"I need documented proof. Only that would suffice. I don't want an iota of doubt in anyone's mind whether I was saying the truth or not. I know Vimala thinks that I was simply bragging like the other ladies do. I want to see the look on her face when she finds out that my son was an achiever in college days", Amma kept mumbling while going about with her household chores and here I was, dusting off the layers of dust that had accumulated on the surface of this trunk over the years, in my quest for the elusive magazine. Mothers have this strange habit of pitting their children against others in social gatherings and outweigh the competition, if any, by piling up their child's achievements. And if you have just happened to move to a new city, where Amma's new friends had no background of her illustrious kid, then it becomes all the more important for her to set the perspective right from the start. Amma had done the same while catching up with her new gang in this city and had left no stone unturned in glorifying my college achievements. She had promised her friends that next time around, she will get the college magazine with my mention for everyone to see. And the venue for the next party was our house, scheduled for today. While I was irriated with this futile exercise, on the other hand I was happy to see Amma make friends really quick in the new city and it was nice to see her finally smile after a long time.
"Atchoooooooo", I sneezed out loud. There was a thick layer of dust on the trunk, giving it a brownish hue with no traces of the orignal black colour that it was supposed to be. It had been 5 years since I had completed my MBA. The last time I had opened this trunk was back then, to empty my entire cupboard into this big trunk and bid my final adieu to Delhi. Infact, this trunk was a dumpyard of all the memories that I had accumulated over those 2 years. The good memories, the bad ones and then the ones I could never categorize - the memories that Swati gifted me and had her in them. I opened the trunk with a heavy heart and the first thing that I saw was her photograph. Her eyes seemed to be looking straight into mine, piercing my soul, as if asking a thousand questions at the same time. I suddenly went weak in my knees, felt my heart growing heavy and sat down, staring hard at the photograph. It was not that I had not expected to find her along with other stuff I had dumped in the trunk, but I was amazed at the sheer effect it had on me 5 years down the line. It turned out to be the first thing I came across. Swati Desai had left me awestruck, yet again!
"Is this seat occupied?", a blunt female voice greeted my ears as I was shuffling through the pages of the lastest issue of X-Men inside the college library. "Yes! Please", I replied without looking up at the owner of the voice. She was not done yet and continued, "Is that a comic book? You have time to read one? In the middle of this mayhem called the School of Management? You in first year as well, right?", a barrage of questions followed as soon as she had settled down. I slammed the book shut and looked at her irritatedly. I wanted to give her a piece of my mind for breaking my pace. Our eyes met before I could utter a single word. I went blank and the last remnants of thoughts in my mind also evaporated. Swati Desai's hazel eyes had me imprisoned the very first time itself! Looking straight into mine, piercing my soul. As if asking a thousand questions at the same time. Those pair of eyes. The most beautiful pair I had ever come across.
A cockroach flying out of the trunk managed to land on me, breaking my thoughts and transporting me back to present from the past. I shrugged it off and went back to the contents of the trunk. I avoided the photograph, placing it towards my side and digged into the other contents of the trunk. Amma's guests would drop in any moment and I had no time to wander in the fantasy world of memories. The ghosts of the past had been excorsised and I would be ruining it all by revisiting a past that we had mutually buried.
It was Swati's decision to move on. After spending the most beautiful two years of our lives together and despite being madly in love with each other, it took her only a phone call to break all ties with me. When we were just about to begin our careers and were enjoying our last big vacations at home, Swati was busy drifting away from me and all of us at the School of Management. Despite my desperate attempts to get in touch with her, I could not. I feared her staunchly traditional family had found out about our relationship and were forcing her to break ties. She dispelled my doubts over the phone call and stated that it was her decision and that her family had nothing to do with it. The phone call shattered me for life, and I still have not come to terms with that. My anger had not yet simmered down despite all these years. I had been gathering myself over the past many years, but today it all came crashing down. No one ever knew the cause of her strange behaviour, and the fact that she did the same with all her friends was the only solace. A comforting thought that I was not the only one. Disconnecting herself from all social networking sites was another example of her steel like resolve to drift away from everything that would remind her of the past. Swati Desai became a distant memory for everyone and over time she faded from everyone's mind.
"Vivekkkkkk", Amma's voice echoed upstairs, "Come down. Look who all is here to meet you". "Damn", I cursed myself. If the magazine was not enough, now this torture of smiling throughout the glorious introduction Amma would bestow me with loomed overhead. "Vivek!", Amma was calling for me again at the top of her voice, "Come fast beta. Aunties are waiting for you". I washed my face and quickly changed into a Kurta before rushing downstairs. I entered the hall and greeted everyone present there. "Aaaahhhh...Here he is. The shy boy. My son Vivek", Amma started humbly, "He is the reason I am here in Bhopal. He got transferred from Mumbai and has been posted here now. Now what else will a widow do than follow her single son around in this old age. Companies like to pack off good guys to different locations frequently. And his credentials haven't helped him much in getting away from the limelight. Vivek was a brilliant child throughout. He was even a gold medallist at the School of Management". All of a sudden, an 8 year old girl who had accompanied her mother to this party got excited and nudged her mom, "Wow. School of Management. That's where Swati Didi went too, didn't she Maa?"
The name sent shivers down my spine. "Swati?", I choked, "Swati Desai? You know her? Is she in Bhopal? Is she married?", I couldn't control myself. Amma looked amused at this sudden acquaintance and turn of events. The kid hung her face and looked towards her Mom. "Yes Beta. Swati Desai. Daughter of Mr. Santosh & Kamala Desai, our family friends. They used to be our closest friends and were here in Bhopal till 5 years back. We have seen the family in their happy times, their proudest moment being when Swati got through the School of Management, and their extremely worse times when Swati was diagnosed with that life threatening disease. They got to know of it pretty late and there was little that doctors could do to save that angel of a girl. The final 6 months were really tough for the entire family. The chemotherapies had sapped out everything from Swati and she had isolated herself from everything and everyone. Imagine the plight of her parents to watch their young daughter die before their very eyes. Talking about eyes, my daughter Krishna here was blinded by an accident when she was still an infant and needed a matching donor to see the world again. Swati was very close to Krishna and was adamant that her eyes be donated after her death, since it was a perfect match to Krishna's. Swati had the most beautiful eyes and in her final moments, even though her face had gone frail and her hair bald, it were her eyes that was full of life. I still can't beleive Swati is not with us today. But she lives on and her eyes still see the world through my daughter Krishna. Her parents come once in a year to see Krishna and find solace by looking into her eyes. We owe everything to Swati for the gift she has left behind for Krishna".
I had gone pale. I walked towards Krishna in a state of trance, knelt down holding her, wiping off the stream of tears that were running continuously down my cheeks. The next moment, our eyes met yet again. Those hazel eyes, looking straight into mine and piercing my soul. As if asking a thousand questions at the same time. Swati Desai had left me awestruck, yet again!