Experiment
BAvanA SaMkar
Chandra is in a fix. He is frightened that any decision he may take can doom the rest of his life. It may sound odd for an Indian male to be so frightful of marriage, to go through such a turbulence for making a decision, but it is really so in the case of Chandra.

Chandra is a nice guy. Not only is he well educated but has also cultivated a taste for literature and art. He is cultured, affable and is one who can distinguish good and bad.  He may not be an activist but can't be considered to be a self-centered one, either. Earned his job right after graduation. Even for such a smart guy, marriage has been a question with no easy answers. He even had his share of dreams of falling in love. But the realization that he might be in love with Prabha scared him.

Prabha is Chandra's colleague. Both were recruited around the same time. She is a lively girl. Very organized too. Completes her work promptly. Wears a big smile all the time except when...

She is enraged every time she speaks of male chauvinism. Men, their shallow, obscene and brutal acts are all subjects of her censure. Her face turns red, eyes go ablaze and her lips start to quiver. As she thunders away, Chandra gets tempted to wipe the droplets of sweat that start to appear on her cute nose.

At times, she looks very depressed. She struggles to fight back her tears as she reads incidents of women being harassed, or when some one relates tales of women in distress. Barring these two instances, Prabha always appears with a big smile.

Prabha firmly protests all acts of undue favor or discrimination of her male colleagues. This self-respect of hers never ceases to amaze Chandra. 

Her insistence on receiving equal treatment makes her male colleagues fear her. They take her self-respect to be arrogance.

Chandra holds her pride in high esteem. She treats her subordinates with the same respect that she demands from her superiors. 

She is as friendly with the office boy as she is frank with her officer. 

Prabha's arguments and actions seem incomprehensible to everyone. But Chandra understands her in most aspects.

Even so - Chandra is frightful of his future if he marries Prabha. 

Prabha's incessant criticism of men and their actions may not offend Chandra today. For, he will never be in the list of such men. But what if she discovers an unwelcome male attribute in him after marriage? How will she treat him?

Can he then look straight into her eyes?

Can he treat her as his equal? Will the dormant male ego in his blood unveil itself someday?

What if she lashes out at him and deserts him then?

At times he may frown at her, can she swallow her pride and bear it?

Till now, he has been totally dependent on the services of his mother and sisters.

Mom serves him food on time. He is happy to eat it and get to office. Never ever bothered to know how that food is prepared.

Sisters get his clothes washed and ironed.

He never learnt handling household chores. Can just fetch groceries from the market.

What if Prabha wants him to take care of the kitchen while she disperses other duties? 

Really don't know whether Prabha can cook at all.

"Do you know how to cook? What are your favorite recipes? Can you match my mom's preparation of Karelai fry? She gets rid of the bitterness with not even a whiff of jaggery. Can you distinguish the syrups used for ariseluii and bUreluiii? Can you make kArappUsaiv?" How can he pose these questions to a girl who speaks authoritatively on subjects as varied as world politics, feminist literature, intricacies of existentialism, the genius of Amjad Ali Khan's sarod, the role of Hindu fascism in the destruction of Babri masjid,...?

Prabha never even talks of her culinary skills. Why should he marry her and be deprived of good food? Why should he burn his hands in the kitchen?

Why should he watch his every single step in fear of committing a mistake?

Isn't it a good idea to marry an ordinary girl and still be friends with Prabha?

An ordinary girl -

One who wouldn't demand to be treated as equal - one who deems him to be her god - one who is comfortable to follow him rather than walk by his side - one who greets him in the morning with a hot cup of coffee - one who cooks all his favorite dishes and patiently serves them to his satisfaction.

One who would adorn herself and wait patiently for his arrival; not one who would be preoccupied in her own world.

One who goes shy on his embrace.

Will Prabha play coy?

How else would she react, if not be shy?

"Three buses have gone by in the last ten minutes. Where are you lost? Won't you tell me?" Prabha teased.

Chandra felt inconvenient.

It suddenly occurred to him that he would be the one to feel shy, and not Prabha. This agitated him.

Prabha looked puzzled as Chandra's face turned red.

Prabha's bus arrived in the mean time.

Prabha hurried onto the bus as she bid goodbye.




As Chandra reached home, his mother Shantamma hurriedly approached him.

"Subba Rao uncle and his daughter are here", she said.

For a moment, Chandra felt irritated.

Subba Rao and Chandra's father, Madhava Rao, are very close friends. They were neighbors for six years when Chandra was still a kid. Though the families moved apart due to job changes and transfers, they remained close friends.

Subba Rao visits them twice a year and spends at least a week with his friend. Madhava Rao visits him too. They spend hours together chatting and playing cards.

It surprises Chandra that his otherwise laconic father spends so much time talking to Subba Rao uncle.

Swarna is Subba Rao's only daughter. She is doing her B.Sc. Subba Rao wishes to see her married to Chandra. Chandra's father Madhava Rao, Shantamma, sisters Girija, Vanaja - all of them like the alliance. Everyone prayed to his or her gods that Chandra would consent to this marriage.

Several times, Subba Rao uncle hinted that Chandra meet Swarna, by inviting him to their place. Chandra never replied. When Shantamma directly approached him on this issue, he replied that he didn't like attending marriage talks.

Mother showed him her picture.

"You want me to marry looking at her picture?" Chandra railed at his mother.

"If you don't want to see the picture or meet the girl, how will you decide on marriage?" Shantamma complained.

"May be he will go for a love marriage", quipped elder sister, Vanaja.
  
"Doesn't one need a girl even for that? Doesn't he have to see her? Whom is he kidding?" Shantamma got angry.

"May be he chose one already", said younger sister, Girija.

Shantamma was irritated at their frivolous comments.

So finally, Subba Rao uncle brought that Swarna. Chandra felt like he was being cornered. Without saying a word, not even allowing eye contact with anyone, Chandra sped to the bathroom. As he took bath, he wondered if Swarna is that ordinary girl, with whom he can live happily.

What if he gives up his unnecessarily rigid stand and meets this girl? His thinking seems to conclude that he can't be happy with Prabha anyway. If that's the case, probably he will lead a happy life with Swarna. May be she is indeed the ordinary girl he is looking for?

Excited, he finished his bath.

Everyone was in the living room watching TV and talking to each other.

"Come on, my boy!" Subba Rao uncle invited Chandra. Swarna involuntarily shifted her eyes off TV onto Chandra.

Chandra hurriedly turned his eyes away.

"We had enough of the idiot box. Let's take a stroll and get some fresh air". Madhava Rao took Subba Rao away.

"Why don't you give me a helping hand at cooking, dear? Cut me some fresh onions." Shantamma pulled Vanaja into the kitchen.

Girija had vanished long before.

'Looks like a well hatched conspiracy', thought Chandra.

"Mother tells me that I last saw you when you were only two years old", Chandra said smilingly.

Swarna looked puzzled.

"We were neighbors at that time. I was six years old."

There was no response from Swarna. She continued to watch TV.

"Do you watch TV daily?"

She nodded.

"What is your favorite show?"

She didn't answer.

"Do you listen to music?"

She shook her head in the negative.

"Do you watch movies?"

She smiled as if to say yes.

"What's your favorite movie?"

"Watched 'A view to a kill' four times."

Chandra felt like running away.

He took a close look at Swarna.

Golden ear rings, studded with jade. Pearl necklace. Wrist covered with gold bangles.

Designer sari, braid filled with jasmines.

Can he support her lavish life style?

"Can you cook?" he asked unintentionally.

"I am not that good. I need to learn", she replied with fear.

She sat examining her nail polish, as if she was ready to answer more of Chandra's questions.

Chandra looked at her lips with curiosity. They were wet and shining with light colored lipstick.

"Do you think that the new economic policy suits our country's needs?"

Swarna gave a frightened, perplexed look.

"Yes, go ahead", Chandra said, hiding his laughter.

"I have no idea what that is", Swarna replied.

"Don't you read the daily newspaper?"

