24 January, 2010


He felt the cold metallic touch of the stethoscope and did not like it. The Doctor’s face had lost the smile it normally carried. As he was very sternly asked “How long has it been since you have taken a break? Did I tell you to go easy, or not?” smiling back indulgently said “Arrey Doctor, you relax first.” Dr. Phadke continued in his reprimand saying “Even if you are relatively young (he had just crossed the big four oh in June this year) things don’t look good; especially that bump on your head. We should get it tested. What is now forgetfulness can have the possibility to blossom into a complete memory loss and you may just find everything erased off your brain. Let’s test while you take rest and have it easy" This conversation had taken place a couple of days back.

He called out the customary goodbye to his wife in the morning. As he reached the door she somehow managed to be there before him and very casually flicked the few hairs that had fallen on his collar, brushed his back, inspected him and passed her Ok. Years of practice had honed her routine too. He looked around the house & was pleased with what he saw. The business and the house were his pride along with his books; those he collected, read and reread with a passion bordering on the manic. It didn’t vary much this routine of his as he considered it. This was his world and he worked very hard for its tranquility. The doctor’s words had stayed with him though.

He felt dizzy when the floor vibrated under his feet. As he looked down, he could see his fallen trousers & he realized he was siting in the toilet of a train. He definitely had a name but it seemed to elude him. Curiously he started searching in his pockets for some clue. All he did find were two neatly taped bundles of 1000 rupee notes with the bank seals intact. No branch written there either, the seals just said “State Bank of India”; Rs. Two Hundred Thousand in his pocket and one card ticket to Mumbai, nothing else. As he pulled up the trousers he noticed the cut. It was pretty good and the material seemed to be of a fine quality too. Hurriedly buttoning up he looked in the mirror. A smooth face with mischievous dark eyes stared back. The hair was jet black and all there with a few flecks of grey giving the face a rather distinguished air. He came out and turned into the compartment searching for a familiar face but his memory made them all strangers. He then noticed a man get up with a smile to give him room to pass. He saw the seat empty beyond and without any preamble sat in it.

The man next to him was reading the newspaper was similarly attired. In a friendly manner common to long distance travelers who make small talk, he asked “Are you one of us?” then without waiting for his reaction continued “You must be. What’s your name?” The question was posed in Marathi and automatically he found himself answering in the same language, “Dhananjay Kulkarni from Pune - call me DK.” “Hi DK, Makarand Dixit and am from Karad. I have joined the association just this year” said the man. “And I am told that the venues sure are degrading day by day for our conferences. Had they told me this earlier I would have saved myself the membership participation fee. The Retreat on Madh is a nice property but the stink of fish can be quite irritating. Thankfully it’s away from the main city, yet not so far off that one can't see it if the convention gets boring. I am into plastic bags and with the government defining thicknesses it’s getting tougher. It has happened since the floods in Mumbai and how about you?”

“I am into designing and labeling” said he in response. “I thought so as you have that look of the creative man from an air-conditioned atmosphere.” He just smiled to this observation. “DK take a look at this he said pointing to a small bit of news. Another of these lost memory cases reported missing and may be wandering about. After Aamir Khan’s Ghajini everybody seems to be having a penchant for memory loss.” He glanced at the news item and it read…””Ajay Kanetkar , a Chartered Accountant with his own successful practice in Kolhapur withdrew a rather large sum from his bank and has gone missing.”” “I am sure said Makarand that he must have run away for a tryst. DK I wish I could do that. My kids, I tell you, the noise that they make in the house makes the machinery in my factory seem peaceful.” Laughing, he just leaned back and closed his eyes.

He was herded by Makarand into the waiting bus for the delegates arranged to take them to the venue. DK and Makarand reached the hotel lobby. Removing a few notes a fresh reservation was obtained in his name when he said that his luggage was lost and with it his papers. He told Makarand that he would be skipping the conference, to arrange for clothes and stuff. “Oh, have fun said he, I wish I could” and they parted. Two days passed in a blur. DK was how he started calling himself, as he set out in a taxi, exploring the mega polis. Along with a curious thrill what he acutely felt was a sense of absolute freedom. He wandered about exploring the street shops of Linking Road at Bandra and later as the sun reduced its intensity ambled onto the shoreline of the Bandra Causeway. Constraints if any, he realized to himself are more expectation driven and social in nature. The moment a person decides to step out of them, deny them, ignore them or even break them then nothing else matters. There shall be a price to pay for it, for this absolute freedom else you end up being shackled by convention; Idle thoughts churning in his mind as he walked alone, knowing no one and no one knowing him. He had adjusted to this new state quite smoothly. He actually felt liberated and liked the feeling. Looking up at the crimson sky he saw that it was getting late & decided to turn back to the hotel.

