It was a usual night at Shabnam bar tucked away in a lane behind a local train station in Central Mumbai. Some were nursing drinks, some gulping them down, some brooding over every sip and some laughing hysterically at not so funny jokes. Kishore and Rafi were alternately crooning about the greatest disappointments of their lives on the bar's music system.
And as it was a usual night, Rajesh was there. Everything was familiar here and that soothed his senses. It was a refuge from daily struggles, a place to reflect, appreciate the songs born out of life's ironies and generally numb oneself at the end of the day. Most of the clientile was the same. Hardly anyone new came there, but Shabnam had many loyalists. Rajesh knew everyone's story. He liked to hear them and marvel at how much better his life was. And at times when he felt the other person needed it, he told his story too.
Suddenly the door opened and a gust of the pouring rain from outside breezed in and along with it came a man who had the most disturbed face Rajesh had seen in quite sometime. He didn't look like someone who drank, but then who can say that anymore. The man sat down and ordered 2 pegs, neat. Rajesh raised an appreciative brow and went back to his drink. After a while when Rajesh started to leave, the man was still there, ordering 2 more. It seemed that he had had quite a few of them already and didn't want to stop until he lost himself completely.
The other man started coming in regularly. Another Shabnam loyalist, Rajesh smiled. His name was Abhishek; Rajesh had seen him swipe a card once. They had both started acknowledging each other's existence by now. Abhishek would get pissed drunk every night. Rajesh enjoyed his drinks but he had a self imposed limit, one that he stuck to, just enough to get some relief at the end of the day. But this man seemed to be on a mission to drink his body down.
One night however, Abhishek seemed to be even more melancholy but he was gulping down drinks with the same fervour. Rajesh got worried. What if the man was on some suicidal mood today? He certainly looked so. Rajesh went up to Abhishek's table and tried to start a conversation.
"Hi, have been seeing you here regularly now, I am Rajesh. You on some drink till I die mission today dude?"
"Err...hi...you won't understand."
Abhishek smiled with melancholy dismissal.
"They say majority of men drinking in dimly lit bars are of two types. Ones who are thinking of the girl who got away and the others who are trying to forget the pain of having one. So what is it with you?" Rajesh persisted.
Abhishek laughed out harshly, "Maybe they are right. But let's hear whats it with you?"
"Mind if I take a seat," Rajesh pulled a chair next to Abhishek. "The one who got away. She was my college mate. She came into my life when I had almost lost hope. I can still feel her hands cupping my face. There never was anyone who could love so unselfishly, so truly. We would have done anything for each other."
"That would have been a fairytale, " Abhishek pointed out.
"Yes, if we could have stayed together that is what it would have been."
"So what was it? She turned out be a fickle woman? Triya charitra was it?"
"Just shut up ok, I won't hear a word against her. She was never like that. She was everything one could ever dream for in a companion. She was mine for as long as she could and somehow I know she is still mine, though she is far away, married to someone her parents wanted her to. She hasn't cheated on him physically though, that much I can tell you. She is his for all worldly purposes, but I know her heart will always be mine."
"Aah but if your love was that true, you had to lose her buddy. That's the way of the world. Its a law of nature I think, that if you love truly, you won't ever get it back, or be fortunate enough to live out this dream love. I love her too completely, honestly, but somehow it never penetrates her heart. Its like she will never understand it. You are lucky. Your love was atleast reciprocated. I had no such luck."
"No dude, you are lucky. You have no idea how bad it is to lose what you once had. You have never had it, so your pain will ease away. Don't lose heart. You have no memory of how glorious it felt to have her close and then to be reminded everytime that its gone forever. You are lucky Abhishek. For people like me, love is now just a picture inside a wallet." Rajesh pulled out his wallet, took out a picture, "This is all that I have of her now. Look at how sweet a thing I have lost," he smiled ruefully.
Abhishek was completely silent for a while and then he rose from the table, "I should go. You are right I am the kind who don't have the right to even die," he said somewhat heavily and left. Rajesh sat there looking at the picture.
Out on the street, Abhishek thought, "You have no idea that its more painful to never really have what you have." The girl in the picture was his wife.