Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The revelation

by KParthasarathi 29 Oct 2008
“Shyamala !” I was startled as I lifted my head from the book. I did not expect my husband Rajesh to call me so loud though I was sitting adjacent to his bed in the ICU.He was still connected to various equipments with tubes crisscrossing over his body.
“I will agree to the divorce. Call the lawyer for signing up the papers.”
I looked around and found no one within earshot. The nurses were busy with patients in other cabins. I said putting my fingers on my lips “shh…shh.., this is not the time to speak or worry about such matters. Relax please.”
“I am at peace. After what I witnessed, I concluded that there is little point in saving our marriage.” He said panting slightly for breath.
Shyamala and Rajesh were married for five years. It was an arranged marriage. No couple could be as incompatible as they were. She did not like the people, things and the values he liked. They were diametrically opposite to each other even on the food they liked or disliked. She hated his mom as much as he loved her. While he was an introvert, she was a bubbly fun loving extrovert fond of meeting people and outdoor activities. To make matters worse, they had no children. He worked for long hours and returned late. She came back home by 5.30 invariably. Though they never quarreled, she was sulking always and went to her parents place on most weekends.
She started confiding her problems with Shankar her colleague who gave her a patient ear. He empathized with her and took her out to coffee shops whenever she was low in spirit. They became friendly and had similar tastes. In the course of a few months he occupied her mind totally and she longed for his company even on weekends.
He also liked her very much. Being a decent guy and knowing that she was married to someone else, he kept the intimacy within boundaries. When he had come to her home one day when her husband was on tour, he did not encourage her advances. He gently explained to her that she would regret such relationship and suggested that she first take a divorce from him. He added that he would wait as long as it took to get the divorce.
When she sought separation from her baffled husband, he was not willing to agree. He said most young couples work for long hours in the offices in the competitive environment and that she should cultivate other meaningful hobbies to keep her engaged. He did not understand that the estrangement was not only due to physical distance but also mental remoteness. She insisted on a divorce by mutual agreement as it was quicker than through the legal methods. He demurred and told her to wait for a year more expecting some change of heart.
Coming back to the present, she asked “What is it you were saying that you witnessed? Why the sudden change of heart? “
"Tell me the truth. Don’t you remember the events of yesterday when you and your friend were here? You might have thought I was dead and gone when the doctors were endeavouring their best to save my life.” replied Rajesh
She recollected the events as they happened the day before. When he had some discomfort while in office and was quickly admitted in a nursing home.Shyamala accompanied by Shankar was at his bedside within a matter of minutes. As ill luck would have it, he suffered sudden cardiac arrest.They were asked to stand outside the cabin. She could see what was going on inside The doctors resorted to giving him shocks with a defibrillator. He did not respond immediately and there was anxiety writ large in doctors’ faces. They did not give up and continued administering repeated shocks. She surmised when he did not respond, he was a goner and leaned on the shoulders of Shankar in a state of shock. He also put his arms tightly around her to comfort her and said “Do not worry. Everything will be fine.”
Rajesh continued “When they were giving the shocks, you did not see me floating in the air over my body. I saw clearly you falling over him and the warm hug given to you by that fellow and his assurance that things would be fine soon. You thought I was dead and that the shocks failed. It was at that moment one of shocks worked to revive my heart and brought me back to life. I didn’t know earlier about your secret liaison with this guy. Fortunately or otherwise, this para normal experience opened up my eyes. Now that I know the way things are, I would not like to stand between you and your lover. Even though our nature is very different, I loved you still. But after this revelation I will give you the freedom and sign the papers anytime you bring them.”

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The harmonium

- by KParthasarathi 24 Oct 2008

Lakshmi always rushed to the door from the kitchen with a tumblerful of rice when she heard the soulful music from the harmonium coming from a distance. She liked to watch him play the instrument effortlessly accompanied by his soft rendering in his sweet voice of Thyagaraja keerthans or bhajans.The man in his late fifties came invariably around 8.30 ,one or two minutes this way or that, in the mornings. Clad in dhoti passing through the legs without any shirt to cover his bare chest, he had a turban like head gear in yellow cloth with a long portion falling behind his back. A glistening brass vessel spherical in shape hung on his shoulder. He seemed to forget the surroundings when he sang with his eyes half closed pouring out his soul in praise Sri Rama.It appeared to Lakshmi when he played on the harmonium gently passing his fingers over the keys, he was plucking at the heart strings of the very god in whose praise he was ecstatically singing. Even the hardened soul not given to aesthetics cannot miss the richness of his voice and the devotion in his dulcet music. He did not linger beyond a minute or two for the lady of the house to offer the bhiksha.An unchavrutti Brahmin he lived on the offerings and would return when the vessel turned full. He never collected more than the day’s requirement. Lakshmi was taught classical carnatic music as a young girl. Her dad had bought a harmonium years back to keep the rhythm. She had learnt music for eight years and could sing well and relish good music better. With children grown up and the household chores taking her time, she left singing totally. Her two sons had no aptitude for carnatic music.

