Continued from “Dilemma of Qualms”
Chapter 7, Book One, Artha and Kama, Jewel-less Crown: Saga of Life
‘What a life it has been!’ Sneha found herself thinking after Dr. Gupta had left. ‘Oh, how it had shadowed my son’s life! Can I ever look into his eyes which witnessed all that? Why was I not dead before I came to know of that? It’s okay that others might smell rat of my peccadilloes but, oh, to be object of my son's voyeurism, why wasn’t I wary when he grew up? How sad my carelessness buggered his psyche and ruined his life as well! Were he to be hanged, won’t I be damned? But if I damn myself, he would be saved, how paradoxical!
‘Wasn’t the rumor mill crunching my reputation for so long?’ she thought as she recalled how her own name was besmirched. ‘Well, as is with other scandals so is with my story; it would be passé in no time? Why, even when it was the talk of the town, some believed and others gave the benefit of doubt. Wouldn't people's short attention span favor even scandals in the long run? Whatever, as long as they are not aired in my ear, how am I bothered about them? But to testify to my shame would only amount to baring my body in the court, and soul as well, but would any credit me with that! How would that affect poor Suresh? As it is, my shame is shadowing him! If I were to kiss and tell in court now, that's bound to shatter him beyond doubt. Isn’t it a frightful prospect to contend with?’
As though her body and mind got synchronized by then, she turned dizzy and felt she could think no more.
‘If only he had spilled the beans in the court!’ she thought at length, having realized the problem needed a solution. ‘Would I have a place to hide my head by now? But with his head on the block he keeps mum about his mom. Oh, how people disown their near and dear if only to save the bother! And what of the betrayal of their benefactors for no more than a few bucks! How shameful, and haven’t I seen all that? Yet, the press pictures him as a fiend, and all perceive him as lacking in character! Could there be a better character than his? And for that matter, what’s wrong with my character?
‘Isn’t it clear that it is either his head or my head that should roll now?’ she felt at length, having reflected upon her life for long. ‘And the choice is clear, isn’t it? To what avail should I hang on after all? What would life have to offer me other than ridicule? How Gautam’s empathy makes me jittery! Won’t I feel that his blame game would've been rather solacing? What if even one of my lickers-in-scores of yore stood by me, it would have softened the blow. But where are they now? What a collective vanishing act that was!’
‘Don’t I know what men are like!’ she tried to sum up male proclivities. ‘How paranoid man is for exclusive sexual rights over the frame of his spouse! But which man minds waiting in the brothel for his turn to satiate himself? Wonder where his sensitivity of lone possession goes! And what is the fuss about female chastity if it were not man’s insecurity about his own virility? Oh what if his spouse thinks his rival seemed better in bed? But when it comes to a whore, why should man bother even if it were premature ejaculation? How does it matter for he is her faceless customer, and once out, won’t he submerge in the crowd? In truth, man gives a damn to savor the so-called tainted wife of his but his only worry is how she might've felt about his performance in comparison. Thus, it’s not the moral aversion but the perception of his inadequacy that is behind man’s hurt when he hurts his woman who takes on another, so it seems. Besides, what the aggrieved man could do than divorce her under the guise of moral apathy if not kill her out of sexual jealousy? But then won't man learn to live with his wife paying a blind eye to her paramour.’
‘Now that my life became an open book,’ she thought, applying her theory of sexual desertion, ‘what a let down it could be for all of them to learn that they were not sharing me just with my husband but with all and sundry as well! But how would they ever know that I enjoyed every one of them for what they were worth? Well, they should’ve known that I didn’t hold any scale of virility as they laid me. Had I done that really, how many of them would have measured up to Gautam? Let them go to hell and how does that matter to me now?’
However, she could not help feel bitter about the fact of her desertion by all those who crooned eternal love into her exultant ears.
