Life is like a fairy tale. Some people find their prince charming in the first person they meet. Some have to fight a lot of dragons. And others have to keep kissing a lot of frogs. Sakshi had been lucky enough to find her prince charming in Rudra. What she couldn't come to terms with was Rudra's reaction. First of all, how could he react to something she had done in her dreams. How did he even know what she did in her dreams? Her love story was definitely a magical one. Though it had turned out to be black magic lately. She felt lighter at heart after she had shared things with Raghav. She made up her mind to share with Raghav everything that ever troubles her. She had developed a special bond with Raghav. Something stronger than friendship. Something more pious than love. She knew Raghav would always be there for him. And she never needed to lose the spot she had for Rudra. Things appeared to be a bit simpler for her. But Raghav was yet to complete the job that Rudra had secretly entrusted him with.
Raghav knew Rudra from his childhood. Raghav was a serious and shy boy who used to spend his time wondering about the problems in this world. Rudra had discovered him one day when he was playing with his brother in a park. Rudra noticed two young boys aiming at a ripe mango in a park. The younger one was a bit restless. He kept jumping out of excitement. The elder one took a pebble and aimed at the fruit that the younger one craved for. The mango fell thud on the ground as the pebble cut clean at the twig holding it. Wipimg the fruit and pressing the top to remove the acid from the top, the elder boy offered the fruit to the younger one who munched at it hungrily. The elder one was filled with satisfaction. Rudra went up to him and said, "Nice shot."
Raghav looked up to find a young boy of his age but shabbily dressed. The dress ought to repel him but didn't. Raghav felt a strange positive aura, though the strong stench of tobacco couldn't be ruled out. "Thank you", said Raghav, his eyes gleaming with happiness and humility.
"He's your brother?" Rudra asked. Raghav nodded. "Certainly you are a noble heart to love your brother so much even in these times. You are born to do something great. You just don't know it yet." Raghav was puzzled by this boy. Why was he constantly blabbering? He didn't feel irritated but was a bit concerned about his brother. What if this boy planned to kidnap him? He looked at his brother, Bharat, who still munched at the stone, his shirt all ruined by the juice.
"What are your hobbies?" asked Rudra. Raghav never lied, but he wished he could. "I like archery", Raghav said. Rudra smiled and said, "It's too much to be a coincidence. You are definitely the one I had been looking for." Raghav had been looking at the strange protrudence on his forehead between his eyebrows. The light blue scarf was also something strange in the month of May. Raghav said, "We need to go. I shall take your leave." Rudra offered him a handshake. Or so he thought.
As soon as he held Rudra's hand, Raghav saw a flurry of visions. They moved fast across his eyes. Rudra was definitely not as simple as he appeared to be. He had to be some sort of magician. When he left his hand, Raghav felt he had known Rudra a lot better, and more than that, his own existence. Before he could say anything, Rudra said, "Great jobs are waiting to be done by you Raghav. Remember, whatever happens, Rudra will always be there for you." Dumbstruck, Raghav watched Rudra leave. He had never felt such respect for any stranger. He became a devotee of Rudra at that moment and vowed to be so forever.
Raghav knew what Rudra wanted him to do for Sakshi. How could it be a coincidence that he would have to leave the previous school on the pretext of carrying tobacco when no one in his kins ever smoked other than his friend. And why was his application accepted only in this school while the others cited his past expulsion as a reason for not accepting him. Destiny isn't something inevitable. It is the perfect blend of the minutest action of each and every organism and particle in the universe. When we are unable to make the correct calculations and get results as per our wish, we term it all as magic. When someone like Rudra deciphers these calculations with ease, he is termed as a magician. Being a magician who could control destiny, Rudra was simply beyond human contemplation.
Raghav decided that he was going to find someone suitable for his friend and complete the job assigned to him. Sakshi deserved someone who could give her the same affection that she had for Rudra, maybe even more. Someone who could give her what Rudra couldn't. Raghav didn't know how he would do it. If Rudra could make them meet, why couldn't he make her meet someone suitable for her? But then he felt she needed a support before she could accept someone else. Having his heart broken for other's happiness was nothing new for Raghav. A disciplinarian doesn't receive much happiness in his life. He has a much better life in people's examples.
