I placed the glass on the white marble table, near the white and red envelopes, took a deep puff of much needed fresh air, which was oozing out from the translucent meshed white muslin flying curtains. I didn’t exactly knew whether it was the booze, which forms my permanent diet now, or the heaviness felt in the lungs cause of the severe smoking for days that pushed me to take an occasional breather of fresh air.
I hissingly took three deep drags of air, and instantly the oxygen kicked the ecstasy. I, sitting in my posh sea facing 20th-floor apartment, was oscillating very smoothly between the wet flashy greenery of the coastal Bombay and the corrugated old school tea glass flecked with the golden liquid. I still don’t know why I enjoyed whiskey in those tea glasses with the infinity of sea in front.
I looked and looked and suddenly was swayed back to the days when my family once was new to this city. The year was 1951. India was a young and vibrant newly independent country. Everyone, as in everyone was filled with patriotism and a sense of newly achieved independence, whose definitions varied from one another. And with the definition varied the sense of progressiveness in them, some chose the traditional ways while the other invented the newer ways to utilize the independence for them and be progressive and avoid the much rampant poverty.
In the similar quest, a confused family from the then small time Ludhiana arrived at the then relatively paced city of Bombay. They thought the independence, the pace, the mindset and the city’s economy will set afloat their sinking fortunes. And hence, they arrived at the city like many others without a proper prior plan and eventually landed up forming the slums of the city.
The family struggled for years forming the bottommost layer of the human cycle. The financial conditions were so bad for years that it slowly carved them to pursue anything, anything which will return something as meager as even a day’s meal. But the life went on and so did the country. And with this moving on country, with an ardent hidden desire for progressiveness, escalated various industries, films being one of them. And with commerce favoring the film industry, the industry paved ways for many such people, with a slight face value, slight talent and much of a luck. And so was the case for me, the only difference in my case was that it was my parents which praised my luck contrary to my late realization of how unlucky I was.
I was the lone child of my parents and since the “matured “age of 6, I became the golden goose for my family. And at that naïve stage, I thought this is how the world operates. My father will take me daily to the studios, where to post a few initial castings; I was enrolled on a monthly salary of 300 hundred rupees a month in that studio, with a name of Baby Zohra. Though that was my stage name but nobody, including my parents, knew of my real birth name and Zohra tagged along with me as my only identity to me and the world. Three hundred rupees was a handsome sum in those days, an amount which could have very easily convinced my father to sell his kidney.
I very clearly remember that I never wanted what all was happening to me. I like any other kid was content with the facilities if that is what we call them, I had. I wanted to be at home. Never the competition, the fake cuteness, the rehearsed illogical dialogues, ever appealed to me. But I had to do what I had to do as for that my entire worth was valued for. I spent my whole childhood, adolescence and now the adulthood in studios and clubs; a lifestyle whose scratches and marks now have made my hollow soul, more hollow with a constant feeling of sinking and falling into an unknown never ending abyss.
I once did try to convey all this to my father, whose resulting marks are still on my body. I succumbed then, or maybe up till now. I think I am a well-earned looser. I have almost everything, still nothing. Everyone knows me now, but I know nobody. I hate my parents, I hate my profession. I somehow wonder why people sometimes struggle so hard to get a break in this industry, when most, if not all, what the industry offers is either temporary or fake. Half of my entire life I have spent knowing the fact that whatever I do, whatever I hear is all, like my profession, an illusion of sorts. I know what all appreciation or “love” I get is either for the characters I did or for some hidden motives of the appreciator. Where are those who really appreciate the intent of Zohra as a girl, as a woman, as a person, as a human being? Where are they, who will know me without any pre-apprehensions and notions? Where are they who will love me and not “love” me? Where is that someone who will adore without any hidden agendas, without any selfish motives?
The sudden sharp sensation of a few sprinkled drops of water widened my already open yet lost eyes. I think it’s raining. I tried standing up but struggled. I think the booze has become too much, should I call Anudeep.
No, no, leave it, was the call after a momentary pause.
I’ll try once again….aaahhhhh…yes!!
I somehow crawled to reach the window, caught and set aside the flying curtains and looked out. The whole atmosphere’s texture was clean but under a hazy filter, a slightly milky and dreamy filter. The winds were fast and strong, yet brought with them the life, the joy, and the rain. I stretched my hands out of the window and tried feeling a few drops on my hand.
