Prabhakar’s closed fist was banging on the closed door fiercely. His voice resounded like a thunder.
The closed doors had not opened.
“Rajita, open the door,” He shouted like a military officer. There was no response.
“Rajita, Open the door. Or else, I’d set fire to the room. You’ll burn to ashes.”
This threat did not work either.
“What a nerve! You know what’s going to happen when I am angry.”
Yet there was no answer.
“Open the door. Are you going to do it or not?”
“Do you think I can’t break this door and come in?”
Prabhakar wiped the sweat on his forehead. His nostrils were exhaling breath like a train engine. He was exhausted for all the banging on the door, screaming, and shouting threats. A sudden wave of powerlessness took over. Rage is like a lava, ready to explode any second; and if it does not find a way out, it escalates.
Prabhakar’s brain was like that at the moment. His anger was telling him to jump on Rajita. But the closed doors stood in his way.
Rajita is his wife. She wore the tali he had tied around her neck like a rope on a cow’s neck, and followed him to his house, like the mother cow. Now, she left the house without even telling him that she was leaving him, not even so much as a little note, and walked away.
Her departure without a word is driving him crazy; his blood is boiling. His male ego is hissing like a frightening thousand-hooded cobra.
He stood there for a while, leaning feebly on the doors; and then a huge wave of fury shot up in his head. He rose like a tornado. His fists banged on the door; his feet kicked it; and the door broke open, giving way to his fury.
He walked in.
Rajita was sitting, holding an embroidery frame. She saw him and stood up. Her hand was up in the air, as if she pulled the needle and the thread in order to tighten the stitch, and remained in the same position. He walked closer to her.
“Did you think you can really walk away from me?”
She did not reply.
“Did you think you could walk away as you please?” he repeated the question.
Still, no answer.
“Why aren’t you talking?” he snapped.
Her response was silence.
“I’m talking to you,” He noticed the embroidery work in her hands.
“Here I am yelling at you, and you are creating art work as if nothing happened?” he approached her like lightning and snatched away the frame from her hands; and he tossed them away with all his might. The frame and the materials fell into the basket at a distance.
Rajita walked to the basket and kneeled down to pick them up. He came, stood behind her and seized her braid and shook her up fiercely.
She screamed abbha, turned toward him and looked straight into his face. There was no sign of fear on her face. She was helpless but not shivering. She was not worried that she was alone and there was no one to support her. There was only defiance in her eyes.
He raised his hand again in an attempt to hit her.
Suddenly there was a noise outside. He turned around and saw the policemen walk in. He was stunned at the sight of them.
“Are the woman who phoned us?” the police officer asked her.
“Yes,” Rajita said without any trace of fumbling in her tone.
“Mister, we heard about your atrocities. You broke the doors and attacked her physically. Let’s go to the police station,” the police officer said, holding Prabhakar’s collar.
Prabhakar was feeling humiliated; he opened his mouth to say something.
The police officer yelled, “shut up.”
“I am her husband,” Prabhakar retorted angrily.
“Is this the way a husband enters his wife’s room?” the police officer asked him, pointing to the broken door, and referring to the scene he had seen earlier, the way Prabhakar was standing with her hair in his grip. The sarcasm in his voice hit Prabhakar on the chest, as if he were hit with a baton.
Rajita went and picked up the embroidery frame as if nothing happened. She said, “Thank you, Sir,” to the police officer, as Prabhakar was escorted out of the room. At the sound of her voice, Prabhakar turned around and gawked at her like a wounded lion. The police officer turned toward the door.
It was eight in the evening. Rajita was watching the TV. The phone rang. She turned down the volume and picked up the phone.
Her father-in-law was screaming from the other end. He said, “I went to the police station, and got him out on bail and brought him home. He was humiliated because of your action and swallowed poison. He is in the hospital now, fighting for his life. Are you satisfied now?”
Rajita hung up. She returned to the TV and turned up the volume again. After about 15 minutes, the doorbell rang. She turned down the volume again, went to the door and opened it.
Rajita’s uncle was standing at the doorway. He said, “Rajita, did you know that Prabhakar ate sleeping pills.”
