Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Dusk Lamp - chapter 1

 The smell of freshly crushed ginger wafted through the air. Aaratrika took a whiff of the tea she held lovingly in her hand and smiled. Avinash, her husband, had prepared tea for her as he always did on rainy days and had disappeared into the kitchen to make some pakodas to accompany the tea. She gazed outside from the balcony of her 9th floor apartment at the wonderful sight of the melodious drizzle of the Mumbai rains. 

There was something magical about the rains of Mumbai that always brought a smile to her lips. Vehicles were whizzing past, as if there was no tomorrow. After all Mumbai never sleeps, does it? People were out in droves, in raincoats, carrying colorful umbrellas, or simply scurrying by, as if the rain just didn`t exist. A handful of children were splashing in the rain, enjoying what seemed like their privilege. 

A newly wed girl in the wing opposite her apartment was giggling, her husband bent at her ear, whispering, possibly sharing a joke. 'What is it with these crazy young newly weds?' she thought. They seem so oblivious to everything around them. They reminded her of her own times, when she had just married Rishab and other than him ,the world seemed non-existent to her.

As she took a sip, her mind went racing back to the day she had just landed in Mumbai.


 It was a lovely rainy day, just like this one and she had carefully stepped out of the taxi gingerly holding Rishab`s hand, trying not to skid. As they stood at the door of their penthouse, Rishab asked her to wait and went inside. After what seemed like eternity, Rishab came out holding a thaali- a beautifully decorated silver plate. In it was a kalash- a small holy copper pot filled with rice, a small ghee lamp, and a little cup containing vermillion. He placed the kalash on the threshold of the door and asked Aaratrika to tip over the kalash filled with rice with her right feet. According to tradition, when the bride enters into her new home for the first time, she is given a warm welcome by the groom's parents. This tradition is known as Graha Pravesh-entering the home. As there was no one else to welcome her, Rishab took the onus on him to welcome Aaratrika into their new home.Aaratrika was overwhelmed by his gesture,

"That’s so wonderful of you to have thought of this".

She tipped the kalash and stepped in. 

"Hey love, hold on, there’s more to come". 

"Oh? There is?" she giggled.

He then applied kumkum- the scared vermillion powder to her forehead and performed an aarti - encircling her face thrice with a ghee lamp kept on the thaali. She giggled.

"What’s so funny love?''  

She giggled again. "You are a sweetheart, I love you, Rishab."

As she stepped into the plush penthouse, he swept her off her feet literally, and held her in his arms,

"Welcome to your new home, my love".


  "Hey how’s the tea ?"

She was startled by the voice,soon realising it was Avinash. The mesmerizing rains had carried her back light years away to those happy times with Rishab. 

 "Amazing as always dear. Ooo..yummy  pakodas..You should seriously consider starting your own cafeteria."

 "Aaru, do you remember, our anniversary is coming up next week?"

Aaratrika smiled" Of course, how can I forget?"

"Well, let’s go shopping then. I’ll buy you that emerald ring that I promised."

 Aaratrika`s face lit up with a glow of a thousand lamps, and her husband couldn’t help commenting between smiles that she looked very much like a little girl about to go shopping for her birthday! 

"Listen I have an idea. Lets take the local, its a long time since I’ve traveled in one."

 “Aaru, don’t be crazy, at least not in these rains."

“No, please lets, please, please.." she begged.

“You know how to have your way, don’t you, my dear? Ok so lets go".

The Mumbai locals are an effortless way to travel. You don’t even have to try too hard to get in one. Just stand where you are, the crowd will push you in and the crowd will push you out too, when you have to alight, Rishab would say.

 Their jeweler, Motilal Jewelers, was in Bandra West, and they lived in Thane. This meant they would have to first go to Dadar, taking the central line and then take the harbour line from Dadar to Bandra. It was a long journey but she enjoyed traveling in the Mumbai locals. As they got into the local at Thane station, she found an empty seat, which was unusual, and they settled into it. Her eyes fell on a flower vendor, making gajras-a string of flowers.

She drifted back to the time when Rishab had first taken her in a local train. 


