Fragrances From Another Time

Fragrances From Another Time

Kamban express had just moved out of Tambaram station when Meenakshi called.

"Three cars at home..you travel second class…business man…status?…want to help useless friends who opted for VRS?…Not telling your wife anything…out of your mind?"

Ramanathan couldn't hear the whole rant, but the bits and pieces

were enough.

 

He mumbled something about meeting his old friends at Maathur and inviting them personally for his sixtieth birthday celebrations. She might not have heard the explanation and the line went dead.

He sighed and waited for another call.

It came and it was the same.

No word about what he would have for dinner. Whenever she was angry, she would forget about his next meal.

The train chug-chugged it's way towards South, towards where his old heart lay…

Now what would Meenakshi say ,if he told her he was going to Maathur to meet …Gowri?

He laughed aloud and an I -pod wearing youth looked at him, startled.

Someone else wanted to know whether "Saar" would exchange his lower berth for his wife's

[ Small baby Saar, please] middle berth.

Someone else wondered whether an old person should be bothered at all.

He smiled and said he wasn't too old to be gallant .

"I am not old. Nor am I ready to go. Not till I meet my…woman from the mists of memory.

Gowri, where are you? Searched for you all my life.

The sound of her glass bangles [ "We are not rich Ramu, mother says, my prince will buy me gold bangles.] the smell of jasmine , the raff- raff of her fake silk skirt [ We are poor. Can't afford real silk. Mother says…Ramu, when we are married please buy a silk sari for me…one every year."

The way her fake- gold jhumkis danced when she talked, her wide eyes that squeezed the life out of his young heart, her laughter.

He slowly opened his designer wallet and pulled a faded picture out.

rajjo12.jpg

She smiled from there, her seventeen year old face framed by two braids that serpentined down her slim body.

He held that picture close to his chest, as the I -pod chap looked on. Ramanathan controlled himself, blinked back some tears, stretched on the middle berth and listened to the steady chug chug of the train.

Meenakshi called him thrice over the night again and ranted about husbands who never learnt any lessons about social status .

The train reached Karaikudi when the birds were chirping.

Ramanathan walked down the platform and felt like a twenty year old again.

He wondered whether Gowri would tremble in happiness as he walked the earth where they both grew up…those things happen only in movies. The thought made him smile.

He reached a semi decent hotel , washed ,had breakfast and took a taxi to Maathur.He got down near the temple and walked towards the temple tank where they used to meet everyday…almost forty years ago.

The tank hadn't changed much but for the surroundings, and he could see a couple lost in each other's eyes there.

"Hey, kids! Take care" He wanted to say..

He walked to the last but one step and waited as though he expected the smell of jasmine , the clink -clink of her anklets, the ruffle of her skirt and the jangle of her glass bangles.

That fateful day, she had come and said her marriage had been fixed with a well- to -do groom from Delhi.

"Ramu, let's be practical. You haven't yet landed a job. Mother says this is my prince and I too feel that this is the right decision. I would never go hungry anytime! Forget me and if possible go out of the town the day I get married."

The words sent a stab of pain even after this many years and he sat on the stone steps holding his head in his hands.

He had almost left town and he was packing a bag the morning she was to be married. Tears fell on the baggage .His worried mother put a comforting arm on him.

The door burst open and her father and his relatives tumbled in. Her father went straight to his mother and fell at her feet like a rootless tree.

The Delhi groom's mother had put her foot down, the wedding had been called off and the family had been shattered .

The auspicious hour had to be used and only a thali* around Gowri ‘s slim neck would save their family from extinction.

"Please ask your son to tie the thali. If not, we would all die. She would be your slave forever. Please."

His mother had wanted to know what he thought and, to this day, he would never know why he said yes and made Gowri Meenakshi , Mrs Gowri Meenakshi Ramanathan.{sidebar id=19}

Love? Sympathy? Madness ? Who would know?

Gowri, would you know why I am still searching for you?

Sixty year old Ramu looked at the still waters in the temple tank and smiled.

Met you. Talked to you. Feel better.

He got up and walked slowly towards his friend Sambandham's house.

Sambandham looked older than he was and his humble house matched his looks.

The two friends wordlessly looked at each other for a while .

Ramanathan handed the ornate invitation of his sixtieth birthday celebrations to Sambandham and his wife.

