The beauty and enjoyment in life comes mainly from unpredictable and unforeseen events, I guess. For instance, I never thought I would meet Narahari after nearly a decade.
On my way back home from a wedding in a distant town, I stopped in a city to visit an exhibition. Since I did not have any friends there, I checked myself into a hotel. The hotel is a three-floored one, with the ground floor solely used as a restaurant.
After a shower, I strolled into the restaurant for refreshment. It was still hot in the evening at 5.00 p.m. As I was looking around for a place to sit, I heard a familiar voice issuing orders. Indeed, it was Narahari issuing orders in his usual style, “Hey, you there! Get me another masala-dosa. Add another ootappam to that. I also need two mysore-paks, two pesaratts, and five bondas, all packed to take away. Look sharp now”, he hustled the waiter.
As the waiter moved out of the way, his eyes met mine. Was it just my suspicion or did a dark shadow flit across his face when he saw me- I wondered! His eyes registered a momentary surprise and he tried to mumble some kind of greeting. But he gathered his wits in a couple of seconds. He was his usual confident self.
“Hey, Rajasekharam! When did you come here? How did you find me here?”
I smiled. “Dear Sir! I have not even dreamt of seeing you here. After seeing you, I thought perhaps you too are a visitor here like me. Looks like I am wrong. So you live in this city, do you?”
“Yes, of course! I worked for a while in Bhilai. Then for sometime I was in Bombay. For about five years I stayed in Coimbatore. At first, I did not agree to come here. I made incredible demands on the management, when they requested me to work here. They met all my demands and transferred me here…” like a well-oiled vehicle that was momentarily lost on the roadside, and brought back on to the main road, his monologue went on and on. Now his speed and volume too increased.
“I live now in Lakshmipuram colony. Ours is a good-sized bungalow. I have a beautiful terrace to sleep on summer nights. It has all the facilities and a nice big garden around it. In the beginning I was drawing miserable five-hundreds. Now they pay me nearly a thousand rupees every month. No worries to bother me! It is a great life, isn’t it?” He paused to take a breath.
Of course, I never contested his thought that his life was beautiful. Nor did I express any opinion along that line. Then why was he boring me with his life history? He enquired about my arrival into the city, but did not bother to wait for an answer. As if there was no tomorrow, he began to blow his own trumpet. The bonus payments he got in his work, his habit of watching every movie released on the very first day, the cool and expensive clothes he was wearing, his food enriched with vitamins, and what not! To hell with the money, he was not only earning it in heaps, but also making sure every rupee was giving him every thing he needed, or else!
“My dear Rajasekharam! Are we born in this world to plod through life gloomily? Of course not, the life is ours to enjoy every moment of it, don’t you agree?” He emphasized his words as if he was the first one to realize such a profound truth.
We, the members of human society long ago defined God as the infinite bliss, the happiness of the moment! We agreed that the happiness is the eternal and ephemeral abstraction. The only issue is that we do not know how to share it among everybody evenly! I resented Narahari’s high handed talking, implying that except him all others were apathetic to happiness and as if we all were sulking in dark rooms! I wondered if he ever thought that just like him everybody is entitled to opinions about life, money and happiness. Anyways, he spoke without a pause and I could do nothing else except listen mutely.
As he was in the middle of his discourse three take-away parcels arrived at the table along with a bill for five rupees.
“Rajasekharam! Now that you have come this far, why don’t you visit our home once? There is a park in the Lakshmipuram colony beside which is a bus stop. Jawahar lane is just adjacent to the bus stop. If you walk along the lane to the end it connects to Dr.Subbanachari road. On that road anybody can direct you to my house. There is a nice big name board on the gate anyway…”
“Yes, of course! I came here to visit the exhibition. However I will try to visit your home once before I leave, if possible.”
Both the invitation and acceptance were meaningless and insincere. His invitation seemed to mock me saying, “I dare you to come and see my home. Do you have it in you to see my prosperity without feeling jealous? Of course, I want to show off my life style in front of you…..” and so on.
