THE CONCLUSION

Aditi looked at the attic in dismay. She was a little nervous about looking deeper into its cavernous belly. The cobwebs that clothed it did not inspire much confidence. Besides, she was terrified of any lizards that she might encounter.

“Akka, did you find them?  The  two trunks ? Amma made me put them in just before her stroke” said Alamelu who was holding the wobbling ladder on which Aditi was perched.

“Amma can I take a look?” asked Neha

“No Neha, Alamelu lets just forget it…! I am not risking a scorpion or a snake bite just so I can find two steel trunks full of I don’t know what…” grumbled Aditi stepping down from the ladder.

Neha appeared visibly disappointed. All the sense of adventure that her twelve year old mind had conjured up in its mind seemed to have collapsed with this decision of her mother’s. Alamelu looked annoyed. One of the old family retainers, she was used to getting her way with the family. This Aditi akka was as stubborn as Ayya!

Aditi, washed her hands in the old bathroom in the back. It was a wonder that water still flowed through the taps. No one had visited this house after Amma’s stroke two years ago.

Aditi, had rushed in from Delhi and had taken her mother with her once the doctors had given the clearance.  Her brother as usual, had only communicated over phone telling her the million reasons about how he could not make it- how Sheila would be upset if he had to cut short their holiday etc. But what else could she expect from him? Why was she even surprised that he had not shown up for the funeral last week?

She wiped her hands on a towel and went out into the backyard. The mango tree with its foliage made the backyard look almost eerie in the twilight. She remembered it as a small sapling that Amma had planted many summers ago.

Amma, her unconventional mother… A lady who was far ahead of her times. With Appa being employed on a ship, Amma had almost single handedly brought up both Aditi and Santosh. A person of interesting contradictions, she played western classical music on her violin after reciting her shlokas in the morning. Though she had only completed schooling till her tenth standard in Tamil, she could read Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters in the original English version. She could still remember Amma in her Chungudi sarees  sitting at the carved desk by the window writing in her leather bound notebook. The muted light from the lamp shade on the table cast a beautiful glow around the room and of course around Amma’s face as she wrote.

It was strange but she had no such images of Appa. His was a fleeting presence in her life. He was there for vacations and all that she could remember of those visits were the goodies and the perfumes that he brought with him. There was a lot of laughter and fun while he was there but when he was gone it was as thought things went back to being “normal”-studies, homework, regulated outings – all of which formed the comfort zone that she called her life!

CRAASSSSH !! Aditi started at the sound and ran inside the house. Neha lay on the floor crying noisily. The ladder had collapsed and two steel trunks lay opened on the floor nearby.

“Really.. Neha you idiot! What did you think you were doing? Just imagine if one of those trunks had landed on your head” shouted Aditi picking up her daughter.

“Akka please don’t shout at paapa like this. She is scared” said Alamelu hugging the child.

“Oh please.. both of you.. leave me alone. All I need is a hysterical woman and a naughty child now. Alamelu please take her  away from here!” said Aditi beginning to sneeze with the dust that suddenly seemed to have collected around the room.

“Come with me my child… come” said Alamelu taking Neha away from the room.

Aditi looked at the contents strewn on the floor.. yellowed pieces of paper, old black and white photographs that had become unstuck from the album, some music sheets, old   first editions of some English novels , pieces of coloured embroidery threads, an old wooden cooking set….! So much of clutter!!! “ Why did Amma collect so much of nonsense” she thought as she started picking them up and arranging them back inside the trunk.

Just as she was putting back the things  she found something lying inside the trunk- a thick leather bound notebook. She picked it up and opened a page randomly. What was this? Amma’s journal?

She wiped the dust off the covers and looked at the first page. It seemed to be a story. “ Padmini’s decision” was the name.

Aditi looked at it curiously….the story was written in English. The writing was very fancy- cursive writing that  women of her mother’s generation adopted while writing something in “fair”.

It was getting on in the evening. Alamelu was sleeping over for the night. So Aditi decided to do something about dinner soon. There was no chance that the kitchen was functional. She decided to order something from Saravana Bhavan in the next street. They had a take away.

She was really annoyed with Santosh for leaving her alone like this to deal with the house. Her husband Sudhir was too busy to join her and so here she was alone in the house of her childhood with just Neha and Alamelu for company. Without Amma’s presence the house did not seem like a home.. it seemed like what had become – an empty shell of a happy past.

10.00 PM….Neha was asleep and Alamelu was snoring away on the living room sofa.  Aditi sat at Amma’s desk with the leather bound notebook opened in front of her. The table  lamp cast a similar  glow.. but this time was the daughter whose face it illuminated.

