He had never expected that she would say ‘this’. Not even in his dreams. Neither did she ever imagine that she would speak like this with anyone. With him! But such words are not planned and articulated. They just spill out. Like emotions. Like tears. Like an overwhelming surge of a deeply felt pain. The way she didn’t think even for a moment before she ran towards him to ensure that he w...
Manasvi was at the T3 terminal of Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi, with a Provisional entry permit to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan based on her application of being an Afghan resident and torn outdated hand-written passport. She knew no one with a Tazkira and now the only way to get a Tazkira made for herself was to go to the country herself and prove her citizenship and somehow try to get her birth certificate for the rest of the formalities.
Madhu had insisted that she should wait for Anshuman and try to get connected to him so that he could accompany her there. The entire Shekhawat family was worried for her safety but couldn’t get in touch with Anshuman despite several attempts at phone calls and emails.
Manasvi didn’t make any such attempt after that first mail to him about her job. She was not expecting him to accompany her to Afghanistan. She didn’t expect anything from him.
The display at the departure terminal showed that the Air India flight to Kabul was three hours from now. Manasvi turned to Krish and bowed slightly to thank him, “Thank you so much, Krish! For everything! Though, you didn’t have to accompany me all the way to New Delhi to see me off!”
Krish smiled, balancing his small rucksack on his shoulder, “Who said I came here to see you off? I’m on my way to Kabul!”
“You are joking!” Colours drained off from Manasvi’s face. She didn’t want this. She was neither expecting it nor appreciated any such gesture. She and Krish were not friends. So, ideally, he didn’t have to go out of the way to help her. In fact, she hadn’t even asked his help. Such things made her extremely uncomfortable.
Krish grinned, “No! I’m not joking!” With that, he opened his phone and showed her the ticket that he had booked. Manasvi read the date and the flight details. It was indeed a ticket for Kabul. He continued, “There is water crisis going on in rural parts of Kabul with extreme conditions in which people live. I am going to cover that for The Insight!”
“You can’t do this!” She spoke sternly, so disappointed that she couldn’t hide her frown and pursed lips.
“Well.. technically, you can’t stop me from going to any country to cover a humanitarian crisis. It’s my job.”
“How did you get the visa? When did you apply?”
“The Insight did it for me! Don’t you know that we get Journalist Visa quite easily! Moreover, our company is reputed. They don’t question much. If you had a proper citizenship and passport, any country would have been a smooth sail. No worries. we will begin with Afghanistan, first!!”
She was just not amused. In fact, she was low, “Why didn’t you talk to me about it?”
He shrugged, “Coz you would have created a scene and tried to convince me to not come with you!”
“You know that??! Still, you did it?? You have no idea how upset I am! I told you that I can manage on my own. I told you that I will be fine. Who asked you to go to this length…” She went on and on to reprimand him, genuinely feeling dejected, before he interrupted her with his hands in air, “Wait…wait… Manasvi, listen to me… please?”
She stopped talking, to give him a chance to explain. Krish showed her the sign of boarding and directed her to start moving towards baggage check and check-in counters while he explained, “See. We have other married staff too…people who are dating or living together but no one is like you…”
“What does that mean?”
“Let’s not pretend that you have a healthy relationship with your husband. I’m sorry to put it so bluntly but everyone in the office knows that you are married to an army doctor who stays away but all through the long working hours in the office, late nights and even early mornings when you have been working in the field… not even one phone call, one message or any communication you receive from him…no other couple is like that… and people do observe…”
“How dare you?” She was so angry that she trembled as she stopped walking and turned to him with a stern stare.
“Don’t get me wrong. I don’t gossip. But the gossip that goes around in the office reaches me even if I don’t want it. Everyone talks about it. It was actually none of our business till now, but when you decided to go alone to Afghanistan, some of us were worried. We are nice human beings with just a little nosy nature… Ideally, your husband should go with you but he is nowhere. Is he around? No! So, Mr. Mehta asked me to be with you.”
She raised her brows, “Mr. Mehta asked? Or you went to him to seek permission to do so?”
“How does it matter?”
“My personal life is no one’s business! Period!”
“Trust me, I am no judge of someone’s relationship or personal life. All that I am doing is just in good faith. A lot of areas in Afghanistan are not safe and for a girl to go alone, it is just not sensible. You should have someone with you!”
“Are you done with your explanations?” She asked in a terse tone, her head held high and chin up.
“Yes!” He shrugged.
“You got a ticket, you are free to go wherever you want. Just don’t give yourself any pleasure to feel great that you are helping me in any way! I didn’t ask you for any help and I don’t like this manner of imposing yourself on other people. We are on different paths and we don’t know each other. You have let me down… Most importantly, I will never forget that you or anyone in the office tried to peep in my personal life and relationship with my husband.” Visibly angry, she started walking towards the check-in counter to collect her boarding pass.
Krish smiled slightly and followed her. He knew that something like that would happen. He knew that Manasvi would never appreciate this gesture. But it hardly mattered. He just wanted to see her safe. When he collected his boarding pass, he found her waiting for him right before the queue for immigration.
He asked, “Why are you waiting for me? You don’t know me, right?”
“Listen Krish, I’m seriously disturbed!” She didn’t need to say this. It was evident on her frown, her scrunched nose, her puckered brows and upper teeth biting lower lips, “I really need you to clarify one thing!”
“What?” He asked cautiously.
“Now that you know that I am not in regular touch with my husband, and the entire office is speculating about my relationship because I am going alone to Kabul. Suddenly, you decided to be with me, all the way to a difficult scene, just to see that all goes well with me… Why?? What inspires you? I hope you are not looking into it as a potential future relationship!!”
