‘Someone wants to meet you, Sir. He’s been waiting for sometime now, ‘ Raman Nair said, while sorting out the day’s mail and placing it before me.
‘Tell him I can’t.’
‘I did. I told him he ought to have fixed it all up beforehand. Then he gave me this note. The poor man has been waiting for a long time.’
Oh, since when did Raman Nair begin to feel sorry for people who waited to meet me?
Money must have changed hands. That must be it. He placed the note along with the mail and went away. ‘I wish to discuss something personal with you. Could you please spare me a few moments? If you can’t make it today, tell me when I can meet you tomorrow. It’s something urgent. I hope I am not troubling you.’
What exactly did he want? So urgently too! There was a P.S.C. interview scheduled for next week. He must have come to know that I was on the board. If I were to set my mind to it, I could give him a leg up. For which, polite notes won’t suffice, sonny! It takes blue currency
Things have come to such a pass that I can hardly drive past
Victor’s porch. Didn’t they ring up to say that it was to be yesterday? It must have run up to quite a bit. How did that rascally Jew have the gall
to ring me up at my office? His son’s bridge-construction and the contracts
— I’ll show him.
Ringing me up at my office!
Raman Nair’s expression when he came in to inform me about it—that grin of his—! I wanted to slap him across his face. But there was no go. Times have changed, haven’t they?
In any case, let this polite person turn up in the morning tomorrow.
Let’s see whether he has anything more than politeness in stock.
I was about to make a note in the margin and set it aside when I noticed the address given at the bottom of the page.
Hey, this man is an M.B.B.S. Not an engineer. So this has nothing to do with the P.S.C. interview. I have nothing to do with the doctors’ interview.
Then who the hell can this blighter be? What do I gain by meeting him?
Still, why should an absolute stranger write to me like this? I kept staring at the name for a while.
Will this be him?
Ah, Yes. He’s the person.
The man whom they have snared in advance for Su!
Let’s meet him. Isn’t he about to become my son-in-law? Let’s see what he is like.
But why should he feel this sudden urge to meet his prospective father-in-law, just like that, out of the blue? And very respectfully too. May be he wants to touch me for money. What else? May be he’s not satisfied with what he’s already got.
If that is the case, you have come to the wrong person, sonny! Here am I, searching every avenue for repaying Victor’s loan. I have no idea where my salary disappears before the fifteenth of the month!
Raman Nair came in bringing a bundle of files to be signed. ‘The man who gave you this note, is he still there? Send him in.’ He went back quietly.
He heard a knock at the door.
‘Come in’, he said without raising his head.
That is a ruse. When the person comes up to you, raise your head and look straight into his eyes. If he’s the nervous sort, he’s sure to get more so. Then it becomes very easy to get him round.
But I don’t think it’ll wash with this chap. He isn’t in the least bit nervous.
Good. Their choice isn’t bad. At any rate, he’s good-looking. ‘Take your seat.’ I put my pen away.
‘Are you very busy? I thought it would be more convenient if I came over here. Hope I’ m not troubling you.’
‘No, it doesn’t matter.’
‘May be you haven’t placed me.’ ‘No, I haven’t.’
‘I completed my medical studies last year.’ ‘How nice! You are not practising?’
‘Yes, I’ m working here in the General Hospital.’ ‘Where do you stay?’
‘My house is close by’. ‘I see.’
He did not speak for a while.
‘Is there anything I can do for you?’
‘Don’t you recognize me? It was your father-in-law who financed my studies.’
Ah, yes. It was he who had given me money to continue my studies too. That was their standard technique. Put a noose round your neck and catch you.
‘Oh, I see!’
‘My father had promised him that he’d get me to marry your daughter when I finished my course.’
‘Did he pay you on that assurance alone?’
‘Not on that alone. We’d mortgaged our house to him.’
The same old trick. The self same one that had been tried on me. If you mortgage the roof over your head, you don’t run away.
‘I heard that you too had come up the hard way. That’s why I came to meet you.’
‘You haven’t told me why you came to call on me.’ ‘There’s something that I’d-‘ He paused.
Was the earlier hunch correct? Does he want more money? ‘Tell me.’
