“The emission spectrum of an hydrogen atom consists of spectral lines which are grouped into different series according to the nth energy level transition. There are six such series, Lyman, Balmer,Paschen, Brackett…and…”
And? What were the last two called? She just couldn’t remember the names. Oh, not again! She stared in front of her, there was a sea of faces waving in her classroom. Knowing the symptoms well, she had to stop now.
“I’m sorry, we’ll continue this in the next class. Till then, read the chapter well.”
Her students were used to this sudden disruption. They were very supportive of their favourite professor, SBR – Sujata Basu Roy. She is arguably the best lecturer they could have in Physical Chemistry. She had extraordinary skills in teaching, and every student loved her. They knew the reason for these breaks – she had amnesia.
Very, very few of them, knew a further reason. One of them had heard it from his father, who was a contemporary to SBR. She was into student politics, very famous in her time. And it is heard that she was brutally tortured by the police, inhumanly. One of the students argued, “How can a personality like her he beaten up, just like that?” The others reminded her that SBR was only a student then, like them. And those times were different, they are a whole generation apart now.
Sujata came back to the staff-room Thankfully no one else was there. She didn’t want to talk. It was well fifteen minutes before the hour would end, and her colleagues would come back from their respective classes. She sat on her chair and held her head, limp in her hands. It was almost killing her. She called the peon and asked for an aspirin. Having taken that, she called Rajat. Not that she was expecting him to receive the call. He’s generally at his lab, or in some meeting at this hour. Surprisingly, he answered.
“Su, what happened?”
“Are you very busy?”
“I will be in ten minutes. Have to meet with a department head. Why, are you alright?”
“I forgot in class again.”
“Didn’t this happen just last month? Again? Why is the frequency increasing? I”ll have to speak with the doctor today.”
Sujata was listening.
“Listen Su, you go home now, and sleep. Call the driver, please don’t drive yourself. Okay? I’ll see you in the evening.”
Leaving a note on the department head’s table, she came out with her bag and stood at the second floor corridor. The courtyard was scattered with students. She wondered how did her college look like. That period in her memory is almost totally lost now. Each time she forgets words in class, her mind, her soul would gift her a piece of her lost memory back. Queer, isn’t it? After all these years, she had retrieved little bits and pieces of those days.
The car screeched to a halt to save a hurrying pedestrian. Her headache came back with the jerk, as if with a vengeance. On reaching home, she felt totally worn out, drew the curtains of her bedroom, and went off to sleep. The darkness seeped into her slowly through her eyes, and cast itself over her mind. She had a weird dream, it was a collage of images. She could see herself on a makeshift podium, screaming at the top of her voice, with a pamphlet waving in her hand life a flag, and a blue dupatta draped around her neck. In the next frame, she saw herself sitting beside the lake with a man, explaining him something animatedly. She couldn’t see him, but she knew it wasn’t Rajat. She couldn’t see his face, all she saw were his eyes, gazing at her intently, passionately, protectively. There was so much love, so much belonging in him.
She woke up in a trance. She had slept through the dusk, the room was a very different shade of dark now, a purple-tinted dark. She could remember the dream vividly, and those eyes. Who could it be? Who else than Rajat? How could there be somebody else in her life, and she didn’t even know him! May be it was only a dream, a fantasy. But her instinct said it was true, like the other pieces of retrieved memories. She moved around the house. Rajat wasn’t back yet. He was the assistant director of a leading research institute in the city. Naturally, he had big responsibilities in management, topped with his own research, and two post-doctoral fellows to guide. All of these summed up to staying till late at the institute to catch up with everything. But he tried to extract as much time possible for her and Mithi – their daughter. She had just migrated a few months ago to pursue a course of sound recording after a bachelor’s in physics. Rajat had strongly disapproved, both of the migration, and leaving her mother alone. But Sujata strongly supported her daughter. She was happy that Mithi was pursuing what she liked.
