"Tumhare ye zevar asli hain?" Aloknath Mathur was incredulous, when his wife took out her jewelry for wearing on the occasion of her god-bharai. She was pregnant with their first child.
"To main nakli zevar kyon pahanti apni shaadi par? Aap aise baatein kyon kar rahe hain?"
"Tumhare ghar waalon ne diye honge."
"Mere ghar waalon ke paas itne paise kahan hain? Ma-Baba ne bhijwaye the," she said talking about her in-laws, Aloknath's parents.
"Mujhe medicine ki padhai karwane ke liye aapke paas paise nahin the," Aloknath was furious at his parents, "Na hi apna business shuru karwane ke liye paise the. Lekin meri shaadi karwane ke liye aur ye zevar banwane ke liye the paise aapke paas."
"Ma-Baap se baat karne ki tameez bhool gaye ho tum Alok," his father chided him.
"Agar Ma-Baap apna farz bhool jayen to..."
"Farz nahin bhoole hum. Isliye tumhein chaadar ke bahar paon failane se roka hai. Zevar investment hote hain. Bure waqt par kaam aate hain. Tumahre bhi aayenge. Kya kami hai tumhein? Achchi bhali naukri hai. Sukhi ho apni shaadi-shuda zindagi mein..."
"Dum ghutata hai mera is naukri mein. Aur is sukhi zindagi mein..." he rushed out and did not come back for god-bharai. When he came back late at night, his wife was still waiting for him.
"Aapko Ma-Baba se aise baat nahin karni chahiye thi."
"Tum door raho is maamle se."
"Meri baat suniye. Apno se gussa hona achchhi baat nahin hai."
"Tumne suna nahin maine kya kaha."
She did not say anything after that. When he woke up the next morning, she was not on the bed. but her jewelry box was. There was a note lying there.
"Ye gahne mere hain aur main apni marzi se aapko de rahi hoon. Ab ye aapke hue. Jo bhi aap karna chahte hain, kar sakte hain."
He got up and left without saying a word to anybody.
Life had been kind to him since the day he had arrived in Lucknow with the box of jewelry in his hand. He had put up with a friend for a few days, then had mortgaged the jewelry and had started off a modest business of trading clothes. Since then there had been no turning back. The jewelry was back in his custody within eight months and forty eight years since then, he had a huge business business of apparel design, manufacturing and reatailing. Ashutosh had been with him since last thirty years and he had built a small and complete family with him.
But in these last few days, something had bothered him. He was feeling guilty. About the people he had left behind. He had left an eight months pregnant wife behind him!! Whatever happened to his family!
"Babaaa... Baba jaldi aaiye..."
"Kya hua Nidhi?"
"Baba. Dekhiye to inhein kya hua hai?"
"He Bhagwaan," Yograj Verma was shocked to see the state of the old man lying on the road in front of his house, "Inhein hospital le jaana padega beta. Kaun hain ye?"
"Pata nahin Baba. Main to bas tution padhane ke liye nikal rahi thi jo inhein dekha."
"Chalo. Jaldi karo. Ruko main kissi ko bulata hoon aas paas se. Madad ki zaroorat padegi. Tum zara rickshaw roko."
"Rickshaw se kaise jayenge Baba. Aap ambulance bulaiye. Woh Jeevan Prabha hospital hai na - charity hospital hai. Wahan le ja sakte hain."
"Haan... Haan. Sahi kah rahi ho tum.Main bhi na kabhi kabhi..."
"Are - ye to Mathur Sahab hai," the hospital staff who had rushed to take the old man out of the ambulance exclaimed!
"Aap log inhein jaante hain?" Nidhi was surprised.
"Ji Ma'am. Ye hospital inka hi to banwaya hua hai. Inki charity se hi chalta hai."
"Oh! Phir to achchha hai hum inhein yahan la aaye. Aap inke ghar waalon ko bulwa lenge na?"
"Ji. Aap uski chinta mat kijiye. Aap chahein to ja sakte hain. Yahan inki poori dekh-bhaal hogi."
"Nidhi beta. Ye to apne hi logon ke saath hain phir. Hum chalte hain. Tumhare students bhi tumhara intezaar kar rahe honge."
Nidhi didn't know why, but she wanted to stay back. She looked on for a moment, as they took the old man inside the hospital. Something tugged at her heart, but she couldn't quite explain it. So, she agreed with her father.
"Theek hai Baba. Chaliye."
