A Forgotten Affair is the story of Sagarika who loses her memory in the bomb blasts that ripped Mumbai trains. Her memory wiped out, she begins to question her life, the present, her marriage and everything around her. A whiff of a male perfume, an innocuous word – Cheeni – disturbs her. What has she forgotten? Does she remember her past? If you had to live your life all over again, would you make the same choices, live the same life or be a different person? Traverse with Sagarika as she tries to put the blurred pieces of the puzzle together.

Prologue

New Year’s Eve, 2011, Malabar hills

“You must come. You have to. I know you aren’t in the mood but it will do you good.”

Rishab stands in front of the huge closet. Neat rows of ironed shirts hang. Whites, blues, stripes and checks one after another. The formals on one side, the informals on the other. The tees neatly folded and stacked one atop the other. The trousers hang separately. As do the suits. Everything meticulous. This is a closet of a man who likes order. Chaos, mess isn’t an option. Rishab never to spend too much time pondering on what’s to be worn. So everything is arranged in a manner to facilitate an easy and prompt selection.

But today he is unable to decide. Staring at the open closet, wondering. He doesn’t want to go. He never understood the big fuss about a New Year’s Eve party.

Every month has an end, so does December. So what’s the big deal? What’s with the compulsion to party?

And it isn’t the time to party and socialise, for him at least. He is worried and angry. It’s all so unnecessary, he feels.

None of this would have happened. None of this should have happened. What got into you? What?? Why?

He tightens his grip on the closet door, feeling the wave of anger surging inside. He grits his teeth, purses his lips and shuts his eyes, holds his breath for a while and exhales out loudly through his nostrils and mouth at the same time. Usually it helps ease out the tension. But today it doesn’t make any difference.

He makes his selection from the closet. Had it been any other invitation he would have flatly refused but he can’t say no to Subodh Seth. The global CEO! Subodh is hosting the party and a carefully selected group, handpicked by him has been invited. It would be professional suicide to refuse. Subodh never forgot or forgave. So it had to be done. He doesn’t bother to check how he looks. He knows he looks fine. He always does.

I need to be in control tonight. Why? WHY DID YOU DO THIS?

His mind screams. He walks out of the room, turns towards the living room, goes a few steps and then pauses as though a thought occurred. It almost flashed through his mind. He decides to do something before leaving home. Turns around and walks towards the small room at the end of the corridor. The door is locked. He always keeps it locked. Opening it, he enters the dark room, flicks the light on and shuts the door with a quiet determined snap. He needn’t have bothered. He is alone as the servants have left because of the year end celebration. Faces stare back at him. Mute. Some coloured. Some barely sketched. Some laughing with the head thrown back in gay abandon and others pensive. He sees each of them. Some are quite good.

She got better with time. Not so naïve as before.

He takes his time looking at each of them. Then he begins ripping them. Each of them. All the canvases. Slashing them with a knife. Puncturing them. As though killing them. Some he kicks and then stamps with his heavy shoes. It takes him about 15 minutes to destroy every painting in the room. Then he tosses the knife across the room, switches off the light, bolts the door and walks out.

I don’t want to be late. He tells himself.

He leaves, his feet silently treading on the lush Persian followed by the exquisite silk rug. He realises he isn’t feeling so angry anymore.

 

New Year’s Eve, 2011, Rishikesh, Banks of The Ganges

The noisy river gurgles by. That’s what it does…flow on. It is her destiny. To flow. He leans on a boulder, tilting his head on the rock, staring at the starry sky, breathes in the cool night air. He takes a sip of beer from the bottle, some spill on his shirt; he doesn’t care. His mobile lies next to his leg on the sand, inert and quiet. He picks it up, presses a button and it glows in the dark. No new messages or pings.

What the hell? Don’t you miss me… at all!

The familiar feeling, the dull ache jabs his heart.

Cheeni. You’ve never gone silent for so long. Have you left?

“Akash!” What the hell are you doing sitting here? Uff! Always staring at the stupid stars and the moon…” the voice pierces through the still night. He turns to look at Sunaina. In a pair of cropped shorts that barely cover her butt cheeks, a flimsy shirt fluttering in the wind, she stands with her legs slightly apart, irritation writ large on her face.

“Don’t you feel cold? And couldn’t you get any smaller shorts, Su?” Akash tugs at her hair as he walks past her.

“Ouch!” she squeals a little in mock pain. She hates it when he teases and pulls her hair. It bugs her that he never reciprocates to her sexual overtures. After all there’s only one thing worse than being treated as an object of sexual desire; it’s not being seen as one by the guy you like!

No need to think so much about her. Akash tells himself for the hundredth time that day. But he knows it would be only a matter of few minutes before he would think of her again. His Cheeni. Silly sweet gorgeous Cheeni. With wild dense curls.

The music is loud. Too loud. It hurt his ears. A huge bonfire crackles, breaking the darkness of the night. The river looks like a golden syrup, rippling and gurgling. Almost like molten fire, before plunging into darkness as it flows away from the raging fire. Few couples are dancing around, some sit huddled, scattered around, cuddling, taking advantage of the darkness. Some of the girls are giggling and dancing together, nonchalant and carefree. Many are clapping and yelling. It’s a happy bunch. Except Akash. He stands with them for a while and then quietly slips away. It’s unlike him.

I used to love crowd, loud music and parties. What’s happening to me? Why do I like being alone?

He thinks as he moves away from the party. The countdown to the New Year has begun.

Su is right. Of late I like to gaze at the moon.

He stares at the star specked sky and then at the cluster of trees in the distance. They form subfuscous little paths with patches of silver, the moonlight filtering through, more like a vain attempt to.

Are you seeing the same moon? He almost laughs at the thought. When she had said that to him, he had roared with laughter and teased her. How many moons are there, Cheeni?

She had been hurt and it took him many cuddles and kisses to make her smile again. She had playfully punched his chest and growled, I hate you. And then hugged him tight.

I know. He had said and kissed her head burying his face in her dense curls.

“Happy New year !! Everybody…Happy New year!!” screams and yells break Akash out of his dream. He walks further away from the group, once again checking his mobile for a message or a missed call.

Su searches for Akash. She had decided to kiss him on pretext of wishing Happy New Year.

“Where is the guy? He just disappears.” She shoves away Aniket who tries to grab her.

Pushing through the mad drunken crowd she pulls away and stands at the edge of the river.

“Where are you Akash?” she doesn’t like the way she feels. She doesn’t have to work so hard to get any guy. But Akash is decidedly aloof and that annoys her. She sees someone sitting near the water, quite a distance away. She walks towards the figure. As she nears, she’s certain it’s Akash, she almost calls out and then stops. Something about the way he’s sitting, half bending over, pushing his fingers into his hair... She stands watching him. He sits for a while, then flings the empty beer bottle aside, takes out his mobile from the pocket and dials a number, then begins pacing around impatiently, waiting for the call to be taken. Then throws the mobile on the sand nearby and collapses near it.

Sunaina watches the scene for a while and then turns away, realizing her presence is neither desired nor welcome.

Akash doesn’t see her.

Why is your phone switched off? May be you are in Paris…or NY, your favourite city. Have you gone to Iceland! Always wanted to see the Northern lights…

The thought disgusts him.

I mean nothing to you. Nothing. You just walked away. So can I. Yes, Akash. You can walk away too.

He tells himself. Almost yelling out the words as he picks up the mobile, switches it off and walks back towards the drunken group.

“Su! Happy New Year.” He touches her elbow, grabs her waist, pulling her towards himself, and kisses her long and deep.