I admit I too was not very honest in my talking. I made it very clear to him in my acceptance that I was a very busy person and seeing his home was not a priority item on my agenda. Though it looked as if I accepted his invitation, in reality what I did was decline it. I had my own reasons for it. If he was really keen upon it, he would have insisted that we should leave together at that very moment. He did not do that! The other reason was rather personal. Narahari, all the while talking to me, polished off the plates in front of him. He found faults with the coffee and dumped it into the washbasin. During all this he did not find the politeness or courtesy in him to enquire whether I was hungry, nor did he offer to get something for me. Then he expected me to take a bus to Lakshmipuram colony and go through the entire route just to see his home. Why bother! Today I would see the exhibition and tomorrow morning I would take the train to my place, I thought nonchalantly.
I loved the exhibition that evening. The crowd that came to see the exhibition was incredible. I saw models of big multi purpose projects, modern machinery, space ships, and every interesting thing. The illumination added to the excitement. With all this, Narahari still plagued my mind.
I returned to my hotel and tried to get some sleep. However much I tried, I could not take my mind off Narahari. There was a reason for this merciless haunting of my memories. Narahari was a close relative of mine. In fact, he was my brother-in-law! He married my cousin Sarada, my uncle’s daughter. I might as well begin at the beginning.
I was twelve when my father passed away. My mother, my two little brothers, myself, our small own home, a little bit of provident fund and some money we got from father’s insurance policy, were all looked after my uncle Ramanatham, my father’s younger brother.
We loved him and respected him not only for his affection for our family, but also due to his outstanding integrity. His honesty and uncompromising attitude towards his principles and justice earned him lot of respect everywhere. He firmly believed that the only way to get money was to earn it. His honesty was many times ridiculed since as a school teacher he never got a chance to earn money by questionable means. But then, even in those days it was not impossible for school teachers to make some extra income along the side lines.
Once, he was on duty to mark some answer papers of a Government Departmental examinations. A twenty-five year old woman, who managed to get hold of the examiner’s address, arrived from distant lands to talk to him. A thin emaciated woman who seemed to be in great distress, she looked weighed down under constant struggles in life. She said she was married at a very young age and then widowed. She did not have anybody to help her and if she could clear this examination she could apply for some small job and she would not depend upon others. She wept inconsolably and said, “Sir! Please pass me in this examination and you would have saved me from starvation.”
To convince him further she had a much-folded hundred-rupee note which she handed timidly as a bribe to uncle. Uncle’s lips thinned with consternation. He turned back into the home and called my aunt Janaki to feed the woman first. After she had a decent meal, he called her into the drawing room.
“My dear child! If you were a man, I would have slapped you to bring some sense into you. I have five daughters! All of them think that their dad is an honest man. Do you think I can accept this money and still have my daughters trust me? In the bigger examination that is life, there is another examiner who gives all of us marks. We should aim to pass in His examinations. So, don’t worry. Take this money and go back to you place.”
We never knew whether he passed that woman or not.
Ramanatham uncle’s eldest child was Sarada. In their home, if somebody wanted to hang a picture, her help was needed. In fact, no job, big or small could go on without her assistance. She was the leader of all the five girls. She was an expert in looking after, cleaning up the home and everything a woman needed in life.
Savitri was the second daughter. She was not as pretty as her elder sister, but she was a song bird! She was a walking radio and talking parrot! Padma was the third daughter. She was a born dancer with very fluid and graceful moments. Bhargavi and Mythili were twin dolls. Their home was always filled with simple fun and laughter. It was very late when I realized that below the surface of this flower filled lake a fire was brewing.
At the rate of ten thousand rupees per head to get all these five daughters married uncle would need a minimum of fifty thousand rupees! He had no ancestral property. From where could he raise this money?
On the day when Sarada was declared as the topper in School-final examinations I went to their house to congratulate her. Aunty was busy preparing sweets to mark the occasion. She gave me two pieces and declared that was because I was the elder brother of the girls. Sarada left for the temple with her sisters. Uncle was sitting in the garden and seemed to be lost in thought.
Rights and responsibilities go together. Aunty reminded me of my right as an elder brother. Now uncle reminded me of my responsibility. “Sit down Raja, I need to talk to you.” I obeyed him.
“Sarada seemed to be always posing questions to me. Just because she appeared for the examinations does not mean that she has to clear them, does it? At least, she could have just scraped through. No, she had to top the entire school. She seemed to be testing my strength.”
