Moin and I met for the first time in the staff room, where I was getting ready for my first ever lecture and Moin had just debuted and returned to pavilion. We looked at each other, immediately guessed that it was our first day. The nervousness could tell that. He wished me luck and I congratulated him. He was not able to hide his excitement and my anxiety was clearly visible. ‘I should not be late,’ I said and rushed to the classroom. I felt sorry that I cut his further gesture of making me feel comfortable, but I had no choice but to rush to the class. Moreover, how to handle classes is not something I was going to learn from someone 50 minutes senior to me.
My lecture went great. I went to the staff-room with smile on my face; two women sitting on the wooden chairs discussing, looked up at me and went back to their talk. One of them wore a blue Salwaar kameez and looked comparatively younger. She looked at me for a few more seconds and smiled a little. I grinned at her, but she didn’t see that. I felt sheepish of myself. I sat down and started sorting the books.
‘Oh, hello! How was your first lecture?’ I heard from my back. I was irritated with the word first as it made me feel inferior to others as the two women cared to pause a little and look at me. I turned around; it was the same person I met before my lecture. He came forward, greeted me and introduced himself.
‘I am Moin; tell me how your lecture was? How did it go?’ I liked his dropping the f word this time. I introduced myself and added further,
‘Oh it was pretty comfortable; after all it’s about winning your student’s hearts you know.’ I said trying to sound as confident as possible. He heard me and smiled back. His smile made me feel a little immature.
The two women started having interest in our conversation. Moin and I both sensed it. Moin was probably used to these situations so he asked me to follow him. We went to the canteen. I was expecting him to comment on the women but he kept quiet. We settled on a single table and Moin asked for two coffees.
‘I hope you don’t mind my ordering a coffee for you, you like coffee do you?’ He asked.
‘Oh of course, thank you!’ I said looking at the canteen and then at him. Moin was dressed in formals. His off white plain formal shirt against navy blue trousers looked more like a uniform.
‘Looks like you come here very often, you know quite a lot about this place!’ I said, trying to know more about him.
‘Actually yes, I studied here. My wife also did a small course from this college.’ She is a graduate in Economics, now she is doing another course in Public Administration!’ he proudly said.
I was surprised to know that Moin was married. He looked older than me but his marriage took me by surprise. I could see the glow on his face and sparkle in his eyes when he spoke about his wife. It was evident as he had given quite a lot of information about his wife which was not asked for. Moin was not only married but he had a four years old daughter, who was very beautiful. It was a love marriage and they had to elope as none of their parents agreed to their marriage. A first ever meeting and I knew quite a lot about his family. Briefly, all I could gather about him was, he loved his family. He did his specialization in Psychology and he taught in another college in Pune before he got this opportunity. He also does career and personal counseling.
‘So you are a completely settled man I see!’ I said. He smiled gratefully and said nothing. He checked his watch and excused himself to make a call. I was pretty sure he was going to call his wife.
The canteen was a busy place. There were a few tables on the left and a partition to my right. To my left was a young couple, who was probably discussing a date. Mostly all the tables were occupied for similar situations by different faces. Right in front of me was a group sitting and celebrating someone’s birthday. I thought of my college days. Moin too looked to have lost himself in thoughts as he got back from his call and settled. As I took the last sip from my cup and put it on the table, Moin came back to his senses.
‘I am sorry, he said, I was lost.’ One of my closest friends is coming here for some work. We did our schooling together. In fact, he teaches Public Administration to Najma, she has opted for the elective.
‘That’s quite good news. She must be getting a special attention in the class.’ I said casually but Moin looked offended. Just a conversation of few minutes made me realize he was very defensive about his wife. I somehow was disgusted with that defensiveness of his. Moin was quiet and did not say a word post my comment till he finally broke the ice.
‘Rasool should be here in sometime, I hope I get to introduce you to each other.’
‘That sounds great!’ I said with a melodramatic enthusiasm. I find it very difficult to befriend people in the first meeting. First of all it was Moin, now Rasool.’ Moreover, Najma, without a formal introduction was already added to my friend list. In the meantime, I noticed one interesting trait of Moin as a person. He had forgotten that he was disappointed with me some time back; the fact that I was going to be added to their group was news in itself for him. He was happy; perhaps, he knew how to find ways to be happy. There may be the other side to many of the facets of his life, but he had a positive and secured view point towards his life that made him happy and for pretty obvious reasons he never thought of coming out of it.
