Do I Know You? – a short story

Rakshanda Raheja, a popular name at JNU, second year Mass Communication. She was truly ‘the beauty and brains’. She was a damsel with a dream- a dream to crack the best of the journalism opportunities in the country. A bright student with a determined heart. She was well with both the words and ways.

Arvind Swamy, a shy and sober chap, and a true admirer of Rakshanda. When I say ‘true’, I mean someone admiring her work and her inner self rather than the material one. Rakshanda got so many proposals from rogue, nerdy, simple, and many other boys in the college, but Arvind was different. He liked her power of speech and conviction rather than her lipstick and mascara.

Not that, he was not infatuated by her, but he never expressed. He somehow thought that she was way out of his reach. He loved to indulge in research and spend quality time reading and conceptualizing, but seldom was able to express.

Rakshanda was well aware of all the attention she got, but only paid requisite attention to it. But, when it came to her love interest, she was all hearts for Vivek Chauhan from the final year. A polished orator with a magnetic personality, this handsome hunk will surely make it big in the news media industry.

Vivek was no lesser a heartthrob. But, his passion for his growing career kept him too busy. He was also well aware of his charisma and another charismatic personality in the second year. Her name is Rakshanda. Though, they haven’t met formally, they have shared glances of admiration.

Finally, the day has come, when God had destined them to meet. It was the final year party for the leaving batch. Rakshanda made up her mind to talk to Vivek, as it is now or never. She, somehow, knew she had to make the first move.

They spoke, as if they knew each and other and exchanged numbers. Conversations went on for hours. A relationship was brewing, but they decided to keep it a secret.

They chose not to interact much in the college to avoid gossip, but they were ‘in love’. They had their career graphs and relationship roadmap well planned. Vivek has been to Rakshanda’s house quite a few times and got along well with her parents. Vivek and her dad, both being soccer enthusiast spent quality time discussing the game. Their parents wanted them to have a future together. Vivek’s dad had passed away a couple of years back, suffering from cancer. It made Vivek very weak, yet stronger than ever.

In college, people could figure out, but never encountered them. Soon, it was time for Vivek to leave. He had numerous offers, but he was joining a lesser-known newspaper, who worked for social issues in remote areas. Vivek ‘really’ wanted to make a difference.

He was going to a remote village for his first assignment. The night before leaving, they met and Vivek proposed. Rakshanda figured something, but still expressed an overwhelming surprise. That night, they spoke for hours till dawn. They laughed and cried. Rakshanda was tearful, when it was time to say good-bye. But, Vivek made her smile again.

The days became hard for Rakshanda, and the nights were harder. Everybody could sense the change in her personality. Arvind missed that energetic Rakshanda, and wondered what could have gone wrong. He was also aware of their relationaship, but never believed it, totally. He thought, Vivek was just another flirtatious guy in her life. He didn’t know their mutual emotional support.

Time flew. It was almost two months that Vivek was gone. Rakshanda was getting worried as Vivek had not called the entire last week. She was afraid, because Vivek had told her about the dangers. He knew how powerful and ruthless they were and how it was getting difficult for him. He wanted to come back, but not before he gave an end to the story.

That night, Rakshanda kept calling, but no response. She shut herself in the bathroom and cried. She deleted every message that came, and just waited for some news from Vivek. She tried another number, that Vivek had given, but all in vain. Tired and helpless, she slept off crying on the bed.

Next day, her sleepy eyes told different stories. Arvind wanted to console her, but he did not know what was actually wrong. Few more days passed. Rakshanda stopped going to college and informed everybody about her high fever. But, she knew, more than an ailing body, she had an ailing heart.

Finally, one day, she decided to go to college. But, she didn’t attend any of the classes. She went and sat in the library. Arvind happened to pass by and saw Rakshanda turning the pages of a book, while her eyes were constantly fixed on her mobile. A drop of tear fell on her hand. Arvind felt sorry for her, he was pained to see her in so much pain.

