Love. True Love. Unconditional. Beyond the wheels of time. Something that I never believed in. I mean even husband and wife aren’t so much in love with each other to call it unconditional. Right???
I would have continued to believe so, if I hadn’t met Radha.
I met Radha during that summer along with Achan and Amma. She was a close friend of theirs. Their comfort level told me that they were known to each other for ages. Her skin had started to wrinkle. The grey strands made me calculate that she must be elder to Amma. We spent about two hours at their place. As they spoke of the good old times when I was a child, I browsed through the old albums that Jaya aunty handed over. Adi, my five-year old chose to run around the compound of the house along with the man of the house, Narayanan.
Achan asked Radha about her son. She informed that he was studying at the London Business School. Towards the end when she made sure Narayanan wasn’t close enough to hear, Radha asked my parents, “He now calls often. He bought Karthik a laptop too. He wants me to join him in the US. Dasetta, you tell me, what should I do? Should I go with him?”
Achan told her, “You ask your own self. Your heart alone can decide what you should do.”
As Achan waved to Narayanan to bring Adi back as we were getting ready to leave, I saw Radha wipe off her tears with the loose end of her off white cotton saree.
The conversation left me confused. I couldn’t match the ends.
On our way back I asked Achan, “What was that all about?”
Achan then told me this story.
Radha was Narayanan’s younger sister. (And all this while I was thinking that they were husband and wife.) Achan and Narayanan were active members of the Delhi Malayali Association and used to organise lots of bus trips to various destinations like Haridwar, Varanasi, Vaishnodevi and all. They were also running chartered buses plying from Janakpuri to Connaught Place. That’s how they met and became friends. Achan was a bachelor and Narayanan was staying close by with his mother, father and three sisters. Achan said Radha was the youngest and the most beautiful of them all. Mom nodded in agreement. They said much against her family’s will she got married to her muracherukkan (a cousin who is, customarily a girl’s groom), Mahadevan. When I asked why was the family against their wedding, Achan told me that they knew that he was a drunkard and was known to be a womaniser. Radha got married to him because she was in love with him since childhood.
Mahadevan left for the US within months of their marriage never to return. Radha was pregnant. In the meantime, Narayanan got married. Few months down the lane, Radha gave birth to a boy. But her letter informing the birth of their son too didn’t fetch her a reply from Mahadevan. Upon a lot of enquiry they got to know that Mahadevan was now living in with a Russian lady and had plans of getting married to her. Daughter’s troubled marriage made parents die one after the other out of pain. Narayanan took it upon himself to take care of Radha and her son. His whole-hearted dedication towards his sister and her son created trouble in his own marriage and his wife finally divorced him.
Neverthless, against all odds Narayanan and Radha brought up Karthik into a handsome young man who is now doing internship in the U.K.
Recently, it turned out that Mahadevan was dumped by the Russian lady and she had managed to flee with all his earnings. He had then started establishing contact with Radha and Karthik. He started spending weekends with his son travelling from New York to London. He also bought expensive gifts for him. He now wanted Radha to get back to him as he was growing old and could not imagine spending his life all alone.
It surprised me to know that Radha actually wanted to get back with this wretched man who was the reason for a lot of tragedies that the family had seen. Nevertheless it had to be her decision.
Radha was just about forty eight years of age but she looked over sixty. That’s what the whole one sided love story had done to her.
I sat down to think why Radha wanted to go back to that selfish idiot. I did not find any reason. Perhaps because I was looking at it from my point of view. May be she had her own reasons. But then what about Narayanan who sacrificed his entire life for his sister? How could she ignore his sacrifice?
Six years later, I happened to visit them again with Achan and Amma. Karthik had gotten married to a Goan girl last year. They were now settled in London. Radha was still the same. Questioning eyes. A little more grey strands. More wrinkles. Yet the same.
On our way back Achan said Radha did not meet Mahadevan before he died two years ago because Karthik did not want her to. Radha had not spoken a word since the day she received the news of Mahadevan’s demise.
The silhouette of the lady sitting on the front porch of the house looking into something far across will never fade away from my memory. She sat with us. She made tea for us. She kept nodding. But she was not there with us.
If this is what is the reward for unconditional love, pardon me. I’m better off without it.