Rasool was not as good looking as Moin but he had a charm. He was energetic and quick witted. As he sat down, he looked at me and asked Moin who I was. I tried smiling at him but he overlooked me. When introductions were made he stared at me for some time and cleared his throat. ‘So you teach English?’ ‘Yes, and you teach Public Administration, I said grinning at him!’ He glared at me again clearing his throat and eying the expression on Moin’s face. He specializes in Politics and Public Administration is one of the disciplines that he covers.’ Moin Said without a single expression on his face. As I had to rush for an extra lecture, I excused myself. Moin wanted me to stay on and take part in the discussion but I was reluctant and so was Rasool. As Rasool was there for some work, I did not get to see of him after that day. I was glad. Moin however became a regular buddy at the college.
The next few months went smoothly. One cup of coffee with Moin after the lecture became a routine. Najma was a regular whenever Moin spoke but he avoided talking about Rasool. If sometimes he spoke, he would change the topic quickly. At times, when Moin spoke about life, his daughter, his family and most importantly his wife, I felt how stupid he was. Whenever he narrated any of their outing experiences or their gatherings, there always was a scope for a loophole. He never questioned anything nor did he bother to rethink any of the situations or occurrences. Either he was very innocent or he was deliberately being a fool. This mystery, sometimes I thought will not unfold until I meet his beloved wife Najma.
One day when I was done with all my lectures, I was sitting in the staff room going through the daily newspaper. There was no one but the younger lecturer whom I had seen on my very first day in the college. As I began getting along with the other members in the staff room, this lady lecturer was one who showed keen interest in talking to me, so did I. She was beautiful. Her hair was flossy and had a brown touch to it. I spoke with her in front of the staff room more frequently where the morning rays of the sun would fall on her hair and made it look even more beautiful. It rightly suited her fair complexion. I jovially thought sometimes how this beauty with the sharp nose and big brown eyes fell for mathematics. Mathematics. It took time for me digest it, but her talking or presenting something made it evident. Compared to the kind of person I was, she was very concrete and precise. She had a reason for every statement she made and all her statements were reasonable. That day in the staff-room was special. We were talking about our personal lives; she was telling me how she was brought up in Mumbai and eventually came down to Pune and took to teaching. She was doing the talking and I was enjoying how she expressed immaculately. I was so very engrossed that a thought of a distraction did not even occur to me. ‘Hey, sorry if I disturbed you two, said Moin. I was looking at Radha; she was disappointed but was trying to cover it up with a smile on her face. I was annoyed with Moin as he was very ignorant of her disappointment. She stood up and looked at me for a longer time, ‘see you tomorrow at coffee!’ She said and left the room. I kept looking towards the door thinking of her.
Moin was excited that day. He wanted to tell me that there was a special plan of a supper at his place and I was invited alongside Rasool. The idea of sharing a table with Rasool upset me but I was happy that I was finally going to see who Najma was. I had heard a lot about her. Moin took all the details of my favourite dishes and informed Najma accordingly. From his conversation with her, I sensed that Rasool’s likes were also going to be catered to. It was going to be a hectic dinner for Najma, I thought. Since the plan was made for the same day and Moin had to go back and help Najma with cooking he handed over his lectures to me left hurriedly. I had some more time before the commencement of the next lecture so decided bury myself back into the newspaper. I was skimming through the Editorials when I saw an article on Ramanujan, the magic man of Mathematics. Ramanujan’s mathematics reminded me of Radha and her thoughts took my soul away from the article. Over the period of time, I grew so very fond of the way of her dressing, which was simple. She preferred a Khaddar Salwaar kameez more frequently with a scarce exception of a Pure cotton Sari. Being a lecturer she chose looking like one. Her sense of style and body language was pretty common among women in the field of social work and teaching but she still managed to make difference, she indeed was different, because she was beginning to be a special person in my life.
