Bhoomi walked down the loveless lane with her characteristic tread weighing her down as everything else was- the bulky satchel she was carrying, the painful hours at work, the loneliness of her heart, the load on her mind…Ironical, for one who herself was a psychologist by profession. Bhoomi who had been tutored to believe that work was worship had worked incessantly for seven long years without allowing herself a single indulgence. She considered herself married to her job. Not very surprising that the seven year itch had begun.
Lately, she had found herself at a loss to provide genuine counsel. Internalization of sorrow, strife, anger, angst, conflict, turmoil, guilt and hatred for years had probably taken its toll. Bhoomi was overwhelmed and burdened by the immense anguish of her people. And like the earth she had no catharsis…
As she inserted the key into the lock of her home, she recalled (with some shame) the incident which had transpired at work that day. This could not be happening to her! She was the regal Bhoomi who had prided herself for her strength and self-possession. There seemed nothing overtly amiss in the scene in front. A perfectly normal family- father, mother seated with their lovely albeit glum child. The child had suddenly lapsed into silence and refused to speak for the past two days, the normal father explained in normal tones to which the normal mum nodded normally. Then Bhoomi had noticed them- the furious purple bruises on the little girl’s inner palms. The fear in the child’s eyes was unmistakable as the parents stated coaxing her to speak (or were they cryptically threatening her to remain shut? Was all this a stressed Bhoomi’s imagination working over-time?) Their voices seemed to grow now close then hazy, then boomingly loud. Bhoomi suddenly experienced a peculiar feeling of unreality about the whole situation. The bruises on the child’s palms. Bhoomi had then rushed out into the open air, flung herself headlong on the earth and cried continuously.
She had been advised to return home early. As the heavy night descended, woven within the pattern of hush, bringing with it awareness of the limitless unknown, sleep evaded her. As she lay gazing at the galaxy above, an unfamiliar discontent or unexplored poetry brimmed inside her. Her usually obedient heart was palpitating wildly. Her mind, a wildly galloping mustang raced ahead of her, desperately covering the vastly stretched out days, weeks, months, years, decades that lay ahead. She desperately tried to grab its reigns, in vain. In vain.
The days that unfurled were no different. Bhoomi was spaced out, couldn’t settle down and concentrate and as a consequence drew stares (and glares) at work.
She needed a reprieve and thought her terrace was the best haven. Under the twilight sky sparkling with the Stella Matudina, she let her scattering thoughts blow the wind. With the uncanny accuracy one feels when someone is watching, she turned around to face a person or vision. The tall fair woman who stood in front of her was wrapped in pale ivory gossamer. She was lean, barefooted and devoid of any make-up. With her pale wavy hair blending with her skin and clothing, the effect was to put in a single word- harmony. Her ethereal eyes held truths that harked back to time immemorial, so ancient that the concept of time had probably not been documented as yet even. She was a stranger, yet Bhoomi knew her somewhere in the secret crevices of her being. The woman smiled. She held Bhoomi’s hand with an unreserved familiarity and led her to the far end of the terrace. Her tread was light, almost non-existent and it seemed to Bhoomi that they were flying. They stood in soothing silence gazing up at the open skies. Suddenly the sky dazzled in a colourful extravaganza of lights. Their beauty was ephemeral yet in a way permanent. It was a show no fire crackers could match. Bhoomi hadn’t witnessed anything as spectacular before. Having savoured the moments with every speck of her being, she turned around. Her companion was gone.
The next morning Bhoomi woke up with luminous eyes and smiled at her self in the mirror. Her healthy voluptuous figure and clear dark-wheatish skin seemed appealing to her for the first time in her life. She dressed with unusual care and left for work with a spring in her step. Her lovely presence drew many an admiring glance and compliment.
Standing somewhere in the unseen, her companion of the previous evening was smilingly taking it all in. Bhoomi had learnt her first lesson well.