Sakshi became a lot more happier after that incident. She was slowly regaining her crazy self. She laughed at some of the lame moments. Raghav was soon appointed as the class monitor. He felt he should maintain a balance between the interest of the school authorities and his classmates. His classmates loved him. Some because of his persona, others respected his credibility. Among the classmates, it was only Sakshi who was fearless enough to say anything to him without the fear of facing his warth. Others were just too scared as they didn't wish to uncover his dark side. They didn't know anything about his whereabouts. He never shared it. Whenever confronted, he would reply, "It's all a mirage. Don't get to know me so closely. I'm here just for a short span of time. Soon, I'll have to leave. So the lesser bonds, the lesser painful snapping when I leave."
Raghav kept nagging Sakshi about every good boy he felt suitable. Sakshi faked anger but dismissed it soon enough. Friends have the right to smack at your wounds. Though it hurts, you know your friendship is stronger if you don't react to them. Sakshi loved the fact that she could be herself with Raghav. Every night she felt a bit better than yesterday and she thanked Raghav for it. The scar that Rudra had left on her heart, she never wanted it to heal. She would rather wear it as a tattoo. It would happen once a month, when she would feel emotional imbalance that she would text Raghav and he would bear her pain with her. Raghav never revealed his demons to her. He didn't wish to repeat Rudra's deeds. Sharing your stories don't bond you. Sharing your fears and demons do, in a snap.
The school had been observing an uncanny friendship. Usually, everyone spotted with someone of the opposite gender would be tagged as 'in a relationship'. Often, it lead to boys receiving the tags of Studs and girls of similar word with some rearrangement of letters and a very lewd meaning. But Raghav and Sakshi faced nothing as such. You could feel their friendship bustling. Even if they sat together, there was nothing objectionable. They were more like siblings and proud enough to accept it.
Sakshi had been waiting for Raghav one day before assembly in her classroom when she spotted something. A boy, whaeatish complexion, lean frame, fairly tall and straight from bed hairstyle kept on crossing in front of her classroom. Almost every time, he stole a glance at her. His face appeared a lot familiar to her. She didn't know where she had seen him. She decided to discuss it with Raghav.
"Arjun?" Raghav asked. Sakshi was stunned. How could Raghav be so calm about a stalker? Shouldn't he have taken some action personally? Shouldn't he have at least informed her? He did appear like a potential danger. She stared at him with a dead, cold expression. Raghav knew she waited for an explanation. He said, "You had told me about not disturbing you with prospective suitors. So I kept mum." He smiled after finishing his speech. Sakshi wasn't just unconvinced. She was angrier than before.
"How could you even think of him as a prospective suitor? He's just a stalker. A coward who doesn't even have the guts to talk to me if he wants to. I don't feel comfortable with his creepy eyes as though he's going to consume me in one go", Sakshi said. Raghav gave a faint smile and said, "Easy. Maybe he is no harm. Maybe he's just intimidated by you. You shouldn't be worried about him. I feel he is safe. You can talk to him if you want to." It didn't make any difference to Sakshi's plan. She had already decided to confront her stalker.
The next day, during recess, she tried to look for him. He was nowhere to be found. She finally understood her mistake. She was searching for someone who followed her. All she needed to do was to wait. He had to turn up like an honest stalker. And he did. Sakshi saw him and beckoned him to wait. He was stunned and looked around to make sure that she was referring to her. He saw her approaching him and stand just two feet in front of him. Sakshi spoke first.
"Don't you have any manners? Why do you keep stalking at me?" Sakshi accused. Arjun said, "I meant no harm. I was just making sure you were safe with that monitor boy."
"His name is Raghav. And I don't want you to protect me from my best friend", Sakshi said. She was possessive about her friends and Raghav was indeed special. How could a random boy question her choices?
"Best friend? How good you know your best friend? Do you have any idea about his past? What do you think why was he transferred here if he was so good at everything? Don't you ever feel suspicious about his behaviour?" Arjun blurted out questions in a go. He was indeed a well researched stalker. Sakshi wanted to scold him further but Raghav intervened out of nowhere.
