“Have you looked at the medical volunteer team list?” questioned Nihaal fluttering a paper in air.
“Yes, I did” replied Mayank shifting his gaze from one rock to another, trying to avoid his eye contact.
“Isn’t the team leader on the list that doctor from Delhi?” enquired Nihaal raising his eyebrows.
“Yeah,” Mayank replied uneasily, shifting his standing posture from one leg to another.
“Does she know that you’re stationed here?”
“Looks like it isn’t a passing fate like the rest bro! Apparently they are arriving tomorrow,” Nihaal smirked.
“Perhaps, it’s colliding while passing by” winked Mayank.
Both laughed as their conversation switched to their next non-combat military operation of dismantling the underground dynamites. While they were engrossed in discussing on the mission plan, Nihaal’s walkie-talkie transmitted the commands for immediate audience from the chief commander of Alpha team. He got up and hurried hastily towards the chief’s base reciprocating to the commands that he received over the walkie-talkie.
Mayank still seated on the rock, nonchalantly gazed at the star sprinkled sky. The night sky looked beautiful. The air was heavy and dusty. It was mid-march and Munabao’s temperature is gradually increasing. The army base has been experiencing strong winds and sandstorms for the past few weeks. The temperatures frayed the land dry and rough. He looked at the paper that Nihaal brought with him a few minutes back. JHAANVI…As his lips spelled her name his heart skipped a beat. A chord deep within struck him hard just like it did the very first time when he saw her. Mayank’s heart raced as his thoughts sojourned to past.
/** 8 months back, before Mayank got posted to Munabao base… **/
After serving three years at the siachen border, Mayank returned to Delhi and was on a rigorous training for placement in Alpha team. He would be rendering his services at the Munabao border three months down the line. His only family was his maternal uncle. It was during one of his visits to Dharmashila hospital, he saw Jhaanvi for the very first time. He occasionally assisted his uncle who was getting treated at Dharmashila for chronic bronchitis. That day, the hospital was flocked with people. Mayank stood in the out-patient queue to pay the bills when a sudden commotion made everybody to scatter around. Oblivious to the tumult, he turned to the direction everyone was looking at, with varied emotions. That’s when he saw Jhaanvi on the stretcher with her hands gripped tightly onto the victim’s wound and shouting at the crowd to move apart and give way to the medical team. Blood was gushing fast from the injury and she was trying to control the loss of blood with all the strength she could muster. She was literally wrestling to save him. Dressed in white coat with blood stains smeared all over, with unwavered attention fixed only on the injured victim she looked damn cool in his eyes. As the crowd moved apart paving way for the hospital crew, he shoved through the crowd to the front and helped the crew to push the stretcher faster towards the operation theatre. He was fascinated at the way she multi-did tasks in giving out instructions to the nurse to arrange for more bottles of blood, to arrange the operation theatre and check the precursory activities required for the operation. He smiled to himself as he pushed the stretcher harder with all the military power that his arms could muster. The operation theatre doors stopped him from entering further as the crew proceeded inside. He lingered around for a while when he suddenly remembered that his uncle would be waiting and hurried to see him. He booked a cab to drop him home and spat out a lie that something important turned up at the training centre which required his presence. He then sheepishly paced to the operation theatre. He loitered in the corridor thinking about her. Struck by cupid’s arrow, he was eager to see her and most importantly talk to her. He stared at the operation theatre door whenever it creaked with a hope to meet her. Time drifted slower than usual and it seemed there wouldn’t be a conclusion for his wait that day. After a long wait for almost three hours, he called it a day and left the hospital with a sigh, only determined to return the following day.
The next day evening, he took permission from his chief and started early from the training camp to pursue her. It took him two hours to reach Dharmashila. He enquired about Jhaanvi at the reception and paced towards casualty ward. She was attending her usual rounds in the casualty ward busily checking her patient’s progress and updating their charts. She looked plain yet beautiful, alluring him. She often smiled while speaking to the patient’s and seemed to be empathetic. Her congenial smile brought positive hope to everyone around her.