“ Padmini’s decision” was an interesting story. Actually, it was more than a story.. not long enough to be a novel but not short as in a short story. It was the story of a girl from an orthodox  family who had dreams of higher studies, travelling the world and meeting people. But life had different things in store for her as her parents got her married at eighteen. She had what many of her generation would have termed a good life. A good mother in law who did not interfere in her life and a life that catered to both necessities and luxuries… Yet there seemed to be an unfulfilled yearning somewhere for something unknown.

As Aditi read on .. she began to feel uneasy. Was it her imagination or did it have a parallel in Amma’s  own life? Was Amma discontented with her life? If she was, then she had never let on..! Aditi forced her attention back to the story.

“ Why.. why have you come back to me now” asked Padmini of Rajan. Fifty years of marriage and they had not spent more than fifty nights together.  Rajan seemed to chase some unknown dream as he travelled the world.. like Sindbad the sailor. His books and poetry had brought him fame but not happiness. It had taken him fifty years to realize that as he stood at the doorstep of his ancestral house waiting for Padmini to admit him inside.

Aditi, looked at the next page and the next .. all blank! What happened next? She went back to the trunks and rummaged inside – no there was nothing ! Amma had obviously left the story unfinished.. for some unknown reason…!

Aditi thought for a moment before she took out her pen and started writing

“ What gives you the right to come back to me in your old age when you left me alone to cope with the stress of life in my youth” asked Padmini

 Rajan hung his head in shame.  “ I also had dreams . Just as I left them aside when I became a wife, I would have expected you to do the same. But marriage has never been known to bind a man the way it binds a woman” said Padmini bitterly.

 “Padmini, let us forget the past and begin life together” pleaded Rajan.

 “What life? The one that you have spent enjoying alone or the one that I have forsaken. Go Away. Stranger.. I don’t know who you are” said Padmini as she closed her door shut..

6 months later

Aditi came out of the publisher’s office and got into the car. Sudhir sitting at the driver’s seat raised an eyebrow by way of enquiry.

“They will publish it” she said excitedly..

“But why are you including this along with your other stories. Shouldn’t it go under her name. ”?

“ No Sudhir. It cannot go under her name. It was too close to her life. A life that she  had guarded fiercely despite all the discontentment that appears to have surrounded it. And anyway, Aditi is after all a part of Parvathi so what is the difference? Padmini’s  decision with Aditi’s conclusion is still Parvathi’s story” said Aditi shutting the door as she settled into the passenger seat.

Sudhir stared at this wife in wonder. This woman would never cease to surprise him. He only hoped that Aditi’s decision had done justice to Parvathi’s creativity!

 

 

 

 

CARELESS WHISPERS

Sneha looked at the reservation chart unhappily. The ticket still showed a RAC status. Well, it was too late now to do anything. The journey had to be made.. People were waiting for her at Bangalore. She looked at the seat number once again to be sure before she made her way into the coach.

Seat number 35 was on the side- one berth which opened up into two in the sitting position! She put her bag down under the seat and opened the curtain on the window. The seat opposite which was the other half of the berth was empty- to be occupied by another RAC passenger ! She wished she had made the reservation earlier. But then these events had happened so suddenly ..! She closed her eyes, exhausted putting up her feet on the seat in front.

“Excuse me could you please lift your foot off my seat” he asked politely.

Sneha opened her eyes with a start to find a young man standing opposite her with a back pack.

“Sorry..! I didn’t realize it” she said quickly removing her foot from the opposite seat as he pushed his back pack under it!

“Its okay..” he said with a smile.

“Going to Bangalore?” he asked . She nodded and went back to looking out of the window.

“Are you also on a RAC ticket? “ he asked

“ At the moment yes. Hope it will get confirmed along the way” she said

“ Yeah. Keep hoping.. it is a long weekend “ he said with a laugh that showed up as a dimple on his left cheek.

She smiled shyly at him.  “Hi I am Ravi” he said extending his hand.

“Sneha” she said shaking it.

“So where are you from- Chennai or Bangalore” he asked taking off his shoes and making himself comfortable on his seat.

“Bangalore. I work here in Chennai. What about you?” she asked

“Neither. I am from Pune. I work in Chennai” he said with a grin.

Sneha looked at him with interest. There was something very charming about him- despite the tousled hair and the general air of untidiness!

The train started and Sneha went back to looking out of the window. “ I think you have feline vision. You are able to see in  darkness” he asked after about ten minutes!

Sneha could not help laughing aloud…! This guy was too much! Talk about attention seeking behaviour…!

“ Look, it is only about eight hours to Bangalore and given the fact that neither of us is going to get a confirmed berth, why not be civil to each other and engage in some conversation?” he asked her

Sneha smiled at him and asked “Okay tell me what do you want to talk about? “

“Oh anything..! Tell me what do you do?” he asked her

“I work for a newspaper” she said

“And I work for a IT company” he said

“What takes you to Bangalore” she asked

“Work. And you?” he replied

“A family function. But tell me why are you working on a weekend” she retorted.