The mendicant knew by long experience that this lady would not fail to drop the rice. She would rush to the door even when he was a few houses away and once he reached her door she would walk slowly to savour for longer time the matchless patterns of music that he created from the harmonium. Though a poor man in rags, she had a great respect for the man whose music and musical imagination she felt would have received wide acclaim had he been exposed to the connoisseurs and the Sabah secretaries. Most probably he had scorn for such publicity to what was purely a musical expression of his devotion to his Devatha. He was like a flower ’born to blush unseen and waste its fragrance in the deserted air’ though he never thought on those lines. She occasionally made small talk with him if he had failed to turn up the previous day. His songs lingered in her ears on some days long after he left.

He was not seen for three days continuously. She was a bit worried whether he had fallen sick but knew not where and whom to enquire. When she mentioned his absence to her husband, he mocked at her and said “Why do you worry about that poor man. He is just a dignified beggar singing the names of the god to invoke the sympathy of the housewives?’ She became angry and did not pursue the conversation with him. She silently prayed to god for the well being of the singing mendicant.

As if in answer to her prayer, she heard the next day the song from outside her door without the accompaniment of harmonium. She hastened with the rice to see him standing without the harmonium hanging from his shoulder. He looked weak with his cheeks sunken. She asked him “You were not seen for three days. What happened? Were you not well? Where is the harmonium?” He hesitated for a while and slowly replied “There was a minor accident. As ill luck would have it, a cyclist dashed against me and I fell down. I escaped with minor scratches. The harmonium which fell a little away was run over by a speeding tempo and broken to smithereens. It is bad time for me. My lord Sri Rama is testing me. This instrument helped in attracting the griha lakshmis like you. I am now compelled to sing louder the names of the lord.”

She requested him to wait for a few minutes and rushed inside to the puja room where she had kept her harmonium. It was kept covered in cover made of red velvet cloth. She stood for a minute with her eyes closed before the god as if seeking His permission to take away the harmonium. She hurried back to the front door and offered the harmonium without a word to him. When he raised his eyes from the instrument to hers, she could see the surprise and the warmth. She slowly removed the cover and asked him “Please accept this offering. I am in fact selfish and wish to hear your divine music from this harmonium that once belonged to me .It was lying idle in the puja room and would now be put to better use for which it was intended. Do not hesitate. I am like your daughter.” He wiped the tears of joy and gratitude from his eyes and smiled at her. She requested “Can you please sing the piece “Nithi sala sukhama, Ramudu sannithi seva sukhama” for me once?” He kept silent with his eyes closed for a few moments and then sang the timeless piece softly spreading the mysterious joy and tranquility that only the devout can invest in their music. After the song was over, he took a small quantity of rice from his vessel and sprinkled on her head blessing her “Dheerga sumangali bhava”

A Celebration of Sharing

by KParthasarathi 28 Oct 2008
It was Diwali that day. The air was thick with fun and revelry and echoed with the laughter of children. The houses were all decorated in multi-coloured serial lights. The children were seen running hither and thither bursting crackers and lighting sparklers. The smell of elachi, kesar and other spices wafted from the kitchens that were preparing scrumptious sweets and namkeens. One could see well-dressed men and women hurrying in cars to make the last minute purchases of dry fruits, gift boxes, sweets and clothes. Gopal and Vijaya were sitting morose in the veranda watching the brightly-lit houses across the road. Gopal put his arm around Vijaya and gently patted her comfortingly without uttering one word. Both knew what was passing through each other’s mind.

Exactly a year before, the scene was different. Their boy of eight years, Sunil, dragged both of them out to help him in lighting the fireworks. For a month in advance he was busy making endless list of crackers he wished to buy and deciding how much of the money should be for the light and how much for the sound varieties. He liked long Lars that would bring to a stop the entire neighbourhood with its noise and dazzle. He also had a fancy for the multi-coloured fountains and flower pots while his dad had a weakness for rockets. The boy and this dad would go with a predetermined budget only to be exceeded by several times. They would come home with large packets that would be almost impossible to finish.

They were lighting the crackers after it grew dark. Sunil, despite his love for the fireworks, was a timid boy and afraid to light up the noisy stuff. He would ask his dad for help. There was a slum close by and about half a dozen urchins, half-clad, in unkempt hair, stood outside the fence and watched the display with awe. For the poor and the deprived, Deepavali was like any other day of toil and hunger. The children would with covetous eyes watch the vast spread of crackers of assorted varieties in a corner. When one of the crackers did not go off, a boy from across the fence ran inside to pick it up .Gopal shouted at the boy “You fool, don’t go near, it may burst” It was then Sunil had said, “Can I make a request, Dad? They are all very poor and do not have the money to buy even a shirt. They are as young as I am.Can I call them also to join in the fun?” His mom said “No, give them some crackers and send them away. You don’t have to rub shoulders with them.” Sunil was adamant “Ma, I want them to enjoy as much as I do when Dad lights up the crackers. They will be here only this evening for two hours. Please do not say no.” Gopal intervened to say, “Vijaya, let them also enjoy. Had I known Sunil’s mind earlier, I would have brought some clothes too.”