“What do you mean, uncle?” I was confused.
“I know, you can’t understand. Now she will get a scholarship to study further. I have no reason to stop her from studying, when there is a decent college here. Forget about the people, I won’t be able to answer your aunt or myself, if I prevent her from studying further. ”
“What will be the consequences?”
”What else? She will top there too,” I did not know where this was all leading to.
“Of course she will top. To her, clearing examinations is as easy as drinking water. That is my entire problem. If she is going to be so well educated, I need to look for a doctor or an engineer to marry her. Those bride grooms are like white elephants. Then I will have to spend at least twenty-five thousand rupees just to get her married.”
Yes, on the other hand if she stops with school-final he need not look for very expensive bridegrooms. I guessed his thoughts correctly but did not dare to express it.
A running brook cannot be stopped by a blade of grass. Instead, the blade of grass would get washed away in the flow.
Four years passed without any changes. Sarada continued her education and qualified herself as a graduate.
We’ve reached a stage where, when people asked, “why haven’t you got Sarada married yet?” we could no longer answer, “Oh, no, but she is still studying! We don’t want to disturb with marriage now.” Now we were forced to say, “Yes, we are looking for some proposals, but not finding any boy suitable for her.”
People joked crudely saying, “He must be already born somewhere. You have to look carefully, that’s all.” We could not imagine who would marry our Sarada. We did not have any extra sensory perception to figure out who or where he was!
At this stage uncle expressed his anxiety to me, saying, “Raja! Let us say we will sell this house and get Sarada married, paying good dowry. That too will be a problem in a way. Because when we get the other girls married, we have to spend equal amount of dowry, for every one of them. Either I have to spend the same amount of money all the way till the last child or leave some of them unmarried, what do you say?” We hunted around in every possible way for broad-minded boys who would not expect any dowry.
I think it is all a fraud, our notions about marriage, its eternity, its sanctity etc. In reality it is just pure business. When we start a business with an investment of ten thousand rupees, we expect profit out of that investment, don’t we? What is the point in getting our boys so well educated, if not for making profit in the marriage market? Ok, he gets a decent job and settles down looking after his family. We, the parents who have sacrificed so much to send him to school and college, what will we get? We should get some profit, shouldn’t we? Our boy is a doctor (or an engineer, or a lecturer as the case may be). You have to match our status in marriage. OK, we too are ready for the equations. Boy is equal to the girl plus fifteen thousand rupees.
On sleepless nights this equation haunted me. I felt the urge to ask my relatives with eligible sons about the rate fixed for their sons. That would give me a clue about the girl’s worth. For example, if the boy himself is worth fifteen thousand rupees, then the girl amounts to nothing, from the equation above. Man and wife, boys and girls and other useless words that club men and women together must belong to ancient ages. Now they are found together only in literature. In real life we need money to bring them and keep them together.
When things were in this depressing state, we met Narahari like a Godsend. He was a well-employed boy. General opinion is that education and money go together. We give so much of respect to education because we think it indicates that the person with good educational qualification has a good chance of earning livelihood and money. Otherwise who cares about education? Narahari, strangely although not very highly educated, was earning lot of money. He was interested in marrying our Sarada. He was not very well educated but went to North India and got a technical training and landed a well-placed job as a result.
The marriage negotiations went on fast and smooth more due to Narahari’s insistence than uncle’s smartness. Narahari did not make big demands on us. He asked for a dowry of two thousand rupees, and another thousand for buying wedding clothes for his family. He clarified that he took that money just out of respect for tradition. But, his whole attitude indicated some kind of strange hurry to get married as if an invisible deadline was looming ahead of him. This made me uncomfortable and I felt an urge to understand the reason for this hurry. I asked Kodandam about it , Narahari’s brother-in-law, i.e., sister’s husband.
Narahari lost his parents at a young age. So the entire boy’s family consisted of himself, his sister and her family. Out of that Kodandam emerged as the most important person. He considered me as his counterpart on the girl’s side and talked to me a lot about the upcoming wedding. He told me one day, “just see that this marriage goes on without any glitch and as early as possible, please.” I was surprised, but managed to ask, “But why, dear sir? Is this some kind of golden dagger with which we are beheading ourselves, or what? Why are you all so eager to get him married to our sister?”
