K Saraswathi Amma: Ramani (Part 4)

“Then visits and conversations began to happen regularly. The familiarity soon grew into love before long. How sad! What a fool I was back then! Mr Babu started by addressing me as Ms Rani, then Sushama Rani, then Sushama, and soon, Sush. Mr Babu became just Babu to me.”

“The day before my oldest brother came home for the Christmas break, impatient to see me, Baby went back home for a visit.”

“I did not miss him so much in my brother’s presence. My brother loved me more dearly than life itself — to him, I merely said, rather lightly, ‘Cheta, that Babu over there is now my friend.”

“The day after my brother returned, Babu too came back with sunken eyes and emaciated body. Where your parents unwell, I asked him, and he replied, I have no parents. After a while, eyes welling with tears, he told me: “I had just a younger sister, and she died last year. It was terribly painful to live in the house that I had shared with her.”

“In a week, he was back to normal gaiety. When we were parting after the joyful banter that day, Babu who was loath to part with me, found a ruse, and though eager, he put on an indifferent face, and said: ‘The moon is bright tonight. Sush, it won’t be hard for you to cross the terrace near your room and come down into the garden behind the house? If it suits you, do come? At 12 o’clock. I will wait under the big mango tree.”

“My conscience chided me that night. But I consoled myself that Babu will not persuade a young girl commit follies — the memory of his younger sister will deter him, at least. I did not know then that the man who strives to fulfil his desire will not care at all for the dangers that his female partner may face.”

“Time flew, with the tete-e-tetes at dusk and the nightly unions. The exams arrived. A week before the exam, when we parted at night, I told him, “I will not be able to come until the exams are over. After the exams, too.’

‘Yes,’ replied Babu. ‘But if I ask something of you, promise me that you will not refuse?’

The next moment, not knowing what I was going to hear, I said, ‘Will I oppose your wish? Good! I hereby take us witness all this around us, I promise that I will not refuse you. Are you satisfied?’

‘Then,’ he said, standing up. I got up with him. He held me and moved us — me and his tall erect body — into the moonlight and said: “I am leaving this place tomorrow. I will never come here ever. Our relationship is ending now. My request is that you should never try to search for me’

“I felt a terrible stab of pain and fatigue, as though I had taken a heavy blow. The brightness and joy I had felt hitherto just vanished. I woke up from that blissful dream. In that moment I saw the enormity of danger in what I had thought of as just amusement till then. I trembled; my legs faltered. I leaned forward. ‘Your fall that day, Sush, was the conclusion of our love, just as your earlier fall was its beginning,’ he said, helping me to lean against his chest. A little while later, when I regained courage, I felt ashamed of my weakness, loosened his grip, and moved away. I told him: ‘I will not violate my promise. But if someone else tries to search for you, Babu, I will not be responsible.’ “

“A demonic smile distorted his face. He asked, ‘Why should anyone search for me? Do aristocratic families permit marriages between people of different religious faiths?’ “

“That question left me trapped again. I spoke, without revealing my defeat: ‘Do you know in how many the rage of vengeance will be aroused if I shed a single tear? Money and power can do anything. I have powerful relatives all over Kerala who can do anything to you, Babu.’

“Babu’s face turned pale at this but his voice was still calm. “Never mind. I have extracted revenge for my sister Lina. What do I care now?”

“Babu was silent. He had never looked like someone of a different faith. But from the name Lina I guessed that he was Christian. I shuddered at the thought of my future. But soon I raised by head high. Babu wept as he said, ‘Alas, Rani, our parents died when my Lina was just twelve. We were helpless. A dirty old miser, a relative, took us in making me commit myself to marrying a dirty daughter of his. I just wanted to save Lina from the agony of knowing want, and so agreed. I left Lina in his care and came to Thiruvananthapuram to study. It was hard to part with her. But who had the money to travel frequently? Thus, sacrificing my will, willing away my life, I protected her. For what? Just so that her tender young heart and abundant beauty would be sacrificed to a Hindu murderer!'”

“Babu laughed hard; he sounded like he was going insane. He continued: ‘That is why I took my revenge tonight. My sister loved him not knowing his name or place, not wishing to know. He seduced her. Made her immature heart believe him. Then destroyed her.'”

“His face blazed with anger and his eyes were overflowing: ‘In the end, the sadness in her letters drew me back home. Paying no attention to the family’s scolding and chiding, I went to her room and asked her why she was sad. She wept as she told me that she had loved someone without the family knowing and hat he was not to be seen now. A fragmented story, with no hear nor tail! But what came after?’ Babu roared again: ‘Lina told me that I was to become an uncle because of that man’s treachery! He disappeared at that news. My dependence did not give me even the time to think about how I could rescue her from the impending humiliation! If I threw aside everything, took her, and ran away somewhere, would that not be the worst ingratitude? In the end, seeing no way our, I told her to guard the secret well and that I would find a solution when I returned – and came to Thiruvananthapuram, with a burning heart. For the fear of the person who had spent the money, I appeared in all the exams. But I did not read the question paper, nor did I write any answer. I returned home at midnight after the exam. Will I ever forget the withered face, Lina’s face, in front of the lit lamp? God! How beautiful she was! Her joy at seeing me gave me some comfort. She told me that she had found a way out and that she would tell me about it the next morning.’ “

Sushama fell silent for some time. Then she said, “How terrible, the greatest curse from God is to be born woman! A compassionate heart; a dangerous body. I was in the terrible fallen state in which I had to ask what solution she had found.”

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