‘Gautam, how considerate he is as a man and loving as a husband, in spite of it all,’ she continued to review her life and times. ‘But, the inconsiderate world sees him as immoral! What is that society, which denies the genuine their fair share and yet damns the deviants as immoral? If only there were fair avenues for the upright! Well, being on the brink why think about the Utopia? Yet, it all feels like betrayal, but then I have had enough of it. And having savored the scandal for so long now, it’s as if the world too is tired of me. Maybe my death might stir up the hornet’s nest all again, to excite the people for a while. Won’t time bury my memory in a hurry?’
‘How all crave to be remembered after they are dead and gone!’ she thought. ‘And what could suit me better than being forgotten, the sooner, that is? At least, that would take some shine out of the stigma sticking onto Gautam. Suresh, after all, is young enough to pick up the threads of life after a stint at the Tihar. After all, that’s what the good doctor assured me. As and when he comes out a free man, surely, he would still be an eligible bachelor. At least, our wealth would ensure that.’
‘Why, am I not old enough to die, though young enough to live otherwise?’ she began thinking, seized by a death-wish. ‘I had everything going my way; both ways, always, and suddenly I find myself at a dead end! What an irony that is! Why not bring the curtains down before the scene turns too bawdy to stage? Well, it would have been a different story, had fate allowed me to age without bringing my past to the fore!’
That night, soon after Gautam had hit the pillow, Sneha, with the denouement in mind, went to the writing table in the ante-room.
Whoever thought of such a fall for us from the dizzy heights you took us to! Why, even my worst fears failed to push me to such a precipice. I’m sure neither yours would have. After all, you were sure that by the time the dust settled down, we would have ridden the storm. And my blind faith in your abilities failed me to see what was coming. Well, it appears that fate is averse to taking your dictation, at least in this case. Instead, it chose the well-meaning Dr. Prakash Gupta as the messenger to deliver the script it had fashioned to end our trauma.
How could I've known that I was the cyclonic eye of the stormy life of our son! It appears that he was privy to my double life ever since he could understand what it was. I know that it would shock and shame you no less. What a payback for the freedom you granted me! Pardon me if you can. Maybe, it’s better that you fail to forgive me for that lessens my burden a little.
How I wronged Suresh the apple of our eyes! What a hurt to know his mother is a slut! How cruel of me to let him bear the cross of my debauchery! As for me, it’s just unpalatable even to think he had seen it all. Now, having known that I was his voyeuristic target all the while, I cannot imagine facing him ever again. It seems it was my amorality that induced the misogamist mindset in him. And we have the word of the well-meaning expert for that.
Maybe unwittingly, but inexorably, I had set our son on a ruinous course. That puts me in the dock, doesn’t it? Let me plead guilty in your court that I buggered our son’s life. God forbid, if the apple of our eye were to die on the gallows, I would go insane. And I dare not see him even if he’s set free. What sense does it make for me to hang around here any longer?
What a congenial couple we had been! But, how stealthily had fate tampered with our wedlock! Don’t I know the pain you felt in having to forsake my womanly honor? But to what avail did I give in to my latter-day temptations? Why did I take undue advantage of your goodness to abuse my life that would have hurt you so much?
Now, more than ever, I can visualize what a pain it was for you seeing me turning into a bitch as it were. Oh, if only it had dawned on me then! Yet, it’s not with the intent to hurt you that I say this, but how would it have been had you put your foot down on my waywardness? But then, you are a gentleman, and I didn’t prove to be your worthy ladyship. And still, thanks to your large heart, I was cozy as your wife.
How the scandal changed all that! I am aware that the altered realities of our life would ensure that it could never be the same again for me and you as well. In a way, hasn’t our relationship become untenable, if not tenuous? Maybe, that is what life is all about. That things have turned sour now, it’s not fair to say that I regret my life, having led it consciously, rightly or wrongly. But if I were to do that, it might have some sympathetic accretion on the sentimental front, which I don’t want in my account anyway.
Well, I don’t intend to transfer my burden onto your conscience, as my hypocrisy would make you suffer even more in guilt. It’s you who strengthened my character and now I know its value as never before. Moreover, I have no taste to live like a curio for the rest of my life. You know, we always lived life the practical way and I want to end mine that way.
