Destined to Meet

Debasis Tripathy

Fiction by Debasis Tripathy

The remote retreat located about a hundred miles away from the nearest town was perfectly drowned in silence. The order of the place was stillness. So much so that even the few pet animals who were the permanent inhabitants of the retreat had turned mute and meek.
There were male and female meditators in the retreat but by the rule of the place they were barred to intermingle; not even eye contact was permitted - complete segregation of the genders and the only place you found both males and females together was in the meditation hall, where anyways all were supposed to keep their eyes shut. It was a life of total renunciation – practicing the life of a monk or a nun - for two weeks during the course.  Everyone was supposed to practice abstinence from desires and ‘noble silence’ - total silence of voice and thoughts.
An outsider could see soundless queues of meditators slowly moving through the prescribed paths for a few minutes on their way to the canteen or on their way back to their rooms or if they desired to breathe in some fresh air. There was no one to enforce the rules, which were boldly displayed on whiteboards at the junctions and the central meditation hall, but none had the will to break them either. People had come there of their own choice; they were misfits in the crowded and noisy world. They had enough of breaking the rules of the world.
One bright Indian winter morning a day before the completion of the course Rishi Dash, a banker by profession and a loner of late, was strolling along the strip guarded by Neem and Peepal trees after four hours of ‘standstill’ meditation session that had started at 4 A.M, his hands in his track-pant pockets and stomach empty, he suddenly came face to face with an acquaintance — Sonali Mishra, a chum from their college days. It was a very awkward moment for both of them, yet the silence was not broken.

Before they graduated out from Ravenshaw College they had been in the habit, every morning, of setting forth for a long jog along Mahanadi River with a bottle of water tucked to their waist straps. He would wait for her in front of ladies hostel before dawn set in and the moment it turned a little lighted they would run side by side for the next hour.  The meeting will end with a breakfast of DahiBara Aloo Dum, a local delicacy and a favorite of theirs.
And every Sunday Rishi and Sonali, a shy, slender attractive girl with dark black eyes, equally black long hair and also a movie buff, would meet at the nearby movie hall and they would spend three hours side by side, watching any movie which got released that week. They had a warm friendship. There was a strong rumour in the college that they were in a relationship, although both of them never could propose to the other.  They just remained good friends, primarily because of inherent reticence and an unknown reluctance. Rishi, a young man who was a few months older than Sonali, was from a humble background and his goal in life in that phase of life was to make it big in life.

On the fourteenth day, when in the conclusion event ‘noble-silence’ was broken Rishi met Sonali at the reception area.  He felt a chaotic eruption, unrest forming within him. A fortnight of silence and meditation had turned him to a mode of heightened solitude and discipline. In a way, he’d started liking this form of ‘ideal’ life and there was no noble form of chatter that he wanted to indulge in. Rishi also had this problem of confronting his past.  He conversed with himself thus:
“Regardless of where my journey of life takes me, hopefully now I’m more ready to accept life, as it comes”

Both of them were jobless - Rishi had lost his job. Sonali never cared to do a proper job; she had briefly been associated with a few non-profit organizations, but it never lasted long enough. They did not have to worry about ‘what-next’ during the last fortnight. Now it was different and felt awkward. 
Rishi broke the silence “So, what next Sonali?”
Sonali responded without even having to think "Nothing.  I am in no hurry to return. As such there's no one waiting for me"
Rishi, surprised at the coincidence remarked “Same here. I lost my job a month back. No family to call my own” 
And these few words served enough to make them understand that they had not made many new friends in life after they’d departed.  They had wished success to each other on the farewell day at college and never stayed in touch thereafter. For some strange uncomfortable reason, they did not speak much to each other towards the last few days of college.
Rishi had enough of being alone in this vast world, he shared an idea “I am planning to go on a long road trip. When I was in my job, I always wanted to take a long train journey, but that could not happen.  And yeah… buy a Royal Enfield Bullet. I am buying it from a friend in Delhi. The idea is to go to Delhi by train and pick up the bike from him.”
After a pause, he continued with some hesitation "Would you like to join me on this trip?” This hesitation was nothing compared to how he floundered to propose Sonali of a future together during their days of being together.
Sonali did not say anything but both of them well interpreted that she was okay to join the new journey. They headed straight to the railway station and bribed their way through to buy two tickets to New Delhi.  On the bike and a vague destination in mind, they set off to a lesser-known hill station in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand.

