Running through the never ending dark alley, he looked around for one shine of light. With his breathing ragged and his heartbeats escalating with every next moment, he kept running aimlessly. Wherever he ran, he found only dark and no light. Perspiring, huffing, scared, and hopeless, he looked around for one ray of hope which would show him the right way. He saw himself lost in a dark and dense forest which engulfed him like an ocean engulfing an insignificant pebble.
He kept running and jumping through the fallen woods, eventually reaching to an opening which seemed something like water well. It was the only sign of mankind amidst the nature’s conquest he was trapped in. He looked towards his right, and then to his left. Searching for a human who could hold his hand, or who could at least be by his side telling him that it was going to be fine. And that he was soon going to be out of this trapping maze of the forest. But he found no one. He was all alone. He had to choose his way for himself, by himself.
Peeping inside the well, he saw a tiny glimpse of light. Confused, he looked inside carefully. But this time, he could see nothing but dark. Hopelessly, he began to turn around from the well. Just then, a shine of light appeared and disappeared the next second. Was the well his way out from the forest? He asked himself. What if the well was just an illusion of hope and the carrier of destruction? He looked at his surrounding dense darkness and then back to the well. What would he choose? To stay back at the forest and running through the never ending darkness, or jumping into the well which may… just may, lead him back to life?
What would he choose? To stay back with no destination or jump down the well which may give any of life or death? There was no middle way! Either well, or forest. Either the hope of life or the surety of death. He had to choose any one, for he couldn’t have both. Standing at the edge he saw the glimpse of glittering light once again. He knew he would choose the restlessness and uncertainty that had hope rather than choosing the stillness and assurance he knew would lead him nowhere. He stood on the brick wall, and with no other thought, gave a jump down the well.
Feeling the vigorous thud of jump inside his body, Aditya woke up with a start. Wiping the sweat from his forehead, he forced his heartbeats to come back to normal. It was the same dream again. The dream which reminded him how his life has been.
Uncapping the water bottle, he gulped the entire water in a go. He picked his cell phone and looked at the time. It was five thirty in the morning. He knew he could not go back to sleep.
Not after his life had knocked him down once again with the dream which realized his dreaded fears.
Without a second thought, he called Kashish. On the fourth call, she answered with a sleepy and sulky voice.
‘It’s not yet morning Aditya.’ She said, sounding drunk.
‘It is.’ He said, still getting control over his ragged voice. ‘Come down to my Apartment. Let’s go for a run to the park beside.’
‘Fuck off.’ She shrieked, ‘I am not on diet anymore. Let me sleep. Goodnight.’
‘Kashish!’ He said, with urgency in his voice. ‘I need you. It was the same dream again.’
‘I’ll be there in twenty.’ She said, and disconnected the phone.
Aditya got into his track pants and looked at his reflection in the mirror. His eyes still scared but firm. His jaws tight and taut, and his limbs, shivering but still holding strong. Like every new soul, he was born fragile but life raised him tough and he grew up to become the firm man that he was today.
Being born in a wealthy Gujarati family of Kolkata, he was entitled to a comfortable and luxurious life, or so people thought. But life had its own road map all ready even before Aditya could take his first baby step. His grandfather, an old reputed businessman who owned a textile factory, gave away his responsibilities and divided the property amongst his five sons. Aditya’s father, the youngest son was thought to become more successful because of his firm, tactful, and business-minded decisiveness. But as life had it in store, he was diagnosed with a terminal illness soon after which not only shattered their aspirations and dreams but also their family.
Their finances began to turn weak as the frequent medical aid demanded a great deal. For over two years, it was only expenses and no income. Aditya’s mother thought of getting to work several times but she dreaded leaving behind a three year old child and a sick husband. She didn’t want to turn to the extended family for help for she knew they had their own ebbs to deal with.
A month before Aditya’s fourth birthday, his father succumbed to his illness leaving behind his wife and son to conquer the world.
His life since then, as Aditya remembers, had always been about survival and never about living.
