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Pieces

“So, tell me mom... Did you have a boyfriend in your life before Dad?” asked Shreya with naughty twinkling eyes, looking up from her coffee at her smiling mom’s face and daring her to answer.
Saroj took a minute to react, she sat down on the dining table appearing to think and remember, while letting the anticipation grow in shreya’s eyes and replied, mentally ticking off from an imaginary list “Hmmm lets see, I had one, two, three and four if you count that and maybe five and six if you consider....”
“Mom, stop teasing.....
Saroj laughed in fondness and pinched her darling daughter’s cheek “well you started it”
Shreya kept down her half empty coffee cup and asked hesitantly “Ok, mom.. hmm what I wanted to know was... .... well ... that is.... ok... I know you love dad a lot and all,  and you miss him so much after all these years... but still was he your first  and only love or.....”
Saroj was still smiling but there was a scrutiny in her eyes when she looked into shreya’s eyes to search for any hidden agenda behind this unexpected questioning. Everybody in the family knew her love story. About how she and Vipul had met and fell in love with each other and had a perfect relationship until his death. Everybody knew the story but nobody knew the hand behind it.. nobody knew Shreyas...
Saroj saw her daughter looking at the play of emotions on her face and immediately returned to the present, wiping off all the remnants of the past hoping shreya had not deciphered her expressions. And questioned “Why do you want to know... and after all these years.... Is there somebody in your life that you want to talk about”
But Shreya had noticed the way her mom was remembering, she was sure there was somebody. But not sure why was it so important to her to know about that person. That person about whom her mom had fondly thought about just now. After knowing first hand the kind of affection and love her parents had shared, it was important for her to see who was that person who still stayed in the memories of her mom after being loved and cared for so much by her father.
But she didn’t voice her opinion or tried to intervene.. “Nope mom, nothing like that... well I was just curious. I know about your story only from the time you met dad and ofcourse of what grandma told me about your childhood.. but what about before you met dad, what about your experiences of teenage?? I  just wanted to know more about you that’s all”
Saroj smiled with such fondness and affection that shreya cringed from lie she was spinning to know about that person from her mom.
“Well I had a normal teenage years, unlike you...... and I had a normal education, with normal life and then I met your dad who toppled my world and made it into a fairy tale”, the answer seemed like a rehearsed dialogue to Shreya, but she didn’t press her mom for any more information.
When Shreya just smiled and accepted her readymade answer, she let out a sigh of relief, she was not ready to talk about him, she was not ready then, she was not ready now and she didn’t think she will ever be ready.
 
Shreya had let her mother pull off from the subject and changed to the topic to more regular kind. But she was as curious as a cat, she was so intrigued by the mystery, she was just so irritated that she didn’t know something about her mom.
She wouldn’t have been so hell bent on knowing something her mom was obviously not ready to share. She was not a prying kind of person. But just a week back while she was searching for her old articles written for her college newspaper in the attic, she had found a torn piece of an old letter with only few words of last lines in it, that had piqued her journalist mind to investigate
“.......... my love
..................you understand why I did what I had to do then
.............. happy to see that you married Vipul
......... will always love you.. S”
 
She was itching to show that scrap of the letter and ferret out the story behind it, but she loved her mom very dearly to be so heartless. So she had decided to find out about the matter discreetly.
She had questioned her grandma and her aunt very discreetly about how her mom’s life was before she met her dad. But she didn’t find any success there. That was the reason she asked her mom directly but indirectly. Now when she knew she was thwarted in her attempt to find out about this person ‘S’.
She stole a glance at her mom and winced at her deceitful ways to know something from the past of this wonderful woman, chided herself for being a coward and not asking her mom directly. She reasoned with herself that she didn’t want to hurt her mom, but she knew somewhere her conscience was correct, she was acting like a coward.
She knew she couldn’t ask her mom, knew she couldn’t be the journalist that she was with her mom so Shreya decided to let go of this matter.... for now.
 
