Richard Bach couldn’t hold Maya’s attention on his bestseller ~ "One"...and Maya looked up.
A broad forehead, short crew-cut hair, sharp nose ,deep dreamy caramel colored eyes, an even green stubble, thin long fingers, taping gently on the chin, that was Gaurav Mishra…looking intensely into the deep doe eyes, the cute small blunt nose, small forehead ,peaking nape, shoulder length layered locks, and strawberry moist lips.
The class of ‘99 ‘s top two graduates, from the prestigious Indian Institute of Mass Communication, Gaurav Mishra and Maya Menon went on to join Times of India together. Their friendship and respect kept growing even when Gaurav joined rivals The Statesman, or The Indian Express.
Over the years they had kept in touch over letters, ‘snail mail’ as Gaurav would call it. But that was his way of saying ‘I like you enough to take the effort to pen a letter rather than type one out’. ‘Typewriters of keyboards could never convey that.’ Gaurav thought as he posted the beige envelop.
Garuav was back in Mumbai, with a new job, this time with Reuters. Money was good and the assignment exciting. His research work with IDSA had helped him bag this job – needless to say, he was super excited, and who else could he share this with other than Maya.?
As he closed the red velvet box,he thought ‘what would Maya’s reaction be when she see’s the ring?’
A Hectic schedule, meeting deadlines and a slight fever, did not permit him to think much further or send the customary beige envelop to Maya before he arrived in Mumbai. So once aircraft door unlatched, he flipped open his mobile resorted to a text message…
‘meet me at the café after cancer…and before virgo…after 8 and before 10 !’ Gaurav keyed in trying to sound cryptic.
Maya’s eyes lit up the moment she saw the message on her mobile, and she knew exactly what he meant. She had written about her favorite café in almost every letter to Gaurav. After all, that was her best company after office. Always welcomed her with open arms, served great food, and all the old waiters knew that Maya did not like salt in her scrambled egg.!
That Wednesday night she went to her favorite café a little early, just to make sure, she finished the book before
Gaurav came, she got a cozy place to sit and was reading the final chapter of Richard Bach’s bestseller ‘One’.
‘wow someone’s wearing Elizabeth Arden’ -a deep baritone resonated in her ears.
‘and you seem to have graduated from Polo green’ Maya retorted.
‘ah- so you remember – hmm true – this is Bvlgari –Aqva’
‘good it’s nice’ said Maya gently inhaling the fragrance.
‘well what brings you here Mr.hot shot expert?’ Maya continued.
‘Well someone at Reuters thought I do a pretty good job,and could do something even better here in Mumbai’ Gaurav spoke with humility.
‘No way.Tell me you re kidding? Reuters offered you a job in Mumbai ?’ Maya’s eyes twinkled.
‘I am not kidding you, looks like we are going to meet a bit more often than before.’ Gaurav said reclining back into his chair.
‘So it seems.’Maya said suddenly sounding a bit serious.
Well congratulations Gaurav - you know , you and I have always competed professionally, and I have always respected you for the integrity that you bring to your work…I haven’t done too bad for myself either, but I always knew you were meant for something bigger.’ Maya said reclining back to her chair.
Their eyes met each other with warmth, respect and expectancy.
Gaurav slid his hands in his right pocket to feel the velvet box again.
‘will you meet me again? Gaurav inclined.
‘again ? as in tomorrow? But we have just met’ Maya said sounding surprised.
‘Shhhhhh’ Gaurav interrupted her with an extended index finger and placed it on her lips.
‘I mean can we keep on meeting?... for rest of our lives.?’ Gaurav looked intensely into Maya’s eyes.
There must ve been 200 people in the café, but they could only hear their own heartbeats. The world around them had blurred, the sound muffled and their eyes locked. Gaurav took out the velvet box and kept in on the table.
The next moment, his table was smashed and the diner was flung aside. It seemed like a blast and something hit him hard on the back. Panicked ,Gaurav tried to run without looking ,he bumped into bodies falling, and blood splattering everywhere. He fell down, as the first bullet hit him on the back.
Café Leo was gripped in fear, fatality and frenzy.
It was followed by a blast…or so he thought. As the mayhem continued, Gaurav regained some of his senses and scampered to the nearest exit.On his way out another stray bullet lodged in his right arm. Shrapnels tore in to his skin. He kept dragging his feet trying to get out on to the main road, he touched the wound and found it was bleeding profusely. He had to act quickly.
