Ranjit got off the rickety bus as soon as it came to a stop in the middle of the village street. Dusting himself he slowly looked around. Nothing seemed familiar. On an instinct, he took a cobbled road to his left and walked, his backpack casually slung over his left shoulder and a piece of paper clutched in his right hand. It was hot, humid and dusty but Ranjit walked on. He was on a mission. A mission to find her. Unable to recognise any features, he stopped a passerby and asked, “Friend, could you guide me to this address?” The old man, dressed in a white dhoti and kurta with a dirty white turban on his head, gently took the piece of paper from Ranjit. He squinted at the paper, turning it around a few times. He lifted his round rimmed spectacles, cleaned them and again tried to read the address. Finally, with an air of authority, he said, “There is no such address although there is a street named “Radhey Shyam Path”. It has a story behind it.” “What story?” blurted Ranjit. He was excited because the names “Radha and Shyam” rang a familiar chord in his memory.
Holding Ranjit by the hand, the old man guided him to sit under the shade of a large banyan tree. Ensuring that Ranjit was comfortable, the old man started to narrate an incredible story. “This story is very old, even before I was born. My grandmother used to narrate it to me quite often. Radha was the daughter of the zamindar. He was a very powerful man who owned almost the entire land around this village. Radha was the only child and he doted on her, having lost his wife in childbirth. Radha was a very beautiful girl and grew up to be a charming young damsel. She would attend the village school where she became friends with Shyam, the son of the village cobbler. When they were kids no one paid much attention but as they grew up people began to talk. Initially in whispers but as the friendship blossomed the two of them were talked about in every household. The zamindar was livid when he learnt about this and forbade Radha from meeting Shyam.”
The old man paused to catch his breath. “Go on, what happened next?” Ranjit almost screamed, his adrenaline rising by the second. The old man stared hard at Ranjit and, nodding his head, resumed. “The zamindar called Shyam’s father and told him that Shyam must leave the village at once. Shyam was very angry but could not forestall or ignore the diktat of the zamindar. Reluctantly, he packed his bag. Through the maid who worked for Radha, Shyam sent a message to her that he was leaving by the evening train. With heavy feet Shyam dragged himself to the railway station. He kept looking at the huge railway clock on the platform and the entrance gate to the station intermittently. The train was to depart at 8 o’clock.
Radha was in turmoil when she heard the news of Shyam’s banishment. She knew it was no use speaking with her father. Devising a plan, she exchanged clothes with the maid and quickly made her way to the railway station, covering her face with a veil. She could hear the whistle of the steam engine signaling its departure. She ran as fast as she could. Running out on to the platform she fell on to her knees as she saw the rear of the last compartment speed away from the station. Her Shyam had gone! Heartbroken, Radha was now scared of the wrath of her father and died of a heart attack right there on the platform. The zamindar too could not bear the loss and died soon after. The villagers were so touched by Radha’s commitment that a statue of her was erected at the old railway station and a road was named after them.” Wiping his face with the long end of his turban, the old man stood up. “That’s it. Now no trains pass through that station since a new one has come up on the other side of the village. But the statue is still there.”
Ranjit thanked the old man and, after getting directions to the old station, made his way towards it. It was in ruins. Wild growth and huge trees covered almost everything. It was like no one had ever been there. Or, at least for many years. Peering through the tall grass, Ranjit spotted what looked like a weather beaten statue. It was covered with shrubs and cobwebs. Pulling the shrubs aside and cleaning the statue with a towel from his bag, he was stunned to see the face. It was the same that he had been seeing in his dreams!
Ranjit sat next to the statue, immersed in his thoughts and was oblivious of the time. He was shaken from his reverie by the whistle of a passing train. He looked at his watch. It was 8’oclock. After a long and final glance at the statue, Ranjit picked up his backpack and turned around to leave. That is when he felt a tug on the bag and heard her say, “Stay now, because in another lifetime you couldn’t!”
The villagers located Ranjit the next day lying next to the statue which had fallen down. Radha had found her Shyam at last.Published in