అనువాదలహరి

Placebo… Vakati Panduranaga Rao, Telugu

 

Vakati Panduranga Rao (1934- 1999)

“Six- Four, game, set and match to Manohar!” announced Rayman who acted as Umpire.

“Congrats Manohar! That was a good game,” Ravindra conveyed his appreciation shaking Manohar’s hand.

Accepting his greeting he complained, ‘Somehow, you are not your self today. Otherwise, will you let me win so easily?”

They packed their Tennis racquets.

Ravindra was Hospital Superintendent at St. Bernard. Manohar was Collector, Customs. Rayman was Captain of a ship and had come to Madras on vacation.

After the match, all of them sat leisurely in the Tennis Club lawns and sipping tea.

The sky was turning grey slowly. Neon lamps lighted suddenly as if they were coming out of a reverie. The Club boy was busy roaming all around and supplying things demanded by members.

“Yes, I don’t know why, but your focus was not on the game today,” reiterated Manohar.

“Some nice new nurse?” winked Rayman mischievously.

“No. No. My friend is a Rishyasrunga,” defended Manohar.

“Who is he?” asked Rayman.

After Manohar recounted the story of Rishyasrunga, all of them had a hearty laughter.

“Then Dr. Ravindra! You must follow me to east. You must stay for a week in Bangkok… then …”

“Is Bangkok such a catalyst?” interrupted Manohar.

There you find a dozen catalysts in every building. The beauties there can transform a Rishyasrunga to Vatsayana in one night…”

“Why? Your eastern voyage is exclusive to Ravi or there is room for this poor Customs fellow?”

“What a question! Don’t the Customs people and Captains on the sea have extended relations for lives?” said Rayman.

“So you both collude to leave me alone,” spoke Ravindra at last.

“No. No. In a city like Bangkok a doctor never goes out of demand.”

The three laughed heartily once again having understood the pun.

“But once my friend takes up a case, nothing can distract his attention…” said Manohar browsing through the pages of the magazine on the table.

“Is he doing any research?”

“Nothing like that. During my stay for six years in states, I developed passion for reading books, magazines and journals relating to medical subjects. That habit is continuing. That’s all! I ruminate about what I read and try to put into practice as far as possible.  I am not doing any research as such.”

“Research is exactly what you do!”

“No. No.  Research is a kind of deep meditation. A state of unwavering yogic trance. The enzyme or the bacteria you are searching for becomes the divine and oblivious to the world around, all your attention in thought, word and deed should be diverted towards that. For such an inquirer his lab becomes the Naimisha Forest.  I don’t stand a chance….” Replied Ravindra looking deep into the horizon with a desperate air.

A Seagull passed them by with a squawk.

With his attention diverted, Manohar remarked, “My god! When you have reached Naimisha from Bangkok that means you have completed one circle.  But forget about it. Look here. This makes a very interesting reading. He started reading from the interview of Björn Borg published in Time magazine: ‘Borg says: once I step into the court and start playing, a kind of overwhelming confidence seizes me saying… so long as I am there how could anybody win? I am the superman in the court. I must be there where the ball lands… and suddenly a new idea flashes in my mind… and I play a very unconventional shot that was not there in the copybook.  People may get bewildered. But it seems so natural to me. As the idea in the brain traverses through hand and meets the ball, there is nothing comparable to the rhythm. That is my empire.  My writ rules there. My shot cannot miss its aim. It is a kind of dreamy state. A blissful state…”

Manohar took a break and said, “We care to read these words just because the person who spoke them was a dexterous Arjuna of the Tennis world. Had they been uttered by any other mortal, we would just brush them aside dubbing them as the prattle of a pervert.”

“So true! It is hard to believe.” Said Rayman.

Ravi said, “If somebody on the top of a hill hails there is a village on the other side, it is quite natural for the man at the foot of the hill this side to scoff at him saying, “You mean a village? On that side of the hill? You want me to believe? Don’t take me for a fool”.  But, Manohar, Borg is no mean mortal.  He was a Yogi, who started his career at a tender age of 15, and left no Himalayan peak in Tennis world unconquered planting his flag of authority. It is beyond our imagination what kind of devotion, unswerving determination and uncompromising practice.  Just read further, you will come to know.”

“You are correct. All through the year, Borg practices a minimum of 4 hours each day without fail.  Once he wanted to bring a slight change in his service.  They say, he practiced hat small change for two hours every day for two weeks.” Manohar read out from the magazine.

“Because he had such kind of devotion, his body could translate into action what his mind has planned about.  Didn’t our people say ‘wherever the mind hovers, the world follows suit?’  Borg has proved those very words hat world walks the way your mind thinks.  In a way, this proves the ‘bio-feedback system’ in medicine,” Ravi was going on.

Boy interrupted him and said, “Sir! There is a phone call for you.”

He went in to answer the call.

“Hello!”

“Ravi! Are you still at the club?”

“Yes. Are you feeling better now?”

“Fine.  I thought of going out somewhere if you turn up early.”

“It is already past seven. There is an important case at the hospital. After tha…”

“Is it the same Mrs. Khambatta?”

“Yes dear! Her condition continues to be critical.”

“……………………..”

“Hello! Hello Meena!”

“I am here only…. Where can I go? After all?”

“There again. No.  You should not get into depression… switch on TV… In another half-an-hour there is a program by your favorite singer Janaki.”

“I liked your suggestion Ravi!”

“Why?”

“Like Janaki in Asoka Garden I will be here; and songs of Janaki shall keep me company… very appropriate!”

“Then Mrs. Janaki! Then, am I Sri Ram or Ravan?”

“I suppose you are only Sri Ram. Even if you are a Ravan, it is OK with me.”

“What do you mean Meena?”

“I say, it is important to have love for Sita. Had he not, Ravan would not have taken her away.”

“Agreed. I will be there by 8.30. OK?”

“OK.”

By the time he returned taking the call, Rayman and Manohar also got up to leave. Within the next five minutes the three cars had started.

An old model Austin car of Dr. Ravi stopped at the hospital portico.

“Good evening Dr.!”

Bowing his head in response to the greeting of the Anglo-Indian nurse at the reception, he went upstairs to his room. He searched under M in the Index of the filing system for a case file.

He got it.

“Malini Khambatta… admission: 26th July…” That means 28 days had passed since she was admitted.

Ravi was going through the history of the case…

*

Malini Khambatta.

34 years of age. ED of a shipping co.

Her husband is a Squadron Leader undergoing training in Russia now. Her 12 years son is studying in Doon Public School.

She came to Delhi from Bombay only 2 weeks before admission. After holding consultations with government she visited Tokyo. From there she dashed to Singapore to settle the issue when the staff of a stranded ship of theirs went on strike. From there she had been to Colombo. As she got down at Madras airport she had slight fever. As night progressed she developed acute body ache. By next morning she had a peculiar sensation of her fingers.

She joined the hospital at 8 am. They conducted some preliminary clinical tests and started palliative treatment. By the fifth day she developed difficulty in moving her neck, fingers hands, and legs. Her ESR was found to be over 80.  Within the next three days it crossed 115.  Her movements gradually became difficult. She started developing lesions under the skin.

He conducted all possible tests on her. Discussed   the case with fellow experts. They found it hard to diagnose it. Ultimately, they noticed that the Collagen, which binds the cells of various tissues with one another got poisoned.  And it has reached the tissue in the backbone. Consequently, all the body tissues are disintegrating into millions and millions of cell pieces. After two-days of prolonged discussions they decided it was Ankylosing Spondylitis . And the unanimous opinion of the experts was that it was impossible for her to get out of it.

Ravi consented to their opinion but was not wholly convinced.

He locked himself alone for five to six hours and seriously brooded over that.

*

That evening sitting beside Malini’s bed and said, “Listen to me Mrs. Malini!  Pay attention to what I am about to say.  You are well educated, knowledgeable and have seen the world. So treating you as my friend I want to put facts before you…” He gave a brief about her disease. “Statistics say that the chances of survival for people afflicted with this disease is one in five hundred.  I don’t care about the other for hundred and ninety nine people.  I want you to be that one off chance and back to normalcy attending to your routine. But, here is the challenge. I cannot do alone nor can medicines alone bring about the turnaround. Your cooperation is absolutely necessary. At no point of time you show signs of despair.” He paused looking into her face for reactions.

She was ears to what he was saying. Ravi continued…

“You have a long life ahead. There are many things you have to achieve. You must be determined to achieve them all. And I should convince me. Then together we can raise a war cry against the disease.”

She smiled. Though she had to struggle to say what she did, she did not relent.

“Doctor! I could bring a turnaround within three years in the loss-ridden shipping company. I could shut up the mouths of people who doubted my ability pointing out my gender. There is a project at hand.  Our country is far behind in container shipping. I have dreams to diversify my company into it and serve the nation. Even if I were confined to this bed, take it from me, I am going do it…”

Ravi raised his eyebrows in surprise. She continued…

“Last year I joined as a student under Ustad Hafiz Khan to learn Sitar. It is my dream to give at least one solo concert within the next four years.  That is a promise I made to Amar. Amar is my husband. I keep my promise. When I have such a promising life ahead, be that I have a one in five hundred chance, when I get the support of a doctor like you, I will certainly come out  of this abyss taking the support of your hand.” There was a glow of hope in her eyes and as she lifted her hand with all effort to indicate her will, Ravi took her hand and said, “That’s what self-confidence is! We have already won half-the –battle.  From tomorrow we are going to start a new treatment.”

That night Ravi did not go home.

“Will this adventurous attempt succeed?  Can I achieve what I wanted?  Can she with sheer self-confidence and I with the support of bare minimum of medicines regenerate her interior body parts which are ready to crumble to pieces any moment? Will all his assurances reduce to empty promises?”

This very common challenge every honest doctor faces in his life, stood before him assuming global proportions!

Before this body, every inch of which looks an endless stream of wonders so long as it works smoothly, years of study and decades of experience comes no nought and will be silenced once there occurs a small error in its rhythm. Is it its dismissal “Huh, what do you know after all?” or a warning that “there is a lot you should learn still”?