‘Can I speak to you frankly?’
‘Why not? Isn’t that what you came for?’ ‘Yes, but still…’
‘Don’t waste my time, please.’
‘Well, your people insist on an early marriage.’ ‘So?’
‘I’m in love with another girl, sir.’
Oh! That made me sit up. The same old story again. Leela and I….Now this young man —
‘What did you say? I didn’t get you.’
‘I am in love with another girl. She was my classmate in the medical college.’
Leela had never been my classmate. She was my murapennu, my uncle’s daughter.
No, we had never been in the same class. She was younger than me by a couple of years. She came to stay in my house when she joined college. That was all.
Unniarcha, the brave. Jhansi Rani Lakshmi Bai — the names I used to call her!
Why should I be reminded of all that now? I have forgotten all that, haven’t, I? After all these years—
Those interminable spats with Leela— It was a pleasure to annoy her.
Feminist – Women’s Champion against Male chauvinism- Unniarcha, the brave. Brave, my foot!
How she used to burst into tears at the least provocation! The bravado never went deep enough.
Laughter, tears and tantrums — how easy everything was for her!
Leela who started singing the moment she heard raindrops pattering on the tiled roof!
Leela who stood in the courtyard to watch lightning streak the
My Leela, who loved sunshine, flowers, frost, rain and all. My
Leela who loved everything and everyone.
Leela the brave —
‘There is no place in my life for another woman, sir.’ The young man was speaking.
‘If I were to marry somebody else, life would have no meaning. It would be a hollow thing, sir.’
Isn’t my life hollow? Does it mean anything at all? This lad —
Still he shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it.
‘All this is melodrama, pure and simple. You are saying by rote something that you got out of a book.’
‘Melodrama, sir? Something out of a book! Do you think your daughter would be happy with me? With a man who has another woman in his heart?’
I’d never thought about that. Not until now. Is life happy for Lakshmikutty? Happiness and sorrow….
She finds happiness in a fat bank balance, a motor car and diamond ear-rings, doesn’t she?
But I never gave her a fat bank balance. All that I ever acquired was Victor as a creditor.
‘You are getting angry. Think about it, please. You too were young once, weren’t you? This will destroy three persons. I would like to live happily. I have a lot of ambitions, Sir. I would like to do something worthwhile with my life. Please give me a chance. If I don’t have my girl by my side, I’ll be shattered.’
I too had them. Plans and principles.
And the desire to do things. Leela and I were planning to serve the country. We were even prepared to serve a term in jail.
And he’s asking me whether I too had not been young once!
Of course, I was. Just like this tall, slim young man in front of me.
Looking at me now, who’d guess that I too used to read poetry and be moved by the speeches of Subhash and Jawharlal?
The poetry and the zeal in me died out. They died out on the painted lips of Anglo-Indian women and in the frothing liquor that bubbled out of the bottles in Victor’s back room.
The door to my downfall lay through Victor’s back door. It was when my salary did not suffice to meet Victor’s bills that I began to explore other avenues, wasn’t it? What have I not done for a handful of silver? Handed out contracts that should never have been. Turned a blind eye while people siphoned off Government money!
It was that devil Subramonya Iyer who led me down, rung by rung, to damnation.
In a weak moment, I signed a paper which I should never have. When I was hard pressed for money, I did something I should never have, under that fiend’s instigation. After that I have been a pawn in his hands, haven’t I? And followed it up all with other misdeeds under the menace in his eyes.
I am finished and Leela too —
Leela – falling at the feet of every visiting God man. Telling prayers incessantly on her beads. Taking ritualistic dips in the water. Offering pooja and visiting temples — My Leela who was as colourful as a rainbow.
They say she has the Lord’s name, ‘Rama’, worked into the hem of her shawl. And makes the students write out ‘Rama’ time and again in her class. And she got into trouble over that, didn’t she? There was a complaint from a guardian and the Headmistress demanded an explanation from her. A report had been sent and the whole affair resulted in a lot of unpleasantness.
