Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Fog


I have finally discovered it. You can call it divine intervention or simply destiny but someone had planned it all. I have never felt the urge to delve a fact so bad. I am driving as fast as I can. I need to be home as soon as possible so that I can let Srishti know. I try to imagine how she will react when I tell her about it all. Will she feel the same exhilaration that I do? I think so. I can't stop gushing and thanking the one who set this wicked game up.

Curiosity they say kills the cat but everyone overlooks the cat's battle to kill the curiosity. I believe it's the curiosity that keeps the cat alive. I wouldn't have been the cat that I became, had it not been the peculiar circumstances of the summer of the year 2011. For quite some time my instincts told me that something was amiss. Everything was going great and life was remarkably good on all the possible fronts, may be that was the problem.Then one day I got the pink slip. The economic downturn was at full fervour. I was axed despite my dedication, loyalty towards my employer and more importantly my skills. I was no longer needed. I was not prepared but for some reason deep inside me I felt happy about it. May be this was the missing link. Even though I was confident that I would get a job easily, may be not as rewarding as my previous one but I had no intention to hunt for a new one. Srishti was deeply worried, more so with my nonchalant behaviour. My mind was looking for anew venture. I needed to scan through the deepest and the most obscured corners of my mind. I needed to get away from the midlife noise that surrounded me and there was nothing better than books to help me get in that "zone". Dust had long settled on my books that I had saved since my college days. I got a box out that had not seen light for nineteen years and picked my favourite Science and Mathematics books from college days. The days were spent reading a random topic, listening to radio, sipping coke and smoking cigarettes.

Fog is the liquid water droplets that are suspended in the air when the water vapour condenses. It was a cold winter night in New Delhi and most of the water vapour in the air had given in to the temperature. The streets were empty, the visibility not more than a couple of feet. A car trotting at a speed that must have been less than 13 km/h climbed upon a flyover. The car seemed like a giant wingless bird that was flying in the clouds. The cautious driver slowed down the car even further enjoying the expanse of the white river. The flyover curved sharply towards the right at its peak, something that the driver who was lost in his own trajectory didn't realize. There was a soft noise when the car thudded against the barrier. The driver waited for a little while and then came out of the car moving quickly towards the car's bonnet. He slipped, the head struck the metallic barrier and in an attempt to balance himself he toppled over it. He fell down 53 feet and died.No, he didn't die immediately. Instead, he died a slow and a painful death waiting for someone to find and save him. A few vehicles passed by but the fog acted as the perfect gatekeeper. The wet road on the flyover that had been made slippery by the water vapour bore a long mark of a shoe that had slipped.

"Why did the day when I met you happen? Why were you there? The best thing was for me to have died that day in the accident",Srishti screamed as I calmly sipped on my coke. Two months had passed by since my last day at office. She was extremely angry that day. Our pet cat Calculus had died a day before. Apart from that she was flustered with my stillness and unwillingness to move out of the house. It was not that money was an issue. She thought I was a loser and had given up on life. It was next to impossible for me to explain to her what I felt because I was trying to find that answer myself. More importantly I did not want to make that attempt. It was not the first time she had pointed out "that" day to me but for the first time the"why" buzzed in my brain. It was like cathode rays placed on my temple passing mild electric currents. We were two individuals from same strata of the society. She belonged to a much more liberal family though. One of the reasons for that was the fact that her parents had married against the wishes of their families. She was the eldest child who was brought up both as a girl and as a boy. Her parents were both working and had no family support. Thus from the very beginning she was taught to "take control". She made her decisions and lived by them. My upbringing was very different. Everything was served to me on my study table. I was brought up to be an engineer. If my dad had his ways, he would have named me "engineer". He became my coach and set all the goals of my life. He picked the race courses of my life.The goal for every race was the same, win a gold medal. I did that with full fervour for not until recently I thought those were the battles I wanted to fight, the wars I wanted to be victorious in. I post graduated from a top US university and returned to India with a highly rewarding job. Srishti and I lived a few blocks apart but it was only "that" day that I saw her for the first time.