He and his mother moved to a small apartment in a mediocre locality, just to save on the expenses they would incur. His mother joined a government school as a teacher, and with the minimal money she earned, she supported his education and their survival in the metro city.
While growing up, he had realized on several occasions that he belonged somewhere else. Although the memory of those fancy toys he had played once with had turned hazy and grim, he still knew he was meant for glory. And he did work hard to attain that glory, day and night. After his high school, he spent every summer vacation earning money to pay for his fees for the coming grade. He taught himself computer languages and mastered it even before attending college.
All this while, he was so busy in perfecting and igniting his mind, that he lagged way behind in watering his soul. He thought himself to be an emotionless person. Or so he trained himself, to evade the loneliness and incompleteness of his life, he didn’t know.
He was the same stern, genius, and stone hearted person until he joined college, and until he met Siya.
Siya was a beautiful and an intelligent girl, who had already turned several heads to her attention from the just-adult guys. Aditya too had become the object of the spot light with his hyperactive head which could compile every line of code even before it was written on the screen by the faculties.
It had just been a month in college when Siya walked up to Aditya in the library and sat beside him on the old wooden bench. She looked towards him but he kept engrossed in the assignment he was working on.
‘Hey Aditya.’ She said, breaking the ice.
He turned to her and smiled, ‘Hi… Si?’
‘Siya.’ She completed, ‘I needed your help in this assignment.’ She pointed to the scattered pages on the desk. ‘Can we do it together?’
‘We can try.’ He said uninterestingly, ‘If you can keep up with the pace.’
Siya raised an eyebrow and without feeling offended, she took papers out of her bag.
‘I very well can.’
‘Usually girls cannot.’
‘I’ll ignore the sexist remark.’ She said looking into those Greek symbols on Aditya’s assignment, ‘But the remark tells me that you have never been with a girl. A girl with a head, to be precise.’
‘That is because I had better things to do.’
‘Right now, it is this assignment.’ He said bluntly and got to work.
She smiled and began keeping up with his pace. To his surprise, she could very well match up to him with his logics. That was enough for him to know that she was someone who could conquer him and leave him flat on face, like no one ever could.
That day had marked the beginning of their friendship. Their frequency connected so well that an invisible string connected them both firmly. They were inseparable through the time. With months that passed by, Aditya and Siya were altered as one name and not two for the other was connected with former each second. Everyone in college thought of them as a couple, but only they knew they were nothing but just friends.
Siya was in a relationship with a guy from her school back in her hometown, whereas Aditya was yet clueless of what love meant. He never had the time to even ponder over love as an emotion. He would laugh at his friends sulking in love. For him, it didn’t exist. Rather nothing existed but survival.
Siya had tampered with Aditya’s stone heart and made him feel more human. With time, he began loving her. Not as a lover, but as a human, as an alpha, and as a friend. He liked the humanly feeling he got inside him every time he talked to Siya. He had spent all his childhood alone and struggling, not knowing how living simply was. He felt indebted to her for being there by his side in the conquest of his dark life.
But was she really there? Or was it an illusion Aditya was following thinking of it as a light! He didn’t know then.
Siya was like a fragile, pampered child who depended on Aditya for her emotional needs. She had disturbed relationship with her boyfriend which kept her sulky and drained most of the time. Aditya would hold her back up every time she would begin sinking in her own dilemmas and problems. At times, he felt as if he was fathering a stubborn and emotionally unstable child. The emotional support and strength that he fed her, he didn’t know if he even had it in himself, for himself.
He was that life support for her who helped her breathe for all those four years of college. He was always one call away. Be it going for an early breakfast to her favorite food joint near to her PG and 20 kms away from his home, or be it for crying over her boyfriend on his shoulder, or calling him late in the night just because she couldn’t sleep.
Aditya still recalls what a disturbed soul Siya was. Though hailing from a rich family and availing all the luxuries of life one can imagine, she was poor and hollow from inside. She had unhealthy relationships – with her family and with her boyfriend as well. With time and situations, her boyfriends changed and they too had the same complaints. Whereas Aditya was the only one who was there beside her without any complaints and without any demands, all this while.
