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       Mahashweta, p.10

           Sudha Murty
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Satya made a show of reluctance before following Vasant out of the marriage hall.

  ‘When I make a lot of money I would like to buy a house in Pali Hill. That is one of my missions in life. Look at all the rich and famous people who live here; they’re either film stars or business magnates. Unlike most parts of Bombay, it still has some bungalows and trees left. What about you, Vasant? You never talk about your future.’

  ‘What about my future? You know appa died of rabies after being bitten by a dog in the village where we lived. That incident upsets me even now. If only there had been a good clinic and a doctor in the village, appa would have lived.

  I want to get some experience here, then go back and start my own clinic in the village. Money has never held any attraction for me. I will get more satisfaction by saving people like appa, rather than by staying in Bombay and making a lot of money.’

  ‘Vasant, don’t you require a lot of capital to realize this dream?’

  ‘Not really. I have my own house, which I will convert into a clinic. I have saved some money and I also own some land. I’ll manage. It will be a simple life with not much money.’

  ‘What about medicines and nursing?’

  ‘I will charge the rich, and with that money I’ll buy medicines for the poor.’

  ‘What about marriage? Does that feature in your plans? What if your wife says no to such a life after you get married?’

  ‘I am aware of the risk, Satya. That is why I am still unmarried. I will marry only when I find the woman who will agree to support my plans.’

  By then they had reached Anupama’s house.

  It was an old, whitewashed bungalow, with a beautiful, neat garden. There were coconut trees, guava and mango trees, and flower-beds in front of the house, with a cross in the corner. The name of the house was written on the gatepost: Mary Villa.

  Anupama was waiting for them.

  The interior of the house, which reflected the taste of the occupant, was as simple as the outside. Fresh cut flowers in a vase adorned the centre table.

  ‘This is one of the most beautiful houses I have ever seen,’ Satya remarked.

  ‘This is my friend’s house. She moved to Australia after her marriage and asked me to stay on, telling me to take care of the house and not to bother with the rent. The house is divided into two portions. I stay in one portion and the other is locked. Dolly’s mother comes here once in a while and stays there.’

  ‘How long can you stay here?’

  ‘As long as we have mutual love, affection and trust. I cannot measure that.’

  ‘What happens if you refuse to vacate the place?’

  ‘Why should I keep something that is not mine? If we keep things that don’t belong to us, we are worse than beggars. Breach of trust and failure to honour one’s commitments are the worst sins that I can think of.’

  Anupama realized that, subconsciously, she had been thinking of Anand and his betrayal, and that her words sounded unnaturally harsh.

  Vasant was busy examining her library while Satya and she talked. ‘Anupama, you have a rare collection of books. I have heard about Ashwagosha who wrote the famous Buddha Charitha Manasa. People say that it was the first drama in Indian literature.’

  ‘Yes, doctor. There might have been many other dramatists, but we do not have any of their works. What fascinates me about Ashwagosha is that he is a person who identifies with his mother, unlike others who identify with their fathers.’

  ‘Satya, are you getting bored?’ Vasant asked.

  ‘Even though it is Greek and Latin to me, I am enjoying it.’

  ‘Doctor,’ Anupama said to Vasant, ‘Sanskrit is my subject, so I know it fairly well. How are you so well versed in it? It is so unusual to meet someone outside the classroom who is fond of the language.’

  ‘There is a reason for that. My father was a Sanskrit teacher in our village. When I was a child I learnt it by listening to my father’s recitation from the classics. I have never had any formal instruction in the language. My love for Sanskrit is linked with memories of my parents. Today, they are both gone, but I still continue to read the Sanskrit classics.’

  All too soon it was time for them to return to the wedding celebrations. As they were stepping out, Anupama said, ‘If you need to borrow any books, any time, please let me know. That is the one thing I can offer.’

  Monday was Out-Patients’ Day, and everyone in the hospital was busy. As in all government hospitals, it was proving to be very difficult to control the OPD crowd.