Kodandam smiled mysteriously. He assured me it was not because of Sarada’s beauty or any of her characteristics. Then why this undue hurry? He then explained to me their behavior. Apparently Narahari wanted a well educated bride.
“Oh yes, of course! An educated wife can work and earn money, is that what it is?”
“Hold your horses, young man. Do you think our Narahari would allow his wife to go out among other men and work?”
I could not think of any other reason, so concluded that Narahari appreciated good education. I was impressed with the young man who wanted an educated life-partner for the intellectual companionship she would give him. Everything went on smoothly.
I was surprised at the very small bridegroom’s party for the wedding. Kodandam explained that there was no dearth of relatives, who would be insanely jealous at the very good bride Narahari has got! They were obviously not invited to spare their feelings. So saying he gave a smug look which irritated me to no end.
I realized that in the “Kurukshetra” war that life was, if Narahari was Arjuna, it was Kodandam who donned the role of Krishna, always advising his brother-in-law about everything. Kodandam was the organizer, master of ceremony, everything for every small occasion. Right from the beginning he radiated authority.
“No, our boy cannot wear a dhoti. You have to make do with trousers. He cannot sit in the mandapam for hours together. You have to be quick, sir” he hustled the priest. He nagged the bride “can you walk a bit properly, my dear? Now you have to learn to follow the husband in his foot steps.” “Now, don’t bother the bride and the groom with looking at stars. They need to eat food immediately.” So saying he tried to adjust the entire marriage ceremony according to his whims and started getting on everybody’s nerves.
However irritating his behavior was, all our relatives tolerated it. But they were more irritated with the bridegroom’s insensitive behavior. The day after the wedding, Sarada had changed from the wedding attire and simply dressed and adorned in jewellery and sat among the ladies. Somebody brought in a message from the groom asking her to come to his room. Very self-conscious and shy, Sarada went to his room to see what the matter was. He looked at her and commanded her, “get ready, let us go for a walk.” Sarada was too shy to go publicly with her husband for a walk and replied, “oh no! I can’t come for a walk, I feel too shy,” for which he replied loudly, “shy? What is there to feel shy? You are such an illiterate brute!” Sarada was very upset at the rude comments in public. One of our relatives made a mischievous remark at the whole episode, saying, “Sarada might be a brute, but surely she is not an illiterate brute!”
The strange thing in their family was that any issue or problem would come and culminate in Sarada’s high education. Kodandam’s little kids would go to their mother and nag her for this or that, either for a bath or a comb or food, like all the kids. Rajamma, Narahari’s sister would immediately redirect them to Sarada, saying, “Why don’t you ask your new aunty?”
Sarada could certainly look after all those kids patiently if only they would wait till she completed her tasks. But little energetic devils, they would run away in a second to their mother, saying “aunty is too busy now.” Invariably Rajamma would start grumbling, “Oh yes, of course! How can highly educated people do such menial tasks? It is my fault in the first place. You have to wait till we go home, for your showers, food and combing etc.”
There are some small jobs, which every wife loves to do for her husband. Buttoning his shirt, combing his hair, picking up his shoes and many other things, a wife does as an expression of her love and not because he cannot do them himself. But that happens after some time into their married life, when the man and woman find happiness in each other’s company. If they show off their love even before starting the life together, they will end up as the laughing stock of the town. Happiness and love will bloom in a family when the man and woman feel that they are united forever and don’t perceive any difference between them.
Narahari would assign a task to Sarada and sit watching her with a measuring stick, to judge her performance. Any lapse on her part was magnified and declared as a result of her arrogance due to her high education. Still, it would have been bearable if he was doing it himself. But all the time Kodandam and his wife passing judgments on her made it unbearable.
Sarada did not yet go to live with her husband’s family. But she already got the hunted deer’s expression on her face, wringing my heart.
Kodandam would spill some pearls of wisdom sometime for my benefit and his entertainment. The gist of all his wisdom centered on man-woman relationship in a family. Man is the rider and the woman, a horse. If the rider doesn’t control the horse, it would go astray and what more, even dominate the rider! So how does a man stop it? How to tame the woman? Why, beat her at every small excuse! That will show her who the boss is and keep her in her place.