Something inside him urged him to go and talk to her. Arvind approached her slowly and offered her the handkerchief. He was apprehensive, whether she will take it or not, but now he cared less about the outcome, but more about the action. Rakshanda looked up, took the handkerchief, turned a bit and wiped her eyes. She kept looking at the handkerchief for a while, and remembered the set, which Vivek had given her, with an RV sign on it. All this while, Arvind was in a trance, he could not almost believe what had just happened.

Rakshanda turned to him, and gave the handkerchief back. Arvind was like a zombie, he took it and was about to leave. Rakshanda spoke, “Thanks.” She expected a reply from Arvind, but he was still in a haze. She spoke again, “Do I know you?” Arvind just managed to nod his head.

Rakshanda extended her right hand, and said, “Hi, I am Rakshanda. Which batch are you in?” Arvind was already on cloud nine. Before he could respond, Rakshanda’s phone rang. Arvind wanted to continue, but when he saw Rakshanda’s face lit up, he stopped. Rakshanda immediately took the call and said, “Vivek.” She rushed out of the library, leaving her things behind. Arvind also left, but he was so happy to hold the handkerchief, which she had touched.

It has been days, that Rakshanda has heard Vivek’s voice. Both of them did not speak for sometime. They could sense their emotions through the phone. Vivek broke the silence, “How are you, Rakshanda?”

Rakshanda took time to respond. She had so much to say, so much to ask. She responded, “When are you coming back?”

Vivek answered, “Soon, baby.” Then, there was a loud noise, and the phone got disconnected. Rakshanda, kept saying ‘hello’ till about 2 minutes, hoping he would come back on the call. Arvind saw this entire episode and wanted to speak to her, but he stopped.

Again, days passed without any news from Vivek. Rakshanda was in a pensive mood, her parents wanted her to come with them to a relative’s wedding in Lucknow, but Rakshanda wanted to stay back. Her parents left. One evening, there was an unexpected knock on the door. Not expected anyone, Rakshanda was cautious in opening the inner door.

Once she did, she was shell-shocked to see the person in front of her. It was Vivek – a tired, bearded, and sick man, with a lot of stories in his eyes. Rakshanda could not believe that this is the same person, she knew. She let him in, Vivek freshened up, Rakshanda gave him her dad’s clothes and made some food. And, they sat on the couch with hot coffee mugs. He had a lot to say, and she was all ears. Vivek asked her, if he can spend the night in the house. Rakshanda had no reason to deny.

Rakshanda was not asking any questions, she was just looking at those eyes, which sparkled with enthusiasm at one time, but now they had fear and pain. Vivek said, “I am sorry, I could not call you.” Rakshanda kept looking at him, as if she did not hear what he said. Gradually, Vivek told her about the assignment, the powerful land mafia, how he was hunted, how they killed people mercilessly, and how he escaped. He told her about Ramdin, the farmer and his family, who helped him; Khachhru, the boy, who wanted to break the traditions; Chameli, the prostitute, who wanted to break free and helped him and many more.

Rakshanda sat listening to all this, which was more like a movie plot. The night began to unfurl and their conversations went on and on. At one point, Vivek broke down in tears and Rakshanda hugged him tight and he shrieked. Rakshanda could see the red marks on his back. She touched them with her tender fingers and Vivek hugged her tighter. Their emotions were unleashed and the night didn’t mind their love and passion. They spent the night on the sofa, cuddled inside the same blanket. Their bodies found the warmth in each other. Rakshand and Vivek found each other in the midst of emotion and passion.

The next morning was like a new beginning for both of them. Both of them felt a bit guilty, but looked at each other and smiled. Both of them approved their decision. Vivek told her that he will speak to his mother today so that she can talk to her parents, as soon as possible. He said he will not go back now and will search for opportunities here. Rakshanda could have never been happier.

Vivek left, giving Raksahnda happy memories and a day to look forward to, when the parents will meet up and finalize things. They met and spoke for almost a week. Rakshanda was back to her usual self. Arvind noticed the difference and was happy for her.