  Vasant was intent on going to his department when suddenly he heard someone call out to him, ‘Hi, Vasant!’

  He turned to see Seema waving to him. He was surprised; Seema was supposed to be in America.

  ‘Hello, Seema,’ he waved back.

  ‘How are you, Vasant?’

  ‘I am fine, how are you?’

  ‘How do I look?’ Seema asked, smiling.

  Vasant looked at her. She had become fairer and had put on some weight. Glamorous Seema was looking even more fashionable now! Her stylishly trimmed hair, perfectly manicured nails, and transparent chiffon sari enhanced her sophistication.

  ‘I am surprised to see you here,’ Vasant commented.

  ‘My sister is getting married and papa insisted that I must be here at least for a month. So here I am.’ She opened her bag and pulled out a wedding invitation.

  ‘What about your family?’ Vasant asked as he took the invitation from her.

  ‘Oh! My baby is not well—he’s six months old, and in spite of all our efforts, he’s been bitten by mosquitoes. My husband is looking after him. Vasant, don’t miss the wedding. You must come.’

  ‘If I am not on duty that day, I’ll definitely come. Where is the wedding?’

  ‘At the Taj. My sister’s in-laws are very rich and they insisted that the wedding had to be very grand. Even if you are on duty, please get out of it and come.’

  ‘I’ll try.’

  ‘Vasant, you haven’t changed a bit. You’re meeting a friend after three years. Won’t you even invite me home for tea?’

  ‘Sorry, Seema, I don’t have a home. If you want, I can take you to Lakshmi Bhavan, our favourite college-time haunt.’

  Seema was horrified. ‘Come on Vasant, how can I eat there now? It is so dirty, and there are all sorts of infections floating around in Bombay!’

  ‘But you used to love eating there.’

  ‘It was different then.’

  ‘All right. I’ll take you to a good restaurant then.’

  ‘I am very busy with shopping and wedding preparations now. I’ll tell you when I’m free and you can take me then.’

  ‘Do you like living and working in the US?’

  ‘Oh Vasant, I make so much money there. Together, my husband and I are minting money. If a bright person like you were there, you could have earned so much. You are wasting your time in India.’

  ‘I don’t think so, Seema. You have not seen the real world here; it needs people like us. As in so many other matters, let’s agree to disagree.’

  Seema laughed as they made their way to Vasant’s department. ‘By the way, when are you getting married?’

  ‘I have not found the right girl yet.’

  Seema and Vasant had been classmates in college. Seema was an ambitious girl who had always had a soft corner for Vasant. Once, she had even expressed her desire to marry Vasant, but on condition that he settle in America. When she had perceived his true bent of mind, she had changed her mind quickly, married someone in the US, and settled there. Vasant had never mentioned this to anybody. He felt that Seema had made the right decision.

  They stopped outside his department. ‘Vasant, when will I see you again?’

  ‘When I come to your sister’s wedding.’

  She was not sure that he would come and, sensing her thoughts, Vasant said, ‘If I could come to your wedding, I can come to your sister’s wedding as well. Can I go now? My patients are waiting.’

smiled and waved goodbye before heading off.

  When Vasant returned to his room after finishing with his OPD patients, he was surprised to see Satya lying on the bed. Normally, he would not have been in the room at that time. When he looked at him keenly, he was surprised to see that Satya’s eyes were red and his face swollen. When he touched his forehead, it was burning hot.

  ‘Satya, what happened? You have fever!’

  Instead of replying, Satya started crying.

  ‘Satya, is there any bad news from home? How are your parents?’

  Still, Satya did not reply. His eyes were focused on the table. On it was a beautiful wedding invitation with letters etched in gold on a red velvet background that seemed to exude affluence. It was Vidya’s wedding card.

  Vasant was surprised. He had always thought that Vidya and Satya would get married. Now he could understand why Satya was in the state he was in. Nothing Vasant said would bring Satya any consolation.

  ‘When did this happen?’ Vasant asked gently.

  ‘Today. She invited everybody, including me.’

