Read the previous part of the story, Chapter 10 here
Shekhar returned home tired after spending day with his novelist friend and finds happier looking Tara and Roohi. Roohi was packing her bags for next morning and Tara was busy on phone with Jenny. He served the dinner himself and settled on the couch with his big mug of hot chocolate to watch TLC channel where they were showing Himalayan destinations. In no time his mind went back to the trekking / mountaineering expedition he had gone with his friends, accompanying a group of tourists of different nationalities. Why & what happened there, Shekhar is still seeking those answers, but tonight he wanted to relive those moments which he had fondly treasured. The story teller in him was awake…
…that was an unforgettable experience. What could have been worse than this, wrong person, wrong timing, wrong setting …but no wrong intentions, that was the only solace. Shekhar hurriedly walked towards his untidy room and parked himself on untidier bed with an intention to catch up some sleep which he badly needed. Good thing was Maa had gone to Pishi Maa’s house otherwise would have pestered him no end, “Khokon ki holo? Coffee, Chai…ki?
Hesitatingly he picked up the phone to call Tara after a week, just thinking of connecting with her and put her at ease. But the person on other side replied, “Tara has left the job and the city forever.” I retorted, “When, Where, Which city, Why,” but probably I only had the answers to these questions. Another chapter of my life was over which came and went like a breeze…
…Days passed, months passed, years passed, life was just the same for Shekhar but there was some kind of vacuum in his life. In the words of renowned film maker, Mahesh Bhatt, “Tanhai (loneliness) aapko aur bhi srujnatmak (Creative) bana deti hai”. This was happening with Sehkhar too. One fine evening he got an offer from a well-known publishing house from Delhi to commission stories and books for them. In no time he lapped this opportunity, now the showcase was ready for larger world for Shekhar Dutta’ s words & works. They started taking his works to next level, promoted him extremely well as accomplished author, his books were visible on stores on a pan India level, book-stores, book-reviews, book – fairs, book-discussions and book-fests became a norm. “Have I arrived”? Shekhar questioned himself. Maa was happy as she had a car to herself to visit her relatives and Kali Baari temple nearby.
In the evening while taking stroll on the mall road, and lost in his lingering thought that whatever it takes, he must take a break from all this to rejuvenate himself. Life was becoming too monotonous amidst all these interesting fictional characters of his stories. Luckily he chanced upon the board of travel agency whose advertisement he had seen in paper today. Shekhar walked into the travel agency to check some outings to Himalayas. There he got to know about some exciting tours starting next Sunday from Dehradoon. He enrolled himself for that expedition along with that tourist group for Sahasradhara, Chamoli, Uttarkashi and Joshimath etc.
“Interesting, tiring & relaxing at the same time”, thought Shekhar. Maa was happy to see her son happy. Shekhar did some mental calculations and said, “Yes I can afford this holiday and a nice holiday gear from Dehradoon too!” The tour was to start next Sunday which looked like ages to Shekhar as living so close to Himalayas he had not visited these places…his excitement was palpable.
The journey started in a plush luxury bus from Dehradoon and his mind was wandering in the beautiful valleys during the course. Shekhar was in blissful state with no story ideas dancing in his head. He was calmly enjoying the journey, the jungles, the mountains, the lakes, the valleys, the flowers…what not! “OMG! I am missing out on such much in life by remaining confined in four walls of my house”, he was talking to himself. When bus halted for tea and snacks, Shekhar found himself bonding really well after some hesitation with this group who represented some really far flung countries like Romania, Spain, Mozambique, Brazil, Miami, Alaska, U.K. who were charting out Beatles numbers in chorus on their instruments.
Once again some surprises unfolded. He was introduced to handsome looking AVP from a publishing house in U.K. who loved Himalayas, was accompanied by his colleague Tara, who was none other than Ms Mukherjee. Obviously his excitement had taken a beating…but? How to face this awkward situation now?
After few hours of travel, he could notice Aryan and Tara getting close, really close. Any way when they reached Chamoli, weather took its ugliest turn, there was thundering, showering and land-slide, the bus had to halt and change track once weather improved. For some unknown reason, Tara had started noticing my presence. Amidst all this chaos, she came and sat next to me, whole day stuck in the bus they chatted heartedly on topics ranging from their school days, college days, first crushes, teachers, maa, baba, friends, frenemies…what not. This was the most wonderful conversation Shekhar ever had; He found Tara to be charming to the core. She admitted that she was attracted to Aryan as she finds him handsome, soft-spoken, loving and brings lots of presents for her from New Delhi’s Dilli Haat. Enough to charm any girl. “Were they in a relationship”? Yes! Probably. But Shekhar’s attraction towards Tara was unquestionable now.
Amidst all this, they did not know how time flew. It was evening and then suddenly they saw everybody around them discussing Aryan who had not returned yet from a nearby market, where he had gone to make a call to his mom from a PCO. Now was the time for bus to leave, but Aryan was nowhere in the sight. Tara got very anxious and insisted on waiting for Aryan. “But it is not possible. He will join us in the morning when weather improves”, tour conductor gave his farmaan.
