Axiom of a 'girl friend'
By Nirendra Dev
A Short Story
Note: Nirendra Narayan Dev (nirendev1 [at] gmail [dot] com), an
acclaimed political journalist, is a special correspondent of The
Statesman, New Delhi and author of the books Ayodhya : Battle For Peace, The Talking Guns North East India and Godhra A Journey To Mayhem. Nirendra
was born and brought up in India's northeast and his father served with
paramilitary force Assam Rifles. His blog is at bestofindiarestofindia.blogspot.com.
We have previously had an opportunity of talking to the author and have posted the audio recording of the interview.
WBRi has the pleasure of publishing a series of short stories
by Nirendra. Search with keywords "Nirendra Dev" to read his prior
stories and articles on Washington Bangla Radio.
I have returned to the lawns of India Gate – all alone after a long time. Many years back I used to be here, yes—alone, and almost regularly. A melee of memories, old and new, come flooding in. Nothing much seemed to have changed here all these years. The evening hours especially on weekends would get over-crowded. The volume of the incoming crowd into these lush green lawns intrigued me always.
Those were compulsive years. I was in this city struggling. Well, I had come to the city, the national capital, to struggle. So to be alone was not unusual. For me, New Delhi exploded with activity. At a leading news organisation of the country, I had enough reasons to keep myself busy. I was with a mission. Therefore, I was in some kind of hurry also. But to pass off dull off-days I used to walk into these lawns.
Sitting on the grassy cushion, I would stare up blink at the sky above – often counting the distant stars, enjoy the breeze in summer and go back home after enjoying ice cream – but not so regularly. I was concerned about my pocket always. Heart in heart, I practiced to be a miser though I never wanted this to be told or known to anybody.
But in any case, I was conscious I had a steady and secured job. But I also knew, I had miles to go. Many things to do, many stories to break and good money to make. Only then may be I can think of wedlock and settle down.
My days and nights in Delhi notwithstanding the work pressure and the summer of Delhi, the urban violence and very disturbing law and order situation in the parts of the city I lived were far better than the violence and genocide generated by Ak-47, artillery, machine guns and planting of bombs in northeast hills. My backyards in insurgency-hit northeast India were often very scaring. Nagas were attacking the Kukis, the Khasis were attacking Nepalis, the Assamese were now targeting Biharis after their decade long tensed relationship with Bengalis. I was being escapist. But, yes, I was also being pragmatic. Bravado would not justify suicide or to stay back in that region braving a consistent tension.
I knew, I was coward too. Both the northeast violence and the hate campaign of the political class especially kept me worried. But I also had lacked the vital courage in my personal life. I had many friends in the northeast – both boys and girls. Some of them had really anchored my life. I had a few girl friends too. Some of them I did admire. A few of them, I did not appreciate much. But they were still friends or at least known to me or acquaintances. But I never gathered enough courage to court anyone for the kill.
Pushpa was one girl I did not admire much. Contrast to that I had great admiration for Snehlata. I admired her for many things. Her physique. Her mental set up, intellect. And so on. I used to admire her rosy cheeks those used to redden further when she felt excited about a movie or the chicken noodles we had in a choosy cushy restaurant. In my admiration, I used to turn poet at times. I used to even quiz her affectionately, why black mole goes so well in her fair face? Why this black Kajal goes so well on your eyes? She would smile mischievously; often making me feel that she is giving me some kind of mixed signals. These questions would be, however, never answered properly. But, I was her fan in more ways than one. Staying away from Snehlata, from a safe distance, I had admired her creamy white feet and delicately well built arms. I also thought she had a good heart with affection for contemporaries and younger ones and respect for elders. What more would one expect from a girl? Even after so many years, about 11 when I saw her last, and 12 years six months since her marriage, I could get lost in a web of thoughts about Snehlata. My mind could manage without rest, it seemed.
Unwittingly, staring the brown majestic India Gate with a facelift as the lights were switched on, I was still wondering that Snehlata would probably get fascinated by same old books, dresses and food and even thoughts, we shared in common. “You and your idealism….. often I think, you are misguiding me a lot with those lofty talks,” she would often tell me.
I must have been weaving stories in my head trying to recollect the past and try to place them in present. Future obviously looked more curios when a little boy came running and almost silently stood behind me - eager to pick up his ball that had rolled near the spot I was sitting lazily.
The five-year-old Tomboyish look lad was charming enough. Having nothing much left in my personal life, after I got divorced, the smiling charm intrigued me. My gaze kept chasing him till he ran back holding his ball close to the chest. He ran to his parents. It was twilight hours in not so unfamiliar place, yet full of strangers.
The initial phases of light on the skies danced on the distant Raisina Hill, the majestic Rashtrapati Bhavan and the equally historic other towering buildings in the Lutyen’s City.
It is true, often things before your own eyes seems so unreliable. I was stunned as the boy walked into floppily to his mother’s arms. I gazed. I continued to gaze at the young boy’s mother. Yes, she is Pushpa. My eyes were full of wonder. On the other side, Pushpa too was stunned and was probably trying to recollect my name or some old anecdotes.
On my part, I knew it was Pushpa. We were friends at least for 4-5 years. I was obviously happy that she has done well. Got married and had a child.
