PART II : THE MYSTERY UNFOLDS
It’s a summer evening in Kolkata, almost 8:30 PM now. The temperature has dropped a few degrees, but, humidity is still very high . A pleasant breeze swept away the dust on the streets, besides, giving little comfort from the humidity.
Maya left from work at around 7:00. She is a gynecologist in The Miralife Hospital in Salt lake, Kolkata. Maya has now, flown 12 years from the time in her 8th grade. Now she is mature, self dependent and composed, than her little self, 12 years ago. Her grandmother took care of the entire household, since then, and that helped her a lot, to focus on her career. Recently she completed her MS in Obstetrics and gynecology and soon after, acquired a placement in The Miralife Hospital. It was almost 45 minutes drive from her home in Triangular Park. If not for the car breakdown, she would have reached home by now.
Hari bhai shut the trunk of the car with a clunk! Maya got startled by the sudden clanking noise and turned around instantly . She could see Hari bhai walking past her. He said, “ It’s done madam, have changed the tire. Don’t worry, we will reach home quickly”. Maya replied , “Don’t drive too fast ! We will get lots of traffic on the main road . There’s no need to hurry.” Then suddenly she remarked, “Ohh ! I should inform someone at home about the delay”.
She pulled out her cell phone from her purse and called on her home phone number. A woman with a heavy voice answered the call,“ Hello Maya”.
Maya was not surprised by, how her grandmother answered the call . This sweet old woman somehow always knew, when her grand daughters would call. When asked by them about the secret behind her correct guesses, she would say it’s her intuitions…. Such is her love for the two sisters .
Maya replied, “Nani, I’ll be there in an hour or so, depending on the traffic. You don’t worry about the delay. The tire got punctured and Hari bhai just fixed it. ” , she quickly added, “Did Saanjh return from her tuition class?”
Her grandmother promptly asked another question, “Where are you right now?”. Maya answered, “ We are passing through an area in Salt Lake and heading towards the main road.” To this her grandma said, “Okay. Saanjh returned from her class, hours back. She is in her room now. And yes, Govind is here . Shall I ask him, if he can wait until you return?”
‘Govind uncle’… Better known, in the neighborhood as Govind Gandhi, is like a family friend. He worked in Dr. Aloke’s chamber , as an assistant. Earlier he used to be a pharmacist. After he left his job over a dispute on salary increment with the owner , Maya’s father gave him a satisfactory job in his chamber. He is a father figure to both Maya and Saanjh.
Maya said, “ Ohh ! I remember, I asked Govind uncle to get the medicines, that the neurologist prescribed. Nani please pay him the cost of the meds. In case he can’t wait for as long as an hour,tell him I would give him a call once I reach home. Am hanging up now”, saying this, she ended the call.
Maya pushed the cell phone back in her purse, and silently leaned back on her seat, looking at the upcoming traffic on the main road . Lines of lights flashed through the busy streets, like fireflies flying in the dark. Though, bright lights bordered the wide streets on both sides, warding off, the darkness cast by the night. Honking of horns, people squabbling over petty issues, buses of the same route overtaking each other- seems like everyone is in a hurry. On top of that the summer heat, that in itself would make one feel exhausted. As the day retires, to welcome a new day again – it’s time for everyone to bid adieu to a day’s work or duties. And get ready to embrace a fresh chance to live one more day of life , filled with new hopes and opportunities.
As she was looking around, she spotted a little girl, crossing the road with another tiny little one, probably her sister. They were on the pedestrian walk. They held each other’s hands tightly and were running fast, as fast as, their little steps, would take them to the other side of the street. Maya’s eyes followed their footsteps. Their tiny feet raced swiftly and with every stroke of their feet against the coarse grainy road, they gained more velocity and ran faster and faster. Ohhh they reached already! But, where are they heading to ? A public phone booth? The kids stopped at the booth. They looked very familiar to Maya at this moment.