Loud rings of the phone brought her back to reality. Rather, to the dream. Those eyes! Whom could she ask about this stranger? Besides Rajat, the only friend she retained from yesteryear’s was Manisha. They knew everything about each other. She couldn’t ask Rajat about this, so the only option left was Manisha. Absent-minded, she received the call and jolted on hearing the voice.
“What coincidence!” Sujata blurted out.
“What? What happened Su? Are you alright? How’s your blood pressure? Sambit had called Rajat today to fix a plan for the weekend. He said you forgot in class again today? Did you talk to the doctor, Su? You’re so damn negligent of yourself!”
“Manisha, Manisha, you’re still the same Rajdhani Express!”
“What did you say, Su? Is that you? You remembered? But how?”
“Oh, will you let me speak, for a change? Yes, I remembered it now, suddenly, that we called you such in college. I don’t know how I remembered Manisha, it just came to me.”
“That’s great, Su. This way you’ll remember a lot of things.”
“You don’t seem very enthusiastic about that.”
“Right. I don’t want you to retrieve all the bitter memories. There are a lot of such.”
“I was going to ask you about something Manisha. Something I dreamed of, something very important. Can we meet somewhere?”
“How about the weekend plan? Me and Sambit coming over saturday night? We can sneak to the terrace and talk there.”
“Yeah, that would do. I’ll arrange the dinner. Rajat is so busy these days.”
“We too are, actually. Haven’t seen you guys for a long time. Saturday, then? And take care of your health, Su. I’ll call again.”
“I will, don’t worry.”
Manisha was worried, indeed, about Sujata’s health, and her memory-retrieval process. If she remembers everything, that is going to be disastrous. All of them had been ardently shielding her from the world since then. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have survived the lonesome battle, and they couldn’t live without her. If those memories can still haunt herself so intensely, imagine what impact would they have on Su.
Their conversation drifted Manisha to those forbidden days. They were close friends – Herself, Su, Rajat, and Sambit, though he was a year senior. Su was a dynamic leader of the budding revolutionary party who wanted to oust the government. She had become famous in other colleges too, for her leadership skills, in a very short time. She was being considered by her party to work at the national level for leading the youth. Right then, a sudden political turmoil devastated the whole nation. Her party was banned and Su was arrested by the police. Manisha, Sambit, and all their friends, family tried their best to bail her out, pleaded incessantly, but to no effect. She was a declared a political prisoner, a threat to common people.
Finally, they had to call Rajat. He had gone to Europe as an exchange student, and was coaxed by his professors to continue further studies there. He was a brilliant student, a blue-eyed boy of all the professors, and was already working on some breakthrough topic. He came back immediately, and all of them fought hard to rescue Su from the unimaginable physical and mental torture she was going through. Su was pregnant at that time, which even Manisha didn’t know about, and the torture made her lose the baby and cause her irreparable damage. Mithi – yes, she was adopted later. Rajat had some strong family connections, which he forced his relatives to use to their full power to release Su. He never returned to Europe again. Instead, married Su, and did his doctorate within the country itself. Manisha hadn’t seen another man in her life who did so much for love and friendship. All of them simply adored Rajat.
Coming back to the present, what was it that Su wanted to talk to her about? Was it, the forbidden secret? Manisha shuddered at the thought. She prayed silently to God. Su has already gone through hell in her life, why make it more complicated? The stability she has gained after all these years, has been the result of constant hard work, sacrifice and love from Rajat. She made up her mind. She wouldn’t budge a word to Su, neither would she let anybody else even mention the topic.
God, or destiny, or whoever – was probably smirking at Manisha for this thought of hers.
It was Friday morning. Sujata had an almost off day at college, just one period in the afternoon. Rajat had left for work, they had their breakfast together. It was a bright winter morning. The sun was playing at her feet, as she sat at the balcony with two newspapers, and a magazine. Mithi had called a while ago, she would be leaving with her classmates for an excursion later that day. Sujata smiled as the thought of Mithi crossed her mind. She was such a wonderful child.
