“This is just heavenly, Rumi!How on earth can you make such chocolate mousse!” cried Riu .
Rumi woke up with a start. Riu was hugging her. She planted a kiss on Riu’s cheek. Rumi was nestled snugly in the cane swing hanging in her veranda and had just dozed off. How the ten years had flown past, turning her life completely upside down. She remembered that day so vividly. The morning after the party at Priya’s house she had left early, for she had an important meeting at work. She was on her way when her phone rang.
“Hello mom,” smiled Rumi.
“Rumi, something terrible has happened,” mom’s voice froze Rumi. There had been an earthquake in Surat, where Shekhar, Rumi’s fiance, lived with his family. No one was reachable on phone.
Rumi had been engaged to Shekhar for a year now. She had met a lot of his family just a couple of months back when Shekhar had taken her along, to attend his cousin’s marriage. Over time mentally, Rumi had also associated herself with her new family.
Rumi, along with her parents, reached Surat in two hours. It was a horrifying sight. There was rubble all over. The police, the rescue team and locals were all trying to help clear away and save the people. Shekhar’s house could not be recognized. It was all a huge mound of earth. The full family was under the debris. It took two days to pull out the victims. Almost all had died. No one could even be identified. Only Riu, Shekhar’s 5 year old niece, was alive. She was injured badly. Rumi tried to look for Shekhar’s relatives, who all lived in the neighborhood. She could find a few but all of them, dead. The whole city of Surat, had turned upside down.
Rumi was crest fallen.She was constantly with Riu who was admitted in the hospital. Riu gained consciousness after 24 hours and started crying out for her parents, grandparents.She was petrified and inconsolable. Rumi held her in her arms and somehow tried pacifying her. She didn’t know how to pacify a child who had lost her entire family, all of a sudden. She could feel her little throbbing heart against hers. Since that moment, Riu became the centre of Rumi’s life.
After spending a week there in Surat, a shattered Rumi returned to Mumbai with her parents and Riu. Riu was still in trauma. She refused to speak to or even respond to anyone but Rumi, who she would just not let go, for the slightest time of the day. Rumi could read unasked questions in the eyes of her family and friends. Rumi had no answers though. One evening, Rumi was very perturbed, when her father suggested that it would be prudent to think of marriage and move on in life. Her disturbed mind had no space for any such thought. She just made up her mind and told her parents that she wanted to make a new beginning somewhere else but only with Riu. She was not ready to replace Shekhar yet and was also not sure if ever she would be able to do so.
Within days Rumi and her parents came to stay in a small town in the mountains, where Rumi’s maternal grandmother had a house. After her death, no one lived there so that became Rumi’s new home, where she stayed with her parents and Riu. Rumi started her NGO there that gave education to the under privileged girl child. Over time with Rumi’s love, Riu could overcome her trauma. Rumi could bring back Riu’s lost cheer and spirit and now Riu was a beautiful, happy and confidant teenager.
A chirpy teenager, Riu came out and hugged Rumi tight. Rumi pulled her on the swing with her and both sat there hugging each other and singing their favourite songs. Soon Rumi got up, she had to get ready to go to work, promising Riu to be back early. She had an appointment with a person from the World Bank and she did not want to be late for that. The World Bank had been very supportive of her NGO.
Rumi reached her office. She quickly wanted to go through the file that she had to discuss today. She opened the door of her cabin and was surprised to see someone already waiting there. Her assistant came running in to tell her that the World Bank person was already there to see her. He was a bit early. Before she could greet him with a Good morning, he turned and both of them stopped short.
“Shekhar” no sound came out of Rumi’s mouth.
“Rumi, at last I found you!”said Shekhar with a gasp.
Time stood still. They both sat and it was a while before they could really talk. They just kept looking at each other. There was disbelief, relief and joy in both the pairs of eyes. Shekhar narrated his story starting from the ill fated day, when a terrible earthquake hit Surat. Buildings seemed to collapse like a pack of cards and he could be pulled out of the rubble, only after a week. Somehow he could get some air to breathe, where he was trapped. Without water and food, he had become unconscious and when he was rescued after a week, he could barely breathe. Lack of oxygen had impacted his brain and he went into coma for almost three months. He had also lost one of his legs.He was being treated in the hospital, but when he came out of coma, he remembered nothing. With memory loss, Shekhar had no place to go. He could not stay in the hospital, indefinitely. A young doctor there, offered him shelter and took him to his nursing home.
The young doctor and his wife, were very nice human beings and let Shekhar stay with them as family. They named him Veer. In that stress free atmosphere, Veer started learning some things about nursing. He would move around the nursing home, among patients, taking care of their needs, to the best of his capacity. One day when he was sitting with a terminally ill patient, playing Ludo, some one called out, ‘Shekhar.’ He looked in that direction to find a lady call out to her son, ‘Shekhar’, a toddler. In that moment, something happened to Shekhar. His memory came flooding back and the flood gates of tears too came rushing down. He just sat still, for quite some time. Then he went to the young doctor and told him what had happened. The doctor was overjoyed to see Shekhar having regained his memory. Shekhar could now figure that it was almost eighteen months since that terrible earthquake that had shaken their lives.
The following day he set out for Surat to find his family. He was devastated to learn of the tragedy that he had lost his whole family. He went to Mumbai to look for Rumi, but drew a blank there too. He could find no one there. Shekhar was filled with helplessness. He sat on a bench in a park and cried bitterly. He could not decide what he cried for more; his leg or his whole family? After a while, he regained his composure. He then realised that he had to take control of his life. He went back to his work place. His boss and colleagues recognised him and he was reinstated at work. From there he was sent to the World Bank, on a project for a year and here he was in front of Rumi. Like Rumi, Shekhar too could never get himself to marry some one else.
Both sat down, still dazed,talking about the past decade. Suddenly Rumi stood up, wiping her tears she held Shekhar’s hand and led him to her car. Without a word, she drove home. The car stopped and Riu came chirping from inside, ‘ Rumi, as promised, you are back early.’
Seeing Shekhar, she stopped with a questioning glance. Rumi looked at Shekhar and said, ‘Riu.’
Shekhar could not believe his ears. Riu, his little niece, now a pretty young girl, was standing in front of him and this could be possible, only because of Rumi. He could not hold himself any longer. Trembling he fell into the chair in front of him.
At last he had found family.