Dr. D. K. Bose leaned back on his seat, closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He was tired! He had been seeing patients non-stop for the past five hours. At forty five years of age he had achieved everything he had wanted when he was sixteen. Or had he, he wondered? The definition of success varies at different ages. What did he want when he was sixteen? He wanted to be a Doctor which he was. He was a specialist pediatrician which was something he had not thought of or known about at that age. He just knew that he wanted name, fame, money, a huge house and a big car. Well, he had that all and more. So why was he so dissatisfied and unhappy? The problem was that all his life he had simply chased material success and had never thought of anything else. And now his heart yearned for more.
He found his thoughts wandering back to things and people he had left behind in this single minded pursuit of materialistic success. His thoughts went to the small rented house he had grown up in with his four siblings. It was small and cramped and he had hated it then. Why did his thoughts go back to that house now? Why did it now appear that his childhood had been happier than his present? Why did he often think of his parents whom he had drifted away from, after his marriage? Why did his brothers and sisters who he had not seen for years appear uninvited in his thoughts? After all he had turned his back to his middle class siblings and their drab lives out of his own choice. Maybe his unhappy marriage was responsible for this dissatisfaction with his present. He thought of his wife who he had married for the sake of money. After if he had not married her who would have given him the capital to build such a big Nursing Home in this prestigious colony of Delhi. He would have been just a small time Doctor in some non-descript city or would have been posted in some Primary Health Center.
This thought was not his own. This was something his wife reminded him of on almost daily basis during their regular arguments. Maybe if we had kids, things would have been better. But the same fate which had blessed him with money and success had been parsimonious in this aspect. And it was too late anyway. He had developed diabetes, hypertension, put on oodles of weight and lost all his hair. He looked fifty five instead of the age he was. Even if I adopt a child now I will be old or dead before he grows up, he thought. He tried to fill the emptiness in his heart by working even harder, seeing even more patients and putting his heart and soul in his work. Yet he grew more and more disgruntled with life. This is your punishment for leaving the only girl you loved in your life, he told himself as his thoughts drifted back the magical days he had shared with Sarika.
It was back in his days as a Resident Doctor that he had met Sarika. He still remembered their first meeting vividly. He was posted in casualty. Patients were few and far between and after instructing the intern to tackle whatever came his way, DK was immersed in his books preparing for a forthcoming seminar. Suddenly a commotion disturbed his concentration. He looked up to see a gaggle of girls from the nearby university arguing with the intern. On interceding, he found out that one of the girls had a minor medical problem and all her friends had accompanied her to the hospital. The poor intern was unable to cope up with them. He prescribed the requisite medications and sent the girls off after pacifying them. He was particularly struck by the vivacious and talkative friend of the patient but he brushed her thoughts off his mind and went back to his books. He ran into her again in the market after a few days and was offered a dazzling smile of recognition but no more. After a few chance meetings he found himself thinking about the girl increasingly. Discreet enquires revealed that she was an undergraduate student in the University and lived in the hostel. He also found out that her name was Sarika Sinha and that she was from a nearby town. Soon he was losing sleep and unable to concentrate on his studies as he became increasingly infatuated with the girl.
Unable to bear the misery of one –sided love any longer, he screwed his courage up and planned a visit to the girl’s hostel of the university with the forlorn hope of meet her. He sent in the slip with Dr. D .K. Bose written on it and waited with a palpitating heart. He still remembered every moment of their first meeting in the common room. After a few meetings he found out that his feelings were reciprocated by Sarika. They spent hours together talking about everything and sometimes nothing. They discovered their mutual liking for things as diverse as Jagjeet Singh’s ghazals and books by Richard Bach. The next two years passed by magically. It was perhaps the happiest time of his life. He worked hard in the wards, on his books and his thesis. She had her studies and exams which were nowhere as demanding as his and they managed to meet almost every day. He was young enough to have ideals and together they created a magic world of their own. There were no mobiles and few telephones those days. He owned a second hand scooter which he had managed to buy saving a substantial part of his meager residents’ salary. They went on long drives to the nearby hills on the weekends and were oblivious to the world around them.
He had never been that close to his family. All his life he had hated his lower middle class upbringing. He had loathed his rented house in which there was hardly any personal space. He disliked his small time shopkeeper father, his meek mother and his good for nothing siblings. God has gifted him with a brilliant mind and early on in his life he had realized that the only way to escape from this middle class drudgery was through education. He was always at the top of his class and never had any problems keeping up with his studies even in the cramped confines of his house. It had surprised nobody when he cleared his medical entrance exams with flying colors in the first go. His father grudgingly provided his tuition fees and in Medical College he found the escape he had been looking for since his childhood. And in Sarika he found the intellectually stimulating partner he had longed for, all his life. That and the first flush of youthful love resulted in that period being the most memorable of his life. He clearly remembered all the dreams they had dreamt together, the plans they had made and the future they had envisaged for themselves.