Suddenly, she felt like a gust of wind, was carrying her away, far far away, from ‘now’ , to the point where she and her sister stood, waiting for their father- twelve years ago. There she was at the phone booth, yes, she could clearly see herself – standing steadily, with a wailing Saanjh, requesting the person at the booth to allow her to make a call. She was telling him that, she had no money and she and her sister, were students of the school near his booth, and that, she would pay him the call charges by next morning. She needs to call her father urgently.
The person was very kind. Seeing the kids in distress, he allowed Maya to dial a few numbers. Maya pulled out a tiny notebook, with alphabet tags, from her school bag. Her father has written a few contact numbers there, alphabetically, in case there was an emergency. First, she dialed Dr. Aloke’s personal number, that went on ringing. She got the same result when she dialed his chamber’s number. She dialed both the numbers again and again, but no one answered. Now, Maya started to feel more anxious, what might have happened to her father ?
She has noticed her father being stressed, over the past few months, and assumed the reason to be his work. He has been so absent-minded at times, that one day he would leave his car keys in the refrigerator and some other day, he would search the entire house for his tooth brush, and then, find it in the closet drawer in his bedroom. Maya and Saanjh usually helped him find the things he kept on misplacing, almost every other day, and then they would laugh and giggle when they discovered them in unusual locations. Dr. Aloke’s anxiety began when a patient blamed him for prescribing a wrong medication that led him to have respiratory distress and rashes, instead of helping him recover, from his pre-existing health issues. He created quite a fuss. Little Maya felt, ‘It was highly unlikely for dad to make such a grave mistake’. She tried to reason further,with herself , ‘It must have been something else that the patient was allergic to, yes, that must have given him the rashes and made it hard for him to breathe’. Her father was disheartened due to this accusation. He stopped going to his chamber regularly after that, and would have Govind closely monitor the medicines he prescribed to his patients, on days, he had to attend his chamber . He was a good doctor. He had patients who had blind faith on him and they continued to call and visit him. But, that one incident, invited depression into his life.
‘Yes, Govind uncle! ’, she exclaimed. She thought, she should call Govind uncle once. ‘He must have been with my father in his chamber today, and then uncle will know, where he is’, little Maya muttered to herself.
Maya searched for Govind uncle’s number on the page tagged ‘G’, in the little notebook. And there it was. Taking quick short breaths , thinking, ‘things will be fine now’, she dialed the number. Govind received the call promptly. Maya informed him of the situation , gave him the details of where they were standing. She asked him to somehow inform their dad about their location and tell him to pick them up as soon as possible. Govind sounded surprised as he told her, “ Strange ! Dr. Aloke left the chamber right on time and headed straight for your school. Umm…I did notice his car parked near the chamber , while I was locking the door .That was quite unusual, though. Okay, both of you stay where you are , I will be there in no time to pick you up.”
On his way to bring the children back home, Govind dialed Dr. Aloke’s personal number a couple of times. But, his cellphone went on ringing. Then he called Dr. Aloke’s mother, who lived in Bosepukur, and informed her about the situation. She rushed immediately, to her son’s home, which was just a few minutes drive, from where she lived . She had an extra key to Dr. Aloke’s residence, which he gave her, in case she chose to come at a time when, he or the children weren’t at home. She was feeling nervous about her son and the kids. She could sense that something must have happened, otherwise her son would never be this late, to pick up the kids from school. They were his priority and he was a responsible man. Now all that she can do is, to wait for them to arrive home , safe and sound.
Govind picked the kids up soon and left them with their grandmother, while, he went out searching for their father. He asked the entire neighborhood, but, nobody saw Dr. Aloke after morning. Then he filed a missing report in the local police station and with a heavy heart returned to Dr. Aloke’s house, still unaware of where he could be.
