Never Forget Me

Mukesh Kumar
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Read Time:13 Minute, 51 Second

Love has no expiry date. I don’t know who said those lines, but they sound so true today. I
looked at Anandi with water dripping down her face from her wet hair. The tears from her
eyes added to the water overflow.
‘Do you remember …?’ I began, but stopped in time. There was no point in asking her
that.
In a different place and different time, Anandi had looked just like she was now, wet with
water, her hair dripping. But then there had been no tears in her eyes. Rather, there had been
anger!
‘What the hell are you doing?’she had shouted at me.
She had rushed to me and caught the water hose from my hand and pushed it to the ground.
‘Sorry!’ I had stuttered. ‘I never meant to aim the water hose at you. It seemed to have a
life of its own and just slipped away in your direction!’
Her eyes were now full of contempt.
‘Cheap excuse! At your age, to indulge in such juvenile tricks!’ She had turned away from
me, rubbing her wet face with a small slip of a handkerchief.
I had given up attempts of watering the garden and had trudged inside the building. It was
a home for the elderly, where I offered my services once in a while. That memorable day, I
had volunteered to water the plants in the garden.
At my age, at that time, I had just retired from a mundane career in the banking industry. I
was healthy, had a good roof over my head and got a decent pension that let me live without
any financial worries. Both my daughters were married and I also had a grandson. I had lost
my wife to cancer three years ago, very suddenly. I had just about overcome the shock of her
sudden death and with time on my hands, had begun to volunteer at this home. My marriage,
which had been an arranged one, had been nothing special. My wife and I had had our ups
and downs, but had been comfortable with each other. And that was how I interpreted love.
Until I met Anandi.
No, it was not love at first sight. I just found her interesting and amusing. I liked bumping
into her at the home and she never failed to give me a dirty look or greet me sarcastically.
‘Drowned anyone interesting lately?’she would ask. ‘I forgot to put on my waterproof
suit, so please stay away,’she would cut me off, if I attempted to talk to her. Or she would
put me down in front of others. ‘Have you met King Neptune? He thinks there should be
water, water everywhere.’ Despite her taunts and her seeming allergy to me, I liked her and
wanted to know her better.
She didn’t fascinate me or occupy my thoughts totally, but yes, I did think of her off and
on. I was intrigued by her. I had managed to gather from the grapevine that she was a college
lecturer. I wish I could say that I slowly but steadily won her heart! But I can’t. Anandi
battled with me at every step, if I even tried to talk to her. The process of getting to know
her was slower than slow. I had to move a millimetre at a time. She had her defences up
stiff and strong and it took me ages to wear them down. It took me almost six months to get
her to agree to share a cup of coffee with me.
‘I won’t bite you,’ I had said, as I saw that she was nervous. ‘It’s just a friendly cup of
coffee.’
‘Why do you want to be friends with me?’she had asked.
I had many answers for that. But the simplest was the best. ‘I like you,’ I had said.
‘But you don’t even know me,’she had retorted.
‘Well, then give me a chance to know you,’ I had said.
I was lucky she had not emptied the cup of coffee over my head.
‘What a cheesy line,’she had said in disgust. ‘Even my students could come up with
better ones.’
‘That was not a pick-up-line or whatever,’ I had said. ‘It’s the truth. I find you interesting
and want to be your friend.’
‘And then you will hope that the friendship turns into something else? Look, we are not
teenagers!’
‘Exactly,’ I had interrupted her. ‘We are two mature adults, who just want to be pals.’
‘I don’t know about myself,’she had growled. Her defences were so high and strong, it
was a wonder that she did not disappear behind them. I learnt later that there was a reason
for that.
From sharing coffee, we graduated to watching a play now and then. We saw movies
once in a while. She loved reading, so we would visit the bookshop at the mall, where she
would lecture me in her best professor tone on why I should read books.
‘I just can’t imagine how you can say that you don’t have the patience to read a book!’she
had exclaimed in horror. ‘How can someone not READ?’
I had guiltily admitted that I was that someone.
‘I love books and I can remember the characters and their lines from my favourite ones!’
she went on to say. I recall her words now and want to cry as I know that the world of
books is lost to her forever.
