Manasvi was back to her apartment – her small one-bedroom space in a pleasant, safe building in Andheri West – a place she called home. She had paid rent together for 11 months as post-dated cheques. So, she didn’t have to meet the landlord or clarify to neighbours where she was. She locked herself in her room and didn’t step out for the entire day, crying, feeling lost and lonely all over again. Feeling uprooted and directionless.
After tidying her room and the entire apartment, she washed every cloth, every bedsheet, changed the setting of the bed, the chair, her desk and everything she had, in a failing attempt to distract herself and make it feel new and different. Nothing helped. She felt as miserable as before.
In the coming week, Manasvi joined The Insight office and was placed with Krish to prepare for the conference on the effects of climate change. She didn’t want to go anywhere out of Mumbai or India for a while because she was hoping for a news from Anshuman. Krish understood and didn’t pester her for anything. He gave her the space she needed and since she was directly reporting to him, he ensured that she could work at her own pace.
Manasvi didn’t interact with many people other than Krish. Even with him, she spoke a few words or small phrases in the entire conversation. She stayed quiet, dealing with her own feelings, turbulence inside her, making her numb and speechless most of the time.
Manasvi was not prepared to move on so easily.
For a short while, she had felt her life had found a new meaning and an unexpected happiness with Anshuman in Afghanistan. She felt she was beginning to look at life with a new perspective, new vision.
She had always been alone, but before this she had compromised with her life and learnt to live alone. Almost, since forever. She had always stayed strong and expected nothing from life, before this. But after spending time with Anshuman, her heart began to weave hopes and dreams that she had never known before. She found herself feeling alive. Her emotions couldn’t stop tugging to him at every step. She had started hoping that someday, when all the clouds of despair fade away and fog of harsh circumstances settles down, they will be together, forever.
She never realised when her respect, admiration, awe for Anshuman gradually transformed into deep-seated love. And she never realised when this love grew so much that it started hurting her. She had believed that he loved her too. But he simply asked her to go away. To move on. And to make a life without him.
She had lost him. And with him, a big part of her own existence was lost too.
Anshuman was shifted from police custody to Sindh jail.
Well aware that his future was locked and sealed for years from now, without any hope of revival, he stayed quiet and braced himself for what was to follow. Despite having a record of serving different lands as a doctor, one bad stroke of luck had landed him in an unfortunate position where he could neither practice his skills anymore nor be with his family, friends, or Manasvi. He missed his life, his freedom, his surgical practice, his patients…
And more than everything, he missed Manasvi.
Still, he was glad that she had accepted his request. Wishing for a bright future for her, he himself resigned his life to fate from here.
He had heard about several such instances where the release of a captive was deferred for an indefinite period due to lack of a diplomatic process. He didn’t know what lay ahead of him, from here.
Two months passed
There was no news from Liz or her husband from Afghanistan. They told Manasvi that there were hundreds of convicts and captives and once they were sent to jail, they were given numbers and not names. It was hard to find out anything unless they knew which jail Anshuman was in. Nor there was any development from the MEA in India. After multiple requests, they had agreed to send Anshuman’s name as an official request but there was no reply on that request. That was the last thing, RajSingh and Madhu told Manasvi.
Manasvi hoped that they had freed Anshuman. To live in uncertainty was the worst for any human being. It was like living on an edge while watching the life pass by you.
Manasvi had stopped interacting with people around her. Not that she ever interacted before. She was always quiet, and a loner, who remained busy with herself. But after coming back from Afghanistan, she had resigned herself to her own thoughts, her photography, her political blog, news segments, and work that Krish would assign to her.
She hardly ever smiled, did her work robotically, and left for home on time. She would cook, clean and do chores at home to stay busy. Later she would listen to news. And sleep, after praying to God that Anshuman was safe wherever he was.
And she prayed hard that he was in Scotland, and not in a jail in Pakistan. She would be happy thinking that Anshuman was living a peaceful life away from her. But not that Anshuman had lied to her to keep her away from his troubles, and to make her leave Afghanistan.
These two months, Anshuman spent in Sindh jail.
