Mukti was fidgeting with the seat belt when Arjun glanced across at her from where he was seated in the flight, a couple of seats ahead. She looked up just then and their eyes met. He gave her a warm, reassuring smile, almost saying, “It’s okay. Just relax.” She smiled back, hesitantly. Carefully smoothening out the creases formed on her dress, she moved her hands over to the side of the seat and turned to look outside the window.
Arjun was a good man and a great friend. MBA in marketing, fairly handsome, kind and compassionate too. He was the one who had forced Mukti to come along on his bachelor retreat. He was getting married a week later, to a beautiful, Marwari girl, also an MBA, from a well to do family in Jaipur, Rajasthan.
Mukti was in no mood to be in Goa. Definitely not with a group of people amongst whom the only one she knew was Arjun. But he was adamant. “I will not take no from you. Not this time. I am getting married! You have got to be there. You are really important to me and this time together is supposed to be my time with the closest friends I have. Please don’t say no to this, Mukti.”
She had finally succumbed to her dear friend’s incessant blackmailing…
Within the next half hour, they had landed in Goa, collected their baggage and were on their way to the hotel.
The weather was humid but not to the point of being stifling. It was close to 1 pm and all six of them were famished. She was seated with a definitive frown on her face at the window in the Innova that was sent over by the hotel to escort them there. “I wish I was at home. Why am I here with these people? None of these people will like me anyway. It will be a waste of my week. I look like shit and they are trying to be nice to me simply because of Arjun. Or maybe because they know about my break up? Or my anxiety issues? Urrgh…Why did he drag me here?,” she thought to herself whilst smiling pleasantly and meekly mouthing, “Thank you” to one of the girls in the group who was complimenting Mukti on the dress she was wearing.
With high spirits and loud music, the group reached their destination, unpacked, had lunch of the famous Goan curry with rice, and we were all set to go to the beach. She refused to step out but Arjun wouldn’t let her be. “Come on Mukti, this is my bachelor trip. Every day, every minute counts. We are here to have fun. Stop moping around. The beach will do you good,” he yanked her out of bed and in the next few minutes, the six of them were strolling on the glorious sand of Mandrem beach.
Everywhere she looked, she could see swarms of white-skinned tourists, clad in bikinis or shorts, looking content. “Oh, what do they have to worry about. They are here on a holiday. Their lives are sorted. I wish I could be living their carefree life!” she thought. Over the years, she had learnt the art of deception quite well. Her face would never betray her thoughts. She could be boiling over with the same rage as that of the scorching, afternoon sun but on the surface, she would appear as calm and composed as the clouds in the sky, silently passing by with the poise and elegance of a ballet dancer.
While she was lost in her thoughts, the other five of the group had all moved along ahead of her. She slumped down on the bronze coloured sand, just where she had been standing. A blanket of blue-grey water was all she could see, as far as her eyes could go. In the distance, were tiny, bright dots which were gigantic ships in real.
Mukti adjusted her glasses which were slipping below the bridge of her nose. Her petite physique, wrapped in a pale, plain peach coloured long dress, straight black lacklustre hair, fidgeting fingers and the constant formation of lines on her small forehead – they were all indicative of herself from within. An uninteresting, uncomplicated woman – who was merely existing, not living. She was pretty but not in a magnetic kind of way. She would smile often but not the kind that reached her eyes, leaving behind a lingering twinkle. She was, in fact, quite ordinary in most ways and yet there was an extraordinary, melancholic, sort of heavy, feeling of sadness that loomed over her. A poignant emotion clouded the joy that she probably hid within her. There was a perpetual look of agony, of despair, on her face. As though happiness would come to pay her a visit but would never cross over the threshold and really step in.
She was sitting, fidgeting, waiting, wallowing when two foreigner women, holding a bottle of beer each came and sat nearby. One of the women smiled at her, a smile she returned with equal, but feigned enthusiasm. The woman was wearing an orange coloured t-shirt with “Om” scribbled across in black over the middle paired with black shorts. Mukti could spot about eleven tattoos on the exposed parts of her body. Her hair, as golden as the soft sun rays she was bathed in, were tied in a messy bun on her head. Her right arm was covered with chunky, beaded bracelets. She radiated happiness with every move of her toned body.
“Hey, are you a local?” this woman enquired.
“Oh no no. I am here with friends on holiday. I am not a local,” Mukti replied with a smiling face.
“Oh okay, alright. I thought you might be. My name is Caroline and she is Isabelle.” The other woman waved and smiled. “We are here on a vacation too. We are from Germany. Goa is beautiful. India is beautiful. Oh yeah…Namaste to you,” the woman joined her hands in a praying gesture and bent her head.
“Namaste Namaste!” chimed Mukti, laughing out quite loud.
“What’s your name? Where are your friends? Why are you sitting here alone?”
“I am Mukti. My friends are all wandering somewhere around on this beach. I will catch up with them in a while. I was just enjoying solitude. Thinking about myself.”
“Oh so are we disturbing?”
Mukti wanted to say yes but of course, she couldn’t. She could never voice her feelings. Her nature had become one that of pleasing people, craving their approval over even the smallest of action and decision she made.
“Not at all. There isn’t much to think about anyway. I have a boring life.”
“What does Mukti mean?”
“Mukti is a Hindi word. It means freedom. Liberation.”
“Hmm…thats lovely! What do you do Mukti?”
“Well, when I am not sitting on a beach, enjoying the view, I work for a bank. And you?”
“Bank huh? That’s nice. I am a dancer. I teach dance professionally. I am going to open up my own dance academy soon.”
“That’s really nice, Caroline.”
The woman offered her the bottle of beer which Mukti took a swig from and passed it back. Caroline suddenly slipped into deep thought.
“Thank you,” she said finally, bringing her contemplation to an end.
“Thank you? For what?” Mukti was surprised.
“For giving me the name of my dance academy! Oh, I have been thinking so hard, for so long. And here you give me the perfect name! I am going to name it Mukti. For me, dance is freedom. The freedom to express myself in the way I want to. Freedom is everything! What is life without freedom, eh? Freedom to dance, freedom to laugh, freedom to just be! So, what better name for my dance academy than Mukti?” Caroline raised the bottle of beer with pride and cheerfulness.
Mukti smiled. She had never really taken into account the meaning of her name. She had lived her entire life with the label of ‘freedom’ when she herself had never set herself free. She was caught in the web of pleasing someone or the other, worrying about the past, present and the future, underestimating her own potential, being her own worst enemy, of blaming herself for the bitter break up, living a life she was barely holding the reigns of. What was the point of this suppressed rage, frustration with life, like someone else was always better than her, or that someone was to be blamed for the misfortune that befell her? Oh, she wanted to scream out so loud!
“Thank you, Caroline,” she said.
“For making me understand the true meaning of my name.” Now it was Caroline’s turn to look surprised.
Just then, she heard someone call her name out. Looking behind, Mukti saw Arjun and the group waving at her. Mukti got up, with a genuine smile on her face for a change, bent over and hugged the two women whom she had stumbled upon, and who had ended up giving a new meaning to her existence, without even knowing it.