Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Progati - The tale of Progress (Part VII)

"Rewa is dead"
"What?", I asked.
"Yes, Rewa is dead. I'm Progati", her tone was icy as she uttered these words and her hand which still held mine seemed to have lost all its warmth in an instance.

For a full minute, all four of us looked at one another, not speaking a word. Finally, it was Nabin who recovered and said, "Rewa was christened Progati by my late mother on our wedding day. Ever since, she likes to be called Progati and not Rewa."
"Nice try Nabin!",
I thought, " but your explanation does not cover up for the intensity in Rewa's voice, nor for her sudden rigidity."

We chatted on for a while then, the way people who've met after ages would - where do you live now, where do you work, do you have kids, how old, what are they doing etc. After about five minutes of re-familiarization, we ran out of topics and stood looking around, somewhat awkwardly. Rewa's behavior had killed the host of questions in my mind about the last twelve years. Where had she been? What had she done? And most importantly, why had she married Nabin? Why did she go from being Rewa to Progati? Why did being addressed as Rewa upset her so much?

My cell phone buzzed. Aftaab had arrived with Abbu and the kids, and I excused myself from the group.
"Don't forget the Gosht-a-la-Saira Bashir!", said Neel.
"I won't" , I smiled at him and turned to leave.
"Saira", Rewa had called out to me.
I turned and looked up at her questioningly. She asked for my cell number. We exchanged the numbers and set out to meet my family, leaving behind the thoughts and memories of the past one-hour at the entrance of the hall.

The drudgery and pace of routine life pushed Rewa to the back of my mind, and I really didn't think much of her till last week. When my colleague Mrs. Aarti Ahuja approached me for an endorsement, the first person I thought of was Rewa. Mrs. Ahuja was all of 55 kgs, had graying hair and looked like a complete push-over. That had been my first impression about her. But true to the saying, her looks proved deceptive. She was the HoD of the humanities department of our college and involved with a host of charity organizations and NGOs. She had recently undertaken a fifteen day tour of the tribal areas in MP and had returned with a steely will to do something for the women back there. Her plan was to spread awareness about the appalling conditions of those women and then campaign for their improvement. And to spread awareness, she wanted people to pitch in. Getting acclaimed writers to do articles in newspapers and magazines seemed like a good idea to start, but I didn't consider she was going to ask me to write an article. When she did, immediately thought of Rewa.
"I know someone who would be more suited for this job, Mrs. Ahuja"
"Heard of Progati?"
"Progati, the same one who wrote Sudha?"
"Yes, the same one"
"Oh, that will be great. If she endorses this cause, we will surely get some positive results"

I smiled at Mrs. Ahuja's child like enthusiasm. It was almost as if the old lady was transformed into a little girl. Later that evening, I rang Rewa. She sounded dull, I wondered why. But, I didn't ask and she didn't tell. We decided to meet the next afternoon, in a swanky cafe close to my college. I wondered what my students would say when they see me walk into their regular joint!

I chuckled at the thought next afternoon, walking down to the cafe. It was a cloudy day, and the pleasant breeze ruffled my hair. A few youngsters did turn their heads when they saw me enter the place, but they went back to their chattering almost immediately. I spotted Rewa sitting in a corner and took the chair facing her.

"Hi", she made the beginning.

"So what was the important thing you wanted to discuss with me?", she came straight to the point. A thing that suited me for I was hoping to reach home sooner that day. The kids loved it when I unexpectedly arrived home early.
"A colleague of mine has surveyed tribal areas in MP and I've seen some of the reports. The women there live in a pathetic state. Can you believe it, some of them are grandmothers at the age of twenty-nine!", I was surprised the amount of passion in my own voice.
"So?", her tone was cool. No emotion betrayed.
"I wanted you to endorse the cause of those tribal women in MP"
"Sorry Saira, I can't do that!"