My loyalty to the Posts and Telegraphs department dates back to the time when a money order got to the recipient after he had shifted residence to his heavenly abode or when letters got switched and landed in wrong hands causing mirth, misunderstanding or hurt. Even today, my allegiance remains unflinching. Not because the department has metamorphosed into a super-efficient service. Anybody in his senses would go to a courier company – big, medium or small. But my reasons are sentimental. The department was instrumental in preventing me from renouncing the world and proceeding to Hardwar as a sanyasi.
After the first five years of our marriage when our charged libido acted as Fevicol, making us inseparable -- we skipped most of the family and social functions -- the trajectory of Rashmita’s energies changed and she branched out into fields which were exclusionary. I felt rejected, redundant and depressed.
Rashmita had joined a couple of NGOs to do something ‘meaningful’ in life, as she put it, and most of the time was away from home. One of the NGO’s was HAPPY HOME which counselled couples at loggerheads to make ‘adjustments,’ and exhorted them to save the relationship.
“Start each day afresh by wiping off yesterday’s scrawls on your slate. No hangover of bitterness. No carryover of grudges. And it will be ‘lived happily ever after,’ story for you.” These golden words were part of the printout which was handed to newcomers to the NGO and then dinned into their ears ad nauseam. After a few sessions, they pretended to have assimilated the advice and signed a pre-prepared statement to the effect that they were reconciled and happy. But actually, they were bored to death by the repetitive ennui and wanted to escape. The other NGO was Gender Parity, which was devoted to male bashing and kitty parties.
Initially, I complained to Rashmita about my loneliness, but after a point I stopped cribbing out of exasperation at her turning a deaf ear. But Rashmita took it as a sign of our happy marriage. Without my realising how and when, the baton had passed on to Rashmita. Now she took all the decisions and I became a figurehead, bound to give my assent to them. Before long, I lost even this figurehead position. She stopped seeking my ex post facto approval.
The proof of the changed power-relations between us came when Chintu was to be admitted to a school. I wanted him to go to a public school in which up to class V the medium of instruction was Hindi.
“Are you crazy? You want to make him a pundit at a temple or what?”
“A small child learns faster in his mother tongue.”
“And becomes a dud for the rest of his life. When even the Ministers championing the cause of Hindi are sending their children to English medium public schools, you want him to acquire a handicap.”
“You look up the results of this school. It is considered one of the best in Delhi.”
“Nothing doing. He will go to Rosebud School. And that is final. No more discussion.”
Rashmita had begun to take me for granted. Without using words, she had often made me realise that she, the daughter of wealthy parents and a beauty to boot, had done me a favour. I knew I was no Rajesh Khanna or Dharmendra in looks, but my friends had felt envious of my sharp features and symmetrical build.
One day I got a letter and wondered who it could be from. The address seemed to be in feminine hand. When I opened the letter, an enchanting whiff of perfume stirred my dormant romantic feelings. But after a quick look at the contents, I hastily replaced the letter in the envelope. It was for my namesake-colleague and friend in the college where I taught and was from his newly married wife who was visiting her parents during the summer vacation. The letter had been redirected by the college.
Rashmita had caught me in the act of hurriedly putting the letter back into the envelope and got suspicious. “Can I see it, Anand?”
“Of course not! How can you. It’ll be unethical and ill-mannered to read my personal letter.”
“We don’t have secrets between us, do we? So no question of ethics here. I can smell that the letter is from a woman.”
I did not respond.
“I’m sure there’s something fishy.”
I never thought she would be so disturbed over a woman writing to me. “What do you mean?”¸I said and let the matter rest there, keeping a cool exterior. I left the letter on the dining table as I knew she would read it clandestinely. She did not disappoint me.
This was an opportunity to set things right for myself. So, the next day, I visited my namesake friend, handed over the letter with profuse apologies for opening it and made my unusual request -- of course a little embarrassedly. He looked at me in a strange way. “How can you suggest such a thing?”
“I understand. This seems preposterous! I am sorry. Let us drop the idea.” But the next minute, he appeared amused, smiled and promised to talk to his wife.
“No certainty that she would agree. But I would speak to her on phone. It is a tricky project, you know that.”
Rahsmita had been keeping her eyes peeled for the mail. After a week she got what she had been looking for. She grabbed the letter and did not make any mention of it to me. But I had a copy of it.
It ran: “My sweet darling: I can’t tell you how much and how often I think and dream of you. Ever since I met you, my life, which was dreary and lonely has acquired meaning. As you advise, I’ll not feel depressed now. God promise. Yes, I’ll live for you. I’ll wait for the day, when I can hold your hand, look into your eyes and feel your love for me.”
I was sitting in my study, trying to visualise the impact these words would have on Rashmita. Suddenly, the door slammed open and she strode into drawing room in a hysterical condition. She screamed: “Now I know this witch. No wonder, you never bothered about me all these years!”
I found her accusation amusing and smiled complacently.
“Anand, please it’s no smiling matter. For how long has it been going on behind my back?”
“Well ... err ...” I remained non-committal. She strode out of the room and remained glum for the next few days.
And then arrived another letter. The thrust of the letter was the same. But it contained more explosive sentences.
“I am pining my life away for you, sweetheart. And you’re going on with that stupid woman who does not deserve you. Though she has rich parents, but she has no brains. I don’t know how you have tolerated her all these years. Now be brave, sweetheart. Break the news to her and do it quickly. Tomorrow itself. Have you consulted a lawyer and got the papers ready? Don’t delay. Each day without you is a torture.”
My friend’s wife had got carried away in her desire to do good. Rashmita did not leave the bed the whole of Sunday. When I asked what was wrong, she sat up in bed and said gloomily, “I know, I am no longer good enough for you.”