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       Mahashweta, p.1

           Sudha Murty
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  Sudha Murty



  About the Author

  By the Same Author











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  About the Author

  Sudha Murty was born in 1950 in Shiggaon in north Karnataka. An MTech in computer science, she teaches computer science to postgraduate students. She is also the chairperson of the Infosys Foundation. A prolific writer in English and Kannada, she has written nine novels, four technical books, three travelogues, one collection of short stories and three collections of non-fiction pieces. Her books have been translated into all the major Indian languages and have sold over 150,000 copies.

  By the Same Author



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  There had been an emergency at the hospital that night. A woman with a serious heart condition had gone into labour, and Dr Anand had stayed at her side the whole night. By the time the child was delivered, Anand was exhausted. He gazed at mother and child, wondering whether the precise moment of birth was determined by the baby or its mother. Though he was relieved that the mother had come through the ordeal alive, there was still a nagging worry at the back of his mind. The newborn had not cried at all. Anand and his boss, Dr Desai, shied away from considering the possibility that the infant was dead. Surely, they had not struggled the whole night to deliver a dead baby. . .

  As a last resort, Anand tried to resuscitate the girl through artificial respiration. His rough lips had barely touched the delicate mouth of the infant, when she whimpered.

  Dr Desai smiled happily, confident now that the baby would survive.

  The paediatrician, too, sighed with relief. ‘Hey, Anand, isn’t she lovely?’ Dr Desai and the paediatrician left the operation theatre. The baby was crying lustily now, and Nurse Prabhavathi smiled. Having grown old working in the maternity ward, she was used to such scenes. For a moment, Prabhavathi was lost in thought. Even though the female child is stronger than the male child at birth, as adults it is the man who becomes the oppressor, and the woman who suffers. Why did this happen? She did not know the answer—she only knew that it was a fact of life. Prabhavathi cut short her musings and hastened back to her work as she caught sight of Anand.

  Dr Anand was passionate about his vocation. Like most doctors, Anand had discovered that his time was rarely his own. He was soon busy recording the details of the case, but stray thoughts kept drifting through his mind. Both parents play equally significant roles in the birth of a child. But at the moment of birth—the moment of truth— the only reality is the mother. She is the one who sheltered and nurtured the baby within her body while the father watched from the sidelines. Through the window, the sun’s rays glinted on his spectacles, and Anand realized that another day had begun. A quick look at the clock showed that it was already seven o’clock. He was no longer on duty and could go home now. He washed his hands and was about to leave when Prabhavathi approached him. ‘Sir, Dr Desai left his watch near the operation table. Could you please give it to him on your way home?’

  Anand knew how special the watch was to the professor. Dr Desai had done his postgraduation in England as a young man, and had worked under a very famous gynaecologist there. When he had finished the course, his mentor had presented the watch to him, and Dr Desai had treasured it ever since. He often spoke of his teacher and everyone at the hospital knew the story of the watch.

  Anand had once teased him in class, ‘Sir, to whom will you pass on your watch?’

  ‘Good question! I have no intention of parting with it at all. But I will buy a new watch for the student who scores the highest marks in the final examination.’

  Anand glanced at his own watch. It was a gift from his dear teacher and proof of his academic prowess, of his having secured the highest marks in the final examination. Though he was tired, he felt it was his duty to take his professor’s watch back to him. Dr Desai was extremely absent-minded, and would probably turn the house upside-down as soon as he realized that his watch was missing.

  Anand got into his Mercedes and drove towards the professor’s house. Dr Desai stayed in a comfortable bungalow on the college campus. An eminent doctor and teacher, he was totally committed to his work. He would often joke, ‘I know the entire city because half of them are my patients and the other half my students!’

