Continued from “Sprouts of Love”
Chapter 6, Book Two – ‘Dharma and Moksha’ of Jewel-less Crown: Saga of Life
Pushed by the import of his own photograph, Suresh landed in the right bed in seven years. But, before his body could grasp the creature comforts, his mind was gripped by despair. So sleep deserted him for the first time in many years.
It didn’t take long for him to realize that the fondness he felt for Vidya was the sign of his love for her. Notwithstanding the concern she showed for him, he couldn’t bring himself to think she could be in love with him. The thought that she knew about his past embarrassed him for the very fact of her knowing it. In spite of his past, that she was sympathetic towards him infused a hope in him. As he recalled her empathy for the inmates, he was convinced that she shared his sense of the mission. What an ideal wife she would be! And given his background, he wondered whether it would be becoming of him to hope for her hand. As his sense of decency restrained him from daydreaming about her, he tried to desist from thinking about her altogether.
But as her magnetic persona and his nascent love made a common cause, he was constrained to contemplate on the consequences of his attraction for her. He was certain that every passing moment would deepen his desire for her. And that surely would make him miserable all the while. Should he dare to propose to her as a way out, would she hesitate to repudiate, never mind her gratitude for his father? But, that way, wouldn’t his fear of rejection stop him in his tracks forever? After all, why should any girl like her ever consent to become his wife? Why, she would surely be averse to the idea itself! Looks like she was enamored of him, but was that enough to induce her to wed him? Couldn’t she picture the perils as his wife? Why not, given her high IQ? So it seemed to him that the choice for him boiled down to the rock and the hard surface.
‘Damned if I do and damned too if I do not,’ he felt at length. ‘Whether or not I express my love, won't my status remain the same, that of an unrequited lover. What an unpalatable dish that life had served me at Vanaprastham! Seems I was better off at Tihar for all that. Devoid of expectations, didn’t I exist in peace? What did freedom bring me in its wake? How I am exposed to the temptations of life without any hope of fulfillment! But, why did fate bring me out of my cell? How have the limitations of my life come to taunt my love? Looks like my past will hinder my future forever. Oh, that’s the real tragedy of my life.’
As he saw the futility of his love, he cursed his past and wished he were dead on the gallows. Feeling helpless about the dichotomy of his past, he despaired at the idea of seeing her again. Why, he even felt like leaving her for good. But, his weakness for her came in the garb of wisdom to sound what was in store for him in the future. What if he were to find himself in a similar situation later? Would he forever be on the run, avoiding women who attracted him? Caught between the futility of his present love and the possibility of a future attraction, he was awake for long in despair.
Reaching her quarters, Vidya tried to envision her place in his life. As if to grasp the source of his love for her, she went up to the mirror to scan herself. Sensing that she never looked better, she tried to visualize herself through his eyes. Recalling his visage, she turned ecstatic, but soon realizing that her own reflection was distracting her from focusing on him, she moved away from the mirror. And not to lose the chain of her thoughts, she got into her bed without changing her dress. As she fell flat on her cot, she mirrored her lover in her mind’s eye. And as she pictured his enamored face, she began surmising how she might have appeared to his eyes.
‘What a feeling it is to love and be loved!’ she thought joyously. ‘How unique was our meeting! Oh, what a way it was to meet the man I waited for so long! Why, my imagination failed me to picture the way we actually met! How my longing failed to envision the ardency of my response! What a wonder all the encounters of my daydreams pale! Well, it was better that way as that gave me the thrill of the newness! Given even the marvelous looks of his teens, how unimaginably handsome he became! Wouldn’t he have noticed the animated face I presented him! Maybe, the glow in his eyes would have enhanced my own charm then. And how fascinated he seemed? Wouldn’t I have looked divine going by his sparkling eyes? Why, didn’t I wish that I had a way to look at myself to see that myself then? If only I could've borrowed his eyes to find out how I appeared to him!’
Dwelling on the imagery of their mutual attraction for long, she turned her focus onto his person. ‘But then, didn’t he turn tentative in time?’ she continued in her enamored state. ‘But, then can’t I understand? Well, what a sensitive soul he turned out to be! How he hugged Shanti’s statue as though to solace her soul! What a way to pay homage to the memory of the woman he had wronged! Won’t I know what it took me to control my impulse to take him into my arms, more so, when he was in tears? If only I could have embraced him endearingly then, what a solace I would have given him! And what a nice feeling it was to caress his back! Bogged down by his sentiment of guilt, maybe, he would have missed the warmth of my affection for him. But then, he shouldn’t have failed to grasp the force of my love in the grip of our handshake. Why all this speculation, when it is obvious that he is in love with me? What could be his next move? Is he likely to propose by tomorrow?’
