It was 10.30 pm. Rajagopalan switched off the TV getting ready to go to bed. Shenbagam, his wife, was sitting in their bed staring at him vacantly. She hardly sleeps these days.
“Don’t switch off all the lights. Gopi hasn’t come yet. It is already late and the food is getting cold” she said. He did not reply but looked at her with concern. Their only son Gopal after his engineering degree and a management diploma had secured a good position in a reputed company. They started looking for a girl for him but he wished to wait for a year more.
A loving and affectionate son, he had gone on a picnic about a year back with friends. While swimming in Cauvery he was caught is a swirl and drowned even before others could rescue him. All efforts to trace him proved futile. His friends were witness to his struggling to come out of the swirl. Even divers could not find his body and it was also not washed ashore. Rajagopalan waited for a fortnight and then as advised by pundits, he did the funeral rites of the young man even when the body remained untraced.
Shenbagam shocked and shattered could not reconcile to the grim reality and became withdrawn living in her own world of delusion where her son was expected to return from the picnic. All attempts to make her realize the truth were in vain. She cooked food for three and kept on the dining table for Gopi.Rajagopalan did not mind the waste of food that was thrown away the next day but what bothered him was her waiting for him till 1am when she was overcome by sleep. She would be seen standing at the porch all day long and the slightest noise from the gate would make her run from kitchen to the front door. Day in and day out he was tired of the same refrain from her “Why hasn’t Gopi returned yet?”She will get up at 2 or 3 am and nudge him to ask why the boy hasn’t come and when he gave her sometimes assuring and sometimes the bitter truth as answers, she would start sobbing..He never got angry with her but it was pathetic to see her in such a state. He took her to doctors, tried tranquilizers, and counseling to no effect.
It was in such circumstance that he met on the road one day Gopi’s classmate Chandran and a close buddy of his. He was enquiring about the well being of aunty after the tragedy. When Rajagopalan narrated her condition, Chandran asked “Uncle, I am actually on the lookout for a place to live. The front room in your house with separate entrance would suit me very well. Would you let me occupy the room? I think it may do aunty good eventually. I will spend some time daily with her.”
When Chandran landed with his limited luggage, Shenbagam asked her hubby who it was.
“He is my friend’s son who has come to the city and was in search of accommodation. He will stay in the front room”
Shenbagam asked the young man “What is your name?”
“Aunty, I am Gopal but called Gopi”
“What? Did you say Gopi? My son is also Gopi. What a coincidence though he doesn’t come home these days. May be working somewhere or on tour, he must be. Do you know him by any chance? He will be your age only and also would look like you” Shenbagam said
“No aunty, but will be happy to meet him and be his friend” he replied
“Only god knows when he will return” she sighed and went inside sobbing
“Chandran, what is this Gopi business?” asked Rajagopalan
“Uncle, please bear with me. You also call me Gopi
In the next few days the youngster spent some time daily in the evenings with aunty telling her of the day’s happenings. Being a witty and smart chap, he soon ingratiated himself to her and made her smile
One day when she asked Rajagopalan the usual refrain “When will Gopi return?” he said “He is already back and watching TV in his room”
“Not him.I am asking about our Gopi” she said
“The Gopi in the front room is also our Gopi” he replied
“True, still.This boy is also very nice and helpful”
Rajagopalan discerned a slight change in her and she smiled when she talked to the youngster.
Next day evening when they were about to have their dinner, Shenbagam as usual kept Gopi’s portion in small vessels aside. Abruptly she stopped doing it and said “I keep the food separately daily for our Gopi and he does not come. Why not we share the food with Gopi staying in our house?. Please call him before he goes to hotel”
Rajagopalan was surprised and ran to fetch the young man.
“Henceforth you will have your dinner with us, Gopi.I make for three persons. If my Gopi comes unexpectedly, I can always cook afresh” Shenbagam said
“Am I not your Gopi” he asked with a mischievous smile”
“I think you are also my Gopi. The only difference between you two is he loved curd and pickles while you detest them. It does not matter as you will be my Gopi always”
Rajagopalan patted her and said “Well said”