It was the onset of early winter in the City of Joy. Like every other day, Pritam was preparing to go to the office. He was already running late and quickly grabbed the sandwich his mother had prepared for him. He was gobbling it up and quenching his thirst with a cup of tea. Amid this everyday chaos of life came his father's gruff baritone voice;" What answer do I give to the Girl's family?" Pritam stopped in his rush. The food simply stuck in his throat making him nearly choke. Not now, he thought. But he somehow managed to blurter out:” Will let you know”. “When”? Came the gruff voice again. “Very soon”, he managed to mutter under his breath. “ I want your final answer this evening. One week is a lot of time. Have some respect for the family.” Pritam rushed out into the soft November sun. Why does one have to marry? He kept muttering and clenching his fists in fury. But then the honking of the autos, buses & the other modes of transportation disturbed his thoughts. He crossed the road and headed towards the bus stand. While there, he took hold of himself. His father’s insistence resurfaced in his thoughts. Aohona, yes that was her name. The girl that he had met a week earlier. For marriage! How weird was that? And now a week later he was supposed to say a yes or no to marrying this stranger. Once again, the arrival of the bus stopped his thoughts mid-way. After the initial struggle, he found a seat for himself and settled down for the hour-long journey to his office.

The scene was pretty much the same at Aohona’s house as well. Just 28 years of age, she was her parent’s only child. Especially her father’s. Aohona had just completed her English language & literature studies at a reputed university. She was in an absolute mood to relax & rejuvenate. But no, fate had other plans in store for her. Her parents had waited enough! Now was the right time to settle down in life. Before her father retired from his job. She too had to go through the façade of boys & their parents coming over to “SEE” her as if she were a precious commodity. Aohona was a simple-hearted girl who wanted to live her life simply. Not very careerist in approach, she quite contended with the way her life was going. In this state of mind, she was introduced to Pritam. They met, exchanged pleasantries, and stopped. None of them could think of anything to start a conversation. Both were feeling awkward and thinking of how to break the ice. They were provided a chance to “get to know each other”, all in a matter of some hours. Was this humanely possible? None of them had the answer.

Sensing the urgency of the situation, it was Pritam who started. He introduced himself as briefly as he could and went on to explain his work at the office. All about US GAP. Which in turn made Aohona gape wide open. Is the US having a gap? How? Was her immediate question. It nearly exploded from her. Pritam stopped and realized that he was on the wrong track. Not necessarily everyone should be pally with economic terms. That was his domain and he excelled at the same. He apologized and to his utter surprise, Aohona started laughing. He was relieved. Good! Things were not that bad. He heaved a sigh of relief and smiled along. Slowly but steadily they started interacting and they had hit it off without realizing it. The parents sitting a bit further away from them were all smiles and the cousins peeping from behind doors were giggling and nudging each other to get a better view of the duo. Soon, without realizing Pritam popped the question of meeting elsewhere outside. Aohona was taken aback but she agreed and they exchanged their phone numbers. It seemed to be the onset of a good friendship. And why not? Pritam was a jovial fellow. Tall, fair, and blessed with good looks he had a wonderful sense of humor. That thought stuck a cord with Aohona. She felt at ease, not unlike in other times. It was time to depart and they said farewell to each other and Pritam’s parents as well.

