Monday, March 29, 2010

The peacock feather

Anasuya knew that she will not live long and that her end was around the corner.Doctors had stopped treating her except for medicines to alleviate her pain as far as possible and making her remaining days comfortable.Sampath, secretary of the senior citizen’s home, had called on her in the evening.She is a resident of the home for more than fifteen years and quite close to him.He knew her well.

“Sampath, I have a last request to make.I have in this envelope spelt out how my wealth should be distributed after my end.I want you to hand over this sealed cover after my death to Rajagopal.You have met him in my room once. He was my colleague and a very close friend of mine in the school where I had worked for decades.I have nominated him as the trustee.Since the home will be a beneficiary, I have not made you one.I hope you will understand.Do not tell him about me till I have taken permanent leave of you all.

I don’t believe much in rituals and want my last rites to be done simple without fanfare.I have left a sizable amount for the home and I am sure you will put it to good use for giving more comforts to the inmates ”she said

“Please do not worry.I will follow your instructions though I am sure you would return back fully recovered”Sampath replied.

Giving him a wry smaile, she bid him adieu after telling how much of support and help he had been to her.

As she lay in the bed, there was a flashback of her life since her young days.She was the elder of the two children.God had endowed her with beauty and intelligence.She was a topper in the class and after a post graduation she had a B.Ed degree.She had joined a prestigious school as a teacher.But her life was not all pleasant.It had a large share of sorrow.Her only brother six years younger was mentally retarded.To add to the misery her mom had died when she was just seventeen.Eversince she had been running the family besides doing well in her studies.When she had finished her education and grew into a charming lady with a good job , several offers came seeking her hand for marriage.But her dad turned down all of them with some excuse or the other till people stopped coming.

In the course of a conversation one night, he said”Anasuya, you may be wondering why I am sending all people away without considering their proposals.I think you are born unlucky.Had not your mom passed away,may be I would have considered a marriage for you.In the present circumstances your brother has none to take care of him.I am quite old and may not live long.Consider that yours is a life of sacrifice for the sake of your brother.You must reconciie to this harsh reality.It hurts me no doubt very much and I spend sleepless nights seeing you , a very talented and accomplished girl, remaining unmarried.But I can see no way out.”

Anasuya kept quiet shocked as she was at the way her dad thought.She could not sleep that night and cried softly thinking of her dead mother.There was even a sense of disgust with his brother a grown up boy oblivious to his miserable condition and often repeating parrot like akka,akka,(elder sister) to get her attention.

Raju as she affectionately called Rajagopal was also a teacher in the same school.Handsome and tall he took a liking for Anasuya and helped her in the initial days till she found her feet in the school.She too turned to him for everything and soon love blossomed between the two.They spent the free hours together unmindful of the amused smiles of their colleagues.One day she asked him to get a peacock feather for the crawling Krishna doll in blue she had bought. Raju brought her the feather the next day itself.She was touched by this gesture and treasured his gift.

Raju said one day”Anasuya, how long are we to be lovers.Won’t you marry me? Can I meet your father and seek your hand in a formal manner or would you speak to him.My mom is wanting me to marry this year itself.She is getting very old.”

“Raju, I did mention obliquely to you about the condition of my brother and my dad’s idea on my marriage.There is not much that my talking to him would do” she said.

“Yes, you did mention.Tell your dad that we will take care of your brother like our own child.What more would he need to accept me as his son –in-law?Both of thenm can live with us.” Raju replied.
When Anasuya broached the subject that evening, her dad hit the ceiling saying she had humiliated him by finding a match for her by herself.He said”Forget the insult.I will not agree to this.He can always go back on his word and take you away to any other place after a couple years.He may refuse to keep yor brother.No, this is just not acceptable.If you still proceed further, your marriage will take place over my dead body.”

That was the last she talked about her marriage with her dad.Raju married someone else but remained a true friend.She remained a spinster taking care of her brother and when he died years later she moved to the senior citizen’s home.

Anasuya was exhausted when the flash back ended like an old film.She took the diary from the side desk and kept the envelope inside it.

Two days later Rajagopal was by her side at the hospital when he got the information that she had breathed her last.Sampath was in tears.There were a few inmates of the home.It was then Sampath with a heavy heart expressed her last wish and handed over her diary with the envelope.Rajagopal could not suppress his tears when he saw her peaceful and calm face.He knew of her deep love for him and how fate had been cruel to her.As he took the envelope from the diary, a peacok feather fell out of it bringing with it a host of memories..Rajagopal started weeping like a child.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The wink

It was dusk and darkness was spreading fast. Padmini sitting on the bench in the garden was thinking of the sad events in the last year that shattered her life totally. Stricken with grief and with an aching heart she recalled the telephone call one evening when she was getting ready to go with her hubby Kesav to a party about the tragic and fatal accident. Life was no longer the same with Kesav no more.It was a brief romance between the two colleagues in the office that soon blossomed into deep love and a marriage.

