I am a writer, because I am a reader, a passionate reader of the events. Apart from doing my literary writing, I try to see how a particular event would and could affect the people living in its immediate surround.
Short story narrating how the terms of relationship change in an orthodox society.
MOTHER CANNOT LIMIT her tremble. Her lips trembling, her hands moving in uncertain direction, and the eyes are burning with anger. The anger drips from her eyelids, too. She grabs a stick and threatens our cow a heavy blow.
“Don’t speak with me.”
I fold my argument. Surrender is the best policy. The night is not so cold. But Papa has taken out a thick rug, wrapped it around body, and arranged his weight of fifty-five years on a cot that needs repair. I know about his inability to stand on my side.
“Why… why?Why should you marry her? There are thousand and one girls ready to marry you. Why Meena?” Mama does not know, perhaps, but in fact she is shouting.
SINCE I JOINED as teacher in city high school, I knew Meena, a librarian in our school. On first day when I asked her whether Somerset Maugham was available, she looked at me as if I was an abnormal person. On that day she opened her closed cupboard; from that day, perhaps, we became friends.
I would be greeted in a manner a university topper deserves: that was what I expected on first day of my career. ‘The man with college dust still on his boots is a ‘total misfit’ for a reputed school like ours’: that was how senior colleagues greeted me. They talked like that; they spoke so in front of the students, too. Meena came to my rescue. She helped me in managing my work and in finding a single room accommodation in her area. This created one side effect.Our staff tagged us, Meena and me, as close friends. We knew what they really meant by the term ‘close friends’.
Forgetting all the odds, the ‘close friends’ discussed fictional flowers, passing their fingers on rims of the teacups they shared. She liked Virginia Woolf and mother Teresa, but remained noncommittal on Bertrand Russell’s carpet-bombing on religion.
I had no idea how people fall in love, and how did they crawl after the falling. What I knew was that the library hall was my favourite destination, and the table beside a window a precious place. Meena would found a daily reason to step in earlier and resume at the table.On Sundays the ‘close friends’ would sit in a theatre for classical film or would check the quality of the food served in the city restaurants. I did not know how happy she was before we met. But I knew how she planned her expenses, how she kept her house neat and clean, and how affectionately she talked with children of her neighbours.
IT WAS LAST DAY of my second term. Meena entered the library with a senior lady’s smile. Her yellow silken dress, with big buttons, walked in with usual rhythm. But I had executed an unusual idea. Standing in an unoccupied corner, I observed her from a point where she could not see me. She tried to locate me, an unfailing object.She failed.
The woman seemed feeling like the ‘only train’ of the day had gone and she was left on a barren platform. Library ma’am was quick at losing hopes. She stood alone among thousands of books. Drenched with despair she moved towards her chair. Feet forgot the speed, lips the language. When she reached the table, her lips rediscovered a smile.
“The man will choke my heart one-day,” she murmured perhaps.There was one rose on her table. I had put a tiny message on the chit attached with the rose.
The tiny message was: marry me, ma’am.
THE RISING SUN took its time to drive out the embedded cold before it peeped through murky sheets of clouds and gold-plated the earth. When the cold wind blowing in singular direction changed its track, we had left our territory of worries behind.
“Hay man, drive slowly. Otherwise people would think you’re abducting me.”We were on motorbike, going to my village, fifty miles away from the city.I wished to show her my farms, my family, and the red-brick house in which I had grown up. We were still on a narrow road. We were yet to cruise through un-furrowed land. The strip of tar road cut the green shawl of swinging paddy into two halves. We were yet to look at the paddy as one sea of green ecstasy.A sudden roar of a jet plane broke the peace.
“Do you like plane journey?”
“Never sailed in the sky.” She replied.
AT HOME MY family greeted Meena whole-heartedly, as they always liked my friends. Meena being a woman and my staff member was a special guest for them. No one seemed to have sniffed our attachment.
Next morning I showed her my real assets: my farm, the lake, the captivating views of distant hills, and the tree sitting on which I used to read bulky books. “Meena, shall we go to that side of lake?” I imagined that on the distant bank of lake I would make a thick cushion of green leaves, sitting on which Meena would put her head on my shoulder; and clock would stop ticking. The copybook aspirations.
Meena, a city creature, was in a different world. She was involved in looking at a long line of villagers walking alongside the road.Rainbow had descended on them. Every thread they wore emitted their own choices: marital status wise, caste wise, purse wise.
“Hey young man, where all these people are going?”On Meena’s shout there ran in a man of rationed height. The height was talkative, unstable on ground by noticeable pleasure, and a farmer of tobacco. Everything smelt around his body.
“Ma’am, there is a fair today, at Lord Shiva’s temple.”