Sambandham's wife made some enquiries about Ramanathan's wife before she went in to fetch some coffee.

"I am sorry", Sambandham said suddenly.

Ramanathan didn't answer and Sambandham continued.

"I mean that letter I wrote to you long ago. About ….about the foolishness of marrying a woman who once thought of marrying another man for money…I …might not live long…sugar you know…I am sorry about that letter."

Ramanathan smiled."Don't be. I know very well my Gowri didn't have that Delhi chap in mind when she agreed to marry him. She was, let's say, money -obsessed, she still is."

Heavy silence hung between them for a while.

"I worked hard to make her happy. She was a girl brought up by a bitter mother who had lost a child to poverty…I am not justifying her actions and behavior after marriage. Yes…the first ten years were very bad with my low income then…This is a bit personal you know…she was cold towards me during that time …as though I were , in some way, responsible for all that happened…but slowly things looked up for me. You know where I am now."

Sambandham nodded. He still couldn't look at his friend's face .

"How do I make other people understand? Everyone around us hate her obsession …she is scared she ‘d become poor again…" He sighed.

"She loves me in her own way. Yes, she does! She is money -conscious, status- conscious , she doesn't just try to run my life. She has taken over it! I don't mind really. She keeps a tight rein on things…Yes, folks say I am mad where she is concerned…But once you marry someone , you have to give it all you ‘ve got, shouldn't you? There are the children to think about. They are settled now and I thought I can come over to meet…nice memories."

Sambandham's wife served coffee and that's when Ramanathan remembered the sweets he had bought for them.

She gently returned the sweet box back to him.

"She doesn't eat sweets. I am a diabetic. This love thing is irrational, isn't it?"

Sambandham spoke and Ramanathan smiled.

The lady went in to the house and the friends looked at each other again.

"Why did you come here, all the way?"

"To meet Gowri, ofcourse"

"Met?"

"Yes, feel better. But I am leaving her here. Got to go back to Mrs.Meenakshi Ramanathan. She is real. Gowri isn't. She never was".

Sambandham wiped a tear.

"This love thing is irrational!" Ramanathan said and they laughed.

"You know I can't come to attend your.."

"I know. Just wanted to see you. Don't know how long I have."

Sambandham took his friend's hands in his and looked in to his eyes .

"You'd have very long Ramu! I am sure."

Ramanathan walked out of their house, feeling better.

He walked towards the Mathur Shiva temple, offered his prayers, greeted those who remembered him , walked out and stopped near a lady selling flowers.

It was Anjamma , a pale shadow of her earlier teenage self but he could recognize her.

"Saar! So nice to see you! Where is Gowri amma? "She insisted on packing a huge ball of jasmine string for "Gowri amma who loves flowers" and handed it to him.

She refused to take any money but Ramanathan managed to press a five hundred rupee note in to the little hands of her grandson.

He walked on, a much lighter man, and as he turned the street corner, he looked at the temple tower once.

"Just one more year ? But surely you are a better doctor? How about five more , no, ten more years?"

His cell phone rang again. It was Meenakshi with her usual volley of questions, but she sounded a little like Gowri.

"Don't eat oily food! You never take care of yourself! Think about your fifty eight year old wife once a while…three cars and you slog in a train…What will people think? What did you eat for lunch? Did you buy some jasmine? What are you doing there at Maathur? Reliving our old memories, old man?"

He tried to answer but his throat seemed be on general strike suddenly.

He managed to tell her that he was boarding that day's Kamban .

Those who waited in Karaikudi railway station that day, wondered why an old man was talking and smiling in to a cell phone with tears in his eyes.

One of them mumbled about cell phones , love- talks and Kali yug but Ramanathan , no Ramu, didn't really notice that and he surprised his co passengers by deftly climbing to his upper berth.

More privacy that way, with his Meenakshi.

I made the picture using a dry medium-color pencils.

It's a lot easier and faster than painting and curious kids can run around but cannot cause much damage while one works on it.:-)

•· Thali-Mangalsutra, A mangal sutra is an Indian and Nepali symbol of Hindu marriage, consisting of a gold ornament strung from a yellow thread, a string of black beads or a gold chain.

 

•· Temple tank-Temple tanks are wells or reservoirs built as part of the temple complex in Indian temples[ From Wikipedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

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