I walked fast towards them. Pushpa was perhaps more excited than me. She was laughing, screaming and crying in joy. She recollected our past days, introduced me to her husband. Probably never knowing that I did not like her much especially in comparison to Snehlata. Her husband appeared a sober looking gentleman. Frankly, I was so overwhelmed that I did not know what I should say. I was not sure, what was I doing. We spoke for an hour, chatted, shared ice cream and occasionally, I had to exchange notes with her husband as Pushpa had to run like any affectionate mother running after her errand yet lovely kid. Even while talking to her husband, from a distant, I could presume my eyes would rise and fall on Pushpa like a tide….. In contrast to my opinion in the past, today I found her livelier. I was feeling both - nervous and shy. At one point, I asked her about Snehlata, having known that they were good friends and presumed – both must be in touch with each other.
“Yes, I have her contact number, she is also in Noida,” Pushpa replied. Before I could say anything, she added, rather very quickly, “you can take my number too…. But don’t tell Snehlata I gave you her number”.
I could not understand, why of all the people Snehlata, the person I admired so much and who was my best friend for quite a few years starting from pre-graduation days could mind for getting her number.
But soon I realized my folly about many things in life. Having wings is one thing, but being able to fly is another, I had read somewhere. Being a friend or knowing someone, intimately as you thought is one thing, but facing the reality after so many years is another. When during the next weekend, I had called Snehlata – honestly unmindful of Pushpa’s veiled cautioning, I knew the enthusiasm was not much on the other side. In contrast, I could measure; Pushpa was more excited about the chance meeting. Still braving the hesitation I landed up at Snehlata’s place the next Sunday almost as an uninvited guest. Memories of early youth-hood spun before my eyes. I was ready to swallow the insult. It was I, who had taught her playing chess. It was she who used to beat me hollow in words-puzzle and still I used to seek pleasure in those defeats.
But I was for a bigger shock. My best friend for years has really changed, I thought. Or she was like this only, ‘self-seeking’. --- But in my madness for admiration for everything she spoke and did; I never understood those days. But now, since I am also over 40, I knew she cannot be the person I could even like - forget admiring. I was proved an ass in judging human being – especially the women. “As far as I know about girls….,” I had often prided oneself but all had come a cropper. At her place, I realized that the self-seeking philosophy of my ‘best friend’ has reduced her to a level I could not fathom about. I was not being a sentimental. But in the past I could never comprehend Snehlata abusing and using scornful language for her aging in-laws. FOR PUSHPA, I HAD ALWAYS THOUGHT THAT SHE WOULD BE A WED-LOCK DISASTER. But it was Snehlata, in front of me, she shoed her in-laws away to the adjoining servant room and screamed: “Didn’t I tell you oldies, never to come out when my friends are around. Die in that stinking room”. I did not understand what was going on. Snehlata, I had thought once would not even scold a defying servant like this. But she was unrepentant. She volunteered to clarify to me saying, : “This is why I don’t like my friends come into this house. They are my in-laws. Both have become just liability in simple words. Real burden for the earth”. She was fuming.
Is this my friend? Is this the girl whom I admired so much? Is this the girl, I thought was worth emulating?
I felt annoyed and irritated. I tried to gaze towards the two aging couples as they almost limped back in their fragile limbs – holding each other helplessly - towards that servant room in the spacious flat of Snehlata. The old man stood in silence momentarily – may be willing to tell me his version of the story… but helplessly in his moist eyes only gave a bewildered look, something evident probably I could understand.
Slowly, I decided to move out of this place. To my surprise, Snehlata remained aloof and almost sanctioned by departure. On the contrary, she reminded me that she kept busy schedules these days. As Snehlata’s truth came to light, I was trying to come to terms with the shocker. I tried to picture Pushpa in contrast. How much I probably admired Snehlata and disliked Pushpa? But my lesson was not yet over. Till about a fortnight later, I got a call from Pushpa inviting me for a weekend lunch. Here, was a virtuous woman, a good wife and a caring daughter-in-law. Yet, she did not complain about her life, small flat or even demanding in-laws. Pushpa said achievements and failure don’t count. It is also no use pondering over properties and jewellery. For a woman, she told me, her family is the kingdom. And she said, everything she did throughout the day, her only intention is to please God and thus her prayer was, ‘Oh God, protect my kingdom’. She was smiling yet again. I asked her about her old boy friend Kamlesh.
“As a gal, I don’t deny I had fallen in love. But past is only a sweet dream, the reality is today. Today, I am married to my husband. He is my ‘harta karta vidhata’, the doer, as the ‘shastras’ and ‘slokas’ would have said.”
I was being childish as I whispered almost to know, whether she was ‘Happy’ and added in her ears, “I am not happy after having divorced my wife”. Pushpa screamed out and the broke into a peel of laughter. “Whether I am happy or not, if you are asking about my small flat and a joint family around, it is not decided by my material achievements,,, ornaments something lie shut in a bank locker or whether I had my son admitted in a popular Lutyen’s city school”. She stared at me straight as she said those words. And then added, wryly, “It is in my husband’s smile. It is in my mother-in-law’s concerns whether you as my guest had you lunch properly”. I felt shy.
Having been on the wrong side in judging Pushpa, I felt the guilt. Eyes lowered and my heart pounding, I was speechless. Helpless. I smiled back and slowly walked on.