Yes, I could feel them.
Yes, this day is good, I can feel the rain, and I could even enjoy them if I wanted.
Yes, this means the decisions made are genuine, it’s not only me even nature, the atmosphere…. even the higher cosmos supports me in my decision.
I then turned and looked at the red envelope on the marble table kept beside the white one. I came back, losing the curtains to let them fly. I think I liked them when they flew and then saw his name written calligraphically in the yellowish golden sparkling ink on the dark maroon colored matte paper – “Anudeep Acharya”.
I immediately picked up the receiver and dialed the number. The voice from the other end still created the non-needed shiver in me. I went mute for a second. Why this always happens to me?
The voice on the other end repeatedly said Hello, thrice. I was shocked, I was dumbstruck. I needed to speak but somehow lacked courage. After the third Hello, the voice on the other end went mute too and a few moments later it whispered, “Zohra, is it you?”
I cried, I don’t know why but I cried.
The voice on the other end fumbled a little, projecting the slight uneasiness caused. I felt a little happy to see that my pain still triggers some response in him. And then, still struggling to control, I said, “Anudeep, can you come home? I need to tell you something.” The voice said, “Ok, I will be there as soon as possible.”
I felt relieved. The bullet is fired, now it just has to reach the target. I stared for a while at the silent telephone, on the table, and then turned again to witness the turmoil by the rainy storm over the ocean. But frankly I stood there to feel the bulged muslin curtains by the air, which tickled me on the face like a kid’s soft hands.
I stood there for some good five minutes before crashing back on the couch again. I think I needed a peg again, a slightly stronger peg. I looked around, found the glass and bottle, made the drink, gulped some 100ml for taste and got caught back again at that intimidating red envelope on the table. Slowly the soothing atmosphere clubbed with the hazy filter, took me to the day when I first met Anudeep.
I was on the muhurat sets of my 23rd film. I was a superstar then. Almost the whole industry, if not the whole country, saluted my stature, fake though but still. I was working for the first time with this director, named Anudeep. Though his celluloid journey was way less than mine, still whatever he had, was a mark of excellence in itself. I was pretty excited to work with him. But a star is a star, even if the real self-wants to be humble; there are certain very tiny stages where the stardom overrules the general psyche. I reached one hour late by the call time allotted. He saw me there but ignored me as if saying I know the tantrums of a pampered star. The event ended gracefully. Post the event, he came to me, when I was sitting in my chair on the floors of the studio enjoying my tea and very politely asked, “Did you ask Maganlalji [the writer of the film] to change the climax of the film.” I still enjoying my tea, looking the other way said, “Yes.”
“May I know the reason?” He asked politely.
“Go and ask Maganlalji, I can’t repeat again and again” was the reply.
He instantly blasted me on this.
“Who the hell do you think you are? I am not only the director; I am also the financier of the film as well. Try to be in your limits lady, this is not your regular masala film sets. This is an artist’s production house. If you have an issue come discuss with me, we will consider the inputs. But pressurizing the crew, especially the writers is something which I will not tolerate” he said pointing a finger at me with a red face.
“Behave yourself, he concluded, or else I will throw you out not only from the film but also from the studio.”
This is how my first verbal interaction with Anudeep went. Everyone, including me, knew that I am done for the project. But somehow someone wanted something which pushed me to cooperate, ignore and proceed. We both worked together for the film. The film garnered me the best actress award at innumerable places. Post that film, we collaborated for another four films, all blockbusters with a critical acclaim, before he proposed me, which is a different story altogether.
He proposed me enlightening with a fact that he already is married but with no kids and was 12 years older to me. I obviously had the clue of the former part of the proposal, but the latter information came as a shock to me for which I was completely unprepared for. For the first time in my life, I have felt that warmth, have felt that someone liked me for the way I am and not for who I am. And when all was good, then came this. Anyway, I started keeping a distance as the things were bad to handle staying close with him but not as bad as dating a Hindu married man in front of the society.
But then some hidden forces again waved their magic wand and within six months of our partial separation, on one day Anudeep informed me, Zohra, “I have divorced my wife, I am alone and needy now, Can we now be the same old couple as once we used to be?”
