He had kept his appointment to meet me at the beach…. My friend Srinivasarangan was a punctual man…..
It was two years since I had seen him. He was thinner and visibly paler, certainly not the ebullient man in his bell bottoms he was when we were together at the Presidency, and surely a far cry from the rosy cheeked young chubby lad he was during his school days. It was neither day nor night. The sun had gone down and stars had come out and darkness was swathing in a stride much like the grief of his heart. I wasn’t sure how to start.
“Ranga, I want to talk to you about something”
“Sure, go ahead”
“Will you mind if it’s personal, Ranga?” – I was unusually held-back with my best friend in being out-spoken.
“You can say anything, you’re my best friend.”…. “And now, what more do I have to hide as personal?” – he added with a look towards the blue lined horizon beyond the sea.
“We’ll talk sitting on this beach…..” he said. We walked a few yards to a spot at the foot of a tree. We sank down on the soft sand of the beach. The same beach that saw us run in fun and frolic, hand in hand as children – little boys who knew nothing about life’s travails; The same beach that saw us play beach cricket with tennis balls as college kids;
His now dried sea of sorrow reflecting in his voice cut through my heart.
“Ranga, you must marry again.”- I said, in my own blunt way, and paused.
There was his usual silence, and after a calm survey, he smiled. “And why must I?” asked he.
I had my answers ready – “You are still young, and you are not a father yet – why would you want to waste your life in Padma's memory? I respect your love for her, but you had only been married for 2 years”.
He smiled. “Did Amma ask you to talk to me?” - He knew. The old lady had tried to get her son out of Padma’s memory for two years but received no response from him who slowly became a sober introvert, who’d not entertain any topic of him marrying again. Out of desperation she had called me and asked if I could talk to her son, in my capacity as his best friend.
“Well….” I started to speak, but his hand on my hand stopped me in my tracks. “I know you and I know her…..I am sure she would have”.
“…..…….” - There was silence in the air.
By now, the moon had come out….. It was a Poornima….. I thought for a second that the moon was more like a white swan that came swimming out of the black ocean, above our heads….. I wondered what was going on in Rangan’s mind…… His gaze was fixed on the moon…….
“Do you see that moon?" – he asked…..
“Ya… beautiful, isn’t it?” – I replied.
“It is…… It’s good you brought the topic up. I had to open my heart to someone, my friend. And none better than you…….” – he paused;
“Do you know, this moon has borne witness to my times with Padma here, on this very spot below this tree? This spot to me, is sacrosanct...... Every Poornima…. I and Padma would come here… to this very beach… this very spot…. We used to pack our dinner and come here”……..
“Hmmm….” - I did not want to interrupt him…… After a pause he continued……
“On our first day here, I wrote a shlokham for her, comparing her lovely turmeric tinged face with the rising yellowy poorna-chandhran. I don’t mind repeating to you".... He recited the verse.
“You are quite a poet, aren't you?” – I tried to infuse some cheer. He gave a wry smile and nodded it off... "What’s the point?”…..
“She was the best person in my life, you know? She took care of every single detail for me. She knew I liked my potatoes fried to crispness, with some extra chilly in it, and that’s the way it was done. She knew I was allergic to pea-nuts, and it was banished from the limits of the household. My wake up alarm in the morning, for those 2 years were her keerthanams and varnams, one raaga for each day, and my lullabies were her neelaambary and yadhukulakambodhi …. Despite my protests, she washed my clothes by hand. Do you know? I have bought a fresh set of clothes to be used after she left this world. I have preserved every cloth she washed with her hand. I did not want to dirty them…. They bear her finger prints and I don't want her finger prints to be washed off…. her unwashed saree wraps my pillow now..... and her scent wraps my heart“
Another pause…… I could see in the moonlight, his eyes were moist….. his gaze was fixed on the moon…… he went on…..
“Her lap was my pillow… her eyes were my mirror….. she loved me….. ever since the day she stepped into my home….. what had I done for her to deserve such unconditional love? She kept awake till I came home, and shared her food with me… I came home early to make sure she ate in time….. at times, she fed me… and I used to playfully suck on her fingers as she fed me… Though we could never conceive, I could see a mother’s love in her eyes… That was enough for us….. we were each-others’ child…..”
He was now breathing faster….. his voice betrayed a silent sob……
“She loved me….. I loved her….. unconditionally. She cared for my happiness unconditionally….. do you know what she said when kissing me good night, the night before we got her admitted?”
“She said if she died, she’d be with me in spirit. She said in her next birth, she would want to be my wife. I said in our next birth I want to be her wife, and she must be my husband…. I could repay her kindness in some way….. And she asked me to remarry if she died. I broke down and refused…… She knew I would say no…. she knew my love for her”
Rangan was now in tears….. I could do nothing about it…. I was trying not to cry myself.
“You say it’s JUST 2 years…… I remember every single day of those 2 years. Every single minute…. She lives, my friend…. She lives now in me….. Do you think loyalty is just physical? When we tied the knot we circum-ambulated the fire 7 times….. I promised her that I’d be faithful to her in thought, word and deed. And faith to me, is not just physical. Her physical frame is no more, but her soul lives in my heart. And till God lets me meet her in the other world, I shall wait. That’s my respect for my sweetheart….. I am waiting to be united with her, again…… because, this bond is eternal….. It was sealed with fire as witness…. Agnisaakshi……. No other woman shall ever have me…..”
I could not help my tears….. Ironically, he had to cheer me up…..!
“It’s time…. Let’s go home… Amma will be waiting. You must have dinner at my home today….”
We got up and started……..
I did not know what I’d tell his mother…..
I just wished, Padma heard his words…. Or perhaps, she lived in his heart and knew…….. Perhaps, she heard..... perhaps she rose with the moon every poornima, and came eagerly to see her husband sitting under the very same tree to that sacrosanct spot……. She’d know he’d come there… It was agnisaakshi……..