K Saraswathi Amma : Ramani (Part 3)

“Great!” Sushama said with a smile. “She who was ready for a pure Gandharva marriage, what fear of social humiliation can she have? In any case, what secret existed in the world that her father’s wealth and power could not hide? The world today worships the God of Wealth. Money can kill a lover, make a virgin pregnant, turn a whore into a chaste woman, and a criminal into an innocent, and besides, throw the sand in the eyes of the world in general.”

Sensing a tinge of sorrow in her voice, I looked at Sushama’s face. I took her rosy cheeks in my hands, turned her face to me and asked, “Why, you are weeping, Sush! When everyone weeps thinking of Ramanan, you are weeping for Chandrika! Not bad! Isn’t the world full of different tastes?”

She spoke in between sobs: “God! How fragile this creation, Woman!”

The ringing of the bell from the college entrance took away the last moments of the two-hour lunch break on that Friday and dissolved in eternity. That call to duty brought out the women students resting on the cashew-tree boughs and tree-shades. Pulling me up with her, Sush said, “Let us skip classes this noon and sit and talk somewhere.”

“I am game. But in the end I have to pay the four-chuckram fine!”

“I too have to pay?”

“Oh, you are the daughter of a powerful official! They’ll just chide you and say, don’t repeat it! The Lady Principal will let you go!”

Inside the colourful mess of students returning to their classrooms in the college buildings with their books, we talked of our longstanding friendship. Sush had come here from Ernakulam to join the Junior BA course, and her high-status, privileged aloofness had led the other students to nickname her ‘Rani’, cutting short her full name, Sushama Rani. When I mentioned how she had rejected the company of other high-status students, daughters of high officials, and instead sought the friendship of someone like me, two years her junior, she said, “I have never met a girl like you, with so many friends! Who can love so sincerely like you? How quickly did I become the leading one among those friends! Do you remember thatI committed an offense lately?”

“Will I forget? That day, in the library, when I was about to join the students who had read the poem Manimuzhakkam, you dragged me away with so many arguments — that it was just about a fool who hanged himself because he couldn’t get a particular woman, that it was such a trivial thing that these students found so enjoyable, that we should not listen to this fool’s business, whether the race of Woman had become extinct on the face of the earth … and on and on! When I think of it even today, how angry I feel!”

“Shall I tell you a story as a penance for doing that?” She asked, after we had settled down under a large tree. “The title of my story is ‘Ramani’. The first part of the story is pretty well-known. The last part, even if I, and not you Santhi, proclaim to be written by this Sushama Rani, no one would believe!”

She fell silent for some moments, and then began to tell the story: “That was when I was studying for my School Finals.”

“Who’s the ‘I’ in this story?”

“It is inauspicious to interrupt a tale when it is just beginning. Couldn’t it be that I am trying to strengthen the narration by telling it from the place of the chief female protagonist? Do not interrupt me henceforth.”

“No, I won’t. Please continue.”

Sushama started again. “My father and brothers used to live in Thiruvananthapuram those days. My father was a Judge in the High Court. My brothers were college students. Father would come home only once a month. Brothers were allowed home-visits only during the holidays. My oldest brother, who had a great affection for me and who used to visit me secretly without acchan knowing sometimes, was also too busy then as he was about to complete his BL.”

“Good God! How few are those who have grown up in affection, like me! No one has ever opposed my wishes. I knew only much latter that the boundless love of many, rare beauty, and abundant wealth are all curses that God had rained upon me. Those days, I was so endlessly proud. I thought that I was the Queen of the Universe! My unrestrained arrogance did not allow me to treat anyone as my equal. I had never seen poverty; never experienced the lack of love; never known sorrow. My ability to observe was completely decimated by the glitter of that lustrous side of fortunate existence which seemingly awaited my every wish as its command. I did not imagine that the world had a dark side.”

“Yes, that year, in the month of Chingam, in March, a certain Krishnan Nair who had decided to write the BA exam that month and his family became our neighbours. That house belonged to us and so a member of the family came over to meet my father as their representative. His name — should I tell you his real name, or will a false one do?”

“That’s up to you, Sush.”

“Oh! But why should I lie? He was called Babu by everyone. ” The very utterance of that name seemed to wipe out the colour from face. “My father who was the reformist sort, introduced me, who was just fifteen, to him.”

Again she fell silent, in a surge of emotion. In the end she smiled, though it took an effort, and asked:

“Should I describe that form which appeared to me as the very personification of Manliness.”

“Sush, as you please.” I said, “If you would like to tell, I am eager to listen.”

“Or, maybe not,” she said gravely. “I was not taken by that tall, lean, golden body or the face that represented the finest of manly good looks. I have seen such heart-warming openness of behaviour only in him and then in you, Santhi. A countenance that brimmed with joy, vivacity, and such honorable ways of interacting! His treatment of me as an equal delighted me. His offhand comment about my beauty pleased me too. In truth, I prefer love to respect. That’s why I liked Babu then and I now love you, Santhi. And besides, youth is the time when you yearn to give and take love from relationships that you are not born into. But I never did wish to get such love from a man. Why did God who sent Babu to me did not send you, Santhi! Fate is a force that acts against humans. Its determination –“

Sush’s voice faltered. Her eyes welled. I said: “Is it not foolish to weep over the past, Sush?”

The tears in her eyes and the smile on her lips glinted alike. She continued her story: “We met again after four weeks. When I stumbled on the path during my evening walk, he helped me up.”

As she stared intently on the lawn as if reading the book of the past, Sushama’s body quivered. She sat close to me and her hands held mine tightly: “Yes, Santhi, that fall was a portent of my imminent fall from worldly pleasures. He helped me up humming a Hindi song. I looked up in wonder at who this great singer was –” and she sighed, continuing, “Yes, the opening stanzas of the first act of my tragic love story was recited by Mr Babu.”

“I too received the intuitive warning that those who are at the brink of danger – to stay away from with him. So I stopped my evening walks totally. But whenever I went up to the terrace, I saw him. A month went by, and Father came home. My parents chided me and told me to resume my earlier routine. I tried to object quite strongly, but what was the use? Fate triumphed. We found out that day itself. The moment he saw me, Babu asked, ‘did you not change your usual routine because of me?’ ‘Why should I fear the sundry types I may see?’ Though the conversation was not pleasant, we parted with enhanced attraction, thanks to his liveliness.”

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