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Friday, April 22, 2011

Wife and Husband (Bharya Bhartalu)

Another day dawns for Sarala! It’s 9:30 in the morning. Her heart is like a graveyard. Head is reeling. Body doesn’t appear to exist. Sitting on the bed, she stares this side and that. Flowerbed is visible through the window. Just like the hair of women, flowers are getting disheveled in the breeze. Her heart is grieving. The reason for the grief is however eluding her.

What is the reason?

Sarala cannot bear the confusion. Closing her eyes, she ponders over it. Like waves, one event, after that another event, thereafter another event, flashes in her memory. Last night she didn’t sleep up to 3 o’clock. Wept whole night. Why? She remembers the letter that she received yesterday afternoon. That letter. Ah…Ah!

Suddenly, she gets up from the bed. Rushes to the drawer. Swiftly picks up the letter lying on it. Tears it into pieces. Slowly returns to the bed and sits on it. Feels like crying. Makes an attempt. But in vain! Placing the forearm against the cheek, she mulls over it. Staring at the swaying flowers through the window, she broods over. Her life of the past four years whirls at once before her.

*   *   *

She first met Prasad at a meeting. His lecture drew her towards him. Of course, it was not the lecture alone—it was his skill in oratory, his confidence. It was his sparkling eyes, his broad bosom—that attracted her. What else! She fell in love with the orator. At first, he didn’t agree. Later, he couldn’t believe it.

“I am a poor man,” said he.

“I have more than what we both require,” she replied.

He agreed.

Marriage was performed grandly. Some of Prasad’s friends attended the marriage, and blessed him. To Sarala they appeared like robbers. She was not at ease with them.

After the marriage, two years passed off merrily, like a sweet dream. Prasad never stayed away from her even for a minute. He became as essential to her as the sari and blouse in her life. He too behaved accordingly.

In between, he used to get letters from somewhere. Reading them, he used to feel vexed.

Sarala used to ask, “What is it?”

His reply would just be, “External world.”

But as the days rolled on, he stopped reading those letters.

Thereafter, those letters ceased to come.

Thus three years passed off just like a moonlit night, like a love song, like a stroll in a garden.

Thereafter, things changed!

One day Prasad returned home quite late in the night. Sarala enquired, “Where have you been to?” Replying, “External world,” he went inside and bolting the door, lay down. Since that day, he used to go somewhere and return home at no definite time. Slowly, his friends started coming home. They used to behave as though Sarala was not around. Talked among themselves. Used to quarrel. They used to spit anywhere and everywhere. Used to walk all over the house with their dirty feet. Converted the house into a cheap liquor shop.

Sarala told Prasad…

“This is no good.”


“Your friends.”

“When did I say that they would be good?”


“How could the behavior of the people with no food be better than that?”

That was it! Getting up next morning, when she looked for him, Prasad was not at home. Despite searching everywhere, she could not locate him.

After the lapse of a month, suddenly Sarala received a letter.

I got married.

You are at your free will to decide about yourself. 
   – Prasad

*   *   *
Recalling all these events, Sarala trembles with anger and jealousy. She gets up from the bed. Calls for the maidservant. Asks her to get her suitcase ready for the journey. Picks up the cash. Starts for Calcutta.

She experiences many things in the train. She is disturbed by those experiences. Seeing so many people, her loneliness appears dreadful. Peeping out of the window, pretending as though a dust particle has fallen in the eye, wipes out her tears.

 A boy of five years pulls the hem of her sari. She trembles. The boy casts an innocent smile. The ‘motherhood’ within her makes her heart grieve. Her body trembles with overflowing joy. She attempts to caress… doesn’t know how to... attempts to strike a conversation… fails … attempts to lift him into her arms… doesn’t know. Suddenly, the boy cries. Pulling him closer to her, his mother cajoles him. Within a minute, sitting in his mother’s lap, the boy starts smiling.

Sarala gets irritated. She gets angry with herself. Despises herself. With it, the desire for Prasad, the greed for him, the thirst for him gets intense. She feels, “Prasad is mine; who is this in between?”

*   *   *

Getting down in Calcutta, she hires a taxi and passing on Prasad’s address to the driver, asks him to proceed. Meandering through lanes and bylanes, he finally takes her to a house. It is however locked. She calls the owner of the house. She enquires about Prasad. He replies, “Prasad vacated the house yesterday; he stays in a nearby village.” Taking the address, Sarala starts for that village.

*   *   *

That’s a village of laborers. The laborers eke out their lives by working in the factory whole day. Travelling all around, Sarala reaches the village. Calling an old man passing by, enquires:

“Where does he stay?”

The old man asks in surprise, “Who?”

