Saturday, August 12, 2017

Twilight years

                  Can anyone die of a heart break? Can you feel your soul leaving your body, the pain that you harbour in your heart turning into a physical one until it strangles your very being? Perhaps, the greatest test in life is not living but dying. As she went from one day to another, Meera waited for nothing but death. The burden of living was no longer bearable, not since she was left all alone.

                  She woke up each morning at 6, as she had done for 50 years of her life. Every morning, she opened her eyes, straining to adjust herself to the darkness around her. Involuntarily she reached to the other side of the bed, the one that was no longer warm with the person she loved. She hugged the pillow and curled for a few minutes, taking strength to live another day. Her knee ached as she climbed out of bed, another reminder of her age. She opened the drapes to let the sunlight in, set the tea for boiling on a slow flame and went to freshen herself. Once the tea was ready, she poured it into the single cup that was left from the porcelain set that had been her anniversary gift. The rest from the set had been broken by the man who insisted on washing the cups every morning. For some reason, after he was gone, Meera thought that this lone cup represented her. She was the last one left from the set of people who had once formed her family.
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                  She had all the time in the world now. Time stopped being a factor for anything in her life. As always, she made the breakfast and ate in silence. She put on her glasses and read the newspaper from page to page, folded it neatly back in place, went about getting her meal ready. By 9 am her chores for the day were done and all she did was waiting. Sometimes she sat in the balcony and dreamed of gone days. Some days when it was too sunny, she reread some of her favourite books. Some afternoons she opened the huge suitcase of albums that was now kept below her bed and spent all day reliving those moments. Once it was dark, she closed the windows, had an early supper and retired for the day, hoping that the next day she would be somewhere with her husband.

                It had been 3 months since Rajeev died peacefully in his sleep, with his beloved wife at his side. His wife, Meera, was blissfully unaware of the departure of her dear husband until the next morning when she snuggled close to him to wake him up and found his body cold. He sure was one lucky man to have died such a death. For her part, Meera had nothing against her life as well. Meera had lived a full life with her husband. Sometimes she thought she had nothing to blame except for being alive.

               Their life had been nothing but an endless love story that began with an arranged marriage. Meera was married off to Rajeev when she was all of 20 which, according to the times then, was quite late. Girls in her times were married by 16 and had a couple of kids by the time they hit 20. Meera had been quite fierce and put up a fight to complete her graduation. To her advantage, her father respected her wishes and let his only daughter do as she wished. When she finally completed her graduation, her father brought an alliance which she could not deny.

 There was nothing wrong with the guy. He was employed in a bank, which was a rarity and had a stable family. Meera, who read voraciously, had other ideas about the man of her dreams. She expected sparks to fly when she first met her husband, her heart to beat wildly at his smile and to fall head over heels in love with him at first sight. But alas! Nothing of that sort happened when he first came to see her. 

Dressed in a white shirt and black trousers, his hair parted neatly in the centre, Rajeev looked more like he was having a job interview! Meera was dressed in a white sari having a design of red roses, a long red blouse of her mother fitted to her size for the occasion and her hair done in a bun with a red rose tucked at the side. Her wheatish complexion was lightened with powder and her big, expressive eyes lined with kajal at the insistence of her over enthusiastic aunts. She looked nothing short of a diva, but Rajeev was not a fan of made up ladies. He wondered if he could spend a lifetime with a woman like that. Meera saw her dreams shatter when she glanced at Rajeev. Their horoscopes were matched and wedding dates were being discussed when Rajeev insisted on talking to Meera. It was unheard of in any marriage of that time; a man asking to talk to his to-be wife was seen as a sign of trouble. Once again, Meera's father took it upon him to break the norm and let the two of them talk. 

               Sitting in the veranda of Meera's house, Rajeev waited patiently as they were served a second cup of tea that was a pretext of the relatives to eavesdrop into the conversation. Once all of them were out of sight, Rajeev asked Meera directly if she was happy with the match. Meera was taken by surprise. She did not expect him to be so straight forward and ask about her wishes. It was for the elders to decide. Women had no say in these matters. No matter how liberally she was brought up, it was still thought that parents knew and did the best for their children when it came to matrimony. Because Rajeev had considered her wishes, he won her respect if not love. She had kept her gaze lowered all the while, unaccustomed to deal with such situation, but when he asked she looked into his eyes. In his eyes, she saw nothing but honest concern. A gentleness that she did not see while he was with others. Maybe this man was more than he let on. The thought made her feel better about her future. And what a day it had been! From despair to hope, she smiled and nodded. Rajeev, who was preoccupied with the layers on her skin, was dazzled by her smile. In her smile he found what he was looking for-genuineness. Maybe she was not all that she was letting on!

              They had a short courtship of 15 days from the time their wedding date was fixed. Unknown to their parents, they met every day. Every evening, after his bank closed, Rajeev would take the train to her stop and they would spend time together. There were no roses or love letters nor chocolates when he met her. But he would charm her with the little things that he remembered about her. Like he would know what kind of tea she preferred at her favourite shop, that she liked peanuts plain and not salted and her favourite colour was purple and not pink (although he found it all the same). She did not know how love felt, but she knew it was one of the things that made a man travel the other way after a hard day at work just to spend half an hour with someone. 

             Once they were married, she found herself struggling to adjust with the domestic responsibilities. Her in-laws were old and demanding. Her day started at 6 and she toiled all day with the household work. Making breakfast, getting Rajeev's tiffin ready, attending to her in laws who expected her to hand them whatever they wanted at their beck and call, getting lunch and dinner ready and making sure that the house was always spic and span was stressful. But with Rajeev's support she did it all. In the morning, before his parents woke up, Rajeev helped her clean the house. They quickly stole kisses when he left for work. During the day, the thought of him coming back to her would keep her happy. Every evening when he returned from work, he would take her out for a walk. They would stroll the neighbourhood garden talking about their day, sometimes having chaat at the nearby stall, or go for an ice cream when it was hot. She would feel refreshed when with him. Every Sunday he took her out. Sometimes it would be a matinee show, sometimes a dance program, some days he would take her to the bookstore and indulge her as she would be confused on what to buy and some rainy afternoons they would just laze in their room watching the rain. Rajeev's parents never disturbed them on Sundays and it was the best day of the week for Meera.

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            They were sailing the boat of marriage smoothly, until Meera got pregnant.

To be continued...

Read the next part HERE

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