Tara doesn’t even know that she has swooned. She has a faint remembrance of the postman ringing the bell.
“Syncopal attack, following a shock! Possibly she will be all right in about an hour!” The visiting doctor called her husband Sugunakar Rao at his office and told him.
When he came back home, Sugunakar Rao saw his daughter Pankajam giving a cup of Horlicks to her mother.
Rao did not throw any questions. He drew a chair near her bed and sat down.
Pankajam is nearly twenty-three. She is fond of going up the ladder of studies. She wanted to study M.A. with English Literature and take up a course in journalism. She has acquired a number of books and applied for a seat in the university.
Tara knew her daughter’s aptitude. Having been practising as a doctor for about twenty five years, she knew the mentalities of the youth. She acquired acquaintance with the various mentalities of the young women. She never would be surprised to see the strange behaviour of teenaged girls. Her profession conditioned her and changed her thinking moods. After her daughter applied for a course in journalism she asked Pankajam to apply for a seat in M.A English. Pankajam asked in surprise. “You asked me to study Journalism?” “ This is your father’s idea. I too liked it. You get a seat in any subject if you study English or Psychology first and then go to Journalism it would be like perfume coming into the yellow metal …. I know you…. I don’t ask you to get married…. You can get married when you yourself want it…. I know that you wouldn’t feel any sense of delicacy when you come across a man you find… My idea is that for studying Journalism your mind should grow more…. There is no better way of getting mental fruition except studying literature…. You may not believe me…. Though I have been a doctor for many, since I am a mother to you I know that girls have great faith in the Dad’s words.”
Sugunakar Rao sat listening all this looking into his wife’s face. When she thinks deeply, and seriously her language of expression shifts into English. He knows that his wife believes that by speaking in English she would win her point. In fact he did not make any suggestion to his daughter. “Why all those now, are you all right?” he asked his wife. “Never so well in my life….” He saw a glow in his wife’s eyes and felt exalted. He knows that the glow in her eyes has a mystery. In such a mood with her eyes glowing like that she appears like a magician to him.
“Anyway I have been talking about her education….”
“How do I know if you don’t tell me? What do I know about journalism after all? Gents’ words are gents’ words and there is not much value in a mother’s suggestions however educated the mother may be. For journalism, mental growth is more necessary. One should acquire some experience about psychological reality …. More than Psychology, Literature reveals the depths of the human heart in literature. Who said that my daughter should work hard in journalism and grow to the height of the editor of “Times” You or me?”
The glow in her eyes was captivating. Sugunakar Rao didn’t say anything more. Pankajam observes the facial expressions of her father. Looking at his face, she stopped sipping coffee with a cup in hand and a saucer in the other.
“You finish your coffee first” said Tara. “Aswini, How are you now?” asked Rao. Tara looked at her husband with some sorrow. She remembered that she swooned a few minutes before. Agitated people do not care for external politeness.
Tara’s name is nor Tara. It is the name her husband gave to Aswini. Only on very rare occasions he calls her Aswini. This was since their being together in Calcutta.
“Aswini! You look like a star in the sky….When I see you, you look like a start coming down to the earth and walking. All deep secrets in the stars would look glittering in your eyes. Though very near you appear to be very far.”
“Why this poetry! Are you still only reading or making an effort to write also?”
“Those eyes, stars in the cinema…. No, No… A sacrilege… You
Except in extraordinary situations, her husband does not call her Aswini. As far as she could remember after the caesarean section and Pankajam is brought out, only when she was on the bed, he asked “How are you Aswini?” Tara looked into his eyes in delectable joy.
“What happened?” With her finger on her lips, Pankajam took her father into the next room. “Daddy” This is the substance of what she told him in English. When she came back from college, their door was open and when she came in she saw her mother swooned in her chair. On the table there was a small parcel open. She took out a small cardboard box in it.
Pankajam called up the doctor and since she is well known to him, the doctor came within a few minutes. He gave her an injection and went out with a gesture not to talk anything and then phoned up Sugunakar Rao. He said that she would get consciousness within a few minutes and told her not to disturb her went out.
Just as he said, Aswini recovered consciousness and said “I must start by this evening train.” Sugunakar Rao did not ask her as to where she would go. He did not object to her going but asked “In this condition?” Tara did not reply.
“Pankajam, you telephone the travel agent, ask him to get two tickets for you and me to Visakhapatnam by the Coramandal Express and deliver them to us in the railway station.” Pankajam went out.
“Aswini what is all this?”
“I never asked you for anything”
“Not for money and not with any authority….”
“You are mistaken. All I ever needed and wanted has been your love and your intimacy with all your understanding…. Just excuse me….Don’t stop me. There is no worry about my health….”
