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The beloved has passed this way, today

Many an excuse, happiness has found

There is no wish to see yet another day

Music of her foot steps still freshly abound

Jhoomri Taliyya is a small town lying in the lap of nature. In the middle of the town lies a central lake, which is the life line of the people settled there. The Taliyya or the lake is therefore the central point of every body’s life. Schools, Colleges, offices, parks and indeed the whole town are built to overlook the lake. And as is the case with the most important landmark in the area, the lake too is grossly neglected. Its water is polluted and the municipality has to work overtime to keep the lake going.

In one nook of the lake was a decent locality and here resided Kamal. As a growing kid, he was well mannered and sedate as compared to other boys. He was quite and intelligent beyond his years. He was the only son in a middle class family. As he grew up, he received his college degree and was lucky to not join the multitude of friends looking for a job. He applied for Commission in the Air Force and after due training, was posted to Assam. He was happy to be flying transport aircraft.

Quite by coincidence, the neighbours too had an only child in the form of Neeta. She was hyper active and very Tom-boyish. She was constantly playing pranks and pleasing or displeasing friends with her antiques. She was not the kind who loved schools and colleges; however, during her degree she had taken keen interest in dramatics and had represented her college in a local talent hunt contest. She began to consider herself as the biggest heroine of the stage. She was beautiful and always looking out for fun. She liked Kamal and always made him her practical jokes; she nurtured a secret love for the handsome fellow. Only Kamal failed to see her beauty or her intent.

As it always happens, the mother yearns for a family for the grown up son; Kamal’s mother was no exception. When the son came home on a two month vacation she raised the subject, morning, noon and evening. On the other hand Neeta had been missing him all along and as an extrovert she proposed to him too. Kamal took the easy way out and put both the ladies face to face. The inevitable happened.

Neeta joined Kamal at the Airbase in Assam. She was surprised by every thing that happened there. As a Pilot, he was flying out almost every day to some place or the other all over the country. Some times he returned the same day and at other times remained out-station for days. The airbase was some 23 Kilometers out of the town. The Mess had become the recreational spot for one and all. A small club attached to the mess served as a good outing for families and offered games like shuttle, table-tennis, and cards in addition to a small library. The attached bar did the rest.

Neeta had picked friends with ease and since they all went to the club most evenings, she was there irrespective of Alavya being there or not. She gradually befriended bachelor colleagues and played light games with them. She did not particularly relish company of other lady wives of Officers. Being from a small town she began to lead a frontal life style and got carried away by the fast moving ways of the Air Force. She was not interested in the house hold work; in any case there was a host of part-time and full-time helpers. As an outgoing person she was easily bored by a routine of inactivity at home during day. Soon she formed a group of ladies who would occasionally, go to town by bus and spend the day at cinema halls, shopping and restaurants.

Initially, the ladies were happy to go out, but soon saw the rationale in staying back at home with kids and doing what ever they were doing prior to Neeta’s arrival. Gradually, they pulled out. One day a bachelor fellow mentioned that he had work in town. Neeta tagged along. She discovered the thrill of rides on a motor bike and the special attention bestowed by the bachelor friend. This was more exciting than visiting town in the drab company of ladies. She began to look forward to more such outings. On their part the bachelors too enjoyed female company and were generally happy to let her shop for them. Gradually she picked a name as a willing hostess. Kamal found to his surprise that his house was becoming a destination for bachelors.

He was advised by his Commanding Officer and friends alike that Neeta needed to be educated as an Air Force Officers wife to respect the customs and values followed in families. She needed to downsize her socializing. Kamal was a career Officer and spent most of his time either flying or preparing for endless certification programmes. He realized that for some one coming out of Jhoomri Talaiyya, it was a cultural shock. The impact of glamour was irresistible violation of sensibilities. He took his time and explained to her that fast life did not mean fallen moral values. If all ladies had a certain routine away from the club and at their own house, then she too needed to follow the same pattern. She was carrying their first child and Kamal assumed she would correct her self with the coming of new responsibility.

She viewed it as an attempt to curb her freedom.

She had begun to go out frequently and tried to keep the event to herself; taking care not to discuss it with Kamal. She would saunter down to the mess, presumably for lunch, during afternoons when Kamal was out on a sortie. This was only a ruse; actual intent was to be her friends. Some young Officers began to see this as an opportunity to flirt around. Her name began to be associated with some boys she was friendly with. It was not just idle tongue wagging; there was some cause to it. No matter what our society does, it does best to spread rumours. These were now flying thick and fast. Some old hands began to taunt Kamal and some tried to give him genuine advice.