Be that the bio-chemistry prepares umpteen formulaic preparations, no body resembles another. We cannot say with certainty that for the same disease, the same medicine works identically on two bodies.  Even in such an enigmatic state, if medicines seem to work, perhaps it is not medicines alone that cure! There is something incomprehensible that helps the cure!

For classification sake all species of mangoes come under Mangifera Indica. But each of them has its own unique taste. So is the body, each with its own character no matter it resembles every other in broad design, shape and matter.

Yaramita vanamalinaa sakhii!” (Confidante! She who consummates with Vanamali…!) is one of the most popular Octrains that swelled from the pen of Jayadeva. When Balamurali renders, it would expound the angst behind, when Ghantasala renders it would be holistic and sweet, and while Bhanumati renders it, the melody would kindle a sweat twinge. Where lies the difference? What do you call it?  Personal identity!

There it is! There lies the secret!

It was like epiphany! The truth he randomly witnessed on different occasions elsewhere seemed to have taken form to appear before him.

He started reading the research medical journals more thoroughly. He went through the latest issue of “Lancet”, “Chemical and Biological Interact”.  He had earlier studied Walter Bradford Cannon of “Wisdom of the Body” fame, René Dubos, Blackwell, Arthur K Shapiro, but today their research, experiments and works seemed converging one end. Today when he reread them, he was seized with inexplicable inspiration. In that lone insulated meditative state he had the revelation of Placebo.

Placebo was a mystic divine damsel Mohini holding the pot of Nectar in her hand.

That which is, yet it is not, is Placebo; that which is a myth but makes its presence felt is Placebo.

If the commonest of the commoners Peri becomes a king, it is Placebo.

Placebo means “I will please” in Latin.

Placebo is an imitation medicine.

If you can manufacture a sugar tablet which looks exactly like the medicinal tablet, it is placebo.

When the patient asks for a medicine repeatedly, the medicine administered to just please him (not that it cures his disease) is placebo. Normally, in the experimental stage of a new medicine on trial, doctors give placebo.

When Ravi was in US, he read the articles and speeches of Arthur K Shapiro, Henry K. Beecher, and Louis Lasagna on Placebo Effect. They wrote that placebos not only look like real medicines, but also act like them.

But in the present state, it seemed that if mind is the fulcrum of the body, the force that conjuncts the two is placebo. It explained body is different from the mind. Placebo is the elixir that transforms the strong desire of the patient ‘to live’ into life-giving medicine and presents it to the body.

With renewed vigor Ravi got up.

He explained to the duty doctor what he should do and instructed him to keep everything ready by nine next day.

He left for home.

Wall clock showed it was 4 am.

Before stretching out he looked at the bottle on the table. It was Gardenal!

Meenakshi might be suffering from sleeplessness. But he advised her not to use Gardenal.

Poor Meenakshi! Because of her heart trouble she took long leave from her college. He was not able to spend more time with her. Their daughter Vijaya studying medicine also looked busy with her studies, games, picnics and other activities and with her friends and did not have time for her mother.

As Meenakshi turned aside in her sleep, the vermillion on her forehead glistened red even in that scarce lighting. He kissed her on her forehead and eased on his bed.

He was fast asleep.

“Malini! You are great! Let us unite and defeat…”

Meenakshi got up from her sleep with alarm. Ravi was saying something in his sleep.

“When did he come home? When she called the hospital in the evening the duty nurse answered that he instructed them not to disturb him even if there was a call from home.

“What’s that work? Why he chants the name of Malini? What is the nature of their ‘union?’ Who do they want to defeat?”

As the tranquilizing effect of the medicine ceased, Meenakshi got suspicious and angry.

After ten minutes, it was Ravi’s turn to get up agitated.

Ravi gave injection to Meenakshi who was wriggling with chest pain. He took her into his lap and explained her everything. She heard him patiently.

“But he was not like this. He had treated so many women patients before but he never talked in sleep like this. What does it all mean? What’s happening to Ravi?

“Am I losing my attraction after having entered forties? Is there a vacuum growing because of my ill-health? Or that both of them are unable to cope up with their darling daughter Vijaya taking off to wings having come off age? Am I losing Ravi because I was seriously engaged in my teaching and college administration work, until three months before?  Or with nothing else to do, am I demanding from Ravi more than before when I was busy with my own life?”

He took her in his lap and gently caressed her locks and cheeks with fingers filled with love, compassion and concern. But that could not alleviate her pain, and the physical closeness was in stark contrast to how far she felt aloof from him.

Everything he said just remained empty words.

After a while her pain ceased and slowly slipped into sleep.

Ravi felt like a bird endowed with wings but restrained to take off. He was overwhelmed with compassion for Meenakshi but felt helpless. He caressed her locks, as wavering as her mind, once again and set her properly on the bed.  He called out the hospital and asked for a nurse to be sent home.  He got up.

“For the first time Meenakshi complained of burning sensation in her stomach. She never had such complaint before. What new complication is up for challenge?” he thought as he completed his shaving and bath. The coking maid did not turn up.  He made a bread toast for himself and put some coffee in flask for Meenakshi.

He reached hospital by nine.

He visited Malini’s room.  She greeted him with a smile, like a lightning amidst clouds.

He greeted her back with a “Good morning,” and turning towards duty doctor asked, “Is everything ready?”

“Yes, Sir!” he replied.

“Then let them bring the medicine here.”  Duty doctor went out to bring the material Ravi asked for.

“Maliniji! The journey begins… I am now going to administer you a medicine that has never been used before. Besides this, I will put on an intravenous drip. While one attacks the disease, the other gives additional strength to the body. Together they should drive off your pain forever.”

The duty doctor and the nurse returned. Ravi gave Malini injection and put on the drip.  Then sitting beside Malini’s bed he said,

“You remember what I told you the other day?  Your body constitution took a beating because of undergoing extreme stress. It is time for you relax absolutely.  You should keep a happy disposition by keep smiling and reading funny, humorous and amusing stories. You may read Wodehouse, Herriot, James Thurber, James Thorne Smith Jr., etc.  All these books are available with Sister Mary Kutty.  She will read them to you for one or two hours daily.  I will send you some collections of Jokes. Every evening you should recount the best joke you read or heard. OK?”

She expressed her consent with her eyes.

He came out of her room. As he was about to enter his room he was reminded of the Tyagaraja Kriti, “For the great man who has control over his mind, of what use are the mantras and machinations?”. And he laughed within himself rationalizing “if it is that easy for everybody to control his mind, who will remember you and us, Swamy Tyagaraja!!!”

After completing his rounds and attending to other work, he visited Malini again.  She was blissfully asleep needing no sleeping pill. He immediately got the ESR tested. It was down by 9 points. In a matter of 4 hours the direction of the disease had taken definite turn.  Is the enemy beating the retreat?

He reached home.

Meenakshi was awake.

Nurse went out after seeing him.

“How are you darling?” She laughed sorrowfully.

“Do you have pain still?”

“I don’t think so. But it is dull.”

“May be it’s the side effect of the medicine. Let me get you some invigorating soup.”

He went into the kitchen and asked the maid to prepare a soup to his prescription, and brought it to her.

“Ravi! Take your dinner first…”

“You take the soup first.  I take my meal only after that.  After that the King and the Queen shall sit together and review the world situation… that is the agenda tonight…”

Meenakshi laughed.

He returned within fifteen minutes finishing off his meal.

“What’s this? You did not take even half of the soup?” he asked.

“Enough Ravi! Thank you!”

He looked at her enquiringly with his eyes as if asking “why this ‘formal’ conversation?”

Meenakshi was looking out of the window. The sky was overcast. A faint sun-less luminescence.

After five minutes she uttered, “Ravi! I want to join duty.”

“Meena!  Your heart rate has not stabilized.  You may not be able to stand the stress of teaching, administration and meetings…”

She nodded her head in disagreement and said, “No Ravi! I am unable to put up with this stress of sitting idly.  Routine is the best shield for my unrest. So, shall I join duties from Monday?”

Thinking for a while Ravi said weighing his words, “As a doctor, I can see the merit of your argument. But as a husband, I cannot accept your request Meena!”

She laughed but there was no life in it.

He waited for her to say something. But when she did not say anything for a while, he said “Come on Meena! You wanted to say something. Get it off your chest. That is good for your health.”

“Ravi!”

“Yes!”

“You said that ‘as a husband I don’t allow you to go.” It was so pleasant to hear. As your wife I ask you one thing. Do you agree?”

“Tell me,”

“Come on. Let us go to Kulu or Manali for one week.  Can you come?”

“….”

“Tell me Ravi! Shall we?”

Ravi did not say anything for two minutes. It was raining outside.

“I know Ravi! You want to come.  But you have a compelling work. If you leave that, you won’t be peaceful even in Heaven.  I don’t blame you for that.  But that is also the case with me.  My work needs me and I need my work as badly.”

“What you said is true, Meena. But, I think it is not fair.”

“No, Ravi.  You can’t abandon your work for my sake.  And leaving my work, I can’t sit in front of you idly for what you are going to say.  We have passed that romantic age.  It is quite natural that each of us try to find a meaning for our lives. There is no need to feel guilty about it.”

“But Meena! There are two things here… The first thing is that my asking you not to join duties is not for my sake but keeping in view your health. I love to spend eons with you. What I say now is not for myself.  And the second thing… our streams of life have been flowing merged for over twenty five years. But why is this Sahara all of a sudden?  Why is this very dry logic?”

“When the magic of life has vanished, all that is left is only logic, Ravi!  Besides, I am a history Professor. I can only speak dry words, not any damp or moist words. When I made a matter-of-fact statement, you felt it like that.”

“Meena!”…  He took her into his arms. But he felt, it would have been better if she had taken him into hers.

…No… There was no response in the two bodies.

The rain stopped outside.  The clouds cleared.  But there is no trace of dawn.

*

Four weeks passed in the same vein. Meenakshi joined duty. But surprisingly she called him when he was at the Tennis Club.

“It’s fine even if he were a Ravana, but enough if he had love for her…” that’s what she said. What did he, then, do or not do?