The idea of meeting Najma disgusted me as my chain of Radha’s thoughts was broken by a message from Moin asking me to come early. Comparisons of these two women characters that seem to be overpowering on two different dimensions in my life have nothing in common. I was being bias no doubt but prejudice towards Radha was obvious. I had not met Najma till date but I had observed a constant peeping of a negative thought whenever Najma was talked about with me. I, for no reason altogether felt sorry for Moin. No matter what my perception of Najma was, for as long as I had heard of one side of her, she was a pretty woman, Moin’s beloved wife who ran his domestic life with sheer perfection and Moin too loved no one else in the world but Najma. His love for her was platonic as he often said. He was madly in love with Najma or like I felt sometimes, he was stupidly in love that this feeling has sometimes overridden his affection for his daughter. Nevertheless, Najma was my principal host for the night and I was supposed to be cordial especially towards her. I tried to wash away all the preconceptions and thought of giving it a fresh start as I felt, Najma was for no reason becoming a rogue in my thoughts. Rasool, who I thought was the other challenge for the night was side-lined by me.
After finishing my extra lectures for the day I prepared and started towards Moin’s home carrying a bouquet for the hosts and chocolates for their daughter. The area was more of an old city but the township where he stayed was a skyscraper. I entered the details and the security person escorted me to his building. Moin was waiting for me there, he greeted as we entered into his apartment. ‘Wow’ was my first reaction. Moin, I did not know had such a wonderful home, it was a class. Everything about it was affluent. Moin had told me about everything in his life but this. That day I got to know that he had a rich father who was a doctor. He had made enough for his four sons who all were leading an above average life; Moin evidently topped among them.
As I sat for a minute or so, Najma came out with a bright smile on her face. She was fair with sharp features. She was wearing a Sari and had a black dupatta around her neck that made her look pious. She was not beautiful so to say but she looked pure and divine. I was immediately convinced why Moin loved her so much. Her conduct was very earthy and she seemed a soft spoken person. She spoke extensively about Moin, their daughter, her studies and life in general. Since Rasool was going to be late our discussions were taking turns after turns. Najma sounded pretty comfortable. Salma, their daughter was a bright child who not just resembled with Moin but had many traits of his personality. I was enjoying the time till Rasool came in.
‘Hi Moin, I hope I am not too late!’ He said looking neither at me nor at Najma. He seemed a regular as he went straight to the Bathroom. Najma who till now was speaking suddenly became quiet. She stood up and followed Rasool inside. I kept looking at them. Moin sensed it and added, ‘She feels a little bit of embarrassment in front of Rasool, after all it’s a Student-Teacher relationship.’ “Of course, of course, I understand!’ I said. Moin got up and went inside. I was left alone in the living room. When I used to work on stage during my college days, I was often told, the stage should never be empty. There should be some action or at least a character beguiling the audience; if not always consider there is something happening backstage. I wondered what was happening at the back of this stage where I was the sole audience to this gradually unfolding mysterious drama.
I was looking at the interior as Radha’s thoughts came to my mind. ‘What kind of interior would Radha prefer?’ I thought. No matter what relationship you share with a woman you feel closer to, you start relating everything you see with her. Radha was just a co-lecturer but lot of times I had fancied myself spending rest of my life with her. Irrespective of how composed and matured you are, when you fall for a woman, that apparent pehla nasha brings out the Hindi Film hero in you. Mine was already chasing after a girl and popping up like a teen but I was trying hard to suppress it. I did not want to feel sheepish of myself.
‘When did you come?’ Rasool opened up a conversation with me wiping his hand with a napkin and settling down on the sofa. He sounded casual, but he took me by surprise. ‘Just half an hour ago, how are you doing?’ I asked him casually.
He leaned back on the sofa, smiled wryly at me and waved his hand. He lifted the newspaper from the side piece and dug himself in it. Moin and Najma came out together with the welcome drinks. Najma stood there quietly till Moin handed my glass to me; after he was done she gave Rasool his glass and went inside. I was amazed as neither Rasool nor Najma bothered to exchange a glance of courtesy. Her eyes met mine but she avoided Rasool. Moin sat on a stool close to the Kitchen door so that he can keep an eye on what is going on inside and rush back if he was needed. From my arrival itself I noticed that he was making sure he does not burden his wife. He consistently looked under an obligation.
‘She works hard during the day, so sometimes I help her!’ He exclaimed smiling at me. Rasool was still indifferent. Moin saw me looking at him and sensed that his silence was the anomalous part of the evening. ‘Speak up buddy, put that paper down, I know you have already read it’, Moin shouted at him. Rasool obeyed like a child and cleared his throat but kept quiet. He was lucky as right at that moment Najma peeped from inside, called Moin and the food was served.
