THE LAST SUNSET
Nishi kept gazing at that same sunset that day. It was the umpteenth sunset she longed to gaze and wish for her heart’s desire to come true. Of her forty years the last ten were status quo. No change of place or persons around her, not even the walls had been whitewashed. The same verandah and its shaky grilled enclosure.
Ten years ago she lost her father who was the only relative she kept doting on. But after that she belonged to no one although she longed for some person to fill that emotional vacuum. Her younger sister married to an army officer kept visiting her occasionally sometimes from Pune or from Guwahati. But Nishi’s Mumbai life hardly changed.
Nishi was the second girl child born to her parents. Her parents had named her Nishigandha and her elder sister, Sugandha. As a child, her sister loved to be called Sue. But as she grew up,she became stout, her round and plump figure made every one call her Polly. Polly was good humoured and fun-loving. That was what Nishi felt, a good consolation to be a sequel to sue. Probably that was why she did not get along well with her sister nor did she find a suitable life partner. Nishi was not always ill-tempered. She was low-profile and reticent. Dr Shamoo, a psychiatrist and a family friend often visited Nishi when she was around. Nishi’s favourite hobby during schooldays was to gaze at beautiful scenery whether it was a painting or an actual landscape. Her favourite obsession was also especially the setting sun.
Somebody had mentioned to her that she could wish for her heart’s desire or while looking at the setting sun. They say the desire comes true. But what had Nishi been looking for, all these years? Her friends and relatives opined together that her particular wish would not come true if Nishi expressed it.
To divert from the setting sun the only other object that she would prefer to look at is Vivek's framed photograph. His infectious smile could floor any teenaged girl. So was Nishi during her second year at college. Vivek had passed out from the same college as a rank holder. Before seeking admission at the Kanpur Aeronautical Engineering College. That day proved lucky for Nishi as the two expressed their heart’s desire. Stealing glances in the college canteen or in the corridors kept them engrossed besides studies.
It was one usual Monday morning when Nishi was engrossed in her talk with one of her classmates that Nishi’s Bittu Maama (maternal uncle) boisterously appeared from nowhere and hugged her. Bittu was Sue’s pet maama, who was extremely fond of Nishi. His explicit affectionate embraces made someone curious somewhere. Who could that someone be other than Vivek?
Nishi was not prepared for Vivek’s unabashed frankness. He demanded more information about Bittu and the rest can be taken as a slightly zig-zag curve towards matrimony.
Then came the expected day for Vivek to leave for Kanpur. It spelled doom for Nishi. Vivek returned from Kanpur the following year, the house was filled with joy and peals of laughter could be heard day in and day out. Nishi, Sue and their father kept doting over an already spoilt Vivek. He hardly spoke of his parents in Dehradun. Busnessmen and their wives hardly have time to indulge in familial affections – so was Vivek’s quote about his parents. However, Vivek agreed upon a simple quick marriage.
After a lot of coaxing he agreed to take Nishi to Dehradun. As usual, it was not a well-planed visit to his parents. Vivek’s parents had just left for Europe. Nishi insisted on being there till they returned but Vivek was not in favour. He had to get back to Kanpur and there was no other go but to fly back to Bombay. After completing two years of studies, Vivek did come out in flying colours. But what about the remaining two years with a tight and demanding schedule. However, he agreed to visit Bombay for a simple marriage ceremony in order to cement emotional ties. The following two years were harrowing for Nishi. Her letters were not replied to by Vivek. She kept losing him emotionally. Nishi’s dreams shattered one by one which did kindle a new hope at times. But then for how long can one keep hoping against hope?
Nishi was determined to write a letter to Vivek and her parents-in-law, enquiring about Vivek’s future plans. The letters were no doubt delivered in the right hands but Nishi received no reply. Almost eighteen months after Vivek passed out and completed his training, there was a vague rumour that Vivek’s parents were arranging for his second marriage. Nishi thought it could be some other Vivek till one day she noticed a newly-wed couple’s photograph in a national weekly. How could this take place? Her mulish silence for eighteen months had paid dividends.
Like all well-bred girls she initiated the divorce proceedings. Vivek without sulking offered a lumpsum as alimony which Nishi politely refused. She thanked the college which accepted her application for M.Sc. She qualified to be a pathologist. Had it not been for Vivek’s unwanted intrusion in her life she would have been a qualified doctor.
She began working as a pathologist in a nearby polyclinic. The busy day-schedule kept her lively and chirpy. But not for long did she remain happy till one day her father breathed his last after a brief illness.
Nishi, now all alone in the world with a so-called sister whose visits were always with a selfish motive – either it is some relation’s marriage or for some festival or may be shopping in Bombay.
Nishi grew lonelier day by day till one day she met a middle aged doctor, Dr Kamath. Dr Kamath was Dr Shamoo’s classmate and Nishi being Dr Shamoo’s neighbour he became a regular visitor for Nishi too. A self-loving bachelor with no intention of marriage may be the summed-up opinion about Dr Kamath.
On Dr Shamoo’s advice, Nishi agreed to go on a holiday with Dr Kamat to Mahabaleshwar. Their brief stay at the hill-station, with a lot to talk and listen to they grew friendly. On their way back, as fate would have it, their car met with an accident and proved fatal for Dr Kamath. His last words to a mentally restless person like Nishi who felt totally responsible for the mishap came as a fatal blow. He said – be happy, Vivek will come back to you.
At first Nishi took his words as mere consolation from a dying man when actually she should have given him more courage to bear the pain of his multiple fractures.
Nishi turned more reticent after that incident. She refused to recognise familiar people. She stopped visiting the hospital and gradually lost her job. Dr Shamoo was the only person she opened the door for. Her daily needs were cared for by a servant who left by 4.00 p.m.
Her gaze at the sunset and her fervent wish that Vivek would come and apologise for his indifference remained a desire.
The next morning when Kamalabai came as usual to start her household duties, she found Nishi bent on the chair on the verandah. Vivek’s photograph had fallen on the floor whose infectious smile looked like a devilish grin, thought Sunanda. After only a few minutes of calling did she realise that Nishi was dead. If only she had not kept wishing for her heart's desire to come true. If only she had a companion to speak to. If only she had succeeded in forgetting Vivek, she would have lived longer.