“Hello Rahul, welcome with your bride! Look, all of us have come to receive you.” I heard a vivacious voice and turned around to see a young girl, in jeans and a shirt, along with a group of around a dozen boys and girls, who had jumped into the train from the platform, even before it could completely halt.
“Hello Anshu! Hello everyone! What a beautiful surprise!” greeted my husband, Rahul. Rahul and I had just reached Varanasi, where he was posted, and what a beautiful surprise it was for us to see all his close friends come to receive us.
Twenty-year-old, newly wedded Mita, myself, was surrounded by around a dozen young boys and girls. They were all my husband’s friends. They were about five couples and two bachelors. They were chatting, laughing and trying to make me comfortable in my new house. Suddenly one of them spoke a bit firmly and assertively,
“I am Anshu, the senior most among the wives here. Remember that always, and everything will be fine.”
Everyone broke into a laughter. Music was on and mostly all of them started dancing. Anshu seemed to be the leader there and the others happily toed the line. I tried looking for my a-fortnight-old husband, Rahul, but he was happily busy with the others. Someone tried pulling my hand to lead me to the dance floor. I had never danced in my life. I had to go to the dance floor though, where I stood, just trying to move my body, in whichever direction that I could.The merry-making continued till very late hours in the night. All this was so new for the protectively brought up me, though I kept trying my best to match up with the rest.
“Rahul, drop her to our place in the morning when you go to work. What will she do here, alone? Your things also have not arrived yet,” Anshu instructed Rahul assertively, while everyone was dispersing for home. So next morning Rahul dropped me at Anshu’s place, in the morning, while going to work. At the first glance itself, I was very impressed by the very well-kept and decorated house of Anshu and Anil. Anshu welcomed me very warmly and asked me to be completely at home. I was already in awe of everything around. Would I too be able to keep our house as well as this?
“You will need to take the reins of the house, Mita. This husband of yours, is extremely carefree. Don’t mind my saying so, I have seen all these boys from the time I have come here, post marriage. He is a gem of a person, but that is not enough to run a house. He is the one person anyone and everyone turns to, in need of help, blindly, but this nature and habit alone will not be enough to run the house, will it be? I am warning you; you have to be very careful right from the beginning,” Anshu stopped, as she brought a well laden tray of goodies with tea.
Ours was an arranged marriage, so I was sort of getting to know my husband through Anshu. What also came across was the genuine feeling for each other, among the friends. Who would try to tutor somebody else’s wife, otherwise? The whole day, I couldn’t help but admire Anshu for the perfect way she tended to everything, be it lunch, tea, as well as entertaining me. She kept narrating different stories about Rahul and the others. I could gather that they were a very close group of friends where five of them were married and the remaining were still bachelors. They would often spend time together and Anshu would play hostess, on many of these evenings. It was a very healthy and beautiful friendship, among these friends. I already felt a warm feeling to be a part of this group.
All these men in the group worked in the same bank, so they had a transferable job. Rahul and I had to leave for Lucknow, very soon after our marriage. But we would keep meeting off and on, on special occasions. One day, Anshu and Anil, surprised us by coming over to our place with news of their transfer to the same town. They got a house close by and all four of us were very happy that we would be together again. It was so easy to pick up the threads for both Anshu and me. Maybe the genuineness and transparency in both our natures made it very easy for us to gel so well. We would talk freely about anything under the Sun. Most of the times Anshu was the one trying to teach me the worldly ways, which she found me terribly lacking in.
Over time both our families grew, with two children each. We had a great few years together. Anshu was a complete and very efficient home-maker; be it cooking, stitching, baking and so many other things. She would not only make jams, marmalades, pickles, butter, and what not, but also keep motivating me too, to do so. With the best intentions in her heart she would try to prod me to be as efficient as her own self, so that our savings could increase. She did all this guiding with so much of right, which showed how much she really cared. There was never an iota of hesitation in her, in speaking out her mind.
Sometimes the goodness of her heart would forget to keep a check on bluntness. She believed that if you really are close, and if you care for each other, you should be nothing but truthful. And she practised this herself. She chose to decide when the group would sing and dance, and when we all would chat! One evening, there was a get-together at our place. Many of the friends were there and, as it always happened, there would be lots of music and dance too. The singing was on and most of them loved singing. They were all singing their hearts out when Anshu said,
“Enough of this! You all think yourselves to be Kishor Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar, the great singers? If we had to listen to their singing, isn’t the radio and television not enough?”
What a dampener that was! Everyone was stunned for a moment and Anshu had managed to get what she wanted! She wanted everyone to chat and we, poor ones, had no other face to do anything but that!
Anshu had unmatched spirits when it came to dancing. In fact, she was the lead dancer of the group. She easily became the centre of any party. She would have such animated discussions on any topic under the Sun. And how she hated to lose! Talking about losing, I remember, how Anshu loved playing cards during Diwali! As an auspicious practice of playing cards during the festival of Diwali, every year our friends would have get-togethers, where they would play cards, with minimal stakes. Like every other thing that Anshu did, she was always filled with so much enthusiasm, these card sessions were also pepped up by her spirits. It was always so much fun to watch her play!
One day Rahul and I had gone to meet our married daughter, in another city, when I got a call from a friend.
“Anshu has been diagnosed with Cancer. She is in the hospital.”
Both of us were stunned. This was absolutely a bolt from the blue! In fact, Anshu and Anil had gone abroad on a holiday, barely a fortnight back. Cancer! We went to see her the very day we returned home.
“I’ll be fine soon. Why have you come with a long face? It is just the initial stage and soon everything will be fine,” Anshu seemed so sure of herself. But that was not to be. Misfortune seemed to sort of follow her. She fought hard, in fact, as hard as she could. I would go very often to see her. She kept coming out of the hospital and going in again, for around two years. Her doting family showered her with all the love that they could.
One night, Anshu, who never left her home alone, even to go and stay at her parent’s place, silently went away in her sleep.
Everyone around was numb with shock. Her friends couldn’t believe that the vivacious Anshu, was gone forever. Her family found this unreal. They all bid her a loving, heartfelt good bye. I still often hear her speaking to me, giving me advice, sharing her thoughts with me, and laughingly telling me,
“Remember, I know your husband more than you. I am your senior, never forget that!”
“Yes, Anshu, I will never forget that. And nor will I ever forget you!”