"Hi Arjun", Raghav said with a pleasant smile. Arjun returned a tight lipped one. Sakshi still stared in his eyes. "Let's get out of here", Raghav told Sakshi. "Sure. And you, Arjun, mind your own business. I don't like these habits. I won't be this calm next time", Sakshi said. Arjun watched the girl leave. He could have easily replied. He could have told her everything about Raghav. Maybe it was the fear that he would hurt her. He had seen her crazy. He knew something terrible had happened, maybe the loss of someone close that had turned he sad, and Raghav had made her a bit better. It was only when the school bell brought him back to his senses that he went to his classroom.
Sakshi looked at Raghav with suspicion. She couldn't tolerate another loss so she asked him straightforward, "Is there anything that you haven't shared with me?" Raghav kept silent for a while and replied, "You know everything you should know." Sakshi didn't ask further. She knew Raghav never lied. However, the conviction in Arjun's words made her conscious and she scrutinised Raghav's every action. Finally, when Raghav couldn't be at peace with her constant suspicious gaze, he asked, "What do you want to know?" Sakshi blurted out, "What about your past? Your family?" Letting out a cold sigh, Raghav revisited the chapters of his life which he never wanted to uncover again.
"I'm the eldest son of my father. He loved my mother a lot. Sadly, they couldn't conceive a boy for my father's estate to be passed on to. There are rumours that I lost a few sisters before I was born. Finally, everyone blamed my mother and convinced my father for another marriage. He married another beautiful lady and my mother soon became forgotten. She had her glory moment when I was born because my father again began taking care of her. Even my stepmother loved me as much as my mother. I was really lucky to receive the affection of two mothers. Soon, my stepmother gave birth to Bharat and we were one happy family. I don't know what I did but my stepmother convinced my father that if Raghav is to succeed the world, he should face the hardships as well. She made him send me to the boarding school and meanwhile Bharat studied in the city, staying with my mothers. My father kept on persuading her, but she didn't budge. She knew what was good for me. My father felt it was the price paid for killing so many of my sisters that he had to pay and I received the news of his demise few days after I joined the boarding. I was a decent boy there and everyone liked me but somehow, someone misplaced a tobacco roll in my bag and I ended up being rusticated and finally received admission here. My education ends in a month. Maa has decided to move to some other city and I've to be with her to take care of her. I want a promise that you won't share any of these with anyone. Ever."
Sakshi was stunned. Infanticide, polygamy, smoking, weren't these things just in history books or scary news headlines? Here was a boy, faced it all and still undeterred. He didn't even let her have even a clue about it. She didn't know what to say or how to react. A teardrop trickled out of her eyes and Raghav was quick enough to grab it before it touched the ground. Wiping it off her cheek, he said, "It's okay. That's how life is."
That night, she couldn't sleep. Sakshi wondered, that she would be lonely yet again after a month. Just a day before their school picnic! What timing he had! To evade her just a day before the day she would need him the most. She needed him as her history with school trips wasn't a good one. She decided to request him to join for the picnic, just for the sake of their friendship. She needed him. Destiny was playing a cruel joke on her yet again.
"Please come to the picnic. I beg you", Sakshi said. Raghav told her to keep quiet as their Physics teacher drew ray diagrams to explain normal shift and lateral shift. She was too restless and ended up being spotted by the teacher. "Aey you girl, tell me what you understand by this normal shift?" Sir asked. The class turned towards her. Sakshi stood and said, "Sir, if we look from rarer medium to denser medium, the object in denser medium comes up..."
"What?!" Sir asked, bemused by her answer. "If it were as you said, it would have been so easy to catch fishes. Just look at it from the top and the fish will come up and we will go down and everything will go up eventually. Sit down, stupid girl." Sakshi ended up laughing as everyone elsle in the classroom did. Just then, the peon came in the classroom distributing consent forms for the school trip to Bodhgaya. Everyone was too excited to study. Even Sir didn't feel like teaching so he kept the chalk on the table, a gesture which meant, no more teaching today. Everyone but Raghav took the form. Sakshi looked at him with anger. Raghav smiled and looked away.
Raghav told Sakshi to wish for something. Sakshi wondered what he meant. Raghav explained that he wanted to give her some sort of parting present. She wished him to join for the picnic. He smiled at her smartness. Finally, she had developed some swift thinking. He told her to go. He would always be there for her, even if not in person. She didn't understand a word. Raghav said, "You have received one of the greatest gifts in the world. Something magical. Something divine. May you always be yourself. May you LIVE your life. Tathastu." Sakshi asked, "What's Tathastu?" Raghav explained, "It means May It Be So. Like Amen. Take care Sakshi." Sakshi watched him leave. Raghav didn't turn. Sakshi had goosebumps. She felt scared as if a kid was left bleating all alone in a forest. She believed in Raghav's words and went to her home to prepare for the trip tomorrow.