He got himself busy repairing her hollowness so much that he forgot there were many torn pieces in himself he was yet to mend.
To make Siya sleep, he would be awake through the night and be on a phone call with her, discarding her insecurities and emptiness one by one.
That night, it was thirty past three when Aditya’s eyes were heavy with sleep but he would be still on call because Siya was too sentimental and insecure to fall asleep.
‘It’s been nearly three years Aditya!’ She said, ‘You have been by my side unconditionally.’
‘I don’t measure relationships with time but feel.’ He said, ‘And you make me feel human.’
‘Finally, I did some good to someone. Else my father and my boyfriend both think I am mean.’
‘I don’t know why they say so.’ He said, ‘Don’t bother.’
‘You’re my best friend.’ She said, with a soft voice. ‘Will you be by my side forever?’
It took him a while before responding because he didn’t want to say a yes without meaning it.
‘I will.’ He finally said.
Their relationship was complicated to understand for the world. May be it was complicated even for Aditya but he didn’t want to comprehend what was there. But he knew for sure that he didn’t love Siya as a lover. But he loved her as a human so much that he preached her like one praises a supernatural force.
Aditya was so enchanted with the humanly bond he was experiencing that he had turned himself blind to the reality. It took him quite a lot time to understand that his friendship with Siya was never about them but about her. It was always her happiness, her sadness, her loneliness, her emptiness, and her dreams. It was never about him.
He realized this when he got into relationship with Devika, a fellow faculty from his institute where he taught computer languages after college. Devika was twenty seven, seven years elder to Aditya. It was strange how they could get into relationship even after such a lag in both their age. But Aditya had always been the kind of guy who had all the guts to conquer the world if only he had the right feel. He was always a courageous man who had the will to follow his heart.
For the beautiful person Devika was from the inside, Aditya fell in love with her. It was the first time in his life that he realized what a beautiful feeling being in love was. He realized how wonderful it felt to be accepted, to be acknowledged, and to be loved.
He enhanced and explored himself as a man in Devika’s presence. Every time he would hold her hand be it while crossing through a busy lane or when they would be together in a coffee shop, he would feel more responsible and grown up. He would have taken her responsibility through his life if only they had no society and its norms to care for.
They knew that their marriage would be opposed and dreaded in both their families. For Aditya, it was just his mother whom he could have convinced had the force been enough but for Devika, it were both of her parents who didn’t want her to choose a wrong guy one more time.
During the course of their relationship, never did Siya value it. She called it fling, and stupidity. But amidst all, what disturbed Aditya was the negative attitude she carried for his relationship. She would complain to him for not giving her enough time even though he would spend seven long hours of his day with her.
Anyways, it was a little before Aditya’s final year exams that he and Devika mutually decided to end their eight months long relationship after her father found a suitable groom for her. Aditya even met the guy and only after he assured Devika that he was a nice human, that she agreed for the wedding.
Their hearts burned in the strongest of fire the day they last met. Aditya felt helpless and hopeless to see the only girl who ever loved him go away from him only because the society didn’t approve of the relationship they were in. That day he had abhorred the norms like never before. He promised himself then, he won’t be that helpless ever again in his life. He would do all it takes to make his life the way he wants it to be.
Before their final goodbye, Devika took Aditya’s hand and scribbled on his palm with an ink pen. He looked at his palm to realize she had written ‘Kaash!’ – If only.
‘You’re a wonderful person, Aditya.’ She said with a choked voice, ‘Be the same always. Never lose yourself.’
Aditya’s head was spinning and insides were burning but he held himself high, ‘I will.’
‘Good bye.’ She kissed on his lips as tears drizzled down her cheeks. ‘I know for the kind of person you are, you would never be in touch with me. But just know, my life would be bright the day I hear from you.’
He nodded and hugged her, ‘Take care of yourself.’
‘I love you.’ She said, and turned to leave.
He didn’t stop her. Not even once. She was right. For the kind of person he was, he would never look back at the past he had once left. He didn’t. He died to text her and tell her that he loved her, but he didn’t. Ever. He wanted her to be happy in her new life, and she did. Eventually!
