The car audio system was playing R D Burman- Kishore Kumar retro, “Nazrana bheja kisi ne pyar ka, hai diwana jo bas tere didar ka”, in its full volume, while I was driving the car through the spiral road to Darjeeling covered with misty clouds. I am off to Darjeeling for my official work with the health department.
As I took the turn at a corner of road passing Sonada, I saw this woman sitting on a bench, made of iron and fixed on the ground for the walkers to sit and take some rest. Suddenly an old memory replayed in my mind. My legs put pressure on the breaks to halt the car.
I was in college then. I used to go to an art school in our small township in North Bihar. It was only a hobby class and boys and girls, of different age groups, were learning to paint their imaginations into the colors there. The art school neither had any affiliation nor any recognition from any authority, but people tend to apply to this art school, only to get him/ her to get a certificate of painter. Girls wanted it for their future nuptial negotiations, and boys??? Well, I still couldn’t figure out.
I was also a part of this madness and used to attend the classes on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday in the afternoons.
I was good in using watercolor, where Dipti was good in portraits with oil colors. Dipti was only daughter of his father after her seven brothers, so she was kind of pampered child. She was naughty, witty and always smiling characters.
In our small towns, people had very conservative mindset and there were very few places like our co-education college, this art school or municipality park; where boys used to meet the girls.
I did not remember how I developed my liking for Dipti. But I was afraid to tell her. Fear of rejection was the cause of my hesitation. Moreover, I knew it very well; her rich father and seven brothers were very influential in our town and if they take any action against me, my poor father could not to save me.
Love is blind and it fears no one. It was true for me too. Riding on my emotion wave, one day I decided to tell my heart to her with a gift; a wooden mask; which I brought from my maternal uncle’s place. I wrapped the mask nicely and decorate it to show my affections and carried along me to the art school.
I still remember the day was a Tuesday. After the class hours were over, I gave the gift packet to Dipti. She took it.
“Are you giving it to me, because you think we are friends?” She asked.
My head nodded in positive way as my lips were glued together. However I wished to tell her, you are more than a friend for me.
“Ok. Then I am accepting it.” She continued, “You know, I’ve a steady boyfriend and we’ll be marrying soon.” She pushed the trigger.
It was a blast inside my head and I felt pain of bleeding in the heart. I can’t believe my ears. She is having a steady relationship and will marry him soon. Oh my God! How do I live without her?
The week passed by, with pain in my heart and dry tears on my eyes. I was going through an emotional turmoil. Then the biggest news of our small town flashed out.
‘Dipti ran away with his father’s car driver, named Babloo.’
Everybody in our locality was talking about it and giving their own postulates, how it all happened. For me, pain increased and my eyes were burning.
One day, Dipti’s elder brother came to our house and summoned me to their bungalow. His father wanted to see me. I was nervous. I was not the driver’s friend nor helped them to elope. I was afraid, more because I was not sure how my father will react when he will heard about this call from Dipti’s father.
With fear in heart, I went alone to meet Dipti’s father. We were meeting for the first time. He was an old man, probably had paralysis on his right side and he was sitting on a couch.
“How long both of you were friends?” he asked.
“Since we’re attending the art school…” my voice shook while replying, “but we were only fiends.” suddenly my language turned Dipti as a past event in my life.
“I know that…” his father continued, “I saw the gift you gave to Dipti, in her room. She didn’t open it.” he paused for some air.
“Awdhesh… return that packet to him.” he instructed Dipti’s brother and he went inside to follow his father’s orderal.
I felt bad to know Dipti didn’t bother to open my gift but happy at the same time, because it helped me to stay out of his father’s suspect list.
Then the old man broke into tears and I felt guilty for my shortcoming to help him find his daughter. He started pleading me for any information I might have, to help him find his daughter. But I was helpless.
I took back the gift-wrapped wooden mask, and slowly left Dipti’s house.
Time passed by. One day Babloo returned to our small town, but alone. He informed all that he had gone to a religious walk and he had no idea about Dipti’s whereabouts. Later, a rumor spread though our town that Dipti was found at Chapra Railway station by the government railway police and her family refused to take her back home on honorary ground and so didn’t respond to the police’s call.
I never knew what the real fact was.
I stood in front of her. She seemed to have not taken bath for ages. Wearing a white Salwar- Kaamiz and an old blue cardigan, probably somebody had donated to save her from cold.
She’s Dipti. I’m sure she is. The roughness made her look more aged, I don’t know how she survived all these years? How she sailed through the storms and reached this place near Sonada? I’m not interested also to know.
“Dipti…” I murmured unsure near her.
She looked up and our eyes met. I saw a quick glimpse of glow in her eyes. But it was momentous. The glow lost in the mists of the hills. She was again looking lost.
“Dipti? Aren’t you Dipti?” I put my courage to ask. She didn’t reply. She was looking down to her toes. I looked around; nobody is nearby, except the mystic hills and long road
“How did you come here?” “Where have you been all these years?” “Are you Okay?” I have a list of endless quarries for Dipti. But, she is still. After a marathon questioning drive and probably to shut me up, she opened her lips.
“I’m lost.” she spoke. It seemed to me the sound came from a long distance and echoed in the hills of Darjeeling.
My car drove past the building of Ghum station, situated at the highest altitude in the world and it lost into the mist. I am sure while returning from Darjeeling, I’ll again find the building here.
However, few things in life, which once lost is lost forever.