Over the next few days, Bhoomi was absorbed during working hours, but as the sun dipped below the horizon, her heart was filled with grief and a deep yearning for her parents who were no more. During these hours she felt bitter and resented the familial happiness of others. She also felt unkindly towards her parents for having left her all alone. A lone tear rolled down her eye which someone gently wiped. Bhoomi wasn’t very surprised to see that it was the lady whom she had unconsciously begin to label her ‘friend’. The friend wafted off and bhoomi followed like one in a trance. Her friend unbolted the door and voila! They were on the sea-shore in the magical moonlight. With glazed eyes Bhoomi sat down on the soft white sands, strewn with shells. As she was toying with one, something hit her with a force so massive that sent her toppling backwards. Mirroring the hate still rampant in the world, the ocean too had turned savage. Bhoomi began to panic as tall forceful crests of greenish frothy white waves beat to and fro the shore hitting both herself and the other woman. Both of them were completely damp, yet her friend with natural serenity of mind and grace of movement sat down on a rock arranging her delicate feet on its dents. Then she began to sing. Clear pristine strains from a different world emanated from her lips which sang melancholy sagas of separation, sweet tales of love that had or hadn’t reached fruition, exotic tunes that reflected the romance of lands far away and joyous ones that celebrated life itself. Bhoomi, seized by multitudinous emotions at once wanted to laugh, cry, mourn, celebrate and cheer. The love and empathy emitted by the music had placated the ocean until he became totally calm. As Bhoomi watched the magical change in the behaviour of the ocean, the woman was quietly walking away. Bhoomi so desperately wanted to stop her. But she didn’t know her name.
As she brushed her teeth in the night, Bhoomi reminiscenced the quality moments she had spent with her mom and dad and suddenly found herself swelling with joy and pride. All the resentment she had felt at their untimely departure from the world was replaced by peace and acceptance. They were a great family even if they had been destined to be together for a short time. Bhoomi fell asleep with a smile on her face.
She woke up to find a white conch on her pillow. The ocean’s rhythmic rise and fall echoed in her ear as she held it close. The magic of the previous night ensconced her once more. As she passed an elderly neighbour whom she usually ignored, Bhoomi cheerfully greeted him (Even if she had to yell ‘Hello Uncle’ four times in his ear before she was finally heard). She patted a child’s head and gave her a chocolate from her purse (Bhoomi was usually not one for sharing, especially not chocolates!). At work, she returned the smile of a colleague (read: male; a likeable young male) whom she noticed for the first time.
It is time to push the fast forward button now. Our protagonist was emitting the most powerful positive frequency that her ‘friend’ intended her to emit. Her persona took on interesting dimensions and people yearned for her company. Never was Bhoomi without an exciting plan of action for the evenings. She had slowly begun enjoying her work once more (though she was yet to master complete detachment). And oh yeah, she and the aforementioned likeable young man had tied the knot. Caught in a frenzy of professional, social and lately domestic activities, her original ‘friend’ had been temporarily forgotten.
The first few months of married life passed smoothly. Aditya was all that Bhoomi could have dreamed of and more and indulged her (a little too much?). He usually agreed with Bhoomi on everything and there was no chance for arguments. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that Bhoomi started losing perspective.
She became acquainted with Aditya’s pal Adarsh and his wife Rita. The two couples started socializing with one another. Bhoomi had to be the presiding converser at every occasion. If Aditya tried to chip in, he was given the royal ignore by his wife and her train of conversation resumed. When the couples attended dancing classes (Salsa, no more no less) Bhoomi tried to polarize everyone’s attention towards herself. She expected a standing ovation for every little thing she did and generally behaved like a much spoilt child. She was in a constant state of being coaxed and cajoled by her husband.
Rita was honest and upright, but Adarsh, a businessman, thought nothing of tweaking rules to become richer. He proposed a business plan to Aditya and asked him if he would accept an equal partnership. Business sounded impossible to Aditya, a devoted psychologist and there was no chance of assent. For Bhoomi to whom the word ‘business’ sparkled with dollar dreams (green leaves), the prospect seemed irresistible. Aditya let himself get talked into it. After all, he couldn’t disappoint his darling wife.