"I do"

"What do you read in it then?"

"I look through the cinema section, head lines, and about accidents, if any."

Suddenly Chandra grew furious with himself, and uninterested about everyone.

He put his shoes on and got out of the house shouting, "Mom, I am off to visit my colleague Prabha".

It was seven thirty in the evening.

'What would Prabha be doing right now? What will she think if he visits her at this hour? Anyway, it is better to visit when one really feels like.'  Chandra waved for an auto.

As he was nearing Prabha's house, disturbing thoughts ran through this mind. 'If he visits Prabha now, will he commit himself? Will he announce that he loves her?'

In such a case, he will have to marry Prabha. How will that marriage turn out? Didn't he deem Prabha fit only to be a friend than be his wife? What does he want to say to her now?

He likes Prabha. Likes her very much.

Prabha has a really beautiful face. He undoubtedly likes her beauty.

But, along with that beauty, she also has eyes that glow with knowledge. That glow of knowledge brightens her whole face. It is that radiance, he is a little afraid of.

She has a beautiful figure too.
 
She is tall, has a well-proportioned body. But with that body, she carries herself with great self-confidence. Never bends even a little. Doesn't make an effort to hide or display anything.

Her natural carefree attitude that comes from the lack of such efforts, with no display of shyness, scares him. Has he not noticed her colleagues? They are always afraid, uncomfortable and angry.

They are always fearful of being attacked and are restless with curiosity to know whether they are attracting someone's attention or not.

Prabha is different. Confident, bold and comfortable. Not like other girls.

That's the problem.

What would be his fate, if he marries someone very unlike a girl? What would happen to him? Now, think. All by himself, he goes to her place and ...

Proposes to her...

Later if he retracts those words, wouldn't Prabha catch him by the collar and thrash him left and right?

"Do you think I am a fool?" She would attack him like kALiv.

Actually, they threw him into these troubled waters by bringing Swarna. 

To avoid being hit by the whirlpool like Swarna, directionless, is he jumping into this quicksand?

He roamed near Prabha's house for half an hour but returned without knocking on her door.

By the time he got back, everyone was busy in his or her own work, having finished dinner.

Shantamma served him dinner. To indicate that she is angry, she didn't speak a word while serving. Chandra too ate without uttering a word and went off to sleep.

"Who is this Prabha?" fed up with a week's cold war, mom broke silence. Irritated by Chandra's questions Swarna rejected the alliance outright.

While Chandra sighed in relief, others were disappointed.

Still, Shantamma did not give up efforts to see her son, in his late twenties, married.

She coaxed Vanaja and Girija to tell her about Prabha.

"She is my colleague", Chandra replied.

"Do you like her?"

Chandra nodded, hesitatingly.

"Ok, marry her then. Did you propose?"

Again he shook his head. This time in the negative.

"Do you want us to visit her? Ask her?"

"No! No!" he replied hastily, gulping water to avoid being choked. He was having breakfast.

"Why?" questioned Shantamma in dismay. Suddenly feeling despair - "Are we your enemies? Marry the girl you like. Can't we meet her? We are not fit to find you a match. Agreed. Can't we atleast look at the girl you chose?" she spoke fighting her tears back.

"Mom, that is not the case. Just that I am still undecided." Chandra rushed to office paying no more attention to her.

By the time he returned in the evening, Mohan was at home. Mohan is Chandra's elder cousin. He is almost twenty years older to Chandra. But they get along very well as if they are of the same age. Whenever Mohan is in town, he always stays at Chandra's house. He doesn't speak with anyone there except Chandra.

"Only he can make any sense out of my words", he tells others.

Even after forty-five, Mohan makes no efforts to settle down in life such as building a house and striving for higher positions at work. Instead he goes around attending meetings and being part of myriad associations. None of his relatives are impressed by his activities.

To Chandra, Mohan appeared as the perfect counsel who can guide him through these difficult times.

Chandra got Mohan out of the house in a rush. He dragged him to a near-by park and poured out his woes of love - all about Prabha, his fears and suspicions.

"Tell me Mohan! Do you think my fears are unfounded? Or is it foolish to marry Prabha?" Mohan looked at Chandra in pity.

"Hey, do you know when I got married?"

"I was barely five."

"Yeah, it was in 1970. How much have people changed with time!"

"Who?" asked Chandra with a puzzled look.

"Youth. Young men like you. We used to search for this type of girls. In our whole college, there were barely four active and self-confident girls. They were already in love with guys smarter than me. What could I do?

Wherever I went - parties, concerts, meetings - I used to look for a girl who could share everything as an equal.

A girl with eyes that radiate knowledge - one who could stand next to me with confidence. In those days there were hardly any.

Now, when there are many such, you guys are hesitating with idiotic fears.

For ten years, I begged my wife to call me by name. It is still a dream.

Do you know what I used to dream of when young? A girl whom I love, one who loves me, puts her hand on my shoulder and says -

Hey, did you read this book?

Man! Did you hear that song?

One who treats me like a friend, who sticks with me all the time.

Being able to console and encourage each other in times of distress.

My dream never came true.

I am a loner - in happiness and in sorrow.

Your sister-in-law is a good person, very supportive. I have no complaints with her.

But, she is my wife. Just that - not a friend. Why do you want merely a wife?

You should be looking for a friend. One who can be with you, not just in office, or a park; but also at your home, in your room and in your heart too.

Can't you see how fortunate you would be? Only a girl with self-respect can keep your respect intact. 

A girl lacking that, who would lie like a slave, will in turn try to enslave you to one thing or the other. You are fortunate to come across some one like Prabha. Don't delay anymore."

Mohan's words allayed some of Chandra's fears. His face lit up.

He decided to pursue the matter with Prabha.


Chandra got up early on that Sunday morning. On the pretext of shaving, he spent an hour before the mirror examining his self. Took a good shower and put on his best appearance.

He decided to talk to Prabha that very day. He has seen her house but was never inside.

He gathered some courage and knocked on Prabha's door, a little hesitantly though. The very door he couldn't knock on couple of weeks ago.

Prabha opened the door. Her face lit up with joy.

"What a pleasant surprise! Come on in" she welcomed.

Big living room, kitchen at the back and a bedroom on the side. Chandra liked the house instantly.

"What are you up to?" he asked.

"I am still trying to figure out. For some reason I feel great today. From the time I got up, I feel like doing something. Made some Gulab-Jamunsvi. Listened to some favorite songs in full volume. I was just about to dance when you came in." Smiling, she went into the kitchen and brought some Jamuns for him.

Chandra happily accepted them.

"Do you know to cook? Do you?"

"Why? Do you think I lead a dull solitary life without cooking and eating anything? You men live such pathetic lives. I cook and eat all that I feel like. When I feel too lazy to cook, I eat out."

Whatever, the very fact that Prabha can cook made him very happy.

Savoring the Jamuns, he asked for two more.

"I didn't know that you stay alone. How about sisters and brothers?"

"I am the youngest at home. One sister, two brothers, father, mother - I have all of them but still I have none." She smiled in melancholy.

"Why so?" Chandra asked in surprise.

"I left them all. My father is a devil. His life's ambition is to control everyone in the house and keep them in his grip. He earns the money. And he expects everyone to behave as slaves because of that money. Everyone else conformed to his desire, but not me. We were always fighting, right from the time I was fifteen. He wanted me to quit school, get married to his sister's son -

I wanted to continue my education -

Right after I finished my 12th grade, I moved out. I took up a small job and finished my education with lot of difficulty.

I always wanted to study engineering. My father had the capability to send me to an engineering school. But, he lacked such good intentions. I studied B.A. and took up this job. Now, I have also completed my M.A.

At times, when I feel like meeting my mother, I go there. But they never come here."

Agape, Chandra wondered 'Did this ever smiling Prabha really go through so much tribulation?' Chandra grew disgusted with Prabha's father. 'No wonder Prabha dislikes men. He will make her happy, he will ensure that she doesn't have anymore troubles.'