Gaurav screamed ‘Help me, help me please.’ In fear and desperation.
But no one came forward. His legs felt heavier, the world around him was spinning, and a shooting pain ran through his body. He tried to drag himself ahead, but he was losing the battle to bleeding and consciousness.
As he lay there semi conscious he suddenly felt being dragged by someone. He was not in a position to resist or react.
The next thing he heard was a screeching car stopping just close to him, people screaming –
‘he’s been shot - take him to JJ hospital quick.’
Gaurav could still hear the gunfire in the street and the stranger in the cab seemed to say there was some sort of gang war going on. ..and that’s when it hit him.
What happened to Maya?
He tried to scream her name, and gesture the car driver to stop..but too much blood had been drained, and he lost consciousness.When he woke up next, he was in the hospital.
The doctors at the hospital were reluctant to admit Gaurav,he had no identity - his proof of existence was lost in the chaos that ensued in the shootout.
'A criminal case' one doctor opined, 'needs to be registered first'.
The last bit of life was pushing hard to get out of Gaurav's body.
Just then the news about Mumbai attacks was aired on the TV installed in the lobby.
No more questions were asked.
Though It happened on November 26th, it wasn’t until 2nd December that Gaurav was in his senses again. He had been in a coma like situation for the last 6 days. Completely disconnected with the outside world.
Newspapers, headlines, and news channels screamed - 170 people died in Mumbai terror attack. Somewhere in the clippings he saw Café Leo massacre - 120 injured and 30 dead. Some unidentified bodies were being taken for cremation.
The authorities had already prepared the list of the dead and were flashing it on TV ~ Gaurav Mishra,29,Reuters correspondent,Kate Zimmerick,27,Rehman Hussain,33,.....
Luckily,Gaurav’s bureau chief had found him out, the stranger that brought him to the hospital,had the presence of mind to dial the last number from his mobile...
Back in the hospital dormitory,Gaurav tried desperately to call Maya…as the phone kept ringing…his heart sank. Realizing the inevitability he made desperate attempts to The TOI office – but no one had heard anything from her. Gaurav was feeling choked.He couldn’t save her life. Being selfless under pressure was a tough thing to do.It was becoming increasingly clear to him that Maya had been a casualty of the attack and her body was probably not identified before being cremated.
It was painful in the first few weeks, but Gaurav’s new colleagues gave him immense mental support and urged him back to work.
A few days later, about 60 kms away in Thane Regional Mental Hospital,a group of trauma patients sat together staring blankly at the walls, the ceiling and sometimes themselves. Some laughed,some cried and one even read a book - One - by Richard Bach and the beige envelope as a bookmark on page 26,which had a TOI news paper clipping –
‘Gaurav Mishra’- Reuters correspondent found dead in Café Leo attack, identified by his newly issued identity card found near the attack site’.
"What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly." - Richard Bach
Gyanban Thoughts –
- This story is inspired by a true incident.
- You might want to read 936 Words.
- Vestige means a mark, trace, or visible evidence of something that is no longer present or in existence.
- Sourav Mishra was one of the first victims at Café Leopold shootout.
- IDSA stands for Institute of Defense and Strategic Analyses.
- Sourav Mishra is a bio-terrorism expert.
- He was shot in the back and proclaimed dead by authorities.
- His name was featured in the first list of casualties at Leopold Café.
- He survived the bullet injuries and lived to tell his story.
- The stranger who took him to the hospital was a tea stall owner nearby.
- Maya's character sketch had some references from the Amy Bishop case.
- Richard Bach in his famous book ‘One’ talks about parallel existence.
- Illusions - the Reluctant Messiah is a must read as well.
Call it disaster tourism if you will, I clicked this photo of Leopold Cafe, on my recent visit. It was one of our hangouts after work, a decade ago. I sat in the coffee table and visualized the entire episode of 26/11.It still gave me a jolt.the walls were still screaming, the table still weeping,and the empty chair still accommodating yet another stranger...who would come along some day and cry with them,feeling the pain of the innocent lives lost...and so many lives traumatized for life...yet the spirit floats,and sometimes.... hangs around those bulleted walls.