Nov 14, 2010

A Question of Trust - Part III

Read Part One and Two here.

Lakshmi Ammal had laughed off her son's careless remark, saying "I have been with him for 28 years now. If he had to stray, he'd have done so long ago." But the changes she saw in her husband's routine disturbed her. It was as if a clock that had been running reliably for a quarter century suddenly begins to chime at odd hours, and run awry. And if that is the only clock in one's world, how does one reset it to the 'correct time'?

She had ignored the early signs. Like when he had changed his opinion on 'that Bengali lady' to "she's not as bad as I thought". Or when he returned a bit late from office, saying he had gone to drop her off to her place. She had kept her thoughts to herself even when his lunch box came back untouched, while the servant remarked that he had seen his master taking the girl out for lunch to a hotel. 

But the proverbial 'last straw' happenned when Krishna Iyer started jogging in the morning. With Ms. Sengupta. And Lakshmi Ammal had to silently bear the shame of the whispered "Paavum di maami, kalangkarthala inga paal vaanga nikkara. Anga enna da na naai maadiri naaka thonga potundu andha ponnu pinnadi odararu ivaathu mama", when she went to buy the milk at 5 a.m. ("Poor maami, she has to stand in the line for milk early morning. While her husband runs after that girl like a dog with his tongue out").

Lakshmi Ammal was not one for direct confrontation. Her mother had taught her better. She had seen her sister being sent back to her abusive husband, just so that the 'family honour' be preserved. But the message had to be conveyed to her husband, and it was up to her to find the way. And thus Krishna Iyer knew something was just not right the moment he entered his house that evening. The house was dark, and the puja room lamp was unlit. "Ennadi, sami velakku ethalaya?" (Why haven't you lit the puja lamp?"). "Veetula velakku etharthuku thaan neenga puthusa orithi pathundu irukkele, avala vandhu etha sollungo" ("You have been seeing a new girl, ask her to come and light it").

“What nonsense are you talking? Who put such ridiculous ideas into your head?”

“Why? They don’t light lamps in Bengal?”


Had Lakshmi Ammal been aware of a certain incident at Krishna Iyer’s office, the one that triggered the changes in his routine, she’d have regretted voicing such doubts. But her absence at the venue at the said time, plus the fact that she had never questioned her husband ever, exonerated her current behaviour in his eyes. And reinforced a lesson that he had only recently learnt, that open communication is the only weapon to clear barriers in relationships.

(Meta-digression: While this writer hates flashbacks in general, and has no pretensions regarding his ability to narrate a story in multiple timelines, it becomes necessary for us to rewind to the said incident to take this story forward. Back to the story).

It had been another long, acrimonious day at the office, when Ms. Sengupta had presented her interim findings to the client management, and her bosses who had flown in for the same, and had been at the receiving end of what is politely referred to as ‘constructive criticism’ from her boss regarding her ability to ‘deliver on the client’s requirements by proactively working to eliminate any apprehensions that the client’s team might have and to achieve their buy-in for the project’. Krishna Iyer had just smirked silently, knowing fully well that when the next presentation happens at the end of the month, nothing would have been achieved on the ‘eliminate misapprehensions and achieve buy-in’ part, as long as he had something to do with it.

And while he packed up to leave office at 5.30 as usual, he saw the girl sitting with her ‘fancy’ laptop, with a determined look on her face. And when he came back the next day morning, she was still there, only this time, the determined look was replaced by sleepy eyes as her head rested on a stack of files. “You think those files make for a good pillow?”, he commented sarcastically. And then it happenned.

It was as if a dam had broke, as the flood of tears gushed forth. She had yelled at him first, pointing out how she knew he hated her, and that he wanted this project to fail only to humiliate her. Then she had broken down, telling him in between tears, how she felt all alone in this strange city, how she missed her family and her friends, and how she had looked up to him as a father figure, only to be spurned and humiliated time and again. Krishna Iyer had never been comfortable with tears. All his life, he had been content to leave his wife to tend to the kids, busying himself with ‘the Hindu’ whenever the babies cried. He did not hate kids, he just preferred that they neither be heard nor be seen. And now, here was this fully grown girl, sobbing in front of him.

But either some hidden paternal instinct, or the fact that he secretly missed his own daughter so much, caused him to warm up to this alien girl, in spite of her funny smelling food and her short hair. And impulsively he decided to be a father to her, to fulfil a role which he knew he should have performed for his own daughter.

He missed his daughter. All she had asked for, was the permission to marry someone she loved. Her words came back to him, “Appa, I want to marry someone who loves me for the person I am. Not someone who is looking for labels like Hindu-Brahmin, well-schooled, knows cooking, can sing and dance. And I want to marry a person whom I know, for what he is, not a collection of fancy foreign degrees and a six-figure pay packet.” And at that time, he had wondered what a fool of a girl she was, to refuse a religious minded NRI mapillai (groom) with a green card, one who had not picked up any ‘dirty’ habits in spite of living in the States. He had explained to her how he had been happily married for so long in spite of saying ‘yes’ to her mother after one meeting and 2 minutes of conversation, a meeting he remembered more for the tasty bhajji than anything else. The daughter had said something to the tune of how it would take a selfless woman like her mother to put up with someone like him, and she was sure a lesser woman would have walked out on him. And that comment had led to more arguments, a lot of shouting and ended with him banging the door on her face with the words “From this moment on, you are dead to me...”

And now, he repented those words. And while he decided to help out this Bengali girl by accompanying her on her morning jogs to ward off eve-teasers, and take her out on the occasional lunch, over the days he slowly swallowed his pride and decided to re-unite with his daughter too. He knew his wife maintained contact with the daughter while continuing to maintain a veil of secrecy from him, and he decided to surprise her by buying gifts for his daughter and asking her to invite them over.

And he entered his house joyfully, with gifts in his hands, and a happy message for his wife, only to find the house dark and the puja room lamp unlit...

PS1: I know, I know, long time no update. But a home visit for Diwali and coming back to a deal that needed some late night fire-fighting at office are valid excuses in my book.

PS 2: And this story goes on and on, like a mega serial. No excuses for that, except the fact that a more skilled writer, or editor, could have cured that.

PS3: Need to do a home visit post too. Let' see. Need to decide if I should do it in the middle of this story, or bring it up later. 

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