Sunil was very happy and called the children to come in. For the next two hours it was a riot of laughter and gaiety amidst the glittering light and colour. The entire lot was finished except for stray items which Sunil gave away to the boys. When they started to leave, Vijaya called them in and said “Don’t go away. Come inside and wash your hands. I will give you some sweets and snacks to eat.”

The beaming and happy face of Sunil was still fresh in their minds. Despite all the care and treatment the boy died last year struck down by leukaemia, a few months after Diwali. When Gopal saw Vijaya crying, he said “Get up, let us go and get lots of crackers and sweets for Sunil’s friends. They are bound to come looking for an encore of last year’s happy experience.” She readily agreed and wanted him to buy some shorts and T- shirts too for the boys. When they returned back with the bundles, it was just in time as the boys were turning disappointed in seeing the house bereft of the brightness, noise and more particularly the boy. Gopal called them inside and gave them the new dresses. Then under his supervision, the little urchins enjoyed to their hearts’ content the lighting of the crackers. One little girl in that group innocently asked “Uncle, where is the boy who played with us last time. We enjoyed this more when he was around. Has he gone out of station?” Vijaya could not suppress her tears and covering her face with her sari she cried aloud. Gopal told the girl “Sunil is no more. We did this as we felt he would be happy if he could see you all in smiles today.” As the entire lot of urchins stood as if frozen, the little girl said “We are very sad. Had we known this earlier, we would not have made all this merriment.” Vijaya pulled the little girl to her side and said “Don’t feel sad. Sunil is feeling happy wherever he is. Come each year on this day for making him happy.”

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Lalita's revenge

- by KParthasarathi 22 Oct 2008
“Lalita, a call for you from some Aravind” called her colleague as she was searching for some file in the shelves. As she went slowly towards the desk, she wondered why he was calling her after nearly five years since she walked out of his house. It was an arranged marriage and her parents were happy that Aravind was well educated and in a good position. It was all hunky dory in the initial years when it was all fun and revelry. As the years passed by, she found it hard to get along with him. He was an easy going and fun loving guy with no sense of responsibility towards his family or the house. Given to drinking and endless partying with all kinds of people, he insisted on her accompanying him. When she found the crowd indecent, she refused. He came late in the nights often inebriated and dropped by some woman. He was not giving enough money to run the household or for paying the bills and whenever she complained, he abused her in anger. When her two children grew and were put in school, the position became intolerable. They hardly spoke to each other. The last straw was his philandering and staying away from the house for a few days. It was then she decided to walk out to her parents place. That was five years back. Ever since she refused to accept his calls or meet him. She did not inform him even when her parents passed away.
“Lalita, I wish to meet you soon. Can we meet at the hotel near your office during lunch time tomorrow? Please do not refuse.” he told her.”Whatever for?” she asked with acerbity. “I cannot explain over phone. Please allow me to meet you personally to tell you” he pleaded. She wondered if he had mended his bad ways and wanted to live with her again. She decided not to readily fall for any of his baits though she agreed to meet him sharp at 1pm.She was expecting that he would come up with lots of explanations and ask her to live with him again.
She was at the reserved table five minutes earlier. It was past 1.15pm.There was no trace of him. She decided to leave the place. As she stood up she saw Aravind entering the hall in an immaculate suit. He looked handsomer than he was when she left him though the hairs at the temple had turned grey. He expressed no apology for being late. He said casually “I was held up in a meeting and knew you would wait for me” he said. This arrogance did not go well with her. When the waiter came and she found him reading the menu card, she expected him to order. As he showed no signs of doing so, she ordered two thalis for both. He kept mum looking hither and thither at the different tables and their occupants. After some embarrassing silence, she asked him “How are you? What is it you wanted to speak to me about?”
He replied “I am sorry, we had to break away. We found we were not getting along well. I am not finding fault with you. This is actually good for us.”
“Yes, what is it you wanted to discuss urgently?” she asked suppressing her disappointment and anger about his not asking even one word about the children.
“You see after you left, I became friendly with my friend Swarna and she started living with me. She doesn’t complain as you did and makes do with whatever I give her. She is now expecting her baby and wants me to marry her immediately. I have come to request you to help me in getting the divorce. We would only be regularising the present situation of being apart”
How self centred and remorseless this man was she thought. He has approached her only to get out of the tricky situation and has no tinge of regret for spoiling her life. When she kept quiet, he pressed her for her reply. She said “Let me think about it. We have been separated for five years without divorce. No harm will come to wait for some more time for divorce proceedings.”
“No, I cannot afford to wait. If I don’t marry her immediately, she is threatening to take me to police that I made her pregnant promising to marry her. She means it and I will be behind bars. I beseech you to help me out of this problem”
She quietly got up even as he was begging for her consideration. When he touched her hand as she was leaving, she turned and said “Stop harassing me. Take your hands off me. You have not changed. You continue to be a worthless rake. This serves you right. If you follow me one more step, I will scream and complain.”