She had an aged mother who had passed away just a few months before her wedding.She had no one to turn to.She continued to live with Kesav’s old parents who insisted on her staying with them.She had also no mind to leave them alone when they also at their old age suffered the blow of losing their only son that was no less in intensity than hers.Padmini regarded them like her own parents calling them amma and appa.

They were a decent and gentle souls who studiously avoided encroaching upon the personal space of the young and newly married couple.They had a middle aged lady to look after the kitchen and other houehold chores.They truly loved Padmini for her qualities of head and heart.It was a happy family till the tragedy struck.It pained them much to see the young lady always morose and often in tears.They were aware she was an orphan with none close enough to stand by her in the hour of grief.The old lady would do her best to cheer her up by making her come and sit along with her to watch the soap in TV.She avoided talking about her own grief or about her son and kept the conversations light hearted and general.She would ask Padmini to take her out to mall even when she had no specific need. Despite these understanding gestures life for Padmini was lonely, with days long and nothing cheerful to look forward to.Time passed somewhat easily while in office.The other times and particularly the weekends and nights were unbearable.The TV did not interest her , the company of friends was also not enjoyable and it looked a dreary world without Kesav. She turned and tossed in the bed longing for him.

One Sunday the old lady said” Padmini, an unexpected and urgent work has come up.Appa and me have to go and we will be back only in the evening.We had invited Vasu son of appa’s erstwhile colleague, for lunch. I have asked mami to cook special lunch.I would request you to explain him our predicament and take care.He has come on official work for a fortnight, I think. Don’t worry, mami will be here in the house and serve.Just spend time with him conversing and showing him around.This is the first time he is coming to our house.”

Padmini was really struck with surprise when a very charming young man in an elegant jeans and Tshirt and in his late twenties arrived.He had a beaming smile showing his well aligned glistening teeth when he asked “Is this not Natarjan mama’s house? I am Vasu known to him since a child.Are they not available?”

“Please come in. We are actually awaiting you.Some unforeseen work has taken both mama and mami out. They said they would try to return early.Please be free and feel comfortable”

“It is all right Ms………” he lingered


“Padmini, a nice name.I work for a MNC and am here for a fortnight on official work.My parents are very close to mama and mami.I haven’t met them for long.Though I know Kesav, he was two years senior to me and I haven’t moved much with him.How are you related to them? I haven’t heard of you earlier” he said

Padmini replied without elaborating much”I stay with them”

He didn’t ask further.He was such an extrovert and engaging conversationalist talking non stop and with great wit, time passed by without their noticing till the cook announced the table was set for lunch.This was the fitst day after the tragedy she had giggled, laughed and happily conversed.What magic this youngman had done to lift her from the meloncholy in just one day, she thought to herself..He was discreet, never asked her personal questions but made her feel quite at ease with him even though they met for the first time

It was past 7pm when appa and amma retuned and their first question was about Vasu’s visit.They were happy that Padmini had managed to take care of it well.Padmini did not fail to notice amma conversing with the lady cook in hushed tone.

A week later Vasu was again at their house.They were all sitting in the living room chatting happily for a while when appa and amma left the two young people alone.Vasu then asked her” That day you didn’t tell who you were and I was talking foolishly without knowing the relationship of yours to Kesav.Please excuse me.”

“What is there to excuse? We had a nice chat and good time that day” she replied

“I had also not told you about me.I am a divorcee.My wife left me within six months of marriage on grounds of incompatibilty.She is now married to her old flame” he said.

“I am sorry to hear that.I am however surprised how she found you with your pleasant disposition incompatible’ she said.Having uttered that she bit her lips shy at what she had spoken.

They were talking for a long time when mami brought coffee and snacks.Appa and amma had also joined them.

Appa broke the silence.”Padmini, I had invited Vasu with a specific motive.He was not aware of it initially.But I had subsequently spoken to him on phone.You are like our daughter.We would like to do what we would have done if you were a daughter.Vasu likes you.He is an extremely nice person.We can vouch for that.You are hardly 26 and have a long life before you.We should move away from the past.We believe Vasu would make a good partner for you.You will be making us most happy if you would agree to our suggestion.”