But that was the time of his life when he was most vulnerable and emotionally broke. For once, he needed someone who could be by his side, and who could at least tell him that things will be fine and that his life won’t be just about losing going forward. Who could be that someone other than Siya?
He had called Siya the same evening to their usual coffee shop. After waiting for more than an hour, sulking in his emotions, he called her to know about her whereabouts.
‘Been more than an hour Siya!’ He said trying to portray normal voice, ‘Where are you?’
‘We have exams coming week Aditya. I was going through an important topic when you called. I couldn’t have skipped it midway.’ She said, casually. ‘I’ll be there in half hour.’
This wasn’t something new. She had always prioritized herself over anything else in the world. Aditya always knew it but the fondness that he had inside of him for her didn’t let him see the selfish and ruthless side of hers.
Siya arrived after an hour from the last call made to her. Aditya was waiting for over two hours, drained physically, mentally, and emotionally. He waited because he wanted to talk. For once, he wanted to be heard.
‘Finally you got time from Devika.’ Siya said, dropping herself on the opposite couch.
‘Finally?’ He said, ‘You and I met everyday even when I was with Devika.’
‘Yes we did. But you didn’t spend any extra time with me but with her.’ She complained, ‘And did you just say was?’
Aditya felt a lump in his throat, ‘We broke up today.’
She looked into his eyes and smiled, ‘Awesome. So you are all mine, again?’
‘She is getting married next month.’ He said, ignoring what she just said.
‘Big deal.’ She motioned the attendant to get her usual cold coffee. ‘You people anyways knew that you have no future together.’
‘Yeah.’ He held his emotions. He wanted to speak so much. He wanted to tell that there was this excruciating pain that was burning in the middle of his chest. But there was no one who could hear him.
‘Chill maaro, forget her.’ She said. ‘By the way, you know Ashish apologized to me for the fight from the other day. He sent me roses today.’
Aditya nodded, trying to fight the fire inside him which was caused by the loss he had just encountered and the wild winds of anger that Siya was erupting, turning the fire in him volcanic.
‘I’ll act sad and angry for a while, then I’ll agree to him.’ She said slurping on the just served coffee.
‘You love yourself so much.’ He finally said, looking up to her. Restlessness and frustration evident in the contour of his eyes. ‘You can’t help but make everything about yourself. Just yourself.’
She looked at him with indifference as if she was well aware of the fact Aditya just stated.
‘You remember I had asked you several times that do you find me in your soul?’ He said, ‘And you would always answer – I don’t know! I asked it because you are in my soul for you are the first human I had ever known. All these years, I forgot myself and preached you, repaired you, and be awake with you every night you wouldn’t sleep.’
‘So?’ She said, indifferently. ‘Did I ask you to do that? Why did you do?’
‘I did that because that is what I am as a person. You were lost, broken, and unloved. By your family and by don’t know how many boyfriends of yours. I was there to hold you each time and you always treated me like a nobody. It’s not yours but my fault that I gave away so much of myself to someone who is so selfish.’
‘So even you have started to demand from me now?’ She said, tersely.
‘Yes, just for once I wanted to be heard and wanted to be asked of what I was feeling inside me. Let alone soul, I am not even in your heart for you would have been human enough to understand what I was going through right now. But you wouldn’t because you are too important to yourself that you want to discuss your roses even when my life has pierced me hard through the thorns.’
‘What’s there to discuss when you were crazy to date a girl seven years older to you?’ She said, with an evil grin on her face. ‘And that too, a divorcee.’
Aditya’s anger reached the peak at this point. His head spun at the audacity and meanness of the girl sitting in front of him whom he had preached like anything. He hated himself for the moment for emptying himself on someone so shrewd.
‘It takes courage to be crazy, Ms. Siya Sharma.’ He said as anger rushed through his veins. ‘Your father and your boyfriends were right. You are a mean bitch. And this time, bitch is not a compliment but the highest form of abuse you can imagine.’
‘How dare you talk to me like that?’ She retaliated, ‘What the fuck do you want?’