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Teacher's compassion

by KParthasarathi 21 Oct 2008

Saraswati madam was taking her class. She saw Sunita from the corner of her eyes sitting morose in one of the rear benches and frequently wiping her eyes. She knew the girl well and was also aware the young thing had lost her mother and her father was an alchoholic.He had married again but the step-mother was not kindly disposed to the poor girl. The thought sat heavy on her mind. She went through the lessons hurriedly and was relieved when the bell rang announcing lunch time. She called the young girl of thirteen near her.

“Sunita, I have been observing you during the class and you were crying. Stop it and cheer up. Tomorrow is the annual day when prizes would be distributed by the chief guest. You have been an outstanding student topping the school in every examination and class. You are being given a special medal and there will be a special mention by the Principal about you. You must be happy. Tell me what is troubling you?”

“M’am, you know all the prize winning students have been asked to bring their parents for tomorrow’s function. They are required to be on the dais along with the student while receiving the prize. You know the situation in my house. Dad will not be in a fit condition in the evenings to come to school. My mom has also refused to come. There is a fight daily in the house and yesterday it was the worst.”

Sunita remembered how she sat crouched in fear in a corner listening to the noise from the hall. It was his drunken dad mouthing profanities and her step- mother sobbing. There were the noises of glasses, the bottle-opener dropping down followed by loud swears, beatings and finally slamming of the door. She never went down when her dad and mom were together. He had begun drinking ever since Sunita’s mom died, three years back. He was a loving dad but never demonstrated his affection even when her mom was alive. It was only her mom who was her best friend in whom she could confide anything and everything. Her step-mother Savitri was also very affectionate to her initially. It was all the mistake of her dad which turned the affection to dislike. He would taunt her needlessly telling her he married her not for her beauty but only to take care of the motherless girl. In the process, unknowingly, he drove a wedge between them.

The school was in all festoons and the music blared through loudspeakers. The lawn was filled with students, parents and teachers. In a corner, snacks and tea were being served. Groups of people were seen standing along with their children talking animatedly, some with teachers and others amongst themselves. Saraswati madam was looking for Sunita and smiled to herself when she saw her in the corner where tea was served helping the guests with spoons, sugar and paper-napkins. An announcement was made requesting the guests to sit down in their seats and the prize-winning students to assemble by the side of the dais with their parents. Saraswati went near Sunita who was standing at the rear with a glum face, and said “Look here, it is not your fault that your dad and mom could not be here. Cheer up. I am there for you. Wipe the tears off your face, my darling girl.” She moved away as the proceedings began with a prayer song.

After the welcome, the prize distribution started. As the name of each student was announced by the Vice-Principal, Saraswati madam, the student along with parents came up the dais to receive the prize from the hands of the chief guest. There was an endless stream of prize-winners coming up the rostrum with beaming smile, with their parents in tow. Finally, Sunita’s name was read out with the special mention that she was declared the best-student amongst all the classes not only in academic performance, but also in all extracurricular activities. When the chief guest stood up with a medal, he saw the girl coming alone in the dais towards him. He remarked “Where are your parents? Don’t they know this is a red-letter day for their child?” There was a murmur amongst the audience and some muffled jeering remarks. Saraswati madam walked towards the girl and stood behind Sunita. She loudly announced that her parents were not in a position to attend. Turning to the chief guest she said “You can deem her as my adopted daughter.” When the chief guest saw her with a puzzled look, the Principal was seen walking towards them telling “Sir, you may consider me as the god-father of Sunita. She has made us all proud by her achievements and good behaviour. I may add she is a role-model for all the other students.” Saraswati madam was seen wiping her tears even as she clasped Sunita tightly. The chief-guest pinning the gold medal on her loudly said “Pardon me Sunita, I didn’t know the circumstances of your parents not being here. I am so happy to hear the praise heaped on you by your teacher and the Principal. I pray to the Almighty for your success and happiness in life. Do remember that you are doubly fortunate in getting such a teacher and Principal.” The entire crowd was surprised when they saw Sunita falling full length at the feet of Saraswati madam and the Principal.

The entire audience rose as one man and gave a standing ovation amidst joyful cries of “Sunita, Sunita” It is not often that we come across teachers like Saraswati with such compassion and empathy, helping the children realize their self worth and esteem.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