Saroj had noticed that Shreya was acting weird from some days. She was sure that her darling daughter was upto some mischief. She had noticed that shreya was talking with someone on the phone in hushed tones, and abruptly cutting of calls as she entered the room and wondering loudly as to what happened to the network suddenly. But she let her daughter to cook up her mischief, knowing only too well that whatever it was, it can’t stay hidden for long.
 
“Okay, now everything is set, all I have to do is confirm all the arrangements and finish inviting the guests” thought shreya with a satisfied smile of a content cat. She was planning a birthday party for her mom, after all it is not every day that somebody will turn 50. And she wanted that day to be the most special day of her mom’s life. She had called almost all her old friends, ordered her favourite cake and even had purchased a beautiful pearl necklace as a present from her.
Shreya was grinning while talking to Manjula aunty “Ok, Manjula aunty, then please mark your calendar and don’t miss the party. Will be looking forward to meeting you after such long time. And by the way auntie, do you have number of one Bharati, who studied with you and mom in college. I got to know about her from the old photo mom has of all you friends. I have invited everybody who are in the city but I have no information about this Bharati. Looks like she was close to mom from this photo”
“Oh, Bharati.. of course, they were best friends back then. But then Bharati got married and went off to England with her husband and they must have lost contact after that. But wait I heard that she came back to India last year. Let me ask around and see if I can get any information about her, ok Shreya”
“Thanks aunty, will meet you at the party then, bye take care”
The next day Shreya got a call from Manjula with the phone number of Bharati. And with some hesitation Shreya dialed that number.
An elderly lady picked up the phone, and when enquired turned out it was the same Bharati who was in the picture with mom. And when she was informed about the party, she was very happy to be meeting her old friend on her 50th birthday and assured Shreya that she will definitely not miss the party at any cost.
 
The D – Day came without much ado. And Saroj was so surprised when her old friends jumped out from their hiding places to shout “Surprise”, as she came back from the temple on that day. And she cried unreservedly at the love showered on her by her daughter to make her birthday so special. But she was shocked to the tips of her toes when she saw Bharati standing at the front door trying to find a familiar face and finally resting her eyes on Saroj. Saroj was still in shock when Bharati beamed a fond smile at her and came with open arms to hug her oldest friend. But she restored herself in time to respond to the open love that Bharati showed in her smile. But that minute of shock and panic was not lost on Shreya. She had noticed the change in her mother’s face and she knew, that if there was any person who knew about the mystery of ‘S’, it has to be Bharati.
The day ended with much excitement and lots of promises of keeping in contact regularly. And by the time the last guest departed, both mother and daughter were tired but content. Saroj hugged her daughter and thanked her “You just made this birthday the highlight of my life. You couldn’t have given me a more perfect birthday. Thank you sweetheart”
The next day, Shreya couldn’t hold back her curiosity anymore and she called Bharati. But this time to meet her privately at a coffee shop and made her promise that she wouldn’t tell her mom about this meeting. A surprised Bharati had reluctantly agreed.
 When Bharati arrived at the coffee house and spotted Shreya sitting at the furthest table sipping water. She immediately sensed that the girl was nervous and twitchy. She studied Shreya for a long minute, again wondering what was it that this girl wanted to talk to her about. She slowing walked up to her, taking her time, letting shreya notice her before she reached her.
After ordering their preferable coffees, while Bharati tried to talk unrelated topics to ease Shreya. Shreya opened her bag and pulled out the piece of that letter and gave it to Bharati asking her “Do you know anything about this aunty??”
Bharati read those incomplete lines and remembering the complete story. After all she was a witness to everything. She pinched the bridge of her nose, trying to think how to answer this child.
“Why do you want to know about this Shreya, am sure you are sharp enough to notice that this is a very old story. And let me assure you, your mother really loved your father, there was no doubt in it.”
“I know auntie, its just that. I really need to know this. All I ever knew was that mom and dad were .. are the perfect couple. So much in love and so much care for each other. I never imagined any other person in mom’s life. And when I saw this, its just so unbelievable. I just want to make sure that the love that I saw between my parents was real... please auntie.....please.”
“Although this is not my story to tell you, but I think I understand your reasons. I just hope am not making a mistake by telling you this.
This ‘S’, he was the first love of your mom’s life. His name was Shreyas. He was the most upright and moral person I had ever met in my life.
Shreyas was the person who entered into Saroj’s life when she was blooming as a woman. When Shreyas and Saroj had collided each other while rushing towards their respective teams who had arrived for a inter college competition, Saroj had thought it was impossible to get attracted to a complete stranger in one meeting, but she had seen the same emotion in his eyes. By the time the competitions were over and all the teams were getting ready to go back to their hometowns, Shreyas was sure that he definitely wanted to talk to that girl with big brown eyes and know about her.
 
