If It’s Not Forever
...It’s Not Love.
DURJOY DATTA | NIKITA SINGH
About "If It's Not Forever" :-
It’s just another afternoon in Deb’s life, when a powerful blast rips across the heart of Delhi – Chandni Chowk. He is unhurt, but emotionally scarred. Haunted by the blast for many days, he seeks redemption. One day, while wandering near the blast site, he finds a half-burnt diary, written by someone who died on that fateful day.
The burnt diary entrusts Deb with a strange responsibility – the last words of a dead man.
Shrey, his best buddy since college, and Avantika, his girlfriend, unknowingly join him on his road trip, as he tries to put together the pieces of the dead guy’s intriguing story.
Where will the diary take them? And how would it affect their lives?
"Terror struck Delhi again on Wednesday morning, when a deadly bomb went off at a busy gate of the Delhi High Court. It killed 11 people and left 76 others injured. The bomb went off barely 300 meters away from the spot where a minor explosion had taken place on May 25, which was also a Wednesday. Police officials now say that it could have been a test run for this blast…‛ – The Hindustan Times, 7th September 2011
"There are certain incidents in life that shape you as a person, as a citizen and friend, and decide what course you take in life. The Delhi High Court blast in September, 2011 is such an incident for me. ‘If It’s Not Forever’ is the story loosely inspired from that blast – that left several men, women and children dead or injured – and a search mounted by me and a few of my close friends to find an end to the story of one of the men who lost his life in that unfortunate blast. Names of places, landmarks and people have been changed on behest of the people involved in the story of this book. This book is a tribute to all the innocent lives lost to senseless acts of violence and terrorism.– Durjoy DattaRead On-line Book If It's Not Forever! It's Not Love.
I Was Almost Dead
I have seen dead people before.
I have seen them on television, on the news, on their deathbeds, with their loved ones carrying them to the cemetery. But I have never seen dead people like this. Mutilated, maimed and lying in pools of blood. I have never seen anyone die in front of me, say their last words, cry out for help, look at me with horror in their eyes, choke on their own blood, breathe their last and die. Never.
But right now, they are all around me. Wherever I look, I see them. It’s a gory sight. My head tingles and I cry out of their pain and that of my own. My ears ring from the noise of the blast, my nose bleeds and I have vomited twice. I look around to see chaos all around. Images are blurred. All I can make out is red. Blood. Or black, from the ashes of what’s burnt now –Men, women, children.
There is blood everywhere. On the ground, on the bodies of people, on their lost body parts… on me. It’s mine and it’s theirs. My skin singes and burns from the heat. It is red and slowly turns black and peels off.
I lean against a wall and struggle to maintain coherence. I can hear sirens blaring in the distance, people running, crying and howling. There is commotion everywhere, cars burn in the background, the fumes of burning tyres fill up the air and people are running all around. Some of them are carrying other people in their arms. I struggle to keep my eyes open but they burn. I am covered in ashes and my head bursts as I look for my car. I cannot spot it. Not in the heap of mangled charred remains of metal that lay in front of me. It is still hot and I can feel the radiation in my face. My neck pains. I feel the nape of my neck – it is wet. I see blood on my fingers. I don’t know whether it’s mine or someone else’s. My entire body aches and burns.
‘ARE YOU OKAY?’ someone shouts in my ear.
I feel like someone put a hot iron rod through my ear. I stumble across a few people –still people, people writhing and moaning, dead people, bleeding on the ground. I see bloodied faces all around, injured gravely, and they are shouting, screaming and pleading for help. I stumble over them and I walk away from the site of the blast. I am helpless.
Where is Avantika?
Home, I guess. Where am I? I pick up my phone and call her. ‘Hello,’ she says. ‘Deb, where are you? I’ve been calling you… There has been a blast in Chandni Chowk today, where—’
‘I am fine,’ I say and disconnect the call. Things blur a little more. I pass out. The world becomes cold and dark. There is no pain. Am I dead?