It was when he was crossing the lobby after retrieving his key that he felt the tap on his shoulder and turned. A fat portly man who had just checked out was beaming at him. “I thought it was you Kanetkar, what are you doing in Mumbai?” DK just brushed past him and said “Sir, you must be mistaken, I am Dhananjay Kulkarni and am with the Plastic Mfrs and Accessories Services Association and in a conference here.” Swiftly he crossed to the elevator and came to his room leaving the man staring at his back in puzzlement. Explaining his fantastic situation was just too embarrassing and he thought that the way he handled it was quite the best given the circumstances. He ordered room service not wanting to run into the man again should he still be around for dinner.

The next day morning he came down from his room for breakfast that was laid out at the poolside. He observed an elegant lady of about his own age, sitting at a table near the pool. As their gazes met he saw her looking back at him with a half smile. As he collected his plate and looked around for a place to sit the woman waved out and invited him over. Puzzled, he walked over and setting down his plate looked at her. "Are you sure you know me?" "No" said she “I was never ever sure of that”. He said "What if I tell you that my name is Dhananjay Kulkarni from Pune?" "I would only assume that you have not brought Shalmalee along with you?” She said in the same mischievous banter. “Have I changed that much since college Ajay?” Again that name. She seemed to know him and someone called Shalmalee . But now his responses as DK were automatic. He said "I am afraid my memory is giving me a problem." "It used to be bad even then when you had forgotten my birthday and it became more so after Shalmalee came into your life and you got married. I married my first husband soon after “Someone called out to her “Poornima are you coming?” and she turned and replied “No you guys carry on, have met an old friend after long and we have a lot of catching up to do.” She was good looking and he felt the envious stares of all the males around who were eyeing his companion covertly in the company of their wives and kids. He looked around and saw Makarand , also with a few people at a far off table giving him a knowing smile.

“Now that you are in Mumbai and all alone by the looks of it let’s play hookey and spend the day together like earlier. You can gift me that single orchid like you would then, what say?” He found himself smiling back and saying “Dare I refuse such a charming invite from such a lovely lady? As she smiled in satisfaction he continued ever so smoothly “This would have been my response had I remembered you but since I do not, I have to pass it up”. Her smile froze on her face. Stiffly she asked "Just satisfy my curiosity Ajay, just this once. After our nights then, don’t tell me that you can look at an orchid and not feel me in your senses. Call it the curiosity of a woman, even pride if you must. Have you truly forgotten me?" “I am really sorry madam Poornima, isn’t that what your friend called you? If I start explaining my current situation it may sound totally implausible. Had I known you as well like you are telling me then I certainly would not have forgotten you or any flowers. But I have and am sorry.” She stood up with a poised dignity and looked at him with a sad smile and said "You are a liar Ajay, but nevertheless we have bumped into each other after long. Just seeing you was good." She walked away and he watched her hips sway gracefully and he felt a sense of regret at his condition. He went out of the hotel and spent the day wandering about. After a late lunch he went into a cinema house and even took in a movie.

The next morning the reception called his room “ Mr. Kulkarni, there are a couple of visitors waiting for you.” DK walked down to see a very beautiful lady with a strained face and a man with her who looked equally sober of disposition. “Hi” said the man and the lady had almost taken a step to him but was forestalled by the man. She stood looking at him anxiously. Hello said he, “Do we know each other?” He heard the woman muffle a sob as he turned back to the man who said “Don’t you know who we are Ajay? I am Dr. Rakesh Phadke your friend of fifteen years and your personal physician. This lady here is Shalmalee. Mr. Kapadia of Jagruti Sugars saw you here and called us only yesterday, as he had lost your residential number. He was worried and curious about why had Ajay not recognized him. It was after that call, Shalmalee called me & we came straight over.” He told them "Yes I remember the plump gentleman man who accosted me in the lobby here, calling me Kanetkar". The lady was on the verge of tears and the man turned to her and said you go to your room, this here is a case of memory loss caused by severe stress. It will heal up with time.” She reluctantly went away.

The man came up the elevator with DK to his room. “You have been missing for over a week now. Your name is Ajay Kanetkar and the lady Shalmalee is your wife who has been under tremendous strain over the time you have been missing. She is a woman to be proud of and you are very fond of her. You are one of the leading CA’s in Kolhapur with a booming practice but given the strain of your job and monotony of your life, I was very much afraid of your memory being wiped out. It was the little bump on your head that worried me. It may be the clot, I suspected"

While the man spoke they had walked into the room. The room seemed different from earlier to when he was called down. In his absence someone had kept one white orchid bloom in his room. The doctor did not miss the wistful smile on his face and saw him pick up the orchid up and pass an indolent finger gently on its moist petal. He asked “Doctor is this condition of mine serious?” “Well one can’t say, some people have taken years while with some others it has been a real quick trip back to normalcy” replied the doctor. Something in his face told the doctor that the man had arrived at a decision. He walked over to the balcony and flung the flower out. “I am engaging you to be my doctor and better make sure the cure is a real quick one” and he plopped himself back on the sofa. I have had enough of this. You can go & get Shalmalee in now and Rakesh, he said with a wink, “It was simply marvelous.”