He read the newspapers every morning with interest, without passion. He knew the latest moves by rival political parties, but did not care for any opinion of his own. He would religiously follow the Ashes, the US Open, even Asian Hockey Championships, but did not idolise any team or any player. He flirted with various hobbies in his spare time but was not passionate about any of them. His lack of personal involvement extended to his relationships as well. His path crossed many in the walk of life. With some of them he would spend some casual time together, but hardly anyone would he treasure in the special zone called ‘friendship’. There was only one area where he could be said to be an ardent enthusiast, and that was where culinary delights were concerned. Amit was a connoisseur of food and he had a very developed sense of distinguishing the subtle variances in taste and flavour. It was on one such gastronomical expedition that he first met Sonia, receipant for the second prize in the 'most original recipe' category.
Amit represented his organization which was one of many corporate bodies invited by the Red Cross Society to judge a food competition which was hosted to raise funds for flood victims in Bangladesh. He was required to sample various innovative cuisines and submit his votes for the first three winners.
What drew him to Sonia was the quiet assurance in her manner and the composed dignity with which she spoke her words. She brought to his mind images of quiet evenings and contentment over a cup of tea, when he got home from work, images of a peaceful life filled with the aroma of warm, home-cooked meals. Amit was not swept off his feet, as he was never swept off his feet by anything. He was simply attracted towards the prospect of making Sonia Neogi his wife and sharing an easy, uncomplicated life with her. And so, after three weeks of casual coffee conversations, two movies, and one dinner, he proposed to her matter-of-factly one day while driving her home.
She woke up again, with a start, and reached out by her bedside for a glass of cool water. She had seen the same dream again. She was with the man she loved, with whom she could laugh and cry together, with whom she would grow old, and he was walking by her side in the wilderness and they were sharing an intimate bond of mutual understanding. Suddenly, the path diverged and she realised, with inevitable pain, that she had to leave him. She must go home, for her husband was waiting. She felt the same pang of disenchantment and grief as she reconciled to the awareness that she was tied in a commitment that she had no reason to break.
Sonia had met Amit Sinha at a point in life when she had fulfilled her primary need to be independent. Her dreams of an MBA degree were abandoned due to the sudden death of her father who was her sole financial sponsor. Her father had left no will nor trusts in favour of her. Yet, according to the law of the land she was eligible for a part of his assets. But that was in theory. In reality, she neither had the strength, nor the financial muscle to endure a legal conflict with her late father’s family through second marriage. She tried to reason, some legal letters were exchanged, but all to no effect. Her dreams died young.
Sonia grabbed the first good opportunity that came her way. It was the job of a recruitment executive in a consulting firm. Although, she was a mere graduate, she spoke well and was sincere and committed to her work. Very soon she progressed to a Team Lead position and was independently handling client accounts. Two years down the line, she had saved enough to buy a small apartment near her office, on mortgage. She still pursued her experiments with cooking as a hobby. She never fell in love.
She had perceived Amit as a calm, rooted person who represented stability. He was not spirited, and he did not understand why she was moved to tears whenever she attended a Jagjit Singh live concert. But he cared for her and was a good person with right values which was more than what she had got from life so far. And so she accepted his proposal and they got married late one July evening when Mumbai was almost paralysed by flood.
He was irritated, as usual. The drawers were untidy, and there was dust on the shelves. She was busy with one or the other of her meaningless pursuits. Why couldn’t she just dedicate herself to keeping the house in order? As he angrily threw out the contents of his desk, his eye caught the label of a thin book, “Jonathan Livingstone Seagull” by Richard Bach. It was a gift from Sonia when they were engaged. Her first gift to him. He remembered how he had read it once it and found nothing more in it except the saga of a bird learning to fly. He also remembered that Sonia’s eyes had moistened and there was an expression in them which he could not fathom, when he had shared his feedback of the book. Must she get so worked up about everything?
But he knew that his wife was a good woman and when his annoyance would pass, he would be calm again. He had no real complains from life.
He could drive the four hours route from Mumbai to Pune with his eyes shut. He knew each petrol station, each cigarette shop, each refreshment outlet along the way. He had been doing this drive every weekend ever since he bought a weekend serviced apartment in Lavasa, 80 Km from Pune. He no longer attended corporate parties or hung out with his friends. Most of them were married, anyway. He spent his weekends in leisure, sailing and reading, and sometimes practicing self composed notes on his violin.
He had stopped his car at the ‘multi-purpose store’ just outside Lonavala, to pick up a few CDs for his car. He had forgotten to replace the ones he had played the last two weekends. Just as he had climbed in, started the engine, and switched on the music, he heard someone call out to him. Someone came running over reaching his side of the car, as if afraid that he would drive on, “Wait, please! I think I am lost.” He was just about to lower the glass when his eyes fell on the rearview mirror and remained transfixed for what seemed an eternity. He was not sure of time or space as the notes of Lionel Richie permeated his trance with “Hello, is it me you are looking for? I can see it in your eyes......”
She had wanted to ask directions, but she was no more sure of her destination. Her eyes held his in the mirror as years slipped away and she could see, reflected in the mirror, the National Highway just ahead of the by lane where she had parked. She could see her blue Santro, waiting to take her home. And across the highway, a small wasteland, through it a narrow footpath making its way into the wilderness. She knew now that she had a choice to make.