She feels embarrassed to tell his name. But what can she do!

“Prasad garu.”

“Prasad gara? Why not? … come…,” so saying he leads the way.

“Who are you Madam?”

Nothing strikes Sarala. After a while, she says, “A friend.”

“He is a nice man. We treat him as our godfather.” The old man kept on saying many things. She does not bother about all that. She asks, “Does his wife too stay here?”

 “Who?...Madam!—stays here. Both work together—a very good couple.” Sarala’s heart beats fast. The old man stops in front of a hut.

Saying, “This is it,” he shows the hut in front of them.

“Which?” asks Sarala, surprisingly.

Saying, “This very one…come,” he takes her inside the hut.

For a minute she looks around observantly. The hut is divided into two portions by placing a bamboo partition in the middle. One portion is meant for cooking, while in the other there are two cots. There is a table in one corner. Over it are placed a few books, a few bundles of papers, and a typewriter. There are clothes on the clothes-line. Saying, “Please be seated, I shall inform him,” the old man goes away.

Sarala hurriedly goes to the clothes-line and sees… there on it sees a very ordinary sari and blouse. Saying, “Is this what his wife wears?” she twitches her lips. That minute she feels a little happy. She ponders: “Why is he in this hut? What ambrosia-filled vessels are in this hut?

She hears footsteps from outside. Sarala feels frightened. She sits quiet with her head bowed and mind stiffened. Anxiety increases.

Opening the door, Prasad enters. Seeing her, saying “Oh—meera” he stops for a minute. The word, “meera” that came out of his mouth pierced through her heart. Slowly walking, Prasad goes towards the table and sits there.

Raising her head she sees him. She cannot turn her eyes from him.

“How changed is he! So soon became so lean!” Sarala feels sorry for him. Feels like caressing him, patting his hair, feels like kissing him.

In the meanwhile, opening the door, a lady enters. Bobbed hair, shoes, spectacles, with files in the armpit—is she his wife! Not able to believe, she stares at Prasad. Sensing it, coming across to her, he introduces Sarala.

“She … She … is my wife, Hema.”

Sarala is pretty confused. Her heart pounds fast. But she doesn’t get angry, nor bitter, nor does she smile. “She—she—,” she muttered indistinctly. She stays quiet staring at her. Prasad picks up … saying, “She” … showing Sarala attempts to introduce her to Hema. Not being sure of what to say, fumbling for a while, finally he says, “My wife, Sarala.”

Had Sarala known that this is what was in store, she would have committed suicide. The sentiment of ‘Hindu pativratyam overrides her. Yet, she does not feel any sorrow now. She however does not know why it has not caused any pain. She could not understand how she tolerated when Prasad, bringing another woman, introduces her, saying straight into her face, “my wife.” Staring at both, she remains quiet.

There is no change in Hema. She converses with her as if speaking to a friend. “Please be seated. You look pretty tired. I shall get tea for you.” Saying, she gets tea from inside and serves her.

Without raising her head, Sarala drinks her tea. Prasad scribbles something without raising his head. Hema, watching both of them as though they are kids, remains quiet. Her stare makes Sarala depressed. She feels like a child who has committed a wrong. Feels that her coming here is a mistake. Feels that her love for Prasad itself is a mistake. Feels that her very birth in this world is a big mistake. 

“Will you take bath?” asks Hema softly, showing the place. Sarala looked at that space. Two screens of bamboo are placed there for privacy. That makes her body fire up with goose bumps. She looks at Prasad. He is scribbling something.

“No,” says feebly.

“I shall take mine and return in a minute. Within a minute I shall return finishing my bath.” So saying Hema goes. She indeed returns finishing her bath in a minute. This time, she goes straight to Prasad.

“Where is your speech? It is to be typed and sent,” she asks.

“There, in the drawer,” replies Prasad.

Pulling the drawer, she takes out a sheaf of papers and starts typing. Prasad continues to scribble.

Sarala, finding herself in a world of confusion that she doesn’t understand, feels suffocated. She cannot stay there, neither does she know how to get out from there.  

The sound of typing stops. Hema questions Prasad: “I thought today you will speak about socialism.”

Continuing his scribbling, he replies, “Fascism has now engulfed our country. This side Japan—has come up to Assam. That side Germany—came up to Turkey. We have to now gather forces against fascism.”

“Even to fight against, there must be an ideal. That must be socialism,” says Hema adjusting her spectacles.

“Yes. That’s the ideal of laborers. That gives them encouragement. But labor is not alone in the fight against fascism. In today’s circumstances, in our country, some other agencies are also fighting. Now, England is not in a position to send army to our country. If we have to protect our country, we must raise army in our own country. We have to establish industries in our country and develop. Since establishment of industries in our country is beneficial even to some of the capitalists, they will also get ready to fight against fascism. In these circumstances, we should not frighten them. Unless we all join together, we cannot stop fascism. To use every available force to the extent required is the prime duty of every revolutionary,” Prasad explains.