All this was part of the past week. Pritam was back to his usual routine till today when his father put forward the million-dollar question. The same happened with Aohona, she was just settling down on her favorite sofa with her all-time favorite Samosa and a hot steaming cup of tea with her favorite soap opera being telecast on TV. She sat up and the piece of samosa fell into her lap. Her father’s voice was stern and very much official. She understood that her father meant business. She quietly said that she will inform me in due time. What else could she do? She was right in the direct line of fire. In a jiffy, she thought of buying some time. So she told her father that it would help if Pritam and herself be allowed to meet. To which her father agreed. Phew! Thought Aohona. Enough for today. In the mean, Pritam had reached the office and was busy with his schedule. At lunchtime, he checked his phone and there was his father’s message staring at him. The morning’s episode was revisited and he again became irate. What the hell? Can I not work in peace? All this while, he was not able to concentrate on his food and suddenly his thoughts were interrupted by the buzz of the phone. He looked and was surprised. It was Aohona “Calling”. For an instant, he was so surprised that he forgot to receive the call. The phone kept ringing and then stopped. His fingers were itching to dial the number but there was hesitation as well. Is that the right thing to do? Then again his thoughts were disturbed. The phone’s screen showed a text message from Aohona. It read: “ Urgent, pls call if free!” Without any further hesitation, Pritam dialed Aohona’s number. He was unsure what had made him do so, and why he felt that extreme urge to do the same. On the other side, Aohona’s voice came floating. He felt something change within him. Her “ Hello” had something. Some unknown magic kept luring him to talk to her. They decided to meet today evening after his office was over. Both their lives were dependent on that meeting. After this conversation, Pritam, the otherwise diligent workaholic, could not concentrate on his work for the rest of the day. His very close colleagues noticed this and asked him if all was well. To which he replied yes. But in the depth of his heart, he knew that nothing was the same anymore. There was a flutter of activities and an adrenalin rush going on in his whole body.

On the other hand, Aohona too was experiencing much the same. Just that she was surrounded by cousins, her mother, and her aunt. Everyone knew that she was meeting Pritam in the evening. Her clothes were selected along with accessories. Aohona herself was stunned to see everyone all except herself were so excited. She too secretly felt the same but did not show it. And she smiled within herself but could already feel herself turn red from the excitement it brought forth. They met. Pritam wished her a good evening and Aohona asked him how was his day at the office. How strange! A stranger and already concerned about his day. One look at his tall stature and Aohona felt so secure alongside him. What was happening to them? Little did they both realize that it was meant to be. They were pre-destined to be Man & Wife. They settled down in a nice cozy restaurant and Pritam ordered Biriyani his favorite of course after asking Aohona’s choice. Then Pritam asked her the reason to meet so urgently. Aohona informed him that she was given an ultimatum to come to a decision and wanted to know Pritam’s decision as well. Pritam confessed that even he was facing the same situation at home. Aohona took courage and spoke. She asked Pritam about his thoughts. He said that he needed some more time. It was too early to think anything at all. Finally, they both agreed to buy time from both families and then take a final call. Once this was decided, then the Biriyani tasted even better. Both of them enjoyed their conversation and each other’s company. Both families were informed and that was dutifully done by Pritam himself. Aohona felt grateful and happy. She felt a bit more secure with Pritam. As for Pritam, he began to enjoy her company, her banter, her talkative nature, and most of all her infectious smile! Phone calls went on late into the night. Meetings increased. With time, both the lovebirds started realizing that theirs was not any ordinary friendship but something way beyond that. But could not yet accept it. Whenever Aohona felt an urge to talk to Pritam, they worked out a code: “Someone somewhere is expecting your call”! This was Aohona’s doing. She was the first to invent this. This had brought out the widest smile in Pritam and he immediately dialed her number. He was excited, and she was happy. This went on for a whole three months and in no time there was a Yes on both sides of the family. It was a beautiful whirlwind courtship between these two young people and now they were ready to take the vows of marriage.