I would have believed all this, if he had shown it in practice. But the minute he heard his wife’s booming voice, saying, “hey you! Why can’t you take these kids for a walk? They are bothering me here!” he would run ten miles along with the kids and would not be seen at least for a couple of hours. Perhaps he wanted his brother-in-law to achieve what he himself could not do.
Then, to add to my discomfort I have learnt more things about Kodandam. He had no stable job. He had a small piece of land in a small village. His wife hated living in that village so they lived with Narahari in the city, to look after him! Kodandam once in a while went to the village to look at his piece of land. He had never done a day’s honest work in all his life!
We have a right to use our personal property as we wish to. Unfortunately human beings cannot be labeled as property. They have a mind, feelings and emotions etc. Sarada might have had her own ideas and desires about marriage. None of us ever tried to find out what they were. We behaved as if getting her married to anyone who agreed, was the only thing we are interested in. Well, somebody did agree to marry her. She was a well-educated, good natured, well-bred girl. But that did not add any value to her in the marriage market place. It looked as if Narahari married her just to check for himself and prove that he could boss over a quality which he himself did not have, viz., high education.
His bossing and domineering started right after the marriage. He got ready to leave for his place and it was clear he would take Sarada with him. He looked all set to crush her spirit but she did not look prepared for his attacks. Day and night these worries and thoughts plagued me.
Sarada never expressed her concerns or apprehensions to any one. After all, who was there for her to share it all with? Aunty and Uncle were on cloud nine, having got their eldest daughter married. Her younger sisters assumed that her restlessness was natural to new brides. Just two days before leaving Sarada asked for a small favor. She requested me to go to the post office and get a dozen envelopes for her.
“Of course, my dear” I assured her.
“I don’t know why I want those envelopes, anyway. I wonder if those people will allow me to write to you all,” she said.
“Don’t worry so much! They are human beings too,” I tried to cheer her up.
“Yes, I will know about that after I go there,” she made a feeble joke out of it. My heart ached for her.
After she left everybody at home, we waited everyday for her letter. A letter came after everybody was exhausted from waiting.
I am sorry for not writing for quite some time. I did not have anything nice to write about. Moreover, I do not get time or chance or solitude to pen a letter. People here have only one issue on their minds and that is to watch me. Here they believe that one of the many stupid things that educated people do is to write letters.
The biggest change due to marriage in my life is to leave you all, our home and come to live in a strange place. We are two hundred miles apart. But here there is nobody who can make me smile, or make me forget you people, even for a minute. I have this strange feeling that they have married me for some kind of strange experiment.
Part of that experiment is to keep me busy twenty four hours a day. Job less people turn obese is what they say. I fall asleep out of sheer exhaustion. I wake up in the early morning. The first thought that flashes in my mind is that this is not our home! That ache remains with me through out the day. No body talks to me. I have no hope of having a single moment of joy all my life. The big world outside has built a small cage for me. I feel stifled in this cage. Father, please tell me, what have I done to deserve this punishment?”
A fair question from a daughter to her father, indeed! Uncle was shocked. He immediately left for Sarada’s place and returned in four days. But after his return he would not speak and remained in a stupor. He would break into tears at slightest provocation. After a few days, he pulled himself together to tell us all what happened at Sarada’s house.
In all the four days he was there, Narahari never spoke a word to him, except making a crude comment, “Oh, so you have come without much notice, I see!” Sarada obviously wanted to talk to her father but never got an opportunity. Narahari would wake up at nine am in the morning and leave for work. Along with a bunch of friends he would reach his home late in the night. They all treated that house as a restaurant. Nobody ever talked to Sarada or acknowledged her presence, and treated her as a domestic helper. They were crushing her life force and turning her into a robot. Aunty could not hear any more.
“Raja! When I was just getting ready for a shower, Sarada came with a towel and begged, “Father, you are leaving tonight. Please take me with you!” How can I ask them when they were not even talking to me?” uncle lamented.