He remembered the fateful day his M.D. result has been declared. He wanted to rush to Girls Hostel of the University to share the glad tidings with Sarika. And then Fate had intervened in form of urgent summons from his Professor. The said Professor was one person he had respected the most in his life and he had responded immediately. The Professor had welcomed him warmly and introduced him to the person sitting with him. They had a proposal for him, he had said. The person was an old friend of his Professor and was a rich businessman from Delhi. He had a daughter of marriageable age and was looking for a groom for her. As she was the only daughter he wanted his future son in law to stay with him in Delhi. If DK was amenable to this alliance he would set up a ‘state of art’ Nursing Home for him at Delhi and use his contacts to help him start his practice. Since his daughter was his only offspring she would eventually inherit all his property anyway.
DK was stunned. All that he had wanted in his life was his for the taking. All he had to do was say yes and he would be rid of the small town middle class existence forever. Then, he remembered Sarika and their mutual dreams. He asked his Professor if he could think about the proposal, excused himself and shut himself up in his Hostel room. For two days he agonised over the decision, going over to the mess only for his meals. He did not contact Sarika or consult his parents. He was desperate not to let go of this almost miraculous offer. Only his love for Sarika held him back. In the end avarice won the day. He went to his Professor and said that he was interested. Then he went home and told his family about the offer and his decision. They were stunned as well. His father as usual did not offer an opinion and told him to do whatever he wanted. His mother made some feeble objections and his siblings were green with envy. As for Sarika had he pushed her thoughts the back of his mind, going to the extent of never meeting her and not visiting his College or the city of Chandigarh again.
Within a month he was married to Rekha Dasgupta and installed in his new home in Green Park, Delhi. His marriage was a grand affair and he remembered how faded and out of place his family had looked in middle of all that opulence. He had been slightly disappointed by the plain looking Rekha as she was nothing as compared to Sarika but had not shown his disappointment. She looks okay with her makeup and designer jewelry and expensive Saris, he had reasoned with himself. Right from the beginning his marriage had not been a happy one. Rekha was spoilt, stubborn and headstrong. She was used to getting her way all the time being the only child of super rich parents. To her, he was a mere social appendage or a useful toy in bed when she was in the mood. He always thought of Sarika when he was with her. Maybe, she sensed the presence of the ghost of a third person between them. That is why the marriage was never smooth or happy. Anyhow, he adjusted to all this without complaining. Soon, he was immersed in his practice, patients and hospital.
Time flew and Sarika faded from his memories and consciousness. Only recently, he had started feeling a sense of disquiet, an ill defined feeling of being short-changed and a longing for what might have been. He had been having pangs of guilt about his betrayal of Sarika. He often wondered where she was and what happened to her? Maybe I should have met her and explained everything to her, he thought. She would have understood; she would have killed me; she would have kicked some sense into me and stopped me from selling myself to the first bidder I came across. Today he was missing Sarika terribly. He wished that he could escape from this self created golden cage of his. He wanted life to give him a second chance. Maybe I can still find true happiness, he thought…….
Dr. Bose was brought back to the present by the insistent ringing of the telephone. It was his receptionist.
“Sir, last two patients are left.”
He was irritated, “I can’t see any more patients. I am already late”.
“Sir, the lady is insisting that it is very important. They are going abroad and she has to get her children immunized.”
Dr. Bose sighed in resignation and said, “Okay! Send them in but no more patients after this.”
As he busied himself in tidying his desk he heard a voice say, “Good evening, Doctor.”
Something familiar about the voice made him look up sharply. He was stunned. It was Sarika! She looked almost the same as she had when he had seen her last. No, she looked even better. The last twenty years had been kind to her. Her complexion was the same milk and honey he dreamed about every night; the eyes sparkled with the same mixture of mischief and amusement; and she was dressed smartly in Jeans and a figure hugging top, a far cry from her salwar kameez days. She was accompanied by a smartly dressed European. Two children, a boy and a girl were with them.
DK started stuttering, “Sa...Sa...Sarika.” He blurted out. She looked at him quizzically and said, ´Do we know each other, Doc?”
“I am Dinesh. You have not recognized me, Sarika.”
It was now Sarika’s turn to look stunned. “Oh Dinesh! What have you done to yourself? I just would not have known it is you. Dinesh ……….…. Dr. D. K. Bose. I just did not make the association. And you have changed dramatically. For the worse, I’m afraid.”
Without missing a beat she turned to the man at her side and said, “This is my husband, Robert. We met in Punjab University when I was teaching in the Dep’t. Of English after finishing my Ph.D. Robert is from Harvard and was in Chandigarh on a research project for the past four years. Robert, this is Dinesh, a friend of mine from college days. He is apparently a big shot Doctor now. We were close at one time but kind of lost touch with each other.”
Later, she explained that Robert was going back to Harvard and she was going with him. She had been offered a Post Doctoral Fellowship in Yale and she planned to settle down in U.S.A with her family. They had to catch a flight the next day and needed to get their twins immunized urgently before leaving. It was by sheer coincidence that they had landed in his Hospital. Not once did during the entire interaction did she display any awkwardness or mention anything about his betrayal. It was DK who was tongue tied and could not speak much. He was simply overwhelmed by the cool, confident and sophisticated Sarika. Of all the times he had thought about Sarika in the last few years, this was one scenario he had not even imagined. And then with a wave from Sarika and a cool handshake from Robert they were gone. Dr. D. K. Bose, big shot Doctor, and a successful man in his own eyes till a few minutes ago, was left contemplating the quirks of fate and his own betrayal.