Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Delusions Short-Lived

"Meet Vimala, my wife. Vimala! This is Krishnan, my classmate in the college. We ran into each other today after many long years."

Vimala greeted Krishnan with a formal smile.

"Vimala! Engage our guest in conversation. I will be back in a minute." Parasu went in, leaving them in the drawing room.

It was quite unlike of Parasu to have brought a friend home. This was the first time that Parasu had introduced someone as a friend. Vimala had even wondered whether Parasu had any friend at all. As far as she could know, Parasu's acquaintances were limited to his business circle and he seldom extended any of these acquaintances to the personal level. She had also not come across any correspondence from any friend.

So, it was a surprise to her that for the first time after her marriage, a friend of Parasu had made his appearance.

"Parasa said a lot about you" said Krishnan breaking the silence.

Vimala didn't respond beyond broadening her smile. She was wondering whether Krishnan said that just to initiate a conversation or whether Parasu  would have really told him something about her.

What would he have said? What could he have said? 'My wife's name is Vimala. She is a nice, smart and understanding woman.' Something like that?

"Hmmmm.   What did he say about me?" she asked, sounding jovial.

"That you are educated and intelligent. That you are an avid reader. That you have a keen interest in arts, literature...'

A burst of laughter emanated from her instantly and involuntarily.

"Anything wrong with what I said?" asked Krishnan puzzled at her sudden laughter and sounding embarrassed.

"No, no... I was asking myself how your friend came to know of these details about me... I could not help laughing. I am sorry, if I have upset you."

Her reply, rather than easing his embarrassment, intensified it. "Why, of course, he is your husband!"

Vimala realized that she had been a little too frank with a stranger she got acquainted with, only minutes before.

Parasu joined them presently. "Vimala, do you know why I introduced Krishnan to you? He is also of your type. You both have many common interests. Like you, he is also a connoisseur. In our college, he was nicknamed 'library Guard' because he would spend most of his time in the library. His conversations would always be about paintings, music and books and most of us would avoid him like a plague. But in spite of our different interests, we had developed a mutual liking for each other and our friendship had stood the test of time, as they say in books! He has not changed much. He has taken up a new assignment as the Resident Representative of a company. He is his own boss and has flexible working hours. At present, he doesn't have much work and has a lot of free time. He can be of good company to you, if you wish. After all, you have also been feeling bored sitting lonely in the house."

"Oh yes, he is always welcome" said Vimala more by way of a courteous response. She wished that Parasu had said this to her in private. But  Parasu never had any time for private conversations.  Nor did he ever show any concern for discretion and niceties.

Subsequently, Krishnan visited their  house a couple of times. Parasu was not home during those times. Parasu had never been in the house during day time, since his business matters occupied his entire day.

Vimala was not sure whether to encourage Krishnan visiting her when she was alone in the house. Krishnan himself was very discreet by not staying for more than a few minutes and observing reticence.

Vimala wondered what made Parasu befriend someone like Kishnan with whom he seemed to have nothing in common. There was a wide gulf separating the aptitudes, interests and tastes of the two. To Parasu, the world was confined to his business - its opportunities, problems and challenges and the excitement it offered to him. He had no interest in or time for any other thing. Even his newspaper reading was focused on news items concerning or affecting his business. He had a tight schedule and allocated time for various things he has to do in relation to his business. He would talk to Vimala only during the time he allocated for her in his schedule! He believed in living life as per his plans and programs. And he was particular about sticking to his schedule and would resent and frown upon any deviation.

In contrast, Krishnan did not appear to evince much interest in his job. He had an inclination towards spending his time  in reading and artistic pursuits. What had brought the two of them together was an enigma to Vimala. Did Parasu ever have a different side to his personality? And if he did, does he still have that?

The question why Parasu thought it fit to introduce Krishnan to her continued to haunt her. Was it the result of a guilty feeling that he was unable to share any of her interests? Or did he feel bad about not spending much time with her, as any average husband is expected to?  Did he feel that he could make amends for his shortcomings by giving her a chance to interact with his friend who had interests similar to her own?

If this was his line of thinking, then it was amazing, thought  Vimala. She never expected such an understanding of her needs from Parasu. Perhaps she had not understood her husband fully and had underestimated his concern for her.

After a few days of acquaintance, Vimala was surprised to discover that she had developed a liking and even an admiration for Krishnan. She realized that his claim of having a deep interest in arts and literature was not mere humbug. He did have an aesthetic mind and fine tastes. Parasu had not exaggerated while talking to her about Krishnan's interests.

He had a deep knowledge on the trends and developments in Tamil literature. He could make intelligent evaluations of various literary works in Tamil. He also had a keen analytical ability to compare the styles and contributions of various Tamil writers with writers in other languages like English. When he differed with her on some issues, he refrained from being argumentative but reiterated his views politely yet firmly. He was unsparing in panning the works of certain women-writers whom he considered to have had no understanding either about women's issues or about the art of writing.

Once, he reluctantly showed her a poem written by him. When she kept a poker face and remarked, "Who doesn't write poems these days?" he laughed heartily without feeling hurt.

Both realized that they had become good friends. They met more and more frequently and spent a lot of time discussing topics of mutual interest.