As he was browsing through the case sheet, duty doctor had arrived.

“How is Malini?” he asked.

“She is able to sit up on her own, sir!”

“Good! I visit her during the rounds,” he noted his observations on the case sheet before filing.

In the last four weeks Malini’s health had improved beyond expectations. ESR had almost come to normal. Placebo had really worked wonders. Within three weeks she was relieved of all her knee pains. She was able to sit up with some minor support.  In another four to five weeks she should be able to walk on her own. That would mean he had got an answer for a teething problem.

Has mind control over body?  Now, he would be able to give a positive answer with supporting proof. He has to consolidate all his trials and results and write a detailed Paper for the journal.

He entered her room.

“Hello doctor!” Malini greeted him first.

“How are you Mrs. Malini?”

“Very fine. Am I the successful one of the one-in-five hundred odds?”

“Yes.  You have proved it. What is that? A letter from Amar?” he asked.  He remembered her entreaty not to disclose her condition to her husband.

“Yes… the same routine stuff… that Vodka is nauseating.  By the way, when can I get up and walk, doctor?”

“Whenever you feel you can. Whenever you feel motivated to walk.”

“Is it?” he eyes widened in surprise. “Then let me get off this throne tomorrow itself,” she mimed a queenly posture.

“Who is there?” Ravi extended the mime with a clap of hands as if calling somebody at the door.

They both laughed.

“By the way, shall I recount today’s joke?  This is vintage wit… of Charles Dickens. A male character created by Dickens says like this to others: ‘look here boys!  I always follow my wife’s advice on all matters related to home.  She has that sharp wit.  But, I refuse to admit it in her presence.  You ask me why? It’s a matter of discipline!  Don’t you think there must be discipline at home? For that!’”

He joined her laughter.

“The acronym MCP was created exactly for such people. Isn’t it?”

“She looked at him questioningly what MCP meant.

“Male Chauvinistic Pig”

She laughed again.

“Doctor! Doctor!!  Yesterday I received a surprise post.”

“What’s that?”

“My Ustadji sent a cassette of his rendering of Rag Jaijavanti.  That’s just divine! You must hear it when you can find time. That is not Sitar at play… just a replay of Cosmic Dance of Shiva by Parijata flowers… an overwhelming rain of stars…

As she was speaking vivaciously Ravi thought within… Like a bird hopping from one branch to another, how many dreams, and how many goals has she! She will certainly regain complete health. Move around and would achieve what she wanted.  She would live a fruitful life of hundred years. That is the power of the mind!

Following night Ravi asked Meenakshi “About one month back you proposed to me going to Kulu. Shall we go there next week?”

“Sorry dear! Just two weeks passed since I took a long leave. It does not look nice if I go on one-week leave again. That too, being a Principal…”

Ravi nodded his head.  Life takes very strange turns… In Greek Drama … they call it Nemesis… he recalled.

That was full moon day of Sravana month.

Ravi who went out to attend a meeting in the morning, reached hospital by noon.

Staff nurse informed him that Mrs. Malini had enquired for him many times.

“I see.”

Apprehensive of some complication cropping up he went into her room with acute concern.  She was quite normal.  The vermillion in the furrow of her hairline was shining bright. She got down the bed and approached him putting her steps steadily.

When she said, “Doctor Brother! Today is Rakhi Poornima.  I am waiting to tie this Rakhi to you since morning…” she was really surprised. He held out his right fore arm.

She tied the Rakhi. She tried to touch his feet for his blessing and since she was not in full control of her body she staggered. He lent support preventing her falling down.  Malini put her hand on Ravi’s shoulder for support. And as she was walking towards her bed gasping for breath…

Exactly at that moment…

Meenakshi made a terrible shriek “R…A…V…I…!”

Ravi looked back. He saw Meenakshi desperately trying to take table for support before collapsing to the ground.

Needing Ravi’s signature on a joint account Meenakshi hurried to hospital in her car from college and not finding him in his room, she came searching for him in the ward.

***

Ravi was dozing in the sofa outside the ICU, struggling to keep awake.

A milk van stopped on the street outside making a lot of noise.  It shook off his sleep. He looked at the watch.  It was 5.52.  He peeped into the ICU and looked enquiringly towards nurse about Meenakshi. Her looks conveyed her condition was steady. Another 24 hours should pass.

He returned to his place and watched out through the window. Milk van was leaving. There was an artificial pond in the foreyard. The lotuses which shone bright under the full moon last night looked wan and shriveled. He looked towards the orient sky. There was a spray of crimson on the eastern horizon. Sun was readying to appear.

On the other side of the road, at the tea stall, “Suukti Muktavali” (Pearls of wisdom) commenced. He could hear clearly:

“One begets the results from Mantra (holy hymn), Tirtha (holy water), astrologer, doctor, and guru commensurate with the opinion you hold about them.”

Yes. He has to consult another specialist. When she cannot hold respect for him as a person, how could she hold respect for him as a doctor?  More than his personal feelings or his failure as a doctor, her life is more valuable.

For her to survive, her cooperation was imperative. That was fundamental.

He walked into his room and dialed Dr. Agarwal.

Elsewhere in the hospital, an attendant nurse was writing a letter to Amar as Malini was dictating her.

Translation:

RS Krishna Moorthy & NS Murty

Read Placebo Original story  here

 

అదంతా కలేనా? … గై ద మొపాసా, ఫ్రెంచి కథా రచయిత

హెచ్చరిక:

గుండెదిటవు లేనివాళ్ళు  ఈ కథని దయచేసి చదవ వద్దు. అలా చదివినపుడు వచ్చే సమస్యలకి అనువాదకుడు బాధ్యుడు కాడు.

.

ఈ కథ ఉత్తమపురుషలో పురుషుడు చెప్పిన కథ అయినప్పటికీ, దీనిని స్త్రీ చెప్పినట్టు ఊహించినా, ఇందులోని సౌందర్యం ఎంతమాత్రం తగ్గదు. చెడదు. (శ్మశానంలో రాత్రిగడపటం అన్నది కథకుడికి కూడ  suspension of disbelief క్రింద ఇచ్చే రాయితీయే గనుక). అసలు విషయం, బలహీనతలనీ, గొప్పదనాలనీ తులనాత్మకంగా పరిశీలించి ఇవ్వవలసినవాటికి ఇవ్వవలసినంత విలువ ఇవ్వలేని మనబలహీనత వల్ల, వ్యక్తులకి (బ్రతికి ఉన్నప్పుడూ పోయిన తర్వాతా కూడా) ఎక్కువగా ప్రేమించడమో ద్వేషించడమో చేస్తుంటాం. మనకిష్టమైన వాళ్ల వ్యక్తిత్వాలచుట్టూ ఒక మార్మికత సృష్టించుకుంటాం. నమ్మకం బలంగా ఉన్నంతకాలమూ, మన నమ్మకాలకి ఆఘాతం కలిగించే విషయాలు తెలిసినా అంత గుడ్దిగానూ త్రోసిపుచ్చుతూ ఆ భ్రమలోనే బ్రతుకుతాం. కానీ ఎప్పుడైనా మన విశ్వాసాన్ని సడలించే ఋజువులు కనిపించినప్పుడు (బ్రతికున్నప్పుడు కూడా) అంత గౌరవప్రదమైన వ్యక్తినీ ఒక్కసారిగా పలచనచేసి వాళ్ళు మిగతా ఎన్ని మంచిపనులు చేసినా వాటికి విలువ ఇవ్వం. వ్యక్తిత్వాలని  de-mystify చేసి, వ్యక్తుల్ని మంచిచెడుల సంగమంగా గ్రహించి, బలహీనతలను సానుభూతితో అర్థంచేసుకుని, వాళ్ళు పాటించిన మానవీయమైన విలువలకు, విలువ ఇవ్వడం మరిచిపోకూడదు. Demystification of such myth around people we love  ఈ కథలోని సందేశం.)

*

ఆమెని నేను పిచ్చిగా ప్రేమించాను.

మనిషి ఎందుకు ప్రేమిస్తాడు? అసలు, మనిషి ఎందుకు ప్రేమిస్తాడు? చూడ్డానికి ఎంత చిత్రంగా ఉంటుందోకదా …  ఈ ప్రపంచంలో ఒకే వ్యక్తిని చూసి ప్రేమించడం, ఆ ఒక్కరే తన ఆలోచనలలో వ్యాపించి, మనసులో ఒకే ఒక్క కోరిక, పెదవిమీద ఎప్పుడూ ఒకటే నామం… ఆ పేరే నిరంతరం, అగాధమైన హృదయపులోతులనుండి పెదాలపైకి ఊటలాగ సదా ఉబుకుతూ, ఆ నామాన్నే పదే పదే సమయం సందర్భం మరిచి  ఏదో ప్రార్థన చేసుకుంటున్నట్టు స్మరిస్తూ, జపించడం?

నేను మా కథే చెబుతాను, ఎందుకంటే ప్రేమ ఒక్కటే. ఆ అనుభూతి  అందరికీ ఒక్కలాగే ఉంటుంది. నేను ఆమెని కలిసి, ఆమె దయమీద, ఆమె లాలింపులమీద, ఆమె కౌగిలిలో, ఆమె మాటల్లో, ఎంతగా ఒదిగిపోయానంటే, ఆమెనుండి ఏది వచ్చినా దానిలో ఎంతగా మైమరచిపోయేవాడినంటే, అది రాత్రో పగలో లక్ష్యపెట్టలేనంతగా; ఈ పురాతన విశ్వంలో అసలు నేను బ్రతికే ఉన్నానో మరణించానో గుర్తించలేనంతగా.