The marriage was solemnized following the traditional Bengali marriage rituals and everyone said that we were a “Made for each other” Couple. They just seemed to complement each other not only in their looks but also in temperament. The perfect “Power Couple”. They too enjoyed a wonderful honeymoon to “God’s own Country”—Kerala. Pritam in the meanwhile switched his job and joined a multi-national bank. Aohona was very happy for him and now they had to relocate to Jamshedpur, a four-hour journey from Kolkata. That too happened and both were having a wonderful time. But fate had other plans for these two. After settling down with only the two of them Aohona felt very lonely. Pritam’s new job kept him at his new office, kept him away for long hours. Poor chap! He could understand but he was under compulsion. Aohona was missing him, had enough of doing home chores, and then kept waiting for him. Days went by when she used to wait it out on their flat’s balcony after finishing all her housework. She understood and respected Pritam’s passion & dedication to work. She used to sit there and with the clock ticking away she could see all the lights in the neighboring houses switched off one after the other. Things were a little better during the month but month-end saw Pritam returning home @ midnight or sometimes even later. It was affecting her. She was not prepared for something like this. After all, she was used to seeing her father returning home max by 6 pm. She did understand that things were different. The government sector and the private sector were different ball games. Pritam was sensing this situation but having taken charge of a new office and looking after its Operations was demanding as well. Adding fuel to the fire, was the distance that he had to commute daily. On a weekend, he discussed this with Aohona and they both decided to change their house and move to a location nearer to his office. Now Aohona was excited after so many months as Pritam had taken a leave from office for a few days. Yes, he was always on the phone, but he was there in front of her physically. They could at least have some quality time with each other. Pritam used this opportunity to pamper his wife of four months with all his time & energy. Those few golden days went off in a jiffy. To pack, move and unpack once again. Pritam was happy. He loved to see Aohona take care of everything with a deft hand and in no time their second home was all set. The floor that there were on had four flats and Aohona demanded that they have a small housewarming and they both went & invited all of their immediate neighbors. Pritam’s office colleagues were also invited. Things were going well for the newlyweds. Theirs was more of a wonderful friendship. That was the USP of their relationship. And Aohona was the chatter-box of the two. Pritam loved that. At the end of a tiring day at the office coming back home and relaxing with the day's updates from his wife made him de-stress.

Aohona was also much happier than before. Maybe she had started accepting Pritam’s work-a-holic nature. She used her free time to read a lot. Whatever books she could grab hold off. This time, she had good neighbors and when she felt very lonely she used to rush to her next-door neighbor. She was a widowed lady living with her two sons. Both became very steady friends and started going out together. Seeing this, Pritam also stopped feeling guilty and he was happy that Aohona was happy and chirpy like a sparrow. Seeing her quiet made him feel uncomfortable and bothered him. He loved to see the sparkle in her eyes and her chirpy nature. Days went by but fate had other things destined for these two. They had just celebrated their six months of marriage and were already planning to spend their 1st Anniversary with loved ones back home in Kolkata. Little did they know what was awaiting them. It was a hot & humid day in August. Pritam came home and after one look at him, Aohona could say that he was unwell. Truly enough, Pritam had a high fever and was sweating profusely. Aohona tried to bring the fever down by doing everything possible to her knowledge, but the fever was not going down. She called up his parents back in Kolkata and his father answered the call. Hearing everything he immediately advised her to give him ORS and told her of a tablet that was phosphorous-free. Pritam was allergic to phosphorous drugs. Aohona asked her neighbor to sit at her home while she rushed out but the medicines were required. Thankfully, after administering the dose of ORS, Pritam’s sweating slowly came down. His fever also diminished. Her in-laws advised her to come to Kolkata for a thorough medical check-up after Pritam recovered a bit and was fit for traveling. Suddenly the good times that they were spending with each other seemed cut off by some invisible elements. Aohona suddenly had to listen to a lot of negativity from her mother-in-law. The way it normally is. But what did she do? The question went on haunting her. After Pritam was well enough to travel they came back to Kolkata. He was taken for a full medical check-up and after all sorts of examinations the doctors gave out the diagnosis. And it was serious!!! Aohona’s whole world came collapsing around her. Six months into her marriage, she was hearing that her husband was terminally ill. He had a kidney malfunction. One of his kidneys did not have the required growth with age. So the whole pressure was only on one of the kidneys. The fever and sweating that he had experienced that day were because his creatinine level had shot up dangerously leading to excessive sweating and high fever. But the ORS saved his life. The required amount of body salt was restored and he was saved. From henceforth, his diet would be completely regulated and life had to be tension-free. There would be regular check-ups and any marital relationship was not possible from his side at least for the next few months.

