by Sharmila Roy Ghosal
(Dehradun, Uttarakand, India)
Sapna sat on a bench in Rishikesh waiting for a bus to take her back to Dehradun. She had spent some time at a friend’s house in Rishikesh after the immersion of her father’s ashes in Haridwar.
Sapna sighed, she was all alone in the world. She was thirty-five years old and working in a bank in Dehradun. Sapna had lost her mother to cancer when she was in class Eight.
Sapna’s father, a retired government officer, had built a house in Dehradun in which the father and daughter had lived together all these years. Sapna thought of the empty rooms in her house.
Suddenly, a bomb burst nearby.
Sapna saw the man sitting on the bench near her, calculating something on his calculator, looking up startled.
People were running around, and owners were downing their shutters.
Some people stopped and said to Sapna, “Move away, a mob is on a rampage, the local MLA has been murdered, traffic has stopped, and no buses will run”.
The man on the calculator stood up. “We need to find shelter, come with me”. He moved towards a hotel. Sapna followed him in a trance not knowing what to do. When they were about to enter the hotel, Sapna saw people with open swords breaking the windshield of cars, parked. Some even looted shops that were still open.
The hotel owner looked at the young man and Sapna. “I have one empty room.”
The young man looked at Sapna and said, “We will take it”.
The shouting of goons on the street made Sapna shake her head in the affirmative. Just then a man came and informed the manager that the mob was entering hotels and checking rooms for possible suspects.
“Be careful as to what you say”, the manager said. He handed them the key to the room.
The room was tidy, with a double bed, two chairs and a table. The young man sat on one chair and Sapna on the other.
‘Would you like some water?” He took out a tablet from a strip and had it with water from the water bottle that he was carrying in his bag.
“No,” Sapna shook her head, she felt scared and insecure. The man tried to put her at ease.
“By the way, my name is Jeet Sen. I live in Haridwar. I have come to Rishikesh to meet a broker to finalize a plot of land on the outskirts of Dehradun. But it seems I am out of luck today.” Jeet said.
Sapna managed to smile. "I am Sapna Bose. I work in the State bank of India and live in Dehradun. In case you need any help, you can contact me.”
Jeet had just managed to save Sapna’s phone number on his mobile when there was a pounding on the door. Seven men entered the room.
“Where are you from and why are you in Rishikesh?” One man asked brusquely.
“I am Jeet Sen, this is my wife. We had a meeting with a broker here in Rishikesh regarding a plot of land that we want to buy in Dehradun. We live in Haridwar." Jeet said.
The men nodded, and they were about to leave the room when suddenly a man looked at Sapna and said “Take off your mask”. Sapna did as she was asked.
The man frowned. “Aren’t you Sapna Bose who works in the State Bank of India, Dehradun? The guard of the bank is known to me, he took me to talk to you regarding a loan I wanted to take. He told me that you were unmarried and lived in Dehradun.”
The men turned on Jeet, “You lied to us, why? What is your role in the MLA's murder plot?"
They caught him by the collar and yanked him outside the room. Jeet's eyes pleaded with her; as if he wanted her to help him.
While repeatedly saying, ''I did not do anything."
Before being pushed out of the room, Jeet put the bag in her hand.
The sandhya arti near the riverside had just finished when Sapna, a monthly attendee, decided to go back to the ashram where she was lodged for the night in Haridwar. Suddenly, it started raining. Sapna ran for shelter. She stood on the porch of a house when the sound of a child crying assailed her ears. Peeping through the window to ascertain why the child was crying, what she saw made her stand rooted to the spot.
On the wall of the house, there was a photograph of Jeet garlanded, the man who had acted as her
saviour on that particular day in Rishikesh six months ago. Sapna opened the door and entered the room. A little girl of four years stared at her.
Sapna smiled trying to put the girl at ease. “Don’t cry, where is your mother?”
Just then the gate opened, and a young woman completely drenched entered the room. She carried some groceries with her.
Before the woman could charge her with trespassing, Sapna looked at the garlanded photo and said. “I am so sorry, I did not know that Jeet babu was no more.”
“You knew my husband?" The woman asked. Sapna nodded.
The attitude of the woman changed, she showed Sapna a chair.
Her name was Mita, she worked as a tailor from home.
Later sipping hot tea, Sapna came to know that Jeet who worked as a LIC agent had not returned home from Rishikesh where he had gone to finalize a land deal six months ago.
Two days later his body was found by the side of the road, he had died of a heart attack. The money with him was lost, and so was his mobile. The police found his Aadhar card in his pocket and located his address.
“My husband was a heart patient”. Mita said quietly. “The doctor had said that any sort of stress would kill him."
Sapna swallowed hard, trying to control the tears that threatened to overflow her eyes. No wonder Jeet did not call her or ask for his bag, Sapna had waited for Jeet in the hotel the whole night while the police patrolled the streets.
Back in Dehradun, Sapna had expected Jeet’s call. Unfortunately, she could not contact him in any way as she did not have his number and did not know where he worked. After a week Sapna opened his bag and found a water bottle, a strip of medicine prescribed for heart patients, a calculator and three lakh rupees in it.
Mita was speaking, “How did you know my husband?”
Sapna cleared her throat. “He met me in Rishikesh regarding the land deal in Dehradun."
"Are you a broker?" Mita asked, "Because he said he was going to meet a broker."
Sapna nodded, "Well, sort of".
Mita’s eyes clouded." Jeet wanted to settle in Dehradun and have our girl Juhi study in a good school. But now that he is no more, I want to remain in Haridwar. I have a number of customers here and can earn a decent living by tailoring." She sighed and then said.
“The owner wants us to vacate the flat by the end of this month. He has got a buyer who is willing to buy this flat for five lakhs. It has a room, a kitchen and a bath. We have to shift out soon, don't know what to do?"
It was time to leave. Sapna looked at the little girl, fatherless at such an early age, “I will come back with the money your husband had given me at the end of the week. Sorry for the delay, I was out of town for some time and then unwell".
“Three lakh rupees, my husband had with him after selling a small shop here in Haridwar. I thought the money was lost.”There was a ray of hope in Mita’s eyes at the thought of the money.
“No, it is five”. Sapna looked at Mita.
“What do you mean? Mita faltered.
"He paid me a sum of five lakhs for a plot of land in Dehradun. A lawyer was a witness to the transaction." Sapna lied. "Jeet babu could have had some private savings that you did not know of. He wanted to surprise you by gifting you a good plot of land" Sapna paused. "You can now talk to your landlord about buying this flat," A lie is beneficial when it makes someone smile. Sapna thought.
Back in Dehradun Sapna thought of that bespectacled young man whose only dream was to give his family a happy and secure life.
He had trusted Sapna with the money and it was now her turn to return his faith in her.
Jeet in order to protect her dignity had lied; and referred to her as his wife so that they would not interfere with her. An unmarried woman alone with a man in a hotel room would not go down well with an angry mob ready to strike. In the process, however, he lost his life, the mob must have manhandled him.
However, Jeet's sacrifice would not go in vain, his family was her responsibility now, destiny had brought them together.******