Chandra's heart filled with love towards Prabha. It was clearly visible in his eyes.

His looks, filled with love, brought joy to Prabha's heart. She felt even more excited.

"Would you like to watch me dance? I learnt only for an year. It isn't good enough to perform on stage. Whenever I feel like it, I just dance at home."

She turned on the tape recorder.

Her curvaceous body was moving beautifully, in perfect rhythm.

He was transcended into a different world.

After half an hour, exhausted, she sat down next to him.

"Won't you applaud?" - she smiled.

"Excellent! You are really good."

He congratulated, holding her hand and then just couldn't let it go.

Even Prabha didn't attempt to take her hand back.

"Prabha, what is your opinion of me?"

Chandra asked as though he was in some kind of trance.

Prabha laughed heartily.

"You are a gentleman. But, in my opinion, you are not courageous enough. I like your hobbies and ideology."

"Do you like me?"

"Yes, I do." Prabha looked into his eyes.

Both felt a kind of excitement growing deep inside. A passionate attraction took control over them.

Suddenly, Prabha drew him near and kissed on his lips.

Chandra couldn't let go of her. He drew her close.

For some time, they lost control of their senses and remembered to be only a man and a woman.

"What a great day, today!"

Hearing Prabha speak sincerely from her heart, Chandra's happiness knew no bounds.

Till evening, they never knew how time flew by. At about five o'clock, Prabha's friend, Madhavi, brought her kids along and knocked on the door. Unwillingly, Chandra opened the door.

Prabha introduced Madhavi. Madhavi looked furious even as she entered. She ignored Chandra and started off talking about her problems, her troublesome husband and the fight she just had with him.

Chandra left saying he would visit some other time.

Next day, Chandra was surprised to find Prabha be her usual self when interacting with him at the office. He felt as though he grew nearer to her and that he obtained a right, authority over her. He did not know how to express and how not to express those feelings. He couldn't comprehend how Prabha could move so comfortably, as if nothing had happened between them. 

That evening, there was a farewell party for a colleague on his retirement. Prabha took upon herself the responsibility of organizing the whole event and was very busy. By the time the party was over and they could be alone together, it was already half past eight.

"How will you go alone? Should I walk you home?" Chandra asked affectionately.

"Why this new treatment? I am not afraid. If you wish to come, you are welcome. You can leave tomorrow morning" she smiled naughtily.

Chandra very much felt like going with her. But, he didn't tell at home that he would be late. If he doesn't go home for the whole night, they would be worried.

"Everyone at home would be waiting for me."

"Very well. Go then. I'll catch a bus and go safely. Don't worry." Bus arrived in the meantime.

Two more weekends passed by joyously. Later, on being intimated of her mother's ill health, Prabha started out to go visit her.

"Will you tell her about me?" Chandra asked jokingly.

"If she is feeling well, I will. How can I tell her about my happiness when she is in pain?"

"May be she will be relieved of her pain if you share your happiness."

"Her pain wouldn't be relieved like that. Her troubles started the very day she wed my dad. Either my dad has to die or she has to. Chandra grasped that she was not in a good mood.

Prabha returned after a fortnight. Without reporting to work, she called Chandra and asked him to visit her at home.

She narrated to Chandra how sick her mother was, how much she nursed her and about her father's couldn't care less attitude. Chandra described how much he missed her and longed for her.

"Prabha, I can't live apart like this anymore. When shall we get married? There should be no objection from my parents. They are in fact looking forward to it. Any more delay is yours."

For a second, Prabha looked puzzledly at Chandra but then smiled away.

"Tell me. Which month and day? I am ready even if it is tomorrow."

Prabha stared at Chandra with love and pity.

"Why are you staring at me like that?" Chandra insisted on getting a reply.

"Marriage?! What do you want to accomplish with that?" Chandra was taken aback.

"What to accomplish? We just get married. Oh ... you mean that, we can have a register marriage. Even I don't like traditional marriages conducted by priests.
Being grown-ups and playing like kids - pouring talaMbrAluvii on each other, fighting to take the ring out of the brass pot..." Chandra broke into laughter.

Prabha didn't join in his laughs.

"I am not asking how we are going to get married. What will happen after marriage, is my question."

This time, Chandra was totally appalled.

"Both of us will move into your house. Is that it?"

"Yeah!" What else is there to expect, his looks seemed to question.

Prabha remained silent again.

"Do you wish that both of us move into a separate house? Okay, let's do that"

"Chandra, What is wrong with the way things now are? This is my house. You can come anytime you wish to. You see, we are spending time together whenever we feel like. Marriage, family life - both of us getting into fights like husband and wife every day - I don't like all these things. I am not ready to lead that kind of life. Let things stay the way they are for some more time. Don't bring up the issue of marriage."

Chandra's face turned pale. Prabha's words sparked feelings of both fear and anger in him. As her words slowly sunk in, his feelings grew stronger.

"Does that happen any where?"

"Why not?"

"Then what's our relation?"

"Friends - lovers."

"What if two lovers become husband and wife, and stay together?"

"Everything will be destroyed. We are two grown-ups, each with a distinct life style. Without upsetting either of those, why can't we love each other?"

Chandra became certain that Prabha was speaking foolishly.

"What if I ditch you?"

She rolled in laughter.

"What exactly do you intend to do?"

"What will you do, if I disappear, never show up again, after spending some time together?"

"Do you want me to get into a relationship because I don't trust you? Or is it that you don't have faith in me? Is it not the same either way - whether you stop seeing me, or I stop seeing you, what does it mean, that we no longer love each other. Why stay together when there is no more love? I don't want to marry precisely to avoid staying together like that"

Chandra reached heights of dizziness.

"Don't you want any rights over me?"

"Not any of those that suppress your freedom. Nor will you have any such over me."

"Are you kidding? Is it really possible to lead such a life? What will my dad, mom, sisters, our colleagues - everyone in the community, think? How can we answer them? What shall we do?"

"I left my whole family to be in a small place that I can call my own. I can't sacrifice that place to build a similar family, may be with small variations.

Think how you can convince your family for the sake of our love. Think well. Why are you afraid of society? It is the society that should accept and adopt our ways. Society is always fearful of new approaches. We should help eliminate such fears."

Every word of Prabha only served to enrage Chandra a little more.

"If we both decide to stay in our own separate places, what would be the fate of our children?"

He was convinced that she would have no answer to the question.

"Kids?!"

Prabha's surprise dismayed Chandra even more.

"I never thought about kids so far. Who knows! If I ever feel like having kids, I can think about it then. Will I be able to raise them? It's a huge responsibility. Should give it a serious thought and then come to a decision. Why should I change my life style now, for kids whom I may never bear?"

Chandra felt that there is nothing more to discuss.

Does one have to think about having kids? He can't bear this Prabha anymore. 

She has gone berserk, engaged in a race for equality with men, lost in the challenge of keeping her self-pride. He shall have no more of this.

"I may be a gentleman, but I am an ordinary man, Prabha! I don't intend to experiment with my life; all that I am wishing for, is a woman with whom I can share my life, have kids and lead a simple life."

However hard Chandra tried to hide, anger and sarcasm in his voice were palpable. Prabha stared at Chandra for a couple of minutes. She too tried to control her anger. Successful in doing so, she smiled.

"In the usual course of events, we can stop this discussion right now and go our own separate ways. But, after learning of your low opinion and contempt for my beliefs, I too would like to tell you that the ordinary, simple life you wish to lead is a huge gamble. It's a fact! You are undertaking a huge experiment in the name of leading a simple life. Not only you, millions of men and women think so. But that experiment is based totally on speculation. The society that assures you to go ahead with it doesn't come to the rescue when your hands get burnt in that laboratory. You will feel very lonely. Only then, you will realize that life isn't ordinary. And that it is so special. But then, you cannot go back in time. All your life, you would have to keep repeating the same experiment in same laboratory again and again.

If you open your eyes and think with your intellect, you will realize.

