The face looked strangely familiar to her – the well brushed salt and pepper mop, the pair of big, bulging eyes staring with all earnestness through a pair of thick lenses and that walk with a slight stoop – everything reminded her of something, somebody, which she could not, at the moment, honestly place a finger on. He was standing by the roadside – his tall frame hunched up against the sharp, piercing draught of ice-cold wind, his ungloved hands dug deep into his trouser pockets trying to hide his ruddy face into the folds of a well-used muffler tied loosely around his neck – when Sonu, the driver, taking pity on the solitary figure swerved the car close to a stand still. The man took the seat by his side thanking him profusely for the unasked lift. She appreciated such acts of kindness. And the man looked decent enough. So she kept quiet.
“This is Loveleen Nigam with the headlines….” blared the car stereo. Soon after, the songs would follow, she thought. Old Hindi Film songs which she loved so much. They sat quietly, all three of them, as the car covered distances in a smooth glide. Forty five minutes later, Sonu pulled the car by a tall tower which was a testimonial of flawless workmanship of glass and metal. It was the office arcade in the centre of the city. The man turned around and looked at her gratefully,” Thank you very much for the lift. You saved me from the painful one and a half hour bus journey to the office. Anyhow, I had missed the usual one that I take and was waiting for the next one which would have taken half an hour longer to reach me here. Thanks once again.” “Hope you will get the right bus and not have any problem going back home in the evening.” She replied softly. He nodded quietly. However, he took a few more minutes to get off the car. She thought his eyes were moist when he had looked away. But she was not sure…It could be the refracting sunlight.
Sonu drove away through the throng of traffic. “Tum mujhe yun bhula na paaogey….” The sad lilting voice of Lata Mangeshkar filled the inside of the car like a swirling mist. Sonu was looking at her intently through the rear view mirror. Madame had again receded into a cocoon of forgetfulness. What had Sahab said? It was a disease with her…a disease with a complicated name…Al….Alza…He couldn’t pronounce it easily. So he left it at that. The song had now changed to a foot tapping, romantic number. Sonu loved the song. “Pyar mein kabhie kabhie aisa ho jaata hai.….” The lyrics made him pine more for Mamta, whom he fondly called Mammo. She was the tea-seller’s daughter. They had their stall at the far end of the gully where he stayed. Sonu would one day marry Mammo. It was all decided. He would work for a few years more and then buy a second hand car from his savings to start his own transport business. And then he would ask for her hand from her father. Until then he had to take care of Madam whenever Sahab was not around or at work.
Back home in the village, he had always seen his father returning home late at night horribly drunk abusing and beating his mother in anger and frustration. Her only sin was that she was married to a person who did not have the spine to retaliate back to the world outside which was too powerful and demanding on him. Notwithstanding, she would wake up each morning to serve him tea and pack his lunch with a smile on her bruised lips and shine in her blackened eyes when it was time for him to leave for duty.
Later in the night, Sonu wondered what made a marriage tick ? Was it love or something more? He did not have the answer. And thinking too much about anything gave him a head ache. So he sighed deeply, changed side and closed his eyes firmly. Tomorrow, he had to take Madam out for her morning ride to all those places where Sahab thought she might be able to regain her lost memory. Everyday, they would play the same game of picking Sahab up by the roadside and dropping him to office pretending that he was a total stranger asking for a lift as he had missed his bus because that was the way Madam and Sahab had first met almost thirty years back.
Would Madam ever remember anything or ever recognize Sahab for that matter? Sonu did not know. But one thing was certain. As he was losing himself in the soporific maze of wispy dreams, Mammo would be there waiting for him….to show him the way.