  When his car entered the professor’s bungalow, Vasumathi, Dr Desai’s wife, was pleasantly surprised to see Anand; they were distant cousins. The only son of affluent parents, Anand was shy and reserved, and although he was related to the Desais, he had never visited their house without a reason. ‘Come in, Anand!’ Vasumathi said. ‘This is a surprise! What brings you here so early in the morning? I’m sure it must be something very special. In all the seven years you’ve been in this college, you’ve come here only thrice. Is everything all right at home?’

  ‘Everything is fine. The professor forgot his watch at the hospital and I thought I’d restore it to him. I knew how upset he would be.’

  Knowing her husband, Vasumathi could not help laughing. ‘Anand, now that you’re here, do have a cup of tea,’ she insisted.

  ‘No, akka, avva will be waiting for me at home.’

  Hearing Anand’s voice, Dr Desai came out of his room, and his face lit up when he saw his watch. ‘Anand, don’t behave like a baby. You’re a young man now. Why must you rush home like a calf running to its mother? When I left for England I was younger than you and had to do everything myself. . .’

  ‘Everyone knows your England story. Once you start, you won’t stop for the next half-hour. That may be one of the reasons why Anand never visits us,’ Vasumathi interrupted him. ‘Anand, you must stay back for lunch today. My brother, Shrinath, has come from the US. He would love to meet you. If you like, I’ll call Radhakka and tell her.’ Anand felt very uncomfortable. He was so tired that he wanted to go home and sleep immediately. But he was unable to refuse the invitation. Noticing his silence, Dr Desai said understandingly, ‘Anand, I know you’ve had a hard night. You can go and rest in the guest-room upstairs until lunch is ready.’ Vasumathi nodded in agreement and, feeling helpless, Anand went upstairs without a word.

  The guest-room was clean and neat, but had none of the trappings of wealth that filled his own house. Anand had his nightclothes with him in his carry-bag. He changed quickly and lay down on the bed so utterly exhausted that nothing seemed to matter—not food or clothing or company. He just wanted to sleep. But the moment his head touched the pillow, he heard a sweet voice say, ‘Darling, you are handsome and irresistible. . .you are the very picture of Manmatha. When I saw you today, through the branches of the parijata tree, I fell in love with you immediately.’

  Anand was dumbstruck. For a minute, he thought that his imagination was playing tricks on him. He could make out from the voice that the person who had spoken was a young woman; and he was so startled by what she had said that he was wide awake now. He looked around carefully, but there was nobody there.

  Anand was tall and fair, and had curly hair and a charming smile. His cousin Anasuya, his junior in college, often came home and told them the stories about Ana
nd that were being circulated in the ladies’ room of the college. Girls would follow him just to talk to him, and Dr Desai himself had often said, ‘I wish I had a daughter. I would have made you my son-in-law.’ He had every quality that a young girl could desire in a man. He was not only handsome, but well-bred and intelligent too.

  Anand smiled at himself in the mirror. Who could have seen him there and fallen in love with him at first sight?

  Outside, the birds were chirping. The fragrance of the parijata flowers wafted in through the windows. Anand sat on the bed and waited for the voice to resume speaking. But there was absolute silence. He felt ashamed of his presumptuousness—how could he have imagined that someone he had never seen had fallen in love with him? He was about to lie down when he heard the same clear, sweet voice once again, ‘I feel I have been waiting for you for many lifetimes. You are my ideal man.’

  Now Anand was sure that he was not imagining things—somebody was talking to him. The words were coming from the other side of the wall. The woman was apparently explaining how she had fallen in love with Anand to a friend. But he could not hear the other person’s reply. He felt more than a little awkward about what he had overheard, but perhaps that was the way girls usually spoke to each other. . .he was not sure. His sister, Girija, was always so aggressive and wrapped up in her own world that they were hardly close. Anand rarely had even a casual conversation with her.

  He got off the bed and stood with his ear to the wall so that he could hear even the softest whisper from the other side. He assumed that a couple of girls were discussing him.