The thought of his love for her made her seek the cause of her own amour for him. So, she began to dig into her own heart to see how her love had got crystallized at the bottom of it. Why did guruji treat her like a daughter and guide her like a son all these years! Oh, how everyone revered him at the ashram. And he was known to be in line to succeed the swamiji when the time came. It was said that only the swamiji was privy to guruji’s past life, whatever it was. Indeed, no one even knew wherefrom he came to Vanaprastham. Even though guruji allowed her to take liberties with him, she never dared broach the topic of his grihasthashram.
How eager she was to see more of Suresh when guruji showed her his family album. Didn’t she by then frame in her mindset his picture that swamiji gave? Why, she held the album like a holy book for a while. But then, she turned coy as she began with the pictures at the end. Wouldn’t have guruji guessed her fascination for his son? Lost as she was to Suresh’s pictures, how would she have known about it? And, as she saw picture after picture of the handsome guruji and his beautiful wife, how fascinating she felt! When she came to the mid folios, didn’t she find a cute and naughty toddler in their laps? Didn’t she think he bore his mother’s features? How dignified the couple looked in their middle age! Besides, didn’t they look rich and suave? As every picture tied her down, competing for her attention, how long it took her to reach the bottom all again! Didn’t Suresh look handsomer than his father ever seemed?
When she was through, guruji left her alone, as though to let her have a second look at his son. So, staring at Suresh’s pictures all over again, she did try to picture guruji’s life. Why a wealthy man with such a wonderful wife should’ve renounced his family life and embraced sanyas, never mind, his son landing up in gaol! Was it possible that his wife died in some road accident? And did that break his heart to renounce the world? What could have made Suresh a spoilt brat?
While Vidya groped in the dark for the right answers, guruji who returned by then, threw light on the tragedy of his family. She heard it all in awe and remained stunned for long. As though to extricate her from her shock, guruji came up with the breaking news that Suresh was expected there anytime. Oh, how the development made her expectant! When guruji wanted her to tie the loose ends at breakneck speed, didn't she fly to the Sadan with the wings of love?
How, for long, did she struggle to comprehend what she had heard! But why did guruji think it fit to reveal all that to her? When she tried to grapple with the reality of guruji’s life, she realized the potential of his past to damage his current rating. How flattered she felt that he chose to confide in her at the risk of even compromising himself at the ashram. She discerned the shades of guruji’s conflicting interests present in the predicament of her own father. Without being judgmental about either of them, she tried to analyze the way each of them responded to the temptations of life. And when she realized that one could never really place oneself in others’ shoes, she saw the virtue of giving allowances for the actions of others.
It took her a while to feel comfortable with the reality of guruji’s past. When it came to Sneha, she felt that it was a case of double jeopardy for her. Why, didn’t she feel that being a woman, Sneha had to bear the brunt of the exposé and the worst of fates, though she and guruji were in the same boat? Somehow, she came to love Sneha and pity her at the same time. She thought that Sneha lived with a dead soul, but in trying to save her son, she died a blessed soul!
Soon Vidya's thoughts began to hover around Suresh’s chequered life. She felt the juvenile part of his life was as pitiable as it was contemptible. But the substantive part of his life fascinated her in the beginning and endeared him to her in the end. Oh, his was an extraordinary life given the magnitude of his crimes and the strength of his resolve to reform himself, and she felt excited at the prospect of sharing life with such a man. Why she came to see so many similarities in nature and attitudes between them!
As though to match his sense of purpose, she spruced up Shanti Sadan even more. And, by the time it was all spick and span there, she realized she had already warmed up her heart for him. How nice it felt that she would make him feel wanted when he came. When guruji sent word to her about his arrival, oh, how she felt! Why, was not all set to let Suresh into her life? But yet, she wondered whether he would like to take her as his wife. That made her nervous all the way to Vanaprastham and as she approached guruji's parnasala, inexplicably, she recalled his past propensities! And that made her have second thoughts about him. So, in time, she developed apprehensions about her own future with him. Oh, that was before they met.
‘We are bound to develop intimacy, given our mutual liking,’ she couldn’t help but think about her future afresh. ‘Then, won’t I turn vulnerable in time? Would it take much for him to pull me into his embrace? What if, after having had his fun with me, he goes back to Delhi for further merriment? All said and done, won’t it be risky courting him?’