Finding that Krishnan was hardly spending any time for his professionl work, she teased him by questioning the wisdom of his company paying a huge salary to an idle person like him.

He replied, "Okay. I will ask my company to stop paying me. But you should ask Parasu to pay me instead."

"What for?" retorted Vimala in mock anger, "for using our furniture, increasing our electricity bill and for exhausting the stock of coffee powder in our house?"

"Oh! Is this the way you treat your guests? I will put in a word to Parasu."

"You are welcome, sir! I am only speaking  for him. It is his master's voice that you are hearing now."

"I will convey this also to him."

Both laughed aloud. The mention of 'His Master's Voice'  led to the discussion about the new release of music records by HMV.

Parasu  gave her two tickets for a new film. Parasu would take her to two films every month regularly. This was a part of his schedule and he never missed this part of his schedule as he didn't the other parts. But he had never given her the tickets. Since he was taking her, the tickets would be with him. 'Why is he giving me the tickets now?'

She was apprised of the reason quickly. Parasu asked her to take Krishnan along, since he had some other engagement.

"You want me to go to the theatre with Krishnan?" asked a perplexed Vimala.

"You heard me right" was Parasu's brief reply.

Vimala was hesitant to follow his advice. ' I don't understand how he can be so liberal? Does this show the extent of his faith in me and his friend? Or is he planning to divert the time he has scheduled for me to his business by deputing Krishnan for the task ? After all, Parasu has no interest in watching films and the time he has been spending  for taking her to films is a kind of sacrifice for her sake, from his perspective. Or, is he giving us both a long rope and putting us on some kind of a test?'

She immediately dismissed the last possibility since she was sure that Parasu would not stoop to the level of playing such cheap tricks.

As advised by him, she went to the film with Krishnan.

After that occasion, they had no inhibition about going out together. They frequented movie houses, drama theatres, exhibition halls and libraries.

It was after several weeks that Parasu talked to her about Krishnan. It was one of the rare occasions when Parasu was so relaxed before going to bed.

"How is Krishnan?" asked Parasu, sounding casual.

"He is fine" replied Vimala tersely.

"We were very close in the college. After leaving the college, we had lost touch. I accidentally met him after a very long time."

Vimala listened silently, having nothing to say. After a pause, Parasu added, "Poor fellow! Unfortunately, his marriage has become a disaster."

"Is that so? What is it? I didn't even know that he was married." said Vimala, her surprise showing in her tone and expression.

"His wife was not a good match to him."

'Am I a good match to you?' was the question that instantly sprang up in her mind. " Really? What was wrong?"

"There was an unbridgeable gap between the two. He is an intellectual and is a man of fine tastes. His wife is an uneducated village woman. There was nothing to hold both of them together."

"But then, why did he marry her at all? Was he not aware of her background before tying the knot?"

"I don't know. But as you know Vimala, a marriage is arranged considering various factors. He might have agreed to the arrangement due to his parents' pressure or due to the lure of a huge dowry offered by the girl's parents. Or, he might have just been carried away by her looks.  Whatever might have been the reason, he found out that he couldn't get along with her."

"Are they still living together or have they separated?"

"They have separated all right, not legally though. He has sent her back to her parents and has no intention of living with her again.  As you know, he can't get an immediate divorce. He has to wait for a couple of years before seeking divorce."

Vimala didn't know what to say.

"He says they lived together only for a short while and during that period, there was absolutely no compatibility between the two, not to speak of harmony. He craves for an intellectual company and his wife was in no position to provide such a company to him. So he decided to live separately from her. He was very much depressed after the separation .... He says, he has been able to revive his interest in life only after meeting you. In you, he finds an intellectual company that invigorates his spirits. That's why I encouraged your friendship. I think it will be good for both of you. You must also be finding life more interesting talking to him and moving with him. Am I right?"

Vimala felt the anger rising in her like a fire burning inside her. 'Krishnan! What a hypocrite he is!  He marries a simple village girl fully knowing about her background and then deserts her saying that she couldn't provide him with intellectual company! Intellectual company - my bare left foot! I was so naive to be carried away by his graceful demeanor and intellectual outlook.

'Parasu is an angel. I can't even compare Parasu with Krishnan. Parasu understands that he can't give me good company though he is unable to do anything about it. But he realizes that just as the machines in his factory require periodical maintenance, I also need some inputs now and then. And he provides for them in his own way by doing things like taking me to films, notwithstanding his tight schedule, these may not have the desired effect on me though!

'But Krishnan? Marrying an innocent woman with the full knowledge about her background, then deserting her on the pretext of incompatibility and posing to her to be a gentleman, without feeling even an iota of remorse for the injustice perpetrated on his helpless wife!

'No wonder he has not talked to me about his marriage. He is scared that I would certainly disapprove of what he has done and cut off his relationship immediately. Let him come here tomorrow. I will throw him out, after giving him a piece of my mind!'

Her thoughts were interrupted by Parasu, "What are you thinking so deeply about, Vimala? Pitying Krishnan for his fate? What can we do about? Leave it... It's getting late. It's ten thirty now. Switch off the lamp!"

Parasu's words and the smirk on his face reminded her of Parasu's time-table. Oh, today is Thursday. She switched off the lamp with a feeling of irritation.

(Written in the year 1982)

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