My breathing is ragged and strained. Every breath I take and release hurts a little more. I feel choked and my throat burns. My head hurts. I try to open my eyes but a bandage wrapped around my head obstructs them. I adjust the bandage and open my eyes. My whole body is broken and it pains as if it has been put into a blender and ground. I take some time to gather where I am. Why does everything hurt so much? Is this a bad dream? I slowly open my eyes partially and look at the ceiling above. It’s not familiar. Then it strikes me. The Chandni Chowk blast. It all comes back to me. The noise, the people, the blood, the cut limbs, the mangled remains of people, cars and buildings. It is a lot harder this time. I can think more clearly. I had almost died. ‘Deb?’ a female voice says. ‘Are you okay?’ I look at her and my eyes light up. She is like a shot of morphine that takes every bit of pain away. I feel alive. ‘Yes,’ I say, feebly. I look at her and I am mortified. She has tears in her eyes and it looks like she has been crying since a long time. Did something happen to me? I force my aching neck to move a little and look at the bed that I lay on. I try to move all my hands and legs. I am not maimed or paralysed. I have just a few bruises here and there. I was lucky. ‘What happened?’ I ask. ‘There was a terrible blast in Chandni Chowk,’ she says. ‘Eighty nine people are dead till now.’ She sits on the bed, hugs me and starts crying. Her tears wet my shirt. I feel a few teardrops percolate down my hospital robe and wet my skin. A few tears find their way to my eyes too. I don’t know if it’s because she’s crying, or because of what I saw this morning. People had died, lost their arms, their legs and their loved ones right in front of my eyes. It is like a bad dream. Only, a lot worse. It happened for real. The animal cries of people, the blood, and the limbs that had gone flying all around me – it had all happened. All those people are dead. Eighty nine of them. I am not. I am still in one piece, and have my girlfriend hugging me. Why? I ask myself as I see her cry with her head on my chest. I think about all the people who lost their lives this morning or are left crippled. What would their loved ones be doing? If I were dead, what would Avantika be doing? I shudder to think about it. I was almost dead. Or maimed. I feel lucky. ‘Do mom and dad know?’ I ask her. She shakes her head. ‘They called you?’
‘Yes,’ she says, still crying. ‘I told them that you were in office.’
I smile at her. She knows me and my parents so well. My parents live in Muscat, Oman and they find it very uneasy to live away from me. They miss me a lot, but dad has work there. Even though I am a big guy now, they still are as protective about me as they were when I was a school going kid. I still remember when I used to get a fifteen minute sermon from mom and dad whenever I used to go out. ‚Look both sides when you cross the road.‛ ‚Don’t talk to anyone.‛ ‚Don’t eat anything that anyone offers.‛ You get the drift. It continued way into my late teens. Had they heard about this, they would have come rushing to Delhi and never gone back. I do not want that to happen. Avantika and I are secretly engaged for the past year or so and life is perfect. My parents do not know that. Nor do they know that we live together. They would flip; it is still socially unacceptable. Avantika and I love the thrill of doing something people warn us against. Our judgement and the good sense in our minds are often clouded by the love in our hearts. ‘Thank you,’ I say to her. She smiles back at me. ‘You should rest,’ she says and I see a nurse enter the room. She plunges a syringe in the tube attached to my hand and I feel a little sleepy almost instantly. Sedatives, I guess. It lessens the pain, in one’s body, but not in one’s head. ‘Deb…’ ‘Yes, baby?’ I murmur, already half-asleep. ‘I love you,’ I hear her meek whisper before dozing off. I love her too, more than she will ever know. She is my world. I open my mouth but I drift off before the words escape my mouth. I love you. As I say these words, I hope that it’s not the last time. ### When I wake up, I find that the pain has lessened to an extent. I see blood stained bandages on my head, my arms and my legs. I make my way – with a little help – towards the chambers of the doctors to get a few checks done before they could release me. On my way, I see many people around with far more grave injuries than mine, with bigger bandages, smiling and laughing over all that pain. Some of them missed a limb or two. It is hard to look at them. Suddenly, I feel weak. I always find hospitals very depressing. Given the present scenario, it is even more so. I cannot wait to get out of it and go home. The walk to the doctor’s chambers is really long and I try not to look around me. Inside the doctors’ chamber, they carry out some final tests on me, ask me if I am feeling all right and let me go. ‘Are you alright?’ Avantika asks.