Driving through the mountain roads, early in the morning, when the fresh sun weakened the mist to be swallowed by the cold air Rishi would remark casually to his pillion driver:
 “Sonali, it’s pleasant here”
To which the other would reply “I can’t think of anything better!”
And terse exchanges like this helped a long way to bolster their friendship and further complement their mutual appreciation. They still did not speak much; at other times they chatted; but they always deduced each other thoroughly, even without the service of a conversation, having similar characters and feelings and being so similar. They had not changed much, though grown older.
On another day, toward the eventide, when the setting sun would cast a crimson shadow over the clouds in the horizon and along with it displayed a rushing radiance on the faces of the two riders, Rishi would say beamingly interrupting the still silence:
“Brilliant, simply marvelous!”
And Sonali would nod, her head heavy with a load of the helmet, too big for her head.
“This is even better than the last few days of 'noble silence'. What say you, Rishi?”
And they would turn wordless again for a long stretch. Sometimes, the silence was the way for them to convey repentantly to each other what they'd missed in life before now.
 “And we are yet to reach heaven! This is just the way.” Rishi declared.

The sun showered its charming rays and the cool breeze splashed on their faces. They no longer remembered anything or thought of the future. They drove along on the lonely Ghat road lined with a beautiful blend of rhododendrons and oak forests, their bodies next to each other, dreamy and hopeful.
“We are almost there?” Rishi said pointing at a milestone.
“But where?” Sonali lazily inquired, her eyes closed and ears not exactly caring for a response.  
Soon they left the milestone behind them. They decided to take a sojourn near a small deserted chalet.  There was an eerie beauty about this place. The only sound they could hear was that of gurgling of a slender stream almost touching the chalet.  In no time, the wearied riders were sitting next to the stream their legs dipped in the chilly blue water and their hands clasped together. And the sight of the mountains in front of them filled the two friends with a feeling of pleasure never experienced before. And then, there was not even an inch of hesitation between them. There was a new sense of willingness in the air marked by an absolute lack of resistance.
Rishi, pointing to the heights ahead of them, murmured “Let’s climb up!”
And they started climbing. As they were ascending, Rishi could observe some discomfort in Sonali. It was tough for Rishi to combat her resistance to his offer of stopping the climb.
He pleaded “Sonali, let’s stop. It’s okay. We can do this some other time”
Without any warning, she crashed down and slipped down.  When her eyes opened, at the reinforcement of consciousness she found Rishi’s face hanging down on hers and his tears dropping on her faded fair face.
The helpless silence which reigned around them was overawing.
Rishi gathered courage and asked, “Come on, will you tell me what’s wrong with you?”
Wearing a spirited smile she muttered inaudibly “Rishi, I think am dying. Will you be my husband in my next life? I hope you’re not this shy then”
Rishi cried out “Yes, Yes, Yes…. What a fool you are. We can get married now if you want”
And then Sonali burst out laughing, unable to control the masked mischief.  The laughter was very infectious and Rishi could not escape it either. He also joined her and they laughed; they laughed like insane. He had not laughed this way for a long while now.
“I’ve altitude sickness. I think I’d enough of this climbing” Sonali confessed.
 “What about Jaipur then?” Rishi whispered into her ears and kissed her for the first time in life.
 “Let’s go!” replied Sonali, still laughing and her ears moistened with pearly drops of tears.
In the space of a few moments, the Bullet was descending the meandering mountain roads. After an hour or so, the air had turned warmer and it was much easier to breathe. A green signboard hanging on top of the road read:
Dehradun 60 km
 Jaipur 600 km
***

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