Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Me and my friends

“Life is not fair!”

It has never been to me. Right from the days of my school, college and then marriage, nobody really cared for my thoughts. Worst nobody recognised I can even think. Nobody asked me for my opinion any thing; even decisions of my life were made by somebody.

This is what I used think before.

I was born to a middle class Brahmin family in Bangalore. Most of early part of my life was defined by my mother and father. My mother was all over me in my early years to learn cooking, cleaning and doing other house work which would make me a “good” wife in the future. My father, called himself progressive and wanted me to study well. Studies were one thing, which was my own, though the decision of what I studied was made by my father. During those days, I had adapted to the family process, didn’t worry about all these things and joined Engineering as decided by my father. Not many girls studied engineering during those days (1966, Bangalore). I was proud of myself to have achieved that. I was like a star in front of my friends, who were few.

Just after Engineering was over, I was married off to a professor who was teaching in an engineering college in Ooty. Needless to say, my parents didn’t ask me for my choice, instead was advised on bright future I had because of the qualities of the groom. Rajan Acharya was good looking, earned well, and moreover was in a respectable profession. This was enough for my father to show-off in front of his relatives and friends. I have felt number of times in my life that the perception of friends and relatives mattered most to my parents. Anyways, it doesn’t matter now on what they thought and what they are supposed to think.

As any girl of that age, I had my own dreams of life after marriage. In the hindsight the biggest dream for me was to be treated as an individual than a thing. Yeah, that is how I thought my parents treated me. It is not that, they ill-treated me or anything bad, but my SELF was not satisfied with my life decisions made by my parents. I wanted to make my own decisions and make my own mistakes.

Leaving that aside, after the marriage I moved in with Rajan in the staff quarters of the college. My relatives and my friends envied me for marrying Rajan. There were lot of reasons from their perspective, I didn’t have to live with my In-Laws, I would live in hill station, Rajan earned well, Rajan was good looking etc. etc. I also felt proud for marrying a husband like Rajan, and even displayed that in front of them. It’s funny, how I am cribbing about not having my independence.

During the initial days of marriage, it was difficult for me to adjust to new scenario. My parents had taken care of all the difficulties for me in my life, and Rajan was not one of those guys who asked about my difficulties. I think this is when I started building up my independence and doing my own mistakes. There were lot of times, I couldn’t eat the stuff I cooked, but Rajan would eat without any comment or without even showing an irritation. He was a nice man.

To define Rajan, I can simply say, he was not one of those charming heroes written in the stories and shown in movies. It looked like, his only aim in life was to make a lot of money. I never understood his urge to make more money. Though he took me to shopping, I could feel his ever conscious nature of buying things cheap. This was still a promotion for me, as my father used to do all the purchasing for me. I never complained.

One evening, after 5-6 months after our marriage, Rajan was filling up an application form. As always, I never dared to ask him what it was about. After filling up the form, he asked me to sign at the specified place in the application form. That is when I realised it was an application for lecturer post in his college. As always, I didn’t ask any questions and signed the application. That night I slept with a happy feeling about working, and was thrilled to know that my husband was concerned about me.

I got the job very easily, as my husband was an influential person in the College. I had to attend 6 month training and started my work with enthusiasm. I think those were the best days of my life. I was involved in work completely both at college and home and the process of learning to teach gave me lot of satisfaction. My busy mind didn’t let me think some of the negative things, which I had slowly started off after the marriage. I even didn’t bother that my salary was being credited to a joint account with my husband and Rajan controlled it with tight hands.

My happy days continued with new colleagues at office, there was only one female lecturer other than me and we quickly became buddies. Deepika was a nice person with lot of heart and we quickly became friends sharing our thoughts and views on life. After my school days, this was the first time I had found a person whom I could share my thoughts.

It was during these happy days that I got pregnant. I was ecstatic, for the first time in my adult life. I thought for hours and hours on the way to tell Rajan and finally broke the news to Rajan the next day evening, he told, “Ranjana! We didn’t need this now” and went to sleep. For him, our child was a “this” and I quickly saw the saddest day of my life. I had no energy to do anything and didn’t go to college the next day. I was worrying the whole day on what would happen to our child, and what would Rajan do next. I was sleeping when Rajan came back home and broke the news that, his family was visiting us the next day morning. He even helped me in cleaning the guest room. Another first, I had seen 3 firsts just in 3 days. I realised that my worries about Rajan’s thoughts was all my imagination. I was in peace.

