Incompatible marriages make life hell, especially for girls in most cases. Abha, fictitious name, was one such victim. But are men an exception? Read on the story, based on true happenings.
Abha's Dream People called me handsome and I liked to believe them and who wouldn't? My regular visit to the municipality weight lifting club, situated near the office where I worked, had helped me in maintaining an attractive male figure even after spending four years of an unhappy married life and fathering a daughter, a fact known to everybody.
Before and after office hours I taught English in a coaching institute run by a retired Prof. Mr. Khanna, a nice gentleman. Incidentally I had also received coaching in this institute and Mr. Khanna finding me good had asked me to take up teaching during morning and evening shifts. The number of girl students was larger here than that of the boys.
The institute was run in a rented building. There were two big square rooms used as classrooms and between them was a narrow gallery, which was always crowded with girls. The male teachers could, however, wait there before going to teach. I must have been a novice and a coward in matters of romance and had never dared flirt with girls. This had reversed roles and I had noticed some girls making indirect overtures to me, which conveyed more than they hinted.
One plain looking girl in particular would chase me while I climbed down the stairs after my classes were finished. She would write sad romantic poems and insist on my taking them home and reading them between the lines. One day she looked at me with lots of complaints in her eyes and asked me if I was blind not to have seen certain things happening so obviously.
Somehow she looked at me in a manner that disturbed my conscience and I snubbed her for saying such out of the way things. But she persisted in her ways. Finally I came to tolerate her with a proper distance. Usually girls hovered around me as bees do around sweet flowers. One day I was sitting in the gallery when two girls sandwiched me from both sides on the bench. Their proximity was more than decent limits permit and I told this to the girl sitting the closest and to my right warning her in as polite a manner as I could manage that she would receive a slap if she didn't keep a proper distance.
To my surprise, she offered her cheek for me to slap saying in a provocative silken voice, "mariye na."(Please go ahead and do give me at least a light tap). It was out of the question to oblige her. Scowling openly, I left the gallery. Such incidents became routine and I confess that gradually I didn't find them as objectionable as in the beginning. I would rather look forward to the next such incidence.
One day while teaching, I noticed two girls whispering into each other's ears and pointing to my trousers or shirt. I looked hard at them and they turned to their notebooks. But I was curious to know what they were discussing. Both were good students and I decided to ignore this minor girlish whispering in the class. A few days later I saw them standing in a corner of the room away from the crowd. They were very calm and composed. So I approached them and expressed my desire to know what they were discussing on that particular day.
At first they tried to put me off by making some excuse but when I persisted, the elder one said with downcast eyes that they were appreciating my dress. "Only dress?" I asked. She looked at me and in a calm voice she told me that it was my attractive physic and personality they were discussing. I felt flattered and something stirring within me for the first time. My wife had never appreciated anything in me.
I tried to take a peep out of my self-built cocoon of a few impractical dos and don'ts and said that it was a minor thing and I felt nothing wrong in it. I told them that they shouldn't have done that so ostentatiously. Some time passed.
The name of the elder girl was Abha and she was married. She approached me one day while I was alone in the gallery and bidding me namaste, asked for permission to sit on the bench beside me as it was the only one there. I nodded and she sat down scratching the floor with her big toe. Then she looked up and politely asked if I could visit her house some day, preferably a Sunday.
I felt that there shouldn't be any problem except that I would have to offer some excuse to my wife who was sure to create a storm in our teacup for my going away on a holiday. Hence I consented. I reached Abha's house, her parents' house to be exact, at the settled hour. She was at her parental home at the time. She had informed her family about my visit. Her room was upstairs while the rest of the family lived downstairs.
When I arrived, her mother saw me coming. Without betraying any sign of what she felt on seeing me and with a movement of the head signaled me to go up meaning thereby that it was all right for Abha to have her teacher visiting her. Abha had seen me from the terrace and must have been eagerly waiting for my arrival. As usual she was wearing a simple plain saree hardly befitting a young married girl. She wore no make up. She bade me namaste with folded hands and led me to her room.
She made me sit to the head of her bed and herself she sat towards the feet on the other extreme. I recalled Chandermukhi sitting in a like manner with Srikant in Sharat Chandra's famous novel named after the hero. Chandermukhi never gave expression to her love for the hero but worshiped him silently in a way that made the readers empathize with her. I found my situation much similar to the situation in the novel. I didn't know what to do or say sitting with Abha towards the feet of the bed and the moments that elapsed were proving ages and embarrassing.