  ‘Love is not a commodity that you can buy after putting it to the test. It is not something that you can buy after consulting others. It is not sold in the market for money. When you see a man and your pulse starts racing, your blood begins to sing and you yearn to spend the rest of your life only with him, sharing his joys and sorrows— that is love. It is irrepressible; it cannot be crushed under any circumstances. Who he is, or what his family is, or where he works is immaterial to me. I love him wholeheartedly. I do not know whether he loves me or not. He may not even be aware that there is someone who loves him so much. But my love for him is as firm as the Himalayas and as clear as the waters of Manasarovar.’

  This declaration of love—notwithstanding the sweet voice and the sweeter words—was so theatrical that Anand was astonished. In a voice filled with sadness, the girl appealed humbly, ‘Like Rohini to Chandra, like Lakshmi to Narayana, am I to him. Just as the creeper depends on a tree, I depend on him. I cannot live without him, and for his sake, I am ready to renounce everything. Let society say anything it wishes. I do not care. . .’

  In between the conversation he could hear the clinking of bangles. As far as he knew, Dr Desai had two sons. Shrinath was married and his wife was a doctor in the US. From the sound of the voice that he had just heard, he guessed that the girl was not more than twenty. And there were no young girls in Dr Desai’s house. Hoping to hear more, Anand waited a little longer. But there was complete silence.

  Anand stepped away from the wall and went towards the adjacent room, hoping to see the lovestruck girl. The door was closed but not latched. With great hesitation, he pushed it open. But to his surprise there was nobody there. There was not even a trace of anyone having been there a few minutes ago!

  Disappointed, Anand went back to his room. His sleep had vanished completely. So he sat on the bed and tried to recall what had happened. Was it a hallucination, or a dream?

  He was unable to figure out the answer. But he wanted to meet the girl who had fallen in love with him at first sight, from behind the parijata tree. He wondered if she was as sweet as her voice.

  It was evening and the professor was deep in conversation with his friend. Normally, no senior doctor went to the hospital in the evening, but Dr Desai was particular about making the evening rounds, talking to patients, and spending some time with his visitors. And when senior doctors like him were so conscientious, juniors like Anand could not miss the evening rounds.

  Anand was in the professor’s waiting room, preparing some notes for the next day’s class. Dr Desai had told him firmly, ‘Anand, I am meeting my friend after a long time. If there are any visitors, tell them I am not here and deal with them yourself.’

  As Anand sat at his desk, he kept remembering what had happened in Dr Desai’s house the previous week. He was still perplexed by the incident. He had expected to see the girl whose voice he had heard at lunch but the only other person present had been Vasumathi’s brother, Shrinath. He had not told Vasumathi about what had happened. Vasumathi and Dr Desai had a droll sense of humour, and it was quite likely Vasumathi would embroider the whole story and even tell his mother, Radhakka, about it. ‘A female spirit in our house is haunting Anand. Perhaps she is the enchantress Mohini! Is this Mohini from the college campus or did he meet her somewhere else? Get him married as quickly as possible!’ she would say.

  Anand shivered at the mere thought of putting himself in such an embarrassing situation, and felt it would be best to remain silent about what had happened that day. His reverie was interrupted by a sweet voice.

  ‘Excuse me, can I meet Dr Desai?’

  Anand looked up from his notes, and was stunned to see a young girl of extraordinary beauty standing before him. He had met countless girls over the years, but never had he seen anyone so startlingly lovely. With her beautiful large eyes, exquisite complexion, and face framed by long, jet-black hair, she looked like an apsara. She was wearing a green cotton sari with a blue border and a blue blouse. When she smiled at Anand, deep dimples appeared in her cheeks. The expression on her face suggested that she was accustomed to such a reaction, and she repeated her question. ‘Can I see Dr Desai?’

  ‘I’m sorry, Dr Desai is not here,’ Anand said, remembering his surroundings.

  ‘But that’s not true. I know he’s here.’

  ‘I’m sorry, you cannot see him now. Why don’t you tell me what you need?’ Anand wanted her to stay for some more time.