I may be experimenting with my life, but I do it in a highly secure environment. Scientifically, like a scientist in the pursuit of creating something new.

I have tremendous peace and comfort in doing so. I will never enter that laboratory where, foolishly, millions have failed earlier. I just can't do it, very well knowing that it is built on a foundation of sand and that I will be annihilated if I ever step into it. I am an intelligent being. I know what my life is worth."

Prabha's proud words maddened Chandra much more.

Both realized that there is nothing left to talk. Chandra left, not even bidding goodbye.


Four to five months passed by. During the first month, Chandra felt very uncomfortable when Prabha was around.

One day, Prabha deliberately invited him over to the canteen and said -

"Something has happened between us. We can do nothing about it. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinions. Let's keep them aside and stay as friends. I sure hope that you have the capability to do so. If not, this is a good opportunity to gain that. I will help you."

Chandra didn't know what to say. Gradually, things were back to normal between them. At times, Chandra felt that he is losing Prabha. But she never was his. How then, can he lose her? Still, feelings of rancor and hatred towards Prabha only hardened in Chandra. She will forever remain lonely, not having the company of even someone like him.

I will marry an ordinary girl and be happy with kids.

Some people's lives are like that.

At home, pressure is building for Chandra's marriage.

The day Swarna's wedding intimation arrived, everyone looked at Chandra as an enemy.

"Good alliance. Familiar family. Everyone would have been happy. You destroyed it with your own hands", Shantamma grieved many a time.

Chandra mentioned about it in between conversations, to Prabha.

"May be Swarna was a good girl. More over you knew her family since childhood. Why did you decline then?"

Prabha spoke as if she was the authority overseeing his marriage.

"To tell you the truth, I never said no. Once, when she was at my place and I asked her a question. Because of that, it seems, she asked her father to reject the alliance!"

"What did you ask?" 

"I asked her opinion on the new economic policy. She looked at me as though I was some idiot. It seems she doesn't read the newspaper. She watches movies like 'A view to a kill' four-five times."

Prabha couldn't resist laughing. When she laughed enough, she said "Really! - I am so angry at all men including you - I hate all men."

"Why? What is there to hate about? Just now you had a good laugh."

"You wouldn't understand. I am really angry. You disturbed me a lot. Now let's go." She walked off from there.

Finally, Chandra's parents were successful in getting his consent for an alliance. The girl is a graduate. If she gets a job, she wouldn't mind working. She has two elder brothers and an elder sister. All are married. She is the youngest. Her parents want to finish off their responsibility by getting her married. Matchmakers gave all of this information.

Chandra saw her photo. Then his family went and met Sandhya.

Chandra couldn't think of any excuse. Neither did he know the reason to say yes, nor did he know the reason to say no. He was confused.

Should he have to marry now?

But will he ever be able to marry in any other way? Everyone at home was pushing him into marrying Sandhya.

Finally, Chandra caved in.

Wedding dates were fixed. Chandra asked for a register marriage. Bride's side didn't like that idea at all.

"Well, they have their own beliefs. How can we not respect them? I don't think it is right to demand that they change for our sake". Madhava Rao took advantage of Chandra's weakness.

"Even I want to see you get married in the traditional way. This is the first wedding in our family. At least, for my sake, say yes", pleaded Shantamma.

Chandra obeyed.

"It is always like that. Noble causes do not have the power of idiocy. Idiots can take control of the noble people but noble people can't win over idiots. Your weakness is termed as gentleness. By calling you a gentleman, fools will have a ball at your expense forever."

Prabha's words stirred restlessness in Chandra, but it is too late. Wedding is just a month away.

Chandra is feeling very anxious. How can he start off living with a girl who is a total stranger?

One evening, he went to Sandhya's house. Her brother greeted him at the door. He was invited in and was served some refreshment. But Sandhya was not to be seen for quite sometime.

"I came to talk to Sandhya. Is she in?" Chandra asked finally.

Her brother was taken aback. He went inside and consulted with his parents.
Chandra sat there feeling humiliated and shy.

After half an hour, Sandhya came out.

In one corner of the hall they were in, her father sat down. Everyone was curious and eavesdropping from inside. Feeling uncomfortable with all that -

"Shall we take a walk outside?" Chandra asked.

"No, thank you." Sandhya replied.

"Why?"

"It doesn't look good. More over my parents wouldn't like it."

"Is it ok if they agree?"

"I don't know - I am afraid. Why now, any how, wedding day is near!"

Her words sounded awkward and he felt irritated.

"Alright, I'll leave then." He stood up.

"Wait a second." Sandhya went inside and talked to her brother.

"Please don't think otherwise. Ours is very well respected family. My father doesn't like all these things before marriage. Anyhow, after marriage, she is all yours." Her brother sought to explain.

Chandra's face turned red as he walked out from there. Next day, when he told this to Prabha, "They are absolutely right. What if you trouble her again questioning about the new economic policy?! What if you reject her then? Everyone should guard their own interests. Every play has some rules. There will be some conditions, and some prohibitions as well. One has to abide by them. Or else shouldn't start to play at all." She smiled naughtily.

'This Prabha wants to take revenge on me. She is laughing at my plight. However difficult it may be, he will make his family a happy one. It would then be his turn to laugh." He thought bitterly.

But deep inside, he knew Prabha is right. She is right in everything that she says. He wanted to marry her because he knew that she is always correct. If only she had agreed to it, we both would have been so happy - he sighed.

Wedding was over. Prabha did not attend.

"I can't watch you in that dress, sorry!" She had told him earlier itself.

However terrible Chandra felt, the wedding took place in a very traditional way. In the eyes of the society, Chandra and Sandhya are now husband and wife.

"I should love Sandhya." Chandra made a decision.


Chandra came to office ten days after his marriage. As soon as he stepped in, his eyes searched for Prabha.

Prabha wished him with a smile.

"How are you?" he asked nearing her table.

"I should be the one asking that question. How is your life in this new role as a husband?" Prabha asked smilingly.

"It's great and comfortable."

"Good. I sincerely wish that you feel the same way for the rest of your life."

Prabha wished him from the bottom of her heart.

Chandra felt little disappointed that Prabha did not feel deprived, irritated at his happiness.
 
`She doesn't realize what she has lost. Someday, someone will deceive her.' He thought, forcing himself to pity her. 

Another two days went by.

That night, Sandhya kept her distance, when he tried to take her into his arms.

"What happened Sandhya?" She started crying.

Chandra became very anxious. He cajoled her and enquired as to what happened.

"Do we have to stay in this house forever?" she asked.

"Meaning?"

"Let's both move out of this house. I can't stay here."

"What? Why? What happened now?"

"I can't bear your mother's torture anymore. And your sisters store venom in their hearts."

Chandra was shocked. Hearing her utter those words, shuddering with hatred, he unconsciously distanced himself from her.

"We realized your family's mentality at the wedding itself. We sent you a hundred coconuts, but you folks had sent us only fifty in return. Then itself my mother wondered how I would manage with this kind of cheap people." 

However hard he tried, he couldn't understand even a single word of what she told.

"What coconuts?" he asked with a pale face.

Sandhya explained in detail - as to the exchange of boxes between bride and bridegroom's families, the list of items that need to be put in those boxes etc.

"So, what are you saying?"

"What is there to say? It is your mother's mischief."

"Should we have to go separate from the family just for the sake of coconuts?"

"Not for the sake of coconuts. We can give away thousand such coconuts. Your fifty coconuts don't even come close to that, what good are they?"

"What nonsense are you talking." Shouted Chandra.

"I can't put up with your mother and sisters. We will have to move out of this house."

"Tell me what they have done."

"They find wrong in everything that I do. But if I sit without doing anything, they grow jealous. You don't know what happened yesterday." She started to cry.

"Don't cry - If you cry, I get very irritated. I will talk to my mother tomorrow."

"You don't tell her a thing - They will trouble me saying that I told you everything."

"How can I not explain?"

"Tell them that we are moving out into a separate house."