To this with a slight resistance and a dubious but very happy crying heart and eyes, I said
And since then, as they say, we dated for a year and a half, before tying the knot with each other. I cannot believe the way the things turned out for me, it was magical. The whole incident of we coming so close was a drama in itself. But all is well that ends well, is what I thought, unknown of human in capabilities to assume the end when the play is staged by someone else, the creator, a silly human nature indeed, I know.
We both were happy, in fact being happy was an understatement. I still remember the concern I saw in his eyes. All these years I have always faked projecting love on screens but it was then that I figured the fascination of the industry since years for this specific emotion.
It’s grand. It’s extraordinary.
The essence of someone being there itself is so strong that it affected my conscious and subconscious; actually, I blossomed if I were to say it dramatically. We both lived and worked together. The relationship was so promising that we could have made a movie out of the way we handled our regular daily activities. In fact, post our fifth collaboration and its response, Anudeep told me that he is announcing the biggest project of his life, which he has been preparing since ages. We have everything now in the family, a star, a director, a producer, a compatible team, the resources, the name, fame everything. He told this is the best time to take the risk for the film. I also gave my fullest to the project, as I was not only the main and sole star of the project, but it was a family production also. Plus initially the project seemed big, but as the time went, it became massive and virtually impossible for him to control alone. I gave by blood and money both, like him, to fulfill the dream.
But the extent of work took the soul of the relationship. He started being busy, so busy that all he talked, breathed, ate and slept was that project. He will rarely come home, his office, his financiers, the artists; the production team was his new family now. We meeting and talking was now only confined to shooting sets or the rehearsals which took on or off the camera. He got so involved that sometimes he will call all the artists to home and ask for them to rehearse at our place, leaving me as their caretaker for the effort. We shot and shot, with the AD’s off course, while he strived to arrange for the funds.
Frankly, I didn’t like the distance. I mean the work is important but so is the relationship. Dedicating all is not good; rather striking a balance is what is needed. And if the balance is not organic, then a conscious effort is needed to equate the weights. With this mindset, I thought I will put my foot down and instigate the required balance and probably will take him to a long drive tonight.
And I finally did go for a long drive that night. Yes me and not us. As on that day, I found that the concern which I saw in his eyes was not for me. I got to know that he was cheating on me.
I looked out. The rain has stopped leaving the atmosphere as light and fresh as in the morning…..wait but is it not morning?
As if it matters, I thought to post a slight brainstorming.
I didn’t have the strength to stand up and check. I, in fact, didn’t have the strength to turn around and look at the irritating always ticking clock. But I could clearly hear the tick tock of the clock. I could feel the staggered fresh golden beam of post rain sun rays trying to peek into the room through the still flying curtains.
Yes, I certainly like them when they fly.
I even tried waving through the beam disturbing the patterns of the lazily flying dirt particles in it. But the rays were sharp, sharp enough for my wrinkled ruddy sleepy eyes to add a few more folds.
I need a drink.
I turned, made a fresh peg, lit my cigarette, took a quick drag and sip, and reclined a little waiting for Anudeep to arrive. He could knock any moment now.
But frankly, I hate when someone knocks. There is always someone with some news with a knock. Fortunately, there has been no knocks in recent few months. I feel good.
But I was not always like this. This irritating fear got stuck with me from the days when I moved in this flat.
The eve I saw that financier lady in her lap and got to know of his affair later, I went in a self-destruction zone. I think at that time I was a bit sane also. I tried very hard to curb the emotion beneath the logic but failed. A stressed mind always posed questions whose answers I think even Anudeep didn’t have then how could I.
But how could he? What have I done so wrong for him? So much time, efforts, feelings wasted for what, this? And was the love, the adoration, the respect, I saw in his eyes, all fake too?
No, it can’t be.
A drop rolled down the left cheek and I made another glass.
I left him and came back to stay with my parents, whose greed was now more refined by the years of lusty wealth and their senile age as the cherry on the top. As soon as they got to know of all this, immediately they wanted to imbibe the western modernization in me to move on, not to pull me out from depression, rather revive the dead golden goose of theirs. I renounced everything post the shock, which included Anudeep’s project too. I knew how important was the relationship with him when he came begging to me to finish the project. He never ever, for the sake of formality even, explained himself or asked me back in his life. There was just a cold silence left between us. I asked him to leave and swore not to see his face again.