After Ranjini was born, my whole life was filled with her. It was like a dream world for me, feeding, cleaning and playing with Ranjini. It opened up a whole new life for me, which I had not thought existed for me. Rajan, as usual kept to himself, he didn’t show any signs of special joy of becoming a father. I guess that is how Men are made. Whenever Mother-in-Law was critical of his not helping me, he always dismissed her with silence. I had almost forgotten about college until Rajan reminded of my leaves coming to an end. Mother-in-Law, spoke first, announcing that she will stay with us till the Ranjini is big enough to manage herself. Rajan was emotionless, as always.

God knows how the years speeded past in my life. I had somewhere heard that this is what children do to parents life. Ranjini quickly grew to be a talkative kid, and my after college hours became cheerful seeing, talking and playing with her. I had found my best friend in Ranjini. Life at college was normal without much special things, and my friendship with Deepika provided me the much needed comfort. Most of my days were typically filled with Classes, Deepika and Ranjini.

One evening, around 6 years back, when Ranjini was still in her 3rd standard class, Rajan announced that he is going to America. He had got an opportunity to teach and do research in American university for a year as part of an university education program. I was dumb-struck and couldn’t talk for 10 minutes. Only thing running in my head was, “How am I going to manage without Rajan?”. For the first time in our marriage, Rajan, explained the need for him to go to America. He wanted to get the experience and make money and if possible stay on in America. America, the land of opportunities, he exclaimed! I was not sure, if I had to be happy or sad. For the first time in my life, he was showing emotions which were dear to him and the event would make me take all the troubles of raising Ranjini alone. I had never before, told or did anything against his will, and today, when he was so happy for his opportunity, I couldn’t stop him. I even didn’t know how to show my worries to him. Over next one month, Rajan did everything with interest. He taught me all the nitty-gritty’s of the house finances starting from our bank account, Ranjini’s school fees, paying other bills, purchasing stuff, etc. etc. He had never before talked to me so much about anything, and I felt very happy about his talking to me. I took up my new responsibilities very seriously and even enjoyed it. One fine day, Rajan left to America.

The life without Rajan was not that scary as I had thought before. Ranjini was my best friend and life went on as before. Rajan used to call us once in a month, and never talked more than 5 minutes. He talked about the research he was doing and about how he never had time to write a letter. Generally, after these calls for 2-3 days I never used to feel good about life, I used to feel the loss of Rajan from my life. The feeling of loss became more pronounced as Rajan extended his trip to another 5 years. He never missed calling us every month, and never more than 5 Minutes. I used to feel bad for Ranjini who would be cut in between in her talk if she felt like talking more. She lost interest in monthly calls from Rajan.

Deepika always mentioned to me that, I am loosing interest in life and asked me to cheer up. She sometimes indicated about possibility of Rajan having an affair in America and asked me to be careful and inquire about that. I was sure this is not the case, knowing the person and his interest on whatever he was doing in America. Right from the first call of Rajan from America, he would talk about the wonderful work he was doing and money he was making. No! this man, didn’t care about any women. My father with all pro-activeness even went a step ahead and inquired through some of his friends son who was in the same university. He brought me good news of how he was a workaholic and a good man. It makes me laugh, as I think, how Rajan can be a good man?

Nevertheless, my stints of feeling alone continued.

As Ranjini grew older and became more independent, I started feeling more and more alone. I realised that the idle time which I had, made me think of all the negative things and made my loneliness more difficult to manage. Hence, I started involving myself in more activities. I started going to Gym with my daughter. I started taking more subjects. I started reading more. I started cooking different delicacies which I had not tried before. As I involved myself in more and more of these activities, it slowly reduced the feeling of loneliness. But I could feel the loneliness still existed in my system.

One day as I was taking a class of Operation Research to 8th semester students, I realised that one of the student was staring at me. I glanced at him time and again as was teaching to confirm what I saw. I was surprised to see, he was actually staring at me through out the class. As that was the last class of the day for me, I went home and started thinking what this student was up to. I was nervous, shocked and filled with un-understandable, un-definable feelings. Next time I took the same class, I noticed during the attendance call that his name was Joy. I started digging around his history and realised that he was not a bright student, and had a problematic history in the college. During the next 2 weeks I glanced at him once in a while to see if he was staring at me. Yes, he was. Sometimes he noticed my glances and got embarrassed and took his eyes away from me.