Why did it happen? Why does anything happen for that matter?Does every effect have a cause? More importantly does it need a cause? Does every cause lead to an effect? I knew now why the "why" had the buzzing effect on my nerves. Before Srishti barged into the room screaming I was reading Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. In layman's terms this principle states that at quantum levels the more precisely one property is measured, the less precisely the other can be known. In an attempt to measure one property, the other one gets altered. It makes a lot of sense. You can't analyze a crime scene without being a part of it. When you go out finding an answer to a "what", you might be inadvertently changing the outcome.It made me think of a friend. This friend was a compulsive cell phone user. He couldn't get his hands off the phone even when he was driving. It was a norm for him to write emails or text messages and browse through the internet while driving. His wife took it upon her to keep him away from the cell phone when behind the wheel. She asked him to lock the phone in the car's trunk so that he could concentrate upon driving. It took some convincing but he agreed. He died in a car crash the very first day he put his phone in the car's trunk. Why did he die? Did he die because he kept the phone away? Did the cell phone in the trunk made him too anxious to drive or were the two events totally unrelated? The more I thought about the "why" Srishti had posed in front of me,the more it intrigued me. Was it the puzzle of destiny or fate that I was trying to unlock? I made up my mind. I knew what I would be looking for in the next few months. It seemed like a perfect "get away". Why it had that sort of effect of me was just another why that didn't bother me as much. The search had to start with what I was doing there at that time. "I will start looking out for a job", I lied to her.

Mrs. Nanda was a novice driver. She had never driven a motor vehicle all her life and never had she thought that she would need to. She belonged to a family that couldn't afford one and was married to a well-to-do business man where she got a personal driver. Mr. Nanda had a couple of transport trucks to his name and life was good. Time is a great leveller and life uses it to find a way to let the man know that the square that he stands on is ultimately decided by it. It took just one night to wallop the business. There was no insurance money and the money Mr. Nanda had saved evaporated soon. Mr.Nanda had to do what he hadn't imagined he would end up doing. He needed to find a job and work as an employee. They had to sell one of their two cars and let the driver go. He finally found a job but it was required for him to be away from town four days in a week. Mr. Nanda suggested to his wife that she learns how to drive so that she could be self dependent while he was away. She liked the idea. She had always wanted to be behind the wheel. On the very first day that she decided to drop her son to the school she almost killed two people.

Why was I there? I was there because I was driving to work.I lit another cigarette and tried to remember the exact sequence. I leave for work only after 11 am to avoid the morning rush hour but that day for some reason I had to leave early. Yes, I remembered the chain of events. The company that I worked for was bidding for a large project. My team and I had worked together the previous evening finalizing the proposal. I had left early leaving the final calculations to Abha. Late that night when I looked at the proposal,something didn't seem right. The final quote seemed too low to me and thus I had fixed an early morning meeting with team to go through all the numbers one more time. It was the intersection five blocks away from my apartment that I saw Srishti and got late to the meeting. In fact the meeting was over by the time I got to office. I was told that Abha had made a small mistake and somewhere in those excel spread sheets had entered a 460 for 80 x 8. I shivered in my chair as I thought about this goof up.If not for the embarrassing mistake that she made multiplying 80 and 8, I wouldn't have met Srishti. A tiny drop of sweat trickled down my spine. I had known Abha for many years and she was the most dependable team member. I had ignored the error as a one off that day but now I needed to dig further. I picked up my phone and called her up. "Abha, I need to talk to you urgently. Can we meet for a cup of coffee this week"? "How are you doing K? I am busy all this week. My son has his board exams and there is a lot of stuff I need to take care of at work. I think I can find sometime next week", she said. "Next week is just fine", I said. Her son? As far as I could think Abha was never married. My memory must have failed me.

Nishant was late for his girlfriend's birthday. He knew that she was going to be upset. She had asked him to land into the city either a day before or at least around afternoon. He had some office work to take care of in Pune so he had taken a late evening flight from Pune to reach New Delhi. Everything was well planned but his flight got delayed. He came running out of the airport and grabbed a taxi. "Please get me to Defence Colony as soon as possible". It was already past midnight. He called her up and as expected she did not pick up the phone. They had had many fights over the fact that work always remained his number one priority. The poor visibility didn't help the cause and the cab crawled on the Delhi streets. He called her up again. No response. He sent the phone flying on the back seat of the car. "Why is this cab crawling? Can't you fucking drive a bit faster?” he screamed venting out his frustration on the cab driver. The cab driver, a short tempered man himself applied the brakes. "How dare you use that cuss word?” he shouted back. "Please get out of the cab and walk where ever you want to go". The unexpected burst of anger from the cab driver calmed Nishant down. He apologized and requested the cab driver to continue. The cab driver however didn't pay a heed to his request. He was left stranded on the road at 1 am in the night and all he could do as he stood there waiting for another cab was to curse her.             

Why was she there? This was another piece of the puzzle that needed to be solved. She was bleeding profusely when I saw her for the first time. I remember the events vividly. I had stopped at the traffic light when I heard a loud thud. I turned my attention to the street on the right. A toppled auto rickshaw was lying on the road. A car that had its bonnet completely disturbed had smashed into it. People gathered around the auto rickshaw and that's when I saw her lying on the road. I came rushing out of my car. The auto rickshaw had almost crushed her left leg. A couple of kind men and I got her leg freed up by getting the auto rickshaw back on its wheels. She was unconscious and had lost a lot of blood. The lady who was driving the car was crying nonstop. "Is she dead?", she was howling. Her son was sitting in the car, crying himself. I got Srishti and the lady into my car and sped to the nearest hospital. We were accompanied by an onlooker. I tried to calm the lady down but to no avail. I looked at Srishti who was lying in her lap from the rear-view mirror. Blood was gushing out of her head. Despite of the face that was spattered with blood it was evident that she was beautiful. The long strands of her hair were soaked in blood. I have always wondered if it was love at the first sight. I needed to think backwards. She had her own car. So what was she doing in an auto rickshaw that day? It was something that I had never thought about before. I could have asked her but instead I decided to call her brother up. Mitesh was out of town partying in Goa. "I have to ask you something. Why did Srishti go in an auto rickshaw on day of the accident when she owned a car?” Mitesh was taken aback by that question. "What are you up to? I needed the car that day. It was my girl friend's birthday and we had planned to go for a drive to Jaipur", he responded sounding irked and put down his phone. Mitesh and I had always shared a great rapport. I was surprised to hear the cold response.He didn't sound like Mitesh. The Mitesh I knew was a workaholic and I couldn't imagine him in a party in Goa or for that matter him having a girl friend.Something had definitely changed. I called him up again but he didn't take my call.

The day I was supposed to meet Abha in the evening I decided to give Mrs. Nanda a call as well. I had lost her contact details but had finally been able to locate them. She readily agreed to meet me. I drove to her house and was surprised when I saw her. She had changed a lot. She seemed at least 4 inches taller than what I remembered of her. Her features were sharp and she didn't appear to be a plump lady in her forties. I hid my surprise and came straight to the business. I did not want to mince words."Do you remember the day of the accident? What happened that day"? As soon as I asked that question, she started crying. "Please calm down", I said handing her a glass of water. "I was new to driving. It was my first day. I wouldn't have been driving if my husband hadn't lost his business. The transport company he owned had to be shut down after one of the trucks met with an accident on a foggy night killing four people. We lost all our money in legal battles, paying off the dead, lenders and our clients". I remained silent. "I have never had the courage to drive after that day. You know what the funny thing is? It was that very date that the truck met with the accident. 13th February 2004 was that unfortunate night and life hasn't been the same ever since".

I had few hours before I was supposed to meet Abha so I decided to pay a visit to Himani's office. After my phone call with Mitesh I had spoken with Srishti about his girl friend and she was surprised that I didn't know. I probed her casually and found that Himani worked at a fashion designing company. I had no problems finding her and introduced myself as Mitesh's friend. She was drop-dead gorgeous and it was hard to imagine that she had fallen for Mitesh. "We are planning a surprise party for Mitesh. I thought it would be a great idea for you to be part of the plan. So I came hereto see you in person", I lied. She showed a lot of excitement around the bunch of lies that I had built on the fly. We were chatting in her office canteen.I ordered for two cups of tea. "So, where did you guys meet each other?” I asked out of the blue. "Life is strange K, isn't it? I was almost ready to go for a PG course in the US but a week prior to that my dad passed away after he accidentally fell from a flyover. I cancelled my plans to go to the US as I wanted to stay with my mom. I joined a local college and that's where I met Mitesh. He was a great support and helped me come out of the loss". "I am happy for you guys",I said and smiled. She had tears in her eyes. "The sad part is that my dad died on my birthday.He was coming back late after work to attend my birthday party. The visibility had dropped to virtually zero. The dense fog consumed him". Her sobs stopped and there was a deadening silence. The hair at the back of my neck rose alarmingly. Birthday on that day! Fog! The dots were getting connected right in front of my eyes. The lines were all blurry but they were there. No, the lines were not fuzzy, it was my vision.

I met Abha in a local coffee shop. My mind was at work.There weren't a lot of possibilities connecting a bad day at Maths and a foggy night. Despite of that, I could feel it. Inevitability loomed large."Abha, I have known you for years. I have never seen you make a mistake.Do you remember that day in 2009, when you goofed up on 80 into 8 while working on a proposal? If you do, I want to know how come you erred.” I asked her."Why do you want to know it now?” she asked me. "Let's just say that your answer will culminate my quest". "I don't understand what you mean but yes, I do remember that day. It was the eve of the fifth death anniversary of my brother. I still haven't come up to terms with the fact that he is no more. That was the day Medha had joined our office. She was my brother's ex girl friend. They were supposed to be engaged but destiny had other plans. The thought that she would be around me all the time while in office saddened me. I couldn't get my mind away from the events that lead to my brother's sad demise. That night, he had called me at around mid-night, stuck on a Delhi street. He was late coming into the city because all the incoming flights were delayed due to the dense fog.The taxi driver had left him stranded there and he sounded very upset. He had called me to come and pick him up. That was the last time I spoke to him. I have never experienced the heavy fog as it was on that night. It took me more than two hours to get to the location he had asked me to be at but I couldn't find him. His dead body was found the next day, all his belongings robbed", she said in one breath. "I have never erred in Maths but for that day. 640 and 460, they all seemed the same to me that day". The lines were no longer fuzzy. "I was never superstitious but it was Friday the13th when he died. Come to think of it, it was Friday the 13th in 2009 when I resigned the day after making that mistake. The real reason for my resignation was Medha's presence in the office". My coffee mug almost slipped out of my hands. Something struck me after she left. She had resigned? I couldn't recall that at all. As far as I could remember she was still there when the company had asked me to leave. That was least of my concern though. 

Fog. It was all fog. The dense fog on the 13thFebruary 2004 had all the answers engulfed in it. I don't remember what I was doing that night and I am sure neither would she. Someone though was conspiring for us to meet. If not for that night, we wouldn't have met, we wouldn't be married. Someone that night was churning out water vapours, letting them lose in the air. How one “Friday the 13th” lead to another one. This was the secret that I had unearthed. We were meant to be together. Marriages are made in heaven. At least ours was.

I reach home and the door is locked. She is not at home. I call her up but her cell phone is not available. I anxiously wait for her and make myself comfortable on a bean bag. The events of the day have made me weary and I fall asleep waiting for her. I don't know for how long I slept but a rumbling sound wakes me up. The sound is no longer there. I turn on the TV and hear the news of an earth quake. The news channels report that slight tremors were felt in New Delhi and adjoining areas. Then something unexpected happens.My phone buzzes and it is my ex-boss who is calling me. I have not spoken with him in a long time. "Hi K, I'm going to be out for next couple of days. I want you to attend a couple of meetings on my behalf". At that moment my cell phone falls out of my hand. I crash on the bean bag. I can't make sense of what is going on. I pick up the cell phone and call her. Not available. I call Mitesh. "Where is Srishti", I ask. "Is this some kind of a joke", he screams. "What do you mean", I ask worriedly. "I don't know what you are up to. Srishti died. She died in that accident. I know you did your best to save her but for God sake please don't call me again", he says and disconnects the phone. That can't be true. I was married to her. When did I last see her? It was that morning itself. 

Where am I? I heard the meow of a cat. It is Calculus. It is at that moment that it dawns upon me. My heart feels like someone just grabbed it and squeezed all the juices out of it. What had I done? What I was digging turned out to be a grave. My search has turned my wife into Schrodinger's cat.Dead here, alive somewhere. I dug the past and altered the present.

I am a man who has lost the present in search of a past. My story however should serve as a lesson for everyone. Beware of what you dig because when you dig a grave, you alter the skeleton. Some effects should just be left alone. Avoid the search of the cause. Don't connect the dots cause when you do, you disturb them. As far as I am concerned, I can't do anything but remorse.I need to continue my search however. I need to continue it because that's the only option I have to bring her back to life. The questions are plenty. I need to find the auto rickshaw driver. Mr. Nanda's story is also unknown to me. I also need to get in touch with Medha.

I will keep on unearthing the mystery till the day I see through the fog and the earth shakes again.

1 comment:

  1. :) An excellent write-up! .. a very light glimpse of Milan Kundera's style somewhere i guess..

    ReplyDelete