Later that evening, Najma distanced herself during the dinner and the post dinner discussion. Najma I saw when I came was evidently different from the Najma now. Their daughter made her presence felt with frequent cameos from her sleep. Rasool, as I felt should not have been invited in first place as he played a mute spectator whenever Moin spoke of Najma and he spoke mostly of her. Our topics ranged from work to Education to society but Moin maintained a standpoint which was his wife. Along with his views he also narrated with great interest how Najma felt about a lot of things and how their daughter shows her awareness. Their daughter indeed was a bright child. Barring her father’s sharp nose she had carried forward all her mother’s features and was a very attractive kid. She spent more time with her mother, but I thought she was fonder of Moin as she had inherited her father’s excessive hospitality because she showered me with several ‘aur leejiye’s during the dinner. I felt she hated Rasool for some reason as she did not speak with him at all. Moin’s explanation to this was, ‘Rasool uncle does not bring chocolate cakes that’s the reason baby does not like him!’ Neither that kid nor me catered to this one as I thought it was ridiculous but Moin could convince Najma and Rasool with his explanation as they felt it was apt.
I did not understand if Moin had his blinds on deliberately or he was too stupid to realize what might come his way. He could only love people selflessly but never bothered to see if it is being reciprocated. He believed he got his wife by the God’s grace and his daughter was a gift from God Himself. He wanted her to be her mother’s replica as he felt she is the key factor of his life that had lead the way so far with great respect and love for his family. He had complete faith in her and he never bothered to question any of her intentions. That night after the dinner with his family I got to know more of him. The other side of his self which predominantly belongs to his wife was exposed to me. Thanks to Moin for inviting Rasool that I could get the bigger picture of things that were crowding in my mind. People called me suspicious but my disbelief towards the whole scenario grew stronger. I was too shaken to react to his wife’s secret glances to Rasool and his impish casual touches on the dinner table. I wished I had not seen Rasool follow Najma to the kitchen with a smile when I was coming after washing my hands and Moin was off to the bathroom. I was trying hard not to believe this; I was persuading my mind in the other direction only to fail because his daughter had sensed her mother’s some of these actions. That’s precisely the reason; I thought why she was inclined more towards Moin. All that the kid could have gathered out of this is that her father does not share his love with anyone, he loves her the most. But there is someone else whom Mama loves more than Papa, perhaps more than her. Poor child.
That dinner at his place was it. I decided I will never visit Moin’s place in future nor I will get into this matter. I was being selfish but I did not want any trouble for myself and Radha too as we were beginning to get closer. However, it was poor Moin’s concern that did not let me give up so easily and sometimes, I would hint Moin to think in a rather opposite way towards the whole scene. I made him doubt Rasool and keep check as to what Najma does when he is not around. Of course I could not openly tell him to do any of this as it would have rather landed me in becoming one of his foes. I handled it in a diplomatic way. Sometimes I would casually make him call Najma or ask him to go to her college and surprise her. He always believed me and did what I told. As I was expecting these surprises were indigestible for Najma and Rasool as Najma I suppose did not take them as a gesture of love. That for her was an intrusion for sure which might make the cradle fall. She did not want that to happen. She knew that her husband believed her and she wanted him to stick to the routine calls, routine returning time and a set time table which she had made for Moin. If Moin does something off this time table on my say, she would get annoyed. She had convinced him how he will be happy in that particular set of things as she preferred an organized day rather than a day that brought surprises. I had discussed Moin’s case with Radha and sometimes she would come up with very useful inputs. In fact, visiting Najma at college was Radha’s idea which had really helped me as Moin had caught them a few times. They were discussing Economics in the canteen as there were no empty classrooms; Moin had told me the next day when we met before our classes. I had never seen a stupid man like Moin.
I still remember the day when I, Radha and Moin were discussing in the staff room about how surprises matter in a relationship. I asked Moin to call Najma and see what she was doing, as Moin had sensed what I was always driving at, he put the phone on the loudspeaker mode to prove his point that his wife was not guilty.