"What if they ask the reason?"

"It is better for everyone to take charge of their own families, to live on their own. Tell them that love stays intact only when families stay apart."

"Will it be over if I just say that? Will they not be offended?"

"Can't you feel my pain? Will you leave me suffering?"

Again, tears rolled down her eyes.

Chandra suddenly felt helpless, like the child in a swimming pool who doesn't know to swim.

"I'll think about it. Go to sleep." He said having no choice.

"Nothing doing. You've got to look for another house. Tomorrow I'll go talk to my brother as well. As it is, there is not enough room in the house to keep all the items that my parents have gifted."

As though her troubles are over, Sandhya slept off.

Chandra didn't even take a wink. He didn't know what to do.

How can he tell his parents that he wants to move out, when it is not even three months since he got married?

Mom, troubling Sandhya! How lightly she spoke of Vanaja and Girija?

He doesn't know a thing about Sandhya. How many new things will he learn about her?

In the morning, Chandra felt ashamed to look at his mother. This is the first time he heard something bad against her. About his sisters too. He was saddened to think of them as harrowing sister-in-laws. 

How can he talk to any of them?

What can he talk with them in front of Sandhya? How can he resolve the differences in opinion among them? Why does he need to take that responsibility? Chandra became more and more fearful thinking along those lines. What will be Prabha's opinion on this issue?

He brought up the issue of women being their own enemies for discussion. "What can a guy do, if a mother-in-law and her daughter-in-law get involved in a fight and come to him for resolution?" he said trying to drive a point.

Prabha's verdict was that the total responsibility for such matters lies with the man.

"It is because of the man that all of a sudden, two women of different ages, with distinct mentalities, have to cohabitate. Both look up to the male as the sole support for them. Society nurtures that same thought in their minds. Man's ego is gratified to see the two women fight for him, feeling their lives depend on him. His ego is satisfied. For that reason, even though it is little irritating, he sparks off fire between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. The full responsibility for all these things is with men. Or the marriage institution which benefits them."

Chandra felt even more depressed.

It is true. Sandhya came home only because he married her.

Since he doesn't go to her house to start a family, he wouldn't have any fights with her family members. But for her, having being brought up in a different place in a totally distinct way, adjusting with his family members is difficult.

The same difficulties that his mother and sisters face with her.

He felt, as Sandhya mentioned, that it is better to move out and start a separate family.

But gradually, the difficulty of implementation dawned upon him.

Sandhya wants immediate resolution of the issue.

He asked her for two months time. She cried, troubled him for long and finally gave in.

Because of all these developments, Chandra, without his knowledge, lost respect for Sandhya.

Sandhya, in her eagerness to bring him to her way, didn't realize what she has lost. She absolutely didn't sense that. Her parents, brothers, sister-in-laws, all have told that her first and foremost responsibilities are to hate in-laws' house and make the husband listen to her words. 

She strongly believed that to be the approach for her happiness. Just as millions of women, she felt that marriage is her livelihood. She felt that her first responsibility in married life is to make sure that there is no competition, that it is secure. Second responsibility, for her, was to bear children and rise them. She believed that her life would be without any troubles if these two responsibilities were carried out.

She didn't realize that Chandra is a special person, that some effort is required to make his companionship enjoyable, and that this very effort is important for married life.

Had it not been Chandra, it would have been someone else. She was prepared to start a family with whomever she is married to, right from when she was seventeen.  She has been trained for that. She doesn't need Chandra's specialty.

She has to hold tight to her livelihood. That is her struggle.

Man would be making incessant efforts to free away from that grip.

Tussle between those two is termed married life.

Chandra's married life started off just the same way.

Just as the two months deadline that Chandra had asked for was about to expire, calamity struck.

If one says that even a simple issue could tear apart a closely-knit family, people with lots of respect and fear for that institution would frown. But that is exactly what happened.

That day, at half past nine in the morning, Chandra and Madhava Rao were having their morning meal, in a hurry to go to the office.

Madhava Rao took a mouthful of Karela curry with rice and pushed it to the corner of the plate. "What's this - the pieces are not at all cooked."

"Do you think everybody has the patience to sit by the oven and cook the curry? Where is that patience for kids of this generation? If you ask why it is so, they reply that half boiled vegetables are good for health."  Said Shantamma, smiling peacefully.

Sandhya came rushing.

"Why are you making fun of me? I cooked them the way I am used to. I will continue to. If you don't like my preparation, better cook yourself."

"Who will cook, if not me? Only today you made the curry."

"In your opinion, I am sitting idle, eating and not doing any work. Isn't it? It is not me, it is your daughters who are eating and lazing around. If only my parents had known that I would end up doing so much household work, they would have never agreed to this alliance. Everyone pampered me for being the youngest and finally I am dumped here. How much ever I do, only faults are pointed out, but never any appreciation. You should teach your daughters to take care of household work rather than finding faults in what I do. If they are fed like pigs today, they themselves will be the sufferers tomorrow. My curses have never gone wasted."

Everyone was agape, listening to the sounds falling down as hail, not uttering a single word.

Shantamma was weeping lying on the bed in her room.

Vanaja and Girija sat there with dumb faces.

Madhava Rao quickly finished his meal and got out from there.

Chandra sat there feeling furious. After half an hour, Sandhya asked, "It is getting late. Aren't you going to the office today?" as though nothing happened. Chandra was still unsure whether all that happened was for real.

He looked for his mother. She was lying on the bed. He went near her.

"Mom", hearing Chandra call her, she increased the pitch of her cry little more.

Even Chandra felt like crying. He never saw so many tears in his mother's eyes.

"Don't cry, mom. That woman uttered those words by mistake."

He didn't realize that he is referring to Sandhya as 'that woman'.

"It is not that she doesn't know. She is doing it on purpose. Her plan is to separate you from us and move away. We have been ditched, my dear - we accepted this unworthy alliance. She is jealous of your sisters."

"Don't you worry mother, we will go separate."

"Oh god! If you leave, what will happen to us - We expected you to be in front of our eyes and live happily after marriage..." Shantamma was crying.

"Happily - in front of their eyes..."

Chandra smiled to himself dryly.

How powerful are those words! How many people derive lots of dreams and aspirations from those words! How is it that everyone believes those words? Everyone thinks that they are going to live exactly like that. Parents get their offspring married assuming that sons, daughters-in-law, daughters, sons-in-law will live happily ever after. The married to be also expect the same from marriage. So many thoughts circling those words - how much sleight! Millions of people get mesmerized with those words. With the help of those words, they jump in, make other jump in too, into the fire of marriage. Later, the lovey-dovey pair starts to bicker like a cat and a mouse, even with out the slightest hint of such a thing happening.

Chandra got out of the house. But he didn't feel like going to the office. He didn't know what to do. He just got into some bus, roamed the city for couple of hours, and got back to the house.

House was completely silent.

Sisters might have gone out. The doors were ajar.

Chandra came in. He walked to his room passing by his mother's room. He peeped inside her room.

Shantamma was seriously cutting some red cloth with scissors.

Chandra feared that she would be still crying. He felt relieved that she was up and immersed in her stitching work. He went to his room.

Sandhya was sleeping in the room. Even Chandra was probably tired, for he fell into deep sleep real fast.

Around five-o-clock, Chandra woke up to loud screams. He hurried into the hall.

Shantamma, Sandhya, Girija were arguing over something.

"What is it? What happened?" he shouted topping everyone else's voice.

Everybody turned silent. Shantamma held up a red frock by the corners. It had a big hole in the middle of it as though it had been cut.

"See this! Girija's brand new frock. See what your wife did to it in jealousy."

"I have told you million times. I didn't do it. If you say that one more time I will hit you on the face. One of you has cut it, why blame me?"

Chandra felt dizzy with shock.

In the afternoon, he saw mom cutting the same red frock, with his own eyes. He thought that she was stitching something.

Mother - mother - how could she do this!