“Anand, we will go to the fair first.” She thumped thrice on my back.
I folded my lake-dream and caught the temple road. Meena was younger by ten years when we stepped on the fair spot. It was a spacious ground, not matching with any known outline of geometry. The air was sweltering with the people of all genres: farmers, hawkers, snake charmers, beggars, and politicians.
Suddenly she smelt a cloud of fume running out of frying pans, and her legs stopped. “Get me that fried. Chilli-chilli hot,” she shouted. I submitted; procured two plates of hot materials with extra sprinkle of chilli powder. She engulfed the stuffs along with two glasses of water. Then she hopped up to an ice-cream parlour.“Ice-cream balances the fire of chilli,” she spoke as if quoting Isaac Newton. Once the cold stuff melted through her throat, she caught my hand, as tightly as she could, and dragged me among the dancing couples.
I felt I was drowning.
Swirling with sweating bodies around, she danced wildly. One tight turban with a big drum and two singing girls were the causes, which made the library ma’am so flowering. Her hair was a fan and clothes drenched with sweat. I failed to participate, as I was a novice in that part of the world: the dancing. But I secured her one hand to save the fresh edition of library ma’am from falling on the ground. After a full session of the circular dance, she left the concert.
“I…I was never…never so happy.”
“Sit down dear, you’re exhausted.“
“Let… let me feel the joy… Let me live it out…” The joy was stronger than her fatigue.She had inhaled sufficient supply of pleasure and oxygen. “Anand, I’ve tasted the life after a long…long period.”
The temple God was next on her agenda. To ring a bronze bell, she jumped like a schoolgirl. Bowing before temple idols and the lingam, she placed offerings: a coconut, one packet of incense sticks, sugar cubes, and a good-length currency note. She walked four times around the temple, uttered verses in Sanskrit, which I could not translate.
Scorching heat was at its peak. We were coming down the temple hill. “Anand, I wish I had wings. I want to swim over the green lands. See, the clouds are brushing each other like lovers… see there, green trees are raising their branches like welcoming hands… like this.” She stood up on footrests, freed her hands wide, and closed eyes as if she wanted to embrace the whole world.Then she signed a trumpet with her hands and looking at sky she shouted, “Anand…Anand...”
I felt like skating on the curve of a rainbow.
MAMA LIKED HER new guest much, the guest who could cook tasty food for a big family like ours—even if residing in a city. I thought the time was ripe. At night we set in veranda. It was time for cool air to breeze; for me it was the climate I needed for my purpose.
“Mama, I have something to tell you.” Everyone’s eyes were fixed on me. Meena seemed anxious. All other waited eagerly for my next words. “Mama, I... I mean Meena and I have decided to marry.”
The cool breeze stopped for a while. No one looked displeased.
“We should meet her parents.” Papa was watchful since we came.
“Papa, Meena has no near relatives. She… she had family. She was married, too. But unfortunately her husband died in a riot. Before five years. And yes, she is four years older than me.”
All the faces sitting around started shaking their heads. Each one found a reason to quit the scene: elder brother suddenly found out a work at his friend’s home; his wife opted to join him. Younger sister, though reluctantly, went in kitchen. Besides Meena and me, there was one person still on the floor. He was Papa, wanting to tell us something, perhaps.
“I can’t see my son marrying a widow. You all understand? And what are you doing there?” Mama raised her eyebrows at Papa.“Come here, and help me to pull out these cushions.”
The night abruptly turned cold and dumb.
* * *
MAMA AND HER ready-to-blow stick do not pass more time to jump in again. The anger has melted. Now it flows from her eyes. The words are silent, but coming out with incessant sobbing.Her red eyes look at no one. She sits on a stone step, keeping her trembling legs on another.
“But… my child, why should you marry a widow?”She has restored her motherhood. She does not look hating Meena, as she stands up and sits beside Meena.“I believe she is a good woman. But No. No, no, no. I would not allow you to marry her.”
“Mama, I like her.And other things are not important for me.”
WHILE RETURNING to city, I stop at the village gate. It is an arched entrance standing on weak pillars. For reading the word‘W E L C O M E’ engraved on the stony ark, I have to tilt my head. The distance between WE… and ME… looks unbridgeable. The line running under the letters looks like a barbed wire fence. From a distant hilltop, I again look at the village. It is full of houses, small houses, looking like rat holes. These abodes are perhaps unable to keep bigger things inside.They have built up their walls too strong to see the faces of others.
“Meena, do you think I am still good as your life partner?”
Her tearful eyes: she is a deep thought. Reconsidering something?
But there is no reconsideration on my part. My terms of relationship are clear.On next Monday I would be going to the house of a lawyer, one of my friends, and get the papers ready. Meena and I would sign the papers in front of The Registrar of Marriages.