Few months passed away with a distance. While I still was struggling to cope up with my situation and my parents, came the first knock of the series of irritating knocks. The knock brought the news in a lawyer’s black coat and hit the last nail in the coffin.
Anudeep has filed a lawsuit against me for leaving his project and asked for the compensation amount back. And to add on to that he also have filed a divorce petition on charges of infidelity, with me being involved with his film’s actor and asked for a huge alimony amount, using the home rehearsal videos as the evidence.
I went cold, numb to all the hogus bogus surrounding me. I could only see faces.
It was then, I left everyone and decided to stay alone and moved in this flat, with alcohol and smoke as my permanent partners. But since the fist knock, a chain of knocks followed it, with dreadful news with every tap. The case continued for 10 long years, enough to change the personality of a being. For me nothing much changed, though, as the control was long gone, the glass was either full or shattered now. The only irritating thing which remained with me were the knocks.
The knocks gave me the news of all the pain reminding events via the court case.
The knocks gave me the news that my parents have passed away.
The knocks gave me the news that I have won.
The knocks gave me the news that I have become old and now a nobody.
The knocks gave me the news that Anudeep has become bankrupt.
The knocks gave me the news that Anudeep was sad and wanted me back.
The knocks gave me the news that Anudeep still was single and desperately wants me back.
The knocks gave me the news that Anudeep has tried committing suicide and want me back.
And today the knock delivered this red envelope of the screening of his film and the knock will also hopefully deliver him.
But before the last knocks, a few knocks happened midway, which changed me entirely. I looked at the white envelope kept on the table near the red one.
It’s cause of these, I called Anudeep, after so many years. And like today, I cried even on that day as well. But the difference was even he cried, in fact, more than me. He met me. He was apologetic. I somehow felt that he seriously wanted me back; I could see in his eyes. I could see the pain for me in his eyes. I could see the cyclic tumultuous apology in his eyes. I could see the desperate want for me in his eyes.
But I don’t trust his eyes any more.
It was the cause of these white envelopes that I met him after almost five years since the court. The last five years made me a loner, a recluse. It was difficult to face him for all the obvious reasons. I met Anudeep and informed him that I want to re-initiate the project. I know what has happened has happened. I want to produce your film. To which he knelt before propping his head on his lean body on the ground, holding my legs, weeping like a kid. I could very fadedly hear him saying, “What have I done to deserve you?”
The reaction somehow triggered the age old lost sparks in me, but then,
I was numb again.
I told him while he still was weeping on ground, that I will produce the movie, on one condition that we both will maintain only professional relations. I know I can’t act in the movie. You take whoever you want. But remember; only professionalism and nothing else, I stressed.
He immediately, like a commissioned soldier, sat erect on the nearby chair and all charged up by the emotion said, “I promise you, my love, I promise you that by the end of this movie, I will win your heart. You will again come back to me, I promise you.”
I looked at his face, the emotions. I felt irritatingly fresh. Irritating like this ticking of the clock, and fresh like these flying curtains, both simultaneously.
I looked back at the door, still nothing. God, I sometimes wonder my nature. I know what I am up to, I know I hated those dreadful knocks, and I also know that one such knock is on its way, but look.
Anyway, I made a fresh peg and before I could finish it, it happened.
The help opened the door, it was him.
I reclined and spread myself on the couch, faking how comfortable, unexcited and casual I am on his arrival, this ego of mine.
He came and owing to familiarity with me and the place, he comforted himself on a chair near the couch.
The presence of life next to me is now a rare and a different phenomenon. I ignoring him gulped my drink and reached for a fresh one. I was not at all courteous I know.
“Zohra, you wanted to share something?”
I looked at him, the face, the eyes, and the simplicity. God why this all happened?
But Ahem ahem….get numb get numb…shouted the conscious.
“You still are drinking heavily,” he said with a concerning face while I still was paying heed to my conscious.
“Zohra, baby, don’t be like this, tonight is the premier. I think you remember,” he asked with a question mark on face. I pointed towards the red envelope on the table.
“Thank God!! Then don’t drink now. You should get ready; you are the main attraction of tonight.”
“Don’t try to be my mother, I know what to do and what not, don’t pretend.”
To which after a deep inhale he suppressed his disgust and started adjusting the place.
