Twists and Turns

It was with the quip ‘Hari Shankar seems to be away,’ that Ram Prasad came that sultry, hot noon. I tried hard to conceal the buds of pleased surprise that sprung to life in me and assumed the politeness reserved for a usual guest as I spoke the courteous words, ‘Come in. Sit, please. Can I get you anything to drink?’

I knew, from previous experience, as I walked into the kitchen that Ram Prasad would follow me and when I began to mix the drink, he would as usual embrace me saying with a hint of mischief, ‘This is the sweet that I crave for.’ As soon as I heard his footsteps behind me, I whisked around even as I was briskly stirring the sugar into the drink and began to speak of the steep rise in the price of grocery items. I waxed eloquent on the number of ways in which Hari Shankar helped me in kitchen chores, of the fact that he was away in Banaras on an official tour and that I was yet to know a person with a more perfect taste when it came to selecting silk saris.

Though our fingers touched as I offered him the glass, I pretended as if I did not know this. I arranged the cakes, the biscuits and the potato wafers on a plate and walked to the living room.

The weak sunlight fainted outside and the beams of happiness that I experienced faded soon. With that, the distant look I was congratulating myself on assuming became natural and scintillating. I liked the way that Ram Prasad was eyeing me in bemusement, unable to imbibe a single word of my natural eloquence. Though I pretended

Twists and Turns

indifference, I closely observed how the words I begot sans tenderness or mercy seemed to floor Ram Prasad in an unequal combat.

I wonder if Ram Prasad was listening at all when I spoke about how much I had to endure when the telephone was out of order last week because of the rain, or how I got a recompense with the help of a consumer protection forum for a churidar I had bought from the ‘Edwina’ for eight hundred rupees, but which had become rag-like within a week of buying it. Ram Prasad resembled a child who had lost something he treasured. He sat there churning the glass he held with both his hands.

Though I took care not to give him the chance to speak, I imitated the manners of a perfect hostess keen on drawing out her guests as I often asked him, in a very urbane and polite voice, ‘So, what’s new?’

Ram Prasad looked at me as if he wished to say what was in his mind ‘Aparna, earlier, when you sat by shyly, I wanted to draw out your tender thoughts when I asked you the question you now use against me as a boomerang.’

I knew that Ram Prasad had reddened eyes, as a precursor of the fever that cleaved to him like a sibling. Yet now I asked, ‘Is there a mote in your eye?’

I know too what Ram Prasad is remembering now. That was on a day when I went near him to feel his forehead to check whether his fever was high. Grabbing my hand he drew me close and kissed me on my eyes as he said, ‘You have been a wound on my side for a long time, my dear.’

I was waiting for that turn for a long time but when it happened on an earlier occasion when Hari Prasad was away on a tour, I was so upset that my lips trembled. I could hardly hear myself saying that I had noticed the change in his eyes since a very long time.

‘When we speak with our eyes closed, words well up from the heart. Can I believe that you speak to me with closed eyes, Aparna?’ he had asked once. It was on another occasion that he said, ‘Let us put our hearts together now. Our bodies will come together later.’

It was to dismiss the memories that I asked, ‘You are in the city after such a long time. Is there anything special?’ When he remained silent for long, I cleverly guessed that he had come to town specially to meet me.

Samyukta: A Journal of Women’s Studies (January 2008) Vol.8.No.1

Priya A.S.

He tried to discern a possible grouse that I might have and began, ‘I was not here for the last six months because . . .’ I effectively threw a lasso over his tongue when I countered, ‘That was a remark that was off the cuff. Please feel free to ignore the question if you’d rather not reply.’ When I continued it up with, ‘Isn’t it a pleasure to hide a secret whether it is good or bad?’ Ram Prasad knew that I was not interested in his explanations.

My voice became louder than was required when I went on to talk of the promotion and the transfer that Hari Shankar turned down for it would mean that he would have to part with me for a time. When Ram Prasad said, ‘I have a headache. It is from the din made by the loud speakers propagandizing the elections. Do you have an aspirin?’ I knew at once that what he really meant was, ‘Don’t you know that I hate loud noises?’ Though I knew that he sought to remind me some more of the past, I pretended as if I did not understand by pointedly saying, ‘We don’t need medicines. Perhaps we have some Vicks. Will that do?’ Without waiting for an answer, I walked in.

When I had stopped Ram Prasad from taking medicine for his headache without the doctor’s prescription and when I sat by him, placing wet tissues on his forehead to lessen his headache, Hari Shankar often joked, ‘What good thing did you do to have the boon of a friend like Aparna?’

Whenever I squirmed with guilt as I thought of Hari Shankar, who trusted me so absolutely, he would say, ‘Innocence is not a virtue. It is a failing. Those who do not distinguish between the right and the wrong, between the honest and the make-believe are insane.’ His argument usually ended with the question, ‘Do you still love Hari Shankar?’ I had replied, ‘If I say I love the lotus, I don’t mean that I do not like the water lily.’ Now I sat watching as Ram Prasad rubbed Vicks on his forehead vigorously.

The telephone that pealed provided the reprieve. When the voice at the other end asked, ‘Is that the office of the Electricity Board?’ I answered, ‘O, I forgot, Reena. I will be there directly.’ Politely, Ram Prasad stood up to take leave.

Without bothering to explain any further, she extended an invitation as a perfect hostess, ‘Please come again when you find the

Samyukta: A Journal of Women’s Studies (January 2008) Vol.8.No.1

Twists and Turns

time.’ Ram Prasad countered this with, ‘Do you think I will intrude in the house of a stranger?’

I was shocked on seeing the helplessness, the surprise, the bemusement and the attention-seeking moans and cries of the lamb vanish from his face, which now filled with the proud masculinity of a warrior. Yet regaining my composure, I threw at him a last inanity, ‘Aren’t the evenings serene and tranquil, Prasad?’ As he walked away, ignoring my remark, I felt neither like the insect that reveled in escaping from the net nor like the flower that agonized over its parting from the butterfly that had sipped its honey. As I waited, staring at the heat that had slanted into the evening, I expected to see the image of a cat playing with the mouse it had wounded in the mirror on the wall opposite.

“Ororo Thirivukal” (Mounathinte Naanarthangal. Ed. N.K. Raveendran. Thrissur: Haritham Books, 1993: 158-162), translated by Hema Nair R.

Samyukta: A Journal of Women’s Studies (January 2008) Vol.8.No.1

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