Malathi was sitting in the car forlorn and lost in thoughts. She did not want to look back but every few minutes she was compelled, rather drawn to look back. Was he coming? Was he alright, safe and secure? Every time she looked back,a searing pain pierced her heart and a torrent of memories flooded her wounded soul.
Wisps of conversation were occasionally floating around her. How long can people remain silent even in grief? The car made its way from Bangalore towards its destination, her home, the house that he has built with loving hands for her and their children.
Sitting besides Malathi were her aged father and her aunt. Her sister who flew all the way from Delhi to be with her was sitting in the front, while her able uncle, who took charge of the situation after the unfortunate event was in the driving seat. He was always there for her since childhood till to date. Her daughter, the mother of a newborn child could not accompany her and was calling her every few hours to console. But her son Rohan has yet to arrive from the far off land of dreams the US. Confronted with the unexpected loss he was unconsolable.
The car picked up speed and she glanced back one more time. What if he is left behind? What if the ominous vehicle broke down?
Suddenly, Malathi smiled at a pleasant anecdote Ashok uncle was sharing with her father. Ashok uncle and the lone passenger in the vehicle behind were cousins and the best of friends thru thick and thin. In their youth, they shared their fancies and fantasies about girls. They shared the first sip of the forbidden liquor and in this ripe age it is the love for the card games that made them inseparable buddies. Divija, her sister joined the conversation and stated with feeling, “ I owe my interest in science, especially Physics to bavaji. It was bavaji who gifted my the Feynman Lectures when I was staying in his house studying for my degree.”
Again Malathi burst into tears as a particularly fond memory of Mohan, her dearest fondly teasing Divija, “you are so intelligent, you will be writing textbooks someday.” It was not just teasing, it was prophetic. He, with all his heart, wished that girls should excel in education. He always used to say, “ The world needed more committed women in all fields, especially science.” Here is Divija today, a scientist of international reputation, the director of a scientific organization and now even collaborating with NCERT to design text books for schools. Writing science based stories for small children is her favorite pastime.
Human emotions are so frail and kaleidoscopic. A moment of happiness a moment of pain all merge in a gamut of emotions. When you are in love and when you are grieving laughter and tears are one and the same. How can you grieve the departure of a loved one without remembering all the golden days, all the happiest moments along with all the quarrels, disappointments and anguish. Not to feel the joy of a life well lived is a dishonor to the departed person.
And hunger? Oh yes! That will take over too. Malathi’s aunt Kamala pleaded with her to eat or at least drink some fruit juice over and over again, when they halted for lunch. Heavy with grief Malathi refused. Even her aged father’s entreaties were of no use. But when they stopped at a roadside stall for the evening tea hunger and temptation took over. The journey must go on.
Back in the car, Malathi felt a little guilty. She glanced back at the vehicle bringing the lone passenger. Would he mind? Did he ever mind or was he ever displeased with her?
Who was he, on his last journey in that lonely vehicle. He was hers for all time to come, but when did it all start? Leaning back tiredly, Malathi picked up her shattered reverie and started reliving her past. Her life with her soulmate for one last time. When did it start, this journey of togetherness? Was it when her grandmother and aunts teased her, “ He is your would be husband so you must obey him”? ( In south India marriage between maternal and paternal cousins is customary and often the matchmaking and teasing would begin as soon as a girl is born if there is a suitable boy among the cousins.) Was it when he innocently planted his first kiss on her cheek with all the manliness of a ten-year-old? Or was it when he sent his first love letter through her most favorite brother? She could not remember when and how it started, but the relationship sprouted and grew with age, encouraged and nurtured by well meaning aunts and uncles, a thousand romantic scenes between cousins who fell in love in a tender age in countless movies.
What was love she was not aware then. But because they proclaimed love to each other, going out to movies accompanied by cousins, hanging out in mutual friends houses, exchanging romantic sweet nothings the whole de rigeur did happen and people started calling them love birds.
This sweet relationship was initiated by Mohan. He was much deeply in love with her. She at the tender age of 16 was probably in love with the idea of being in love. An innocent, blooming relationship. As was the norm in those days marriage did happen much earlier than expected or desired under social circumstances. A well read uncle teased him to be a cradle snatcher, Mohan was roused to anger and became estranged from the uncle.