The school bus raced on the highway. The students enjoyed themselves, singing and dancing all the way. Some lovebirds preferred a quite corner in the front seat. Sakshi didn't knew which group she would fit in. She had worn her favourite white and pink t-shirt and a blue jacket over it. She looked prettier than normal school days. She had received enough complements in the morning to confirm that she didn't look awkward. She remembered her last trip. Only this time, she didn't know whom to expect. It was just like life, unsuspecting and thrilling.
As soon as they got down, their teachers gave them the most bizarre command. "Go wherever you want to, explore every place you can. But be back in three hours", the teachers said and shooed them away. No restrictions, no discipline, no queues, just freedom. Sakshi was afraid this wasn't what she exactly wanted. She didn't wish to be with the crowd. She wanted to be alone. She knew everyone would be going to the Mahabodhi temple, so she chose to explore the village. She left the crowd and walked towards the kachcha roads. She had no idea that someone had been following her from the beginning. It was all going just as he would have wanted it to be. Sakshi was yet to meet the destiny that the magician had chosen for her.
Sakshi trudged along the path that was absolutely new to her. Walking along a drain, she reached a slum where street urchins were playing some games developed out of sheer boredom. The child would toss a pebble and pick up another pebble before catching the first one. He would continue until he dropped them. Sakshi watched it for sometime before she sensed some staring on herself. She saw three locals advancing towards her. She definitely looked different in the environment that had poverty in its roots. She felt a strong tug at her elbows and was pulled by someone familiar.
Sakshi was angry yet relieved to see the person. She didn't expect him here but she felt that he had been there all the time. The person wasn't as happy as her. He said, "Can't you take care of yourself?" Sakshi couldn't stay quiet. She said, "I didn't call you here. You came all by yourself. I don't need anyone here." The boy said, "Fine. Boys, she is all yours." As he began walking away, Sakshi felt the same fear she had when Rudra had walked away on the pipe. She ran towards the boy and held her firmly. A smile broke on the serious face of Arjun. The locals looked surprise at this strange couple.
Arjun asked, "Why can't you be with everyone?" Sakshi replied timidly, "I just wanted to be alone." Arjun said, "Spend the day with me and you might change your mind. And it would also keep you safe." Sakshi simply nodded. Arjun wasn't a friend, maybe an acquaintance, but definitely better than a stranger. Arjun took him to the spectacle of the town, Mahabodhi temple.
Spread in the vast lands, the temple was dedicated to Siddharth Gautam or Lord Buddha. The peepal tree in the compound, known as Mahabodhi tree, was the place where Buddha received enlightenment. He showed the world the way to peace. Renouncing his princely lifestyle, Buddha gave the word his religion, Buddhism. People from many nations came here to pay tribute to the place where Buddha received true knowledge. Designed in various steps with splendid gardens around, the place is a feast for the eyes.
Arjun took Sakshi to the main temple where a large statue of Buddha was situated. It is the aura of the place that makes you feel peaceful and blessed. Sakshi bowed down in front of the statue and so did Arjun before going ahead. The incense sticks created a soothing effect. As they moved out, Sakshi couldn't help but get amazed by the various carvings on the temple. They walked around the temple where the tree was situated. The monks prayed underneath the tree rigorously. Sakshi was walking carefully when she suddenly felt something falling in her jacket at the back of her neck. She could no longer control and started jumping up and down. The monks stood up and saw at her in shock. Arjun bowed down and apologised profusely. He tugged at Sakshi's hand to make her bow in apology. Even the monks did the same. It was then that Arjun noticed the reason.
A peepal leaf from the sacred tree had fallen in her jacket, something very auspicious in the Buddhist world. Sakshi was still bent in bowing position when Arjun took the leaf out and showed it to her. Looking at Sakshi's expression, he knew she had no idea of its significance. So, before she could hurt any more sentiments, he took her away to the garden. Sakshi listened with great attention and her anger for the troublemaker soon grew into awe. She thanked Arjun for having convinced her to come to the temple. He told her to follow him. She did without any questions.
