Part 3 is here.
Recap: A bus journey transforms into a storytelling session as a young scriptwriter going through a difficult period meets an old man on the bus who tells him a love story.
We were sitting on the beach now. It was hot and I could feel the heat everywhere. The beach was a bad idea on a May afternoon. Narasimhan picked up the sand every few minutes and let it fall through his fingers. His face was turned away from me. For a moment, I thought he was crying. I gently touched his shoulder. He turned around and heaved a sigh.
“See, I do feel quite bad about all of that”, he said. “But nothing can be done about it now.”
“Anyway, let’s continue. Where did I stop? Oh yes, yes. Now what happened after I came back is of no consequence. And it’s quite boring to talk about. In fact, I thought that by now, you would have fallen asleep standing up. Not bored?”
I shook my head in response. I did not want to say anything that would stop his flow. But I had to. “Please, continue”.
“OK. I’m going to jump a few years now. You know like how they do it in some soaps. Like that only.”
“Saro was possibly the only woman I know who looked beautiful even as she aged. Nowadays and all, they are saying that Hema Malini still looks good. But that’s artificial. Not like my Saro.”
“And we became better friends than spouses as we grew older. We still fought everyday, but we agreed at the end of every fight that one person was right. I think it was always her. Of course, I never agreed with all that. But marriage is like that, you know. Vaijja had now finished her schooling. Then it was a 10+1 and PUC system. She’d gotten into JIPMER. You’ve heard of it? Oh yes, of course you have. Very popular, no?”
“But I was dead against it. How could I send my daughter to a place so far away all alone? See Pondicherry was considerd far away then. And that was the first time, Saro stood up to me. She fought for Vaijja and made me agree, reluctantly though, to let her go. Now she’s a doctor.”
“Jaggu was now in college studying B Sc. And Lakshmi was studying law. Soon their education got over and they all got married in a while. Both my daughters had love marriages, but that is a story for another day. My son, on the other hand was married for a while and then he passed away.”
“They had children, who grew up away from us. But they made it a point to visit us every week. Saro started to join all these sloka classes, music classes and some such other thing to keep herself occupied. I began feeling very lonely at this point of time. Everyone had some work or the other to do, and I had none.”
“When our grandchildren were in their pre-teens, all our children moved back in with us. Jaggu’s wife also came. I still don’t understand why they did that, but they must have sensed that something was wrong. My time was occupied again and I began ignoring Saro.”
“Then, one day, Lakshmi came to the hall. I have this easy chair at home, where only I would sit. I was sitting on it when she came to speak to me.”
“She said, “Appa, there’s something you must know. Amma has not been feeling well for the past few days. And we need to take her to the doctor.” I looked at Lakshmi and asked, “Why? What is it?” Lakshmi looked downcast. “I don’t know, but she’s complaining of acute pain.”
“We all dropped everything and rushed her to the nearby hospital. She was referred to an oncologist. A knot of dread formed in my stomach. Somehow, I knew it. We visited the oncologist, who asked her to take some tests. A few days later, it was confirmed. They wanted to do a surgery on her.”
“They did so, but, later the tumor had spread to the rest of her body. They gave her a maximum of a year to live. I never understood how she withstood so much pain. Do you know, even after the first surgery, she went into the kitchen everyday to work? She could not just sit around in one place doing nothing. I don’t know how my grandchildren do it, these days.”
“She never cried, event hough she was in pain. In the nights, she told me, “See, when I’m not here, make sure you don’t spend too much money on the house. Sometimes, you’re too extravagant.” Every night, like that, she gave me practical advice on running the household. She had come to terms with the fact that she was dying, and she wanted to make sure that everything was in order when she did.”
“During the last months, she lost the capacity to speak. And she could not withstand the pain anymore. She cried out to God every now and then, to take her away. The pain must have been unbearable. I wondered how she took it all.”
“It was a summer afternoon. Pretty much like this one. Vaijja was sleeping on Saro’s palm. A while later she woke up, took one look at her mother and knew. She called out to us and our neighbour, a doctor who held her wrist. The moment he let go of Saro’s hand, it hit us hard. I felt like I was being crushed.”
“All around me people were making phone calls, and running around to inform everyone else. I could not move from where I was standing. I was looking at Saro’s face for the longest time. You know, the moment she died, all the pain left her face. She seemed so calm and happy. Like, it was exactly what she wanted. I then realised that she wasn’t in anymore pain now.”
“I left that room immediately and took over from Jaggu, who was making all those phone calls. I started calling people and telling them.”
He went silent for a moment. And he picked up from where he left, “The pain of the loss slowly faded away. but we all still missed her.”
“I miss her. But I cannot say it in front of my children.”
We both sat quietly, watching the waves, not minding the heat. I turned to see him getting up. He motioned for me to get up. “See, I miss her alright. No one makes potato curry like she did. In fact, no one I know now cooks like she did. And she was the most wonderful thing to ever happen to my life. That might sound like a very melodramatic thing to say, but it is the truth.”
“And you see, this is what it is. No songs and dances. No fight sequences. A simple love story, is what it is.”
Saying that, he started walking away from him. I didn’t know what to say to the man who had spent the past couple of hours telling me, a complete stranger, his life story.
I took the bus back home and turned on my laptop the moment I got there. I usually never begin my scripts with a dedication, but this time I had to.
“To Narasimhan, wherever you are. And to your inspiration, Saroja.”