It seems a cliché, but I really don’t know when I fell in love with her. There was
something about her that attracted me illogically. It could be the way she dressed. It was
always in crisp, cotton saris, her hair neatly tied in a bun. Sometimes she wore a salwar–
kameez, in a very demure style. Nothing fancy or modern. Once in a while she tied her hair
in a ponytail. Her voice mesmerised me. Even when it dripped with sarcasm while
addressing me, I found the lilt of her words and her tone very sweet. I could imagine her
standing on a dais lecturing to students, who would pay attention because of her voice. Her
voice belied her age. It was the voice of a sweet, young girl. Not the voice of an ‘almost
sixty’ woman. But Anandi didn’t look her age. Her hair was neither too grey, not too black. I
was glad that she did not colour it and make it so obvious that she dyed it!
Gradually Anandi began to relax in my company. I stepped on the accelerator and
increased the frequency of our meetings and encounters, but subtly, so that she did not feel
threatened. I had told her all about myself, my dull life, my past. But she hardly opened up.
‘No kids, not married. I stay alone,’she had told me once in an abrupt manner, when I had
questioned her.
When I had learnt that she wasn’t married, I had felt a surge of relief in me. It changed
things a lot and my heart dared to dream! Without a jealous husband or demanding children,
my relationship with Anandi now seemed easier.
I battered at her defences and wore them away. She had now taken over my thoughts
every minute and every hour. I never stopped thinking about her and wanted to always be
with her. I would often end up outside her college, waiting for her to finish her lectures for
the day and then we would spend the evening together.
‘You are behaving like a roadside Romeo,’she had commented, as I picked her up one
day from her college. But she did not resist and I was thrilled to realize that she was slowly
opening out and relaxing in my company.
‘I stay alone,’she had said once, when I had dropped her outside her house one night. ‘So
I can’t invite you in at this late hour.’
Later she had told me about her life. She had lost her parents at a young age and had
worked hard and struggled to educate her younger brother and sister. They had found good
jobs and married and settled in life, leaving her alone. They were happy in their cocooned
worlds and did not bother about the sister who had sacrificed so much for them.
‘Sounds like a tale out of a film, doesn’t it?’she had asked me.
‘Or from one of your favourite books,’ I had teased her. But I had felt the hurt in her
voice. It was obvious that she had sacrificed her youth for her siblings and allowed love
and marriage to pass her by.
But I was going to change that. I wanted to keep Anandi with me for ever and ever. I
wanted to wake up next to her, to hear her voice every minute. To hold her close whenever I
wanted to. Sounds like some adolescent’s thoughts. But love is love, whether it is at twentyfour or forty-four or sixty-four! I had been waiting and longing to kiss her. I had not wanted
to scare her and had seized the right moment. Her mood was mellow after a good movie and
an excellent dinner. I had stopped outside her house and before she got out the car I had
leaned over and kissed her firmly on her lips. I had expected her to move away and protest,
but she had responded by almost melting against me. That was the first time I was literally
breathless in all the time I had known her.
‘Wow!’she had said, when we both came apart. ‘That was some kiss!’
‘How do you know?’ I had demanded. ‘Have you been kissed before?’
‘Maybe,’she had said laughingly and got out of the car, waving goodbye. I had stared
after her, recapturing the moment.
I felt like a teenager who had been kissed for the first time. Not a senior citizen and a
grandfather to boot! And I really didn’t care about who had ever kissed her before. It was at
that moment that I decided I had to make her a part of my life permanently.
It was not an easy task. Anandi required a lot of convincing! My arguments were endless
and she had a retort for each one.
‘Why can’t we continue like this?’she had asked.
‘Because I want you with me every moment,’ I had said.
‘Well, I can’t let you sit in my classes,’she had teased me.
But I could see her melting, slowly but surely. And when she agreed to marriage, I really
was on top of the world. I had won a major battle. But I had not expected a war to begin.
‘You want to get married?’ my elder daughter had exclaimed in shock.
‘Dad, what is wrong with you? At your age you want to embarrass us and show the world
that you can’t live without a woman?’
‘Stop it!’ I had said. ‘I want to marry Anandi for company, because I love her and want to
spend the rest of my life with her.’
‘She is probably after your flat,’ my younger daughter had retorted. ‘Nice location, prime
property. With realty rates being what they are, I must say she is smart!’
‘Nonsense!’ I had shouted. ‘You two are just blabbering and are jealous that someone can
replace your mother.’