Bus moved on and so his life…weather was slightly better at their next halt. Tara was very tired, anxious, worried, drained out and hungry at the same time. Shekhar felt like comforting her with a big hug but did not let this thought proceed. After having hot & sumptuous dinner, Tara made a strange request to him, “Can I sleep in your tent, with you?” I am very scared to stay alone in my tent for the night, and I don’t trust anyone else”. Shekhar’s jaws dropped in dis-belief. He was aghast at this very strange request. His Indian sensibilities were at play. His life was quite bland and now this sudden decoction?? He reluctantly gave in to her request. Shekhar thought, he will sit and wait for the morning while watching this sleeping Cinderella. For any young man, writer, sensitive, sensible (???) and close observer of life and relationships, this was strange. Really didn’t know what to do. Tara slept well and Shekhar said to himself, “Great going till now”. Suddenly lightening struck and Cinderella…oops Tara’s sleep got disturbed, tired and sleepy Tara came very close to me, held him tight and started blabbering strange words…it was time two young people could not control their emotions…night was long, dark and tumultuous!
OMG! he said to himself, “What is this? Why me? Only me? Before dawn Tara moved to her tent and Shekhar saw her sipping coffee in the morning with Aryan. She did not want to face him anymore. Was it Shekhar’s fault only? Whatever it may be he wanted to steer clear. Shekhar returned from the tour mid way on pretext of Maa’s health but…Some strange feelings stayed on! Who can explain such one night stands? His heart was bombarding him with questions and more questions. Why Shekhar and Tara get trapped in such situations, was it destiny, probably Tara thought that way. Now she had handsome Aryan and intellectual Shekhar in a tug of war in her heart and in her head.
Another year of incessant writing and his publishers from Delhi arranged a book-reading session for him in Jaipur’s Literary Fest. It looked like a dream opportunity, “Presenting my words & works to the literati of this world”, Shekhar murmured.
Excited Shekhar drove to Dehradoon to catch flight to Jaipur. Maa had come to see him off for his debut flight.
Hoping no drama ahead, Shekhar took off…but that was not to be!
Arrangements, venue, gathering, everything was just awesome, which Shekhar had never experienced before. He felt blessed to be here. For the first time in his life he chose to wear a formal suit for the evening dinner and he really looked handsome. Feeling little awkward, he sat on a table and started flipping Marwari menu; which read like Greek, Latin to him as he had rarely tasted cuisine of any other state. Suddenly he was distracted by a very familiar feminine voice, “Oh! No, not again…She can’t be Tara”, Yes! She was Tara who was involved in some serious discussion with an author. With red-bindi on her forehead, gold Bangles in her hand and beautifully draped Magenta Dhaka sari with Pashmina shawl overthrown, she looked a resplendent Bengali bride. Married? Thank God! While in his thoughts, she turned her back to adjust her sari & Lo & Behold! Their eyes met. In no time, Tara was sitting in front of Shekhar, with lot of emotions crossing his face and probably her heart…but they were happy to see each other. She worked in a U.K. publishing house and was representing it in Jaipur fest. First thing she asked him was about Maa. After having Marwari dinner for the first time in his life, that too in a formal suit, and Tara for company, setting looked strange. After dinner Tara told Shekhar how it was like working in the U.K. publishing house and why she is planning to return to Mumbai by year end. She also expressed her desire to work with him while she is in Mumbai. Shekhar was a relaxed man after ages, but past moved before his eyes like a show-reel. His feelings took a spin once again when Tara told him, “though I am not married yet, but I believe in institution of marriage and I am a strong and independent woman, and love taking life in her stride”. Though she was talking of strength and independence, Tara looked emotionally charged, vulnerable, probably Aryan had ditched her and settled for a Punjabi girl…who knows. Now one more question followed him, “What does she think of one night stands”? Can it be love? Shekhar shrugged his head.
Can one night stands, Stand? Phew!
Story idea?? Nope!
Next morning when he was calling Maa from hotel lobby, a pat on his back disturbed him, she was Tara who said, “I will also talk to Maa”. He handed over the phone to her and they were in an unending conversation on this STD call. In the evening Tara told him that she was traveling to Mussorie on Thursday for some work there. Now…Ghosh…what is this yaar…hope I am not involved. They traveled together and exchanged notes on Jaipur fest.
Who knew another drama was unfolding in Shekhar’s life.
After a tiring journey, when he reached home, he noted that the house looked decorated with marigold flowers, buntings, lights, what not right from the gate. “Maa has done all this for Pujo celebrations”, he thought. Now Shekhar found his maashi maa, pishi maa, cousins, their children in their finneries…lot of activity in the household. Tired, he called for Coffee. “What was going on in my house? My room was looking like a decorated den. What is this yaar? Where have my stuff vanished? Why this bight pink bed sheets & curtains?” Questions & more questions.
Maa stepped into Shekhar’s room and declared, “It’s not Pujo but your marriage this evening, go and get ready for pre marriage ceremonies”. He angrily retaliated, “I am not doing this. Why a poor girl is being trapped? Think of her Maa, I am not husband material at all, and my life is fine”. But their was no point arguing, the stage was set for his hanging ceremony. She did not buy any of my arguments.
The Bakra was ready for halaali in the evening. His mama from Cooch Behar brought the bride to the altar, to his greatest amazement, she was none other than Madam Tara Mukherjee…who looked coy Bengali bride in Red & gold Benares Saree, gold jewellery, make-up and beautiful to say the least. Shekhar & Tara were author & editor last evening and man & wife this evening. No wonder, Maa was so excited about his going to Jaipur, got him suit stitched, Shekhar recollected Maa receiving phone calls at odd hours and chatted animatedly. So were they in touch? They laid this trap for him? Shekhar was still seeking answers.
Destiny had transpired this for Shekhar and Tara.
Maa lived happily ever after…
…Now Aryan Ahuja is their neighbour.
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Read next part of the story Chapter 12 Here
– By Bienu Verma Vaghela