The Narrator

  

                                                                        

                                                                                        Sevteen

                                                                                    MANPASAND

                                                                     

 

 

    Vilas gives Tara a report of what transpired earlier in the day when he'd gone to meet Dr. Sudhakaran to finalize matters. Vilas:  "Sir, our boss finds you quite charming and appealing. Consider the matter settled from our side.  Our terms are very simple.  You don't have to spend anything.  We will take care of all the expenses.  But after marriage, you will have to shift to Ms. Tara's residence.  Your mother can come too.  She will be well looked after by a band of trained nurses.  Taraji is one of the wealthiest independent women in this city, Sir, and you are very fortunate that she has selected you." Sudhukaran, calmly:  "But wouldn't you like to know if I have selected her?"

Vilas and Osman jump up:  "W-what!?"

Sudhakaran:  "Gentlemen, you know that marriage is a very serious matter, a contract for life, to affect which the consent of the woman is, of course, of primary importance, but surely the man's consent too, you will agree, is of importance too."

    The slight sarcasm in the Doctor's tone is not lost on Vilas, who says nothing.

Sudhakaran:  "Yes.  I know that Tara is rich, intelligent, good-looking--apparently all that a woman could be or a man could wish for.  But that's not all; she, like any other human being, has her faults too.  She's too headstrong and self-willed.  She wants everyone to do as she wishes.  That is not possible always. In my case my research and my mother are very important to me, perhaps as imporatant as a wife.  Whoever marries me must understand this and, if possible, accept it.  Otherwise, we could never be happy together. I cannot sacrifice my work or my mother for Tara--not even for a woman as extraordinary as she is." Vilas:  "But, Sir, what makes you think you have to sacrifice them at all?"

Sudhakaran:  "Well, she wants me to shift to her house, but that will not necessarily be convenient to me.  I like it here, on the campus.  I like my apartment.  I spend long hours in the lab.  I come home when I wish, leave when I wish.  If I move out, I'll lose some of my freedom, even if I have a chauffer-driven car at my beck and call for twenty-four hours.

    "About my mother, again I have no doubts that Tara will take good care of her.  But will she be able to share herself, to really spend time with her?  Tara's as busy as I am, I know, so it's not fair to expect all this from her.

    "Tara is a wonderful person; I found her forthright, well-read, intelligent, curious, and witty.  She makes great company and is a very attractive woman.  It would not be hard to fall in love with a woman like her.  I am sure that whoever marries her will be a lucky man, but I am afraid she's not the kind of wife I want.  I won't be able to fit into her life and she won't fit into mine."

Vilas:  "Sir, may I then ask you one thing:  why did you apply to the advertisement in the first place?  Surely, you would have anticipated some of these difficulties from the manner in which it was worded."

Sudhakaran:  "Well, the ad. was unsual, like a challenge.  It did seem that the woman behind it was self-centred and over-confident.  But then, it also had a sense of humour, as if the writer knew exactly what kind of impression she was making. So I was curious to meet the woman behind it.  After all, I had a right to apply, don't you think?  I am looking for a wife, you know.  But, to be very honest with you, you might say, that from the very beginning, I had my doubts about the whole thing."

 

    Vilas finishes his narration of his visit to Dr. Sudhakaran's:  "What could we do, madam?  He was right."

    Tara looks stunned with disbelief and hurt.  How could anyone have rejected her!  Her face shows her pain and humiliation. Vilas and Osman look at her with helpless dejection.

     Mohini moves over to Tara and begins to console her.  She holds her friend's hands, brings her face down on her shoulders, and strokes her gently:  "It's not the end of the world, darling. Come on, cheer up.  You'll get over it.  Don't you know that time is the greatest healer?"

    Tara starts sobbing quietly.

Mohini: "Look at the positive side.  The man was really decent and wise;  I mean he had the foresight to think all this through. How much better for it to end now than later." Vilas:  "Madam, Mohiniji is right.  I would even go further.  Dr. Sudhakaran could have easily married you and then got as much money from you as he pleased.  By saying no now, he's proven that he wasn't after your money at all.  I think we should be grateful to him for being so honest with us.  He's saved you from a lot of trouble."

Tara:  "But that's the point, isn't it?  That's why I liked him. That's why I thought he was the right man.  Because he was honest and upright.  Why didn't he at least give it a chance?"

 Mohini: "He's more mature than you think.  He knew that once he gave in at the beginning, there would be no way of rectifying the situation later on.  A relationship should begin on the right note.  There's no use trying to set it right later on.  In fact, that never works."

Tara:  "I'm a very bad loser, you know Mohini.  I can't take defeat, I can't cope with rejection.  I hate myself.  I hate what I brought on to myself with this silly idea of placing an ad. in the papers.  I want to leave, to...escape, to get away from Bombay for a while.  I've had enough of this life.  I really need a change."

Mohini:  "Yes, yes, sweetheart.  We'll go very far away from this wretched city.  You hush up now, do you hear.  I know just the place which will get your mind away from these events.  It's a really private and secluded lagoon off the coast of Konkan. It's very exclusive.  We'll rent a cottage there and have a holiday in complete seclusion.  No traffic, no noise, no company--and no men!  Just you and me."

Tara nods:  "Yes.  Yes.  I am sick of everything; I want to get away from it all.  Let's go."

    Mohini sees Vilas and Osman to the door.  As they turn to go, she says impulsively, "Khuda hafiz.  God keep you."  Osman turns around, surprised.  His impeccable manners surface.  He saalams her deeply and says, "Aap ko bhi khuda hafiz.  God keep you too."

 

    The next morning, Tara, Vilas, and Osman seated around a table as before.

Tara:  "I am sorry for all this trouble that you had to go through.  We were such a good threesome and now we have to part. I am going away for a long break and I may not see any of you again.  I am grateful to you for doing your jobs so well.  I know I couldn't have done this without you.  Your cheque is ready with

the secretary and you may collect it outside.

Vilas and Osman:  "Yes Madam." They shake hands stiffly and get up to leave the room.

    Outside Vilas tells Osman to take the cheque and go ahead: "I'll stay back for a while."

Osman nods and departs.

    Vilas re-enters the office to find Tara, alone, head in her hands.  He gently goes over to her and places his hand gently on her shoulder.  This is the first time he's come so close to her.

Vilas:  "Come on, Taraji, don't feel bad."  This is the first time he has called her by her name, though he's been careful to add the honorific "ji" as a suffix.

    Tara looks up at him, smiles through her tears and nods her head.  Then she says, "Come, let me drop you to your house."

 

    It's evening as Tara and Vilas get ready to play out the reverse of her first trip to Bajrang Bali chawl.

    Both stare ahead as she drives the Merc herself.  There's a romantic song in the background, reinforcing the pensiveness of the moment.  Both of them recall all the moments of joy and sorrow that they have shared during the past two months.  Scenes of their first meeting in the chawl, of Bhushan's entrapment, of the fashion show, of the party afterwards, of placing the ad. in the paper, of the elimination of various prospective bridegrooms pass through their mind.

    The song continues till they reach Bajrang Bali chawl. Vilas gets off silently.

 

    From the window above, Vilas's mother sees him being dropped off by some woman in a car.  When she sees how silent and pensive her son is, so unlike his boisterous self, she tries to cheer him up:  "Have you made arrangements to bring a bahu for me at last, son?"

Vilas:  "No, ma.  I was looking for a groom for someone else and even that I have not been able to find."

 

    Tara is alone on a deserted road, driving back to her house in Juhu.  The car fades out of sight as the frame freezes, emphasizing her loneliness.

 
  Copyright © 2005 - Makarand Paranjape