A pardon

- by KParthasarathi 17 Oct 2008
It was nine in the morning and the children had left for the college. It was always hectic for Swati in the mornings with hurried preparation of breakfast and lunch for them. She normally watched TV thereafter for a while before getting back into the household chores. But this day she sat in the sofa with the head resting on both hands staring at the wall vacantly. Her head was aching and tears were trickling from her eyes. Ever since she got the letter from her husband Mahesh, she was grumbling to herself “Why did this happen to me? What is it that Mahesh found in her that I do not have? How foolish I had been not noticing the change in him?” There was no clue whatsoever to guess such a likely development. She was kept in the dark.
Swati was happily married for twenty years and Mahesh was such a loving husband. He did not earn much but just adequate to run the family. She was as smart as she was beautiful and managed carefully within the income. She never nagged him and he in turn was considerate often giving her a helping hand on holidays. Life was going on smoothly. It was then he got an attractive offer in a far away land. They had no flat of their own and the children were soon to pursue higher education. They badly needed money. He convinced Swati that a few years of his working abroad will make them financially secure and that she must agree to his taking up the offer. He pointed out that she being the only child of her aged parents cannot leave them alone. The children were also in the middle of their education. He promised her that he would return in five years after saving some money. She was not happy with the arrangement but had to relent when he pressed her.
Initially he came once a year and later once in two or three years. It stopped thereafter. He prolonged his stay beyond the promised five years telling her he hadn’t saved much. All her pleadings that they were away from each other in the prime of their lives and that he should return early fell on deaf ears. She missed him very much and was pining for him... It was then this letter that shattered her world completely.
“Dear Swati, I know how much this mail would hurt you but I have no option but to break the news. We have to part ways permanently. I have been away from you for almost a decade. Since the last two years Melinda who works with me has grown very friendly with me. She is an orphan with none to look after her. She comes over the weekends to help me in cleaning the house and provide me the company. Over a period of time we have grown to like each other. I thought over the matter for long. I have finally decided to marry her but intend sending you money for the upkeep of family. You had been a good and loving wife and it was a painful decision for me. I permit you to choose a partner of your choice though I know you would not. Please forgive me. Give my love to the children. With love, Mahesh”
Her life would be no more the same. Practical as she was, she thanked the god for not leaving her job in the nearby school as she had planned. He had evidently been unfaithful to her. There is no question of his coming back into her life. She was aware that long years of separation and the close proximity of the woman must have broken his resolve. But he was a good man and it hurt her that he strayed away. She resigned to her fate and determined to see that her sons came up well in life. She also decided to bring her aged parents to live with her.
Years went by quickly and her two sons were well settled in life. Her parents had passed away. She was left alone though the boys visited her frequently. Life was moving uneventfully with no discomfort. She was in good health and devoted part of her time for the service of poor and handicapped. It was then she got a letter from Melinda whose name had almost faded from her memory. The letter had depressing news.
It read “Dear madam, You may not remember me but I know all about you. Mahesh had told me more than once what a lovely and gentle person you are. Though he had moved away from your life, he often spoke of you and your two sons. I felt he had no courage to communicate with you after the injustice he meted out to you. Even today I have a sense of guilt for snatching him away. But we paid a heavy price for this. He lost his job two years back when he became ill and was unable to work. His condition grew worse and he died a year back. With two children of ours we passed through worst financial problems with his mounting medical expenses. We managed thanks to my job. But my misfortune is hounding me. I am now afflicted with a dreaded disease and my days are numbered. Being an orphan myself I have none to look to. When I think of my young daughter and son too as likely orphans, I am unable to bear the pain. I am writing this to seek your pardon and blessings for the two children. I believe strongly that god has punished us for the grievous wrong done to you and that your forgiveness alone will release us from His anger. Please write a line that you have pardoned us. Sincerely, Melinda.”
Swati’s eyes became moist. She knew that she can never recover from deep injury done to her unless she forgave and felt the power to wish Melinda well. She took a paper and pen and wrote
Dear Melinda, I am very sorry to hear the bad news. I share your grief no less. Have no worry in the least. I would willingly take care of the children. After all Mahesh’s children are mine too. But in the meanwhile please make arrangements to come away immediately to our home here. Please rest assured that I bear no grudge against you or Mahesh .The doors of my home are always open to you and your children. I shall remit you some money for your travel if you let me know the details of bank etc.Please do not hesitate to come. Regards, your sister, Swati