Padmini with her head bent low was silent.Amma then said”Padmini, I know my son Kesav.He would be happiest if such a denouement takes place.Since we know Vasu very well, we would also not feel shy of staying with you off and on.You have our full blessings in this matter.You can take your time for deciding if you wish to.”

Padmini raised her head for a second and looked at Vasu winking at her mischievously with eager expectations.She could not suppress her giggle that made everyone to break into laughter.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A queer tale

Siddarth (we will call him Siddhu) had nothing with him when he was thrown out of his room except for a spare set of clothes, a tooth brush,a razor,a cake of soap and odd personal things in a worn out cloth bag. He had not paid the room rent for six months. It was not that he wanted to deceive the landlord but he had no income when his company folded up one day without notice and he was left jobless. His immediate concern was to find a roof over his head for the night. He had luckily a few hundreds hidden in his undergarment that will see him through for a few days.

He walked the whole day long on the streets of the small town looking for a place to stay. In a few places they had a room to let out but needed a downright advance of a few thousands of rupees. As he was losing hope with only the town bus stand as the possible alternative, he saw a tolet board hanging on the gate of an old house. He was virtually on the outskirts of the town that was thinly populated.He opened the creaking gate to find the front lawn in total neglect with weeds all over and dead leaves from the overhead trees strewn all over. There was little evidence of habitation. Nevertheless he went in and pressed the bell. When there was no response he knocked on the door hard. He peeped through a window to find the interior also unclean with no evidence of inmates. When he was about to give up and turn back, he heard the sound of the door being opened.

An old man with a long white robe that almost covered his legs appeared. He had a pale face, a long white beard that looked as having never seen a brush and whose age could not be guessed.His eyes, though sunk deep seemed sharp of seeing through one’s body, sent shivers to Siddhu. He was not invited inside.

”What do you want, young man’ the old man asked in a squeaky tone that was almost a whisper.

“I saw the tolet sign. I need a room immediately” Siddhu said

“Have a look at the outhouse but tell me beforehand whether you are single.The place is not available for those who bring girls for the night”

“That is ok. I am single and have no girl friend though I don’t see any reason for this condition.Can we see the place?” Siddhu asked

The old man gave him the key for the out house.”You go and have a look. It may be dark because of many trees hiding sunlight.You can switch on the light” He added with a laugh that was scary from his toothless mouth “Remember no girls.”

The outhouse consisting of a big room kitchenette and toilet looked as dirty as the main house. It was dark and he switched on the only light that was not bright. He found a broom in the corner and cleaned feverishly the place. The cot had a mattress but no sheets. It didn’t matter to him. He decided to take it although he was not comfortable with the spooky ambience. May be in day time things may appear different, he thought to himself.

When he went to the main house the old man was not seen .The door was closed. All lights were switched off. He knocked several times but there was no response. He was tired by the walk all day long and his limbs begged him for rest. He went back and hit the bed. He was dead tired that he fell asleep soon.

Some where there was the distant chime of 12’O clock. Siddhu woke up with a start. He could not sleep. He felt he heard some sound from the kitchenette. The door was locked and there was no chance of anyone entering, he thought. Suddenly he felt that someone was walking past him brushing him. There was the smell of fresh jasmine flowers. He stood up in fright and reached for the switch.He was sweating with goosebumps. But the light strangely did not burn. He turned the switch up and down many times to no avail. As he felt two hands clasp his neck, he tried to scream but there was no sound emanating from his voice. He could feel the breath and the fragrance of flowers closeby as the pressure on the neck increased. He could remember no more as he fainted.
The day had broken. There was a small cluster of people outside the old house with men and women standing at a safe distance from the gate. Two policemen were seen near the outhouse. An ambulance and a police vehicle stood outside. Someone with a squint was telling his eager listeners “This is the second instance of unnatural death in this vacant house. One happened about six months back”

“What could be the reason? Was it a murder? Is there anyone living in the main house? How did the young man gain entrance to out house?”asked one bystander

“I cannot answer all your queries. But this much I know. An old man and his young daughter were living here. I have heard that the daughter had fallen in love in with a young man to whom the out house was let out. It appeared he promised to marry her soon and they were on very intimate terms. When she came back from a trip to outstation earlier than scheduled, she found to her consternation and shock the young man with another woman in compromising position. She turned bitter against all men and committed suicide within a fortnight unable to bear the treachery especially when she was carrying his child. The young lover strangely was found dead after a month of the suicide with no external injuries.there was no evidence of murder.” explained the squint eyed man.

“Where is the old man?” asked another.