‘Acknowledgement.’ He said, ‘For once be honest to yourself and admit that I repaired every hollow piece of you. But you are so ungrateful that you cannot acknowledge and reciprocate for once even when you can see me broken into pieces.’
‘I am not a saint here who has taken the burden to heal other people’s broken pieces.’
‘So am I the stupid one here who was taking the burden of all your hassles since past four years?’ Aditya said in disbelief.
‘Absolutely.’ She shrugged her shoulders and stood up. ‘You are a nice human, Aditya. Yeah, you helped me get into my elements and blah blah blah… but I never asked you to do it. You did it because you wanted to. Your problem if you regret it now, not mine. You wanted to preach me, you did. I loved the attention and care, who wouldn’t? But if you expect me to acknowledge you for the same – I cannot.’
‘Right now, I am feeling like the most stupid person alive.’
‘Your problem, again.’ She said, slipping the hand bag over her arm. ‘Honestly, people are neither in heart nor in soul. They are only in the time. The clock ticks, time changes, and so does the people you are with. That’s the best way to stay fresh with life.’
He stared at her blank faced.
‘Two weeks more of college and we would never see each other again. It’s better if we end it on a good note. Calm your head, and call me later. Let’s have dinner at Desi Tadka. I’m missing its yummy chicken.’
Aditya gathered his guts, feeling stupid and dumb. ‘Get lost!‘
She shrugged her shoulders casually, ‘Cool. If you want it that way, be it. I anyways don’t need you any more. Your time is up.’
‘Trust me, you’ll need me someday so bad that you’ll yourself come searching for me and that day, I’ll be the bad guy.’ He said, getting off the couch.
‘Umm… no!’ She said, ‘I don’t believe in reusing.’
‘Get out of here right now! Else I’ll slap you to make you realize your real face.’ He said with anger erupting through his veins.
She smiled slyly at him and turning on her feet, she walked out of the coffee shop.
Aditya slumped himself on the couch while his head spun with disbelief and anger. He couldn’t come to believe the shrewd person who sat across him few minutes ago was the same person whom he had adored and pampered for four long years of his life. The friendship which was so holy and pure for him, became the most adulterated relationship ever.
He had lost three most important people that day – Devika, the only girl he had loved. Siya, the only friend, the only human, he had adored. And himself, whom he failed to protect. Amidst them all, the most precious thing that he lost that day was his soul. He felt empty inside. He felt like a failure, like a fool. He felt used and trashed.
He couldn’t believe how could a person change within a span of minutes. How can a good face become evil and mean. Or was it always the same, only he failed to notice?
Since that day, he often dreamt of himself running in a dense Jungle with no way out of those mazy bushes. He would feel lost, insecure, and dark – the same way as he had felt in abundance the other day when his life knocked him down wickedly. There would be no light, no way to escape his brokenness but to deal with it.
It took Aditya quite a while to get over the disbelief and brokenness he had inside of him. That quite a while was the period of twenty months when he sunk into the realization that he had been too naive to give himself away to someone who didn’t deserve. Devika’s absence didn’t hurt him as much Siya’s actions did on the last day they met and for all those years before. It hurt him more because it left him in daze and it questioned the purity of friendship he worshipped so much.
But as it is said, good moments give you memories and bad ones give you experience. The same happened to Aditya. That event turned him wiser and stronger. He learned to understand the root of a person before looking at the beauty of their appearance. It evolved him into a sorted person, an extremist, who could understand only black or white of life. There was no space for grey. Since then, it was either friendship or love. Either truth or lie. Either light or dark. Either living at edge, or not living at all.
And what he chose was to live at edge. Every day. Every moment.
Amidst it all, life taught him one of the most important lessons.
“In life, never preach people. Find your God in your own self, not in others. Because when you get to find the light of your life in others, you become dependent on them for your happiness, for your sadness, and for your each breath, and give them the key to destroy you – as and when they want. Know that, Nature has always loved strength and disowned the weak. Be your own strength. Be your own warrior. And you wouldn’t have to get through life, but life would get through you!”