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The dream

by KParthasarathi 14 Oct 2008
Ranjana felt honestly that her husband should have remained a bachelor and not married her at all. A good man, no doubt, he was not cut for married life .Wedded to office and a workaholic, he spent long hours in the office and with the mobile, whenever at home talking office-matters. In these fifteen years of married life, she could remember only three occasions when he took leave from office to take her out. One was immediately after the wedding, taking her to the various temples that passed for a honey moon and the other two, when her parents had passed away. But he gave her a lot of freedom to do what pleased her, ample money for running the household and for buying dresses and jewelry that she desired. But he never accompanied her nor did he insist her accompanying him to office parties. It is not that Ranjana was not good looking or not highly educated. She was a tall and very beautiful woman with an all-India rank in professional accountancy examination. The problem was his world was very small and revolved around his office. Unfortunately they had no children to provide occasions for them to be together. It is not that he did not love her. He had a warm affection and high regard for her. But he lacked the finer sensibilities of pleasing the woman and had to be reminded even about their wedding day or birthdays. She diverted her mind to literary pursuits and had a couple of novels to her credit. She wrote for all leading magazines and was widely read. She however nursed a deep hurt in her heart at the wooden nature of Ravi despite the mechanical conjugal life they led devoid of demonstrated love.
It was 4pm on a Saturday when the phone rang at Ravi’s office. It was Ranjana reminding him that it was their wedding day and that he had promised to come earlier than usual. He looked at his watch and the note-sheets before him. With a frown on the face and affected tone of warmth he said “Ranjana, I am on the verge of finalizing the report to go to the Board tomorrow. I will surely come early but may be held up a little. Get dressed and be ready. We will have our dinner outside. Thanks, darling, for reminding me.” He took two hours to finish it and ignored meanwhile the calls from his residence. By the time he left, it was 6.45 p.m. and it was drizzling outside.
The parking lot in the basement was deserted as most of the people had left. It was dark when he reached his car. He fumbled for the car keys and found to his dismay that the door would not open. He tried several times and jabbed the door when he heard a voice behind him “Hey, excuse me, you seem to have a problem.” Startled Ravi turned to look at the slightly aged man, big built, in tattered clothes and three days’ bristle smiling at him in a twisted manner revealing his yellow teeth. He looked a bit unusual and a chill ran through Ravi’s spine. He said “Yes the door lock is jammed. I am in a hurry to go home as it is our wedding day. But I haven’t seen you here all these years”.
The man came closer and said “I have been here for a very long time and even before you joined here. You have not seen me but I see you daily as I see others. I make myself visible only when everybody had left. You are foolish to have stayed this long especially on this day” Struck by fear by the uncomprehending words and his unnatural demeanour, Ravi stood immobilized when the old man said “Move away a little. Let me open the door. Keep the keys with you.” Ravi immediately moved away looking at this strange man placing his strong hand on the door.
There was a sudden noise of the door ripping away from the car. He looked at the car with its front door missing and could see neither the old man nor the missing door. He had just vanished in a jiffy even as he heard the sound of laughter a little away. He quickly jumped into the car, started the ignition and sped away to the safety of the road. He was sweating profusely with goose bumps all over. When a cold hand touched him on his shoulder, Ravi blabbered, “Please do not harm me. My wife would be waiting for me. I have never taken her out for long. After a very long time, I have promised to take her out and make the day a memorable one. Please, I beg you to leave me unharmed.”
As the cold hand pressed him further and shook him violently, he started howling till he heard Ranjana, “Ravi, what is this you are blabbering in sleep? You have been sleeping from 3 p.m. ever since you came home. It is getting late. Get ready for the dinner at the hotel.” He opened his eyes and saw her beautifully dressed standing before him. There was no sight of the fearful strange man or the car park. He pulled her towards him to embrace her tightly and kissed her till she pulled herself away telling that the maid was there in the house. “Ranjana, I have been a fool all along. I thought my life would be over today even before our celebrating the wedding day. I realize what I have missed all these days. I promise to give you lot of my time and make our lives a very happy one from this moment.” She threw her arms over him and sobbed “I am so happy today. I was afraid we were moving apart. I thank your dream for opening your eyes at last.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Debt discharged

by KParthasarathi 06 Oct 2008

Ramu passed through the lone stretch of road daily to his village in the late evenings after his business was over in the town. It was just two kilometers to the village. The bus route was longer and the buses stopped plying after 7pm as the passengers were very few. Some days it got late for him as much as 10pm or even more. Normally a brave man he was not afraid of darkness. But the road abutted a large burial ground and he had frequently seen bodies burning in low ember. The man in charge of the ground was never seen as he usually got drunk and lay in his hut. There were also no street lights on the kutcha road except moonlight whenever it was there. Ramu would not turn towards the burial ground side and would keep walking fast reciting some prayers. On rare days where there was company, he felt no fear.

On many days he had the feeling of someone walking behind very close to him .He had heard as a young boy never to look back or answer voices. With acute palpitation in the heart and heavy sweating, he would virtually be running along with the heavy load he usually carried. Never would he stop chanting the god’s name as he believed it alone provided a protective ring around him. He carried a book containing the thousand names of God in his pocket as a mascot.

On the few occasions he would give a sideward glance towards the burial ground whenever he heard noises, he would see shadowy figures in human form without clear features either stationary or gliding in the space with the portion under the knees unclear. Most of them were covered from head to foot in a blanket like cloth. He had also seen on a couple of occasions a female form in white flowing dress. Though they were never violent nor came near him, he always wished he had left for village much earlier.

It had rained heavily in the evening that day. When Ramu left at 7pm for his village, the sky was dark and gloomy, accompanied by a very light drizzle. The pathway was muddy and slippery and he could not walk fast. His prayer to God for his safety was intense. It was then that he saw what appeared to be the apparition of his neighbour Govind who had died in a tragic road accident a few months back. Ramu froze there and his eyes were fixed on the paranormal figure. He was a jolly fellow and had been very friendly with Ramu since his childhood days. Many days they have walked back together on this stretch comforting each other in the dark and threatening passage. In fact, Ramu had lent him Rs 5000, just a few days before the accident. They used to help each other like this in times of need. After Govind’s sad demise under tragic circumstances, Ramu chose to keep quiet about the loan, although a few others recovered the money they had lent Govind, from his grieving widow.

There was a narrow wooden bridge across a deep creek overflowing with water and one had to walk across it to reach the village. As Ramu approached the bridge, the apparition of Govind, looking very much like him, stood across the entrance to the bridge and was seen gesticulating to Ramu to go back. He could hear the voice that was not intelligible. Though Ramu was scared bone-stiff initially, he overcame his fear when he could discern the figure of his friend. When he tried to move forward, the spirit jumped violently blocking the way and shaking its hands as signal for him to turn back. Ramu stood mesmerized and laid the bundle on a culvert by the side even as he looked closely at the specter and asked ”Govind, why are you stopping me? I miss you very much. Your wife and children miss you sorely and have not stopped crying. The whole village talks about you often.”

