It was the second anniversary of Aritra Dasgupta’s novel, ‘The anatomy of longing’, which had consistently featured among the top ten bestselling books, for the last four months.‘Bookland,’ one of the oldest bookstores in Kolkata, had offered to host a reading event to celebrate the book’s success. Aritra graced the occasion, dressed in light blue shirt and black trousers, his salt and pepper hair side-parted, his sad, deep eyes curtained with black square glasses.
Aritra stared at the rows of chairs meant for the audience. A wave of pain swept over him as he reminisced about the genesis of the novel. The announcement broke his train of thought. Aritra gulped down the glass of water and cleared his throat. He turned over to the bookmarked page, and started reading a passage from his novel.
“His languid daydreams fossilized into meandering agony. The hollow deepened with each passing day. He yearned for that familiar scent that blanketed him, even after they’d parted for the day. He yearned for her tinkling voice that animated his spirit. But, the more he thought about her, the more the finality of their farewell seeped into his being. The piercing tape of melancholy ran in a continuous loop.” Aritra’s voice still choked every now and then, while reading.
The staff of the bookstore wheeled in a cake with two candles flickering on it, after the reading. Aritra blew the candles amidst loud cheers of ‘Happy second anniversary’ and ‘To many more’.
People had queued up to greet the author. At the end of the queue stood a woman with a broad smile.
“Can you recognize me?” the woman said, holding up a picture, in front of Aritra. The picture was three decades old. Aritra’s eyes lingered on the face of a young girl, with long, braided hair and happy, crinkled eyes. Aritra stood beside her, grinning. He couldn’t recall the names of the other people in the frame.
“I can only recognize Rosalin. Age is catching up to me, I believe,” Aritra said.
“I am Shreyashi, Rosalin’s best friend,” the woman replied, pointing at herself in the picture.
“I remember now. It’s been so long. We were only twenty-four, in that picture,” Aritra said.
“A long time, indeed. By the way, I loved your novel, especially the happy ending,” Shreyashi said.
“It took me a long time to settle on that ending.” Aritra sighed.
“Aritra, Rosalin has come back from London, for good. She is in the city. I wanted her to meet you once.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea. She is married. She is happy. I don’t want to disturb her peace, after all these years.”
“She has very little time, Aritra.”
“I don’t understand.”
Shreyashi fell silent for a while. “She is battling stage four cervical cancer. That’s the reason she came back from London. She wanted to spend her remaining days in her birthplace.”
An icy sheet descended upon Aritra’s heart. The lump in his throat made his words inaudible.
Memories of a couple, head over heels in love, discussing History and Literature in Coffee House, hunting for rare books in the alleys of College street, savoring the mouth-watering and inexpensive street food, stealing a kiss in the empty classroom, flashed before Aritra’s eyes.
“Rosalin remembers you every single day. Meeting you would be such a release for her.”
“When and where can I meet her?”
“She is in the hospital. You can come with me. The visiting hour starts in another forty minutes.”
“I have a special visitor for you today, Rosalin – Aritra Dasgupta, your classmate,” Shreyashi said.
Rosalin’s weary eyes lit up .“What?” she asked, latching on to Shreyshi’s arm.
Aritra walked up to Rosalin’s bed. The twenty-five-year-old bubbly girl was now a fifty-five-year-old woman, battling a fatal disease, multiple needles and devices clamped to her body. His heart ached and tears clouded his eyes.
“Am I dreaming?” Rosalin asked.
Shreyashi shook her head.“Bookland hosted a reading event today to celebrate the second anniversary of the release of Aritra’s novel. I followed him there.” Shreyashi squeezed Rosalin’s palm and excused herself.
“Many congratulations, Aritra,” Rosalin said.
Aritra handed the bouquet of white Tuberoses to Rosalin.
“You still remember my favorite flowers, Ari” Rosalin said.
“Of course, Rose.”
“Rose… sounds divine when you say it. How I have longed to hear it,” Rosalin said, closing her eyes.
“I wish I knew you were here,” Aritra said.
“I thought you’d never forgive me. I had broken your heart, married someone else, just to honor my parent’s wishes to marry within the community. I had pretended to be happy, whenever you’d reached out, especially before leaving for London with my husband. But, my life has been so empty, Ari.” Rosalin’s voice quavered.
“We were young and naïve, Rose. It wasn’t your fault. Perhaps, the destiny of our love was a lifetime of longing.”
“Would you hold my hand, Ari? Like college days?”
Aritra looked at Rosalin’s hand, purplish-pink with needle-marks. He held it gently.
“I am grateful, Rose, that I didn’t listen to the ‘no’s’ in my head, and went ahead with publishing the book. Grateful that it became a bestseller, recently.Grateful that Bookland hosted the reading event today and that I didn’t decline their invitation. So grateful to your good friend Shreyashi. The book has brought me to you, Rose.”
“Yes, your book has been our lucky charm, Ari. And, Shreyashi has been more than family. She reads out bits and pieces of your book to me. I adore the unconditional devotion in your words and how you’ve immortalized our love story. Oh! How very much I wish to live to read all the books that you shall write,” Rosalin said, panting for breath.
“You shall live long, my dear Rose.” Aritra swallowed back his tears.
“Long sounds good, very good indeed. This seems like a happy ending, Ari,” Rosalin whispered.
Aritra kissed Rosalin’s forehead. A serene smile bloomed across his beloved Rose’s face.