Rajita did not reply. Her uncle walked into the room and sat down on the sofa. Rajita turned up the TV again.
Her uncle shouted, “Turn off that stupid TV.” Rajita turned the volume way down. The picture was visible but the sound was barely audible. A Chinese woman was performing gymnastics; it was breathtaking. Rajita was watching as if she was totally unaware of her surroundings.
“I am talking to YOU.” Babayi shouted at her.
“Ha?” she turned toward him with a twinge.
“Are you deaf? What do you think I am ranting about all this time?”
“Prabhakar tried to commit suicide.”
“I know.” She turned to the TV. It was a show on family planning. She went to the TV and turned it off.
“You know? How can you be so calm still?”
“So many people are committing suicide in the world every day. Have you ever felt sorry for them, babayi?”
“What? How can you compare that to Prabhakar’s situation?”
“What’s important to you is not important to me. The thing that upsets you does not bother me.” She replied unambiguously.
“It doesn’t bother you if something happened to Prabhakar?”
She shook her head implying it would not.
“I am the one who had performed your wedding with him.”
Rajita was taking out the milk carton from the fridge to make tea for him. She stopped and looked at him. “True you had performed our marriage. But we are the two people, Prabhakar and me, who had to make a life together. We need to understand each other.”
“Well, when two people live as husband and wife …”
“They two will have the right not only to live together but also the right to break up too.”
“Oh, god. Rajita, you’ve gotten real smart. Are you the same little girl who was born in Narsaraopet and raised by me?” babayi said, surprised.
“Why stop there. Go ahead, open up and start the usual volley of insults. You can blame my education, my friends and my books too. Also you can include all my colleagues at work while you are on it as well.”
“First tell me why you left him and walked away.”
Rajita was busy making tea.
“Come on, Rajita, tell me.”
Rajita kept quiet.
“What did Prabhakar do?”
Rajita did not respond at once. Babayi sipped the tea and coaxed her into talking. Finally, Rajita started narrating her story.
“You are getting old and I don’t want to bother you. We two are incompatible.”
“He does not have the common decency which makes people respect others. You arranged our marriage. I also liked the qualities in him—his education, job, his family and his character—the same you did. Arranged by senior family members means only bringing the couple to the shore, put them on a boat and let them follow their course. After that, we two have to continue our journey on our own. In that journey, if the two people failed to understand each other, the ensuing loneliness is terrible, babayi. You cannot understand this even after I explained to you. I too like Prabhakar very much. When he said he did not want me to go for a job, I agreed despite my higher education and qualifications. I understood that he liked me to stay home as a housewife, and waiting for him. So, I stayed home without being told what his wishes were. I let go of my friend because he did not like me having friends. I dropped even my best friend Suseela, our Panduranga Rao’s daughter, because he said she was not right for our status. I was dying to maintain my own identity, “I”, yet I changed myself, hoping to blend the lives of the two of us.
“Yet, during the past eight years of my wedded life, what did I get, babayi? All I got is unlimited loneliness. He took me for a machine he could play anyway he pleased. Anytime I told him that I did not like his actions, it resulted in huge fights and obnoxious language. All that education, politeness and personality are just a cover. Is that the language a man should use for a wife? Why should I take it? Doesn’t he have the least bit of responsibility to understand how much I had given him without asking, how much I struggled to give it to him, and how much I lost in the process? You say these are small things. So also the bricks. Yet, the same small bricks are used to build such huge buildings, right! I like small beliefs and little pleasures. They are my life-breath. They are my measure for happiness. I have never asked him for big things.
“As I changed for his sake, I had no address, my individuality has disappeared. I got nothing out of it. He let me take up the job only because he had to go abroad on business; he saw that I would be bored, sitting at home. That’s the only good thing he did for me and it turned out to be a bad thing. Up until now, I lived for him, without a life of my own. All his likes and pleasures went past by me. Finally, I have come to realize that it is a mistake to devote my entire life for another person.
“Now I have corrected my mistake. I started trying to live my life the way I am. He did not like it. He told me to quit my job. I said I will not. That’s when it started—the fights. Why should I live with a person who did not pay attention to my likes and my problems. That’s the reason I came away.