Soon, it was time for the batch to pass out. Raksahnda had few offers, but she wanted a break. She wanted to work as a volunteer, before joining a full-time corporate job. Arvind also managed to get into a local newspaper as a political intern reporter, his forte. The parents met and decided on a wedding date.

Amidst all happiness, God had planned something else for Raksahnda. As the wedding preparations were in full swing, Vivek disappeared once again. His mother had no clue, where he was. His phone was switched off or un-reachable. The families were not able to contact him in any way. Raksahnda started to fear something bad – as if those days were back, when Vivek went for the assignment. She left numerous messages, but without any reply for days together.

Suddenly, one day, his phone rang, but no one picked up. Raksahnda saw a ray of hope. She immediately messaged him back. But, there was no reply.

Days passed. She willed herself not to check her phone to see if he had replied. It had been about three days now. She hated that she was constantly checking his ‘last seen at’ status and yes, he had logged in just five minutes ago. Yet she couldn’t stop herself. This sinking feeling to find absolutely no communication from him was becoming unbearable, almost torturous.

And then, just as she sat down in her chair, her phone vibrated. With her heart thudding in her ear, she unlocked her phone and stared at the screen. Finally! It was his message.

But when she opened it and read it, she nearly stopped breathing. She didn’t know if he was joking or not. What was this?

The message read, “I am sorry, Rakshanda. I have done you wrong. Forget and try to forgive me. I will never come back to your life. I have done you wrong.”

Rakshanda had no idea what it meant or what he wanted to say. She immediately called him and surprisingly, Vivek answered. Before, Raksahnda could start, Vivek said, “Please meet me at 6.30 pm today in the cafe. Please do not tell anyone else.” Then, the phone went dead. She called back, but it was switched off. Rakshanda had no clue, whether Vivek was joking or serious. But, she knew, she will definitely go.

She reached by 6 pm and waited eagerly to see the face of the man, whom she loved the most. Vivek came at 6.30 pm. He looked pale and sick. His condition had deteriorated. He was about to trip over a chair, but Rakshanda managed. Vivek was not looking at her, and kept his head down. The next 10 minutes of conversation (rather, only Vivek spoke), brought Rakshanda’s life to a standstill. She did not know how to respond. She picked up her bag and left, leaving a guilty Vivek at the cafe.

AIDS, was he serious? He got infected and he was dying. He told her about the un-intentional night of passion with Chameli. He told her about his shame. It has put an end to their relationship, their dreams and their lives. She could not believe that the man, she was about to marry in a few weeks is dying. Rakshanda went numb, when she remembered their intentional night of passion. A couple of tests the next day, brought an end to Rakshanda’s dreams. She was infected too. His shame was now hers. She told everybody about everything. Vivek decided to stay away. Even friends came to know all about it. The news reached Arvind too, and he was heart broken.

A couple of years passed, Vivek left on a day, which was Rakshanda’s birthday. Medication and treatment helped Raksahnda live, but she was not alive. She joined a small NGO and wanted to spend her last days helping those little children. She wanted to keep Vivek alive in her, by following his dreams.

Arvind has also become a relatively well-known political analyst, a budding talent. He also lost track of Rakshanda. One day, he was going through a community magazine. Suddenly, he stumbled upon Rakshanda’s picture in an ad of the NGO, Shishu Sadan. He immediately called and Rakshanda answered, “Hello, May I help you?”

Arvind said in a low tone, “How are you?” Raksahnda replied, “Excuse me, Do I know you?” Arvind wanted to start, but his wife interrupted and called him.

Realizing that he was on call, she left. Arvind answered back on the call, “No, I just called to send in some donation for your NGO.” The reply came, “That would be really nice of you. You can give cash or cheque or….” Arvind was both sad and happy to hear Rakshanda’s voice. Still, her voice was full of enthusiasm and dreams, like never before.

That day, in the library, Arvind was sad that he could tell her who he was. But, today he is happy that he chose not to tell her, who he is. But, he still has that handkerchief.

Sometimes, a stranger can help you in different ways, yet you might not know who they are!

silhouette of happy running woman with umbrella
silhouette of happy running woman with umbrella

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