As Tanuj got into his car with Ragini, he wondered if he should break the news to her already. He had no idea how she would react, but he had a feeling that she would not like it. Perhaps she would express her disapproval and then say that it was none of her business. But then, he didn’t really know her or how her mind worked. So he decided to keep driving and talk as little as possible, although his mind was flooded with questions.
The silence was broken by Ragini herself. “Again, I can’t thank you enough for what you did for me, being a stranger too. I wish I could express my gratitude better, but there’s nothing I could give you.”
Tanuj paused for a moment and measured his next words. But he said them anyway. “Maybe you could tell me what went wrong in your life?”
He sort of regretted it the next moment as she took a deep breath and seemed to look uncomfortable. But then she laughed her usual melancholic laughter. “Why do you insist so much? I don’t think we are ever going to meet again. I don’t even know how long I can survive in this village, or if I have to move out for the sake of staying alive. Right now I am going back only for my mother. If I had no one back here, I don’t think I would have returned. Anyway, do not burden yourself with my story. It isn’t worth your sympathy.”
Tanuj felt a small lump in his throat. He did not know why the word ‘sympathy’ hurt him so much. “I am not asking you about your life out of sympathy. I genuinely care about you.”
Ragini looked startled, but then lowered her head and smiled. “You don’t, Tanuj. You just think you do. You know me only since two days. Sorry if I sound harsh, but you just want to satisfy your desire for philanthropy through me. That is what rich people do. They help us, but it’s mostly out of selfish motives.”
Tanuj was surprised to find his ears getting hot and a temper rising in his head. He hadn’t been so short-tempered until few years ago, but now things seemed to have changed. “Now this is totally uncalled for,” he bursted out. “It’s fine if you don’t want to tell me about yourself, but don’t bring up this rich-poor animosity. There are some people who help because they actually want to. Staying in your little world, you hardly know anything and say whatever you like.”
“Oh really?” Ragini wouldn’t let go either. “Do you know how hard it is for us to live in this little world of ours? This strong demarcation between cities and villages, this huge lack of basic facilities.. and these narrow-minded people. Easy for you to trifle us while you pass your whole life in comforts. If only you would live here, you would understand.”
“Well that’s exactly what I am going to do!” Tanuj blurted out before he could stop himself. He suddenly stopped his car on the roadside. Ragini stared at him in disbelief. “What on earth do you mean?” she said.
“I left my parents’ home. I will stay here for few months and try to earn a living.”
“And why, exactly?”
Tanuj sensed a tinge of mockery in her voice, and wondered if he was mistaken. Perhaps the heated discussion was blurring his reasoning somewhat. But he took this opportunity to get back at her.
“Turns out that you are not the only one with unspeakable problems, right?”
Ragini laughed. “Good one, mister. But at least no one tried to kill you, I bet. Do you have a place to live?”
“Not yet. I’ll find something.” Tanuj was relieved that Ragini seemed to approve of his decision. Or maybe she didn’t care at all.
“Find something? This place doesn’t have any hotels. What were you thinking?” Now she was clearly mocking him. “Don’t worry. Drop me at my mother’s, and we will figure something out.”
As they took the road again, Tanuj felt happy that somehow this small argument led him to reveal his intentions to Ragini. He realised that finding an accommodation in such a place would not have been easy. He wondered how much difficult it would be to make a living there. Would he need to learn some new skills? Would he be treated differently, and denied jobs? And then he found himself pondering over something entirely different – would he see Ragini often, and probably grow to be friends with her?
In about fifteen minutes, Ragini signalled him to stop the car near a small cottage. An old woman sat outside, with her hands over eyes. She seemed to be waiting for her daughter to return, and at the same time seemed to have lost hope. Ragini’s face broke into a smile and her eyes watered up. She ran to her mother and hugged her tightly, as they both cried and kissed each other lovingly.
“Ma, meet Mr. Tanuj. I am back because of him.” Ragini’s mother looked overwhelmed. She blessed and thanked him many times, and asked him to come inside and have some food. Tanuj obliged, and during the meal, Ragini told her mother that he needed a place to stay.
“You know Kishen has an extra room, since his father passed away. I think you should talk to him right away before he rents it to someone else,” said the mother.
“Kishen who?” Tanuj imagined it might be nice to live with someone of his own age, and he might help him find a job too.
Just then, a boy who looked about fifteen, wearing a designed kurta with a plain pajama and a turban on his head, entered the house. “I was just passing by, and I thought I heard you remembering me,” he said with an air of wisdom.
Tanuj looked visibly surprised, but the women laughed. “Yes I’m kidding, I just wanted to borrow some spices,” the boy said.
“This is Kishen,” said Ragini with a smile. “You can live with him.”
Kishen brightened up on hearing this, and bowed with his hands joined. “Namaste! You are most welcome in my humble abode.”
(To be continued.. )