I felt bad, I knew I felt bad, but he deserves this, what to do.
Within 5 mins of avoiding the awkwardness by working around, he sat down and said again, “Is there anything important you wanted to share?”
“Do you still love me, Anudeep?”
A big gush of air came with the question and enhanced the impact.
The curtains were still flying. The irritating clock was still ticking.
To this, he loosened down his uptight shoulders and with a super pitiable face said, “You know I do.”
“The whole shoot period, the whole past experience, the all past year incidents, ups, and downs were more than enough for me to teach that I was wrong.
I don’t know whether you deserve me or not, but I surely know that I don’t deserve you. But frankly you are the only person I love now.” Then folding his shirt sleeves he said, “Look at these torture and suicide marks Zohra, its all cause of you.”
“I cheated on you, in fact, I cheated on almost all who were with me, I never appreciated their worth, I always took them for granted. I am such a looser.”
“But you’ll not believe how these inner flames of guilt had made my life hell. I didn’t know how to handle them. And in this, I lost the only precious thing I had,
Believe me, Zohra I have changed entirely. It took time but these flames have forged me completely.”
“The day you called me, you’ll not believe how happy I became. You have never seen me cry, but on that day, the sudden happiness was brilliant enough to mould everything inside and I cried, and on that day I left myself. I didn’t console myself. I cried, I howled and I screamed with the news on the ground.”
“Then later you called and mentioned to maintain only a professional relationship, frankly I never had the guts to ask why you suddenly dialed on me after so much. The only conclusion I thought was that you still had some humanity left in you to forgive the swine in me. It’s cause of all this I thought I will not hurry up and ruin the relationship. I will take my time and will develop the once lost sincerity of ours.”
“I owe you, I, in fact, owe you my life. It took some fifty years for me to find my true love of life and no matter what happens I will not lose you at any cost, any cost. And today, on the day of premier when you called me, I felt resurrected; I felt something important is on my way for us today.”
With the last sentence, a drop dartingly decorated his right cheek, proving the intensity of what he said. He felt what he said. I believed what he said. But then again the belief was more Bourne out of the want than the reality.
I placed my him facing legs down and sat erect on the couch and said, “Tell me Anudeep, why did you cheat me then, what have I done so wrong for you?”
He was silent.
“Don’t be like this to me now; this is the last chance for you to redeem the lost pride.”
He was still silent, with eyes stuck on the ground. I think he had nothing to say.
That was the time for my master stroke.
“Anudeep”, he looked at me,
“I forgive you. I seriously forgive you.”
His extremely intense, hopeful eyes were on me, but it’s too late. “I know you are back for me. I know you love me, and frankly I feel this time, the time itself has ensured that you love me more than anything but I don‘t trust you.” Saying this I handed him the orphaned white envelope on the table.
He opened it and started reading. It was my medical report by which I was at the last stage of liver cirrhosis. I could die anytime in next few days.
I then finished the last tempting drink of mine. It again circulated the numbness in me.
I said again, “I feel you love me now like anything. But few things are destined to be like this.”
I stood up and crawled somehow to the window and looked out at that time of the day while he still was stuck at the report.
“You know why I did this film for you, in spite of what all happened?”
And without expecting a reply I said, “Because I loved you Anudeep.”
“I loved you and I still somewhere struggle to accept that you are no more for me.” And then tightening the grip of the window panes, I said, “But I am a self-made lady. I have never ever wanted anyone to be gracious to me for anything. The only person from whom I wanted a favor was you, but you too were like everyone. And now standing at the edge, I still want to be free, free from everything. I owe no one anything.”
“I know you are desperate to be back, but the time has gone it’s too late now. I am dying. Whatsoever guilt you have inculcated for your doings, preserve it.
No matter how apologetic you feel, save it and live with it for your entire life because nothing can be done now. The ship has sailed and the birds have long gone. You have to live with this guilt lifelong that the only person who has never done anything wrong to you, never expected anything unjust, you have lost her. Lost her for your own selfish desires, burying your last chances of resurrection the day you sent me the court notice. The time is gone Anudeep, the time is gone. It’s my way of avenging me for your deeds to me.”
I still standing at the window was looking out, the curtains had stopped flying now and coincidentally the clock stopped ticking too. There was only the loud sound of silence in the room.