Many-Splendoured Love/The Third Photo

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The Third Photo

It can be said that the house is empty. Now the only delay is in leaving the structure. I am just sitting for a bit longer, before leaving this place where I lived life whichever way that was possible. I almost can not breathe when I think that one ordinary life had so much suffering to bear. Inside here, the pale air seems to be shuddering.

I have been emptying out, determindedly, whatever was mine and whatever I could carry. And I have discarded so much. It feels like a relief now. Nothing was bad enough to throw away, really. Much was perfectly good to be given away - so many clothes, sweaters, winter coats, shoes, blankets, bed sheets, towels etc.

There are charitable organizations, from where volunteers would come by, after making an appointment, and take everything. They would distribute all that to the needy.

I have let them take each and every thing from the kitchen. Even I could not understand how so much got accumulated. Only thing I packed were some expensive chrystal glasses, and took them carefully to a small shop of a Church near by. Even if the shop sells them for nominal money, the Church would have some gain from them.

All the large and heavy items are just as they were. All the furniture from every room - sofas and setties, tables and chairs, beds and dressers, book-case and file cabinet etc. - is standing just the way it all has been for years - numb and useless. In this sense the house is still full. But this is because the Ramarao couple wanted to keep everything.

Especially, when they were told that I did not want any money for any of it, both of them were very happy, thinking that they would not have to spend money or time to go buy anything. Shanker and Swathy Ramarao are going to become the new owners of this house, from tomorrow - although if they find out that I have left the house and have gone away already, they would come to stay here right from tonight. There is hurry on both sides - for them to settle in, for me to get out.

It was not always like this for me. Oh, in the beginning I did not even feel like going out of the house. My whole world was inside this home, and in that world was all the happiness. Bhavik and I had selected this house together. As soon as we saw it, just from outside, he had said, “ Susan, You will definitely like this house, from inside also, I am sure of that.”

I had said, “Oh really? OK, do you want to bet on it? What if I do not like it?”

Bhavik had answered, “No, no, I don’t mean it that way. I am saying that if you like it, I will buy it for us, and then it will always be yours. And if you don’t like it, we will still keep looking at other houses. The winner will always be you, of course.”

I had felt so bashful - thinking, so much love he has for me?

After getting married when I came to America, we had started our married life in the same flat he had been living in. Almost from the beginning he had started calling me “Susan”, and that is how he would introduce me to everybody. What he meant to say was that people in this country will not be able to say my name correctly, so why not make it easier to begin with? “By changing just one letter - by making it ‘Susan’ instead of ‘Suman’ - you will see, how well you will fit in here,” he was certain.

For a long time I had not agreed to this. Whenever he introduced me as ‘Susan’, I would right away say, “No, my name is ‘Suman.” The other person would get all confused, and would say “ Suu Man?” or “Oh, Sue Maan?”, or some such words. This way, inevitably, for other people in America, we became Vik and Susan, and because there was no choice, I accepted it, and got used to it somewhat, over time.

Later, in this very house, we had become three out of two. Bhavik became crazy about the baby-girl. He would not put her down for a minute. He always kept cuddling her in his arms. Even to go to work, he forced himself. He couldn’t wait till the week-end arrived. And he would keep saying, “You will see, I will make her a big star of Western Classical music.”

“Why not of Indian Classical music?”, I would ask.

“Let her learn Indian music, but she is going to be famous in Western music only. She is going to do something absolutely new and different, you watch.”

This is why just Jazz music and Bethovan-Mozart would be palyed around the house all the time. Bhavik would start waltzing with Baby in his arms. Some times I was also dragged along, but with empty hands. He would let me kiss Baby, but she would remain clinging on to him. The three of us would nod and shake heads with the rhythm, and would keep laughing together.

Bhavik wanted to teach many other things to Baby - piano, painting, swimming, skating --- “Oh, she will learn everything, and will study well also. Why do you worry so much?”, he would reprimand me.

And really, the girl was interested in everything, and would learn fast. At the same time, she enjoyed studying a lot too. She was just six years old, and she would start discussing global warming with her Daddy.

About a year later Bhavik bought a bicycle for her. Baby did not take any time to learn riding it either. The two of them would put the bicycle in the car, and go to the park. There Baby would ride the bicycle, and Bhavik would walk fast with her. Later on though, he would have to run a little to stay close together with her.

I had told Bhavik emphatically, to instruct Baby never to go alone anywhere on the bicycle, and to keep telling her this over and again often. But would either of them pay attention to what I was saying? Both would try to coax and cajole me, but I was not going to be flexible about this matter at all. “She is not even eight yet; it is too early to permit her to go alone, on her own”, I would say right in her presence.

