Many-Splendoured Love/The Useless Pages

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The Useless Pages

“All of a sudden, today, writing in these pages has got started by me. As such, this diary has been here for a long time. Actually it was in Abhibnav’s table-drawer. How did he get it? May be somebody gave it to him? Whatever. But it is quite surprising that he kept it. He would never keep anything that was not useful to him. Once, when I opened that drawer to get postage stamps, I had seen it there, but had paid no attention to it. Then it was forgotten. Brain’s functions are really amazing. Or else, today I happened to feel like being confessional, and how did this diary appear in the memory?

Wanting to be confessional - these words are quite unfamiliar. When was it that I opened my heart to anyone at all? When did I get such an opportunity even? With Abhinav that just would not do. He would find it useless sentimentality, and could even scold me for that.

There was no one else near by to whom I could open up. May be if Mom was there - but she was left behind once and for all. Till she was alive I - meaning, we - could not go back to India. (Of course, we have to go together, Abhinav used to say.) It was like getting thrown out of Home, and the heart got wilted just pining for it. All tears got spent, and eyes became dry. All this, of course, secretly. How could I weep in front of Abhinav? He is rather self-rightious. ‘Oh Megha, What comforts have I not given you that you keep crying like this? You have a house that people could envy, and yet, why do you go on pining for that old little patheric home of your parents?’, he would say.”

                                           .                         . 

After such a long time, by chance, this diary had come in Megha’s hands. She had opened this page at random, and these words - her own words - astonished her. Had she ever thought like this? Oh no - Did her mind ever have such complaints about Abhinav?

But it was many many years since she wrote this, and afterwards, Megha’s life was spent in no less happiness. Even then, as she closed the diary she looked around. May be she had felt that if Abhinav was near by she would apologise to him.

Around Abihnav’s photograph there was a lovely garland made of silk flowers. Niraali had snatched it off the photograph and had thrown it aside, as soon as she saw it. “Pappa did not like to make such a silly show, and he would not even touch artificial flowers. Don’t you know this, Mom?” She had scolded Megha, exactly like Abhinav would. Megha had noticed the expression on Niraali’s face, and her raised eyebrows.

Niraali had gone back to New York City after just a few days. That is where was her work, her career, many interesting activities; and all her friends were there too. She had left this suburban home behind several years ago.

Afterwards, Megha had picked up that same garland, and had placed it back around Abhinav’s photograph.

This house, which Abhinav had got built with great pride, had to be vacated now. Megha had stayed in it after he passed away. To begin with, she would have preferred a cozy, intimate, personalized smaller house. In the beginning she had suggested this occassionally, and immediately Abhinav would bring up the ordinary, tiny house of her parents. Abhinav himself came from just such an ordinary, small house. He never ever seemed to remember that. It was as if to forget that, and also to show off to everyone else as well as to himself that he insisted on liviing in such a large house.

Megha stayed on in the house even after Abhinav had left. Even though four out of the six rooms in the house were kept closed. Niraali had suggested selling it right away. Megha had not given any attention to that. Niraali felt at times that Mom was being adamant about something. But she did not know why and for what reason her father had got this enormous house built. She had not understood that her Mom had stayed on there, even after being alone, in order to give respect to Abhinav’s need to show off to other people.

But now it was becoming almost the last possible effort. It was over ten years since Megha had lived here by herself. Now she was not able to care for such a large property. Doctor had told her, “Effects of Arthritis and even Alzimer can start any time, and slowly the limbs as well as the brain will not work, you know that, right?”

So far Megha did not have much problem, but she had seen other friends, who had come to America almost at the same time, deteriorate already. Many people of same or similar age had started talking about ‘scaling down’ and ‘down-sizing’ also.

All that was there was just for Niraali. Megha had believed that Niraali would happily live in this house, and that here is where she would settle down in her own life. But no, no, she absolutely did not want to live in this house. “What would one do in the suburb? Is that any way to live? If you live in New York City, Mom, then you would have any idea about life as it should be lived”, she had said.

“And even apart from that. Mom, it is worth seeing and understanding as to how happily and peacefully people live, even while living in a tiny apartment. Being alive just to hear praise from others is not any real way to live, Mom”, Niraali had not minced words.