“God knows.People say that he became soft in his head after his daughter’s demise and was seen asking young men who came to him for the room whether they had girl friends evidenly unhappy with such men whom he thought betrayed the girls. I haven’t seen him here for long. May be he is also dead.”

Friday, March 5, 2010

Romance in bus

Girish was held up in the office with some pressing work.It was 830pm when he took the bus for home.Luckily the bus was almost empty and he got a seat to sit.There was none by his side.It was a long journey home that would take an hour.He reclined in his seat and closed his eyes.He could not sleep as the passengers in the seat just behind were talking in whisper but was clearly audible to Girish.He tried to ignore till he found the whispers were romantic in tone and content.He peeped thro the opening between the two seats and saw who the passengers were.He got a shock of his life when he found Sanjana, his best buddy Gopal’s sister, sitting close to some young man.He was less than thrity and looked quite handsome.Girish did not like it.He sharpened his ears and started listening carefully to the conversation.

Man: “Sanju, we cannot continue like this finding time to be together only during lunch break and bus journey back.Only rarely do we get the time to enjoy. We must find a way out”

Sanjana:” I agree but what can I do, Mukul.Even now I go late waiting for you to start from office and my parents keep asking me why I take so much time when the office closes at 6 pm.I bluff them daily that some extra work was there or the bus did not come.”

Mukul:” Sanju, why don’t you tell your parents that you love me and that you would marry only me.Am I not well qualified and decently employed? True I belong to a different caste.But does it really matter? Tell them finally of your decision or should I talk to your brother?”

Sanjana:”My brother has no voice.He will complicate matters.Don’t tell him.I have a younger sister.My parents will not allow me to marry outside the caste fearing her marriage would be delayed.They will not agree, I am sure.I have no option except to remain a spinster or commit suicide.I cannot think of marrying anyone other than you.We are in deep love and have been very intimate for nearly a year.”

Girish was shocked at the revelation that his friennd’s sister has been secretly loving someone and is on very intimate terms too.He felt that he must break the news to Gopal in time.He decided to follow the conversation keenly and did not get down at his regular stop.

Mukul:”What crap are you talking about, remain a spinster or commit suicide to enable your sister marry? Your sister wil get married even if you marry outside your religion.Who cares for such things these days? I wll tell you one thing. Let us not wait for their approval.Let us elope and get married in a temple.We can take a transfer to another city and live happily.”

Sanjana: “I am terribly afraid, Mukul, though I like to be with you for ever.”

Mukul:” What is there to be afraid of?.We are not doing anything illegal..We are both unmarried and major.We don’t need anybody’s permission to marry though would be happy with elders blessings. Do not carry any money or jewels from your house .I can take care of you.Let us apply for long leave tomorrow and in the afternoon go to a nearby temple town and marry .We can buy dress and all the other things we may need on the way.We will stay in a hotel for a few days till we get the transfer and settle down.I have enough money .Do not worry.I will never let you down.We can register our marriage soon thereafter.Trust me.Will you?”

Sanjana:”OK Mukul.I agree.I am in deep love with you and cannot think of any other way.I only pray and wish my parents would get reconciled to our marriage in due course and bless us.”

Mukul:” You are a sensible girl.Give me your hand.Our stop has come.”

Girish saw both of them getting down. He felt his head would break if he did not convey the news to Gopal immediately.He got down at the next stop and rang up Gopal on his mobile.

“Gopal, Girish here.I have something very important and urgent to tell you.Are you in a position to listen carefully?”

“Girish, what is the matter.Tell me I am all ears” Gopal said

“I was travelling in the bus from my office.I saw Sanjana sitting in the back seat with another young man talking very intimately”

“What if, Girish? He may be her colleague.Don’t be always suspicious”replied Gopal

“You don’t allow me to complete.She and the young man are planning to elope tomorrow in the afternoon from their office to get married.I heard their plan”

Gopal asked “Was the young man tall and slighly bald with specs?”

“How do you know? Were you aware of their secret love already?”asked Girish

Gopal laughed uncontrollably to the chagrin of a perplexed Girish.Finally Gopal said“Listen, you silly fellow.They are acting in a drama in characters that are eloping.They do not have time for rehearsal and do it daily in the bus on their way home.I know Mukul, a nice chap. Even if they marry they would have our blessings.Go and sleep in peace.Stop eavesdropping in others whispers” chided Gopal gently.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Prayer answered

It was a small village with only one main street that was fairly wide and two smaller lanes as they did not qualify to be termed streets.There was a walled temple at the end of the street that was unusually big for the size of the village and its limited inhabitants.It was possibly built by some king hundreds of years ago when the village was possibly very big with a large population to boast of.Although dilapidated in some places, the temple was maintained well with regular pujas and utsavams.The presiding diety was Sri Kothanda ramar along with Seetha and Lakshmana.The divine consort was Jankavalli thayar.There was a separate sanctum for Anjaneyar just opposite to the main sanctum.

