Love is giving freedom
MINNA was a beauty in the classical mould. People said she looked like a walkie-talkie doll. But she was determined not to be known for her looks alone. Debating painting, sculpting, basketball, dramatics — there was nothing she did not take part and strived to excel in. She was driven by an obsessive need to perform. She could put herself through the most gruelling schedule and get what she wanted.
She met Rajan while she was still in college. Their romance unfolded like a passionate Mills and Boon story. He was tall, dark and handsome. He swept her off her feet the very first time he met her on the tennis court. They were made for each other. The small town they lived in initially buzzed with gossip but eventually accepted their relationship as something that was meant to be.
He decided to keep
the family tradition alive by enrolling in the Armed Forces as a test
pilot soon after his graduation. Marriage had to wait till he was 24
years old, as per service rules, and she too still had to complete her
education. The year was 1965. He wore his stripes and almost the
entire town saw him off as he flew the MIG setting off to the war
front. He was their lad. She clung to him and cried.
He tried returning the engagement ring, talked to her parents, friends relatives, elders of the town, but she wouldn’t listen to reason. If she was to marry, it was going to be him and nobody else. He too was certain about not ruining her life. He couldn’t allow himself to be washed over by her passionate love and illogical visions of a perfect future.
He was a cripple and would remain one, even if he acquired a wooden leg or a more sophisticated attachment. Had the accident happened after their marriage, there may have been little choice. She couldn’t start her life with a disadvantage — even if she loved him to distraction. She had a bright future and he loved her too much to spoil it all for her.
There was only one person she would listen to — her psychology professor. He implored him to make her see sense. He told him that he didn’t want to vanish in the dark of the night, never to return but wanted their parting to be amiable. He expected her to understand why he had to go away. The professor intervened. He tried explaining to Minna. She came to meet Rajan, still hoping to get him around to marrying her. How could he be so heartless as to think of abandoning her? Was he scared that the world would accuse him of taking advantage of a girl in the first flush of love? She went down on her knees and clung to his leg begging him not to leave her. But Rajan was unwavering. She couldn’t read his expressions. He wasn’t the same person. All her crying and begging had left him unmoved.
She was intelligent enough to see that it was futile. His mind was made up. She looked at her professor hoping he would speak up for her. She could see the pain in his eyes as he forced himself to look away. She knew that she was overstaying her welcome. She took a minute to collect herself, wrapped the dupatta tightly around herself, wiped the last tear from her cheek, got up and walked heavily to the door. Just before stepping out into the cold foggy evening, she looked back one last time. In one corner of the room stood Rajan, aloof, distant and expressionless and at the farthest end stood the Professor, unspoken anguish and apology writ large on his face. She stumbled out into a future she didn’t look forward to.
The days ticked by. She tried studying for her IAS exams. She swung like a pendulum, going through the emotions of pain and grief, of loving and losing, of helplessness and disillusionment, of despair and longing and of telling herself that she would never love again. She cleared her prelims and then the mains. The years flew by.
She got married, had children and went onto become one of the brightest officers of her batch. Her husband knew about Rajan, who was now a hazy memory. She could think of him without rancour and bitterness, even though she couldn’t bring herself to think of the times they had spent together. It was still painful. She often wondered where he was and what he had done with his life, though she made no conscious attempt to find out. The past was over and she wished him well, wherever he was. She was grateful to God for giving her the good fortune and the capacity to nurture a loving family.
She retired from service. They returned to Chandigarh where their parents lived. This was the city where she had loved and lost, and then found love again. Bitter-sweet memories of her childhood and youth flashed by, as she tried to picture what it would be growing old here. Once they had settled down in their family home, she decided to visit her old ailing professor.
She pressed the bell of his familiar cottage, hidden behind a cluster of mango and Ashoka trees. Sounds of coughing and shuffling feet could be heard. After what seemed like an eternity, the door opened. A tall, greying gentleman stood in front of her. Did they know each other? As recognition dawned and emotions took over with disregard to time, age and place, they fell into each other’s arms not sure whether they were crying or laughing.
Once the excitement subsided, the three of them sat around the fireplace and tried filling each other on the intervening years. He had gone off to the Middle East and, after drifting for a while, set up a successful placement agency which had turned into one of the best human resource training establishments in that part of the world. He had travelled extensively and he hadn’t got married. Disbelief was writ large on Minna’s face and Rajan could see a hint of guilt in her big brown eyes. She had, after all, got married, had three children. She was a grand mother twice over and was glowing with pride and contentment of a life that was obviously well lived. He held her hand and wiped the tear that dropped on to his palm.
This is how he had thought of her — beautiful and happy even at 60. That time, 37 years ago, he was not sure if he would be able to give her all that he had dreamt for her, and was not willing to take a chance. His not having married had nothing to do with her but with his own self. He couldn’t bring himself to put any able-bodied woman through a life of apology and compromise. After a while, he had got so used to leading an independent life that marriage seemed an unnecessary stumbling block. He had been truly happy with the way his life had turned out to be.
This was perhaps his last visit to Chandigarh. His father had just passed away and he was in the process of winding up property-related matters. There was nothing now to hold him to India. He was going back happy.
Seeing Minna, he was relieved knowing
that he had done the right thing. Also their meeting had finally
healed all their old wounds. She had forgiven him and could think of
him and of the times they had spent together without any bitterness.