They had gone to Shoppers stop in Andheri East. Just like today, she had spotted a gajrawali- the flower vendor, making a fragrant jasmine gajra. She looked lovingly at Rishab, not saying a word. He knew that glance at once and got her not one, but two gajras and neatly pinned it on her hair, in between Aaratrika`s shy giggles. They had both loved traveling by locals, every time they shopped. 

At one such outing, they had been bargaining for a pair of sandals at Fashion street, when Rishab gave out a sharp cry of pain and fell down on the pavement. Aaratrika was scared beyond words and called out for help. As much as Mumbai is a fun place to be, it is also very cold hearted. Aaratrika learned this the hard way, when no help came forth for quite some time. 

She hailed a cab and tried to gather Rishab with the help of the cabbie and took him to the Jawahar hospital, nearby. The doctors attending to him suggested that he should be taken to a bigger hospital with better facilities so that further tests could be conducted. It was just two years into her marriage and she was still a young girl, just 23 years of age, she didn`t know what to do. Gathering herself amid tears she picked up her phone and called Rishab`s brother, Saurabh, in Noida.

 "Bhaiyya" she said, sobbing uncontrollably, "Rishab just collapsed in pain while we were shopping, I have got him to a hospital, but they are suspecting something and they 
have asked him to be shifted to a bigger hospital for other tests. I am so scared, bhaiyya, can you please come down to Mumbai?"

 " Don’t worry Aartatrika, I’ll be there by the next flight I can board. Meanwhile just hang on, and stay calm, ok?"

Those were difficult times and even thinking about them was painful . But she had never been able to completely let go of that phase of her life. painful as they were, they also had a lot of happy memories.


 Her thoughts were broken by a loud announcement outside.

"Your attention please" it was blaring in the public announcement system outside ," due to very heavy rains, the service for the  local from Thane to CST will be terminated here, we apologise for inconvenience caused to the passengers"

 "Sweetheart, enjoyed your sleep?"

 Avinash was ruffling her hair, smiling . She let out a faint smile. 

“I guess that’s the end to our joyride, lets run out and take a cab to Bandra"

 Where are we?” she asked. 

"Dadar " he replied.

There was a lot of crowd outside and no cabs in sight. The rains got heavier and both of them got drenched completely.

 "There’s a temple of Ganapti Bappa nearby, lets take shelter there " , said Aaratrika.

"Oh, there is?" asked her husband surprised by her knowledge of the area.

"Hmmm,I have been there a lot of times before." 

They walked to the temple and took shelter inside. The familiar idol of Bappa seemed to smile at her. 'Hi god', she whispered silently. It was peaceful inside, against the maddening noise outside. They sat in silence, head bowed in prayer. 


She remembered coming here for the very first time with Saurabh . Saurabh had taken a flight the same day and was with her and Rishab by evening. They shifted Rishab to the Rajmata Memorial cancer hospital in Parel. Rishab was wheeled in for a battery of tests, while she waited outside with Saurabh. Looking at her tensed face, Saurabh suggested that they go out for a quick bite. She wanted to go to a temple instead and a nurse suggested that they go to the Ganapati Bappa temple in Dadar nearby. That was the first time she had come there, and felt strangely at peace. She had prayed for Rishab, asking the elephant head god to ensure that his reports were ok and there was nothing to worry. But when they went back to the hospital, hell broke loose when the doctor announced that they had detected a pea size tumor in Rishab`s spine.

 "But there’s still hope, we are doing a biopsy to find out if the tumour is malignant or benign."

 She stared blankly at the doctor, not understanding one word of what he said. What’s malignant?
 Benign? What was he saying? The only words echoing through her mind was..

" I am sorry to tell you that we have detected a pea sized tumor in your husbands spine..."

 Tumor? Oh god, why Rishab? What has he ever done? he has never hurt a fly, why are you putting him through this ordeal ? Let this be a bad dream. Wake up Aaratrika, wake up. It’s a dream, its not true, its not true.

 "....the result will take a day or two, I will let you know, Mr.Saurabh" the doctor was droning on…
Read part 2 here


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