Compared to other inhabitants, he was treated well, because he was a doctor. The jailer in the Sindh jail was kind and he befriended Anshuman, hoping that he would help to treat the growing infections, difficult diseases spreading from one inmate to another, and to assess the need of specialised care.
Their own regular doctor had been unwell and so he had missed many previous appointments for over 2 months. Also, he came only once a week. Difficult cases, or severe infections were sent to the district hospital.
Having Anshuman with them was like having a full-time in-house doctor for the jail. And the jailer wanted to use this opportunity for the people residing in jails.
Anshuman was relieved. He had been missing his life. And to treat patients was his purpose of life. What he was doing in PBB, he would now do in a Pakistan jail. Patients were patients for him. They had always been, wherever he lived.
The best part was that he got a stethoscope, hammer, tuning fork, tongue-depressor, thermometer, sphygmomanometer, paper pads and pens. What else did he want to be content.
He spent his days and some of his nights examining hundreds of jail-inmates, one by one. He dressed their wounds, prescribed antibiotics, talked to them about hygiene and maintenance of a healthy regime, he taught them about fitness, and asked separate stay for people infected with communicable diseases. He asked for more diagnostic aids and he got them. The jailer facilitated all that he needed.
In one month, he set up a small laboratory for collection of blood samples, an isolation unit, and a small emergency set-up for minor procedures.
The inmates respected him. And the jailer couldn’t stop raving about him.
One afternoon, Anshuman was sitting in the mess, eating dal and rice, when the jailer approached him and sat before him.
“Doctor, we have arranged for all the disposable dispensable items that you had asked us.”
Anshuman nodded, “That’s great. Lack of gloves and disposable syringes halts a lot of procedures.”
The jailer smiled gratefully and said, “Your presence here has done wonders for us. We had been struggling with growing infections here. You altered the entire scenario for good. It’s not like we don’t have a doctor here. But you know, how it is, doctors are always in shortage.”
“It’s the same situation in all developing countries.”
“Glad you came here. Though it was not good for you. But helped us.”
Anshuman shrugged, “I guess, it was destined this way.”
The jailer tapped his fingers on the table for a moment, looking at Anshuman’s plate, and said hesitatingly, “I’m sorry for all that you have had to suffer. The living conditions here…”
Anshuman interrupted him, and chuckled, “Don’t feel bad. I’ve no complaints with the living conditions. I’ve served in disputed, war zones in Iraq, Syria, Israel, Myanmar, and Russia. I’ve gone for days without food, surviving terror attacks, and no facilities. Compared to that, this place is safe and at least, there is food for three times a day.”
The jailer smiled, “I’ll always remember this…and I’ll try to learn optimism from you.”
Anshuman said, “I was treating patients there… and I’m doing the same here. So, to be honest, I’m fine, as long as I’m doing my job. My needs are not big. I can survive on meagre facilities. The only thing I miss is…” His voice trailed off.
“Your family… your wife…” The jailer finished it for him.
Anshuman nodded to confirm, looking away.
The jailer said, “Junaid Bhai has told me everything about you. You have no idea but he is trying his best to get you freed. Last week, he was in Islamabad to advocate your case as a special case.”
“That’s really nice of him. He is a kind fellow,” Anshuman smiled.
“Yes, he is. I hope something happens fast, and you are released soon. We can’t carry this sin with us, despite knowing that you were innocent.”
Anshuman thanked him for his kindness and stopped thinking about it. He didn’t want the expectations to build up. Only to be quashed. Fragments of broken expectations cut deep like glass pieces and hurt for long. Anshuman had stopped expecting anything. He had a purpose in life and it kept him going wherever he was.
Another month passed
Manasvi was sorting the pictures she had taken to cover a series of dilapidated, seriously dangerous old buildings of Mumbai and how they were a threat to human life. She was writing the details with each picture when she received a call from Krish.
“Manasvi, I’m not coming to office today. Mom is wheezing severely since last night. I’m in the hospital. They are admitting her.”
