Continued from “Renaissance of Life”
Chapter 5, Book Two – ‘Dharma and Moksha’ of Jewel-less Crown: Saga of Life
Following Suresh with her eyes, Vidya thought about swamiji’s benign gesture to him that she had heard about. She felt that swamiji’s regard for guruji’s prodigal son vindicated her own position. She recalled that day when swamiji briefed her about the life and times of Suresh. How even before she could recover from the shock of what she had heard, swamiji placed Suresh’s photograph before her! And didn’t he ask her to make Suresh’s story privy to every inmate of the Shanti Sadan!
How impressed she was with what she saw of him in that picture! How puzzled she was when swamiji ordained that Suresh’s pictures be displayed all over Shanti Sadan! Didn’t he theorize that the picture of his youth and the plight of his soul would enable the inmates to reflect upon their hurt from the angle of the culprit’s suffering? It was swamiji’s belief that the very fact that the inmates owed their succor to a reformed sinner might help them overcome some of their own bitterness. Besides, as Suresh happened to be guruji’s son it would have value addition as well, would it not?
How swamiji’s disclosure and his diktat affected her! Why she found herself staring at the photograph all the way to Shanti Sadan! How handsome he looked in that picture and what mischievous smile he had! Didn’t she feel as though he was smiling at her? What a pair of magnetic eyes he had! How they had kept her glued to the frame for hours on end all these years! How long did she search for the clues to his criminality in his serene demeanor! But did she find any? And having found none, didn’t she fall in love with his attractive face? All the same, how shocked she was when she realized that!
How troubled she was that he was serving time at Tihar for rape and murder! How the mixed feelings of awe and pity perturbed her! Didn’t she in the end pardon him for his crime as he showed the strength to reform himself? How glad she was that he was a sensitive soul! Didn’t she feel proud of him that he turned out to be a Good Samaritan? Did she ever think about anyone other than him from then on? How often did she wish he had not done what he did so that he wouldn’t be languishing in the jail? What a wonder that she began to see his crime itself as misdirected masculinity! How she waited for him in the hope that he too would fall in love with her! Did she have a wink ever since guruji told her about his impending release? Now that he had come, could her eyes keep sleep away for her to cherish his visage all the night? If he looked handsome in those pictures, oh, how divine he appeared in his person!
Why, was he not swept away by her as well? Was he not all the while looking at her on the sly! Well, he was unable to take his eyes off her! No doubt, he was fascinated by her. Was it love at first sight for him too! Wouldn’t it crystallize in his heart as it happened with her? After all, fate was kind to him in the end. Having spoiled part of his youth, it’s as if it developed second thoughts about the fairness of it all. And in regret it granted him love as he came out of the jail! Why make him lose time on dates and all to spot his mate! Hadn’t he lost so much time already? And she too! Thank God they could meet at last. Would fate unite them without losing further time?
As she was lost thus, he walked up to her as one would to a girl next door. But, as he neared her, his sprouting love, abetted by the radiance of her soul, swayed him. Mystified as she was by swamiji’s affection for him, she stared at him as though in a trance. And when he came near her, it seemed to her as if the magnetic force in him brought her back to her senses to make her feel shy even more. And as he too failed to be bold with her, she suggested a shortcut as if she was impatient to lead him to the altar. As he followed her, they took to the fields in the twilight.
In that short stroll made longer by their languidness, as each wanted to be nearer to the other, they found themselves nursing their togetherness. Thus, their proximity in the wilderness infused a sense of romanticism in their enamored hearts. As he turned his gaze skyward, as if to find out what the stars might foretell, he saw the moon peeping from the horizon. As though on cue he looked at her, and found her staring at him. When she lowered her gaze, he wondered whether she would be willing to wed him. As if stirred by his apprehension, she raised her head to share his sense of uncertainty. Goaded by her impulse, though she found herself showing him her willingness, the gauziness of reciprocity in his eyes made her lower her own gaze in all shyness. As if to aid them find their moorings, chance placed some farm-hands on the way to greet them for a wedded pair. And thus, their sense of togetherness was buttressed by the thrill of romanticism. When she alerted him at the gates of Shanti Sadan, he realized he had walked somnambulant a long way.
Entering the compound tentatively, he discerned some bronze bust on granite in the midst. When he turned to Vidya in surprise, she said it was guruji’s homage to Shanti’s memory. But, sensing his embarrassment, she told him that the story of his life, beginning with Shanti, became the leitmotif of the Sadan. Without a word, he walked up to the bronze and found himself staring at the figure. And in time, he ended up embracing it in penitence. Overwhelmed by regret, as he washed the bronze in tears, she was beside herself and consoled him with caress. Composing himself, he thanked her for her concern for him.
When she suggested that he could go around the place after dinner, he insisted on seeing the fruits of her effort forthwith. As she introduced him to the animated inmates, he was gratified to note that they didn’t make him feel embarrassed. Smelling the professional air therein, he looked at Vidya in appreciation. In the end, he said he could have fallen behind by a mile or more if he were to manage the show on his own. At length, she led him to her office room, which she had turned into his makeshift bedroom.
Apologizing for having driven her out of her workplace, he said in jest, that he would skip dinner in penitence. At that, he wondered what gave him the courage to think in terms of courting her. As she smiled her pardon, he said he would join her after a shower. Finding his picture staring at him at the entrance, as he looked at her in surprise, she turned coy in her response. Though he persisted with his query, she left him in a quandary.
In time, having freshened herself, when she rejoined him, he found it hard to desist from desiring her. Seeing his predicament and surmising the reason for it, she enjoyed their engagement of hopeful anticipation. When they sat for dinner along with the rest, the aroma of the preparations tempted his taste buds to their roots. Thus, he felt glad that the girls were well cared for and thanked Vidya for all that.
After dinner, he proposed they walk a mile and she said she wouldn’t mind even if it were a score. Thus, they had a stroll of nearness in that vast compound before the contour of the place brought them back to where they started. When she said it was time she left, he extended his hand as though to retain her. As she grabbed it readily and shook it warmly, he looked at her as though pleading with her not to desert him. Though she released his hand and bade him goodnight, unable to leave her, he accompanied her up to the wicket-gate. Even after she disappeared into her nearby quarters, he stayed there hoping for her reappearance. But, soon it dawned on him that he had to be wary of his conduct so as not to jeopardize her fair name. So, he turned back to be welcomed by his smiling photograph.
Continued to “Despair of Hope”