What after life, people ask this intricate question and I say let it be a mystery.
WAS IT YOU?
"...What after life, people ask this intricate question quite often and I say let it be a mystery..."
Brahmakumari Ritu was addressing a large gathering on a live show being telecast by a popular TV channel. I turned off the channel and shut my eyes for a while. Words of Ritu were ringing in my mind..."let it be a mystery..."
I kept on thinking why questions, such as, life after death, and existence of spirit etc. have remained out of reach of science and technology even in this 21st century. I had woken up early in the morning and as was habit on such occasion turned on the channel. It was a matter of chance that it happened to be a channel that was telecasting a Brahmakumari's discourse.
It had been four years since death of my wife. These four years had shattered my life completely. Saloni , my wife had met me on a prize distribution function which was organized by a "new writers forum". Both of us were invited to take part in the function. She was awarded for the best story writing. I was adjudged the second. It was she who invited me on a cup of coffee in a nearby coffee shop. We chatted for long and thereafter kept on meeting frequently. By then, both we had known each other so much so that on a fine day I gathered courage to propose to marry her. I still remember... she had smiled without saying anything and departed. Being sensitive, her abrupt departure puzzled me. Her strange behavior had upset me. Now I was regretting for having proposed her. A sense of guilt filled in me. I decided to tender apology on our next meeting for my proposal which she might have not liked... perhaps. Nervous... I rang her up. She picked the call. Silence pervaded... "Hello... " This was Saloni on the other side.
"Hi...Saloni..." I fumbled.
"Yeah... Sharat... How do you do..." She looked enthusiastic.
I mustered my courage.
"Saloni... I am extremely sorry for..."
"For what..." She interrupted me.
"For having proposed you...". I could barely complete.
"What!..." She almost shouted.
"Hi Sharat... Listen...When are we going to be married".
I could not believe.
"As soon as you wish..." I said.
Call was snapped.
Both we had decided to not make it a big affair. Our parents were opposed to this marriage. So only a few friends from both sides joined us. Marriage rituals were performed in a temple and both we tied the knot with each other to live together forever. Marriage ceremony ended with a small party hosted by our friends. The next day we sat out for our honeymoon.
It was small hilly town with no hustle and bustle. Both we had decided to spend our best days at a secluded and lonely place like this. There were hills around and a dense forest at an elevation overlooked the sleepy town. Cool breeze blew with a misty fragrance thrilled and fascinated as we walked down the insipid lanes. Holding hands of each other tightly we kept on walking. Ahead of us was a big sign board reading "honeymooner's paradise at a distance of 15 miles". Saloni looked at me as if she had desired to go to that place. We took a local taxi to reach there.
At the hotel, there was a reception manned by a girl and two bellboys. After certain usual formalities, we took keys and headed towards the room. On the third floor of the hotel. It was a spacious room with a huge balcony stretched out to the mango trees on both sides. We came out on the balcony. It was when Salony held my hand and said "Sharat... See around. These lofty mountains and distance forest."
She seemed to be mesmerized.
"You know there is something that irks me often." I looked at her.
She continued "...I often feel how nice it would be if we continue to be together even after this life. There should be permanent bonding of relations. Why do we part with..." She left the sentence incomplete. Tears rolled down her cheeks. I embraced her tightly.
I murmured "... We will not part with each other"
The next day we were on our way to a rocky climb. The path was muddy and patchy. The trees and shrubs on both sides of the road were blocking the sun rays making unsuccessful efforts to brighten the dense forest. We had climbed almost half of the way to reach to the top. Saloni looked little tired and sat on a rock. I took a photo of her with my Kodac camera. We took next twenty minutes to reach to the top. We looked around. View was splendid. Snow capped mountains encircled the little town. Clouds had wrapped the dense forest by now. A little unique bird with yellow beak caught hold of my attention.
I drew towards it to take a photograph of this little creature. Just then a faint scream pierced my ears. I turned back. Saloni was not there. I panicked and rushed to the cliff where she was standing. There was no sign of her there. I peeped down from the cody rock except thick layer of clouds nothing was visible.
I cried and shouted at the top of my voice but there was no response from other side. I kept on shouting for help. Just then a local shepherd appeared from the mist.
"What happened Babuji" He asked.
"My wife Saloni was standing here. I heard her screaming. Now she is nowhere..." My body shuddered in unknown fear.
"Oh my god... Babuji are you sure she was here? It is so steeply rocky...None can survive if one falls from here. Earlier also some tourists have fallen from here only to be found dead next day."
I had become numb as if there was no energy in my body. I almost fainted and fell on the ground.
Next morning I found myself surrounded by hotel staff and local police personnel. I helplessly looked around. A lady staff of the hotel came forward and informed "Your wife was found dead. She had fallen off the hill top. Her head was smashed and profuse bleeding had caused her death... Sorry..."
By then I had become unconscious.
These four years without Saloni were lifeless. I would wander here and there in search of solace. But the more I tried the more perturbed I became. I had cut myself off all the social activities. If there was something in the name of consolation it was her memories and her photograph in the wooden frame hanging on my bedside. I would stand in front of her photograph and talk as if she was still alive. This was the only source of my solace. It was becoming increasingly difficult for me to pull on my normal life. I could not sleep well and would wake up in the early hours of the morning. Slowly and slowly I forced myself to believe that the life is a mystery. The more we attempt to understand it, the more complicated it becomes. This led me to switch over to listen to the discourses based on intricacies of life and death. It was surprising for me also as I had never believed in such things ever before. Infact, I was the one who would often ridicule such arguments.