“Oh!” Manasvi was worried. Of late, more time spent with Krish had resulted her in hearing his stories about his affectionate mother and everything she did. Sometimes, his mom would send food for Manasvi, and sometimes sweets. Manasvi felt low, the way she had felt when she was losing her own mother, years ago. “Do you need someone there? Shall I come?”
“No, don’t worry. I’m here. Just take care of office, and work.”
“Don’t worry.” Manasvi relieved him.
She focused on work for a long time, but couldn’t stop herself from worrying about Krish and his mother. Krish had helped her so much during the Afghanistan trip and even after that. He was a friend, she had never asked from God, but knew that she couldn’t have managed without him.
In the evening, after work was finished, she went to the hospital to meet Krish and his mom, and pay her wishes.
She gave a bouquet of flowers to Krish’s mom and wished her a speedy recovery. Krish’s mom was elated to see her. “I knew, you must be this sweet and warm. Krish talks so much about you that I felt like I know you.”
Manasvi simply smiled at the compliment, and left after spending some time with them.
She didn’t feel like socializing, or meeting people more than for a few minutes. She missed Madhu and Preksha. Both of them however called her every few days and even she called them but they didn’t talk much. Manasvi couldn’t say how devastated she was. And she could never keep the guilt away that Anshuman was away from them because of her.
Even though she had promised Anshuman, she could never get the divorce papers readied or given to his family. She just couldn’t.
Anshuman was dressing someone’s wound when a guard told him that he was summoned in the jailer’s chamber.
In the jailer’s chamber, Anshuman was surprised to see Junaid Khan, who hugged him to greet him. He had with him a group of 5 people.
Junaid talked to the group and said, “This is Dr. Anshuman Shekhawat, that I was talking about.”
One of them shook hands with Anshuman and said, “We are sent to meet you. We have heard a lot about you.”
Anshuman was told later that Junaid had left no stone unturned to tell people about him and requested to treat him as a special case, for the exceptional work he was doing in the jail. Two of the group were doctors, who asked him where he did his graduation and post-graduation from. They knew a few common professors from Scotland too. The entire group, of which others were from the ministry, examined the work he was doing in the jail, the hygienic conditions, the medicine dispersing unit, isolation ward, emergency, and lab… The jailer had prepared a detailed report on how Anshuman had been kind and helped other inmates recover from their ailments.
Anshuman was deeply grateful to Junaid and the jailer. Speechless, and overwhelmed, he silently took the group to the work he was doing. The inmates were also happy with him, and they spoke about how it was a privilege to have Anshuman around.
When the group left, Anshuman couldn’t find words to thank Junaid Khan, who was doing this out of his capacity of work. It was not his job. His job had ended the day he submitted the enquiry report and sent Anshuman to jail. After that, he could have detached himself. But Junaid couldn’t do it.
Anshuman just hugged him, with a pat on his back, expressing deep gratitude.
Junaid said, “I’ve always had faith in justice. But sometimes justice delayed is justice denied. I’ll see to it that it isn’t delayed much for you. I’ll do anything to see that you are freed.”
“I have no words to thank you.” Anshuman said.
“Then, don’t say that. Because I have no words to apologize. I just hope that we didn’t do much loss to you.”
“I have no complaints from anyone.”
“That’s kind of you. Will you be able to give me a few days more? I’ll return with a good news.”
Anshuman sighed, “I have patience of the size of a mountain. I can wait for years, if I see a ray of hope.”
Junaid smiled, “Not years, brother, it will be a few days only. I promise.”
“Meanwhile, do you want me to contact your wife or your family? I can give them a message or something, if you want me to.”
Anshuman nodded to refuse, “No. They’ll panic on hearing from you. Manasvi must have accepted that I am in Scotland in a research field. She might be hating me for dumping her like that. But slowly, she will accept and move on. I don’t want to tell her that I am still in jail. And as for my parents, and family, they must have been tired asking for my release, again, slowly accepting fate. I don’t want to rattle them all over again. I’ll call everyone if, and when, I am freed.”
“I’m sorry.” Junaid seriously felt bad for Anshuman.
“It’s alright. Life is an amazing teacher. And I have learnt that life goes on, people move on, and find a way like a flowing stream. Whether with or without you. They will find a way too.”