Even mother is like that? Why did she do it? What should he do? If says the truth, what would happen to mother? If he doesn't, what about Sandhya? What to do? Sandhya was crying.

"Bitches, they are putting such a big blame on me? I have worn hundreds of such frocks and junked them. What good is this crappy frock for me."

"Sandhya - Come inside." Grabbing by the arm, Chandra took her inside.
 
"Sandhya, you were right. I will look for another house for us. Can you go to your parent's place till I take care of this?"

"Why should I go? I haven't done anything wrong. Why should I runaway like a thief?  Let's move into our house like kings, once you get one."

Feeling victorious, Sandhya raised her voice so that everyone could hear.

Chandra felt dead.

Now, he has to look for a house urgently. Having heard those words, mom was crying loud in the hall.

Again, Chandra got out of the house.

He felt like meeting Prabha and talking to her. If he tells her all these things, she will give advice.

He couldn't stop himself. Ten months after breaking up with Prabha, Chandra was at her doorstep again.

The day he returned back from her doorstep the very first time -

The day he first knocked on her door with some hesitation -

After that, many more days that he knocked on her door with love and affection - all those memories came back to him.

Today, it's completely different.

Prabha was surprised to see Chandra.

"Did you come alone? Did you not bring her?"

"No. I was just passing by. Just thought, may be you would be around."

He mumbled as though he is giving some explanation.

"It's okay. Why do you say that as though you are doing something wrong. Do you want something to drink?"

He declined and sat down.

"You came in just when I was listening to my favorite song. You can also listen to the song. We'll talk after that. Can't say what my mood will be later - Don't know whether this small wish will be fulfilled."

Smiling, she turned on the tape recorder. 

It was a ghazalviii by Jagjit Singh and Chitra.

It was a song about childhood.

'Take away this youth, all these treasures - but give back my childhood.
Give me back those paper boats, those droplets of rain.
Give me back those nights shortened by Grandma's long stories.' As the song played on, tears formed in Chandra's eyes.

As the song was over, Prabha shut the tape recorder off. She looked at Chandra and was surprised.

"Did you also like the song?" she asked cheerfully.

Chandra nodded his head and wiped off his tears.

"So, tell me. Why did you suddenly grace my house this way? If you have some work with me, don't hesitate. Tell me straight. Or even if you say that you dropped by just like that, I wouldn't mind. Let's listen to some nice songs. Why did you not come to office today?"

"Prabha, I need a house. Let me know if you know any vacant ones."

"Why? Is it for you?"

"Yeah. Me and Sandhya intend to move into a separate house."

"Good. Congratulations. New family." Smiled Prabha.

"I am not happy Prabha. I don't like the idea of staying separate. It has become compulsory."

Chandra told her in detail, as to what happened.

"Why did my mom do that? My mother is a nice woman, Prabha. She is kind to the servants. She doesn't take her food unless she has served a little rice and curry to some underprivileged. She never beat me or my sisters. I am ashamed of myself, knowing that mother behaved this dishonestly. Why did she do that?"

There were tears in Prabha's eyes too, as she silently listened to Chandra.

"Chandra, women become hardened, turn cruel this way running the family. This starts off in different ways in different phases. Your mother must have had favorable conditions as she took so long to become hardened. She wouldn't have had a mother-in-law."

"Yes - My grandmother died long before my father got married."

"How about sisters-in-law or brothers-in-law?"

"She didn't have any. Financial status was good - that could be the reason for the well being of my mother."

"Today her authority is in shambles. She entered the fray to save it. Forgot the humanitarian feelings. Now she will even forget that she is a human and a woman. She will turn into a mother-in-law. This is horrible - women forgetting that they are human beings after being married, while maintaining families. I feel very sad thinking about these women. I feel like dragging them out by whatever means. I feel like telling them not to fall into this rut.

Chandra, whatever it takes, save your mother. So that she will remain your mother."

"What should I do? I told her that I would move out. But you see, Sandhya can't be underestimated. I get scared looking at Sandhya."

"Please, Chandra! Don't tell me anymore. I am very well versed with these marriages and their consequences. As I think about those two women, I get very concerned."

"Only about them? Are you not all concerned about me? Why are you oblivious to the fact that I am being crushed in between."

"Why should I be concerned about your well-being? You are responsible for your life. You would be out of these troubles in a year. You have a life outside. There you can do what ever you wish to. All kinds of addictions await you - money, career, politics, friendships, gatherings, meetings, clubs, drinking... Your only problem is to choose. You have the opportunity to choose. But those two women spend their whole life to have authority over you. Over you, you alone - who is so helpless, so idiotic, so weak and so cowardly. Sometimes they die for that authority. In the process of bearing your children and raising them, your wife will be hardened ever more. How can you save her? You can't save yourself. This is it - this society is so cruel, so tough, it intentionally prepares women like this. Dresses them to be sacrificed. Finally, it murders them. I pity those women."

Chandra looked at Prabha helplessly, angrily.

He can never understand Prabha. He should be foolish to find solace in her company.


The day when Chandra was ready go separate, it was as though ghosts had come alive.

Shantamma had not been eating food for the past two days. 

Sisters were making her drink coffee and buttermilk forcefully.

She doesn't talk straight, eye-to-eye, with Chandra, even when he tries to engage her in a conversation. She only cries. Even sisters were angry with Chandra. Father sat there unperturbed with the happenings.

Sandhya was packing everything saying `I need that' and `I need this'.

When told "What ever we need, we can buy later", she would say -

"Would we live with these things forever? When we buy our own, I will throw these back at their face. Shouldn't we be able to manage till then." 

Sandhya was talking as if - as much the ties are severed, so much better.

Her pride, happiness knew no bounds as Chandra agreed to move into a separate house. She thought it to be her first victory.

Sandhya's mother, sister, sisters-in-law, brothers have all come to their new house. The luggage, which they had brought along, itself was enormous. Together they set house. Performed house-warming ceremony by spilling boiling milk. Cooked meals. House was filled with festive enthusiasm.

Chandra felt depressed with memories of mother and sisters.

"What happened? Why is your husband having a sad look on his face?"

Sandhya's sister investigated.

"To him, his mother and sisters are unbelievably dear. You can't imagine how much I had to struggle to drive this point of moving into a separate house. Oh God! If I stayed there, would they let me live? Wouldn't they have eaten me alive after enough torture?"

Sandhya spoke fearlessly with little concern to Chandra's feelings if he heard her.

Everyone appreciated Sandhya's sharpness and effectiveness.

Films and news media have contributed to the propaganda that blames mothers-in-law for the killings of daughters-in-law. Given that, it is not surprising to come across people like Sandhya, who make getting out of mother-in-law's hold as their prime goal.

Still, Chandra was surprised, judging Sandhya not as any ordinary woman, but as his wife. He was enraged.

At that very instant, the belief that Sandhya was a demon, out to make his life hell, took firm roots in Chandra. All the subsequent events only helped to reinforce it. 

Another six months passed by. Chandra's relations with his parents and sisters gradually returned to normalcy. They are visiting Chandra's place, every now and then. All the bickering seemed to have died down.

Shantamma even enquired if Sandhya was pregnant. Sandhya shyly replied in negative.

The differences between them seemed long since forgotten. 

But the chasm between the couple only seemed to grow deeper with each passing day.

Sandhya didn't even know of its existence.

Every discussion that Chandra has with Sandhya always seemed to end in matters of money. There was no single day when Sandhya didn't exhort Chandra to earn more money some way or the other.

Asking him to buy the shares that her brother invested in -

Urging him to buy the real estate that her father recommended -

Anything he says - about watching a movie, listening to songs, taking a walk - she somehow turns it into a discussion about money.

If only Chandra had a similar obsession, they probably would have been happy together.

Chandra is one who is more than happy with the salary from his job.

Moreover, Sandhya demands that Chandra should draw his share of father's wealth for these investments.

Chandra asserted that he could never ask for it.

Ever since he said so, Sandhya started to treat him as dirt.