One of these days Joy came to the staff room asking for me. He was a little anxious and wanted to ask some doubts in the subject. The doubts he asked was very basic and was covered during the initial days of the semester, 1-2 months back. I realised my role of a lecturer and explained the solution to the problems. Over next few days he came with various doubts and I used to clear the doubts for him. I started noticing that he stared less and started concentrating on the lessons in the class.

One day as I was coming back from the Gym I noticed that Joy was smoking next to a tree near our house. I didn’t show that I noticed him and went into my house. I started worrying about Joy. He always looked aloof as if he had lost something in life.

Rajan called up and told that he is coming home in 2-3 months for 3 months holiday. He had completed his research successfully and was appreciated by every body. He was ecstatic about his successful completion and he went on and on about how he had got different offers to do the research on other subjects. He told that he was still thinking about the offers and need to decide what he wants to do with his future. He talked for 10 minutes. A record. Ranjini didn’t talk to Rajan that day, as she was busy studying for her exam next day. I felt a tinge of dissatisfaction in Rajan’s voice as we told byes.

That night, I thought I need to understand Joy and help him if possible.

Next time when he came to staff room, I inquired about his parents and general things. I asked about the movies he saw, his interests etc. He was always energetic about answering the questions and providing his views on various subjects. His views on his father being autocratic was startling, and I could feel the similarity of our lives. When I inquired about why he was not seen around with much friends in the college. His answer was, he had made multiple attempts to make friends and he could never converse with them for more than 2 sentences. He talked about how he used to find his peace in smoking on top of the mountain. It was nice listening to young man talk, and I could feel him getting the much needed comfort talking to me. I remembered the comfort which Deepika had given me during initial days of my marriage.

Joy was feeling lonely in a place which was not made for him. It was unfortunate, people around him didn’t understand his needs and expected his life to run according to what they thought was life. He saw a friend in me. Next few days were beautiful as I had found another friend. I realised, I was not feeling lonely as before.

2 weeks back, Rajan called, 2 weeks later than his customary monthly call. Another record! He told that he is going to come back permanently to India. He had got a job offer in a R&D division of some company in Bangalore. He asked me to take leave of 2 months and come to Bangalore so that we all can enjoy holidays along with his parents. He asked me “Do you want to work more? If you wish, you can search for a job in Bangalore?” I was shocked!!! I kept silent without knowing how to respond. He was getting uncomfortable, I could realise from his tone. He ended the call, by saying “I miss you”. I was ecstatic for the second time in my adult life.

As I sit in the bus to Bangalore and see my whole adult life running in front of me today, I feel “Life has been fair”. Whenever there was a trough in my life, Life showed me a friend, first Deepika, then Ranjini and then Joy who have made my memories joyful.

Oops! I forgot to say bye to Joy.

-- Madhukar Hebbar

Note to reader:

If you want to know more about Joy, read "Was I Sane?" a short story.

If you want to know more about Rajan Acharya, read "What is better than money?" a short story.


VidyaShankar Harapanahalli said...

Excellent writing Hebbar. Nice story, you have captured the core issue of "being handled by some one else"... Nice

You could have elaborated Joy-Ranjan relation in this story from Ranjana's perspective...

Atmaram said...

It was amazing
good we got to know Ranjana a bit better.
I am happy with your Ranjana Joy part but can you tell me what did she feel for Joy
Anyways the story writing part is very good, it kept me stuck to it from the beginning to the end

Gulmohar said...

Nice writing Hebbav.
I would love to see the analysis part of it - How are relationships exchanged? Is there a fundamental difference between how they are supposed to be perceived and how are they actually perceived? Yeah..I think it then deduces to the fact that people only perceive what they want to perceive, rest is history:-

Btw, who is this Ranjana? Only a fictitious character?

Snowy regards.

Madhukar Hebbar said...

Guys, thanks for your comments..

I have made some corrections based on your comments. Please read the story again and provide your views..

Gulmohar, I am thrilled to hear a question which says the probability of Ranjana being real. Thanks :-)

Shetty said...

Super, Awesome reading it. The title is perhaps on a tangent, reminded me of Swami but the story and expression was brilliant.

Sudhi said...

Yes, the part which explains "being handled by someone" is too good ........ Which is also true to some extent in everybody's life .. alva ? ;-)