  For a moment, she frowned. Then, her brow cleared and she said, ‘Will you kindly tell him that Anupama has come?’

  What an apt name, thought Anand. She was truly ‘incomparable’.

  ‘In that case, will you wait here? I’ll go and tell him that there’s a patient waiting for him.’

  Anupama smiled like a parijata flower blossoming at the touch of a dewdrop. ‘Excuse me, I am not his patient, Mr—?’

  ‘I am Dr Anand.’

  ‘Oh, I see. . . !’

  She never got a chance to finish her sentence as Dr Desai and another gentleman came out then. He looked at Anupama and exclaimed, ‘Anu, how long must I wait for you? Here you are chatting pleasantly with Anand, while an old man sits inside waiting for you! I was about to leave now.’

  ‘Uncle, selling tickets is not an easy job. I had to coax and cajole people to buy them, and I’ve been here for a while. . .’ For a moment, Anupama was in a quandary. What was she supposed to say. . .that Anand had prevented her from going in? She quickly collected herself and said, ‘Let it be. Now, which ticket should I give you?’

  ‘Oh Anu, I forgot to introduce my friend, Dr Rao. He is the principal of the Arts College. You may know him. And this is Dr Anand, one of our most brilliant doctors, who is shortly going to England for further studies. He is one of the lucky ones blessed by both Saraswati and Lakshmi.’

  ‘Sir, please. . .’ Anand mumbled, embarrassed.

  Dr Desai ignored him and continued. ‘Anand, this is Anupama. Her father, Shama Rao, and I have been good friends since school. What can I tell you about Anupama; she is so talented. . .’

  Anupama tried to stop Dr Desai. ‘Uncle. please, don’t talk about me. Just buy the tickets. That is more than enough for me.’

  But the doctor would not be stopped. ‘Anand, you cannot imagine how versatile our Anu is. She is a superb actress and an excellent student, always getting the top rank. She even sings Hindustani classical music
. Which gharana do you belong to, Anu?’

  ‘Uncle, enough of my praises! Please buy a thousand-rupee ticket.’

  Dr Desai smiled, ‘Anu, I am a poor man with no private practice. I cannot afford your thousand-rupee demand. Give me two tickets of a hundred each, instead. The principal is also like me. Give him two tickets of a hundred each as well. Is that all right, Dr Rao?’

  ‘Of course, Dr Desai. That is my budget, too! I won’t be in town on the day of the show, but my daughter will definitely be there. She wouldn’t want to miss your play,’ the principal responded.

  Anupama looked crestfallen, the thousand-rupee tickets still in her hand. Looking at her, Desai continued, ‘Anu, don’t worry. You can still sell your thousand-rupee tickets. Our Anand can afford to buy them all.’

  Anand wondered why he should buy the tickets without even knowing what the tickets were for. Hesitantly, he said, ‘Please give me a hundred-rupee ticket, too.’

  Anupama had already torn off two thousand-rupee tickets from her book. She wrote Anand’s name on them and said, ‘Doctor, two thousand is not a lot of money for you. But for an institution that helps physically challenged children it is a big sum. They will be grateful for your donation. This is a fund-raising programme. Please do not refuse to buy the tickets. Please come with your wife to our play.’

  Anupama talked like an experienced saleswoman, and when she held out the tickets, Anand felt too shy to refuse her.

  ‘Hey Anu, Anand is not married yet. Though there is a big line of hopeful women in front of his house. He wants to marry someone of his choice; and who that is, nobody knows. On his behalf I will guarantee that he will come,’ Dr Desai concluded.

  Anand woke up later than usual the next morning. Although he had not been on night duty, he had been unable to sleep the entire night. Thoughts of Anupama had occupied his mind all the time. Dr Desai had used many superlatives to describe her and although Anand did not know anything about her other qualities, he had certainly felt the impact of her beauty. He was sure she would outshine any beauty queen.

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