“Do you want me to come?”
“No, I would take Pankajam along with me… This would be a great opportunity for her.”
“Then her classes?”
“If she has a sharp mind, which cannot be a classroom?”
“What is this?” Having seen the parcel Sugunakar Rao could not hide the question between his lips. “I would tell you at leisure! You know very well that we don’t have any secrets between us…. Pankajam, you get a change of your clothes packed…..”
“Telephoning the doctor….” Sugunakar Rao wanted to say something but casting a look on her didn’t say anything else.
“The travel agent called and said he would bring your tickets to the platform”, he said and kept quiet.
Pankajam waited thinking that her mother would tell her the reason for the travel after getting into the train, but even after travelling for hundreds of miles her mother did not say anything. She was in deep thought. When the train stopped at Bhubaneswar station, Tara spoke to the coach conductor in the corridor.
Pankajam was in deep sleep. “This is totally my responsibility. I would be responsible for anything untoward that may happen…. At the right moment, you wake me up” said Tara to the coach conductor. A little money changed hands.
It is early dawn when Pankajam woke up. She looked at her wrist watch. It was 5:30 am.
“Get ready! You must get ready in a minute. The moment the train stops you must get down.” Pankajam was not surprised looking at her mother pulling the alarm chain.
In two seconds they got off the train when it stopped.
At a distance on the platform, Pankajam saw the board, Vizianagaram Jn.
“Shouldn’t we go to Visakhapatnam. Why did we get off here at Vizianagaram? The packet has come from Visakhapatnam, didn’t it?”
“So you have seen!.... Raoji has a boy’s mind and he has always been like that…..”
“Who is Raoji!”
“With any luck you would surely see him”
“What does that mean?”
“I have a feeling that he is fine. That is what my mind tells me….. If you have any faith in God, please send up prayers for his life. Don’t ask questions.”
Pankajam was not surprised but she was confused. She could guess that there must be some relation between their travel and the parcel that came with a ring in it…
There is some relation surely between the ring that came in the parcel and her mother’s swooning. The one who sent the parcel was Raghava Rao and it came from Visakhapatnam.
In Vizianagaram railway station there are no autos. .. Only cycle rikshaws are available. Tara told her daughter very briefly: It is me that got old but Raoji still has youthful qualities. … He has always been like that, prankish. “Before I got married the ring is the one that I put on his finger while we were seeing a film in a there”
Tara stopped with that.
The rickshaw bumped in a pot hole on the road. Tara gasped for breath. Though the tried to make her speak Tara was in no condition to speak. Within a short while, while still gasping she began again: “Pankajam, now you are just a friend of mine. … I reveal all this to you as do to a friend. A young woman who has grown intelligent would be anxious to be embraced by her lover. … But, how many parents would know this in the condition of their grown up daughter…”
She breathed a little … “Please treat me as a friend in the matter of love and tell me everything to me however small or big is the matter. … “
“Mother, are you feeling sad about your past?” she asked her mother.
Pankajam thought she has understood the reason behind her mother’s gasping.
“No! Believe me. Certainly no.”
“Daddy …with you … Daddy…” Pankajam stopped in the middle speaking in English.
The conversation going on English stopped.
The rickshaw stopped before a house which had the plaque showing: Dr Ramachandra Rao, Head, Dept of Psychology. Tara got off and rang the door bell. A young man, possibly two or three older than Pankajam opened to door.
“Isn’t your name Madhu?” Tara asked.
“Please come in first.” The young man said.
“I used to fondle you every minute in those days”, Tara said, “Couldn’t spend even two days without coming and seeing you!”
“Doctor Aswini…. Your father..?”
“He is in the intensive care unit in the hospital…”
“I guessed as much! Your mother ..?”
“Passed way, two years ago.”
Tara got down the stairs and sat down in the waiting rickshaw. Pankajam followed suit. In the rickshaw, on the way to the hotel, Tara told her daughter: “It is not right for me to see him there. ..He may not be able to see me in his condition … even I suffered a shock. But we will see him…”
“Mother, you are gasping. You must be very excited…” Pankajam said frankly mustering her courage.
“You cannot understand…”
Pankajam remembered what she studied - A newsman’s skill lies not in asking questions but in using his eyes and ears sharply with intelligence, she remembered studying in a book of journalism.
“How old am I you think? Tara asked her daughter.
“May be forty eight or …”
“Do you think I always looked like this?”
Pankajam understood that her mother was going to tell her something.
“Time is a gushing stream of water. You can also say it is a wheel that never stops. Time has a power to make people think that a moment is eternal. I was like you once, you, beautiful and attractive – as you are now!”
