“Tak!…Tak!!…Tak!!!”, Gopalarao tapped the door gently with his knuckles. There was no response. The door wasn’t opened . he waited for a while.
The clock struck one.
“My god! I am late again. Too late! I have been a fool! I must be careful from tomorrow. Far from being an anti-nauch, I have slid down to watching this nauch girl with interest! Why should I wait like a lecher till the end of the show? Why that eagerness to talk to her on some pretext? I do hereby resolve — from tomorrow, I shall not visit the place again. Certainly not! Tapping the door more vigorously would wake up Kamalini if I can wake up this fellow Ramu up and sneak into the bedroom, I can pass off for a gentleman!
Gopalarao tried the door. To his surprise, he found the door was ajar, not bolted from inside. He opened it fully. There was no light in the doorway. He walked upto the bedroom. There was no light there as well. He tiptoed to the bed to see if Kamalini was awake. He couldn’t make out. He drew out the match box from his pocket and lighted a match. Kamalini was not on the bed. Astonished, he dropped the matchstick. Darkness pervaded his heart as it did the room. Strange apprehensions and equally strange fears swelled up and disturbed and annoyed him. He was not sure if his annoyance was with himself for his misdeeds or with Kamalini for her absence. He felt greatly irritated.
He came to the foreyard and called out his servants. Nobody answered his call. “these fellows must be hanged,” he said to himself in despair. Returning to his room, he lighted a lamp and started searching for her. He found his old servant Ramu in the middle of the road blissfully smoking and watching the stars!
“Ramu!”, he roared, “come here once!”
Startled and scared, Ramu threw away the cigar and ran to his master.
“Where is she?”
“Who? My wife, Sir? She is at home.”
“You fool! Where is my wife?”
“Oh! You mean Madam, Sir! She must be sleeping in the bedroom Sir!”
“No. She is not.”
Ramu looked surprised. Slowly fear seized him. The moment he stepped into the house, Gopalarao gave two heavy blows on his back in a fit of anger. Ramu dropped down to the floor with a thud moaning, “You have killed me, Sir!”
Gopalarao was a gentleman. He immediately realized his mistake of venting his anger on the servant and regretted it. Soothing Ramu’s back with his palm, he lifted him up and took him to his room. Sitting in a chair and with agony clearly perceptible in his voice, he asked, “Ramu! What happened?”
“It looks a mystery to me Sir!”
“Has she gone to her father’s place?”
“She could have. If you don’t take me amiss, Sir, what else do you expect when a woman gets educated?”
“You stupid! You do not know the value of education.”
Gopalarao leaned over the table and holding his head between his hands started brooding. Suddenly he saw a note on the table in Kamalini’s hand. Involuntarily he took into his hands and started reading:
“What a pity! She is addressing me like a stranger. The warm addressing ‘dear’ disappeared and changed to an alien salutation , Sir!” moaned Gopala Rao aloud.
“What Sir! Where is the deer Sir! Where did it disappear Sir!” Ramu asked innocently.
“You idiot! Shut up!”
Gopalarao continued reading the note.
“It’s ten days since I have been seeing you coming home only at night. You have been telling me that you were busy with social work and attending meetings on that score. But, I came to know the truth from my friends. I understand you have had to lie because of my presence at home. I can spare you that trouble if I go to my father’s place. You can be as free as you wish to be. What else a wife could do under these circumstances than to keep herself away from the husband? I am going tonight. Be happy. If you can spare any money after meeting your expenses, please send me.”
Folding the note, Gopalarao shouted aloud:
“I am an ass!”
“Master! Why do you say so?”
“I am a real big ass!” he repeated taking no notice of Ramu.
Ramu had been finding it very difficult to suppress his laughter.
“A woman of great character, a bundle of virtues, obedient and educated… she taught me a befitting lesson.”
“What did she do Sir!”
“She has gone to her father’s place. But, how could she go without your knowledge?”
Ramu stepped back a little and said, “I must have been sleeping then. If you don’t mistake me, Sir, a woman should be shown her proper place by giving a thorough dressing down. Then she would stay put at home and never think of going to her father’s place without permission! Strange things happen when women get educated and start writing as men do.”
“Bloody fool you are! The most valuable thing in God’s creation is an educated woman. Even our Lord Siva gave his consort Parvati half of himself. An Englishman calls his wife better half. Do you know what it means? It means that woman is superior to him. Understand?”
“I don’t understand anything, Sir!” Ramu said suppressing his laughter with great difficulty.
“Your daughter is attending the school just now. You’ll realize the value of education soon. Forget about it! One of us should immediately go to Chadravaram to bring her back. For the next four days I can’t move out of town. You’re our trusted family servant. Go and bring her. What will you tell her?”
“I know, Sir! I’ll say: Madam! Master broke my back. Please come home!”
“Useless fellow! Don’t you ever speak about the beating. I’ll give you two rupees for forgetting it.”
“I’ll tell you what to say. Here me carefully. Say ‘Master has realized his mistake and will never visit nauch girls again. He’ll not move out of house at night. It’s a promise!’ understand!? Also say ‘he begs you to return home in a day or two without divulging anything to anyone there. He’s feeling your absence and counting days.’ Tell these words with finesse. Followed?”
“Repeat to me what I asked you to say?”
Ramu scratched his head. “I’ll say…I’ll say… I forgot all that you have said, Sir! But I’ll say this: ‘Hear Madam! I’ve seen so many couples. A woman should always obey her husband and keep quiet. If you don’t, my Master will also maintain a nauch girl like his father. For your information, recently a very beautiful young girl has landed in our town and our Master is losing sleep over her already. It’s up to you now!”
“You rascal!” Gopalarao leaped from the bed. Ramu shot out like an arrow.
A serenading laughter and jingle of bangles were heard from under the bedstead.
[From : The Palette (1997) by RS Krishna Moorthy & NS Murty]