అటువంటి సమయంలో ఆమె మరణించింది. ఎలాగ? నాకు తెలియదు; నాకసలు ఏమయిందో తెలీనే తెలీదు. ఒక రోజు సాయంత్రం ఇంటికి తడిసి ముద్దైపోయి వచ్చింది, ఎందుకంటే ఆరోజు వర్షం తెగకురిసింది; రెండో రోజు దగ్గుపట్టుకుంది, ఒక వారం రోజులు అలా దగ్గుతూనే ఉంది, తర్వాత మంచం పట్టింది. తర్వాతేమయిందో  నాకిప్పుడు గుర్తులేదు. కానీ, డాక్టర్లు వచ్చేరు, మందులు రాసి  వెళ్ళిపోయేరు. మందులు వచ్చేయి, కొందరు ఆడవాళ్ళు ఆమెచేత మందులు తాగించేరు కూడా. ఆమె చేతులు వేడిగా ఉండేవి, నుదురు కాలిపోతుండేది, కళ్లు మాత్రం మెరుస్తున్నా ఎంతో విచారంగా ఉండేవి.  నేను ఆమెతో మాటాడేను, ఆమె సమాధానం చెప్పింది కానీ, ఇప్పుడు అవేవీ గుర్తులేవు. నేను అన్నీ మరిచిపోయాను. సర్వం! ప్రతీదీ! ఆమె మరణించింది. నాకిప్పడికీ గుర్తుంది ఆమె నీరసంగా విడిచిన చివరిశ్వాస. నర్సు “ఆ!” అని అంది. నాకు అర్థం అయిపోయింది. దాంతో నాకంతా అర్థం అయిపోయింది.

అంతకుమించి నాకేం తెలీదు. ఏమీ. ఒక ఫాదిరీ వచ్చి అడిగేడు: “అమె నీతో ఉంటోందా?” అని అడిగేడు. అతని మాటల్లో ఆమెపట్ల న్యూనతాభావం కనిపించింది. ఆమె ఇప్పుడు లేదు గాబట్టి ఎవరికీ ఆమెని అవమానకరంగా మాటాడే హక్కులేదు. దానితో అతన్ని తగిలేసేను. మరొకతను వచ్చేడు. అతనెంతో ఆత్మీయంగా మాటాడేడు. నాకు ఏడుపు వచ్చింది. అన్ని విషయాలూ అతనికి చెప్పేను.

వాళ్ళు ఆమె అంత్యక్రియలగురించి నన్ను సంప్రదించేరు గాని, వాళ్ళేం అడిగేరో గుర్తులేదు; గుర్తున్నదొక్కటే, ఆమె శరీరాన్ని సమాధిలోకి దించేముందు శవపేటిక కప్పు మూస్తున్నపుడు మేకులు కొడుతూ సుత్తి చేసిన చప్పుడు. ఓహ్! భగవంతుడా!భగవంతుడా!

ఆమెని సమాధిచేసేరు. సమాధిచేసేసేరు! ఆమెని! గోతిలో! కొందరు   వచ్చేరు… ఆమె మహిళా స్నేహితులు. నేను వాళ్లని తప్పించుకుందికి బయటకి పారిపోయాను.  అలా పరిగెత్తి పరిపోయి, వీధుల వెంబడి   తిరిగి తిరిగి, చివరికి ఇల్లు చేరుకున్నాను. మరుచటిరోజే ఊరువదలి వెళిపోయాను…

***

నిన్ననే నేను పారిస్ తిరిగి వచ్చేను. వచ్చి మరొకసారి నా గది … మా గది, మా పడక మంచం, మా ఫర్నిచరు, మనిషి పోయిన తర్వాత ఆ మనిషి జీవితానికి చెందిన అవశేషాలు … అన్నీ చూసిన తర్వాత, మళ్ళీ మరొక తెర ఎంత దుఃఖం పొంగుకొచ్చిందంటే, కిటికీ తలుపులు తెరిచి అందులోంచి బయటకు వీధిలోకి  దూకేద్దామనిపించింది. ఇక ఈ గదిలో ఎంతమాత్రం ఉండలేను, తనకి ఆశ్రయమిచ్చి ఉంచిన ఈ గది నాలుగు గోడలూ, కనిపించని మూల మూలలూ ఆమెకు చెందిన వేలకొద్దీ వస్తువుల్నీ, ఆమె శరీరాన్నీ, ఆమె శ్వాసనీ ఇంకా పట్టే ఉన్నాయి. అక్కడనుండి తప్పించుకుపోదామని నా టోపీ తీసుకుని తలుపు దగ్గరకి వెళ్ళేలోపు  హాలులో పెద్ద అద్దాన్ని సమీపించేను… తనే అక్కడ ఆ అద్దాన్ని పెట్టించింది, రోజూ తను బయటకు వెళ్ళే ముందు ఆపాద మస్తకమూ పరీక్షించుకుని, ఏ చిన్నపొరపాటూ లేకుండాతన అలంకరణా, దుస్తులూ, అన్నీ సవ్యంగా ఉన్నాయో లేదో సరిచూసుకుందికి.

ఆ అద్దాన్ని చూడగానే ఆగిపోయాను… ఆమె అందాన్ని అది ఎన్నోసార్లు ప్రతిబింబించింది, ఎన్నిసార్లంటే, బహుశా ఆ రూపాన్ని అది తనదగ్గరే ఉంచేసుకుందేమో అనుకునేంత. ఖాళీగా, గంభీరంగా, నిస్తేజంగా  కనిపిస్తున్న ఆ అద్దం వైపు గుడ్లప్పగించి చూస్తూ, అలా వణుకుతూ నిలుచున్నాను… నేనూ, నా రాగరంజితమైన కళ్లూ పొదువుకున్నట్టు గానే, ఆ అద్దంకూడా ఆమెని తనలో ఇముడ్చుకుని, దాచుకుంది. నేను ఆ అద్దాన్ని ఆప్యాయంగా తాకేను దాన్ని ప్రేమిస్తున్నానేమోన్నంతగా. దాన్ని తాకగానే అది చేతికి చల్లగా తగిలింది, నిర్వికారంగా. ఓహ్, ఎంత  బాధాకరమైన జ్ఞాపకం! దుఃఖిస్తున్న అద్దం, ప్రేమతో రగిలిపోతున్న అద్దం, దారుణమైన అద్దం, మనుషుల్ని ఎలాంటి బాధలకు గురిచేస్తుంది! అద్దం తనలో దాచుకున్న ప్రతిదాన్నీ, దాని ముందునుండి నడచివెళ్లిన ప్రతివస్తువునీ, దానిలో తన ప్రతిబింబాన్ని చూసుకున్న వాళ్లనీ, ప్రేమగా అది ప్రతిబింబించిన వ్యక్తుల్నీ ఎవడైతే మరిచిపోగలడో, ఆ మనిషి చాలా చాలా అదృష్టవంతుడు. నేనిపుడు ఎంత  బాధపడుతున్నాను!

నాకు తెలియకుండానే, నేననుకోకుండానే, నా కాళ్లు ఆమె సమాధివైపు దారి తీసాయి. చాలా సాదా సీదాగా ఉన్న ఆమె సమాధి వెంటనే పోల్చుకున్నాను. .. ఒక తెల్ల పాలరాతి శిలువగుర్తూ, ఫలకం మీద క్లుప్తంగా నాలుగు మాటలూ:

                “ఆమె ప్రేమించింది, ప్రేమించబడింది, మరణించింది.”

ఆమె ఆ సమాధిలో ఉంది… శిధిలమైపోతూ! ఎంత దారుణం!  నా నుదురు నేలకి ఆన్చి వెక్కి వెక్కి ఏడ్చాను; అక్కడే, అక్కడే అలా చాల సెపు ఉండిపోయాను. చీకటిపడడం గమనించాను; అప్పుడు నాకొక వింత ఆలోచన, ఆపుకోలేని కోరిక, నిరాశకుగురైన ప్రేమికుడికి కలిగే ఆకాంక్ష ముప్పిరిగొంది: ఆ రాత్రి, నా చివరి రాత్రి, ఎలాగైనా ఆమె సమాధిప్రక్కనే శోకిస్తూ గడపాలని. కాని, నన్ను ఎవరైనా చూస్తే అక్కడనుండి తరిమేస్తారు. మరి నా ఆలోచన అమలుపరిచే మార్గం ఎలా? అవసరానికి తగిన ఉపాయం ఆలోచించగల సమర్థత నాకుంది. అందుకని, వెంటనే అక్కడనుండి లేచాను. ఆ మృతనగరిలో సంచారం ప్రారంభించాను. నడుస్తూ, నడుస్తూ, నడుస్తూనే ఉన్నాను. మనం నివసిస్తున్న నగరాలతో పోలిస్తే, ఈ నగరం ఎంత చిన్నది!  నిజానికి చనిపోయిన వారిసంఖ్య బ్రతికున్న వారికంటే ఎన్నో రెట్లు ఎక్కువగదా! మనకయితే ఎత్తైన భవంతులూ, విశాలమైన రోడ్లూ, ఏకకాలంలో నాలుగుతరాలకి కావలసినంత గాలీ వెలుతురూ వచ్చేలా పెద్ద పెద్ద గదులూ, వాటితో పాటే, నిత్యం స్వచ్ఛమైన చెలమల్లోని నీళ్ళూ, ద్రాక్షతోటలనుండి సారాయీ, మైదానాలనుండి తినడానికి మంచి రొట్టే ఇవన్నీ కావాలి.

ఇన్ని తరాల మృతులకీ, మనదాక కొనసాగిన ఆ మహామానవ సోపానానికి, పాపం, ఏమీ లేవు! బొటాబొటీగా కూడ ఏవీలేవు! అన్నీ భూమి తిరిగి తీసుకుంటుంది; విస్మృతి వాళ్ల ఉనికిని చెరిపేస్తుంది… కడపటి వీడ్కోలు చెబుతూ…

నే నా శ్మశానం ఒక మూలకి చెరేసరికి ఒక్కసారిగా గమనించేను… అది అన్నిటిలోకీ పాతజాగా. అక్కడి సమాధులలోనివాళ్ళు ఎప్పుడో మట్టిలో కలిసిపోయారు… అక్కడి శిలువలే శిధిలమై జీర్ణావస్థకి చేరుకున్నాయి. బహుశా రేపు రాబోయేవారికి అక్కడ ఆశ్రయం కల్పించవచ్చు. అక్కడ సంరక్షణలేని గులాబి చెట్లూ, నల్లగా ఏపుగా పెరిగిన సైప్రస్ చెట్లూ, మానవశరీరాలు ఎరువుగా పెరిగి నిర్లక్ష్యంగా  వదిలేసిన అందమైన తోటా ఉన్నాయి.