Kamal decided it was time for another session with Neeta. He took time and advised her of the virtues of family and staying within the precincts of accepted norms. He said people in the Air Force were like people any where and as a lady she should find interest in the activities favoured by other ladies. Being with bachelors was not nice all the time. At organized parties and cultural activities it would be fine to talk to them in groups. He got up with a stern warning to her. Kamal sent her back home for delivery of Jharna and hoped that the matter had been settled once and for all.

Six months later she joined Kamal with Baby Jharna. Rather than adhere to sane advice, she took it as an affront to her sensibilities. She thought she could handle all this herself while a full time Ayah took care of the small infant. As a belligerent act she started to continue her activities covertly. She did not realize when she became emotionally attached to Siddhartha. Siddhartha was known as Cid to his friends and had the reputation of being a Casanova of sorts. One day she had accompanied Cid for a long drive. Unfortunately, his borrowed car broke down and they were forced to stay the night out in a small town. Kamal had gone out on a sortie that day and returned late at night. He was appalled to see the Baby in the care of the Ayah and no news what so ever of his wife. He spread his concern by asking if Neeta had been visiting the neighbourhood. Ultimately, a mess waiter informed him that he had seen her go out with Cid. He was shocked and angered by her behaviour.

Next day morning he had been waiting for some news on his wife or her return. Cid dropped her at the corner as he was scared to face Kamal. To Kamal this had been too much to bear. He soundly man-handled her and locked her up in the bathroom. Then not satisfied with his actions, he hit the bottle; but the misery of the shame did not go away. In anger, he walked to the mess. He saw Cid sitting on a bar stool with friends. In anger, he picked up a trophy sword displayed on the wall and attacked Cid. Completely unprepared Cid fell off the bar stool and hit his head on the bar and was taken away to the hospital. Later, Kamal was arrested for the assault. Court-martial procedures started and he was sent to civil jail for three years.

During the years in jail, Kamal did not see any body. On her part, Neeta had a better turn of events. She vacated the rented accommodation and went to Bombay to live with Cid.

Good fortune and her interest in Theatre won her an entry into films. Then good fortune continued and her first film was a smashing success. Bollywood is famous for such overnight wonders and new Cinema world names of super stars. She became Rekha.

Three years later, after his release from the jail he made enquiries about whereabouts of his family. He was told that Jharna was in a boarding school and one Mr. Mote, a solicitor from Bombay looked after the child as guardian. No one told him about Neeta.

It was rumoured that she may have joined the film industry as friends said that after she left Gauhati a new Star had made her appearance and that she bore a stark similarity with his wife. No one bothered any further. When he saw posters of Rekha, he suspected strong resemblance. He began to make enquiries. Indeed Rekha was Neeta and he tried to make a contact with her.

The Film Line is whimsical to say the least. Just as fast she had hit the top, she had begun to stumble. Her recent pictures were flops and in any case her age had begun to catch up with her. She had taken to drink heavily and rarely on e could find her sober enough for an interview. After much persuasion she had finally agreed to meet with Kamal in a studio, between her shooting schedules. Out side her chamber several reflectors, cameras and miles of cable lay carelessly. A small crowd of people had clustered around a spot where shooting was in progress. As time passed by he watched cameras roll and some tinny music play itself over and over again. In between he could catch the Directors orders to his crew.

Their meeting was not an emotional sort; instead, Neeta instantly offered to pay a monthly pension in return for complete silence by Kamal. She was still concerned about her sagging career and thought it o be the best option. Kamal had been patient and had half expected an irrational outburst. After all he had been through the rigours of jail life only on her account. On his part Kamal was keen to regain lost ground at any cost. Presently he walked out in dejection as Neeta’s shooting for the day had been called off.

Days later, even this project was shelved. For Neeta it was like a kite whose string had been severed and she began to float aimlessly. Usually, a crowd of boys chase the free-falling kite to be won as a trophy of local superiority. With Neeta it was a sad ending. She had loads of liabilities and hardly any assets. She was forced into the oblivion.

It has now been decade from the first meeting with the Cinema Star. Meanwhile Kamal had settled down and Jharna had shifted to her Papa’s house. They had built a small house by the side of the Central Lake of Jhoomri Talaiyya. At sun set time some times an on-looker can catch three images in the still waters of the lakeKamal. Jharna and Neeta.

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