“You need a cup of coffee now, shall I…?”
“Listen to what I am saying. I don’t say I am not happy or not contented. Don’t make a mistake like that. I have seen, experienced what it makes on feel like volcanoes erupting in the heart.”
“I can understand,” Pankajam said taking a leap.
“Silly girl, you can’t know it. I was twenty-two going to get a degree in medicine. It was a time when emotions and passions go racing … This man named Raghava Rao is usually called Raoji…”
“You wanted to marry him…!”
“By that time he had been married, had a son too…”
“I can understand”
“You are mistaken. My agony it is that you think you can understand … Sex is not everything in life. Marriage is not the goal. Feeling, experience …is momentary as well as everlasting. I thought that wedding is not absolutely necessary in life. Raoji is a different kind of man. My father was a saintly man, never took things seriously
… He never said anything when he saw Raoji visiting me very, very frequently… he left every thing to my discretion…he digested the Gita … took everything as it came… I know … I don’t regret it now.”
“Do you wish those days to come back again?”
“You are fast growing...yes, really… It was my feeling that time must have stopped there. Any way, I don’t like sentimental tears I was madly in love with him … our ways became different… I made my heart stony ... with what effort, you may guess…I forgot him ... thought so at least…” Tara’s voice went hoarse and tears rolled down her cheeks. “… Time may be very valuable. However much you know, however wise you may grow… the mind doesn’t ever give up being sentimental…I must see him once… Can you bear seeing him along with me? Can you see reality and tolerate it… To practise journalism some sharp intelligence is necessary …Would you come with me or say you wouldn’t be able to withstand…”
The hospital smell, disinfectant, the smell of pain and anguish … Pankajam felt odd and nauseated.
“I’m Doctor Aswini, from Calcutta, Dr Ramachandra Rao … my friend…”
“He’s in a critical..
“Sorry, I told you I’m a doc!”
“All right! For a little while; if he’s asleep don’t disturb him.”
The duty doctor walked away.
Raoji is looking at the roof above. One of the wooden beams above was moth eaten.
“Aren’t you Aswini?”
“This is my daughter, Pankajam, twenty two.
“So the ring reached you, I’m going … we had a great time… our daughter?”
Tara looked down and said “No, he breathed his last as a little babe. Viral pneumonia, I couldn’t save him.”
”Don’t worry … all these years …”
“I kept it all to myself. I confessed to a patient of mine, a devout Catholic who gave me an advice any priest would give. He advised me not to write, asked me never to see you again… never to think about you… Only the last I couldn’t ever do. I got your message and rushed here.”
“Then, the Catholic’s word…”
”We are in no age to sin….we are grown up. When I saw the ring and your address
written on the packet… I thought that you had not changed. You’d never change.”
“Aswini, you speak what you think. A doc, you don’t mince matters. We should remain as kids as we were then. Among all the nine tastes every one is necessary as the seven in the range of colours. Ageing is natural, inescapable. Being youthful is god’s gift … you look fresh!’
“It is deficiency of vision,” Tara said.
“Detecting deficiencies in health is your profession … To be alive is my good fortune. Rajjyam disappeared leaving me alone...The other woman departed…”
There are tears in his eyes. … Tara held his hand.
“Your hubby…?” Raoji asked
There was no passion, no dislike, no irony or any thing uncomplimentary. There is affection and deep love in it. It was an expression of joy.
Pankajam remembered when she heard of a Catholic saint, St. Juliana of Norwich:
Sin is behovely
All is well
And all shall be well
All depends on how it is viewed, understood and appreciated. She thought for a while and could see the understanding of her parents and more importantly the sick man she has seen a few minutes ago for the first time. Is it not a wonder that there is no thought of a sin. Is it because of the great inward capacity of understanding and tolerance…?
Raoji called Pankajam near and took her hand into his saying: “Sugunakar Rao came when he got the news of Rajyam’s demise…”
“He knew all before his wedding. I told him myself. … A great man ...husband of a great woman!”
“Why didn’t he tell me?!” Tara wondered.
“Five minutes over,” Madhu came saying.
Pankajam did not look at the young man. She is looking into Raoji’s eyes.
There is a feeling of delectable understanding and joyousness.
“The Doctor is coming!” a worried Sister came saying softly.
“God bless you child! God bless you dear!”
For Pankajam the smile on Raoji’s lips looked like a garland put on a hanging of his picture.
Tara put the ring she brought on Raoji’s finger with deep affection.
Raoji turned on his side closing his eyes filled with joy.
Originally written in Telugu, this story was published in SWATI Monthly, April 1985