“Are you waiting for your letter?”- Kshitij asked Sanskriti. “I cannot believe anyone in this age would still be using the snail mail”- he said.
Sanskriti decided to ignore his teasing, she was too anxious. She was awaiting news from Muskaan, her pen pal of ten years.
Sanskriti remembered to this day the first time she had met Muskaan. She had fallen down and bruised her knees. Muskaan had approached her and offered to help her get on to her cycle. She had washed her wounds with a wet handkerchief. She had often seen Muskaan around the neighborhood, but no one ever spoke to her. Sanskriti had heard the neighborhood aunties lamenting about how the landlord had allowed such immoral women in their community. Muskaan was born out of wedlock and hence been shunned by the community. Back then, in that small town, an unmarried woman, raising her kid by herself was unheard of. Sanskriti’s mother had forbidden her from talking to Muskaan. Even at school, Muskaan was often left out from most activities.
But that day had changed things. At first it was just an exchange of shy smiles. Then Sanskriti had started talking to Muskaan when no one was around. At school, she started helping Muskaan with Mathematics, as it was Muskaan’s weak point. In return, she coached Sanskriti in English. That is how they had started writing letters. By the end of the year, Muskaan had mastered Mathematics and Sanskriti her language skills. But there were repercussions. Sanskriti’s mother had heard about the budding friendship and had severely scolded her. She had heard her mother calling up Muskaan’s mother and having a big row with her. That summer was the last time she had seen Muskaan. Muskaan had left to another city, but had met her one last time before leaving. The girls had hugged each other with tears and Sanskriti had promised Muskaan that they would always remain in touch through letters.
Thus their friendship had continued, spanning years and across continents. They had been each other’s source of comfort, each other’s soul sisters through the years. No one had ever been able to understand Sanskriti as much as Muskaan. Muskaan’s letters had become Sanskriti’s refuge in times of distress, a soothing balm for all her pain.
Just thinking about Muskaan brought a smile on Sanskriti’s face. Today was special. For today, she would get Muskaan’s answer. She had been asking Muskaan from a long time about meeting each other. Lately Muskaan had been a little distant. Her letters had given Sanskriti the impression that Muskaan seemed preoccupied with something, but she wouldn’t reveal anything even with Sanskriti pestering her. Even her letters had become rare. Sanskriti was worried about Muskaan. When Sanskriti had probed, Muskaan had always evaded answering anything directly. Now, finally she had agreed and had promised that she would send her the date and venue of their meeting.
The much awaited letter did not arrive. Days passed by. Sanskriti’s eyes would often be on the lookout for the postman. She grew more anxious with each passing day. Sometimes she would feel anger towards her friend. More often, it was just sadness. She missed Muskaan’s letters. They had always been a great source of comfort to her. It was Muskaan who had encouraged her to start writing stories.
“You have a vivid imagination and an ability to capture people’s attention with it”-she had said.
Today Sanskriti was an established writer whose articles and short stories were quite the talk of the town. This year, she had started writing her first novel. This had been her dream since many years and finally she had completed it and succeeded in publishing it. It had become a best seller overnight and she was receiving a lot of praise from many leading newspapers and authors. She had won the “Best debut author of the year” award and was going to be honored at the awards ceremony next month. Sanskriti had wanted Muskaan to be present in the audience when she received it. It had been another reason why Sanskriti had been so forceful about wanting to meet Muskaan. But some wishes were fated to be unfulfilled.
Today was the day that Sanskriti was going to receive the award. She had been preparing her acceptance speech since a week now. She was really nervous. All the reputed authors and award winning celebrities would be there today and she wanted to be at her best. She was waiting for the car that would be picking her up in a few minutes. Her door bell rang and there arrived a parcel. Sanskriti looked at in surprise as she wasn’t expecting anything. She opened the parcel. There was a leather bound journal along with a letter and a faded photograph of two girls laughing. She sat down on the floor and started reading.
I am sorry for the delay in replying. Before we move on to other things, I would like to congratulate you on winning the “Best debut author of the year” award. I always knew you would make a great writer one day. My only regret being that I could not be with you on your special day. I really wanted to, but fate had other plans for me. A year back I was diagnosed with cancer. Unfortunately, it was discovered too late. I still fought it but to no avail. Radiation, chemo – we did everything, but finally the disease won. I did not want to spend my last days on this earth in a hospital and I decided to return home. I did not tell you all this because this was a special year for you. You had finally started writing your novel and my news would have been a distraction you didn’t need. And I did not want you to see me in my present condition. I did not want your final memory of me to be that of a shriveled, weakened disease ridden Muskaan. I want you to remember me as the laughing, sparkling and vibrant Muskaan.
By the time you receive this, I will be long gone. I want you to know that I am eternally grateful to have had such a friend as you. You befriended me when most people shunned me. You have been there through all the highs and lows of my life. Your letters were a constant source of strength and I am lucky to have had you as a friend.
This picture was taken by my mom and the only picture I had to remind me of those days. I want you to have it. You will also find a customized journal, with the words of your first poem written engraved on the back side. I wish you all the very best. I know one day the whole world will recognize and acknowledge your talents.
Sanskriti sat there shell-shocked. Tears were flowing down her cheeks. She kept re-reading the letter, somehow believing that there would be somewhere a hint that this was all just a joke or a cruel prank. Muskaan, her Muskaan was dead. Her best friend had been seriously ill and she had no clue. “If only, you had given me a chance to help you and be with you through this Muskaan”, thought Sanskriti, filled with pain and guilt. But Muskaan had done what she always did. She was the most unselfish, generous person Sanskriti had ever seen. Muskaan had always put her loved ones first. She had indeed been the reason for the Muskaan(smile) on so many people’s faces.
The door bell rang. Her car had arrived. Sanskriti wiped away her tears and carried Muskaan’s letter with her. When she went on stage to receive her award, she said “This is for you Muskaan. It was because of you that I started writing; your letters kept inspiring me and urging me to keep writing. This award belongs to you”- Sanskriti choked up as she said this and left the stage in a hurry before she completely broke down. Later in one of her interviews, Sanskriti talked to people about Muskaan, her letters and soon, Muskaan’s story was as well known as Sanskriti’s novel. Sanskriti decided to donate half of the proceeds from the book sales to aid research on cancer. She set up a trust in Muskaan’s name, which would work towards helping people with cancer. This was the least she could do to honor her friend’s memory she felt.
It was the monsoon season, with the rain pelting down the window. An old Hindi song was playing on the recorder. Sanskriti sat down on her chair, reminiscing about that last summer with Muskaan. Even now her heart ached for her friend. Her only solace being the letters. She pulled open her drawer and got out one of Muskaan’s old letters and started reading.