“But Mom, Malinda from next door goes by herself. Not very far, only nearby. So why can’t I go like her?

I would think in my mind, how hard it is to raise very bright kids. Then I would pull her close, and would say, “ I will let you go by yourself when you are nine years old, ok?”

“ Oh, Mom, nine years? I will be old then.”

Perhaps nothing of the sort was written in our Fate, otherwise why did Bhavik and I fall asleep that one Sunday afternoon? Baby would always be in her room reading, listening to music, or in case she was up late with homework the previous night, she might take a short nap also. Around four we would sit at the kitchen table together. Bhavik and I would have tea, and I would make hot chocolate for Baby. Afterwards we would go for an outing somewhere. At that time, the bicycle would be certainly there in the car.

On that unfortunate afternoon Baby must have had a chat with Malinda. She was going to have two other friends over at her house, then all of them were going to ride around on their bicycles for some time. Baby must have felt so keen to join, and when she saw us asleep, for the first time she went out without letting us know.

She had barely crossed the road on her bicycle, when she got hit by a fast-coming truck. Perhaps she was also dragged on for some distance. Those other girls were standing outside Malinda’s home right across. They saw the accident, started screaming, going over to where Baby lay.

On one hand, Malinda came and started banging on our door, and on the other hand, her mother was telephoning us. We ran out, and when we reached Baby we saw that her small body was lying crumpled near the smashed up bicycle. She was breathing, but she was not conscious.

That’s it, what else? We tried everythig we could, nothing was enough.

In reality, after this nothing was left - between Bhavik and me, in our lives. In one sudden storm our little garden was destroyed.

For a few months I stayed on in that house, but it was unbearable. Now it was not possible to stay there for me. Around that time, Bhavik’s office was agreeable to give him a transfer. Bhavik had thought that we will be able to settle ourselves together if we move elsewhere. But then I started to understand that for me, it was impossible to stay together - at least for now.

After we separated, we did not inform each-other as to where we lived, how we lived. Surely, we had each-other’s address and phone number, but we hardly remained in any contact. It was as if, in some dry desert, all signs of footsteps were wiped out. Some times we got news about each-other from Bhavik’s elder sister, although there was nothing like news any more. There was nothing there. No oasis, even with sparse shade of some date-trees, had survived there.

All of a sudden, one day, I got a call from the elder sister. She told me that Bhavik was not well, and that he really needed me urgently. I argued against this, saying that after all these years where is the need for each-other any way, and that I know that he will manage fine on his own. But the elder sister went on pleading with me so much, that I had to go to see, and to meet, Bhavik once at least.

During this time Bhavik had moved back to that house of ours. I am not able to describe how, after all these years, I took a step into that house. But what new shock would the mind, that was numb for so long, feel any more?

The shock I did feel upon seeing Bhavik. He was so thin and ematiated. When he saw me neither did he say anything, nor did he get disturbed in any way. I felt that he was also totally numb inside, like I was, or was it that he was annoyed to see my carelessly combed hair? How much he loved my long, smoothe hair, I suddenly remembered.

The elder sister said, “ Bhai, see who is here.”

Bhavik remained inattentive. I went closer, and said, “How are you?” Even then he stayed speechless. Thinking that may be now he does not hear well, I said louder, “I am Susan, Bhavik. Susan, Suman.”

Then turning his face up he said, “Oh, come, do come. How are you?”

I was about to say something, when looking around a little, he said, “ Do sit down. What would you have? Pari, O Pari, Bring some water for the guest at least. Where did Pari go?”

I moved away and held on to a chair for support. I looked at the elder sister. To answer the question in my eyes, she took me on other side. Sighing softly, in a low voice she said, “So you have no idea, Bahen?”

Then she explained in short. In young age, Bhavik had fallen in love with a girl in India. Her name was Paresha. Bhavik used to call her “Pari”, meaning a fairy. Both had decided to get married, but then Bhavik’s going to America got confirmed. Paresha was sad and disappointed, but she did not object to waiting for him a little. The objection was her father’s. Within six months he got Paresha married to someone else.

For a long time Bhavik had not even found out about this, the elder sister said. “But he is lucky to get you, Bahen. With you he lived very happily, isn’t it true?”

It was really true. I never got any idea about any of this during our married life together. All the memories of the lost love were buried by him, and he never did any injustice to me. He gave me enough love also. But now, in the grasp of this cruel disease of acute memory-loss, many layers had peeled off from his mind. Many memories of the recent time had vanished, and that which was buried deep for so long, had surfaced.