It was as if Niraali wanted to escape from this house for ever. It was also a big headache to get it emptied out. So many things - furniture, carpets, paintings, vases, sets of dishes and cups. Ohho, all useless things, absolutely useless things, Niraali went on saying in irritation. As if her parents had doled out punishmnent to her. “They were the ones to have bought all these, and now the bother to empty it out has been left for me”, is how Niraali felt.

But in the mean time Megha had decided that she did want to leave the house, and that she herself would empty it out as well. If Niraali is totally disinterested, then so be it, Megha had accepted that also by now.

                                  .                                   .

Holding the diary in her hands, looking at the artistic handwritings of her own on those slightly yellowing, old, tatterred pages she stayed sitting for a long while. Even though she did not have time to spare, and she must get on with all the work. Members of the Veteran’s Group were coming to get the drawing room furniture. One way or the other everything had to be discarded. As it is, everything was totally useless in Niraali’s eyes. Megha took a deep breath. Now she also wanted to keep only a few of those things that were necessary and were important to her.

Megha quickly tried to read two-three more pages. “ A lot changed after my Niraali was born. My heart started settling in this house. Abhinav also became more relaxed. He showed such affection on Niraali. He ran around with her, bent down and became a horse for her. I would keep looking at both of them. The years of raising Niraali were the most precious to me.

“For college Niraali definitely wanted to go far from home. She did not listen to Abhinav, nor did she give in to my coaxings. Both Abhinav and I were stunned. For eighteen years the girl that was ours - our possession, surely - was now discarding us. She wanted to do exactly what she wanted. This shock was harder for Abhinav. Deep down he became a little morose. I was very careful about everything, did just what he liked, but it was almost impossible to cheer him up. He started taking such projects where he would have to travel more. At times, it would happen that when Niraali was home on breaks from college he would be out in some other city. ‘Isn’t it good though? You and your daughter would have exclusive time together’, he had said.

In the beginning his heart had filled with such bitterness.”

                                      .                              . 

Had his heart filled with bitterness? Megha could not remember it now. Why, didn’t we got used to Niraali’s absence? Both of us travelled a lot also. Getting together with friends we have laughed so much. We have enjoyed ourselves enough, even without Niraali.

From each place we had bought special things, with great interest. How oftern we used those Indian silver bowls with filigree work. Everyone always praised those expensive crystal glasses from Eastern Europe. The table looked so decorated with those South African tablemats with frills made of coloured beads. We had bought two kimono-clad beautiful dolls from Japan. Niraali does not remember now, but at that time she had loved them, and declared that “These Japanes dolls are for me. I am going to keep them.”

But in Niraali’s eyes now, all these means “all those useless things, collected by Mom and Dad. Did they have no taste at all?” Niraali did not like those expensive East European crystal things - “ easy to break, and the glass-splinters can hurt easily too”, she thought with irritation. And ohho, all those real silver items, brought all the way from India. “Now you can’t even find them anymore”, Niraali mimicked the parents silently, in her mind.

She had suggested appointing an agent to Megha. Let him handle the headache - of selling things, or giving them away in charity. Better to pay him whatever he might charge, rather than wasting time after this useless junk, was her opinion. Slowly, Megha’s mind had become convinced about this suggestion from Niraali.

                                             .                                 .

With a little time to relax, Megha picked up the diary again. Saying to herself ‘let me sweep through a few other pages’, she opened it. Many pages were coming loose. While turning them quickly, as if one such page got stuck to her hand.

“ I had never imagined, that even after becoming so grown up, any attraction can be felt for anyone. I had never fallen in love even during college. At that time, I was so busy at home that didn’t even realize that there was something called heart. And the marraige took place as Dad dictated - when, and with whom he chose. Abhinav was nice, and besides, my mind had no particular expectation either.

After coming to America, Abhinav had found a simple job for me in the University Library, where he taught. ‘Instead of wasting time, better to make whatever money you can’, he had said. I liked the atmosphere there a lot. That is where I had met Rafael. He looked like a scholar to me. Every day he came to the Library to get and return big, thick books.