‘Hi Najma, how are you?’ He asked meekly. She paused for a moment as if she looked around her and then said,
‘Fine, why- why did you call now?’ Don’t you see I am studying? She was annoyed. Moin apologized several times but she was not in the mood to cater to it. She continued,
‘I know why you are doing this, your lecturer friend tells you. You doubt me because of a stranger? I am hurt; I don’t want to talk to you!’ She disconnected the call.
All of us fell silent. Moin was embarrassed, I thought probably because his wife was unknowingly rude to me. Nope, he was disappointed, with me. He stood up and pointed his index finger at me and said,
‘I shall never talk to you again and please don’t interfere in my family matters again. I love my wife and my family!’ He plainly said and left the room.
I was left agape and so was Radha. We did not expect such an immature reaction from a man like Moin. Nevertheless, it was an obvious reaction from a man who does not want to believe that his wife has an extra marital affair. I thought he too was beginning to doubt Najma but the fact that he was getting such evidences was hurting him more and he wanted to be happy with his selfless love after all he had a beautiful daughter with Najma.
However after that day Moin did not speak with me at all. I heard he had his lecture timings changed to afternoon so that he does not have to see me. He sometimes smiled at Radha in case she happened to encounter him but did not exchange a single word. His words the other day woke me up as I thought I was poking a little too much in his personal life even though my intentions were strictly for his good and in his favour. I often told Radha that we avoid truths which come at the cost of disappointment. Moin in this case was an epitome of it.
As Moin did not want me to, I never interfered in his life. I did inquire about his well being to some of the staff members and that was it. I always thought if at all there is something fishy, it shall go away and may Moin get a life that he really deserved.
Many months had passed. I had grown pretty close to Radha and our fondness for each other was the topic of the staff room gossip. Being not so old, we were equally discussed in the campus. My compatibility to Radha grew with every single day and so did her affection towards me. As it was almost the time I decided to propose Radha for marriage. She took some time as she was thoughtful but eventually she agreed; we got engaged before the commencement of examinations during the preparation leaves. We decided that we would announce our engagement in the staff room on the first day of exams.
As the day came, we brought sweets for the teaching and non-teaching staff. I was giving the sweets when our Clark came to me,
Excuse me sir, Moin sir wants to see you, he is in the Government hospital!’
‘Does he want to see me?’ I asked him with a pleasant surprise. He nodded, took the sweet and left. I looked at Radha and told her probably he has become a father again. ‘Let us go and tell our news as well!’ I said as we left for the hospital. On our way to hospital, I was cursing myself for being suspicious towards Najma. I was happy for Moin. He, I thought had become a father again, Najma who I thought did not love him, was going to be a mother again for the second time.
The Government Hospital was very much crowded. We went to the maternity section and enquired about Najma. We were surprised to know that no patient by the name of Najma was admitted there. When she checked in the general database we got to know that Moin was admitted in the accident ward. I was too shocked to imagine what could have happened. Radha held my hand tightly as we walked towards the ward. As we entered inside, Radha spotted Moin in one of the rooms and we approached.
I saw an old man sitting on a stool next to Moin’s cot. Moin was resting there quietly; his eyes were shut when we came near him. His daughter sat on his cot holding his right hand. Moin had cut the veins of his left arm. He had tried to kill himself. I could not believe what I saw. The old man saw us and got up from his stool and said to Moin’s daughter. ‘Come with your grandpa beta; let’s buy you a chocolate cake!’ and took her away.
I sat on the stool and Radha stood next to me. I still had the box of sweets in my hand. Moin looked at the sweets and smiled looking at both of us. He raised his right hand with effort and took Radha’s hand and put it on mine and shook his head several times looking at Radha as tears trickled out of his eyes. We very well understood what he wanted to say. I knew why he had tried to kill himself. I knew why he had called me to see him. Everything was becoming clearer. He took his hand back and put in his shirt pocket and took out a letter. He gave it to me to read. As I had expected it was a letter from Najma. She was gone with Rasool, forever. As I was reading the letter, I saw his daughter come back with her grandfather. She was crying as she was not satisfied with just a chocolate cake, she came running towards Moin and hugged him tightly. I tried to hold back my tears but couldn’t. Najma had taken his savings and jewellery which hardly matched her place in his life but she had taken the most important part of his life away, his asset, she had taken away his soul.