It has been an hour since we have been sitting in the car and I have not said anything. I have been looking out of the window and staring blankly at the Delhi flyovers, the bustling markets, the busy streets. My head still resonates from the noise of the blasts, the howls of the women, the painful cries of the men. I look and think – which place is next? The metro station next to my house, the grocery market, the office
Avantika goes to every day? Who will be lying on the bed I was lying on today? It is terrifying. I feel scared and petrified. The horror in the eyes of people who died in front of me comes rushing back to me. Every time there was a blast in Delhi, Mumbai or Hyderabad, I used to look at the news and think – it cannot happen to me, or the people around me. Suddenly, everything changed. I am mortified. What if the car we are in has a bomb? I shift in my place uncomfortably. I suspect everything now. I don’t blame those guys in the US who had started hating everything Arab after the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre. When it happens to you, it’s very unsettling. ‘Deb?’ Avantika asks. ‘Yes, I am fine. It’s just hurting a little,’ I say. I do not want to share my fears with her. I know she is scared too. Had I died yesterday, it would not have been me who would have suffered. It would have been her, my parents and my friends. I am scared for Avantika. We enter our flat and suddenly, I do not ever want to leave. Neither do I want Avantika to spend a minute out of my sight. I am being paranoid. I understand now why my parents used to call me fifty times every ten minutes after ten in the night to make sure that I am okay. I understand why they always want to make sure that I call them after I reach office. They must have seen a lot of people dying. So, they must be living in constant fear. Avantika switches on the television for me before going to the kitchen. She starts peeling oranges for me and I switch to the News channels. I never do that usually, but today is no usual day. A few meters here or there, and I would be on the news – dead. All channels are brimming with just one topic – the blast. There are politicians who condemn the attack, angry people, crying people and the junta venting out their anger on the government. Everyone is blaming the other for what happened. No one has come out to take the blame. I switch it off. I cannot watch it. The memories of dead people and cut limbs are too much for me to take. I do not need the real images to add to the haunting mental images. I can do without the torture. ‘Deb? Is something wrong?’ she asks again. She must have noticed the dead, worried expression on my face. ‘How many people died?’ I ask her. ‘Eighty nine. I told you.’ ‘I could have been one of them,’ I say and she looks at me. Immediately, she has tears in her eyes. I know that she has been thinking about this over the last two days. She comes over to me, looks at me with love in her eyes and hugs me. I feel wanted. ‘Please don’t say that,’ she whispers. ‘Sorry.’
I say the word but I am not. I said nothing wrong; I could have been one of them. Had I not forgotten my wallet in the car, I would have been tantalizingly close to the scooter in which the bomb had been placed and blown to tiny bits. I had been lucky. I could have been dead or worse still, maimed. I can feel the tiny goose bumps on my hands as Avantika snuggles up to me. I am sure she is thinking the same. I hold her close and try not to think about any of it. However, it’s really difficult not to. I shudder to think what would have happened to her had I died. For all her strength and confidence, she is just a baby. My baby. Had I died… Time passes and she drifts off to sleep in my arms. I wish to wrap my hands around her and never let anything harm her. The world is a cruel place and I have seen that from close now. I switch on the television and flip through the channels. Blood. Gore. Politicians. That’s all they show. A little later, there is a special report on the spirit of Delhi. They show how the people of Delhi are affected by the Chandni Chowk blast. The news correspondent tells us that the people of Delhi have come together in this time of need, that they fighting the tragedy and getting over it together. Bullshit. Getting over it? It’s more like forgetting all about it. We, as responsible citizens, are more interested in doctored, naked pictures of a wannabe actress than people dying on the streets. We don’t care about blood as much as we do about flesh. We don’t have time for all that. Who would have cared had something happened to me yesterday? Avantika. Benoy. Shrey. Dad. Mom. Who else? No one cares about what happens to anyone! It is all just a bloody facade. Every time there is a blast, they talk about the spirit of Mumbai or the spirit of Delhi and how the city never sleeps or stops. They harp about how the city moves on. The truth is that life stops for people who had been in the blast. For others – they just do not care. I do not blame them. I was on their side until yesterday. I was an uncaring Delhite. I am not really sad about that. I am just irritated. Today is just another day. And I could have been dead? That is so unfair, right? One minute, I have all my limbs, and in the next, I could have lost them? The mere thought makes me sick in the stomach. I look at Avantika, who is now sleeping in my arms. I slowly shift her into a more comfortable position and push the strands of her hair away from her radiant face. Somehow, in the last five years that we have been dating, I am yet to pick a single instant when she doesn’t look pretty. She is breathtakingly beautiful. It’s almost surreal. All the things that I used to say to score with my ex-girlfriends had come true when I had met Avantika. She is a dream. Even better; you wouldn’t even dream of something so perfect. Plastic surgeons still can’t rival God. She is so hard to describe. Those limpid, constantly wet black eyes scream to be loved. There is nothing better than a melancholic beautiful face. She has eyes of a month old child – big and screaming for attention. A perfectly drafted nose, flawless bright pink lips and a milky white complexion that can put Photoshop to shame. Oh hell, she is way out of my league. She is a goddamn goddess. The first time I met her, I just couldn’t look beyond her face. It was strange, as it had never happened that way. Usually, it was always the cup-size that mattered.