A little voice nagged Aditya all the time. He didn’t have a good feeling about the business but neither could he tell what was wrong. He tried to voice his concerns to Bhoomi who was quick to brush it aside. He spent miserable days missing his previous calling and the satisfaction that he had drawn from it. He started growing increasingly distant from Bhoomi.
The silence was reaching a deafening pitch. The persistent tick-tock of the clock on the mantelpiece and even the sound of their own breathing was getting on Aditya’s nerves. An occasional question posed by Bhoomi was met with a monosyllabic answer, coming from behind the newspaper. She couldn’t even read his face. By now, even Bhoomi had started worrying about everything- finances…their relationship.
Bhoomi went to get the door one day. Aditya stood in the doorway. Bhoomi barely recognized him. It was a real shock to see an otherwise well dressed man in such a state. His shirt, drenched with sweat hung indifferently over his trousers. The tie which he wore with gusto every morning, hung like a noose around his neck. He warily slumped down on the sofa. ‘He has cheated on us, Bhoomi’, he finally said. ‘Adarsh has absconded with all we’d invested’. Aditya went on to say something about Rita but Bhoomi wasn’t listening. She had gone into a state of shock and had to be given a sedative. She went into a deep slumber and woke up after hours. Aditya wasn’t there.
In the meantime Aditya sat facing a quiet Rita. Her eyes reflected the extreme shame of betrayal. It turned out that he had taken all the cash and jewelry she had as well and she had nowhere else to go but her parents who had always been skeptical of Adarsh. Yet Rita had not questioned his integrity once. ‘I wish I had’, she said sadly. ‘Then I wouldn’t have been ashamed to face you people today’. I can’t be sorry enough’, she started weeping softly. Aditya sat down beside the distressed woman to comfort her. Bhoomi walked in. Aditya read unreasonable suspicion in her eyes as she rushed out.
Aditya caught up with her. ‘Pretty women don’t wander alone at midnight. She needs a brawny escort’. ‘Who may in turn prefer the company of other women’, Bhoomi retorted. ‘Bhoomi’, Aditya was stunned, ‘She’s also sailing in the same boat as us. Poor thing’. ‘Poor thing! Oh, I see now!’ Bhoomi spat. The temper that Aditya had carefully held on check gave way and he started yelling at her. ‘Offence is the best form of defense’- is that your tactic you dumb woman? Neither should I have listened to you, neither would we have ushered trouble in. I tried telling you that business wasn’t for the likes of us and you didn’t listen. Now thanks to you, your majesty, we are in royal soup!’ The clouds had turned a menacing cola black and rain threatened to come down in torrents. ‘On top of this mess, you insist on entertaining baseless suspicious. I think its best we get a divorce’. With this Aditya walked away leaving a wretched Bhoomi on the deserted street. ‘I have ruined everything. Everything’, she thought in misery. Powerful lightening struck and she hysterically challenged it to strike her down. Finally rain poured down washing Bhoomi’s tears along with it.
‘Time is but an illusion’, had said the great Einstein once. Bhoomi had no inking as to for how long she had stood in the unkind downpour. She was barely conscious of anything. Something like a rainbow encased her….what? A rainbow in the dead of night? Bhoomi mumbled something incoherently. ‘It isn’t a rainbow’, she said to herself. A vibrant multi-hued umbrella was being held above her head, protecting her. Some kind soul had gently put an arm around her and was slowly walking her. ‘Aditya….’, she assumed. As she rested her head on the benevolent shoulder, a tassel of fair her caressed her cheek. Bhoomi didn’t have to look up. She knew who it was.
Bhoomi felt a lovely solace when around her mysterious friend’s aura. She walked on with the woman, not questioning intention or destination. Time passed- the sun devoured night. The earth was abounding with soft rays and the fresh crispness of a good morning. A group of children had gathered around something and they scattered to make way for Bhoomi and her friend as they approached. A coven of crows were, with predatory fervour, pecking on a hapless parakeet. As Bhoomi shooed the crows off, her friend gently picked the bleeding creature up. Its eyes were closed tightly shout and it barely seemed to be breathing. The friend bent down and kissed the top of its soft green head. Bhoomi watched enchanted as the near comatose parakeet’s eyes fluttered open and its wounds healed miraculously. It flapped its wings with vigorous energy, communicating its urgency to take flight. Bhoomi thought that it would be a real shame to let such a marvelous creature go and was envisaging it in a wonderful cage. Before she could voice her thoughts, her friend released it in one fluid movement. There wasn’t a more liberating sight than that of the pretty green parakeet soar and fly high in the sky.