“ I will be staying with a friend over the weekend. I have work on Monday” he replied taking out his iPOD from his back pack

“Do you like  Kishore Kumar? “ he asked her.      “Well… I don’t usually listen much to Hindi film music” she replied.

“Then you should.. Here listen to this song” he said thrusting an earphone at her while he plugged the other into his.

“Nice melody. What do the words mean?” she asked    “ Dil kya kare jab kisi se , kisi ko pyar ho jaye– it means what can the heart do when when someone falls in love with another? “ he explained.

One song, then another..and then yet another.. Ravi  explained the lyrics to her. She took out that novel she was reading from her bag and showed it to him. He wanted to know what it was all about. She told him the story. She told him the story of another novel by the same author

The ticket examiner came and went. Neither of them asked whether their ticket would be confirmed.

Their co passengers  began settling in for the night. Lights were switched off and silence was slowly settling in the coach.

“ Look at the moon” he said in a whisper drawing the curtains away from his window.

“ Why are you whispering? “ she asked

“ Because I don’t want to disturb these people” he said waving his hands around the coach.

She began to giggle. It was quite funny-  this whispering.  He said something again in a whisper. She moved herself closer to him straining to hear it against the background of the rattling sound of the  train.

Their faces were now inches apart..! He moved slowly removing her glasses and brushing away the strand of hair away from her face .

She knew what was coming next.. but why was she so surprised when it happened?  He drew her face closer settling his lips on hers. She closed her eyes savouring the moment.

“Why .. ?” she began saying something.

“Shhhhh. Don’t talk. Don’t say anything” he whispered pulling her into his arms and drawing the curtain next to  the berth cocooning them  in privacy. Sneha could not believe she was allowing this to happen to her!  But then was she a passive participant she wondered? She did not know why but there was something that was making her do these mad things. It was so unlike herself!

Sneha, looked at him again. Who was this Ravi?  She never even spoke to strangers.

He in turn looked at her with eyes filled with love. He had known when he walked into the coach that this was HER…! He had gone through twenty nine years of his life knowing that he would find HER some day! It was just surprising that it had to be like this on a train. Life certainly held its surprises. One got something when on least expected it.

The train whistled through the night .. Katpadi, Jolarpet, Salem.. Ravi and Sneha held on to each other .. No words were necessary now. No whispers. Their  heart beats said it all.

Sneha closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep. Ravi looked at her sleeping form.. Chemistry like this was very rare. It needed no words to connect. He felt very protective about her. He felt honoured by the way she trusted him enough to rest her head on his shoulder while she slept. He shifted himself around on the seat so that she could be more comfortable. Sneha muttered something in her sleep and cuddled up to him.

The moon slowly gave way to the rising sun..

6.00 AM – the next morning

“Coffee.. coffee…!” shouted a  vendor

She quickly got up and looked out of the window. The train was nearing Bangalore cantonment.  She looked at the opposite seat- it was empty! She looked under the seat. The backpack was also gone!

She walked out of the coach towards the door. No.. he was not there either. She went to the other end of the coach.. no sign of him !  The train stopped at Bangalore Cantonment station. She ran out towards the door scanning the platform for a young man in a blue T shirt with tousled hair….

The train started from Cantonment.. Sneha sat down in the seat dejected! Where was he? Did she dream it all?

The crowd was moving towards the door. The train had reached Bangalore city station. Sneha picked up her bag from under the seat and made her way to the door.

She got down all the while looking around the platform for that familiar form.

“Hello Sneha…thank god you were able to make it!.” said her father taking her bag from her hand.

Sneha looked back at the train once more. The milling crowd at the station made it very difficult to see much…!

She followed her father to the car. He was talking “We have to get home quickly. You need time to get ready. They are all here”

Sneha sighed coming back to reality. Today was her engagement. The muhurtam was fixed for  9.00AM. “They” were her fiance and his family

As her father started the car she took one last look at the empty train standing on the platform and closed her eyes with a sigh

A little further away, in the pre paid auto stand ,a young man in a blue T shirt with tousled hair watched wistfully  as a slightly built girl with waist long hair and glasses get into a white Santro with an elderly gentleman.  An auto drove up to him. The person behind him in the queue nudged him out of his thoughts.

“Where to sir?” asked the auto driver

” National Institute of Mental health and neurological sciences” said Ravi as he got into it.. He looked at his watch. It was 6 .30 AM – a good five hours before his surgery!

Dr. Rao, his neurosurgeon had asked him to be positive. Ravi never felt more so!  He had got what he had wanted out of life last night- a few moments with the girl of his dreams — life however short ultimately did give us hope!