  ‘Satya, do you think she is getting married under family pressure?’

  ‘No. I don’t think so. The boy is a doctor. His parents are also doctors in the US. A good catch. And nobody can force Vidya to do anything, let alone get married.’

  ‘But how could she do this to you?’

  ‘Vasant, I’ve been impractical and emotional. Vidya is definitely more calculating. She has thought things over. What assets do I have—a small house in Mysore, the responsibility of getting my three sisters married and of educating my brother?’

  ‘Did you discuss all this with Vidya?

  ‘Yes. She’d said it wouldn’t be a problem. But then, she met this boy who is far more eligible. I suppose she was just biding her time till she found the right match.’

  ‘Satya, there is no point in brooding over this. It is good that it ended when it did; far better now than being hurt after marriage.’

  For the next few days, Satya hardly ate anything. He was depressed and did not talk much. One day he began vomiting, and when this continued for a while, Satya grew worried. A blood test confirmed that he was suffering from jaundice.

  The diagnosis further lowered his spirits. Though it was not a critical disease, the patient would require good food, care, and rest. Satya did not want to go to Mysore, but he did not have any close friends or relatives in Bombay either with whom he could stay. The hotel food that he had been eating all along was definitely out of the question.

  Vasant came up with a suggestion. ‘Why don’t we ask someone who can cook to send you a dabba so that you can have home-cooked food while you’re recovering?’ By this time, Vasant had begun to attend Anupama’s plays regularly, at different locations in Bombay; and he also visited her library quite often. Their casual acquaintance had now turned into a deep friendship. He had no doubt that she would be able to help him now. After all, she had a large network of students and friends.

  ‘Satya, I have an idea. I’ll ask Anupama to look for someone who can cook a “diet” meal and send it here. We will pay for it. I’m sure Anupama will be able to help us.’

  Without waiting for Satya’s reply he immediately called up Anupama.

  After hearing him out, Anupama replied, ‘Vasant, I have another suggestion. My maid, Sakkubai, stays with me; she is a good lady. If Satya doesn’t have any objections, he can come and stay in our front room. I can cook a suitable meal for him, and Sakkubai will look after him day and night. Of course, I won’t insist on this. If you still want the food to be sent across to your room, I will make enquiries and find out someone who can supply the food.’

  Vasant had never expected such a generous offer and said, ‘I will get back to you after speaking to Satya.’

  Satya was hesitant about accepting the offer. ‘Vasant, I don’t know her as well as you do. How can I impose on her like this? I can pay Sakkubai, but what about Anupama? I feel very awkward about accepting this offer.’

  Satya, the extrovert, had become more serious now. The shock of Vidya’s defection had changed his outlook.

  ‘Come on Satya. She is our friend and, as far as I can see, this is the best option. You won’t be staying there forever, and we can always return the favour in some form to Anupama. As far as I know, she is not the sort of person who expects anything in return.’

  Satya agreed to move from Bombay Central to Anupama’s Bandra house. She had kept the room clean and tidy. She had spread a printed sheet on the bed and placed a vase with some fresh flowers in a corner. There was a world of difference between Satya’s room and this one!

  Anupama looked after Satya as if he were a part of her family. Once, his temperature went up very high and she stayed awake by his side the whole night. Another day, Satya vomited all over Anupama, before she could help him to the basin. The stench filled the room and Satya felt extremely embarrassed. But Anupama showed no sign of being disgusted or upset. She cleaned the floor and came back freshened after a bath.

  When Satya apologized for what had happened, she said, ‘Satya, don’t feel sorry. A patient is like a child. . .dependent on someone. When I broke my leg, you, Vasant and the nurses did everthing possible for my recovery. I am not doing anything different.’

  Satya was supposed to stay for a week but he postponed his departure. During his stay there, Satya had been observing Anupama. He had always thought of her as a beautiful but unfortunate woman; and he had pitied her. But now he felt differently. He saw that she was invariably cheerful, and always ready to help; she did not seem the least bit bothered about the white patches on her body that spoiled her beauty.

