It wasn’t like frying something. It wasn’t like putting potatoes into angry hot oil and cropped-oleanders-e1525883936887hearing their tussle as the oil shriveled the potatoes to a crisp. That was all in the open; it was noisy and visible. Here it all happened silently and as softly as squeezing a drop of lime juice into warm milk and waiting for it to curdle. A drop of lime had fallen into Raji and Subramanya’s world. The milk clumped into itself, the water moved away and milk was milk no more.

Subramanya skipped his morning walk the next day. He stayed back wanting to finish the conversation they had begun the previous night. They both skipped breakfast leaving the family wondering. When they emerged well past mid-day, they both looked tired. Subramanya even seemed to have aged a little. No one, not even Damodar got to know what had transpired. But Subramanya was less troubled after their conversation. Only Raji’s diary, and now Ambuja who had read the diary, knew what happened that day.

From Rajammal’s diary:

I don’t remember a more distressing day. Mama was so sad. He wanted to know what had happened between Damodar and me that night. I told him. It wasn’t even a story; it was just a commonplace incident that afflicted so many people everyday. It was important to us because we were the main actors. When I told him we had merely spoken about our feelings for each other, Mama’s face clouded over with pain. My feeling of strength came from knowing Damodar and I had not been physically close to each other. But Mama viewed it differently. He did not view sexual union as different from union in thought. It was still immoral. He told me as much. He also said I should have remembered Damodar was his daughter’s husband. I winced because the situation seemed so loaded against me. Why hadn’t Mama felt the same empathy for me? I hadn’t reached there on my own. Hadn’t circumstances brought me to where I was? I had desired the first man closer to my age I had the independence to interact with. I had liked being with him at first. I don’t even know when that changed to desire. I didn’t feel strong anymore, just let down.

He wanted us to move on and not get stuck on this almost-had-been incident. “I forgive you Raji. I trust you. Will you promise not to get into such situations again? I’ve thought a lot about this. I want you to resign from Penn Kural and be only a writer from now. I would like to move the newspaper office into town. Damodar and Radha must move out of this house. I can give them a house or they can go back to his parents.” Mama sat back and waited for me to speak. Always the judge, he seemed happy with the judgment he had delivered. I was. I was happy I had such a forgiving and understanding husband. Who knows? With anyone else I might have been sent back to the village. I had written of such cases in the past. But my happiness was laced with disappointment. What had he meant by first trusting me and then asking a promise of me? He of all should have seen the contradiction in his request. I must speak now, I told myself. I couldn’t see this conversation happening too often. It took too much effort and energy. I was already feeling drained. So was Mama.

I told him to send me back to the stone house in Theevupatti. He was startled and asked me why I had said that. “You don’t really trust me, do you Mama? If you did, would you ask for a promise? How do trust and promise go together? Trust does not have place for promises. It stands by itself. Promises create positions of giver and taker. Do you view yourself as a giver and benefactor? Your views on thought and deed too confuse me. I can control action but how can I control thought? Can you? Aren’t Damodar and I already trying? Haven’t you seen that? If you were in my position would you ask for trust or give a promise? If you can’t give me trust, send me back.” Was I sounding petulant and stubborn? I saw it more as living what I wrote. After saying my bit, I sat back nervously. What was he going to say? I didn’t fear going back to Theevupatti. I feared parting from him. I loved him so much.

“You are a wicked woman,” he said after sometime, smiling happily. “You know how to touch me don’t you? I agree. I trust you Raji, and love you for the lecture you just gave me. I’m so hungry. Come let’s go and see what you mother has for us.” The anticlimax shocked me into tears. I sobbed and he held me, comforting me as always, like he would comfort a child.

Raji and Damodar had, unknown to Mama already taken decisions. Her conversation with Mama had just strengthened them. A month later, Raji resigned from her financial position in Penn Kural. She and Damodar decided it was best to reduce proximity so the paper moved to an office in town. They could afford it now. She became more involved with the school and restricted herself to writing for Penn Kural.

Radha was most unhappy her husband had to go to work so far everyday. She grumbled endlessly and even complained to her father about the sudden arrangements. He couldn’t reveal to her how close they both had been to having their lives affected. He dreaded her extreme reactions. “The paper is getting big now Radha and needs a proper office,” he said, and her face shone with pride.

The emptiness that crept into Raji after Damodar moved never left her. She felt a physical ache in her heart. She had read about it in the exaggerated love novels Mama had bought for her when she was younger and laughed. How could love create a physical ache, she had wondered. She believed in the truth of the novels now. She missed Damodar’s humour, she missed their long conversations, she missed the occasional luxury they allowed to each other to speak of how they left. Very often she wondered how he was feeling. He seemed to cope so much better.

The contradictions in her troubled her the most. Where did she have the space for two men in her life? Love for Damodar and love for Mama were both alive in her. She never achieved control over that duality. She was not capable of that she knew. She didn’t even want to. Damodar’s thoughts kept her alive spiritually and intellectually. Mama made her life worth living. Both were vital for her, moral or immoral. Her life was filling up with grey.

Bharathi Ghanashyam

To be continued…

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