I turn the volume low and switch back to news channels. The news shows censored images. There are just bloodied clothes and wailing men and women. There are no severed limbs, people crying out in pain or bleeding to death and no one is shown collecting burnt IDs of people. I am sure people would have spent
a lot more time away from their daily soaps and looked at the news if they showed all the pain that people went through. But I don’t blame them. I am no different. Mumbai blasts, Delhi blasts –they were all the same to me. RIP, blast victims – a status update on a social networking site, a little prayer in my heart for those who lost their loved ones and I used to get back to whatever I used to do. This time, it is different. I never thought it would happen to me. I was never in crowded places. Crowded places where people are blown to bits by irrational, stupid terrorists. ISI, Laskhar-e-Taiba and other terrorist groups clouded my head. I ask the question which many have asked before me and would keep asking after me –Why? There is no answer for it. I turn off the TV in frustration and rest Avantika’s head on the pillow. I am lucky to be alive, to be in her arms again… to be in love again. I kiss her softly on her cheek and get up. I call Maa on her phone. I do not remember the last time I called her. These days, the only time I talk to her or dad is when Avantika gives me the phone. Mom and Avantika talk a lot and I feel good about it. I never tell my parents how much they mean to me. No guy does. We are men. We do not know how to express love. That is why we buy jewellery. We do not hug our dads. Instead, we talk about cricket. ‘Ki korcho?’ I ask her. (What are you doing?) ‘Nothing. What happened? Is everything okay, Deb?’ I can sense the surprise in her voice. I usually never ask that. I never call my mom. But that doesn’t mean I don’t love her. Two women make my world go around – one is Avantika, the other’s my mom. The third will be Avantika Jr., I guess. But there is still a decade to go for that. I am obsessed with Avantika and our relationship. It’s been like that ever since I was in college. ‘Yes,’ I say. I have tears in my eyes. I do not know why and I almost feel like a girl for being so emotional about it. I want to tell her that I love her. If tomorrow something happens to me, she should know that I love her. ‘Umm…’ There is an awkward silence. This is why I never call my mom. We usually have nothing to talk to other than my eating habits, and whether I am gaining any weight. ‘Are you eating properly, Deb?’ she asks. ‘Avantika has been telling me that you skip lunches. This won’t work, Tini.’ Yeah, Tini. Like everyone, I too was given an embarrassing nickname by my mom – Tini. And somehow, she manages to use it the most whenever she is around my friends. ‘I have been eating, Maa. She is just paranoid! And you have given her this disease,’ I say. I know from experience that I should never let mom start about food. She is obsessed with feeding me. She has happily passed that trait to Avantika.
‘You need to eat, Tini,’ she says. ‘Whatever.’ I can hear Dad in the background. It has been almost six months that I have met them. I miss them. It is cool to live alone, but not all the time. I miss being irresponsible. I miss being stuffed by my mom, although Avantika is doing a good job at it. Mom knows that Avantika spends a lot of time at my place. I hang up after a while and try to sleep. As soon as I close my eyes, it all comes back to me. I try to push those gory images out of my head. I desperately need a distraction. Maybe thinking about Avantika would help; it always does, but not this time. People died. And it was just yesterday. Right in front of my eyes. Dreams crushed. Lives ended. Children lost.
How can I sleep?