New Delhi, 31.12.1974
She opened a blank note book. “It was not just any blank note book”, recalled Shravani. It had been given to her by a Buddhist Monk, when she had wandered inside the monastery in a listless moment a few days back. Nothing was written on its blue covers. There was no mention of its price, not even the name of the company making such notebooks. It contained one hundred pages of spotless white pages. It reminded her of ‘One hundred years of solitude’ – a book she had postponed reading a hundred times or so.
She smiled. It was the smile of a remote uncertain hope. A kind of imagined hope one experiences when the day gets slightly brighter on a gloomy rainy day.
But the memory of the tumultuous recent past cast such a gloom. How was she going to erase it? How was she going to be relieved of the burdensome memory?
She had read somewhere, she remembered, “to write is to get relieved”.
At the age of thirteen, when most of her friends boasted of boyfriends, she had formed an idea that she was enough unto herself. Now, at the age of twenty four some one comes into her life and she has this feeling that she is not enough unto herself.
He came, he saw and he swept her along. It happened at the wedding of one of her cousins, who was also one of her best friends. Usually, she avoided going to weddings. But this one she could not. Saket was not the usual guy who went out of the way to flirt with girls. Something happened in her in his presence. At the first meeting he had given her a ten second glance and gone away. Of course, she had heard of him from her cousin who had so profusely praised him as if her own fiancee was nothing compared to Saket.
Then there was a chance meeting with him after one week or so. The Ambassador she was driving had met with a minor accident near Old Delhi Railway station. It had hit a taxi in front and a crowd had gathered around her. Things were taking an ugly turn. Suddenly, Saket appeared form nowhere and became her saviour. A friendship developed which slowly turned into romance.
They met at secret places as often as possible. There was neither a dream nor a down to earth plan that did not involve him. But the dream world of heaven did not last long. Some days back, on 20th December to be precise, she received a letter that jolted her out of the dream world. The hero of her dream world turned out to be a coward. Of course he claimed he was being martyred for the sake of his family’s honour and he had to marry the girl of his father’s choice.
The latest Bollywood number – mera jiban kora kagaz – wafted across from the radio of a neighouring house. She closed the notebook, kept aside the pen after capping it and glanced at the envelope lying at the corner of her study table. She opened it to read the appointment letter, perhaps, for the seventh time. “Mama we are leaving to Calcutta Tomorrow. I am going to take up that job at the All India Radio, Calcutta”, she shouted so that here mother who was in the kitchen heard her. “It does not matter if we have to pack the whole night in stead of celebrating the new year”, she added.
She stepped on to the balcony. A gentle breeze was blowing, to sweep away the last trace of her burdensome past. The neighbour had increased the volume of the radio. But she heard nothing. She saw nothing. Felt nothing. As if a sea of void had devoured her. As if the decision not to write about her tumultuous recent past had erased the memory of it. With this erasure, came a great relief, a great hope. A hope to start life anew, as new as a blank note book.
She moved to Calcutta with her mother, leaving behind her father who did not mind staying alone for some time. The stint at Calcutta was short lived. So was the stint at Madras where she had been transferred subsequently. At her own request and with a little bit of influence of her father who still worked for the government of India, she got a transfer to Bombay. After moving to Bombay, life took a different turn. No more did her mother brought up the topic of marriage. She left the job at All India Radio and at the behest of a private production company she became a director for Telvision Serials.
The December month of this year has been particularly eventful. The short documentary film she had made on the life of the slum dwellers had won an international award. Her serials were getting high critical acclaim.
She was not much of a party woman. So she had declined all the invitations for the new year party. But her mother was happy to see the glow in her daughter’s face. This month has been an all time high in her career.
May be now was the time to write something in that notebook, she thought. She had regarded the note book as a kind of a sacred relic. Neatly wrapped in a silk clothe, she had given it to her mother to keep it in a safe place. She asked her mother to bring her the notebook. The interior pages had slightly mellowed. But the pages were fit enough to be written upon. She recalled all her achievements and thought of chronicling those watershed moments in the notebook. She felt the rush of adrenaline and the unconstrained joy by recalling her achievements that had far surpassed her dreams. She wished she could somehow reign in her overflowing joy.
In the morning that day, she had gone to the beach to inaugurate the Sand Art Festival, where she was the centre of attraction. One of the sand artists was her intimate friend. As she remembered her friend, suddenly, she had a vision where the art and the artist were not different. She was terrified when she saw, in her mind’s eye, the artist receding into the sea along with the sand sculpture that he had created.
Simultaneously she saw that she herself and her achievements were vanishing into the blank pages of the notebook and the overflowing joy had ceased into a calm lake without any waves.
She closed the notebook immediately, wrapped it up and gave her mother to keep it where it was.
New Delhi, 31.12.2014
After the death of her father, they moved back to Delhi. Even at eighty four, her mother was healthy enough to walk without support and eat without any restrictions. Sometimes she felt older than her mother. Of late, she had taken more interest in yoga, philosophy and spirituality. This particular day she had thought of going to the monastery with the blank note book and if possible to trace the monk who had given her the notebook forty years back.
After reaching the monastery she sought an immediate appointment with the senior-most monk. She was ushered into a circular room where the monks received visitors. As she entered the room she wondered whether life, some time or other came full circle. There was nothing on the wall except a painting of a lady and a monk. As her attentions got stuck there, the monk said that it is was a painting of Amrapalli, gifted to the monastery a few day back.
Oh! how could she forget Amrapalli. After all, she had made a serial on the Buddhist tales and the serial was highly popular those days.
The monk, his head clean shaven, was sitting on the floor on a mattress. He motioned her to sit across and make herself comfortable. She asked him as soon as she settled down, “Are you the same monk who gave me this blank note book?”.
“It does not matter whether I am him or not him. But what matters is, whether you have written anything in it.”
” I tried, but I could not write anything. Whenever I tried to write something some strange things happened in my mind.”
“Then, perhaps, you deserve a better blank book or some surprise gift in exchange of the blank note book. You have preserved it so carefully.”
He went inside and brought a gift wrapped in colourful paper.
She was going to ask many things, say many things. But the monk got up and said, “Excuse me. I have to go urgently. Take this gift and open it at home. I will discuss with you when you come here next time.”
She took the gift home. This year too she had decided to skip the new year celebrations. “But one thing I will do this year”, she thought, “I will open the gift exactly at 12 o clock”.
It was midnight and she could hear crackers bursting and loud speakers blaring to announce the dawn of a new year.
She opened the gift. Inside was a strange thing that looked like a note book. As soon as it was exposed to the air it started vanishing and was gone in a few seconds.
Now there was nothing even to create the dilemma – whether to write or not to write.
Outside, the celebrations became louder and louder. But she heard nothing. She sat down and felt the silence within, as she sank into the depths nothingness.