Abha sat on her haunches with her chin on the folded knees and downcast eyes busy by now in her trademark scratching movement with her toe. After sometime realizing that the pause had been a bit too long, she rose and quietly went downstairs. She returned with refreshment, the choicest sweets, dry fruit and namkin with chilled coca cola and placed them on a side stool. She again acquired the same pose, looked up, made eye contact for a fleeting moment; her lips quivered but she said nothing.
After a minute she humbly asked me to have the refreshment. She declined my invitation to share it with me. I had heard that she sang well and asked her to sing a song. With usual initial protest that her voice was highly unmusical and that she could just hum in the bathroom, she finally consented to sing an old song. In her characteristic pose with her chin on her folded knees she started singing a song sung by Mohd. Rafi in Hindi film Chanderkanta, "Mein ne chaand aur sitaron ki tamanna ki thi. Mujhko raaton ki siyahi ke siva kuchh ne mila a a a" (I had hoped to catch the moon and the stars in life, but what all I received was the darkness of night).
It was very saddening and I felt she was hiding her tears. She in fact rubbed her eyes on the saree on her knees. The song over, she made no attempt to move and just sat in that posture. She wanted to silently suffer from some hidden pain and prolong it. For the first time I also felt that Abha's pain was not her individual pain. I felt its echo in my heart too. I reflected on my past. What happiness had I found in my own life?
In fact after my marriage it was just pain and frustration. It was a perpetual compromise with bitterness. There was no remission from this personal pain whatever I tried. I had been unconsciously suppressing the daily doses of anger, humiliation, irrationality and what not. Abha's song was over but I found it difficult to applaud her, as the entire course of events hadn't warranted it. I felt a non-descript pang for some forgotten, suppressed or crushed dream, some huge frustration which leaves one insensitive to one's environment around like Bonnivard, the Prisoner of Chillon in Byron's long poem.
I wrestled with myself trying not to define what it was that made me share Abha's pain. Her song, her scratching the floor with the toe; her affected calm and composure trying to hold back a flood of tears; all pointed to some festering wound that would bleed till eternity. I was drained of all emotions. I had no strength left to comfort her and even if I tried, I had no social sanction or authority to do so. But who would console me? I too carried life as a burden that I was compelled to drag on. I had forgotten my pain years ago but now a healed wound had opened up.
I didn't' want to indulge in self pity before Abha who was nobody to me and yet I was inextricably bound with her life. It was not my doing. She had opened up an aching heart intuitively and entangled me. The mystery how and why she did this was to be a mystery forever. I left her sitting there and climbed down the stairs holding back my own tears.
Abha's song and the accompanying pain, sadness and an unarticulated loss of a mysterious something haunted me constantly. I looked for her in the institute but she didn't come to attend classes for a whole week. I had a strong urge like putting my arm round her shoulders and consoling her. I wouldn't want her to explain and define the pain. I would just touch her shaking body, pet her, wipe out her tears and somehow be a part of her life history. But how was it to happen and who was I to have that right to be a sympathizer? Perhaps the word sympathizer was a lie. I found no name for this strange impossible human relation. It was a taboo in my society.
A week passed and I couldn't bear this mental state any longer. I decided to send her a post card for it was safer that way if someone from her family fancied like reading her letters, an enveloped letter from a mere teacher could be intriguing. She sent no reply. I took it to mean no objection to my visiting her as my visits were accepted by the family. I rang the bell and her mother came to the door. She stiffened at my sight but invited me in.
The atmosphere, which always had been neutral on my earlier visits, became stiff and I could feel the coldness on every face. In a ground floor room, a short and very dark complexioned balding man with just a fringe of hair like a circle round the head sat on a chair. It was difficult to fix his age. He had unattractive features and one wouldn't bother to look at him twice. He looked so out of place in the family of all fair colored good-looking persons.
He was certainly no match for Abha's good looks and fair color. Today I was not shown the way upstairs to Abha's room. Rather I was offered a chair a little away from the man. I sat and looked around foolishly. No one came to offer even a glass of water. It was extremely embarrassing. After what looked like ages, Abha came into the room. The man looked at her with questioning eyes.
Ignoring him she looked at me and gradually turned her looks towards the man for a moment. She again looked at me as if asking whether any explanation was necessary. I rose, bade namaskar to the man and without looking again at Abha or her husband, I walked out and away to God knows where.