‘That is just it!’ the elder one had yelled.
‘Nobody can replace Mom! Do you think that she would have married again and forgotten
you? Never!’
‘What will our relatives think? And what will my in-laws think?’ wailed my younger
daughter. ‘Sumit will taunt me so much about what a father I have! We will not able to face
our relatives.’
They both went on and on, hammering away at me and my emotions day and night, making
me feel guilty of my innocent doings, casting me as a villain and a sexually deprived fiend
and a womanizer. And when my sons-in-law also joined the war, I was totally defeated.
Anandi didn’t have it any better. She had informed her siblings, out of a sense of duty, that
she was getting married. To say that hell broke loose would be an undervaluation of the flak
she faced. Like two wounded dogs, we met to lick our gashes and bruises.
‘I can’t take such animosity and negativity,’ Anandi had said, totally defeated. ‘I just want
to be at peace.’
I had nodded miserably. I felt drained at all the verbal battering I had received.
So, our marriage plans were shelved. We still did meet, but now it was strained, as we
were continuously under the scrutiny of our family and monitored by them. It completely
took the pleasure out of it all.
‘We can’t meet like this,’ Anandi had whispered one day, almost bent over with the strain
that our relationship was causing her.
We had to break up and we did. It was convenient that my younger daughter had been
posted in the USA. I went there for a few months, came back and went and stayed with my
brother, who lived in a remote town, far away from Anandi. No phone calls, no emails, no
Facebook or Twitter. We made the break clean, as two adults should.
Time passed. I definitely had not forgotten Anandi and I was sure that she had not
forgotten me. I had resisted the temptation to try to contact her. I respected her request that
we stay apart.
‘Time is a great healer,’she had told me sadly.
‘Words again from one of your books,’ I had retorted. But I had nodded. I understood
what she was going through.
One day I had found myself standing outside the old-age home. I went in on an impulse. I
had recalled almost every moment I had spent with Anandi there. I had wandered over the
home, seeing a few familiar faces who greeted me enthusiastically. And then I had stopped
in shock. It was Anandi! In flesh and blood right in front of me!
‘Anandi!’ I had whispered. Then I had run to her and shouted loudly. ‘I can’t believe it is
you!’ I had exclaimed, grabbing her hands. ‘What luck to meet you here so unexpectedly.’
But Anandi had withdrawn her hands from mine. There was a look of fear in her eyes.
‘Who are you?’she whispered suspiciously. ‘Who are you calling Anandi?’
I had looked at her totally puzzled and shocked. What was wrong? Was she play-acting?
Was she still fearing the threat of her family?
‘Don’t you know me? Anil!’ I had said, but she pushed me away and almost ran away
from the room. I tried to follow her, when an attendant had stopped me.
‘Sir, leave her alone. This is one of her bad days. She won’t recognize you today.’
‘Won’t recognize me today?’ I had echoed. ‘What do you mean?’
‘She is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. She has been here for over a year. It is
progressively worsening and her family, unable to take care of her, admitted her here!’
I had collapsed on to the nearest chair on hearing this. My Anandi did not remember me!
How was that possible? I had left the home in a turmoil. How did such a thing happen? How
could it happen? From that day, my life had taken on a new purpose. I went to the home
daily to be with Anandi. First she had refused to have anything to do with me. She insulted
me, ignored me, but I gained her confidence. I talked to her, I fed her, I entertained her. I told
her stories about us, but she never showed any sign that she had ever known me and had
loved me.
Now, as I pick up the empty mug from the floor, I know that this time I will not be cowed
down by anyone. I would stand firm on my decision, let anyone think what they liked. I wipe
the water from her face with a towel. She points to the mug.
‘I want to bath,’she said.
‘All right, but in the bathroom, not here,’ I said, leading her to the bathroom.
I have to be very careful with her and treat her like a child. She tends to forget the
smallest things. But I know that she will be all right if she is with me. I will take full care of
her.
‘Why have you gone to her again,’ my elder daughter had wailed. ‘And you plan to marry
her! You are really incorrigible!’
‘She needs me,’ I had replied.
‘Oh rot!’she had exclaimed in disgust.
‘She does not even know you or remember who you are!’she had exclaimed angrily.
‘But I know who she is and what she means to me,’ I had said gently and walked away.
I walked to Anandi, and I was going to ask her to marry me.

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