ఇప్పుడు నేను ఒంటరిగా ఉన్నాను. ఒకే ఒక్కడిని నిస్సందేహంగా. బాగా దట్టంగా గుబురుగా పెరిగిన చెట్టుచూసి దాని ఆకుల నల్లని నీడలో ఎందుకైనా మంచిదని నక్కి కూర్చున్నాను… పడవమునిగినపుడు ఆధారంగా దొరికిన బల్లచెక్కను మనిషి ఎంత ఆత్రంగా పట్టుకుంటాడో, అంత ఆత్రంగా ఆ చెట్టు మొదలు పట్టుకుని.

బాగా చీకటి పడనిచ్చి, నా స్థావరాన్ని వదిలి నడవడం ప్రారంభించాను… ఆ మృతులతో నిండిన ఆ నేలమీద  నెమ్మదిగా, మెత్తగా అడుగులో అడుగు వేసుకుంటూ. చాలా సేపు తిరిగేను గాని  ఆమె సమాధి ఎక్కడుందో  మళ్ళీ గుర్తుపట్టలేకపోయాను. రెండు చేతులు జాచీ, సమాధుల్ని చేతులతో, కాళ్లతో, ముణుకులతో, గుండెతో, చివరికి నా తలతో, తడుముతూ, తన్నేసుకుంటూ, తొట్రుపడుతూ… అయినా ఆమె సమాధిని కనుక్కోలేకపోయాను. గుడ్డివాడు తోవకోసం తడుముకున్న చందంలో తిరిగేను గాని, నాకు రాళ్ళూ, శిలువలూ, ఇనప కంచెలూ, లోహపు దండలూ, కొత్తగా ఉంచిన పూలమాలలే తగిలేయి. నా చేతివేళ్లను సమాధిపలకలమీద రాసి ఉన్న అక్షరాలమీదనుండి పోనిచ్చి అక్కడి అక్షరాలను చదివేను. అబ్బ! ఏమి చీకటి! ఎంతప్రయత్నించినా ఆమె సమాధి జాడ కనిపెట్టలేకపోయాను.

చంద్రోదయం అవలేదు. ఏమి కాళరాత్రి అది! నాకు భయం వేసింది, గోరీలమధ్య సన్నగా ఇరుకుగా ఉన్న త్రోవలో నడవడానికి చాలా భయం వేసింది. సమాధులు! సమాధులు!! సమాధులు!!! సమాధులు తప్ప మరేమీ లేవు! నాకు కుడిప్రక్క, ఎడం ప్రక్క, ముందూ, ఎక్కడపడితే అక్కడ సమాధులే! చివరికి ఇక నడవలేక, ఒక సమాధిమీద చతికిలబడ్డాను. కాళ్లలో సత్తువ సన్నగిల్లిపోయింది. నా గుండెకొట్టుకోవడం నాకు స్పష్టంగా  వినిపిస్తోంది. ఇంతలో నాకు ఇంకేదో చప్పుడు కూడా వినిపించింది. ఏమిటది? ఇది ఇది అనిచెప్పలేని, గగుర్పాటుకలిగించే చప్పుడది. ఆ చప్పుడు నా బుర్రలోంచి వస్తోందా, అగోచరమైన ఈ నిశీధిలోనుండా, లేక శవాలతో కప్పబడిన నిగూఢమైన ఈ నేలక్రింది నుండా? నా చుట్టూ చూశాను. నే నలా ఎంతసేపు ఉన్నానో చెప్పలేనుగాని, భయంతో నా శరీరం చచ్చుపడిపోయింది, భయంతో చెమటలు పట్టేసేయి, ఏ క్షణంలోనైనా స్పృహ కోల్పోవడమో, మరణించడమో నిశ్చయం అన్నట్టుంది నా స్థితి.

అకస్మాత్తుగా, నాకు నేను కూర్చున్న సమాధిపలకే కదులుతున్నట్టనిపించింది. సందేహం లేదు, నిజంగానే అది కదులుతోంది, క్రిందనుండి ఎవరో పైకి లేపుతున్నట్టు. ఒక్క ఉదుకున పక్కనే ఉన్న మరో సమాధిమీదకి ఉరికేను; అప్పుడు చూశాను, చాలా స్పష్టంగా చూసేను, అప్పటివరకూ నేను కూర్చున్న సమాధిరాయి పూర్తిగా పైకి లేవడం. అందులోనుండి చనిపోయిన వ్యక్తి, నగ్నంగా ఉన్న ఒక అస్థిపంజరం, బయటకు వచ్చి, వంచిన తన నడుముతో సమాధిపలకని మరికొంచెం వెనక్కి తొయ్యడం గమనించేను. ఆ స్మృతిఫలకం మీద రాసి ఉన్నది నేనిప్పుడు స్పష్టంగా చదవగలుగుతున్నాను:

                    “ఇది తన యాభై ఒకటవఏట మరణించిన జాక్ ఒలివెంట్ సమాధి. అతను తన కుటుంబాన్ని అమితంగా ప్రేమించాడు, చాలా కరుణాళువు, గౌరవప్రదమైన వ్యక్తీను. భగవంతుని అనుగ్రహంతో అతనిలో  లీనమైనాడు.

ఆ చనిపోయిన వ్యక్తికూడా చదివేడు స్మృతిఫలకం మీద ఏమి చెక్కి ఉందో; వెంటనే దారిపక్కన పడి ఉన్న ఒక చిన్న రాయి, కొంచెం సూదిగా ఉన్నది, తీసుకుని అక్కడి అక్షరాలను జాగ్రత్తగా చెరపడం ప్రారంభించేడు. నెమ్మదిగా అన్ని అక్షరాలనీ చెరిపేసి, అతని కళ్ళగుంటలతో అక్షరాలు చెక్కిన చోటుని జాగ్రత్తగా పరిశీలించేడు. అపుడు ఒకప్పటి తన చూపుడువేలి ఎముక కొనతో వెలుగుతున్న అక్షరాలతో రాయడం ప్రారంభించేడు… అవి కుర్రాళ్లు గోడలమీద అగ్గిపుల్లలతో రాసినట్టున్నాది:

ఇది తన యాభై ఒకటవఏట మరణించిన జాక్ ఒలివెంట్ సమాధి. అతను తన వారసత్వపు ఆస్థి అనుభవించడం కోసం నిర్దాక్షిణ్యంగా ప్రవర్తించి తండ్రి తొందరగా మరణించడానికి కారకుడయ్యాడు; భార్యను చిత్రహింసలుపెట్టి, పిల్లలని హింసించేడు, అతని పొరుగువాళ్లని మోసం చేసేడు, ఎంతమందిని దోచుకోగలడో అంతమందినీ దోచుకుని, చివరకి నీచమైన చావు చచ్చేడు.

అతని రాత పూర్తయిన తర్వాత, తను రాసినది చదువుతూ చలనం లేకుండా ఉండిపోయాడు. నేను నాలుగుపక్కలా పరికించి చూతును గదా… అన్ని సమాధులూ తెరువబడి ఉన్నాయి; మృతులందరూ వారి వారి సమాధుల్లోంచి బయటకు వచ్చి వాళ్ల స్మృతిఫలకాలపై బంధువులు చెక్కించిన అక్షరాలను చెరిపేసి యదార్థమైన  విషయాన్ని తిరిగి రాయడం ప్రారంభించేరు. నేను చదివినదేమిటంటే  ఈ గొప్పగొప్ప తండ్రులూ, విశ్వాసముగల భార్యలూ, భక్తిగల కొడుకులూ, నిష్కళంకులైన కూతుళ్ళూ, నిజాయితీగల వ్యాపారులూ, అకళంకులని చెప్పబడ్డ వీరందరిలో ప్రతి ఒక్కరూ, ద్రోహులూ, మోసగాళ్ళూ, కపటులూ, అబధ్ధాలకోరులూ, దొంగలూ, పరులని నిష్కారణంగా నిందించినవాళ్ళూ, అసూయాపరులూ, నీతిబాహ్యమని చెప్పే  ప్రతి పనినీ చేసినవారే. వాళ్ళందరూ ఏక కాలంలో, వాళ్ల శాశ్వతమైన ఇంటిగుమ్మాలముందర, సత్యాల్ని, ఎవరికీ తెలియనివీ, తెలిసినా వాళ్ళు బ్రతికున్నప్పుడు ఉపేక్షించినవీ,  భయంకరమైన సత్యాలని రాయసాగేరు.

నాకప్పుడు అనిపించింది, ఆమె కూడా తన సమాధిమీద ఏదో ఒకటి రాస్తూ ఉండాలి ఇప్పుడు అని; సగం తెరిచి ఉన్న శవపేటికల మధ్యనుండీ, శవాలమధ్యనుండీ, అస్థిపంజరాలమధ్యనుండీ ఇప్పుడు ఏమాత్రం భయం లేకుండా ఆమె కోసం పరిగెత్తేను… ఇప్పుడైతే ఆమెని తప్పకుండా పట్టుకోగలనన్న ధైర్యంతో. అనుకున్నట్టుగానే, ఆమె ముఖం చూడకుండానే పోల్చుకోగలిగేను, తనని చుట్టిన వస్త్రాన్ని బట్టీ, అంతకుముందే పాలరాతిసమాధిఫలకం మీద ఆమె స్మృతిలో వ్రాసిన ఈ అక్షరాలను బట్టీ:

                  “ఆమె ప్రేమించింది, ప్రేమించబడింది, మరణించింది.”

ఇప్పుడక్కడ ఇలా రాసి ఉంది:

                “ఒకరోజు ఆమె తనప్రియుణ్ణి మోసగించడానికి వర్షంలో బయటకు వెళ్ళి, జలుబుపట్టి చనిపోయింది.

***

వాళ్ళు ఆ సమాధిమీద స్పృహతప్పి పడిపోయిన నన్ను మరుచటిరోజు ఉదయం తెల్లవారేక చూసేరనుకుంటాను…..