But, as the prospect of losing him didn’t appeal to her, she took him on a ride to her soft spot. ‘Would it be fair to put him on a perpetual trial?’ she thought, feeling guilty for having doubted his integrity. ‘Hasn’t he proved that he’s a changed man? What has his past got to do with our future life? Didn’t he pay the price for it in full measure? After all that suffering would he ever cause suffering to others? And hasn’t he proved his mettle by funding the very roof that shelters me? Isn’t that enough to be indebted to him all my life? What is it if not a paranoia to focus on his past, ignoring his current credentials? How unkind of me to think he would take advantage of women, given his zeal to help them! What if he really proposes?’
The possibility of her marrying him made her speculate her life as his wife.
‘Would he make a normal husband with that troubled background?’ she found herself thinking. ‘Oh, what would happen, should his misogamist tendencies resurface in due course? And won’t his past haunt me in his intimacy? Would I be able to lead a normal life with him? Won’t that affect his psyche in turn? We may then end up in the adalat midway during the honeymoon itself! Is it not the time to pause and grasp?’
So, she tried to analyze the impact of his crime and punishment on their married life. Getting no clear picture herself, she thought he should’ve done his homework to handle his inhibitions. She would be on hand as well to help him in the course correction in case of deviation. After all, they were in love and that would ensure a head start, sexually and otherwise too. Hadn’t she come to admire his nature and character as well? What could be a better recipe for a spicy married life than passionate love? But, as she remembered the love her father once showed her, she turned skeptical about love itself.’
‘Human proclivity is a tenuous thing, isn’t it?,’ she contemplated, bogged down by self-doubt. ‘It could be possible that the force of circumstances and the burden of guilt have brought about the apparent change in him! And when his past wounds would have healed, what’s the guarantee that he won’t sink into depravity all again? Given his good looks, he’s bound to enamor women, and then his status would only add to his attraction? Why, his wealth is bound to provide him the means to turn into a playboy in spite of me. In that case, as his neglected wife, it would make my life miserable. Would I then go his mother’s way? Oh, what a dreadful prospect that would be! And that might rake up the past wounds to compound guruji’s pain!’
As the picture presented by her rationale as his neglected wife did not appeal to her, her love sought to envisage her life as his fulfilled woman. ‘Well, that way, could anything be guaranteed in life?’ she contemplated. ‘If he were to get worse, for the old times sake, wouldn’t he be considerate to me? I’m sure he would.’
When it occurred to her that she was building castles in the air she thought, depressed with that idea, ‘In my flight of fancy, am I am placing the cart before the horse, so it seems. Why should he want to marry me at all? Won’t his social status erect a barrier between our love and our marriage? Why, his attraction for me could be but a transient distraction for him. Who knows, he might like to opt for one from his own class! Would there be any dearth of brides for him? If not out of love, at least for his wealth, won’t women line up to tie the knot with him?’
However, unable to reconcile to the thought of losing him, she turned again to hope for her solace.
‘But, guruji could be thinking in terms of making me his daughter-in-law,’ she thought. ‘Looks like, he feels I would be the right wife for his son. If not, what was the need for him to expose his embarrassing life to me! Besides, wasn't he treating me like his own daughter all these years? Well, he would get us married, that is for sure. But, why am I desperate to marry him? Am I coveting his wealth in the guise of love?’
As the thought made her disconcerted, she probed her mind to find the truth.
‘Oh, won’t I know coveting wealth is neither the grain of my nature nor a streak of my character?’ she began the self-analysis. ‘What is wealth for, if it is not to idle away? And can I ever imagine a moment without being active, to be happy? Oh me, would I ever want to live in idle luxury? No, never. I love him and value him, and that could be behind my craving for sharing life with him. If I were destined to marry him, I would strive to keep him on the philanthropic course he has set for himself. Well, I too would be able to contribute a bit with my dance performances. Life with him should be fulfilling as well as purposeful, not to speak of the excitement our lovemaking would ensure. Above all else, I love to be with the man I have come to adore.’
Having resolved her dilemma thus, she felt she owed him to tell all about her at the next round. She realized that given his state of mind, it might need her prompting to make him open his heart to her. So, she felt she needed to take the lead, even if it was a little immodest on her part. Well, given his tentativeness, it would be in order if she made him feel wanted. If not, how was she to guide their love to its destination? Resolving thus, she went to sleep with her love for company but not before recalling the turn at the bend that led her to Vanaprastham.
Continued to “Turn at the Bend”