Aohona was stunned, Pritam shattered, shocked, and frustrated. Life had just started for both of them. Each was in a state of complete shock. It took them a while to digest the news. In the dead of the night, Pritam embraced Aohona and cried like a baby. Some were deep down, tears welled up in her mind, but she swallowed them up. She comforted Pritam. Once he stopped crying, took Aohona’s hands in his and said one word which made Aohona teary-eyed. He said: “ Sorry, but If I knew this earlier, I would never have married anyone. But trust me, I did not know anything. This has come as a shock to me as well. If you want, I will set you free. Just let me know.” Aohona could not take it any longer. She just hugged him back tightly and cried her heart out. In these six months post-marriage, she had grown to like this tall man. His ways, his mannerisms, and his smile, all had a magnetic effect on her. Maybe she had started to love this man. At least she depended on him, felt secure with him, and now this. They remained in each other’s warm embrace for the rest of the night.

While so, let us turn our attention else. The world around them and relatives of both families had been badly shaken up. But the reality was far harsher than seen. Aohona’s family were now very mistakenly pointing their fingers at Pritam’s parents. They were questioned as to why this information was not provided to them before the marriage. To that Pritam’s parents tried to make them understand that they were not aware of the same. Had it been so, they would never have their only son married. Each was correct in their alibi, but what they failed to notice this was not the time for such allegations and counter-allegations against each other. It was time for both families to stand beside their children and support them in this crisis. With all necessary medical assistance done, they returned to Jamshedpur along with Pritam’s parents in tow. They could no longer completely depend on Aohona. Especially his mother. Aohona had to oblige under the said circumstances. She took full control over their household and Aohona was cornered. She suffered silently and tried to keep her calm. Pritam joined his office but was now under the strict radar of his parents. Neither could he protest. Not that he did not notice, but had nothing to say. The house was not the same as before. The smile and the chirpiness of the young couple had faded away completely. Neither of them got the support of their parents when that was what they needed. When Pritam’s parents were around, Aohona was cornered and vice versa when Aohona’s parents were there. They were both suffocating, their just blossoming relationship was nipped in the bud. With these, both their nature are reacting. Something that they might have resolved amicably earlier, was now going beyond repair. The crack in the delicate glass of the relationship was starting to raise its dirty head. Life became full of medical visits, strict diet plans, keeping a track of body essentials, and frequent travels to Kolkata. Their relationship was bearing the strain. Without realizing they started moving away from each other. Aohona became irritated and shouted for trivial reasons. Pritam on the other hand sulked. He was by nature a very sensitive person. He stopped reacting to Aohona’s tantrums, which made her all the more irate. She was losing her cool. He was losing his patience.

Two tumultuous years passed by. Pritam was a bit better now. But medications continued. Visits to Kolkata were there. Yes, his diet was a bit more relaxed than two years back. One good thing that happened was that Aohona being the youngest member of the family, her father-in-law doted on her. He knew that back in Jamshedpur she had stopped eating a lot of things because of Pritam’s diet. So whenever they were in Kolkata, he made it a point to bring her those delicacies as simple as tomatoes. Aohona loved him and respected him for the same. Her mother-in-law always used to keep the fridge full of cooked food so that Aohona did not have to work here in Kolkata. Things seemed to be improving henceforth. In the midst of all these, Aohona’s mother-in-law started insisting that her son completes his C.A Finals. What timing for her to say so? Aohona was now literally angry. Had she gone completely crazy? Pritam as usual made no comments. He just said “OK”. This infuriated Aohona once again. For the last two years, both of them were struggling and have now reached a little better position. Where both of them had spoken with Pritam’s doctor and were planning to have a baby. Aohona was thrilled. Even Pritam was a reflection of his old self. The humorous man that he was. They were even planning for a vacation together. And now this! This time Aohona put her foot down and confronted her mother-in-law. That is where she went wrong. She knew that Pritam was a bit obsessed with his mother, and should have let him handle this issue. But these two were star-crossed. And again things came crashing down. To worsen the situation, even Pritam’s sister joined hands with his mom.