***

గై ద మొపాసా

ఫ్రెంచి కథా రచయిత

.

English: Guy de Maupassant. Français : Guy de ...
English: Guy de Maupassant. Français : Guy de Maupassant par Félix Nadar, 1888. Guy de Maupassant. मराठी: गी. द. मोपासां. Svenska: Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893). Guy de Maupassant, foto av Félix Nadar från 1888. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

.

Was it a Dream? …
.

I had loved her madly!

Why does one love? Why does one love? How queer it is to see only one being in this world, to have only one thought in this world, only one desire in the heart and only one name on the lips— a name which comes up continually, rising, like the water in a spring, from the depths of the soul to the lips, a name which one repeats over and over again, which one whispers ceaselessly, everywhere, like a prayer.

I am going to tell you our story, for love only has one, which is always the same. I met her and lived on her tenderness, on her caresses, in her arms, in her dresses, on her words, so completely wrapped up, bound and absorbed in everything which came from her that I no longer cared whether it was day or night, or whether I was dead or alive, on this old earth of ours.

And then she died. How? I do not know; I no longer know anything. But one evening she came home wet, for it was raining heavily, and the next day she coughed, and coughed for about a week and took to her bed. What happened I do not remember now, but doctors came, wrote and went away. Medicines were brought and some women made her drink them. Her hands were hot, her forehead was burning, and her eyes bright and sad. When I spoke to her, she answered me, but I do not remember what we said. I have forgotten everything, everything. Everything! She died, and I very well remember her slight, feeble sigh. The nurse said: ”Ah!” and I understood, I understood!

I knew nothing more, nothing. I saw a priest who said: “Your mistress?” And it seemed to me as if he were insulting her. As she was dead, nobody had the right to say that any longer, and I turned him out. Another came who was very kind and tender, and I shed tears when he spoke to me about her.

They consulted me about the funeral, but I do not remember anything that they said, though I recollected the coffin and the sound of the hammer when they nailed her down in it. Oh! God, God!

She was buried! Buried! She! In that hole! Some people came— female friends. I made my escape and ran away. I ran and then walked away through the streets, went home and the next day started on a journey.

*******

Yesterday I returned to Paris, and when I saw my room again — our room, our bed, our furniture, everything that remains of the life of a human being after death— I was seized by such a violent attack of fresh grief that I felt like opening the window and throwing myself out into the street. I could not remain any longer among these things, between these walls which had inclosed and sheltered her, which retained a thousand atoms of her, of her skin and her breath, in their imperceptible crevices. I took up my hat to make my escape, and just as I reached the door I passed the large glass in the hall, which she had put there so that she might look at herself every day from head to foot as she went out, to see if her toilet looked well and was correct and pretty from her little boots to her bonnet.

I stopped short in front of that looking glass in which she had so often been reflected — so often, that it might have retained her reflection. I was standing there trembling with my eyes fixed on the glass — on that flat, profound, empty glass— which had contained her entirely and had possessed her as much as I, as my passionate looks had. I felt as if I loved the glass. I touched it, it was cold. Oh, the recollection! Sorrowful mirror, burning mirror, horrible mirror, to make men suffer such torments! Happy is the man who forgets everything that it has contained, everything that has passed before it, everything that has looked at itself in it or has been reflected in its affection, in its love! How I suffer!

I went out without knowing it, without wishing it, and towards the cemetery. I found her simple grave, a white marble cross, with these few words:

She loved, was loved and died.

She is there below, decayed! How horrible! I sobbed with my forehead on the ground, and stopped there for a long time, a long time. Then I saw it was getting dark and a strange, mad wish, the wish of a despairing lover, seized me. I wished to pass the night, the last night, in weeping on her grave. But I should be seen and driven out. How was I to manage? I was cunning and got up and began to roam about in that city of the dead. I walked and walked. How small this city is in comparison with the other, the city in which we live! And yet, how much more numerous the dead are than the living. We want high houses, wide streets and much room for the four generations who see the daylight at the same time, drink water from the spring and wine from the vines and eat bread from the plains.

And for all the generations of the dead, for all that ladder of humanity that has descended down to us, there is scarcely anything, scarcely anything! The earth takes them back, and oblivion effaces them. Adieu!

At the end of the cemetery I suddenly perceived that I was in its oldest part, where those who had been dead a long time are mingling with the soil, where the crosses themselves are decayed, where possibly newcomers will be put tomorrow. It is full of untended roses, of strong and dark cypress trees, a sad and beautiful garden, nourished on human flesh.

I was alone, perfectly alone. So I crouched in a green tree and hid myself there completely amid the thick and somber branches. I waited, clinging to the stem like a shipwrecked man does to a plank.

When it was quite dark I left my refuge and began to walk softly, slowly, inaudibly, through the ground full of dead people. I wandered about a long time but could not find her tomb again. I went on with extended arms, knocking against the tombs with my hands, my feet, my knees, my chest, even with my head, without being able to find her. I groped about like a blind man finding his way, I felt the stones, the crosses, the iron railings, the metal wreaths, and the wreaths of added flowers. I read the names with my fingers, by passing them over the letters. What a night! I could not find her again!

There was no moon. What a night! I was frightened, horribly frightened in these narrow paths between two rows of graves. Graves! Graves! Graves! Nothing but graves! On my right, on my left, in front of me, everywhere there were graves! I sat down on one of them, for I could not walk any longer; my knees were so weak. I could hear my heart beat! And I heard something as well. What! A confused nameless noise. Was the noise in my head, in the impenetrable night or beneath the mysterious earth, the earth sown with human corpses? I looked all around me, but I cannot say how long I remained there, I was paralyzed with terror, cold with fright, ready to shout out, ready to die.

Suddenly it seemed to me that the slab of marble on which I was sitting was moving. Certainly it was moving, as if it was being raised. With a bound I sprang on to the neighboring tomb, and I saw, yes I distinctly saw, the stone which I had just quitted rise upright. Then the dead person appeared, a naked skeleton, pushing the stone back with its bent back. On the cross I could read:

Here lies Jacques Olivant, who died at the age of fifty-one. He loved his family, was kind and honorable and died in the grace of the Lord.

The dead man also read what was inscribed on the tombstone; then he picked up a stone off the path, a little, pointed stone, and began to scrape the letters carefully. He slowly effaced them, and with the hollows of his eyes he looked at the places where they had been engraved. Then with the tip of the bone that had been his forefinger he wrote luminous letters, like those lines which boys trace on the walls with the tip of a lucifer match:

Here reposes Jacques Olivant, who died at the age of fifty-one. He hastened his father’s death with his unkindness, as he wished to inherit his fortune; he tortured his wife, tormented his children deceived his neighbors, robbed everyone he could and died wretched.

When he had finished writing, the dead man stood motionless, looking at his work. On turning around I saw that all the graves were open, that all the dead bodies had emerged from them and that all had effaced the lines inscribed on the gravestones by their relations substituting the truth instead. And I saw that all had been the tormentors of their neighbors— malicious, dishonest, hypocrites, liars, rogues, calumniators, envious, that they had stolen, deceived, performed every disgraceful, every abominable action, these good fathers, these faithful wives, these devoted sons, these chaste daughters, these honest tradesmen, these men and women who were called irreproachable. They were all writing at the same time, on the threshold of their eternal abode, the truth, the terrible and the holy truth of which everybody was ignorant, or pretended to be ignorant, while they were alive.

I thought that she also must have written something on her tombstone and now, running without any fear among the half-open coffins, among the corpses and skeletons, I went toward her, sure that I should find her immediately. I recognized her at once without seeing her face, which was covered by the winding sheet, and on the marble cross where shortly before I had read:

She loved, was loved and died.

I now saw:

Having gone out in the rain one day in order to deceive her lover, she caught cold and died.

***********

It appears that they found me at daybreak, lying on the grave, unconscious.

***

Guy de Maupassant

The Fifth Wall… Kalpana Rentala, Indian

(ఇది నా 500వ టపా. నేను ప్రారంభించినపుడుగాని, తర్వాతగాని ఇంతదూరం వస్తానని, రాగలనని అనుకోలేదు. చిత్రంగా, చదువుతున్నకొద్దీ చదవనివి ఎన్ని ఉన్నాయో తెలుస్తూ, కొత్తకొత్త మెరుపులతో, మలుపులతో కవిత్వమూ, కథలూ, ఉపన్యాసాలూ, వ్యాసాలూ, గీతాలూ ఒకటేమిటి అన్ని రకాల సాహిత్య ప్రక్రియలూ (ఒక్క నవల మినహాయిస్తే, ఎందుకంటే నాకు  నవల చదవగలిగే ఓర్పూ, ఏకాగ్రతా లేవు) మనసుకి చెప్పలేనంత సంతృప్తిని కలిగిస్తున్నాయి. సాహిత్యం అదనంగా చాలా మంది మిత్రులని నాకు పరిచయం చేసింది కూడా. అందుకు నేను నా కీ సాహిత్య పరిచయం చేసిన నాన్నగారినీ, అమ్మనీ, గురువులనీ, మిత్రులనీ స్మరించుకుని అంజలి ఘటిస్తున్నాను.)

*****

“Mommy! God damn, what does this mean in this newspaper? Have you gone out of your mind? You did not give even the least hint of what you have done,” Arti stormed shouting into the hall and hurled the newspaper into the sofa.  As if she had expected it happen someday, Sarada looked coolly at Arti, gone red with anger

“Arti! Why do you shout at me? What’s wrong with you?” she asked, as if she was unaware of the reason for her violent reaction.

“You ask me why?” Arti looked at her mother rather searchingly.

Sarada donned a dark purple Gadwal sari with thin jari border; she put on pearl ear-studs and a slick gold chain was hanging loose in her neck; a cucumber-seed-shaped red vermillion was shining between her eyebrows; her eyes were tinted with collyrium; and in her carelessly plaited shampooed-hair, a streak of silver strand was shining here and there. There were dark lines under her eyes. But with a soft glow in her face borne out of self-confidence, her mother was looking strangely attractive.