There might be any number of electrical gadgets in a house, but none of them will work if the main switch is turned off. Uncle’s house became like a building with the main switch turned off. They were all depressed very much but did not know what to do. Uncle wrote many letters to Sarada, but did not get any replies from her. After another couple of months aunty reached a state where she thought she would die if she did not see her daughter once.
One day the post man came along with a letter. Aunty rushed out and grabbed the letter. The letter was not addressed to any body in particular. A few sentences were scribbled.
“.. This is all so unbearable. I cannot tell you what is happening here. Now I can understand why people are driven to suicide. If you could come here in the coming few days and take me away from here, I wouldn’t ask anything else from God.”
Uncle had reached the end of his patience by then. He immediately left for Sarada’s house, this time to bring her with him, come what may. I accompanied him for moral support.
It was midday when we reached her home. As soon as we got down from the jatka in front of the house Sarada rushed out of the house and sat in the jatka. Uncle ran into the house and brought her suitcase with him. Rajamma tried to stop us, but we just ignored her and left even before she picked up courage to start a quarrel.
Sarada seemed to have become numb and refused to talk for many days. Slowly she recovered from her trauma and told us what happened at her husband’s home. She told us everything, the events which she could not express in letters.
Her days there were filled with endless domestic chores and sheer exhaustion. Her patience and dignified silence irritated them and made the matters worse. They encouraged her to borrow magazines and books from a neighbor’s house. When innocently she made friends with the neighbors, they spread a rumor about her involvement with a boy in the neighbor’s house. By then Narahari had come to the conclusion that a woman who can tolerate misbehavior with silence and discretion was indeed a characterless woman.
To add to her misery Kodandam started having evil designs on her. The only silver lining in the cloud was that she could escape from his evil attempts on her honor. We had saved her just in the nick of time.
After she came Narahari served her a lawyer notice stating infringement of conjugal rights. Marriage brings two young people together. The institution does not allow them to leave each other. The woman is her man’s property. There was a time when we thought that it was quite right to burn this property along with the owner. Even now, we do find men who argue, “It is my wife, I can do what ever I like with her, and who are you to object?” Without my permission, a man entered my house and took my wife out of my house. (OK, I know it is her father, but so what?) How can I tolerate such a high handed behavior? I will teach you a lesson; I will drag you to courts and make you regret your actions. This was Narahari’s attitude and there was a court case.
Narahari’s lawyer asked Sarada all types of questions. Did you love anybody before marrying your husband? Did you consent to this wedding wholeheartedly? Did your husband ever physically abuse you? What do you mean by saying he did not treat you with love? How does a man behave when he loves a woman? What do you expect from your husband? Can you prove that you are not a characterless woman? Were you sexually satisfied with your husband?
Poor Sarada had to swallow her ego, pride and womanly modesty to answer every question. She suffered the indignity for no fault of hers.
The court granted them divorce. It concluded that the husband need not pay any maintenance since it is the wife who did not want to live with him. End of story!
I woke up very late next day morning and missed my train. The next train was only at 3.00p.m in the afternoon. I felt very frustrated. Sleepless night, waking up late and missing the train, everything due to Narahari! I groaned helplessly, the more I don’t want to think of him, the more he seemed to be plaguing my mind.
One’s mental faculties leaving one in a much needed moment is a disease, I guess! I could not even speak coherently in front of Narahari when he was assaulting me with his talking.
Incidentally, later on Sarada had continued her education and settled down as a teacher. She married her colleague Suryanarayana and is living happily with two daughters. Her entire home and family life now look like a well-tended garden. I should have told Narahari about it and made him jealous. But I did not. However, I did not worry about that too much. Something else nagged my mind. I did not want to leave this city without learning something.
I knew that Sarada is a well-equipped girl to run a good home, keep her husband happy and raise good children. But then, she is my sister, so my opinion might be biased. Within one year of marriage Narahari concluded she was not fit to be a wife. He found everything wrong with her. The same Narahari was singing praises of his new life. I wanted to see the woman who made such a change in his life. The woman who was handing him that bowl of nectar to his lips, how could I go without seeing her? I decided then and there to visit his home.
I left my luggage in the cloak room at the railway station and hired a cycle rickshaw to Lakshmipuram colony.