Shreyas approached Saroj in the front garden of the college they were visiting while she was talking with Bharati. He was sure he didn’t make much sound but felt like Saroj could feel his gaze, his presence. Even before he opened his mouth to call, she had turned to face him. It felt like the air around them crackled with anticipation and excitement. Bharati had sensed that and moved away so as that she can give them privacy of talk but not so far that she left her friend alone with a practical stranger.
 
“Hello, hmmm.... My name is Shreyas....... I .......... You.........” Saroj smiled at his nervousness.
“Hi, Am Saroj” Shreyas smiled at the way Saroj was trying to ease his nervousness.
“I know your name, I know where you study........ please don’t be alarmed... I just wanted to know about you............. I don’t know why but I felt....... I felt.....”
“I know.... even I felt it.” Saroj replied shyly.
 
That was the start of their relationship. They could never completely tell each other the depth of their emotions, it was so intense that they never found words to express it. But they both knew it from the bottom of their soul they knew what they are to each other. They were soul mates.
Bharati had watched, helped and encouraged her friend to pursue her heart’s desire. She always chaperoned Saroj to meet Shreyas and in those meetings she had met Vipul who was Shreyas’s best friend. Bharati and Vipul became good friends and glad that their best friends had found the love of their life.
Shreyas was from a rich family. As an only son, he was bought up with much love and affection. But there was a certain strength in his character, a steel in his soul. He never wronged anybody and never allowed anybody to wrong him also. He was loving and caring to people who mattered to him, but he could also silence a rogue with a stare. That was the strength in him. And he loved Saroj extremely, he was extremely possessive about her safety and well being. But he was never suffocating. Bharati could see Saroj blooming, glowing under his love and care.
 
But then good things could last only that much. Or maybe Saroj had lived her love life in that time. Shreyas’s father died in an accident, that was the first blow to their relationship. He also lost his aunt and uncle in the same accident. Not he lost 3 most dearest people to him but now at the young age he became the head of the family. And this meant he had to shift back to his native place. Shreyas always knew he wanted to go back home and settle. After all his family was there. But not in this way, not in this circumstance.
 
When Shreyas went home, only then did he come to understand the full implication of what their deaths had caused. Shreyas mom had died when he was a young boy, he had only his dad as his family. And his aunt and uncle were the most closest relative he had. But now he was left with the responsibility of not only  vast lands and riches but also of Pramila, daughter of his aunt, who had had a nervous breakdown due to the grief.
He knew he couldn’t go back to complete his studies. He wrote regularly to Saroj about the situation and things he is doing to improve it. Always ending each letter about how much he misses her and waiting to bring her home.
He looked after Pramila like a mother to her. He did everything and tried to get best medical help to cure her and make her like the bubbly person she was before. Meanwhile talk started around the place about a matured girl and a young man living together in a huge house with no elders. Shreyas was disgusted the way people couldn’t see Pramila’s situation, that they didn’t have compassion to understand the pain they were going through.
 When these rumors turned to out right insults towards Pramila, Shreyas watched her cringe away from them and how the progress he had made with her was spoiled with few harsh words. He thought once he marries Saroj and brings her here then nobody can talk about Pramila like that.
Shreyas had to meet Saroj to explain his situation and ask her help to convince her parents to marry them as soon as possible. So he arranged an old lady to look after Pramila for a few days and came to city to meet Saroj. Unfortunately she was not in town, she was away with her parents to attend a marriage. He knew he had to go back empty handed, but he contacted Vipul and Bharati and explained them his situation and begged them inform him immediately as Saroj came and also to tell her what he has told.
But by the time Shreyas reached home, destiny had played its part. Somebody who had known Pramila’s condition had tried to take advantage of her and this news was spread all over the place. The old lady that he had appointed was ill and had not come to stay in his house that night. The village elders demanded his answer regarding protection of Pramila’s honour. The issue built up so much that suddenly he was pressured to marry Pramila to save her name. He knew that she will not be able to marry anybody else in her situation. Being a person who believes in morality, he reluctantly agreed to the proposition.
 
