Didi's residence is about a mile away from the railway station. In such a scorching heat like this, it seems impossible for me to tread the distance over. Words fail me whenever I try to call the rickshawala and the only ten-rupee note contained in my pocket seems to mock at me. Throwing a glance all around I step forward with a bag in hand. It took me half an hour to reach Didi's house. Didi standing on the threshold of the door, not containing in her rushed to embrace me.
'Come along!' Didi spoke as she advanced her steps. I followed Didi in silence while ascending steps of the staircase.
' How is it that here! You're never heard from you'
'Tomorrow is my interview.'
'Yeah-in a local branch of the state bank.'
Didi had already left the room after making me take my seat in the drawing room. She returned with a tumbler of water in her hand.
'How is papa? Didi asked me handing over the tumbler to me.'
'All well with papa' 'unknowingly the words slipped from my tongue.
Papa had very well instructed me not to talk to Didi about his health. But I had made up my mind to speak the plain truth of papa's illness, as I was no longer able to bear the load. But when Didi asked about papa's health-words faltered.
"Doctor uncle must be paying visits regularly?' Didi must have guessed from my gestures and this question was the result thereof.
'Yeah'- after replying briefly- I kept num.
Didi incessantly stared at me. It seems to me as if torn collar of my shirt was her target. I turn my face right. Now I have started looking at the pictures hung on the wall.
' What about your previous interview?"
' I qualified myself in written but couldn't be selected in interview for want of recommendation!" And with this I try to spread a smile on my dry lips.
Didi went out. The very moment I happened to glance over a human shadow behind the curtain. I sat in an orderly manner. On curtain being lifted, I very well recognized this human shadow behind as my Didi's mother- in- law. I bowed before her in reverence.
' How are you my dear sonny- be seated. What about your papa?"
' All well Papa." All of a sudden my eyes fell on my torn shoes. I try to hide them under the table.
' It is since long - I have been reminding your Didi to write you a letter asking you to send a few articles to me I needed most. '
I kept sitting hanging my head in shame. Words failed me to express. After a little pause of few moments, Didi came in with a tray of tea. This time Didi tried to smile in vain. Her seriousness was evident from her face. In an unlovely and feeble voice she poured her heart.
' Bite, sometimes I think it would have been better if Papa had not got me married.' I was simply shocked and stared at Didi for a while.
' O, Bottoo - you may be thinking it rot - but this a plain truth. I feel distressed whenever I visualize you along with papa living all alone in a big house. To speak the truth I never wished to be married. But I did it because of Papa's perpetual insistence. Now the circumstance Papa is placed in calls for more care. Last Sunday, Raghav happened to be here. He told me everything about Papa's ill health. I tried to come but Maa ji'your Brother-in-law was also on tour those days. Bittoo! Sometimes I do indulge in thinking of breaking all the bondage and leave this place forever. But I fail to fulfill this desire, as it will add to papa's grief. '
For a moment Didi gazed at the door and then spoke in a soft and low tone,
" If at all papa was to marry me off - he should have sought relations with the people of his own status. He might have thought among the people who have made their fortune who enjoy abundance of everything. I'll lead a luxurious life full of comforts without a tinge of worry. But Bittoo, papa perhaps failed to meditate whether he will come up to their standard and whenever they made some pressing demands. Will he be able to fill their ever-widening mouth? Will he be able to put up with their demands. '
'Bittoo! My darling, ' she continued her talks, ' I am not blaming papa for all this. I am only trying to draw your attention towards his incense."
I delved deep in thought while listening to Didi.
' Bittoo, I know you will be sad to listen all this. I had put up with everything of this sort in the beginning. But this is not so now. ' I would have put an end to my life long ago but because of your brother-in-law who is nice natured. ' Even now sometime, I am engulfed by suffocation all around whenever I think - I can't go to papa whenever he is ill - whenever he needs me." Didi's voice has become moistened with emotions.
'Let us sit outside," so saying Didi stood up.
I also wished so as the air inside the room has made me uneasy with all types of feelings.
Maaji was cooking a meal outside. As soon as she caught the presence of Didi, she stood up, clean her hands with a towel hanging nearby spoke,
' Bahu! O Bahu ! Take the trouble of cooking the remaining chappaties and listen - I am going to Bimla's. In the meantime, if your babu ji happens to come - serve him the meals."
I sank in the chair nearby. On way to Didi's house I had a longing to indulge in tall talk with Didi. I had made up my mind to open my heart fully while talking with Didi. But now at present it seemed to me as if those days were far away from Didi's life. Those moments, memories lagged far behind her life.
While wearing a smile on my lips I said, " Didi! You have changed altogether. How do you express your anger now? '
Didi smiled for a while and turning her lovely face towards me replied, " Change is a must and I, too, am a subject to it." So saying she was absorbed in silence.
After a few minutes she broke her silence, " have your meal if you so like."
'No, not yet. We'll have our meal together."
In a moment, I heard footsteps coming upstairs. My eyes were fixed on the door. Didi's father-in-law made his appearance. I bowed in reverence. After asking about my health, he went inside. After having my meals, I came to Didi's room where she, too, came after a few minutes.
' When is brother-in-law expected back from office?"
' At five."
I glanced through the magazines. All my thoughts shattered when I heard Didi's voice, " Last time I gave you a shirt piece? '
It seemed to me as if somebody made me fall in a deep valley. In the heart of heart I was afraid of such an attack and I was not prepared for it at present.
Soon I gathered my courage and said, " To speak the truth, stitching charges surpass the piece of cloth these days."
I was fooling myself but there was no alternative.
While talking on such like petty matters, Didi fell asleep and I, too, turned my face. In the evening when brother-in-law was back from office, Didi told him about my interview. My brother-in-law threw a meaningful smile, which I could not digest. Next day, at nine, getting myself ready after having my breakfast left the house with brother-in-law who dropped me near bank on his way to office. Many candidates were already there for interview. My turn came after an hour. I was totally dejected with my performance.
On my return Didi asked me, " How did you fare at the interview?"
' Fared well - but will come to know of the result a few days later. '
' Many candidates must have been there for the purpose?
' No, not so many. '
' Bittoo my heart says, you'll be selected this time.' I put a long smile on my face.
'Didi ' my train starts at one. I must now make for the railway station immediately."
'Stay for a day more.'
'No- Papa will keep waiting.'
'O.K.- then go after having meals.'
"I'll be getting late then.'
Didi observed silence, thereafter and catching hold of bag. I bowed before Maa Ji in reverence. She smiled and addressed me.
"O, dear darling! I have handed over a list of few articles to your Didi. Kindly arrange to send these through some messenger whose ever happens to pass this way. '
I step forward bowing my head in acceptance. Didi came down stairs following me. I stopped on the adjoining the staircase.
"When will you come now?'
' I can't say anything about it at present. I'll inform you whenever I intend to come. One thing more, keep calling doctor uncle yourself . . .' I keep silent.
After a few minute, Didi has said, " I have written a few articles on this piece of paper. Come along these on 15th of next month, the festival of Karva Chauth.' and with this piece of paper, Didi slipped in my fingers four currency notes of five hundred rupee each.
' What is this humbug? ' I was shocked.
' No, nothing - absolutely nothing.
I wished to refuse bluntly but Didi pressed my fist. I have a great longing to look back once again but my nerves do not gather courage to do so. And now, I like to escape from Didi's eyes as early as possible.