  Satya began comparing Anupama and Vidya, subconsciously. For Vidya, material comforts and beauty were very important. Helping others was something she would consider a waste of time. She had always been self-centred. Was Vidya devoid of the softer sentiments, he wondered again and again. How could she change her mind so casually, as if she were changing a dress, and marry someone else, whereas he had been ready to face all opposition from home to marry her?

  Anupama was aware that Satya had become quieter and more sober because his relationship had ended abruptly. So she spent time talking to him about all sorts of things, to take his mind off his broken affair.

  ‘Satya, in spite of being a doctor, why are you so worried about a common illness such as this?’

  ‘Anupama, sometimes, ignorance is bliss. But we, as doctors, know so much about disease and sickness that we cannot help feeling apprehensive occasionally. My sisters in Mysore will not understand all the implications or worry about them as much as I do. You know, Anupama, whenever I look at you, I think of my sister Sandhya—she would have cared for me like this.’

  ‘Satya, I have helped you the way any human being would help another; nothing more and nothing less. I don’t like being caught in relationships of convenience. I don’t want to be anyone’s ‘sister’ or ‘aunt’. When two men can be friends and two women can be friends, surely a man and a woman can also be just friends.’

  Satya was taken aback by her blunt answer. It was very uncharacteristic of her. He looked at her and realized that someone had deeply hurt her at some time in her life.

  It was Satya’s last day at Anupama’s house. After that, he would go back to his untidy room and eat the oily food served at Lakshmi Bhavan. He could see the Bandra seashore from his window, as he thought about Anupama. He knew nothing about her—whether she was married or unmarried, or whether she had any relatives. During the two weeks he had been in her house, only her students and friends had visited her. He knew she was from Karnataka, nothing more. Sometimes he thought about talking to her of her past, but he had never been able to bring himself to do so.

  Anupama came and sat beside him. She looked at Satya and said, ‘Forget the past, Satya, think about the future. Start a new life. ‘

  Satya smiled unhappily and said, ‘Anupama, you and Vasant do not know what it is to fall in lo
ve and then lose the person you love. Love is a precious emotion and when it is wasted on the wrong person, you tend to become emotionally reticent. Only people who are very fortunate fall in love with and marry the same person.’

  Anupama did not reply. After some time she said, ‘You’re wrong about me, Satya. I know what it is to lose in love. I was once in love with someone. We got married, but later, my husband abandoned me.’

  Satya was taken aback.

  Anupama continued. ‘When I was in college, I acted in a play called Mahashweta. Anand saw me on stage and fell in love with me. Despite the differences in our status, we got married. I am from a poor family and my mother-in-law was indifferent to me from the beginning. A few months after our wedding, Anand went abroad for further studies, and I was about to join him when I developed a white patch on my foot. My mother-in-law’s indifference changed to cruelty as she accused me of having had this affliction before marriage. She said I had deceived Anand and tricked him into marrying me, and cast me out of the house. I wrote several letters to my husband but he never replied. He had loved Mahashweta as a heroine. But when in real life I developed this white patch, and became a real Mahashweta, the White One, he couldn’t handle it. This Mahashweta was not acceptable to him. Just as you throw away old clothes and buy new ones, my in-laws got him remarried. Up to this day, nobody has bothered about me. Your life is definitely better than mine. You must thank your stars that you have only failed in love, not in marriage. Marriage is a lifelong commitment, and I know only too well the pain it causes when someone fails to honour that commitment.’

  Satya felt as if he had been listening to a story. But, unfortunately, the white patch on Anupama’s hand belied the feeling.

  Anupama continued. ‘Anand has a sister. Girija had a clandestine affair that only I knew about. But today, she is married to a person of wealth and status. Who says life is fair? It is better to understand the vicissitudes of life and solve our own problems in the manner we find appropriate. I have learnt that repeated success makes a person arrogant, while occasional failure makes an individual more mature.’

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