“Babayi, whom do we tell before we go? We tell people whom we like, and the people who want us to come back. He on the other hand is the kind of person who would ignore the wife sitting next to him and gloat over some other pleasure. If you order me to go back to that kind of person, I will not. I am not a kid anymore to be scared of you and to follow your orders. I have no desire to hang around a place where I could not get what I wanted. That’s why I did not leave my job.
“I’ve got a house of my own. Prabhakar came and tried to smash this nest of mine. I am not letting him do that. That in reality is his problem. He is not paying attention to my hurt. But the moment he was hurt even a tiny bit, he is raising a rumpus all over town. So be it. How much and how long can he go on like that? You all there for him, to comfort him. If that’s what he is looking for, well, that is what makes him happy. What else is there one would want?”
“I agree, Rajita, he has made a mistake. I am not denying it. But, he is basically a good person.”
“No need for you to recommend him to me. Recommendations cannot fix families. Tragedies cannot keep love alive.”
Rajita took the empty tea cups into the kitchen.
“Okay, see you later,” babayi said and got up to leave.
“Alright,” Rajita replied curtly.
As babayi walked through the front door, he noticed that Prabhakar was standing outside the door. He looked sick and run down. There was a considerable difference between the man he was yesterday and the way looked now.
“You? What’s this? Aren’t you supposed to be in the hospital?”
“Hush,” he said in a feeble voice, with his finger on his lips. “I ran away from the hospital. I need to talk to Rajita.”
“Come, let’s talk to her,” babayi said.
Prabhakar signed with his index finger, suggesting he leave. “I have to talk to her alone. Please, you go, quick.”
“Did you hear the entire conversation?” babayi asked him.
He nodded and told him to go. Babayi left.
Rajita shut the kitchen door and stopped with a sudden jerk; she could not speak a word.
Prabhakar was sitting in the sofa, slumped. He looked as if he was truly hanging between life and death. His face turned dark; cheeks pulled in, and eyes sunk. His legs were hanging flaccidly as if lost all the strength.
“Rajita,” he called. There was no command in that tone, only yearning. “Raji, I am sorry. I must apologize to you. I was afraid that I might die before tendering my apologies to you. That’s why I came away. I am sorry. I should have given you happiness doubly for all the love you have given me. Instead, I robbed you of all your happiness, like a thief. My stupor did not clear until after you had left. I am not here now to ask you to come back to me. I came to tell you that I have understood now that it was my mistake that pushed you away. I am sorry,” he said, and stood up to leave. He was wobbly. Rajita quickly stepped in and stopped him from falling.
“Thank you, thank you,” he said and broke into sobs.
Rajita walked him to the sofa and helped him sit down. She brought a pillow and put it under his head.
“Rajita, I love you,” he held her hands and said sincerely. “Please, don’t leave me. Please. The indifference in your eyes is piercing through me like a sword. Your eyes are filled with so much love for me and yet there is so much indifference! That’s when I understood my mistake. I just could not come back to you.”
Rajita caressed his head. He clung to her. Rajita helped him lie down on the sofa, went to the next room and phoned her father-in-law. She told him, “Prabhakar came to see me. He’s here. Don’t worry about him.” Then she called the doctor, gave him her address and asked him to come at once.
“Rajita,” Prabhakar called her out with renewed vigor and extended his hand. Rajita came to him, “The doctor will be here in a few minutes. Don’t you worry,” she told him.
“Rajita, you have forgiven me, have you not?” he held her hands and hid his face in them.
She did not respond. “Tell me,” he asked her.
“Tell me, please.”
“Apologies may bring two lives closer but they don’t unite them,” she said.
The words were straight as arrow. It looked like she was holding up the bare truth she believed in for him to see. He was about leave her hands but did not. He pressed her hand even harder to his cheek.
“Yes, but, it can happen. We can try to be united if we stayed close,” he said.
Rajita did not reply. Her heart was very peaceful at that moment. She felt like a huge burden, which she could not carry anymore, was lifted off her chest. In her heart, a kind of happiness which she had never known before started opening up its wings.
Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on thulika.net, March 2005.
(Telugu original, vippukunna rekkalu, was published in India Today, August-September 1992.)