She brought two lakh Rupees from her father.

Though Chandra declined dowry, Sandhya brought her share of money anyway.

She invested some of that money in stocks. She sold after two months, it seems, for double the price. With that money, she bought four-five plots far outside the city.

She enrolled in couple of chit funds, in the hope of buying a flat in the city within two years.

She loaned some money for interest, which would pay for those chits.

Her mind and heart were totally devoted to these tasks.

There was no place for Chandra in there. Nor the need. In there, he was considered an inept dumbo.

Chandra was totally depressed. He had no clue how to engage himself.

Moreover, Sandhya was a very suspicious person. She couldn't even bear to see Chandra talking to Vasanta, the twelve-year-old girl next door. One day, Vasanta's mother came by to talk to Chandra.

She had some work at Chandra's office.

Chandra noted down all the details and told her that he would take care of it. While doing so, he asked Sandhya if she could make some tea.

Sandhya rushed in showing her irritation, came back swiftly and replied -

"There is no milk - seems like the cat drank it all."

"Oh, is that so. There is one packet in our fridge. I will send it for you." Vasanta's mother left.

"Dirty bitch - probably her daughter wasn't good enough. She came herself."

Puzzled, Chandra looked questioningly.

"Both mother and daughter don't leave men alone. They are always brushing along-side men. If not to ensnare you, what job does she have at your office? Her husband is an inept idiot."

Chandra slapped her hard.

"How can talk so low of others? Aren't you a woman?" He shouted with rage.

Sandhya wept. While crying, she concluded that Chandra has an affair with Vasanta's mother.

Otherwise, why would Chandra, who never hit her, not even when she railed against his mother, hit her now? Just because she spoke against Vasanta's mother?

Chandra felt that there was no other hell.

Suddenly he remembered Prabha.

Prabha, one who is pitiful of all women - Sandhya, one who suspects every woman talking to her husband.

Mean while, Prabha was promoted and transferred. She left for Anantapur.

Chandra grew lonelier with Prabha's departure. He understood every word that she spoke, though, he may or may not have concurred.

Chandra had faith that Prabha would understand his plight, though she might see it from a different perspective. Ever since Prabha left, Chandra is being moody at work too. Gradually, Sandhya and Chandra started having fights. The fights always ended up at Chandra's ineptness, however trivial their beginnings might be.

The maturity date for the chits was quite far away.

Mean while, there was a nice flat up for sale. Even after taking loans, Sandhya was short of one and a half lakh rupees.

"Get it from your father" Sandhya spoke in her usual vein.

"Get it yourself from your father," replied Chandra.

"My father gave what he should have. It is your father who is yet to give." 

"There is no reason for him to give any. You are talking as if he owes you dowry!"

"He needn't give me any - Don't you have a rightful share in his wealth?"

"Even if I do, it will come when it should. I am not giving them a paisaix of my earnings. How can I ask them for money? Moreover, my two sisters are yet to be married."

"That is exactly what I am worried about. What if your father gives all the property to your sisters and shows you an empty hand? As it is, your folks don't like me at all" Sandhya sounded vengeful.

"You want money. Is that it? I will take a loan against my life insurance policy. Shall take out of provident fund too. I'll borrow. By hook or crook, I'll get you the money. Okay? But I'll not ask my father."

"Take tons of loans and keep paying interest. That way you can surely ruin our life. No way are you going to touch life insurance and provident fund money. What will be my fate if tomorrow, in case you meet with an accident?"

Chandra was totally despaired. He felt like crying out loud. Sandhya has her eyes even on the money she is going to get in the event of his death.

Why is he in this hell? What did he do to deserve this? It seems all men pressurize women. When he is so gentle, why is he being pressurized? Troubling one or the other, is this marriage? His gentleness is being branded as being inept. Should he live for the wife who is after his insurance money? Is there any meaning to this life? 

Tears were rolling down Chandra's eyes.

"You couldn't earn money like a man. Now why are you crying like a woman? I should be the one crying because of your ineptitude."

Chandra, having lost control over his feelings, beat her.

Sandhya became intensely wild. Chandra beat her again. Beat her over and over again, till his hands pained.

As he regained his composure, he wept over his plight. He beat his wife. He beat a woman. Why did he become like this? Who is the beast - himself or Sandhya?

When Chandra tried to talk with Sandhya, she turned violent and abused him.

Sandhya left for her parents' home the very next morning. Chandra reached his father's place.

A week to ten days passed off silently.

Later on, mediators tried to pacify matters. Both sides presented their arguments. Mediators emphasized the need to reach a compromise regardless of who is at fault.

They admonished saying that all couples have small disputes that may get physical at times. They tried to create a set of guidelines for them to stay together again.

Chandra's side mandated that she could come back if she has no objection staying along with his parents and sisters instead of staying separate.

Not even in a separate house - Sandhya's side argued that she is not safe even when staying alone with Chandra. So he should come and live with them.

They sought to justify their position by reminding that Sandhya is four months into pregnancy. For the sake of her health she should stay with her parents. And so, Chandra should come and stay with them. Chandra didn't buy into it.

He told them to pack their belongings as he is vacating the house.

Both sides took their respective belongings.

Chandra felt as though he got back his old life.

He took charge of his sisters' studies. He is making them read good books.

He enrolled with a music teacher to take violin lessons. At times, Shantamma laments over her son's lost happiness.

"Mom, I am happy now. Don't bring that up and bother me." Chandra used to end the discussion.

Five months passed by.

One day, Chandra received a call at work - "Sandhya delivered a baby boy."

No mention of the hospital she is at. Neither was he invited to see her.

Chandra was overtaken by sorrow from deep inside. He has a son. He is now a father. He felt like crying. How will they bring him up? Can he and Sandhya look after his upbringing? What will happen to him in the midst of their battles? He went into the bathroom and cried his heart out. He then washed his face and got out.

When he got back to his seat, Prabha was there. Chandra's face lit with joy. His whole body felt rejuvenated with new energy. In recent times, Chandra's body and mind never felt this good.

Prabha was trying for a transfer back to Hyderabad. She came to file an application and request Chandra to follow it up.

He invited her home, but she replied that she was staying at a hotel. Chandra took the day off. He accompanied Prabha to the Secretariat and enthusiastically pursued her transfer matter.

By evening they returned back to Prabha's hotel.

Prabha freshened up and ordered for coffee.

"So how is your married life?"

"Married life? It is six months since I quit."

Prabha was stunned.

Chandra narrated her the whole story. "Prabha, I am now a father. I don't know what to do. I am not happy. Now they will try to get to me through this kid. I don't want to see her face again."

Chandra felt another wave of sorrow. This time, Prabha felt sorry for him. She felt that he destroyed his whole life with his own hands.
 
She held his hand and consoled -

"Control yourself. You should work to improve the situation, rather than be taken over by pointless sorrow?"

Prabha's touch soothed Chandra immensely. He felt invigorated.

"Prabha, I may no longer feel lonely if you come back here." He said in hope.

She smiled and took her hand away.

He didn't want to leave her presence.

It was as though the good times of the year past returned.

They kept chatting. Chandra was laughing and making her laugh. They both had dinner together. As the clock struck eleven -

"I will go to sleep if you leave now. I didn't get enough sleep during the journey last night. I am terribly sleepy."

Prabha got up from the chair.

"I don't feel like leaving. You go ahead and sleep. I will stay here."

Prabha smiled, uncomfortably.

"True. I don't feel like leaving."

Prabha didn't know what to say. Finally -

"Okay. I will go to sleep. When you leave, lock the room and drop the key at reception." Saying so she went to bed.

Chandra sat staring at Prabha. How peaceful she is in sleep!

With no fear or hesitation that a man is in her room.

By allowing him to stay in her room, she demonstrated her faith and immense respect for him.

He lost that trust and honor with his own doings. If only he had listened to her - but, how is that possible? What would everyone say? What happened now? What is everyone saying? If not apart, are we staying together?

Why stay under the same roof with so much malice for each other?