Bit by bit, slowly, we talked more. In the beginning, about books, then about his far away country Brazil, then going to the cafeteria together for coffee. Then one time, we sat together at a talk. There he was showing me something from a book, and our hands had touched. Then, when was it that he held my hand, and looked into my eyes --? ”

From Megha’s hand the diary slipped and fell down. It hit the table, and the pages that were already loose and tattered, came apart all over the carpet. This was a memory from so very long ago that it was not even a memory. Did any such thing happen? - she had to ask her own self that question.

‘There has to be a deep well inside the mind. This memory must have fallen in it . A long time ago, surely.’

As if she was frozen, Megha kept sitting at that spot. After a long time, something started coming up on the surface.

If a friendship had developed, it would have been very precious, but both were attracted to each other. Still, just once he had held her hand - that’s all. They could not go any further any way. There was no such possibility. Megha was married, and Rafael had to leave for Brazil, suddenly, for some family issue. Both had not met again after this at all, and the little incident was forgotten.

After the disciplined bringing up and life of the Indian society, Megha had an experience that had to be thrown into that deep well - even though in Western context this was just an ordinary incident.

Still sitting there, slowly it occurred to her that after some time Megha and Abhinav had gone to a big funtion at the University where they had come across Rafael. He looked even more scholarly than before. Seeing Megha, he had appeared somewhat self-conscious.

‘Why was that?’, Megha had wondered right then.

Immediately she had introduced Abhinav. Feeling the same constraint, Rafael had introduced his wife to them. Oh, so in between he had married a Brazilian beauty. Is that why he had rushed to Brazil then? So that was the ‘family issue’?, and was that why he was feeling embarrassed after all this time?

The four of them had exchanged necesaary formality, and both couples had gone on in different directions.

This incident popped out of the diary-pages. Megha did not remember that she had noted down even this much about Rafael. If it had fellen in Abhinav’s hands? What then? There would have been some unnecessary pain, and possibly, there could have been some arguments also.

Without reason. Surely without any reason at all.

It seems so meaningless now. The having known Rafael. It was just a little acquaintance, and totally ordinary also. Yes, everything is really meaningless. In fact, it is totally useless, Megha started thinking. Everything - small and large, from special to ordinary, any old memory, all these things in the house - everything. At once she understood that only Niraali had any wisdom. Niraali never accepted any limitations. She lived as she wished. She did not want anything that her parents had collected. She will find whatever she wanted to have. Niraali was capable of that.

Don’t you also feel this way, Abhinav? Many times she had seemed brash and self-absorbed, hadn’t she? But it does seem that she is the one who has understood the meaning of life - the meaning that one can get a lot out of little, and that a place can be small but one can have a large heart nonetheless. What do you say, Abhinav?

Abhinav would have replied thoughtfully, that it is because in this country there is an emphasis on reading, and children are encouraged, right from school-age, to think independently. It is true, here many children become mature very nicely. They start understanding the reality of life from a young age. Yes, you are right, our Niraali is really like one of such kids.

Not only instant affection, Megha felt new-found respect for her daughter also. From the beginning, her daughter had stayed away from unnecessary sentimentality. How did she acquire so much wisdom right from a young age?

On the fourth morning after this, Megha was leaving the house.

An Estate Agent had been appointed. He would arrange an auction. Whatever was not sold would go for charity. He would also get the house cleaned. One Real Estate Company had been hired to sell the house. The money from the sale was to be used for the years Megha had left, for Niraali’s future, and for charity in India as well as in America. All this would be sorted out with a lawyer later. For now, all the necessary papers had been signed as needed.

Those few pages of the diary that had any writing on them were torn up, and were thrown in a garbage bag. The rest of the diary-pages were added to the pile of newspapers for recycling.

Megha had become so relaxed. She had let all the useless things and memories remain where they were. She was going to stay in a small, simple flat. Whatever clothes and a few necessary things she was taking were easily put away in the car. The flat would remain sparse - almost empty, but her heart would overflow with a sense of relief, she felt.

In her hand was Abhinav’s photo that she kept close to her heart. She had discarded, four days ago, the silk flowers garland that had hung on the frame all this time.