Krish laughed casually, “What?? Are you crazy?”
“Don’t laugh it off! It’s very important for me to clarify at this stage itself. I’ve never taken favours from men, ever. I have never trusted men, before. I have never gone close to men because you never know what they expect in return. Let me be very clear about it…”
“My God! You are explosive. Now let me speak… why did you even think like that? I have no such ideas in mind… We hardly know each other… it’s just 6-7 weeks since we met first!”
“Then what? Who does that for just humanity or friendship?”
‘For a good story? Does that ring a bell?” He raised his brows, “I’m a photo-journalist and you have been doing pretty well. You are a walking-talking story… I am intrigued about how you will find your way, your certificates, etc in Afghanistan and then citizenship here… you need to get a passport there and then submit it to get an Indian passport, based on a marriage that doesn’t exist…”
“God!!” Irritated, she threw her hands in air and walked away to follow the queue for immigration.
He clicked his jaw with his tongue and followed her, “I’m sorry!”
“Stay away from me!”
PBB camp in Italy
Anshuman was busy scrolling through his phone for emails and calls. His Gmail was not opening due to low internet speed but his call list showed several missed calls from home.
He excused himself from the ongoing meeting of doctors and walked away to go out, while he dialed a call to his mom. Madhu was with Preksha’s in-laws so she couldn’t talk to him but gave the phone to Preksha who told him about Manasvi’s plan to go to Afghanistan.
“What??” Anshuman was shocked to hear that, “I mean, how can she go alone! She should have waited na…She should’ve talked to me…”
“Bhai, you were out of reach!”
“Okay! But, when she has waited for so long, a few weeks wouldn’t have made any difference.”
“Maybe, she sent you a mail.”
“I’m not able to open my mailbox. Anyway, did she leave?”
“I guess so! I don’t know the exact details. Maybe she didn’t want us to see her at the airport or inform you but her flight was somewhere in this week!”
“Listen, just do me a favour. Keep in touch with her and tell me the details… where exactly she is and what are her plans?”
“Why don’t you call her yourself?”
Anshuman took a deep breath and bit his lower lip. His sister was right. Why wasn’t he calling her? He had her phone number… He had talked to her before… It had been exactly 7 weeks since he had dropped her at the airport and asked her to inform him about how she was doing. After that, he was called at Gaza and then there was no connection with home or Manasvi or anyone else…
No matter, how comfortable he had felt with her, it was no denying that there was a wall of awkwardness between them. That wall had startled to crumble that day at the airport. However, it had just started, and then there was a gap of 7 weeks which took them back to square one. Since then, there had been no communication. No connection. Of any sort!
He took a deep breath and left it slowly, “I … I don’t know why I’m not calling her… if you want to help me, it’ll be great. Or else, I’ll find some way!”
Preksha softened a bit, “Alright! I’ll talk to her and tell you where she is! You take care!”
Anshuman disconnected the call and tapped the phone on his hand softly, thinking about how bold he had found Manasvi as opposed to her meek image in his mind. She had handled herself at the airport so confidently when people had asked her about her identity. And now she was going to Kabul, alone.
She had seen too many tragedies and sufferings in her life to be able to behave so bravely that nothing scared her anymore. His heart ached at the thought of her pain, something he had always been aware of. He was still lost in his thoughts when Amanda tapped at his arm, “What are you doing here? Everyone is waiting for you at the meeting!”
“Nothing! I had a call from home!” He raised one shoulder in defense.
“Anshuman, you got to save me from Alex! He is irritating me like hell. I don’t want to end up killing a doctor!” Amanda requested like a baby.
Anshuman smiled, “Come on, don’t exaggerate. He is a harmless soul, I have always told you!” With that he followed her towards the meeting room, where six other doctors were seated around a round table with the convener making some markings on sheets of paper spread before him.
Amanda whispered, before they sat down, “I don’t know all that, but please save me… you got to do something!”
The convener asked them, “Doctors, as last few operations have been hectic and without much connectivity, we have decided that you can opt to take a break for a few weeks. All those who want to go to the New York Head Quarters or want to take a leave can leave the room after signing here. Rest all will be allotted the next duty!”
Anshuman wondered if he should apply for leave and go with Manasvi. But she had already left and he didn’t even know where she was. How was he even going to get in touch with her, if she needed someone. He was worried and decided to take an action after talking to Preksha again in case she had news for him.
Meanwhile, none of the doctors left the room and they all kept sitting there, making the convener smile. “Impressive! I love this spirit! Anyway, so I will begin announcing the next roster…” He wore his specs and read out from the A4 sheet and announced the name of all six doctors with their respective duties, “So, Dr. Anshuman Shekhawat along with Dr. David Prescott and Dr. Cynthia will go to Mexico, while Dr. Alex Faegermann, Dr. Amanda and Dr. Xiang Li will go to Afghanistan. We will make the necessary arrangements.”
Amanda was not happy as she and Anshuman were allotted different countries at a huge geographic distance. It meant not seeing him for weeks. Moreover, she was posted with Dr. Alex. It was another headache! She despised him. She wished Anshuman did something. She turned to him for a solution but before that Anshuman had already intervened, “Sir, can I request something?”
“Yes, Dr. Anshuman! Please tell us… how can we help you?” The convener respected his doctors and was not only polite but quite accommodative of their requests.
“Can I go to Afghanistan and request any other doctor to go to Mexico in my place?”