Bhavik was nearly seven years older to me, but still, it was early for him to get this disease, known as Alzaimer. The very next day I went to meet with the doctor. I wanted to understand how could such a thing happen? He said, that still nobody has been able to find out the exact reasons that cause Alzaimer. It is connected with the atoms inside a brain, but sometimes even at younger age this can occur, was the doctor’s opinion.

This was the explanation in short. I did not understand any more right away, but I kept thinking about it. One day, suddenly I thought, can’t some shock to the heart and mental stress be the reasons for this? - like diseases such as diabetis, heart attack, or depression? Bhavik had lost several loved ones in his life. He had not stopped me from going far away either. He just kept losing, and kept bearing with it - without a word. And then, this untimely plight? Oh Bhavik, Why didn’t you tell me anything?

I kept feeling deep regret. At long last, just now I find out that he needed much more support than I did. And I was the one who left him all alone all these years? How could I be so cruel?, and so selfish? My eyes were dry, but my heart was wailing inside.

Before she returned to her son’s place, elder sister consoled me, and said, “Things happen the way they are supposed to, Bahen. Now do not feel remorse. If you are with Bhavik now, he will get better. Keep believing in God---”

My intent, from then on, was to do everything I could for Bhavik. I had come to see him one more time, just to ask after him, and I stayed on by him - forgetting everything else.

One afternoon, can’t say what made me turn on the old radio that was lying around in the sitting room. From the WKCR station, notes of Western Classical music started playing. It was a piano concerto by Mozart. It must have been about one minute. Bhavik who was reading, sitting in a chair by the window, stood up startled. The book fell off from his hand. I got startled also. Before I could stand up, and hold him steady, he dashed to me, grasped my hand firmly, and said, “Susan, What is this? How did this start? I never listen to this. Baby had learnt to play this.”

Covering both his ears with his hands he collapsed on the sofa. I quickly turned the radio off. Tears were flowing from his eyes. He stammered, “Do you know, Susan? After that day, I have never taken a nap in the afternoon, you know. But she never came back.” The dam behind my eyes also broke. Holding on to each-other, we sobbed together for a long time. In all these years, this was the first time I wept like this. Perhaps he too.

I had started feeling hopeful, that ‘oh, he recognised me. Now again Bhavik would become like before. Now slowly he would go on getting better.’ But no, I was totally wrong. After this he forgot me again. If he did say something to me, it was to Pari - to Paresha. How could one fight with a person who is unwell? And what is the point of feeling neglected also? If he was able to stay even somewhat calmly, that meant I was succeeding in my intent, isn’t it? Wasn’t that the only thing left to believe?

All those slow days turned into a year and a half like this. That morning I was making tea for us, when I heard a big noise from the sitting room. Turning the gas off, I ran to check. I saw that Bhavik had fallen, and was moaning in pain. Calling the ambulance right away, I took him to the hospital.

He had a heart attack. There were also some signs of paralysis. I started staying in the hospital day and night. After six days, perhaps, he felt a little better, He opened his eyes and looked around, as if to search for someone. Seeing the condition he was in, I was choking.

I was thinking about informing elder sister about this, but before I could call her, one day Bhavik looked directly towards me. His lips fluttered a little. I went very close to his face. “Suman”, he said clearly, “Suman.”

Aah, he is conscious now, I felt. He has recognised me just like before - as Suman. I felt such a surge of relief. He stretched his hand. I held it and caressed it. “Now you will get absolutely well, all right--- ?” I started saying things like this.

His lips fluttered again. ‘Forgive ---forgive ---’. I shook my head vigorously, and with a smile pressed his hand. I kept looking at him, on his lips the ‘thank you’ word took shape, and then he just left.

I requested elder sister not to come. Now she was not well enough to come by herself. As it is, when there was nothing left, where was the need for it any way? Even I have been in a hurry to get out.

I have the house emptied out. Whatever could be called mine, I have made arrangement for all those things I am not taking. At the end, there are these three photos in my hand. I found them from behind a table in the corner of the bedroom. One has Bhavik and elder sister in it. It was taken when we were a family. Both are smiling happily. I am sending that to her. The envelope is ready with her address.

The second snapshot is of this house. We had taken it fondly, when we had bought the house newly. I am leaving it for Shanker and Swathy. It is kept on the kitchen-table. They will see it right away.

The third photo. In it there is a beautiful and big, and a very red rose that had bloomed in the garden that we once had. In the photo, there is a shadow of a delicate little hand that is stretched towards the flower.

I can not bear the weight of this photo. And I want to take only that which I can carry myself. I want to leave almost with empty hands - just the way my heart is.