By Neel Anil Panicker
Fifty-year-old Raghav never plugged for long ones. His name for one__ Professor Raghav Harendra Acharya, when stretched to the full.
He had no found glory in that. It sounded too professorial, for one. Besides, it sounded a little divine, he had thought. Years back and when fresh out of University after bagging a Masters in Philosophy and within days of joining work as a young Assistant Professor in a privately financed, semi-aided Kolhapur college, he had dispensed off with the ‘non-necessities’ as he was wont to call it.
Henceforth, to the world at large he was simply Professor Raghav.
Eight years later, when he had landed in Mumbai, after having bagged a teaching post in a very reputed South Mumbai college, he very conveniently abridged his name further and was now known among everyone_- his students and colleagues__ as just Professor Rags. Short and bratty, as he would have liked it.
Twenty five years later he was ready to cut short another feature of his life_ his wife, Anita. The one with the loud voice and even louder tastes and all the attendant hateful concomitants that come bag and baggage with such characters.
Unlike most other husbands who hated their wives, it was not an ailment that he had picked up over prolonged years of living under the same roof.
He knew she was the wrong one from day one of his marriage to her. He had tried to reason with his inner self. True, she may be loud mouthed, he had said to himself. Very rightly, she might not have possessed the finesse and grace that would instill confidence in him to go forward and introduce her to his colleagues; to take her along to exclusive high brow intellectual seminars and conferences where men and women dine and wine and discuss exotic topics such as the debilitating effects of global warming on the wondrous white water lilies or even the impending demise of the blue winged Siberian cranes. All that and a bit more__ she was just unsuited for him as a wife; the two of them polar opposites and as so ably and aptly reminded of by his dear author the great Mark Twain, ‘East Is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet’.
But meet they did, and that was how Geetanjali came into their lives. Their child, his baby, his girl, his very own Gitu.
As he cradled her in his arms, fed her and watched her watch the world through those lovely brown eyes and later, when she would wave at him, her little fingers swaying back and forth in a crazily haphazard way as she smiled that adorable smile only she could and waved him goodbye, blowing delectable flying kisses as she peeped out from her windows of her school bus , he knew finally that he needn’t check the Oxford English Dictionary to find out what it meant when they said nirvana; thanks to his one and only child he had attained divine bliss.
But then life happens when one is busy making plans. A sudden bout of unexplained cough, a few random urine and blood tests and a couple of visits to the doctor followed by a little over a month of hospitalization was all it took for the cruel hands of fate to snatch his ‘princess’ away from their lives. A small hitherto undetected hole in the heart was the apologetic explanation proffered by the benevolent doctors. The tragedy punched a hole in his heart and extricated in one blow all the happiness that lay within. It forced him further into his own inner sanctorum where he was forced to make peace with dark demons who gave him company burning away his whatever remained of his life as horrendous days stretched gave to debilitating nights.
They say tragedies bring people together. In his case, it turned out the opposite. Anita, who always had shown a propensity for all things godly, took the death of her only child as a ruse to lock herself in her room, and explore the wonders of the nether world.
Within days of the death the once quiet house turned into a veritable jungle inhabited by strange beings as an unending stream of strange black robed men and women of uncertain origins and dubious vintage, their shabby appearances further accentuated by their shaggy long beards, wild unkept hairs, and deep vermillion lined foreheads laid siege as if they enjoyed proprietorial rights not just over his house but also his wife.
And so they would be there when he stepped out in the morning to the University as also when he trooped in exhausted and depleted after a full day in classrooms lecturing his wards on the profound influence of Freudian psychology on modern day liberalism and feminism.
There was no wife to meet him with a glass of water and later with a cup of hot coffee; no daughter to rush to him yelling ‘Appa, Appa’ and locking her nimble arms all around his shoulders.
The once beautiful voices had stilled; instead, all he could see was a closed door and from within the sound of rising chants and cymbals as strange animal-like noises periodically interspersed with loud ear-splitting esoteric chants__the decibel levels rising and falling with each cadence__rent the air threatening to split the ear drums of all within its distance. As days passed into weeks and soon into months and there was no let up in such activities the kindly professor tried more than a couple of times to gently steer his wife away from the deep cesspool that she had so obviously fallen into but all he got in reply was a stern look from her: a look that said, ‘this is my life, just lay off’.
That was the final straw in their relationship. If that’s what she wanted, so be it. ‘ You do your thing, I will do mine’, he resolved to himself.
Post this unsaid laying down of rules, Professor Raghav became a free man just he had resigned himself to the chilling fact that his too had become a free woman__both free and absolutely at liberty to do what each wanted.
But initially a peculiar problem arose. Raghav was free, and that meant free to do anything, but then he realized to his chagrin that he didn’t know what to do with his free time.
At the stage in life at which he was, he didn’t have any friends to call his own. Life had dealt a bad card pretty early in life, ensuring that the only company he could ever have were the world of books, thick dust books and later tomes of research material as he spent first his teens and later his entire youth trying to stitch together a decent life for himself and his family__first studying for his graduation and much later for his masters and post doctoral research.
With marriage to Anita and soon after with the birth of his dear Gitu, he thought he had finally attained bliss. But then fate had other plans.
As the decibel levels rose from within the four walls of his house and strange noxious smells flared up his nostrils, Raghav scurried out of his house__ a man who was ostensibly free but squarely clueless about how to utilize this new found freedom.
(Chapter 19 of ongoing Novella “ A Fair Affair”)