Smitten by her, he kept looking at her oblivious that she crossed him after finishing her rounds. She went a few steps ahead of him and suddenly turned towards Mayank.
“Excuse me, Are you looking for someone?” her enquiry brought him back to senses.
“Well…yeah…infact, I was waiting all this while to meet you,” blurted Mayank.
Jhaanvi looked perplexed. Mayank’s military body build and attire added to her confusion.
He understood her confusion and introduced himself.
“I just wanted to know if that injured victim survived. The one who was brought in yesterday evening”
She thought for a moment and nodded in a positive way adjusting her spectacles – “aah! Yeah he survived. It was an emergency case and fortunately we saved him, but are you related to him?”
She paused, contemplated for a moment and then turned to leave.
“You were cool yesterday!!” he exclaimed with beaming eyes.
Jhaanvi smiled at him in reply, bewitching him yet again and strided in her usual gait.
“Can we try dating?” Mayank was straight to the point.
Shocked by an unexpected proposal from him, Jhaanvi stood pale as if lightning had struck her. Not that she is unromantic but has been very busy in her profession to an extent that love, dating, relationships etc were almost alien. Her world revolved around hospital, patients, seminars, research thesis – anything and everything connected to neurosciences for that matter.
A few moments later she revived to present. Mayank was still looking at her waiting earnestly for a reply.
“Are you nuts?” She retorted.
“I think, I really like you. If you ask me why, I don’t have an answer right now. Can we try dating at least for a month?”
“And, why not more?” She questioned annoyed looking straight in his eyes.
Although Mayank was taken aback by her question, he replied “That’s because you’ll come to hate me after that.”
She stormed away considering the discussion to be futile. He stood there in the middle of the hospital corridor continuing to look at Jhaanvi as she disappeared from his sight.
Jhaanvi got down from the Thar express at munabao station. The rest of the medical team followed her. They settled their belongings on the platform. She looked exhausted. The scorching summer made everybody to wear out. The weather was dry and baked the earth. Crowd was sparse in the station and the entire atmosphere was utterly dull and uninteresting.
“Uff…this heat ! its killing me,” irked Vidhya.
“As if it’s like a monsoon rain for us” mocked Aashish as a reply to Vidhya.
She grinned at him and everybody laughed.
“Guys, It’s going to be a tough stay especially in the military base with very little amenities, but lets try to endure it and give our best !” said Jhaanvi with a broad smile on her face despite her tiredness.
Everyone echoed with her. Such was her aura that charismatically attracted everyone.
As they stood in the station talking varied things, one of the medical team member noticed the sergeant troop at a distance fast approaching them.
“They are here…Looks like we are going to receive a grand military welcome,” uttered the team member with her hand pointing in the direction they were coming.
Everybody’s attention turned towards the military troop.
Amidst the troop was Mayank, the Alpha team’s Captain Major. It didn’t take much time for Jhaanvi to recognize him and stood stupefied. It seemed like everything stopped for a moment when she saw him. Their eyes met momentarily. They stared at each other, communicating through eyes. Finally, she looked away.
Destiny sure has its own ways to unfold at the most unexpected circumstances. You never know what’s going to happen in life.
As Jhaanvi’s thoughts clouded her mind with his memories like a winter morning mist, Mayank’s voice brought her to present.
“I’m the commanding officer at Munabao Military Base, Captain Major Mayank Dhawan and in charge of the medical team’s safety during your stay here. Welcome to Munabao. We will be travelling to our army base by the military truck CH49” asserted Mayank.
Jhaanvi kept looking at him. She has come to realize that she had missed him all this while. Both her mind and heart were not steady.
“During your stay at the military base, you are limited to one military duffle bag that will be given to you to carry your personal belongings” continued Mayank.
“How could we survive with just one bag” muttered Aparna. Mayank heard but bypassed to answer her.
