomaching the rudeness) "And...um...is she...are you guys...happy?"

Sid : (Now really intrigued) "I'm not sure if I know what you mean, but...I'm happy. She, on the other hand...I haven't spoken to her in a while, though. Ever since I moved to Lonavla, I've only been back here once. This is my second time, and that too for all this paperwork. She's been busy with work. (Throws him a contemptuous glance) Good for her, I'd say. But so busy that she's forgetting what life's supposed to be about. Kahin jaati nahin hai, kisi se milti nahin hai. I've been inviting her to come over for a weekend, for two months now. Hamesha mana kar deti hai. I mean, she's one of my closest friends, and she's the only one who hasn't met Tia yet..."

Armaan : "Tia...?"

Sid : (Realises he has drifted off on a tangent, becomes curt again) "Tia. My wife. Haan, tumhe kaise pata hoga, tum to... Anyway, we got married in March. And Riddhima didn't even attend the wedding, by the way..."

But Armaan wasn't listening. Tia. His wife. Shifted to Lonavla. Two months. And Riddhima had been alone...all alone, all this while? He was distracted by a sound, and looked up to see Rahul come up from behind Sid, and tell him to rush to the Reception before lunch time tolled and the staff vanished along with any chance of getting the paperwork finished on time. He looked at Armaan, his expression completely blank, and turned around to leave with Sid.

Armaan : "Rahul..."

Rahul : (Turns around, looks at him for a moment. Gestures towards Sid to carry on. In a curt tone) "Kya hai?"

Armaan looked at him, unable to say a word. There were too many questions, and a horrific realisation...that the decision he had taken, had stood by for so long, with such difficulty, had been wrong. All wrong. Rahul understood his silence, closed his eyes, and took a deep breath.

Rahul : "Let's get some coffee. Chal..."



Loads of Love and Cheers!

Nandini 

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