Sarada put aside the book she was reading. Wiping her spects she looked at Arti. Her mien and manner did not betray that she passed through a calamitous experience in her life recently.

In spite of her dignified demeanor, Sarada aroused some inexplicable repugnance in Arti.

“Why do you pretend innocence, mom? What does this ad in the newspaper mean?  It was not even three months since dad had died, and you need a new nuptial bed? Don’t you feel ashamed to think of marriage so soon? Is this the respect you pay to dad after years of togetherness? Huh!” Arti accosted her mother reflecting all her anger, angst and ridicule.

“Look, Arti! It’s your choice if you did not like what I did. But is this the way you are supposed to talk to your mother?”

“Well, then, is it the way to scurry for marriage no sooner your husband had died? Do you think I am dead? Did it not strike that you should consult me before? You have given the address and phone numbers as well. All our people might have known by this time. What should I answer to the barrage of questions they are going to ask from tomorrow? …”

Sarada gestured with her hand to indicate Arti to stop her flood of questions.

“What is there to be so ashamed of? I did not commit any impropriety? And, as for not informing you beforehand, well, I thought of doing once things fall in place,” she said.

“And now, at this age, do you need to run for marriage … that too immediately after daddy had died? Are you a sow burning with desire?” Although Arti did not intend it, the words she suppressed so long within had slipped out.

Sarada slapped Arti involuntarily. Though Arti got the blow, it was Sarada who was hurt more and there were tears in her eyes. Though she was prepared for such resistance from everybody else, she could not stand the words coming from her own daughter.

“Look Arti, I am going out as I have some important work to attend. We shall continue the discussion later,” Sarada walked out putting on the slippers.

Arti was dumbstruck and the newspaper appeared glaring at her teasingly. She read the advertisement in the newspaper once more in disbelief. She noticed it was a 2 months-old back number. “That means,” Arti reasoned, “she did it about one month of daddy’s death.” It read:

“Wanted Companion

“A fifty five year old voluntarily retired principal, widowed one month back needs a cultured and friend-like companion to share her life without any formalities of marriage. Persons with taste for literature and music, and interest in social service activities are preferred. Interested persons may contact:

“K. Sarada, D. No. 23/ 10/2, Chikkadapally, Hyderabad, email… Ph. No. ……”

When she read the email address and the phone number her anger resurfaced. Arti thought that her mother had been wise to use a post box number, instead. She did not realize it till now … but, her mother was very daring. Throwing the paper away, she lost herself in thoughts watching the hall and the surrounds.

….

Would anybody believe that somebody had died recently here? The house looked spick and span with everything in its place. With furniture matching with wall colors, the house was giving an artistic look. There were fresh roses in the flower-vase on the dining table. The perfume of jasmine emanating from the incense stick filled the room early in the morning. There were Rajasthani Paintings on one side of the hall and Batik wall hangings on another. She felt a tinge of pain as her father’s photo was not seen anywhere around. She was somewhat happy that her mother did not remove him from her bedroom.

With a mix of orange and gold, the window curtains were shining, fluttering with the breeze.

She recalled how happy her father felt when her mother selected those curtains to his taste. She entertained this long that her mother had great love for them. But she was mistaken, her ideas were different.

But, her conscience questioned if that was all her mother had done to them and nothing else?

Of course, she had to admit that her mother prepared snacks and sweets to their liking and always kept a ready stock. She was also up-to-date with fashions buying her matching tops and chudeedars on jeans.

But then? Was it enough if she had done things to their liking? She was under the impression that she was doing it all out of love. What happened now? If she really had had any love for her and her father, would she do what she had done today? All the love she showed towards them was just a pretension. Yes, it was. Otherwise, as a wife who lost her loving husband, how deeply should she be mourning for him!

What were her expectations about her mother and the state of the house while she hurried from America and what did she find? She expected to see her mother weak without taking proper food and mentally depressed and the house in all disarray, and all that. She wanted to give her mother some mental prop, reassure her and take with her to America. But what she found here was all just the opposite. She found her mother looking happy. The house was in order to the fault. There was no shade of grief on her face. She was just as normal as anytime. Then, what did she come here for? Just to make arrangements for her marriage?

But then, had she really been stricken with grief, would she get ready for marriage within a month? Would she have given an ad in the newspaper? Didn’t this all seem to suggest that she was only waiting for dad to die?  Strangely, things were happening in this house in great contrast to what she had read in the papers or watched in the movies. It was only yesterday she read in the paper… it was in Vijayawada or there about, a wife died instantly of shock when she heard about the death of her husband.

She could never forget the news she read in the paper when she was at college. That happened in Hyderabad. It was still green in her memory.

A lady by name Punyavathi, committed suicide by jumping down from the top floor of a hospital when she came to know her husband, a cancer patient, reached his terminal hours. For, she did not want to outlive him.  All papers covered the news very prominently and hailed her worthy of her name.

What happened to Padmavathi, wife of poet Jayadeva, in the story the Sanskrit Lecturer had narrated at college? When her confidante informed Padmavathi that Jayadeva, who accompanied the King for hunting, had died, she collapsed the moment the news fell on her ears.

While the papers and books were saying something, her mother was behaving the opposite.

….

Coming out of abstractions and worrying that the whole morning was spoiled thinking about her mother and her marriage, Arti suddenly looked at her watch. “My god it’s 12.00 noon. That means it is night 10 O’ clock in US,” and doubting whether Bhargav, her husband, would still be awake Arti dialed him; and when there was no answer even after four attempts, she hung up in great disappointment.

“Well, why should I over-reach? After all, it’s only an ad and it need not end up in marriage so soon. I shall try to reason her out sometime this evening or tomorrow, and take her with me to US. The problem will be solved.” That idea gave her great relief.

***

In the evening, Sarada was reading “Salam Hyderabad” leisurely sitting in a chair in the courtyard and sipping her favorite cardamom Tea. Freshly garlanded jasmines and double jasmines on the tea-poy beside were spreading fragrances like good friends to the surroundings. As she was reading the true history of Hyderabad, now lost in the glitter of Necklace Road and flashy Neon lights, she felt a lump in her throat out of inexplicable grief and remorse.

Arti, who was looking for the right moment to strike since afternoon, thought it was the right time.  Pulling a chair close to her mother and taking her hands into her own, she said, “Mom, I am sorry. I am really very sorry. I can understand your feelings and the situation you are in. But, can’t you wait for a year? It looks odd to think, or answer, that you are going to marry barely three months after the death of daddy.”

“Why are you so upset about this issue baby? Just think coolly for a while.  Do you remember what happened when your aunt died?”

Arti nodded in assent.

“When your aunt died of cancer, did you not passionately console your uncle? Her death was long-expected. You remember how happy you felt when you came to know that he gave an ad for marriage when you visited him for the first month ceremony of your aunt? How eager you were that your uncle should come out of his bereavement and went on sharing with him the details of prospective brides, sometimes even taking the help of your friends? Why does it look unnatural when it comes to me?  Why do you think that I should drag the rest of my life with you in America thinking of your dad forever?” questioned Sarada.

“What do you talk mommy? You speak as if you have suddenly become a great feminist? Uncle’s case is something, and your case is something else. Missing aunt was a great loss to him.  Why only to him? For that matter, it is a loss for any man. Not only with regard to the difficulty of cooking, they will have several other issues. If there is no home maker in the house, their life is a veritable hell.” She answered.

“So true. My case is something else. Wasn’t my life a compromise for all these years? Did I not lead my life to the dictates of your father without ever inconveniencing him? Was it my life I lived really? How could you ever know how restless I was for not living a life that was not of my choice? OK. Forget about that. Tell me honestly, if I were to cease and your father were to survive, what would have been your advice to him? Would you have given the same advice to your daddy … to employ a domestic help and visit friends whenever he felt bored?”

“That is precisely what I was talking about, mom. Daddy’s case is different. You took care of every single need of him from the beginning. That was why he was always insecure whenever you were not around. He felt really suffocated. But you are different. See, how well you are able to manage yourself on your own today… even in the absence of daddy. Why should you exert your body and mind inviting another person into your life? Well, if you are not interested in coming to US, no issue. Stay back here. Enjoy your life. Tell me if you need some money, I can send you. Employ a cooking maid. I shall present you a car. I shall also employ a driver.  Visit whatever place you feel like. All that I ask of you is, try to enjoy your life. That’s all.” Arti presented her opinion straight and simple.

“Arti, when will you try to understand me? It’s not money, jewelry, saris, car or some such other comforts I am need of. What I need is a person; a person who can accept me as I am; who is caring, affectionate, loving, and moves friendly with me, and conducts himself the way I like. I may or may not meet such person. But a small hope that I may. This ad is a small attempt in that direction.” Sarada made her intentions clear.

“Fine, mommy! But, is there any use giving an ad in the paper? We don’t know what kind of people shall respond. You have to talk to them all. You have to verify their antecedents. Instead, you look for any suitable person in our known circles.  You can put a word to your friends. Or, you can even start making friendship with someone. And if everything goes to your liking, you can think of marriage later.” Arti mentioned as if the solution was as simple as that.

“No baby. I have already wasted a greater part of my life. I lived a lonely life this long. Enough! I don’t want to waste a second more. I want to live the rest of my life for myself than to please anybody. That is reason why I simply placed the ad in the paper.

“Do you know how many applications I received for the last two months? Many people contacted me in response.  It was great fun to read them all and interviewing them. Of course, occasionally I felt irritated. Poor guys!  There are many men in need of a wife in this country… for some to cook their food and to serve them as nurse for others etc. I mentioned clearly the kind of person I was in search. Yet, everybody used to commence the conversation with the enquiry about my state of health, if I was suffering from any diseases like cancer, whether I would change my surname or not, what was the property I have and on whose name, if I am a good cook, whether I am sexually active or not etc., etc.  Of course, it is good for me to know their expectations. I could gauge them whether they fit my bill.” Sarada opened up.

“What kind of person you really need? Do you honestly believe that your life will pass off peacefully from now on if the person has a taste for music and literature? Just for academic interest I ask you mommy? Were you and daddy not happy all these years? When I watched you two, I never had an inkling of any disharmony. What was actually wrong with him? ” Arti attempted for the first time, though belated, a peep in to the deep recesses of her mother’s life.