The apparition was silent and stood still. After some minutes of uncomfortable silence, the figure resumed its movement of hands, clearly meant to instruct Ramu to turn back. Ramu by some unknown feeling which he could not explain even later, was compelled to obey the caution.

When Ramu lifted the bundle to keep it on his head, he heard a deafening noise and saw the wooden bridge collapse completely into the overflowing creek. His immediate thought went to the apparition even as he saw it fade into oblivion without any further gesture. What a big tragedy it would have been, had he not been prevented by Govind in his present form! He waited in vain for long for Govind to re-appear, before turning back to reach his village by a longer route. Narrating the strange incident to his worried wife, he said “What a noble friend Govind was! He has paid back the debt several times more than the amount due. How do I repay him my debt of gratitude?”

Friday, October 3, 2008

The miracle

Captain Satish could not sleep the whole night and lay tossing restlessly in the bed by the side of his young wife. He looked at her beautiful face made more charming as she was expecting their child in a few months. They were a very loving couple with each one trying to please the other in every way. It was more than two years since he was posted at Chandigarh cantonment.
Life was all bliss till he got his orders a couple of days back posting him to the front in a border area where there were regular skirmishes. He was to leave in a week and didn’t know how to break the news to his wife. She was bearing her second child and he wanted to be very much near her when she needed him most. Gradually he dozed off to sleep only to wake up a long time later when the aroma of alu paratha wafted from the next room. Slowly walking behind her, he embraced her and covered her eyes gently with his hands. Fresh after her bath with the lingering smell of sandalwood-soap, she quickly turned and hugged him tightly for long till the smell of over-burnt paratha assailed their noses. Satish’s mind was torn between the unsavoury impending departure and the ecstasy of Sushma’s proximity. He did not disclose the bad news. “I am sure it will be a boy this time and will grow to be like you, tall and handsome” said Sushma. ”Why, don’t you want one more girl like our sweet Anisha, looking as beautiful and charming as her mom?” exclaimed Satish. Handing over a plate with paratha and dahi she replied with a mischievous smile “Let this be a boy. You can have as many daughters as you wish later.”
It was then his colleague Capt. Sharma barged into the house, blurting out loudly, ” Satish, all packed up for your departure? Poor Bhabi (sister-in-law), she would want you here especially now.” When Sushma looked questioningly at her husband, he put his arm around her and said, “I have wanted to tell you this but didn’t have the mind to break the news. I know how upset you will be. The order came three days ago asking me to report in the fighting area immediately. I will be leaving in two days. I know, born in a family of soldiers, you will not be afraid of my going to the front but would be upset that I am leaving at this juncture. But you know how helpless I am.”
She hugged him again and asked him in a sobbing tone “When will you be back? Can you come for a short period at least after the child is born?” He said “I am not sure whether I can come but I will try my level best. Be a good girl and smile now.”
Satish left as planned, after leaving Sushma and little Anisha at Sushma’s parents’ place, not far off. Back in her familiar and warm surroundings with girlhood friends visiting her frequently, she felt somewhat relaxed though Satish occupied her mind all the time. Months rolled by before a baby boy was born to Sushma. Satish’s reply to her letter came after three months of the birth of the boy. He had expressed his boundless joy at her having got what she desired and said it was now his turn to get from her a daughter. He had said that he could not say when he would be back and that she should keep praying for his early return. She knew he was somewhere at the border, but not exactly where. The news of fierce fighting scared her intensifying her prayers for his well-being. There was no communication for the past few months, making her worried and tense. Her parents were also concerned but never exhibited it in front of her.
One Monday afternoon, Sushma’s dad brought a telegram that gave a terse intimation that the whereabouts of Captain Satish were not known, despite the best search possible. His body had not been found and there was also no indication that he had been captured by the enemy. His personal things came after a few days along with a note expressing their sympathy and nice words about the valiant Captain who had fought for the country. It did not say whether the HQ had concluded he was dead or their attempts to trace him were given up. It contained a cheque for the payments due to her. The whole house was suddenly enveloped in gloom and sorrow. No amount of consolation by her mom and dad could stop her from wailing. Anisha too joined in the crying. Sushma sat dazed all the time and her mom had to prompt her to feed the baby. Months passed by and it was soon a year since the calamity had struck. She had joined an elementary school as a teacher to take her mind off the grief. However, she still nursed the hope that Satish might not have died after all, and was always praying to God for a miracle.
The baby boy had taken after Satish in looks with his big brown eyes and sharp nose. His curly hair and the dimple on the right cheek brought before his mother’s mind’s eye the picture of Satish. The boy had now completed two years. As Diwali was approaching the town wore festive colours. But Sushma was in no mood to celebrate though she had bought new dresses and crackers for the children. Her parents were also not participating in the festivities around. It was around 8 at night and she was sitting in the porch with the children, watching them burn the sparklers. Suddenly the boy let out a shriek of fear at a figure with blanket wrapped around, and in crutches, approaching them from the darkness. She could not make out who it was. Her dad got up from the chair and shouted ”Hey, who are you? What do you want?”The figure continued to amble towards Sushma and her children with protruded hands. She got up in fear and huddled near her dad. It was then the figure, even as he removed the blanket and the crutches, limped towards her shouting ”Don’t be afraid Sushma. It is me, your Satish.” For a moment she could not believe her eyes or ears. The voice was unmistakably his, though the man opposite her in the darkness appeared emaciated with sunken eyes, long beard and unkempt hair. ”It is me Sushma, your husband, and Anisha’s dad. The army had given me up as dead. I lost my leg in the fight and was left unattended and unconscious for days till some villagers took pity on me and nursed me back to health .I could not move and could not communicate with you. To make the long story short I am back after being discharged from the army.”
Could the miracle have really happened, she wondered. Amidst the noise of bursting crackers and the dazzling light of fireworks, she rushed to him to hold him before his falling. She forgot her parents and the neighbours around her as she hugged him and showered him with kisses. The little boy stopped crying, looking at the strange man in fear and awe. Anisha stood close to her grandma, realizing that it was a happy moment for her mom.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The last wish

