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Love and Longing
|by Ramendra Kumar|
The taxi come to a stop outside the entrance of the hotel – hotel Emerald, the name that had been recommended to him. He was quite new to the city, coming after a gap of almost two decades. He climbed the steps and walked up to the reception counter. The receptionist was young. Hardly twenty. Pretty. There was something vaguely familiar about her.
After the necessary formalities had been completed he went up to his room, took a bath and came down to the restaurant section for his breakfast. He preferred the bustle of the restaurant to the quiet of the room. From the table where he sat he could see the reception and of course the pretty receptionist. She certainly was attractive. She was now speaking to a young man- probably one of the not very infrequent visitors.
He said something to her and she, apparently greatly amused, threw back her head and laughed. There was something exceedingly familiar about this gesture and there flashed in his mind some little memory from the past. And suddenly he was quite sure. It must be. The city was the same. He wanted to go and ask her. But this would be, he thought, injudicious.
He looked at his watch. It was nearing six.
It was probably his gray hair that had won her consent. Obviously a man of over fifty wouldn’t try anything too funny. He didn’t have to wait long. As she came up to his table with a slight smile on her lips, he was sure. She sat down.
He offered her his hand.
Soon they got talking. After the initial embarrassment she was at her ease.
He was for a moment too shocked to say anything.
“I’m sorry ...I’m sorry,” he managed to blurt out.
He was silent. How could he answer that question?
Why was he lying? He wasn’t sure himself.
He returned at nine. He was in no mood for dinner. He sat down in front of the window gazing at the myriad stars. The hotel was facing the sea. The shimmering waters, the pale moonlight and his memories … It was the year 1970. He was then thirty three – an incorrigible bachelor – a lecturer at Hyderabad University. Radhika had come down from Bombay on scholarship for her Ph.D. He was to be her guide.
Three years passed by. Her thesis was nearing completion. It was June. She had come after spending the summer holidays in Bombay. She told him casually when they met that her engagement had taken place in the holidays. Her marriage was next month.
During these three years Raj had had ample scope to study Radhika.
She was not exactly beautiful in the conventional way. There was not a single feature on her face that would inspire poetry. At the most one would have called her pretty. But there was one quality that transcended all descriptions of beauty- her smile. It was devastating. She smiled not only with mouth but with her eyes too. There was a childlike innocence, a disarming quality about it that was mesmerizing. Her face habitually wore a solemn, slightly melancholic look and that made her smile all the more attractive.
One evening they were working in his department. It was quite late. They still had to finish off the last chapter of the thesis. Next week she was leaving for Bombay.
She agreed. At his flat they resumed their work and it was ten by the time they finished. With a sigh of relief she put the pen down and sank back, exhausted.
She was staying at the ladies hostel, which was a kilometer away from his flat. As they walked side by side he couldn’t help being conscious of her proximity. She seemed to look even prettier in the moonlight. She, apparently quite oblivious of the feelings she was arousing in him, kept up a light banter. It was quiet, the pale moon emphasizing the stillness of the night, They decided to take a short cut. They soon came to a barbed-wire fence. He climbed on to the other side to help her. As he took her hand she tripped over the fence and fell straight into his arms…….
Raj was hardly aware of what possessed him. He lost track of everything.
He was kissing her soft lips. They were cold and unresponsive. Them slowly she began to respond. Her arms went around his neck pulling him down. Soon they were kissing with a fervor that threatened to cut down all restraints. He didn’t know how long they stood in each other's arms totally oblivious of everything else.
She softly broke free, gently pushing him away from her. Their eyes met for an instant and then she vanished into the dark night. He watched her form, clad in a yellow sari, threading its way in the darkness. He wanted to call out, say something, but speech was wiped from his lips. He didn’t know how long he stood there. He had no idea when or how he returned to his flat. He was in a daze. It all seemed a hazy dream.
Next morning he cursed himself. How could he have behaved so foolishly? What insane impulse had seized him to act with such impetuous disdain? Was it love, was it passion or was it a momentary madness that had gripped him?
He wanted to apologize to her for behaving like a love struck teenager, but he didn’t see her. Was she angry with him? Or was she too embarrassed to face him? For hadn’t her lips signified at least a momentary surrender to his passion? A more hopeful explanation was that she was busy getting her thesis typed.