"Ji. Kal main aur mere Baba yahan ek patient ko le kar aaye the," Nidhi was enquiring at the reception of the hospital the next day, "Koi Mathur Sahab. Unhone ye hostpial banwaya hai..."
"Ji haan, ji haan..."
"Unki tabiyat kaisi hai? Kya hua the unhein?"
"Cardiac arrest... Matlab heart attack aaya tha. I'm sorry, lekin unki halat achchhi nahin thi. Unhein specialist ke care ki zaroorat thi. Unke bete bhi doctor hain to unhone unhein apne hospital mein shift karwa liya hai."
"Thank you," Nidhi wondered if she should ask about the hospital he had been shifted to, but hesitated in interfering too much and didn't ask.
"Meri samajh mein nahin aa raha hai ki Baba akele aise bahar kyon gaye the? Car bhi nahin thi ghar par. Mujhe bula liya hota. Ya kam se kam car hi mangwa li hoti," Ashutosh was pacing up and down in his office. Baba's friend and lawyer Devraj Kapoor was visiting him. "Aapse koi baat hui thi unki?"
"Na... nahin to," Devraj said. Ashutosh was so occupied with Baba's health that he did not notice Devraj fidgeting. Just then his mobile rang.
"Yes. Dr. Singhania? Kya... Oh God!! Main... main aata hoon... Mr. Kapoor. Baba ki tabiyat kharaab ho rahi hai."
They rushed towards his room in the cardiology ward.
"Baba," Ashutosh rushed by his side and clasped his hands, "Aapko kuchh nahin hoga Baba."
"Use... uska haq... dila dena," Ashutosh barely caught what Baba was trying to say, "Dev... Ashu..."
The next moment Ashutosh knew that Baba had spoken his last words. He did not understand what those were. He didn't care. He looked on. Helplessly. What was he to do? It was like his world had come to an end. It indeed had. After all it started and ended with Baba.
"Ashutosh," Devraj's hand on his shoulder brought him out of his thoughts. He was acutely aware of the lump in his throad.
"Main aata hoon," he managed to say and rushed out to find a lonely corner, where he could cry his heart out. Like an eight year old, whom Baba had found crying in a lonely corner and had brought home with him. May be Baba will come back again, if he cried alone!
"Locker mein kuchh zevar the Mr. Kapoor. Aur uske saath mein ek chhota sa note - 'Ashutosh. Agar main ise us tak nahin pahuncha saka to tum zaroor pahuncha dena.' Mujhe kuchh samajh mein nahin aaya. Unki will mein bhi to koi zikr nahin hai... Mujhe laga ki shayad aapko pata ho..."
"Ashutosh. Mathur Sahab mere liye bahut mushkil kaam chhod gaye hain..."
"Paheliya mat bujhaiye please."
"Dekho Ashutosh, jo main tumhein batane ja raha hoon, mujhe nahin pata tum uspar kaise react karoge. Lekin jaanna tumhare liye zaroori hai. Mathur sahab ka tumhare alawa bhi ek parivaar hai. Parivaar kya hai, naatin hai ek jo apne pita, yani Mathur sahab ke daamad ke saath rahti hai."
"Ye... Ye aap kaisi baatein kar rahe hain? Agar aisa kuchh hota to Baba mujhe zaroor batate."
"Zyada kuchh mujhe bhi pata nahin hai Ashutosh. Bas itna jaanta hoon ki woh apna ghar chhod kar bahut pahle chale aaye the. Unhone apni beti tak ki shakal nahin dekhi hai. Lekin kareeb ek mahine pahle unhone meri madad maangi apne parivaar ko dhoondhne mein. To maine hi pata karwa kar unhein bataya tha. Woh gahne unki wife ke the, jo woh apni naatin ko dena chahte the. Us din woh un logon se hi milne gaye the..."
"Us din? Matlab? Jab... unki tabiyat kharaab hui?"
"To aakhir aisa kya kiya ya kaha un logon ne ki unki ye halat ho gayi?" Ashutosh was agitated.
"Ye to mujhe nahin pata Ashutosh. Unse mil kar hi pata chalega. Tum chaho to main tumhein unka pata..."
"Koi zaroorat nahin hai," his anger was chilling, "Jin logon ki wajah se maine Baba ko kho diya unse main baat nahin karna chahta."
"Aur woh zevar..."
"Jahan Baba rakh kar gaye the, wahin pade rahenge."