Nodding her head, she starts typing again. Bending his head, Prasad starts scribbling again. 

By then, Sarala gains a little confidence. She sits watching them quietly. She feels as though she has just then learnt something new.             

*   *   *

As the darkness advances, food comes in a carriage from the hotel. The three of them sit and take their food. After dinner, Hema brings a cot and placing it between Prasad’s cot and her cot, asks her to sleep on it. Sarala feels embarrassed. Feels like making her annoyance known to them so that they would appease her. Finally she agrees. The three of them lie on their cots. Prasad and Hema continue to talk about politics. But for Sarala it was like lying between two volcanoes. She feels distressed. They are talking about ‘imperialism’ and ‘fascism.’ She cannot understand anything. Yet she remains awake with them. 

Getting up in the morning, they get ready for another speech. Hema comes and tells her, “You too please come.”

“I will come,” says Sarala. To tell the truth, she was not aware of what Hema asked her and what answer she gave. Saying, “Yes,” she started.

Many laborers are waiting at the meeting for Prasad. As soon as Prasad appears, they greet him… root for him... jay, jay, jay, and clap. They garland him profusely. Seeing those laborers, their enthusiasm, their emotions, Sarala too gets confidence. Without moving this side and that, sitting quiet, she listens to Prasad’s speech fully. Whenever Prasad’s eyes glitter, her heart flutters. Seeing the laborers responding to each sentence, their getting excited about each word, Sarala too gets excited, feels happy about it. She is overwhelmed by seeing the glitter in their eyes and their enthusiasm. “Are these the people who appeared to me then as robbers?” she laments.

*   *   *

Meeting is over. The three of them return home. Again, Hema starts typing. Prasad starts scribbling something. But Sarala does not sit quiet staring at both of them. Goes to Hema. Sees what she is typing. Hema looks at Sarala rejoicingly. She gives her a smile. Sarala enjoys it like a mother. She sets her lock of hair all right. Seeing all this, Prasad starts scribbling much faster and harder.

“I am going,” she says. Prasad’s scribbling stops suddenly. To have a grasp, he looks at her scrutinizingly. Sarala bows her head.

The sound of typing stops. “Why not stay back here?” says Hema.

“No. I have to go,” says Sarala with a strong determination.

“Station is about a mile from here. I shall call for a vehicle.”

“Not necessary. I shall walk,” says Sarala.

Leaving the typewriter, Hema gets up and comes to her. Sarala, hugging her lovingly, takes leave and starts. Prasad accompanies her.

Both walk towards the station. No one is ready to talk. Just kept on walking…

As they walk along, the laborers greet them. All those they come across, in reverence, give them way by taking to the margins of the road. They tell each other softly, “Babu4, babu... That lady is his friend. She is also a worker in that movement.” 

They continue to walk. After walking for a distance, stopping suddenly, Prasad says,


Stopping herself, tremblingly she stares into his eyes longingly, painfully, surprisingly. He says, “I need to tell you one thing. I felt terribly sorry thinking I have hurt you for no reason. I tried to calm my mind, to reassure myself. But I could not. You are the Lakshmi of a home. But I don’t have a home. What then, I will do with Lakshmi.”

Heaving a sigh, she moves forward without saying anything. He accompanies her. They walk thus till they reach the station. Stopping there, and staring at Prasad contentedly, she says, “I can understand. I can understand your life. I now understand my life hitherto too. You have nothing to feel bad in all this. But…but…” two teardrops rolled down from her eyes. “My life is a waste. It is hopelessly bad. Except corpse, nothing else can live there. I have learnt it now. I will not invite you into that life, that laziness, into those corpses. Pardon me for stopping you in it, holding you there, and torturing you with my prayers till now.” Standing stunned, Prasad listens. Clearing her throat, Sarala starts again with great difficulty. “I want to ask you a favor. I will not come in your way. That’s why, I said ‘no’ so firmly to Hema when she asked me to stay. I have only one desire within me. If that is fulfilled, I shall feel my life is blessed.”

“What, Sarala?” asks he anxiously, hesitantly.

Bending her head, rubbing her foot’s thumb to the ground, chokingly she says:

“If ever … you need … any help, instead of availing it from others, take it from me—” She could no longer hold herself. Leaning her head on his bosom she weeps.

He is stunned. He never thought that Sarala could speak with so much accommodating spirit and with so much pain. He too sheds two teardrops.

 - GRK Murty


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