A set of spinning drums were set in a row. People moved along, rotating each of them as they went across them. Sakshi went on doing the same as Arjun watched the crazy girl, smiling at her innocence. She asked him what they were. He replied, "These are called prayer bells. They have prayers written on them, something related to world peace. The more you spin it, the more they spread across the globe." He didn't expect his answer would make her smile fade away. Dèja vù is seldom a happy affair.
Sakshi began to understand something about her life. It couldn't have been just a miracle. Someone was controlling it all. Someone wanted her to move on. Someone wanted her to live her life, rather than cry over the past. Rudra was definitely someone way too good to be true. But deep down she believed he still controlled her future. Whatever might happen, he would always control her destiny, her life. Once you fall in love, you get your soul damaged irreparably and you feel proud of it. Sakshi understood that Rudra too wanted her to be happy. Since he couldn't give her all that, he made sure someone else did. She decided that she would stop being stubborn and do what Rudra wanted her to. She gave up her resistance towards everyone else. She let Rudra go.
The whole picnic was a beautiful affair. Arjun also bought her a small idol of Lord Buddha and Lord Shiva. He told her that he believed they would help calm her down and let her remain crazy up to safe limits. Sakshi couldn't help but get amazed by Arjun. What struck her the most was he wasn't perfect at all. He had flaws. A good deal of them. But there was something else that she liked. The flaws that she had, the imperfection she possessed, the scars she had, they beautified her. And his shortcomings were in sync with hers. In this mortal world, it is not about finding a heart that doesn't bleed. Every heart bleeds. What you should look for is one which has similar holes as yours so that whatever feeling leaks out of you is well received by them. Sakshi felt she had found one for herself. She just hoped he did the same.
One the way back, Sakshi felt her head aching. She was getting restless. Suddenly she felt a small, light circular movement of someone's fingers on the sides of her forehead. Someone was massaging her head and felt like a welcome relief. She knew who he was. The fingers were firm enough to have some effect but soft enough to avoid any redness. She felt better and soon dozed off. She didn't dream about anything. But it wasn't a scary dream. She felt better. She felt herself. She wanted to thank everything that had happened to her. She wanted to thank Arjun. She wanted to thank Raghav. She wanted to thank Rudra.
Arjun made sure he walked her home. She had been too tired so he took an autorickshaw and dropped her safely at home. She felt drowsy still she held his arms tightly. What affirmed her faith was Arjun grasping her fingers which made her feel secure. She had given life another chance, so had life. Arjun watched her walk towards the gate before she ran towards him to give him a hug to thank him. Her final words still rang in his ears, "Thank you for making this day so beautiful for me. I'll remember it forever. I really think you are a good person and I'd love to be your friend. Thank you so much." Incessant smiles never lasted this long on his face.
Meanwhile, somewhere in the city, on the top of a water tank, at the rim of the building, sat a boy, with brown skin and in deep thoughts. He looked at the orange sun that had just set in the west, leaving a beautiful canvass in the sky. Suddenly, a strong stench of marijuana filled his nostrils. He didn't need to turn to recognise his friend. He simply said, "Where have you been so long my dear friend?"
"I was just around. You always knew it, didn't you?" Rudra said. Raghav turned to see him standing in front of him. His body was covered with white ash. Rudra asked, "Why didn't you pursue her, Raghav?" Raghav smiled, a pain-hiding-smile, and said, "Because I believe if you can't win a girl's heart, it's of no use to conquer her body."
"True disciplinarian you are Raghav. Or should I say, Lord Ram?" Rudra said. Raghav smiled and asked, "You knew she loved you. Why didn't you get her?" Rudra waited for a while and said, " Because I couldn't take away something so beautiful and important from her. She had the best gift among all of us. She had a human life. A mortal human life that promised the end of suffering as well as gave a reason to your existence. I couldn't take that away." Raghav looked at the destroyer speak his heart for the first time. His blue neck radiated energy, which just beautified his personality. The crescent in the sky adjourned his man bun on the top. As Raghav looked on, a cobra slithered its way from Rudra's feet to his waist, up to his back and coiled around his neck like a necklace. Raghav couldn't help but bow down to the deity in front of him as he said, "Om Namah Shivaay."