As the friend turned to go, Bhoomi caught hold of her arm. ‘Who are you?’, she breathed. Silence. ‘At least, tell me your name’, Bhoomi pleaded. ‘Maya’, the woman whispered as she became a part of the early morning mist.
The time to ruminate on the inevitable had come. Who was this enigma she encountered time and again? A stranger, yet not a stranger. A patron and model of beauty. She could have been one of the aesthetic marvels on Keats’ Grecian urn. A saviour. The Goddess of love and empathy like Florence Nightingale or Mother Teresa. A shaman; a healing touch. A lesson in the Golden mean and stoicism like the Buddha. A teacher in prudence. A value? Detachment personified. She was immersed in the glory of the world yet not drowning in its tears. Was she an illusion or a mirage? Was she magic or a medium of the occult? Was she the endorphin of laughter…a whiff of tantalizing perfume….the silvery flow of river in the moonlight? WHAT WAS SHE? Was she air, water, fire, earth or ether? Truth dawned on Bhoomi. To come to think of it she had always known- in the depths of her being. Her friend was the perfect balance of all the five magnificent elements of the universe. She could belong to any of us, yet she was free. She was Maya- the cosmic woman.
Maya- the child of the universe who had served as her guiding star whenever her life had been in turmoil. The free spirit who had wafted in and out of her life to help. The abstraction that had taught her the concept of beauty, love, empathy and detachment and had illustrated the same through mirific illustrations. But would those suffice? Bhoomi was human after all. Could she be a cosmic person at all? Could she ever conquer moderation? Free her patients of problems without absorbing theirs? Could she handle social popularity while keeping her feet firmly planted on the ground? Could she grow along with another person without smothering him? Could she be successful in all areas of life without being ego-centric? Did Maya exist at all or was she losing it? Absorbed in thoughts, Bhoomi had reached the vast open spaces only a little distance away from her house. She believed in the all or none law. There were only two paths open to her to choose- either go cosmic or vanish from the face of the earth becoming a part of it. As if on cue, the ground in front of her split open- the earth inviting her namesake to be permanently become a part of her. There’d be no more joys; no more cares- just cessation. People could walk over her oblivious to the fact that she was embedded inside. The thought aroused a duality of feeling- the thrill of anonymity as well as the sorrow of alienation. Bhoomi’s eyes held a hazy look of contemplation. The winds impatiently howled in her ears awaiting her decision. Her eyes took on the focus of decision. Her jaw set determinedly, she crossed the parted lips of the earth. She had accepted Maya’s challenge. She glanced back to see the ground as smooth as ever with no crack in it. Had the earth’s opened mouth been her fancy?
Bhoomi walked home and led herself in through a key. Aditya was still asleep. The door bell trilled. Who could it be at eight-thirty am on a Sunday morning, Bhoomi wondered. Smoothening her hair, she opened the door to let a stranger in…a gentleman wearing a black coat- a lawyer. Apparently, she Bhoomi had inherited a huge legacy from a relative who had recently passed on. She asked the name of the relative, but tried as she did it didn’t ring a bell. Formalities were completed in a jiffy and the lawyer left. Bhoomi looked at the cheque for the first time. The inherited amount was the exact sum she and Aditya had invested in their joint business with Adarsh. Bhoomi rushed outside, her heart thumping wildly. The lawyer could be seen at a distance, walking away. For a split second, his dark form transformed into a familiar pale ivory feminine one. Bhoomi blinked her eyes. He was the lawyer once again, disappearing along the bend of the road into a canopy of trees. No, she hadn’t been dreaming this time. Bhoomi knew who her benefactor was. There were tears of gratitude in her eyes.
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