It was Friday –the tenth of July. She was leaving tomorrow. He wanted to meet her one last time. He had tried contacting her and had even sent a message to her room but she wasn’t there.
It was evening, sitting by the window in his room he watched the setting sun. The bright yellow, the angry red, the purple streaks and finally the inky blackness. There was sometime depressing about the sunset today.
There was a soft knock. He opened the door. It was she. She looked ravishing. Clad in a blue saree, the blue of azure, which accentuated the redness of her lips, she reminded him of Wordsworth’s Phantom of delight.
This was the first time she had called him Raj. It had an intimacy that sent his blood racing.
She looked at him intently for a minute and smiled.
It took few seconds for him to get the import of the remark. When he realized what she was trying to say he was confused.
She laughed at his confusion.
He didn’t allow her to complete, he needed no explanation. He took her in his arms. As their lips kissed and their tongues explored there was no restraint, no embarrassment now. They made love. It seemed natural, a perfect-culmination.
Raj was by no means a virgin. He had his flings. But always the act of love to him had been just an outlet for his desires. There was on emotion, on feeling. His lust (he refused to give it any other name) was like any other hunger. It needed satiation. There was nothing more to it. What he read in the book about the sublime, the beautiful experience of lovemaking he had dismissed as chimerical fantasies, exaggerated notions.
But today he realized he was wrong. The act of love could be sublime……it was sublime……
They sat down. The old man put on his specs and peered at him.
After her Ph.D. she was to be married. July 27th was the wedding. Just two days before the wedding the groom’s mother died. The marriage had to be postponed by six months. It was fixed in February. There were still three months to go when the scandal broke out. Radhika was pregnant. The father was not her fiancée Shyam. When he came to know he broke the engagement. What could we do, the fault was Radhika’s. We shouted and cursed her. She had brought shame to her family. Our honor was besmirched. We begged her to have an abortion or reveal the name of the father. She did neither. I think she made efforts to contact him. But it was useless. That devil had disappeared after…..after planting his seed in her.”
She must have made efforts to contact him at Hyderabad while he was in States. If only she had succeeded. He cursed himself, cursed his fate and cursed God. How insane the whole thing was. Twenty years he had lived without the foggiest of notion that he had a daughter. The poor child, a result of their brief tempestuous affair, had been brought up as an orphan, while her wretched father was alive. He wanted to rush, take Priya in his arms and tell her that he was her father. He was the devil who was responsible for everything that had happened. He wanted to press his daughter to his heart and have a good cry. To weep away the frustration and the searing pain.
He had been walking like a man possessed. He was near the beach now. He sat down on a rock, a lonely figure, wrestling with his emotions.
His heart advised him to confess everything to Priya. His head told him that this would be stupid. Would she believe him- a stranger coming from God knows where and declaring that he was her father! It was impossible. He had no proof. He couldn’t expect any sane person to believe him. She would label him an imposter, a crook or simply stark raving mad. And even if she by some remote chance (the probability was one in a million) did believe him would she welcome him? He who had been responsible, even though unknowingly, for her misfortune; would she forgive him? He could hardly expect that. If he was in her place what would he have felt- hatred, anger, contempt, yes, but forgiveness certainly not, love absolutely not. It was useless. Totally useless. There was absolutely nothing he could do.
He left that evening for Chandigarh.
He looked at her strangely. There was an expression so indefinably tender in his eyes that she couldn’t help feeling sorry for her rudeness.
After this she never refused anything he gave her.
Five years went gone by. Priya was getting married. She was busy sending invitation cards. On an impulse she sent one to him on his college address. She had not met him for quite some time.
She was married. On her return from Ooty, where they had gone for the honeymoon, she found a registered letter. It contained some documents and a letter in an unfamiliar hand.
Tears started streaming down her face. She remembered the gray head, the tender eyes, and the wistful smile of an old man who happened to be her father. Who on account of the cruel circumstance had never been able to call her child, his daughter. And had died with this wish unfulfilled, died a broken-hearted man, now knowing whether he had been forgiven, whether he was leaving behind tender memories or hatred…..
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