From the point of discussion about having a baby to the point when Pritam stopped accepting Aohona in his life completely. On a cold, December morning, Pritam booked an auto and went to drop Aohona off at the Tatanagar Railway station asking her to spend some days with her parents and then come back. Aohona as usual believed him and agreed. While on the way, she clung to him for warmth but Pritam just did so because he “ was supposed to”. That was the year 2007. Little did Aohona understand that this was all part of a pre-conceived plan to send her back to her parents. This was advised to Pritam by his lawyer. She was completely unaware of the same. Whenever she wanted to come back, she was stopped by her in-law on some pretext or the other. Her parents were worried, and she was confused. Then on the day of their 3rd Anniversary when Pritam did not call to wish her even for once, she started panicking. She called his office number and left a message. To which Pritam called back and shouted at her as to why she had called at the office. If he did not call, meant that he was busy. The phone came on her parent's landline as there was no mobile back then. She was hurt and badly that too. But she somehow managed to maintain her composure in front of her parents. Once back in her room, she burst out in tears. That was February 2008. Another two months passed by and still, Aohona was not allowed to return. Winter had given way to blistering heat and it was her birthday in April. That was enough for Aohona. She dialed her in-law’s number and asked for Pritam. He came to the phone. And without any warning, he screamed at her: “ Listen, this relationship between us is over, I do not want to continue any further along with you. I need a divorce.” Barked Pritam from the other end of the receiver. Then banged the phone down. She had just received her best birthday gift from the man whom she had trusted.

Post this incident, Aohona’s life changed dramatically. She found the only way to life was to get a job. Which she did after a lot of struggle. For that, she left for Delhi and joined a multinational company. From there, her life’s journey took off on a different track. She changed completely as a person. From her looks to her inner self, all took a different turn. In between all this, Aohona suffered yet another setback. She lost her father to Cancer in the year 2009. Pritam and she were completely off-track and were no more on good terms ever again. With the death of her father, Pritam hastened to complete the legal formalities of the mutual divorce which was finally granted to them by the court on the 8th of December, 2009. Only Aohona’s reporting manager was aware of where she had gone. She returned to the office and broke down. She was solely and privately consoled by her manager. Post her father’s demise, Aohona came back to Kolkata and started staying with her mother. After a long wait in 2014, Aohona re-married her present husband and now she is hopefully happy. Very strangely, on the other hand, Pritam was living his life, he had not re-married, his mother had passed away and now only his father & himself were there. By those many years Pritam had mellowed down and both of them shared a cordial relationship. And now, in 2022, she suddenly received the news of Pritam passing away on the 6th of August, 2021. That too, all alone. He was suffering and had lost his father a few months back. Aohona was once again extremely shocked in life. She shared the news with her present husband and cried her heart out. The reason—was she kept saying that Pritam was not a person to deserved to pass away all alone and suffering. But life had been cruel to both of them. She guessed that whatever had happened between them was done purposely so that Aohona could be forced out of his life as he already knew that his life was short. This was the only way he could do it. He succeeded in it with flying colors.

Every part of the puzzle seemed to fit in now. Aohona finally received many answers to her so many unanswered questions. Pritam had shown her that he cared for her, and wanted her to live a better life and a secure life with a healthy person. Since he knew that his days were numbered. The best way he could do it was by breaking Aohona’s trust so that she agrees to move out of his life. To live her life, to be happy. To live the life that he wanted to give her, but could not. This, my friends, is defined as Love!!! If this is not love, then what is this? Supreme sacrifice? Pritam through his short life has left a lesson for all. Love in a manner that if the time comes, you can sacrifice your own life for the person whom you love. This treatise on love is Aohona’s small way of offering respect & solidarity for the departed soul. May his tired soul now rest in eternal peace!!! Om Shanti!

.    .    .