“I talked to your father many times, not about my life but about leading our lives together, and how we could better it.  But he always liked to lead his life the way he wanted. He left me to myself. I did what I wanted. But how? He never took part in my interests on his own volition. If there was anything that we shared together, it was you. My pleasures and my pains were my own. If ever I attempted to share my grief with him, he would say, “Oh! I see”.  Just that! He never said a word more.  I never heard a comforting word or received a reassuring hug from him. In our opinions and tastes we were diametrically opposite.  Where is the beauty of companionship if it is not in walking the joys and woes together?” Sarada opened heart out.

“Mommy, why didn’t you tell me these things before?”  As she came to know more about her mother, Arti grew warmer towards her; and putting her head in her mother’s lap, started listening keenly.

“I thought of sharing my feelings with you. But where was the time for you? You were always busy with your studies, exams, music, painting and a host of other activities. After your studies you were away to Delhi with your job; and next you said you loved Bhargav and wanted to marry him. After the marriage both of you were off to America. You never noticed how your dad and I led our lives. You asked me if I did not lead a happy life with your dad. Well, I must have to unfold my entire life to answer that. Life is not what it looks without. It is what is within. We are four sisters. I am the eldest. Because there are three more behind for marriage, I married your dad as per my parents’ wish. There was no room for my likes and dislikes. It was within our reach. Your daddy was not bad. But a wife for him was an educated woman that can organize all his things and attend to his needs. That’s all. However, he did not object to my studying further or doing a job after marriage. But that came with a rider: there should be no compromise on his necessities.

“I have a passion for music and literature. Your father never had any interest in them. Buying the book on the blurb and reading it is my habit. Whenever I tried to speak about an exciting book or a song, he would cut me short and jeer at me saying, “Oh! Madam! Stop this tutoring. They are damn boring. You better teach these things at the college. You will be hailed as a great teacher.” I like going places. But, after coming home from office, relaxing in the evenings with his friends or playing badminton was his choice. I liked your father helping me in the kitchen chores or once in a way, taking up cooking for a change. But he never liked to enter the kitchen. It was his settled opinion that it was a woman’s job. He was afraid that his friends would look down upon him if they were to know he helped her in the kitchen. Instead of making issues out of problems in life, I like to make life easy by suitably adjusting to the problems. That is why within the constraints of time for attending to you people’s needs, I used to enjoy my interests to whatever little extent I could.”

“Then are you more happy than sorry for daddy’s death?” There was a hint of doubtful anxiety in Arti’s voice.

“It’s definitely a loss in my life to physically miss the important person who was by me till now.  But then, just because he had deceased, I don’t entertain the idea of grieving for the rest of my life in his memories.” Sarada reiterated.

“Because he was by you all these years, you were not able to lead your life the way you wanted. Now that he is no more, why can’t you lead it now to your liking? There is nobody here to object you. You do whatever you like. Why do you enter into the snare of marriage again? Who knows what kind of person shall enter your life this time?” Arti expressed her doubt.

“Arti, it is true. I can happily read anything I like; I can listen to good music; I can go to places. But, why should I live all alone without sharing my passions and emotions, if I can find, with someone I like? Even though I lived with your daddy, I was all alone within. I cannot be alone any further. I need a companion. I need a friend who can understand me. I need someone who can share my inner passions.” Sarada made her mind clear to Arti.

“Mommy! If all that you want is friendship, haven’t you had friends till now? Aren’t Parimala auntie and Vijaya auntie your good friends? Invite them here. Share your views with them. Isn’t that enough? I don’t know why but, mom, your going in for marriage seems to me a bad decision. How can you ensure that you can meet a good person, one you feel close to your heart, just by giving an ad in the paper? Everybody talks sweet with an eye on your money. I fear that you are only asking for the trouble. I wish you think twice before you commit yourself,” advised Arti.

“You are still talking childlike Arti. Do you suppose that by sharing my views with Vijaya auntie or Parimala auntie my physical and inner angst would cease? Can you imagine how I spent three last these months? You asked me about my welfare once in a week but how can I explain to you the loneliness I felt here?  I spent many evenings reading books and listening to music. However close they might be, friends can’t talk to you every day or remain with you. For fifteen days everybody called me. Asked if I need any help? Or, if I expect them to come to me? What I need is not sympathy. I want soothing… consolation… alleviation of my angst. I did not sit distraught wailing for the death of your father as if my life hit a cul-de-sac. There is no change in my daily routine. Except, of course, for the small difference that I no longer have to attend to your father’s every single need. You may ask me if he did not come to my mind, I should say he did come to my mind many times these three months. But I don’t like that pain or the burden of those memories eat into the rest of my life. I want to put a full stop to that loneliness.  Money is never an issue with me. My health is perfect. Well, I have the desire to enjoy and experience the life further. So, I gave that ad in the paper.” Sarada explained.

Once she could understand her mother’s mind, Arti grew interested in what she was doing. “Then, did anybody pass your interview? Did you meet the person to your liking?”

“Well, I found the thinking and opinions of one Mr. Rammohan close to mine. He lost his wife a year ago. More than the physical relation, I understood he shared his ideas and emotions with his wife.  For the last one month we were meeting rather frequently. And in the morning, I went out only to meet him.” Sarada disclosed.

“Then, are you going to marry?” Arti asked eagerly unable to bear the suspense any more.

“We want to live in. And not to spend life, he like my husband and me like his wife. We want to restart our lives to suit our common tastes. We want to do what we failed to do so far. We live wherever we feel like living, sometimes in his house and other times here in our house.”

Arti noticed a kind of excitement about the new life in her mother’s eyes she unveiled her future plans. She felt so happy.

“By the way, I am going to Rammohan’s house tomorrow. I have to collect songs cassettes of Suraiya and Nurjahan from him. If you are interested, you can come.”

Arti nodded to her mother’s proposal in assent.

Sarada got up and walking into the kitchen asked, “I am making tea for me. Arti, would you like to have a cup?”

Arti hailed in response from her place, “Yes mom, I want special tea with cardamom and ginger.”

Looking at her mother adoringly as she found her not only pleasantly different but also more attractive, Arti took the greeting card on the tea-poy into her hands: Two birds flying free on the azure sky. She opened it… on one side she found the lyrics of Faiz in excellent hand…

She thought her mother was lucky.

****

Srividya gave another look at her story. She checked up for errors and omissions once more. It appeared the story came to its logical conclusion. But she had a gut feeling that there was something wrong somewhere which she could not identify. While on one hand she felt the story was over, on the other she felt it was not and she missed saying something. She was unable to get at that.

The breeze coming through the window blew the papers off.  Collecting them all and placing a paperweight on them, she started reviewing the whole story again.

“What? You have not finished your story yet?”  Sasi said, entering into the room.

“I just made a fair copy as there were many corrections. Can you give me your opinion reading this?” she pleaded.

“OK.” Taking the papers into his hands Sasi walked towards the sofa.

She noticed the change of expressions in his face as he was reading.

As expected, he exploded after reading it. “Is this a story at all? It looks so unnatural to me.”

“What is there in it that looks so unnatural to you?” Srividya asked.

“Look, a second marriage for a fifty-five-year-old lady stands in complete contrast to our practices in Indian society. You can understand these things happening in America. But we have never heard such things happening here. Do you think that an aged lady, almost like your or my a granny, would go in for a second marriage instead of passing off her life in prayers and devotion? Can you imagine your mom or my mom doing this? And tell me how embarrassing we feel if they really do?” Sasi expressed himself without mincing words.

“That’s it. If a fifty-five year old man marries a second time, it doesn’t look unnatural. But if a woman of that age marries, it looks there was something wrong. Why? Where comes this objection from when a fifty-five-year-old woman marries, that was not there for a man of her age? That means, it is innate in us to judge or decide at what age a woman should go in for a second marriage. But my question is whether there is enough freedom in our society for a woman, irrespective of her age, to select a life partner of her choice and the way she wants, or not. That is what I wanted to address in this story,” replied Srividya.

“You have your gang of friends, isn’t it? Just ask them for their view?” Sasi said impatiently walking towards his PC.

Srividya looked at her watch. It was getting 10.30 in the night. Though she wanted to call her friend Vasanta, on second thoughts she decided against it. As the following day was Sunday, she thought she could to call her first thing in the morning, and went to bed. The completion of the story left her with a lingering dissatisfaction, and she started thinking about the objections raised by Sasi…

The character of her story Sarada walked up to her…

“You think I am a toy of wax in your hand, isn’t it?” she asked.

Then Srividya realized what was wrong with her story. Sarada was not a real life image but a fictitious character shaped out of her imagination.

Nevertheless, Srividya did not like to admit defeat before her character. She tried to convince her.

“You did not attempt to get the societal approval for my action. “ Sarada confronted Srividya.

Accepting the blame honestly, she replied, “but that is for your good. I carefully sculpted you as dignified as possible, lest people should think mean of you.”

“That is exactly what I want to complain about. Even you did not honor my decision. In the first draft you wrote in the ad that I was looking for a companion to enjoy life. You were afraid that your readers would look down upon me if you write that I was marrying for carnal pleasures. In order to convince them, you revised it and added that I was interested and intending to do social service, and for that reason I was looking for a companion. Am I right?”

“Yes, of course. But just think why I had to do. It’s out of love for you. I was anxious that the reader should look at you in awe. Does my anxiety seem selfishness to you? Can you imagine what would happen if I write that you were marrying because you were burning with desires, just as your daughter had asked you?” Srividya asked with a tinge of anger. Sarada burst out in laughter.

“Hah! Do you see? You did not dare to present the true picture. It was long decided why or when a woman should marry. You wanted to cross that barrier. But, without your knowledge you have drawn another barrier for yourself. You are just driving me from one boundary to another. Confined within the four walls, you are not able to see the fifth wall… within you.”

Sarada hurried without looking back.

***

Telugu Original: అయిదో గోడ …కల్పన రెంటాల

%d bloggers like this: