Military Hospital, Jodhpur
Major (Dr.) Sameer Singh Rathore finished the morning rounds after examining all the soldiers admitted in the general surgery ward. He returned to his cabin and sat down on his chair as he was informed that there was a call for him at the landline phone of his office.
“Haan, ma?” Sameer spoke in an impassive voice and a straight face.
“Sameer, you remember it is 14th today?” Madhurima Rathore spoke, evidently excited.
Sameer raised his brow, “Haan…So?”
“Sameer, Ragini is back!”
That one sentence was enough to make Sameer’s heart thump to a momentary pause and then resume beating, at a higher pace this time.
Ragini. Did his ma mention her?! Her?!
For a moment, he didn’t react. He didn’t know what to say. There were no words on his lips. None in his mind either. He just stayed still on his chair, with a look so blank like a lone tree after autumn.
Madhurima chirped, “Ragini! Our Ragini! She just arrived today. Don’t you know?” Her tone changed to the one of surprise. She wondered why Sameer didn’t know that she was back. He was supposed to know. Ragini and Sameer were friends since they were little children.
Sameer cleared his throat, “Err… no… I didn’t get time to check the mails.”
He was lying. He checked his mail every day. But there was no mail from Ragini that she was about to reach today. She never wrote mails to him. He didn’t do that either.
Neither they called each other, ever, nor they exchanged messages in any way. He closed his eyes and sighed.
“Mails?” Madhurima was even more surprised, “Beta, I don’t ask you about these things because I don’t want to interfere in your privacy. I don’t want to be like other nosy moms. And I also feel awkward as you never talk anything personal with us. But I really, really thought that you and Ragini were on touch on the phone, at least.”
Sameer pressed his lips inside his mouth to wet them. The lips were dry. He knew that this conversation was due someday. But knowing something like this doesn’t prepare you for it, especially when you are running away from it. He was still not prepared. So he chose a direct, honest stand. Always better to take that when in doubt, he believed.
“Nah! We are not in touch!” He declared in one straight line, much to the astonishment of his mother.
“Never? You mean, both of you don’t talk, ever?” Madhurima frowned, not believing it even now.
“Shall I write it on my letterhead, stamp it and send it for you to believe it?” He asked in an annoyed tone.
Madhurima was suddenly defensive, “Okay… don’t get angry. It was a genuine question. I am surprised and that is why so many questions. You know that I don’t ask many questions, otherwise.”
Sameer was seriously irked by now and he rubbed his forehead with the first three fingers of his right hand, with the thumb resting on his temple. In a drag of a tone, he asked, “What do you want, ma?”
Madhurima thought for a long moment and replied in an unsure voice, “Every time we talked to you about it, you would either get up and leave or avoided the discussion. We always thought that you were shy, that you felt awkward. But now we need to talk, right? I hope you remember that both the families have been thinking of your marriage with Ragini… I mean…you know, right?”
“Now that Ragini is back, we need to fix a date. We are invited by the Rajput family for a high-tea in the evening today so that we can meet Ragini and fix the dates too. We’ll be discussing the preparations, the engagement… and also then the marriage date.”
“Hmm!” He just made a small grunt of a sound out of his pressed lips.
“You’ll come, won’t you?” Madhurima asked apprehensively.
“What time?” He asked seriously.
“Okay. Now, if you excuse me, I have some work.” Sameer didn’t even wait for his mom to say more before he dropped back the olive colour landline speaker over the resting bar and disconnected the phone.
Madhurima looked at the phone in her hand for a long glance and twisted her lips up in amazement. She always knew that Sameer and Ragini were childhood friends.
Rajputs and Rathores were family friends for years. There were times when they separated for years due to transfers and postings at different places but they met again a few years back and since then they were in Jodhpur. Initially, they used to joke about Sameer and Ragini’s marriage. But no one knew when the talks became serious and they almost believed that they had found an ideal match for their respective children. Sameer and Ragini were both doctors and had some similar traits, likes, and dislikes that made them to look like a match made by destiny.
They never denied any suggestion of marriage with the other. So, it was taken as consent. In fact, almost everyone assumed that both of them were in a relationship. But now that Sameer said that he and Ragini never talked to each other, Madhurima was confused. And irritated.
Sameer always confused her so much that she never really knew what to deduce out of his behaviour. She hated to believe that she might be the only mother in the entire world who knew nothing about her son. He neither talked more nor did he react to most of the things happening around him. The Army Hospital and patients were God for him and he attended to his duty as worship. His life revolved around the military hospital and soldiers. And whenever he was home, he would either read or play piano in his room, an important piece of furniture, if it could be called as one, in his room.
Sometimes, Madhurima was worried about him. All she wanted for him was that he should be happy. That’s all.
As a mother, she was a content soul if Sameer was happy. She neither expected nor hoped anything more than that.
And that was the reason, she wanted someone to be his partner in life. Someone like Ragini.
Ragini emptied her clothes from her trolley-bag and placed them in her beautifully decorated purple and mauve cupboard. It was cleaned and decorated before she arrived, by her mother Poornima and her younger brother, Vaibhav. Though Vaibhav was 2 years younger than Ragini and studying engineering in Pune, they were more like friends.
Vaibhav entered the room and sprawled on Ragini’s bed while she arranged her cupboard.
“This is so pretty, Vibhu. You decorated the room so well.” Ragini shook her head happily, looking at the wind-chimes, the dreamcatcher, the fairy lights, abstracts, her old books and small accessories all around the room and over her desk. Each of them immediately made her feel at home.
“You liked the room?” Vaibhav asked in a smug tone.
Ragini nodded with a sparkle in her pretty eyes, but before she could reply, he continued, “Tch… what a waste! You will be leaving it in 2 months.”
Ragini blushed and threw a cushion at him, “The dates are still not fixed.”
“I know. But mom was saying that Madhurima aunty and she want the wedding to be performed within the coming 2 months. They can’t wait anymore… and … I guess, neither can you?!” He laughed teasing her, earning another big cushion on his face.
Poornima entered the room, with 2 sets of palazzo-suits in her hand, “Ragini, which one do you like the most, beta?” She showed the peach one with subtle golden embroidery and an orange one with silver zardozi work and spread them on the bed, nearly pushing Vaibhav away. Ragini laughed at that and teased him making a pout. Poornima folded her hands, looking at Ragini. “Hmm?”
“Both are fine!” Ragini blushed again.
Poornima started ranting like a typical loving mom, “Come on, choose your favourite. I have so much to take care of…”
“Relax, ma!” Ragini couldn’t stop blushing.
Poornima rolled her eyes, almost anxious, “Do you remember that we have invited the Rathore family for evening tea? Wear one of them today. Then come to my room and choose a suit for the flag hoisting ceremony tomorrow and a lehenga for kuldevi puja on 16th… I have so much to arrange…The lehengas that I chose for your engagement are both half-done. Once you finalize, we will give them for final finish with your measurements. So much needs to be done. It takes time. Everything should be proper. The dresses, the jewellery, the presentation, catering…how can one relax?!”
“But ma… even the dates are not finalised,” Ragini spoke in a coy manner, lowering her volume and her eyes both, and blushing hard.
Poornima nodded adoringly and touched her chin, “We’ll do that today, kiddo! And you know what… Vaibhav is right. Madhu and I want it to be done within 2 months. Now that you have finished your post-graduation, I can’t wait to see you in red bridal wear.”
Ragini grinned and spread her arms around her ma hugging tightly. One part of her was thrilled and excited about the prospect of her getting married to Sameer. The other was nervous that her dreams were about to come true –
Getting married to Sameer was a silly childhood fantasy that slowly engulfed her during her teenage and adulthood as well. She was an exceptional student at school, was selected at all medical entrances and dreamt of becoming a famous doctor someday. But somehow, all her dreams were linked with Sameer. She never saw them alone. She saw herself receiving awards with Sameer standing by her. She wanted to visit the world with Sameer. She wished to be acknowledged and awarded for her excellence, only to share that happiness with him.
She never knew when this fascination for Sameer started. When she was young, she used to play cricket, volleyball, tennis, all outdoor games with the boys around her. Weirdly enough, she didn’t have girlfriends around her when she was growing up. Her two brothers, younger Vaibhav and older Sanjay, along with next-door neighbours at army quarters, Sameer and his brother, Sumer were the only friends she had known.
They played all the boys’ games and she tagged along with them. None of the boys liked it that she followed them. But since she had no friends in the army quarters that they were staying, and mainly because their elders had asked the boys to keep Ragini with them, all of them complied. But they used her for petty jobs like bringing the ball from the ground, setting the ground for play etc. Her brothers Sanjay and Vaibhav teased her endlessly and Sumer was disinterested completely. Only Sameer was a bit kind to her. He gave her the chance to play, ran instead of her to bring the ball, let her have the bat even if it meant getting out early.
Some years were spent in different cities but they weren’t in touch. They never called or mailed to each other.
When they grew up and met again as teenagers, when their fathers were posted together again, Ragini couldn’t clearly understand the subtle changes in her personality, mind, and body growing with age. But she knew one thing – she had started liking Sameer more than everyone else in the group. She felt shy when he looked at her with those deep, mysterious eyes. His eyes seem to talk to her whenever they met. However, they didn’t talk much. It felt weird because they were both mischievous and naughty with everyone else. But when they were around each other, both felt an inexplicable awkwardness. They had started sliding into each other’s minds and dreams and before they could realise or try to stop it, they were already living in each other’s thoughts.
Ragini stopped going with boys when she was 15-years-old. Her ma said that she should learn little things about baking and cooking. Poornima was such a good cook herself that she wanted her child to imbibe it all at a young age. Ragini was now spending most of her after-school time in the kitchen, wondering about Sameer’s favourite dishes? Would she ever prepare them for him? And would he even like them?
Her silly thoughts would sometimes make her blush and sometimes made her grin, immersing her in a world of dreams, fantasies, daydreams. She had dolls and teddy bears in her room and she often imagined making a home with Sameer. But it was all a flight of imagination. A trip to the fantasyland that made her thrilled and gave her goosebumps. There was nothing between Sameer and her. In fact, they further reduced talking to each other. She never knew why. They hardly ever talked.
She knew that Sameer felt awkward when he came to their home. He was effervescent, talkative, friendly and a blast at school and sports events. But when he came to their home, he talked to her brothers, her mom, and her dad but never tried to talk to her.
He would throw a typical, long glance at her and whenever her eyes pinned his eyes, he would turn away. When people started joking about their marriage, Ragini never tried to deny or question. She would have never known what Sameer thought about that, until the day she was leaving for Pune, AFMC to study medicine.
That day she became sure that even Sameer felt the same for her as she felt for him!
All pictures used belong to Parth Samthaan and Niti Taylor, used as a muse for the characters of this original story. These pictures are sourced from various sites on the internet. No copyright infringement is intended. None is used for any commercial purpose.
The story, concept, dialogues and narration is original and belongs entirely to Manita V