"Progati?" this wasn't making any sense.
"Yes, for Progati. For progress"
Her words were interrupted by the buzzing of her cell-phone.
"Hi Nabin....... No no, I'm not at home. I'm with a friend of mine. You remember Saira..... yeah, Dr. Saira Bashir....... nothing, we are just reminiscing old times...... yeah, I'll be home soon..... Shukto, again?....... but we had it the day before......... No I..... Fine, I'll tell Paro to make it for dinner...... ok.... bye"
She put it down with an exasperated look on her face, then turned to me and said, "That was Nabin. He wants to eat Shukto again tonight."
"Yeah, it's a supposed speciality. I hate it, and he wants to eat it everyday. He hates maharashtrian food. That's why I never cook for him. We've got Paro, a girl from Kolkata to do all the Bengali style cooking for him."
"Why don't you learn Bengali style cooking?"
"Why should I?"
"Because Nabin likes it."
"But I don't"
The cell phone buzzed again. But this time, it was mine.
"Are there any windows?"
"Are there any windows where you are?"
"Yes, there are. Why??
"Can't you see the weather outside? The storm is raging."
"Of Aftaab, I don't worry about a bit of rain."
"Well, my fearless Nadia, you don't, but I do. And that is not a bit of rain. So tell me where you are, and I'll come and pick you up"
"There is no need for that. I can find my way home. I won't get lost or wander away. Ok daddy?"
"Stop kidding Saira, and tell me where you are"
"I'm in the cafe near college."
"What are you doing there? Isn't afternoon too early to be dating?"
"If I were dating, you'd be with me hubby dear. I am with Rew..... er Progati"
"Did she agree?"
"“To do the piece on tribal women"
"That was Aftaab", I said to her. She nodded, and said "I'm repeating myself, but you are very lucky. Nabin called too, merely to order the dinner menu. He didn't ask me where I was, or what I was doing, forget offering to pick me up", at that moment, I saw a fleeting look of jealousy pass her face. That was most unbelievable. All those years when I was cooped up at home, helping ammi with housework, reading my schoolbooks, I often thought of the free life Rewa had. I often wished that I sprout wings and fly away into the sky, freed from the bondage of my life. I often wished I could change places with her. And today she, Rewa was jealous of me, of my life. But then, did I really want to do it? All those years I fantasized about living her life. But today I know that would mean giving up on ammi's love, abbu's affection, and the warmth and security of my childhood. No, I definitely did not want that. My chain of thoughts was broken when she continued, "You have such a caring loving family."
"And a husband who cares. He is coming to pick you up. Right?"
"Mine would never bother. He just doesn't care."
"Do I what?"
"Do you care about him? Don't answer me. Answer yourself. Perhaps he would care, if you care too. Perhaps he cares, but is too intimidated to show it."
"Yes, of the steel willed independent woman. If she needs to be taken care of, she has to let her husband know. If she needs to be shown love, she has to show her love."
"What will that accomplish?"
"You have progressed so much in life. From the days you lived in your aun't fear to the days when you were the most popular and confident girl in school. From those days to being the idol of so many girls your age. Yes, Rewa was the one a lot of girls idolised. What if she wasn't a miss universe, she was intellegent and confident and talented and wittty. Not only that, she was courageous You have progressed, but you can progress a lot more, with a little bit of love. If you have that, you'll have a perfect life. Well, as perfect as human life can be. But if you want love, you have to first give it."
"Do you believe in signs?" I asked, a little surprised.
"Yes. I do." She turned to look at me and said, "What you told me just now.... "
"Stop. I guess I needed to be told what you told me. All through my journey of progress, I have done things only for myself. I have never given back. And looking at you now, so happy and content, I realize what I have been missing out on. I don't know if I can have all that you do, but I sure can give it a try and hope to be successful.", there was a change visible in her manner. A feeble one, but a change nevertheless. The way she spoke, the way she looked, the way she carried herself. The cold stiffness seemed to be receding, and a warmth was seeping into her demeanor. Just like the clouds breaking up outside and the sun shining through.
"I am sure that you would."
That was when Aftaab's car turned around the counter, and we said our goodbyes. I walked to my husband's side, whose face relaxed when he saw that I was fine. Before getting into the car, I turned back and looked at her. She was walking towards her car, on the other side of the road, on her way to progress.
The inspiration to write Progati was a line that someone once said to me. It went something like "People are not always what they seem. You can't judge a person based on a few interactions. Its only when you know everything, including circumstances, do you really require why and how people are how they are." I don't remember when and how I heard this. But one fine day, I just remembered it and Rewa and Saira were born. My current mood has severly affected my writing. I guess thats evident. But the end is generally what I hand in mind. Finally, do give me your comments. How did you find this tale? Good or bad. Nice or Rotten. Whatever you felt, honestly...