Why so much value for that roof? How come? What is the meaning of life?

How terrible an experiment he conducted with his own life!

How beautiful and humane was the novel experiment that Prabha had invited him to take part in! Did he even consider it! He shuddered even at the thought of it.

Children are a huge responsibility - When Prabha argued that one should carefully think about having them, he considered her thoughts to be outrageous.

Now he is a father. Sandhya bore a child. He now realized how irresponsible he was, how deliberate one needs to be when having children. Now his hands are tied. These bonds can't be untied so easily. Husband, father - with these responsibilities what can he do? He lost a person like Prabha.

He spent the whole night watching Prabha.

Prabha woke up at six in the morning and was surprised to see Chandra still there. "Were you sitting there all night long?"

"Yeah. I was watching you. I'll go now. Will be back in the evening." Chandra got up.

"I am leaving today itself. I have a ticket for the nine o' clock bus. I will spend the day with my friends and be back by six in the evening."

Chandra left. Everyone at home was anxious.

"I went to meet a friend." He said.

He didn't know how to break the news of his son's birth.

He took bath and went straight to sleep. Mother woke him up after noon.

"Have lunch and sleep again. You didn't even have breakfast".

As he was having lunch, Shantamma mentioned.

"Did they call you? It seems they called your father."

"Yeah"

"There is no joy on the arrival of grandson. Why are our lives so pathetic?"

"Control yourself Ma."

"Why don't you go see! After all, it's our kid."

"Where should I go?"

"It seems she is back at home. It seems that the labor was relatively painless. It's five days since. Go visit them my boy. Vengeance, if continued, will only hurt kids."

Chandra went back to sleep after finishing lunch.

Shantamma kept quiet, lacking the courage to tell him again.

At six in the evening, he went to meet Prabha. Prabha had already packed her bags and was waiting for him.

"Did you sleep whole morning?" She said observing his face.

Chandra nodded.

"Are you not sleeping at nights this way?"

"You won't be around everyday, Prabha. Shall I come along to Anantapur?"

Prabha looked at Chandra in pity.

"How is it possible now, Chandra?"

"Whatever it may take - Whatever it may entail. I long to come."

"Do you think we are free birds to do whatever and whenever we please?"

"No. I am not at all free. I need freedom. And I get it in your company."

"One's freedom is not available from someone else."

"I will take divorce. I can't bear that hell. I want you and your friendship."

Chandra's state evoked pity as well as laughter in Prabha. She thought that he was still being childish.

"We can think about it later. It can't be resolved right now."

Charged, Chandra stood up.

"If you promise to think about it, that is enough for me. That gives me great strength. I feel real hungry. Got to eat something. Let's go."

Prabha followed Chandra out of the room. All through the dinner, Prabha kept on talking, not giving Chandra a chance to speak.

About books, movies, life in Anantapur, her friends there, weather there in general - Prabha talked incessantly.

Chandra listened to her, forgetting everything else.

At nine in the night, as the bus took Prabha away to Anantapur, he dragged himself home.


Chandra felt the heaviness of the letter he received from Prabha after a week. He was scared to open it.

What would be in this letter? He can never predict what's in Prabha's mind.

She would listen to his entire plight with pity but then, analyses it in a totally different angle.

She will make him look at it in a new perspective, previously unknown to him. Will it be the same now?

He opened the letter feeling anxious, curious and a burst of emotion. Beautiful, unfettered and at the same time very orderly, just as Prabha - were the blue letters on white paper.

"Chandra!

How are you? Hope this letter finds you in good physical health and mental strength. It is not at all my intention to hurt your feelings by writing this letter. I have always been telling you my thoughts freely. Even now, I am writing this letter to tell you my thoughts without any hesitation. I never felt that you gave serious consideration to my words. I won't be surprised if the same thing happens even now. I am writing this letter with the intention of stopping you from feeling more depressed in these circumstances, providing sharpness to your thoughts and a new outlook. I am not sure what your interpretation would be?

The other day, I was very surprised when you expressed your desire to share life with me. You - not only you - but most men are very weak minded. Cowards. All that you have is the strength endowed upon you by the society, none that you earned yourself. Even being such cowards, at times you jump into wild adventures. Probably, that is the way you use the privileges granted to you by the society.

I know the anguish you felt about sharing your life with me. I even know the doubts you had about being able to lead a happy life with a girl like me. I knew that you had as much fear as attraction towards my courage and pride. Though it seemed for sometime that attraction was dominating, it was the fear that finally took over. 

When you mentioned the query you posed to Swarna about the new economic policy, I laughed and said "I hate men". Men need a puppet that dances to their tunes. A parrot that will repeat their thoughts and words as it is. They look for a new woman every time new psychological and physiological needs arise. They need a new doll to go with them, a newly decorated doll, one that approves of their new ideologies. That new woman should only stand in the background. Should rise at their arrival, should blush in their presence. 

But you have no idea about the new woman taking birth today. She wouldn't echo your words like a parrot. She tunes her life herself. You are afraid of such a woman. You are sacred that such a free woman would ruin your freedom. Even you don't realize that one can never be free with people who don't value freedom.

Chandra! Men are just slaves. With no consciousness of their slavery and no awareness of the need to fight back. 

Today's women are fighting brilliant battles to transform their terrible lives. You have no knowledge of those.

If only you had an obedient wife, who speaks all that you wish to hear but at the same time, obeys you and your parents, you wouldn't have been so unhappy. You would have believed that you were leading a real happy life, you would have been happy. Even then, life would be restless. Having someone subservient to oneself is the root cause for restlessness. I am looking for a guy who understands that.

Today, you have reservations against Sandhya's behavior. But there are more such Sandhyas being created. They will be created.

In a society, where men who wish that their life's partners be necessarily of lower stature than theirs, are being created -

In a society, where men who enslave their wives, who appropriate both their body and soul for themselves and destroy their very existence, are being created -

Not just women who silently immolate themselves at the altar of family life, but also women like Sandhya who will fight for supremacy in the same family life using the very crooked values created by the society as ammunition, will be created.

That's natural. Unavoidable.

Fighting along side with them for freedom, are atleast hundreds of women who are experimenting fearlessly with their lives towards creating a new set of values, new human relationships, for friendship and love and progressing by fulfilling their lives using the discoveries of those experiments. You and this society fear this new breed of women.

They are not your creation. They are creating themselves anew, filling new lives into their beings. That is why you can't understand them. You have no idea how wonderful experience sharing life with them would be.

Remember proposing to share life with me the last time we met? You really don't mean it. It's an outcry in a helpless state. You do not have the individuality needed to share life with a woman like me. You cannot walk along my side. I have to wait. If I don't, a different form of struggle will break out. It's true that I liked you because of your ideas, knowing your good tastes and your gentleness.

I have no regrets about the few days we spent together. But very soon, I realized that you were just an ordinary man.

Undoubtedly, you are better than most other men. Fit to be a friend. I can't consider you to be anything more than that. You and many other men like you live subservient to the society. You care more about society's comments on your life than your life itself.  You live just for them.

You see, eighth grade students learn by repeating an experiment well proven hundred years ago in their suffocatingly small school laboratory - you can't grow beyond that.

You even fear of getting up from the routine gutter. If that mud turns out to be a quicksand - if you realize that before you drown, you scream for help. But then, it would be impossible to get out.

A man who cleansed the dirt, mud off him with fresh, pure ideas, ready to conduct experiments, under new light, with his valuable life to bring about a change in this world - I am waiting for him.

Prabha.

i  Bitter melon. In scientific nomenclature, it is referred to as Memordica Charantia
ii A dish made with rice?
iii A dish made with jaggery?
iv A dish made with dough?
v A Hindu Goddess, known for her fierceness.
vi An Indian Dessert
vii Rice mixed with turmeric and kumkum 
viii Succession of  metrical couplets, usually in Urdu, not necessarily related but that end with the same refrain. 
ix One-hundredth of a Rupee
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