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Sunday, April 1, 2001
Life Ties

A life of grace and dignity
By Taru Bahl

WHEN Ramandeepís father inserted a matrimonial advertisement describing his daughter as fair complexioned, beautiful and homely, he was not exaggerating. She was in her final year of MBBS. Being the only child of her academician parents, she had been brought up on a diet of literature, art and music. She was a soft-spoken and mild-mannered girl, and her parents often feared that Ramandeepís only drawback was that she was too trusting. Even as a child, whenever she was teased or bullied, she could never retaliate. She would only burst into tears and withdraw into a shell. As she grew up, she learnt to internalise her disappointments and wear an impenetrable mask over her feelings.

Ramandeepís parents were in no hurry to marry her. It was important that she was comfortable with the thought of marriage, the boy, his family, her future, and they were not going to thrust their decision down her throat. But when the aristocratic family of Sardar Bikramjeet approached them for their youngest Oxford-returned son, the alliance was difficult to resist. Vikram was handsome and suave, it was difficult not to succumb to his charms. Each meeting during the courtship period made her confident that he was her Prince Charming. She was practical enough to know that an ideal romantic partner did not exist, except in fairytales and films. She had a gut-feeling that they would be able to build a fairytale future.

 

The boyís parents sent them for their honeymoon to Europe. They had a lot in common, could relate on an intellectual plane, the physical chemistry was just right and the foundation for a lively lifelong relationship was cemented. They returned and got busy adapting to the demands of their lives. She joined the PGI as a doctor and he became an assistant general manager in an upcoming telecom company.

The years rolled by. People started expressing concern, asking point-blank questions about when they were planning a family. This was a touchy subject with Vikram who refused to entertain conversation on it. Ramandeep went from one doctor to another. Each doctor had a different theory and treatment plan. She developed a reaction to certain medicines and a dread of being subjected to more examinations and injections. Nine years went by and she was still getting her Ďtreatmentí done.

Being a doctor herself she knew she was not barren, her tubes were not blocked and that the problem was not with her. But there was no way she or anybody else could broach the subject of a medical examination with Vikram. He would baulk at the idea, storm out of the house, get violent and disappear for days. He was also unwilling to adopt.

Meanwhile, his company had been posting losses for three consecutive years. Investor confidence was shaken and the company was on the verge of being declared sick. Many of Vikramís colleagues quit and joined other companies but he continued, convinced that the company would turn around. Ramandeep was the head of the Neurological Department and respected within the medical fraternity. She was still confident that they would be able to brave the odds. So what if they didnít have a child. They at least had each other. Besides, for how long would people make indiscreet enquiries?

Maybe then the romance, laughter and camaraderie would return and it would be like old times. She had saved enough money and convinced him to celebrate their 10th anniversary in Vienna. Though not too enthusiastic Vikram agreed if only to get out of depressing atmosphere at work.

On returning, Vikram became more withdrawn. Ramandeep had to leave for Chennai to attend a conference. When she returned, she found that Vikram had left for urgent temporary duty. When she didnít hear for a week she called the office. They pleaded ignorance. They had no idea where he was for they had not sent him anywhere. Calls to relatives proved futile. No one, including his parents, knew where he was. Ramandeep was at her witsí end. With no clues, all her hopes were with the police who said they were doing their best.

Seven years went by. She did not lose hope. Theirís was a magical story and it would have a magical end. Maybe he had met with an accident and had lost his memory. The moment he found it, he would come back to her. One day in surgery, Rahul, a patient she was examining, looked at Vikramís photograph lying on her table. He asked her how Max was related to her. She told him that he had mixed up the identity. The person in the snapshot was not Max but Vikram. Rahul was not convinced. She finally asked him if he knew anything about ĎMaxí. Rahul said that he was married to his cousin.

When she asked him a few probing questions, the picture that emerged was that Max was Vikram. Rahulís cousin, a Canadian citizen (Indian mother and Canadian father), had met ĎMaxí on one of her visits to India. He had married her in Amritsar and moved to Canada on her Green Card. Rahul gave Ramandeep his address and phone numbers. She told him that he was a dear best friend she had lost touch with.

She immediately boarded a plane for Canada. The need to know was paramount in her mind. She was prepared to face the worst. After so many years, a clue had come her way and she was not going to let it pass without scrutiny. She didnít go straight to his house. If what Rahul had said was right, she didnít want to embarrass Vikram and his new family. She checked into a guesthouse close to his residence and waited for an opportunity to meet him.

On the second evening, while walking in a park, she came face to face with him. He looked every inch a distinguished foreigner with a long overcoat and felt hat. Before she could recognise him, he did and froze in his tracks. It was Vikram all right. She searched for words. He was quicker, "Good you found out. You were always more courageous than me. You have an inner strength, I lack. I couldnít take it any more in India. My career had reached a dead-end and I had to live with the reality of being incapable of fathering a child. I was still unwilling to accept it at that time.

The moment I met Susan, I saw the chance of escaping. She was a Green Card-holder and through her I got a ticket to an entirely new world. I had to do it for myself. I knew you would manage. I read about your receiving the Presidentís medal last year and felt relieved to know that you had done well in spite of me. I cannot come back. I hope you will understand and forgive." Without so much as waiting for her reply, he walked away. Ramandeep collected herself and her belongings and returned to India.

Ramandeep had maintained cordial relations with her in-laws and felt it was her duty to tell them that their son was safe and well. She knew they would be relieved but did not expect them to get outraged and insist that she fight for her rights, write to ambassador, Prime Minister, cops and make him pay for his treachery. She would have none of it. What was gone was gone.

She felt that even if she did succeed in humiliating him and extracting Rs 10-20 lakh as compensation and getting him back once his second wife learnt the truth, she would not be able to re-establish the love that they had shared in the initial years of their marriage. He was seemingly content with his choice and she couldnít destroy that. Her world was shattered. Earlier, there had been hope, now there was none, but she would survive. Vendetta and getting even had never been her way of life. Her patients gave her a purpose to live and she had found an inner calmness. Close to retirement, she continues to be the favourite daughter-in-law. No function or ceremony is held without her advice and active participation.

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