The single priest who looked after the temple was dedicated and devout doing the pujas regularly at the appointed times.Except on festival and special occasions there were not many devotees except a few older people who made it daily both mornings and evenings.Otherwise the temple bore a deserted look most of the times except for the stray cattle grazing in the spacious open areas.

As the priest was decorating Janakavalli thayar in her sannithi, he heard some soft whispers of a prayer in the adjacent main sanctum sanctorum of Sri Kothanarama.It was from an old lady.He couldn’t make out what the prayer was about.The old lady must have been praying for a long time that was more in conversational tone as if she was talking to the God Himself.When he had finished the decorating job, he came to the main sannithi only to find it vacant.The old lady had evidently gone unnoticed by him.

When this happened two days later with his hearing again the soft but intense prayer, he stopped his work and came silently to the main area to find Vaidehi patti standing before SriRama with tears trickling from her closed eyes. She was praying “O Rama, why are You testing me so much? Am I not devoted to You? Am I not reciting Your name all the waking hours? How can You be so insenstive to my condition.I never asked You for a place in Heaven by Your side.My prayer is very small that You can grant in a second if You so wish.I have a feeling that I may not be living long.I want to see my son Raghu once before I close my eyes permanently.Won’t You concede this wish, small for You but big for me?” she was seen mumbling non stop with folded arms.The priest moved away to give her the privacy in her prayers

The priest was moved by this touching sight. As he repeated the old lady’s prayer, he felt it in his heart. He had compassion for this lonely lady and wished that he could also pray for her. That small prayer so earnestly made meant so much to her.He knew Vaidehi patti in her eighties was living alone in the village.She has a son Raghuraman who had gone to US when her husband was alive decades back and settled there.He used to come intially every year that tapered off to once in two or three after he married an American girl.After Vaidehi’s husband had passed away he came for dad’s last rites and wanted his mom to accompany him permanently.She refused citing ostensibly that she cannot part with her Kothanda rama but really apprehensive of staying in a foreign land with an American daughter-in-law.

Raghu was a good son, sent her regular remittances, helped the temple with hefty donations and did come alone once in three years for a week.He used to enquire her welfare from Krishna iyengar the temple trustee.The old lady was able to manage her affairs despite her frequent asthmatic bouts and never approached others for any help.She had a lot of self respect and spoke very little and except visiting temple twice a day she spent her time in chanting lord’s name.Her vision had impaired that she could not read the scriptures she used to earlier.

When the priest did not notice her for two consecutive days at the temple, he enquired and came to know that she had a fall in the bath room and was bed ridden.He went to her house and found her in her bed with a bandage on her leg.He assured her that she would get her food from the temple till such time she recovered.

It was then she spoke “Swami,Let me tell you.The fall is just an excuse for my final departure.I do not think I would ever get up and be able to see my Kothandarama again.I am unable to breathe and there is a choking feeling even while I am resting.There is a heaviness in my heart as if a big rock is placed on it.I have only one small wish before I die.I strongly desire to see my child Raghu once and talk to him.He is so far away.If only he knew that I am bed ridden,he would fly the next moment.Will you tell Krishna Iyengar to convey the message and tell Raghu to come by next flight.I will be grateful to you for this help eternally” she spoke with great difficulty.

It was the second day.The old lady’s condition had deteriorated.The doctor from the adjacent town did not hold out much hope.Krishna iyengar had conveyed the message by email.There was a message from him that he was in Hongkong on some business and that he would rush..The neighbours had gathered in her house inn her last moments.She was murmuring “Raghu, Raghu”.The eyes of all those present were moist.

It was then they heard a car pulling up and saw Raghu rushing in shouting “Amma, I am back.have no fear.I am with you always.” He went near her and placed her head on his lap telling “Amma, Raghu here.Can you see me? Open your eyes and say Raghu” She opened her eyes and saw the dim silhoutte of her dear son.there was a faint smile when she uttered,”Kanna Raghu, I was holding my breath for you.I am so happy that you have come.Kothandaraman had after all opened His eyes even before I closed mine..Give me your hand.I wish to hold it fast”

As Raghu locked her hand with his, the gentle spirit flew away satisfied that Kothanda Rama had atlast answered her prayers and at her good fortune to breathe her last on her son’s lap.