Deepavali this year was so joyful. The entire family had gathered in our house. The cropped-oleanders-e1525883936887women wore new silks that rustled when they moved and the men wore stiffly starched new silk dhotis. The aroma of festival food was in the air. I had called in a cook to help Chechamma because there was so much to do. I was walking towards the kitchen to check on lunch when Damodar approached me. He wanted us to go to the cottage.  I hesitated for a moment and then agreed. The urge was too strong. It was so long since I had spoken to him. But we were discreet, even sneaky. “I’ll go first and open the cottage,” I told him. “You follow after some time. People are busy, they won’t know where we are. I don’t want Radha creating trouble for us on a festival day. But I’ll be with you only for a short while Damodar.”

I unlocked the cottage and went in. I was apprehensive. I knew I was doing something I shouldn’t. A niggling voice in me was urging me on. What harm could happen in 10 minutes? We were just going to speak, weren’t we? I had missed him so much. I waited, wringing my hands nervously.  He came in after a while, gently shutting the door behind him. I was perspiring mildly by then. But he seemed so calm. He went straight to his desk and sat on his chair. 5 out of the 10 minutes we had given ourselves passed in silence. Nothing. We said nothing to each other. He sat in his chair and me in mine. It was so awkward. Where had that easy friendship gone? I finally spoke. I asked him how he was. “I’m fine Raji. And you?” “I’m fine too,” I said. The silence was getting out of hand. I didn’t like it. I didn’t trust myself. I needed to get out of there fast. I said in a rush, “Why did you call me Damodar? Is there something you wanted to say to me?”

I remember that moment so well. He replied “No, I have nothing to say. I just have something to give you.” He reached into his jubba pocket and drew out a red velvet box. “This is a small gift for you. For your courage and for keeping me in place. I hope you like it.” The box had a beautiful gold bangle in it. It was a simple, solid band of gold, completely unembellished. “It reminded me of you,” he said, as I was turning it in my hand, wondering about its simplicity and its austere design.

At that moment I was so filled with love for him, if he had asked me to reconsider my decision, I would have. But he didn’t do anything, didn’t say anything more. It was as if the meeting was over. I wore the bangle. It fitted me perfectly. We both looked towards the door, knowing it was time to leave. Maybe we would never get a moment like this again. We were both reluctant to leave, but it was nearing lunch and people would begin to look for us.

I walked towards the door and saw it opening. Daylight entered and with it, Radha, looking like the thundercloud that always cloaks daylight when it appears. She was heaving in anger. “I knew it,” she said. “You witch! How long has this been going on? My father had warned me. He had sent my husband to a new office because he was scared of what you would do!” Damodar rushed to her side. He shut the cottage door behind her, not wanting the household to witness the quarrel he anticipated. “Radha, it’s nothing. We were just catching up on some work with the paper. Come, let’s go to lunch,” He began to guide her out. She shook him off and continued her tirade.

After ranting for a long time, when she was spent and tired, she said her final words. “You know what, you wicked woman? You will never get control of my husband’s newspaper. It is his! He has worked for it. Now that it is so famous, don’t ever think you’ll get it back. Your son is a part of it. Isn’t that enough for you?” She dragged Damodar with her and left the room, leaving me gaping. Was she stupid or complacent? Hadn’t she seen the truth?

I locked the cottage and went into the house a lot later than them. Chechamma was serving lunch by then. Hari was searching for me. I joined them. Suddenly, as if nothing had happened, Radha looked at my arm and asked about my bangle. “Did you get this for Deepavali? It’s nice.” Damodar looked at me. Neither of us said anything. I just nodded.

I wear the bangle everyday. I draw strength from it. Hari too asked me about it. I told him I had bought it for myself. It’s just a bangle but it’s so much more. It’s a part of me….

…Ambuja was sitting on the bench under the mango tree and reading the red diary. It revealed a new facet to her mother-in-law every time she did. She looked at her own arm. The bangle snugly fitted it. Raji had given it to her one day a few months before she died. It was one of her good days. She slid it off herself and slipped it on around Ambija’ss wrist. “Take this Ambu. It is a part of myself. Look after it.” And then she began looking towards the cottage. “Take me there. Damodar must be waiting for me,” she had said. Ambuja did not understand then. She did now.

Bharathi Ghanashyam

To be continued…

 

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