The intercom was ringing. Someone was at the door probably. In a few minutes, the housekeeper came and informed that there was a journalist who wanted to see her. She was surprised to hear that. Nobody knew her in this part of the country. She didn’t know what to do. Rajat and Manisha had strictly prohibited her to talk to journalists about her past, or to hear from them about her activities. She asked the housekeeper to politely refuse, she wasn’t talking. The woman came back and said that the journalist had to speak to Sujata about something very personal to him. She was perplexed, and decided to see him. May be it was something about any of her students.
The man came to the living room and stood watching her in admiration. She came inside from the balcony and asked him to take a seat. He was quite young actually, in his mid twenties. She spoke first.
“How may I help you?”
He replied with respect in his voice,
“Madam, I’m Mihir. A journalist at a newspaper in your hometown. I’ve come all the way here just to meet you once.”
“Yes, but what is the context. I don’t give any ideas absolutely.”
“Ma’am, let me ask a question first. Did you know anyone named Anish from your college days?”
“Anish? I don’t think so. What is this, an interview?”
“No ma’am. Trust me. I have reasons to ask. Please try to remember if you did.”
“Listen young man, if you don’t already know let me tell you, I’ve lost my memory in an accident. I remember very few things from those days, and I can’t remember any Anish. Now would tell me what this is all about?”
“He was a friend of yours, a close friend.”
“And how do you know that? I don’t even know who you are!”
“Ma’am, he was my uncle.”
“And don’t tell me he has sent you here for some reason.”
Mihir looked at her strangely, with disbelief in his eyes.
“You don’t even know this? He died twenty years ago, in prison.”
“In prison?? Why?”
“He was a political prisoner. They tortured him slowly to death,” hesitated Mihir, “Ma’am, I didn’t know that you had a memory loss. Had I known, I wouldn’t have come here. If you don’t remember him at all, if your friends never mentioned him to you again, I shouldn’t barge new facts into your life now. I’m sorry, I should leave now.”
“Wait. I want to know everything. You must have come all the way to say something else. What is it?”
“He left you some letters from the prison. They were written in his diary. After he passed away, nobody bothered to read them. I found the diary, because I wanted to know more about him. I remember him vaguely from childhood. He loved me a lot. I’m sorry I had to read the diary to know whom it was addressed to. And it took me quite sometime to find out your present location. But I had to do this.”
Sujata was extremely surprised to know she had a friend who wrote to her from prison. She wanted to see the diary. Mihir took out a medium, hard bound, black diary, worn out in places.
As she opened it, a million black butterflies seemed to flock at her at once. In a split second, she remembered him. And everything. She knew that handwriting. She would recognize it among a million others, anytime. It was Anish indeed. She used to call him “A niche”. He was a year senior to them and was the secretary of the strategic cell of their party. They were truly, madly, deeply in love with each other.
She sat still. Stunned. Breathless. As if all the air inside her had been sucked out. There was vacuum all over. She couldn’t hear anything, see anything. The world in front of her eyes had become an endless screen, playing images of them together – in college, at the party office, beside the lake, everywhere. She remembered the rainy night she was with him at his mess, and they had made love like it was the last night of their lives, last moment of togetherness.
Mihir and the housekeeper were constantly shaking her, sprinkling water on her face. They had already called Rajat and Manisha out of panic. Sujata woke up from her other life, assured them that she was fine, took the diary and went to her room. She opened a page at random.
Dear Princess, [That’s what he used to call her when they were alone.]
Will these random scribbling ever reach you? I don’t know. Will you still remember me? I don’t even know that. But you’ll always be my princess. None can take that away from my soul….
When Manisha and Rajat saw her, she was crying. Holding the diary close to her heart, as if it were her child, she was crying her life out, for the first time in twenty years.