Twenty years —
I haven’t met her since then. No, I did see her once after that. When I had been to attend the funeral rites of my uncle, I just had a glimpse of her. I shouldn’t have. The old memories of her would have sufficed. My Leela would have remained forever eighteen, fresh and blooming as a rose in my mind and not this gaunt, withered stranger.
Three lives have been ruined. Lakshmikutty — has she been ruined too?
Perhaps, she too had started her life with me with a clean slate.
Was it this loveless conjugal life that made her like this?
That day she interrupted the talk to say —
I had given her reason enough to feel unsure of my fidelity, hadn’t
Still, while her father had millions salted away, when I wanted
him to finance my studies abroad —
Instead of pressing my case, she — Her father did not pay up because she had not wanted him to.
Was it solely her fault?
She might have feared that once I left the place I might never come
Afraid of losing their grip on the capital — that was the
interpretation I had placed on it.
Has that house ever been a home since then?
After that, I have regarded her simply as a machine that ensured that I got my food on time and freshly ironed clothes filled the cupboard without fail, haven’t I?
I have never really been the head of the family, a husband and a father again after that, have I?
A son who would whimper if I so much as looked at him. A daughter whom I happened to describe when not in my full senses as having inherited her mother’s brains and father’s looks.
Everything utterly wrong!
I knew that this marriage was all wrong to begin with, didn’t I? But never — not to this extent—
A mistake — one that ruined three lives.
When I had taken leave of her for the last time, Leela did not cry.
Her eyes had not filled with tears till I came away.
‘You shouldn’t worry, Kutettan. Take it easy. This is fate. Think about Santha and Rema.
It was she — whom I used to call the faint hearted who consoled
Santha and Rema —
‘Do you want me to take to the road? With these two girls in tow?’ It was that question from father that disarmed me.
There was no other way to repay the debt.
Santha and Rema — I don’t think I have faced them after that. Rema — the motherless child who was my darling. I haven’t spoken
even to her after that. I didn’t even call on her when her husband died. Sisters!
Doesn’t this young man have any sisters younger than him? Forgetting even his presence, I had been lost in my thoughts.
He was sitting there, staring at my face. What was he trying to read on my face?
‘Don’t you have any sisters?’
‘Yes, a younger one. That’s why I’ve come to you. She’s doing her final year B.Sc. Once she is through college and lands a job somewhere, I wouldn’t care if the house were to go.’
His sister is studying. She doesn’t have to barter her brother to live. She can stand on her own feet.
‘Please don’t think that I have no integrity. I’ll repay your money to the last paisa. My only request is that you should give me time. My Vimala isn’t rich either. Her people spent their last paisa on her education. Otherwise she’d have given me the money to get out of this trap. Both of us are willing to work. Only, please give us an opportunity, I’ll repay every paisa. I’ll account for everything, the principal and the interest. In spite of everything I’d have sold the house and paid you. But my father tells me that he’d given his word to your father-in-law before he died. The son is supposed to honour his father’s word. Isn’t he? Only you can save me. If you promise not to insist on this, I’ll talk my father into agreeing. Say the word and please release me. If you do me this good turn, it will earn your daughter someone who is in full possession of his heart.’
‘A good turn -‘
So you mean to turn me away?
‘What if I refuse? You’d still have to agree to this proposal, wouldn’t
‘No, Sir. This wedding will never take place. You want to know
what I’d do if you were to refuse? I’ll do this: I will go to your daughter whom I think of as a sister and plead with her not to destroy me and herself into the bargain.’
Leela’s son would have possessed the same spirit and guts. He would not have quaked at a glance from me.
Leela’s son –
Leela doesn’t have children, she spends her time chanting the name of God who’d proved himself merciless, doesn’t she?
Leela does not have children. The children she never had –
The children she might have had – The children she does not have –
They are nonexistent or even less than that –
Like Lamb’s dream children, they are not destined to acquire a body and soul even if they wait for a millennium upon the shores of oblivion.
My boy, you may go. My daughter has money which will surely get her another man. Just as you said, someone who is in full possession of his heart.
You may go.
‘Well, I’ll not insist on your keeping your father’s word. You may go and — What’s her name?
‘Ah! Find happiness with your Vimala. You may return the money in your own time.’