“You will receive the remaining luggage by tomorrow evening. Well then!! We will leave in 10 minutes at 3:30 PM. Request everyone to be ready” saying so, he concluded.
While everyone got busy shuffling stuff into the bags provided to them, Jhaanvi continued to look at Mayank. Perhaps love is like the wind. Even if it’s invisible you can feel it and right now she is being swayed by it. Mayank too wished to look into her eyes directly but continued to look at her from his rear view. He desired to swirl her around the emotions he had for her all this while, but stood still. Love and pain squeezed his heart strings. He could feel the pounding sound of his heart, beating faster. Unable to control himself, he moved away from her sight to check upon the travel arrangements.
A few minutes later everyone got into the military truck and the journey started. The road was rocky. The air was dry with rough winds. The country side was rustic. Jhaanvi wore a pale look recalling her memories with Mayank. She vividly remembered the day when she fell head over heels for him.
Jhaanvi was a very busy person at Dharmashila with a great zest for her profession. She determined to become a professor in neurosciences and dedicated her time for research and spent most of her time either in the operation theatre assisting her seniors or in the casualty ward. Her world was indeed small. On that day, after an exhaustive 9 hours operation, she was tired to the core. She glanced at her watch. It showed 7 AM. Sipping a hot cappuccino she opened the glass window of her room. The thick morning mist that veiled the trees was slowly fading. The sky was clear inked in blue hues. The air was cool and refreshing. Signing off in the night duty register, she lazily walked out of the room with apron hanging loose on her right shoulder. Stepping out of the hospital, she stretched out her body relaxing her muscle tendons to the morning sun.
She felt that someone was looking at her near the parking lot but due to the mist the image appeared blurred. She walked closer towards the person and was taken aback.
She remembered him. It was Mayank. He waved at her with a smile.
“Are you a stalker?” Jhaanvi shrieked jumping back.
She looked beautiful in his eyes with a messy bun, round spectacles and pajamas.
Mayank laughed, “I am a soldier on training and for god sake definitely not a stalker.”
Saying so, he pulled out his ID proof and military tag from his pocket. He was sure that she was not going to believe him until he confirmed his identity.
“Do you still not believe me?”
“What’s there to know if you’re a soldier or not?” She sounded uninterested. Although she calmed down a bit, she didn’t let down her guard.
“It’s nice to meet you again !!”
“Don’t act friendly!!” Jhaanvi retorted.
Mayank looked straight in her eyes, “If you’re a doctor, you must not have a boyfriend since you are very busy.”
“And since you are a soldier you wouldn’t have a girlfriend as it’s hard to get one…”
“Who should answer now?” Mayank smirked.
Jhaanvi smiled perhaps the first time ever since she met him. Slowly, Mayank’s love as a destiny started to flutter her heart. He approached her like a dream and her feelings were shaken. Love began to blossom between them. The warmth of his love expanded her little world. Amidst their challenging professions they sorted out time to go on dates. Two months passed on. Although Jhaanvi was happy, somewhere deep within she was quite apprehensive. For a person who always vouch for happy endings, her darkest fear is the thought of a life without her loved ones which trailed her like a shadow. She couldn’t even bear the thought. Perhaps this was one of the main reasons she never welcomed love into her life ever since she lost her family in a tragic accident until Mayank came into her life as a twist in fate. Her darkest fear was fueled by a call Mayank received on one of their late night movie dates. He was ordered by his superior to immediately report at the training centre.
“Is something wrong?”
“I think I’ll have to leave now”
“Did some war break out?” Jhaanvi grew worried.
“I can’t tell the details because of the rules. Please take a cab and reach home safe. I will message you soon…” saying so, Mayank rushed out of the movie theatre. This situation wasn’t new to Jhaanvi. Over the past two months, there were a few times where he had received such calls and everything was kept a secret as demanded by his profession. And sometimes, he had to leave immediately just like it happened a few minutes back. She can neither get angry at him for leaving like that nor ask him to stay back. Jhaanvi sat in her seat speechless and helpless. Tears rolled down her cheeks as the movie rolled on.
