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A Shadow of Her

The picture on the wall was a black and white one. It showed a cute little girl and a young enthusiastic boy building a sand castle on the sea beach. A still from captured from the yesteryears, Mr. Sandeep Bhatt, eminent industrialist and philanthropist, after inaugurating the photo exhibition, stood before the photo, reminiscing his childhood days and companions of yesterdays. Nobody would say that the boy in the picture was Mr. Sandeep himself.

Growing up in seaside village of Paarn, as the son of a fisherman, Sandeep loved the sea, its colour, its salty taste and the huge rolling waves. He enjoyed watching the waves lap the sand and the sun slowly going down every evening. His constant companion during his early adventures on the beach was Rubaiya, two years younger to him and living just a stone throw away from his house. The two used to love playing in the waters, collect shells and corals and make sand castles.

Somebody had captured this photo way back during the summer of 1956. Sandeep was eleven years then and Rubaiya nine. It was the last sand castle they had made together, the last one he had made for years till he started making those with his children in the recent times.

School had closed for summer holidays and both of them were having a gala time playing and running doing mischief. In the early mornings and evening they helped their parents with the catch they brought ashore. The rest of the days used to be spent lazing around the beach and drinking coconut water. It was one of the last days of the holidays and Sandeep said, “Let’s make a huge castle, a very big one.” Rubaiya agreed.

They both set upon to make up their palace from the white sand that was there in plenty on the beach. Slowly, under the hot sun and the supervision of two expert hands, the castle took its shape. It was a huge one and tourists around there looked in amazement at the structure made by two little pair of hands. They clicked photos of the kids and the castle. Both of them beamed as people admired their work and their skill.

Finally, when the visitors reduced, wiping his brow, Sandeep grinned at Rubaiya and said, “It’s great, isn’t it? You and me…” Rubaiya smiled back, a shy smile.

“We’ll have a huge castle like this for both of us when we grow up; a real one with cement and wood and glass.”
“But you will be big and successful and will forget me, Sandeep.”
“I will never forget you. We’ll always be together.”
“But Bapu says that after I marry I will have to leave from here and go somewhere else.”
“I’ll come with you… may be I’ll marry you.”
“Will you, really?”
“Do you love me Rubaiya?”
“I love you very much Sandeep.”

He took her hand and both of them rushed to the waters, the waves lashing against their waists and wetting their thin clothes. Hands still held together, they smiled at one another as another huge wave came rolling over them, completely drenching them, their innocence and childishness clearly shone on their faces in the bright sunshine.

That was the last time they were so close. Two days later communal riots broke in the entire district and the little coastal hamlet was not spared. Bloodshed and wails filled the usually peaceful environment. Hindus and Muslims were up in arms against each other. There were slaughters and cold blooded murders, stories of betrayal and trust. Nobody dared venture out. Muslims were fleeing the area in huge numbers.

Sneaking out of his shack one night after everyone slept, he went of to look for Rubaiya. But her shack was completely destroyed and no one was there. He searched for her everywhere on the beach, but couldn’t find. Silently he came back to his house and lied down on his mattress. But sleep would take a long way to come.

He didn’t tell anybody about his night’s trip. Everybody expected the Muslims in the area to move out and no one bothered to ask this young fellow if he missed his friend. But he did and he told that to no one. But from that day onwards he pledged he was not going to believe in any God. He hated religions and men who propagated hatred and violence in the name of religion. He never completely forgot Rubaiya, his childhood companion and true friend, and maybe his first love.

Sandeep grew up to be a man. He was a good and bright student and was the first boy from the village to go on study in a college and become a graduate. He went abroad to do his masters having acquired a full scholarship. And on his return after studies he set up his own fisheries industry, which earned him huge profits. He later diversified into textile business and also opened his own eateries chain across the length and breadth of the state. He became a successful entrepreneur and a renowned businessman and industrialist. Around 2000 people worked in his industries. He was famous.

Walking through the portals of the past, as he stood before the photo taken nearly 40 years ago, he mused how things would have changed had not the fateful night of fire and cries ever occurred. At least he would still have had belief in religion and its virtues. And maybe he would have had a different life and a dear friend.

“How much does the photo cost?”
The caretaker went to his table, took out the inventory from the drawers and read from that,
“Sir, Photo number 27 costs 2400 rupees. It is 41 years old and contributed by one Mr. Dennis Tante.”

“Pack it up for me, please.”
The caretaker happy that he would get a fat commission, set about to pack the framed photo. Giving it to Mr. Sandeep he said with a smile, “Here it is, sir.” “Thank you”

He walked away with his purchase, thoughts and moments of a carefree and joyous yesterday plaguing his mind; pondering where she might be at this time. Somewhere inside him, he felt as if he had regained an old and priceless sweet dear friend, even though it was just a shadow of her, a mirage.

Contributing Story Teller Gitanjali Maria I am a college student and writing is one of my passions. [email protected] 

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