I reached his home around at 11 a.m. I climbed the stairs and reached a veranda. It was all silent. I entered a big hall, crossing the veranda. The hall was full of papers, filthy clothes and discarded playing cards. The beautiful tiled floor never seemed to have felt the touch of a mop! It was incredibly dirty, matching the status of the roof. I yelled, “Narahari!”
“Who is it?” I heard an answering yell from inside. Narahari followed the sound in person in a couple of minutes. He was dressed in a lungi and a vest. His hands looked dirty. He looked flustered and embarrassed at my sight.
“You, Rajasekharam! So you have come after all, this is quite unexpected, indeed.” He blabbered incoherently as if indignantly caught in a helpless situation. I sat in the nearest chair and said, “I see that you are busy with something.”
“Oh nothing, I was just getting ready for a shower, that’s all.” He tried to pull himself together.
“Just wait a minute! I will be back in a jiffy,” he left through the hall way. He seemed to be talking to someone in a room.
“Who is it? Why did he come now? Oh yeah? So what? I cannot do anything.” The voice from inside sounded very faint.
Narahari came out in five minutes. Now he looked different. He wore smart clothes and applied liberal amounts of talcum powder.
“Rajasekharam! You should have just told me that you were coming now. I would have organized a smart dinner party for you. You should always organize your day properly, you know…” he paused and yelled,
“Nagamani! Can you bring us two cups of coffee quickly, please?”
There was an astonished shout from inside, “what? Coffee?”
Narahari seemed to have lost his cool for a second, “yes, of course, two cups, please.” The mighty roar became a squeak now.
“Oh yeah? Two cups, is it? Do you want saucers too with them?” there was crude and loud laughter from inside. Narahari looked miserable. Nagamani came out with three cups of coffee.
She was quite a well-built woman, almost looking like a wrestler. She did not seem to have taken a shower or combed her hair. In the mid morning she looked very unkempt with crumpled clothes and looked indifferent to her state of clothes. She glared at Narahari and said, “This cup is for me”. She settled herself in the nearest chair and started sipping her coffee.
“Nagamani, this is Rajasekharam, a person whom I knew very well. He came here to see the exhibition. By the way, Rajasekharam, how was the exhibition yesterday?”
“Very nice,” I replied. Nagamani misunderstood my remark because I was inadvertently looking at her as I replied.
“What is it that is so nice?” she glared at me and asked rudely. To me her whole body language was irritating and I turned my head away from her.
“Come on Rajasekharam, let me show you the house,” Narahari saved me from her.
The house was indeed quite big, but very poorly kept. Radio was not working. The garden looked a disaster and Narahari promptly blamed the lazy gardener. He hunted around for the album of his India tour, but gave up in frustration. Finally he found it in a rubbish bin. Everything about the house reeked of negligence, laziness and callousness. To divert my attention from it, Narahari seemed to be bombarding me with constant chatter.
When we returned back into the hall, Mrs.Narahari was lounging in the sofa with her feet stretched on to an adjacent chair and chatting up with a boy.
“I will see you again, Narahari!” I made a move to leave.
He gave an unnecessary explanation, “Today being a Sunday we are taking it easy. We are eating take away food for lunch.”
I left the place and walked along the road looking for cycle rickshaws.
“How far do you have to go sir?” The boy in Narahari’s house caught up with me on his bicycle and asked.
“I need to go the railway station. But at the moment I am looking for a place to eat lunch.”
“Why don’t you eat at our hotel, Ellora? You get good food there. We supply food daily to Mr.Narahari’s home.”
“They don’t cook at home, is it?” I tried to sound casual and disinterested.
“Do you think she would bother to cook? She eats but does not cook. She lives but does not clean up the house. She sleeps but she does not make the beds! What a woman!” The boy sounded disgusted.
“Narahari is quite a patient man to cope up with such a wife.”
“What else can he do? If he tries any thing funny with her, she will leave him and find a new “man”. After all she is not his wife to stay on with him, is she?”
The hotel boy winked and roared with laughter.
Translated by Sharada (Australia) and published on thulika.net, July 2007.
(The original story titled “purushulaku pratyEkam” was published in the erstwhile Telugu literary magazine Bharathi in 1964. – Sharada)