That night he sat a long time thinking how to inform his Saroj about his situation. He sat down and wrote to Vipul and Saroj both as to what happened and what was the result of it. He begged Saroj to forgive him and also told her that he can’t turn away from Pramila.
 
By the time this letter reached Saroj’s hands, Bharati had already told her about Shreyas’s visit and his request to get married soon. Saroj in a hurry had informed her parents that she is in love and asked their permission to marry him with such conviction that her parents were left in no doubt that she wont marry anybody else. Reading Shreyas’s letter, her heart ached in pain, she couldn’t even cry. She didn’t know if she should grieve the lose of her love or be proud of him for being such a good man. But she didn’t know how to show face to her parents and explain them that he didn’t cheat her and that she is very proud of him. She knew if her parents came to know about what happened they will immediately retaliate by either making his life difficult or by marrying her to some stranger immediately as the talk of her love had already known to her relatives.
 
It was at this moment that Bharati told Vipul about the dilemma Saroj is going and upon seeking Shreyas’s consul Vipul decided to step in his steed and help Saroj. Saroj presented Vipul as the love of her life and got married to him, thinking it was better to marry him rather than some stranger who didn’t know about her pain, love or life. Vipul was very understanding towards Saroj and he was always with her lending support. They became great friends and after some time Saroj realized that she couldn’t have asked for a better person as husband instead of Shreyas.
After her marriage Shreyas and Saroj never contacted each other, expect that one letter he wrote to her congratulating her and Vipul on her marriage. It took some time for her to come to terms with her lost love and recognize her husband’s love for her. She fell in love with that soft and nice man who was her best friend. And led a wonderful life filled with love and laughter.
 
Bharati let out a huge breath when she finished the story. Shreya was silent for a long time. After considerable amount of time Shreya looked up to meet Bharati’s eyes and hesitantly asked “And my name Shreya... was “
Bharati smiled remembering it and assured Shreya “That was your dad’s decision, he is the one who kept your name. Of course by then I was married and living in London, so I don’t know what was Saroj’s opinion about that. Your parents were in contact with me for some time. Later we just drifted apart, got busy in living our lives,”
Shreya’s eyes was shining with tears. She didn’t know if she wanted to be proud of her dad or sad that her mom lost her first love.  She just thanked Bharati for her help and came home. All the way thinking about pieces of her mom’s life which was coming together now. There were too many pieces to react immediately. She needed time to think.
She took some days to streamline her thoughts and out of all this she was sure of one thing. That she was proud of her parents and their love. And also sad for her mother.  She also acknowledged to herself that maybe she wouldn’t mind to see this Shreyas person back in her mom’s life, maybe just as a friend.
 
With the help of her colleagues and also Bharati’s help Shreya finally located Shreyas. Also came to know that Pramila killed herself years back. Maybe she never got out of her mental condition thought Shreya.
But now she didn’t know what to do with the information, should she confront her mom and tell her that she knew the story Or should she contact Shreyas and request him to meet her. She knew she had already intruded a lot in that part of her mom’s life which her mom had painstakingly kept hidden for so long. She didn’t want interfere more. And moreover it was her mom’s life and decision of this matter should be left to her. When Shreya reached conclusion, she smiled with relief.
 
Next day before leaving for work, Shreya kept that torn piece of letter and another chit with Shreyas’s contact information with a small note written “I joined all the pieces of your life now mom, and so proud you and dad. Sorry for being a curious cat, but I love you, no matter what you decide”.
And then she left with smile of contentment on her lips. Happy that she solved her mystery and happy with whatever decision her mom took in this matter. She just wanted her mom to be happy.

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