Few more days rolled on. My business assignments were in jittery. I had not concentrated on my business deals. My accountant informed me the losses my firm had suffered. In fact, absence of Saloni had become unbearable. I knew she would never come back but still a faint sensation of her being around me prevailed. Strange but with intensity this feeling grew in me. My friends were concerned over my grief. They advised me to seek help of a psychiatrist to come out of the clutches of the memories haunting me. The advice of the psychiatrist surprised me. Instead of prescribing any cogent treatment he had advised me to revisit the memories by going to the same place where we had our honeymoon.
Reluctantly, I packed my clothing and got my berth reserved through a local tour agent. I took the only train to my destination. On reaching the hill station, I deboarded from the train and set on a bench at the platform. Platform wore a deserted look. It was still dark around. Not even a single passenger was visible. Just then a local taxi driver approached me. He came closer and looked on my face with curiosity.
"Sir, you had come four years before. That tragic accident of your wife is still talk of the town. Where should I take you?"
"Hotel honeymooner's paradise" I briefly replied.
As I drew nearer to the Hotel memories of Saloni surfaced up again. My eyes became wet, my heart cried. How happy we were. She had dreams in her eyes and she had longed for living together for forever, even after this life and she left me broken and shattered.
"Sir here is the hotel..." Voice of taxi driver jerked my senses.
"Oh yes..." I paid his fare and marched towards the reception. There was a girl again with two bell boys but this time staff at the reception was not the same as I had met on my earlier visit. The girl at the reception welcomed me with the smile and handed over keys. She ordered a bell boy to carry my luggage to the room. I had requested the travel agent to book the same room where I had stayed with Saloni four years before.
The bell boy who appeared a pleasant local boy from nearby village said, "Sir this hotel is for honeymooners, but you are alone...".
"Yes...I wanted some lonely place to stay. My friends advised me to visit this hotel which is away from the town. This is it..."
The bell boy bowed his head and went away. Sky was overcast with thick clouds. Hills around were wrapped in white fog. Intermittent lightening was dazzling the deep forest. Anytime it could rain.
I dragged my feet to the balcony and stood at a corner of it. Just then the cold wind blew and a feeble voice fell in to my ears. Bewildered, I looked around. There was none. Now heavy rain started shaking mango trees wildly. I went in to the room and picked up my phone to call the receptionist. There was a message of my manager saying- "an urgent meeting to finalize the deal with Jacko"... This meeting was very urgent to attend. Already my business had suffered huge losses and this deal was going to fetch me handsome returns to wipe off the previous losses. I immediately contacted the receptionist for letting me know the schedule of the train leaving the town in the night. In the meanwhile I sent a message to my travel agent for arranging a ticket. My travel agent sent me a message, "My person will come at 10 p.m. to deliver ticket and pick you up. The rain had intensified now and there was no sign of cessation.
It worried me a bit.
It was getting late enough to be worried. I once again stepped into the balcony and looked down. Except for a drenched street dog that was lying down miserably near the gate, there was not a soul to be seen anywhere. Rain water had puddled under the lamp post. A breeze ruffled the mango tree in the courtyard and a few twigs fell down and broke. Thunder rumbled in the distance. Did I hear a soft knock at the door? I turned back. I dragged myself to the door and pulled the curtain. Darkness had enveloped the entire corridor as there was no electricity. At the door I saw some person standing with umbrella in hand.
"Yes please..." I said.
"Sir" a lady voice reverberated in the environment. "It's a message for you that the train will be delayed due to bad weather. We will get in touch with you for further update." And the voice became feeble.
"Thank you" I said.
She disappeared in the large corridor descending in to darkness.
I came back to the room and picked my phone again. Oh my god! There was no connection. Incessant rain had crippled the whole network. It was then I fell asleep and when I woke up I shockingly noticed that the dawn was about to break. I ran to the reception angrily. The bell boy was lying on a chair. I shook him. He opened his eyes and hurriedly stood in front of me.
"What yes sir?" I angrily shouted. "It's now morning and you had promised me to give update of arrival of a train I was going to board in, then what happened? Why didn't you inform me?"
"Sir" he stumbled. "Who was to give you update, I am not aware of anything!"
"Yesterday night a lady came to my room informing me that train would come late and I will be informed as and when any fresh update comes, then why was I not updated?"
The hotel manager who was sleeping inside woke up after hearing argument.
He said "Sir Can I assist you? I am manager."
"Is it your management that I am not given any update of train's departure despite promise?"
"Sir, who promised you?" asked manager shockingly.
"It was some lady from your staff who came to my room to inform me" I said.
"Sir at what time she could have visited your room?" Manager queried.
"It may be around 10:30 p.m." As I uttered these words, eyes of the manager widened.
"I can't believe, this is not possible. In fact our receptionist had left early yesterday due to bad weather and there was no lady staff at the reception at that time."
Just then a breaking news flashed on the television news channel hanging in the reception area reporting a massive train accident which departed the hill town at 10 O' clock. In sheer shock and amazement I heard the reporter saying how the train got derailed and all the passengers in the train were killed.
"Oh my god!" My head was spinning and my body shuddered. The train was not late. It came in time as scheduled and she informed me that the train was late to save my life...perhaps. The manager arranged a taxi for me to take me to my destination.
Back home, my business manager told me that the meeting was successful and the company had got a huge order. The next morning as usual I woke up and turned on a channel. It was Ritu again saying, "So as I said there are certain mysterious and strange happenings and beauty of the life lies in its being mysterious. You need to be conscious and vigilant to know these changes. No one walks alive from this life. Only your experience tells you the truth." In the meanwhile the clouds roared and the rain started. Lightening dazzled the photo frame of Saloni and my eyes fell on her face. There was a mysterious smile
and her eyes blinked for a while. Hypnotized I asked "Was it you Saloni...?". Thunderstorm outside the room began to shake my senses.