Lilly was a beautiful and talented girl, who lived in my neighborhood. We studied at the same college and had the opportunity to meet with ease; we were attracted towards each other.
I did not know if I could use the word dating for our meetings in our college canteen, where we had coffee together. As we were neighbors, we used to meet at local festivals and other social events too.
Before moving forward, let me tell some facts about her. She was the only child of the police commissioner of our town who, due to his weaknesses did not have a good image among the people. Later I discovered that my parents did not like him either. As far as I was concerned, I did not bother about his image as I found his behavior in public fine.
Over time, Lily and I grew fonder of each other. I thought about it and realized that we had fallen in love with each other. However, neither of us openly expressed that.
I was from a middle-class family; my father was a teacher. I was the only son. I had three sisters; one older, who was married and two younger. My Father spent a lot on her wedding. For the other two daughters’ marriages, he was counting on his retirement money. He also hoped that I’d soon be employed and would help him in marrying off my two sisters. It implied that I had to quickly find a job after graduation, and take up the responsibility.
I started going for job interviews and before long I was selected for a clerk’s job in a bank. Everyone in the house was very happy. I got posted to a small branch of the bank in a nearby village so I decided to commute daily by bus for a few weeks. I thought of finding a rented accommodation later in the village itself to save time for study and prepare for the competitive examinations for better jobs.
After orientation on the first day, I trained four weeks to eventually work alone and deal with the clients.
After commuting for a few weeks, I found a place in the village to stay as a paying guest.
Now that I was gainfully employed marriage proposals from parents of unmarried girls started pouring in. Pictures were exchanged, horoscopes matched, interviews carried and others invited us to meet their daughters. There was nothing strange about all this. I told my family that I was not going to marry for the next two or three years as I wanted to try for some better job. Actually, this was an excuse to buy some time. I wished to marry Lily.
One day, I gathered courage and asked my mother’s opinion about my marriage with Lily. I had no idea that such a lovely natured, beautiful, and educated girl would face opposition. Mother did not look happy with my proposal. She did not say anything adverse about Lily, but she had a negative image of her parents and thought that Lily would not fit into our family.
I did not discuss anything further about Lily with my parents.
I realized that my thinking was narrow; I thought that I would get a wife by marrying. But my parents required a daughter-in-law of their choice from a family of their liking. My sisters wanted a sister–in–law of their liking because they loved me and wanted me to be happy after marriage. I had never thought that people could be an obstruction to your happiness out of goodwill too.
By that time, neither Lily nor I had declared our love for each other. Perhaps she was holding back because of shyness. I was procrastinating, as I was not happy with my job and I was afraid of rejection; Lily had once told me her father was quite ambitious regarding her marriage. Therefore, I decided to study hard and crack the Indian civil service examination in a year or two and then to propose.
I rented a room in the village and stayed there. I started preparing for the Civil Service examination, reducing my visits to my town. I met Lily a few times in between, but those were brief and formal meetings. In my small town, it was too difficult for a boy and a girl to be together without attracting public attention.
One year passed. I had taken the examination of ICS. I was happy with my performance and eagerly waited for the result.
On one Sunday, when I was at my house, I noticed a marriage invitation card lying on a shelf. I picked up that card to have a close look. My heart almost stopped. That card was for Lily's marriage -- the date of marriage was two weeks ago. I rushed to her house. There I realized it was too late and everything was over. I came back to my house and asked my family why they did not inform me about Lily's marriage. All remained silent for a while. Then my father spoke thus, “What was there to tell you? That miserly fellow, Lily’s father did not invite me with family. I only attended her marriage and blessed the couple. The girl is lucky. She got married to a handsome young man from a good family.”
I was frustrated. No one cared about my feelings. I went to my room and cried out my heart.
As is said, time is a great healer.
After a few months, I got a job as a commercial inspector in the railways
In a few years’ time, I married a nice girl, approved by my family members. My sisters also got married to suitable men.
I worked in different cities. Several times, I asked my parents to live with us, but they could not overcome the attachment to our native place and ancestral house. Sometimes they visited us for a few days some time we visited them.
Ten years had elapsed since I joined railways and my posting was in Delhi. I was busy with my family and work. My family now included one 8-year-old daughter.
One night at about 11 o’clock, I got a call over the phone. My father was on the line. He delivered the very sad news. My mother had passed away. I cried. It was the first time my wife and daughter had seen me crying. I told them about my mother’s demise and asked them to get ready to go to my parent’s place.
A taxi drove us to my parent’s house at Orai. We got there in the morning. People were waiting for us. After we reached there, my mother’s dead body was carried to the cremation ground. I felt something snap within me.
After the funeral, when the crowd thinned, my father looked very sad and lonely. We had to give a customary funeral feast for our relatives and friends on the thirteenth day after the death so we decided to leave after the feast of the thirteenth day.
My mother had a separate room in wherein was a small temple of Shree Krishna. She always kept that room locked except the time when she prayed there. Other members of the family seldom enter that room.
On the day after the feast, we had to return to Delhi. Just before leaving for Delhi, I felt an urge to go into the mother's room to pray, and also to gather and preserve a few more last memories belonging to my mother. I prayed before the idol of Shree Krishna for a few minutes. After the prayer, I looked around the room. There was a small wardrobe, a large chest, and a few boxes. I casually opened a box. That box contained our old family photographs and some letters. There I found an envelope having my name on it. That envelope was unsealed and there was a letter inside. I took out that letter and read. I was shocked that letter was written by Lily addressed to me a few days before her marriage. The Letter said she loved me and waited for my proposal that never came. She told about her desire to marry me to her parents. Her parents did not consider me a suitable match for her. After the day she spoke her heart to her parents, they did not allow her to go anywhere alone. With much difficulty, she had sent that letter to my house. Moreover, she wanted to meet me as soon as possible. She had also written about the venue and the time of our meeting.
I wondered, ‘Why the letter was not given to me. Did my mother forget to give it to me or did she not give it to me intentionally? Alternatively, had any other member of my family kept it there without my mother’s knowledge?’
I felt guilty and sad thinking about the pain, frustration, and heartbreak Lily must have felt. I cried for Lily, forgetting for a while that I was a married man and a father.
I put that letter in my pocket and came outside the room. My family was waiting for me. We set out for Delhi by the same taxi we arrived there. When our taxi reached the bridge over the river Yamuna, I told the driver to stop. I hurriedly went to the side railing of the bridge and dropped the letter into the sacred water of Yamuna.
When I returned to taxi my wife asked, “What happened?”
I said, "Needed some fresh air.”
The Taxi pulled forward and again started running toward Delhi.
In a few days, we returned to our normal routine. Later, I came to know that Lily was happy with her family and living in Kanpur. This lessened my guilt largely.
I do remember Lily sometimes, but have no complaints against my mother or any other member of my family. My mother had reached the age when memory starts fading. For other members of my family, I believe it happened because of some inadvertent negligence. Perhaps things were fated this way.
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