I’ve come to believe that you may be better off without me. As I have lost my shine, and I know it’s my own fault, it’s but proper that I don't let my shadow cast on your life. Besides, haven’t I become a jewel-less crown on your troubled head? With the aura of the jewel gone, what for thou bear its weight, my dear? No, I won’t let you suffer for I love you more than I thought I ever did. With the dead-weight of me gone, I am sure it would make a little easier for you. I know I owe that to you.
Believe me; it’s not out of any pique that I want to end my life. What have I against you, my darling, that I should psyche you into guilt? If anything, I had wronged you though I loved you. Now, it is my genuine desire to make it as easy as I can that is prompting me to call it quits. If you ever feel guilty on my account, then my end would not have served the intended purpose.
But, it’s sad that I’ve to end it all with a troubled soul. I know that in a weird way, I was responsible for the misery of those, whom our son had violated, not to speak of poor Shanti who paid with her life as my unintended dupe. I wish I had helped Suresh grow up to make a difference to his self as well as to the society around him. But how I came to ignore him? While I showed the woman in me to many, yet I failed to let him see the mother in me. Why, it was all owing to my preoccupation with my physicality as woman.
I'm going to die with the hope what my life failed to do for him, my death would. It’s so sad, that my lifestyle led him astray by inducing misgivings about me as woman. It’s my last and the only wish that you make him understand me as woman. Maybe then, he might understand the mother in me as well. Know that I would be dying knowing that you can.
Hopefully, that might bring equanimity to his troubled soul, and were that to happen even my soul would rest in peace well above. Reminiscing about the joy of your love and care, I am going to have my last prayer for you as well as our son’s fruitful future.
In all our future lives, I hope to be your wife to give you what all I failed to in this one. I am ending this life with the conviction that you wish to have me in the coming lives as well. Let me tell you with all honesty that I see my exit merely as a practical way out for the three of us.
Forgive me for deserting you, midway.
Having finished the letter, she tiptoed into their bedroom and towards their framed wedding photograph on the dressing table. As she sat on the stool, she couldn’t take her eyes off the picture. In time, dropping the letter in her lap, she took the frame into her hands. But, soon finding the light too dim to hold the picture, she took the frame closer to her. At that, as the memories of their honeymoon came in torrents, her eyes turned into waterfalls. When she realized that the farewell letter in her lap was getting wet, she placed it on the table along with the photograph. If not for her wish to let her man know her mind at the parting, perhaps, she would have wept herself to death and thus allowed her missive to smudge in the pool of her tears.
Wiping her tears, she stood near Gautam as he slept in exhaustion. As she looked at him lovingly, she was seized with remorse. But as her love for him came to the fore, she experienced a rare fondness for him. Sensing that her new found love for him would tempt her to develop a weakness for life all again, she went back into the ante-room wondering how a man could change woman for good or bad.
When she began popping up the pills, she wondered how each of them would be taking her that much closer to death. At that, as the ironical analogy of her lovers weaning her away from her man dawned on her, she wondered why she was unable to recall even one of them at the time of her departure. Sensing that she had a revelation of her life she rushed to Gautam to wake him up, but on second thoughts, she took her missive and penned the postscript thus:
As I am half way through, I realize that in the last hours of my existence I don’t recall any of those whom I let into my life. More than ever I am convinced now that even as I let many touch me, I etched none of them in my memory insensibly filled entirely by your loving persona. Oh, this late realization that I might have loved you and you only, heart and soul, makes it so easy for me to die. And I hope that it would make your future life less bitter after all. Goodbye, my love.
Feeling light, she went back into the ante-room and picked up the bottle all again. But, as she was about to empty the bottle, she thought about the emptiness beyond life, and felt frightened. Unable to come to grips with her fears, she struggled to reach for her man. At last, she managed to lay beside Gautam with that empty bottle as though he would fill it with fortitude. As she realized that at the core of it, her life was as empty as the bottle in her hand, she tried to speculate what her life would have been like, had she married someone who wouldn’t have thought of crossing the Rubicon when it came to it. But, as if not to hurt her sensibilities at that point of no return, her faculties failed her. In time, her body too began losing its vitality to hold her restless soul any longer.
Continued to "End Within the End"