The relationship evolved. They taught each other. They were educated but innocent of the wily worldly ways. He was a simple, charming and trustworthy . But unfortunately his privileged upbringing did not teach him any survival skills nor was he worldly wise. His ambition to excel in the scientific field led him to a foreign soil and Malathi accompanied him as his new bride.
They enjoyed the first flush of romance, but life also taught them many bitter lessons. Staying away from the formal family traditions, they were carefree, happy and compassionate towards each other. Every little achievement meant success for them however, small. He taught her to be happy and contented with the smallest pleasures of life. In fact, he was the first male feminist she knew and on every women’s day he made special efforts to keep all the women in the family happy and rested and took over the kitchen for the day.
This practice continued even after they returned into the joint family fold. In one of life’s many unexpected twists they returned to the native soil, The joint family, with its rigid traditional values embraced them and at times they felt lost during this phase of life. Success or failure of an individual did not matter, the honor and prestige of the family did.
In the changed social and family structure, the meek and docile Malathi slowly evolved and her personality was more defined with assertiveness, awareness and maturity that comes with a fledgeling career. Her passion for her job helped.
Her Mohan always the dreamer and an intellectual slowly became a misfit in a tightly controlled family business and sought for ways to stifle his desperation and despondency. In due course he came out and tried to chart his own business but success was always elusive. In the process, unfortunately his compassionate and charming personality and his wit and wisdom took a beating.
Mohan __ was he a success? Yes and No. No not in the sense of recognition,status and money and the aura of power that comes with it. Yes. A big emphatic yes for raising good, intelligent children. Inculcating morals and values in them and for leaving her with a thousand memories of a successful man in his unqualified love, in his goodness and in his contentment. He was the most contented man finding happiness in the smallest of pleasures in life. Happy at the sight of a smiling child. His love for children knew no boundaries and all children were drawn to him so much so that a complete stranger crossing the road had to stop as her child insisted on playing with this tatha on the swing. He rejoiced at the success of others. Not only his children, but countless nephews and nieces fondly remember Mohan uncle for his encouragement and guidance. In the fulfilment of their countless dreams he felt fulfilled.
Malathi remembered their last journey together, when they came to Bangalore to attend to the delivery of their daughter. While they were about to deplane, though he was on a wheelchair, he noticed a local newspaper on one of the seats left behind by a passenger. He took it and said, “ Look Malu, here is your paper” Looking at the airhostess with a beaming smile he said with a hint of pride, “My wife was once the editor of this paper.” Still smiling he handed the paper to her. That indeed was his last gift to her. No not the paper that was just a relic of a long forgotten past. It was the unqualified acknowledgement and pride. That indeed is true love as very few men can rejoice in the achievements of their wives and be proud about them.
Malathi dozed off in her reverie. The car entered the city limits. She woke up just as they were passing the Chudi Bazaar near Charminar. She woke up with a start and fresh bout of tears streamed on her face. “ Have we reached already. Oh there is the kangan where he bought me bangles for the first time, He took me to Laad Bazaar with the excuse that he wanted to buy bangles for his sister. The car reached Basheerbagh, Havmor, this is where we used to sit eating icecream and talking for hours together. Roshanlal’s this is the shop where all my wedding sarees were bought. Asraani International, Rohan’s first birthday was celebrated here.Begumpet old airport, Mohan broke down like a baby after waving goodbye to his little princess Usha, leaving for her land of dreams with her newly married husband.
“ He was my warrior, Malathi thought,” He lived for me and my children. He fought many battles, he won some and he lost some but in the end he won the war. As he used to say with pride he was the general of his own five-man army. His loyal family of five.”
The car reached her home and a crowd of waiting relatives rushed to console and comfort her. There was some delay before the ambulance carrying her husband arrived. She felt so lost and dazed. She was desperate to tell him one last time how much she loved him. Since she cannot, she must only keep his memories alive for as long as she lives.
Home she brought her warrior dead.
She must live or he will die.
(with due apologies to Lord Tennyson)