A week later Jhaanvi got a call from Mayank while she was on her regular rounds in the casualty ward. Her heart skipped a beat when her mobile flashed Mayank’s name on the screen. Her thoughts had many odds that travelled faster than the wind when she tapped the answer button.
“Are you all ok? Nothing happened to you right…” she asked worriedly.
“Yes ! yes ! I am fit and healthy. Thanks for worrying about me and am sorry for keeping you worried” Mayank could sense the pain in her voice.
After talking for few minutes they decided to meet at their usual coffee hub near the hospital that evening.
Jhaanvi came a bit late while Mayank was already waiting for her near the coffee hub. She looked pale and weared out and he felt sad to see her that way. He came to realize the pain she had undergone all this while. They settled in a corner and Mayank ordered their regular macchiato. They sat in silence.
“I am really sorry for leaving you alone that day,” Mayank initiated the conversation breaking the silence.
After a long pause – “What I am expecting to hear is not an apology but an explanation” said Jhaanvi coldly.
“You very well know I can’t”
“I was really having the toughest time all this while until I heard from you today morning”
“Life was much simpler before I met you. I hardly expected anything. When you suddenly barged in out of nowhere, everything got changed” she continued.
Mayank continued to listen.
“You’re from special forces right…In the battlefield you either shoot people or get shot. Everything is uncertain. Mayank, do you only fight with the bad guys?” Jhaanvi could feel a lump struck in her throat. She knew that her darkest fear is getting exposed in the most savage way. She couldn’t hide it either.
“Everyday I spend more than 12 hours in the operating room fighting hard to save people from dying, but your fights are about saving lives through deaths of others.”
Mayank interrupted her flow of emotions, “I am a soldier!!! I act according to the commands given to me. I give my best to carry out my mission even though it means something else for others” he said with uttermost dignity and pride.
“The reason I work for army is that it is something someone must do. I feel responsible to protect my country even it involves martyrdom and I don’t regret it any day. I believe my job shall keep the freedom and peace of this land assured and safe” his loyalty as a soldier resonated in every word he spoke.
“I’m really sorry, my worries must have barged in your way, restraining your commitment and determination towards your duty. You are charming but a dangerous person. Every time I Iook at you I am charmed as well scared. I feel like a fool for having been complicated all by myself and I think I have to really standup this time. Perhaps it’s the best way for us to part away”
“I understand…” Mayank muttered in silence.
“It was perhaps the best phase in my life to meet you. Goodbye and stay safe” saying so, Jhaanvi got up from the chair but couldn’t muster up strength. She wanted to cry aloud but held it all in. With tears brimming in her eyes she walked towards the cafe’s front door. Mayank sat at the coffee table staring the floor as the froth on macchiato faded and disappeared just like her.
The military truck stopped with a jolt bringing Jhaanvi to her senses. The 3.5 hour journey to the military base was long and tiresome. The saffron hues streaked the west sky adding beauty to the rustic landscapes stretched along the horizon. The sun kissed goodbye welcoming the night moon and sparkling stars. Tents were sparsely set up at the military base. The medical team was warmly welcomed by the sergeant troop. They showed the med cube where the medical team would operate for the next few weeks.
As everyone were settling in their tents, Jhaanvi’s eyes searched for Mayank. She scanned from one corner to the other and finally found him at a distance, looking at her earnestly. That moment, she realized that their Love had never faded but only grew stronger withstanding the test of time.
Destiny sure has its own cues and has given Jhaanvi a second chance to take time and re-think, to simplify her complicated mind, to get rid of her fears at Munabao and let love blossom yet again in their strangled relationship.
Munabao’s dazzling sunny morning’s and star sprinkled moonlit sky is going to witness a beautiful love journey that shall unfold very soon.