It was almost midnight, Govind did not leave Dr. Aloke’s residence, that day. He kept on waiting for any fragment of information about him, from the police. Tired of crying, Saanjh fell asleep soon after having dinner. Maya sat in the living room leaning on her grandma’s shoulders, who couldn’t stop weeping every now and then. She was 65. She lost her husband, a few years ago and now lived alone with a trusted servant, Bhoomi, who has served their family, for over three decades. Aloke requested his mother, to move in with him , when he bought a new house, close to his chamber. But, Aloke’s mother refused, due to her emotional attachment to their ancestral house. But, she paid, her son and grandchildren, a visit every now and then. Aloke would leave the children with their grandmother, on busy days at the chamber. He turned 40 this year. His mother and daughters planned a surprise birthday party at their ancestral home, and the photos have been printed and delivered to her this morning. She sat down on her recliner, smiling as she turned the pages of the album, when Govind called her, informing her about the crisis.
What might have happened to her son !!! She cried out loudly this time. Maya hugged her tight and cried her heart out too.
A loud ringing sound – ‘Rrriiing rrriiing’— that’s the phone ringing. Govind received the call. It was from the police station. The policeman said, that they found a man, who seemed lost and was wandering about in the streets. He resembles the man in the picture that Govind provided them with, and they were bringing him to Dr. Aloke’s residence for identification by his family members.
Govind’s heart was racing. He walked to and fro the living room and wasn’t able to sit or rest until the police arrived with the man. Aloke’s mother and Maya sat quietly , they could feel their hearts pounding faster and faster, as the time drew closer to the arrival of the police. Hopefully they would bring Dr. Aloke with them. They would arrive anytime now.
“Knock knock knock”, there was a loud knock on the door. Maya and her grandmother rose to their feet, as Govind unlocked the door. The police has arrived, and with them stood – covered in dust from head to toe, a weary and stressed, Dr. Aloke. His clothes were dirty, hair looked almost golden – he must have wandered all this time, since he left his chamber – under the sun , amidst the heavy pollution in the Kolkata streets. But why ?
As his family rushed to hold him, and hug him , crying and releasing the intense stress that has build up in them over the past few hours, Govind asked the policeman, what happened and where did they find him ? The policeman said that, someone called the police station telling them about him and saying he looked like a man from a good family, but, he cannot recollect his address or the contact numbers of his close ones.
After getting the call, the police rushed to the spot and on continuously asking him his name, he slowly muttered , “Aa-aa-aa-lo”. Further, he did not have any personal belongings or a cellphone with him, which could help, in tracing his family members. Although they couldn’t clearly understand his name, his face resembled that of Dr. Aloke’s in the photo, and so they called and informed Govind about him.
Govind thanked them. And turned back and stared at Dr. Aloke for a while, he had so many questions in his mind. Why could Aloke not remember his address, the kids’ school address- they were the familiar places to which he travelled almost regularly, the numbers-which he has called for years. Above all, why could he not tell his name properly ? Is just stress responsible for the forgetfulness of this magnitude ?
“Maya madam, we have reached. Should I come back tomorrow at 9 am ?”, Hari bhai said, while parking the car outside her residence . Maya took a deep breath, she was so lost in her thoughts that, she hardly realized that they’ve reached Triangular park. She nodded her head in approval, while Hari bhai looked at her for an answer. Walking slowly past the garden that lined the doorway to her home, she knocked on the door . While waiting for someone to open the door, she read the name of her home with a smile on her face. Dr. Aloke has long ago, got it carved on a piece of marble and placed it on the wall to the left of the entrance, “AlokeNanda Bhawan”, Nanda being her mother’s name. There was so much peace in their names alone.
“Come in quickly”, nani opened the door in a haste and ran inside. Maya could hear screams, Govind uncle is still here? Saanjh is also screaming. What happened ? She threw her purse on the couch in the living room and ran inside.
There was tissue shredded all over the room. Bhoomi didi , Govind uncle and Saanjh were all around and over the bed, trying to hold as tightly as they could -——- ‘Dad’s hands’.