“Would you remember me always?” Ramanna asked his eight year old grandson,Navinfor the third time as they went round the small pond in the evening.
Navin who was ahead in his small cycle stopped and asked in an irritable tone “Why do you keep asking the same question every time we come out? I have said I will always remember you, thatha (grandpa)
“Just asking. You will remember the walks, the stories I tell you daily before you go to sleep and my wish that you study well to join Harvard. There is one other thing I have told you many times. I hope you remember.”
“Yes, thatha, I certainly will not forget all these even when I grow old like you. I know your other wish. I will tell my mom at the appropriate moment. Please do not ask me again these questions. If you do, I will refuse to accompany you.” After they had walked a few yards, Navin stopped his cycle and waited for his grandpa to join him. He asked “Are you afraid of dying? Will it be dark over there? How will you walk without a torch? I wish you don’t die at all. My friend Mac’s grandfather is ninety five and is still very strong. He tells he can shoot a coyote even now. You have many years to go before you pop off.”
Ramanna smiled at the boy’s credulity and said “Yes, I will be alive till you join Harvard.” “Thatha, no it is not possible. You will die long before. Let us go home. I am hungry and have some homework to do.”
Ramanna laughed hysterically and asked him when he expected he would die. Navin forgetting about Mac’s grand-dad said, “May be next year. Will you give me your laptop now itself? Sarala will otherwise keep it for herself”
The old man assured the boy “No, I can’t give you now. But I will tell your mom that it should be given to you. I will have something else for Sarala. But I don’t think I will last till next year. I am already eighty and waiting for His call.”
Navin was awe struck “Does God have your cell number to call you. You never told me you speak to him often. Can you tell him to get me an iPod I have been wanting for long?”
Ramanna could not walk even this short distance and was panting for breath. He sat on the farmer’s porch in the front of his daughter’s house holding his hand on the chest even as he was sweating profusely.
“”Thatha, what happened to you? Why are you sweating? Wait, let me call mom. I will get you water.”
Even as he ran shouting “Mom, thatha is not well. I think he will die. Please come at once”, his mom came running from the kitchen. They rushed him to the emergency in the hospital nearby. Navin’s dad had also joined them waiting patiently in the hall as doctors were endeavouring their best to revive Ramanna.
The nurses with grim faces were hurrying past to and from the emergency room. Navin started crying and said, “Mom, I don’t want thatha to die so soon. Mac’s grand-dad is ninety five and is still fine shooting coyotes.”
His mom signaled silence placing her fingers on her lips. Navin could not control his fear and started crying. Sarala put her arm around him and said “Don’t worry, thatha will be fine.”
The attending doctor walked slowly out of the emergency towards them. He told Navin’s parents “We did our best but could not save him… It was a massive cardiac arrest. His heart was already weak and had undergone a bypass surgery. I am very sorry. Is there anything else you wish us to do?”
It was at this moment that Navin jumped up and said “Mom, thatha has been telling me to tell you that he wished to donate his eyes and other organs. It appears that every time he was broaching the subject, you got upset and asked him to keep quiet. He reminded me today also about his last wish. Can you not ask these doctors to remove his eyes?”
She remembered how she smothered her dad from expressing his wish when he started taking about his end. She requested the doctor to remove all organs that they consider are in good shape. She signed some papers with tears flowing from her eyes even as Navin was seen wiping her tears and telling her “I am happy that I carried out his last wish. He must have got the call from God on his cell phone today. That is the reason he told me again.”
A few days later, Navin’s mom called him and said thatha had expressed his wish that his laptop be given to him and his iPod to Sarala. Navin went to thatha’s room alone and standing before his photograph said “Thatha, I promise that I will always remember you. I will put your picture in the screensaver in your laptop given me by mom. Thank you so much. I love you. I will study well and join Harvard. Your other wish has been carried out. Even if it is dark over there, you will not know as your eyes have been removed.”