A Mountain Inside My House
A Mountain Inside My House6 mins 602 6 mins 602
The world knew it. I once had and probably was still having a crush on Jayanti. I knew an equally important thing.That I had loved and probably was still loving another woman, Arunima. Even Prema, my wife knew only the Jayanti thing. Others had stamped 'love each other' seal on me and Jayanti even while we were friends at school. I kept the Arunima stuff, which bloomed around the same time, to myself not out of any cowardice but from a certain conviction. I firmly believed the world hadn't evolved sufficiently to comprehend dual love. No one would have approved of it if I were to declare I loved Jayanti and Arunima with equal intensity and passion. Even Prasad, Jayanti's husband who knew all about our former crush and sped past me every morning in motorbike, might then have paused to pass a sympathetic glance or two at me. To me, however, it was real. As real as colic after a poorly performed appendectomy. As real as a rainbow in monsoon.
My wife would perhaps be the lone person who could be trusted to confide the dual love of mine. But here I must confess one thing. I secretly took pride in one of my rare abilities: I could read the psyche of women. So I believed. I saw Jayanti now and then and effortlessly pictured what went on in her mind, what thoughts would flood her mind if I were to tell her my passion for her had waned considerably over the years or say, I was in financial difficulties and would love her to grant me a loan of fifty thousand. I knew her inside out. Same with Arunima. Much against the lofty position in which I used to place her some years back, I had come to the conclusion she was stingy, narrow-minded and tormented by some rare and ugly ambition. But my passion for her refused to die down in spite of all that. It didn't, however, mean that my thoughts constantly dwelt on these women. Never. I managed those things with a corner of my heart. I had other fish to fry, I tell you. I worried about my daughter's grades. I worried about the spiraling prices. I even worried about the universe, the cause-effect principle, the slow pace of human evolution and a dozen other big things.
I told you I never sat with Arunima to tell her about my sentiments. I didn't care much whether she or, for that matter, Jayanti returned my love. My love alone mattered. It was not so then. So there I had been, publicly loving Jayanti and Jayanti alone. A bird in hand was worth two in the bush, after all. It did pain me when Arunima smiled bewitchingly with her chin touching textbook whenever someone cracked a joke about me and Jayanti. I stopped short of telling my wife about Arunima early on in our married life though like all dashing young men I too was keen to declare my love affairs before marriage and began with Jayanti. The most flamboyant details of my affair with Jayanti I discussed with Prema, my wife, only much later. It was then that she surprised me. She sat listening to my exploits, cool as cucumber. Partly out of gratitude for condoning my excesses and partly out of sheer courtesy I asked if she ever had an affair. She replied in the negative. She had no time, she told me. She had responsibilities from an early age, her mother having died when she was barely ten. She had to assume the role of mother for younger ones. I felt remorseful then. I had been a pampered child. A badly spoilt one at that. I felt small in front of Prema and decided against mentioning Arunima. I told you already how good I was in understanding women. I had to add to it this exception, Prema. An association of fifteen years was undoubtedly a long enough period to know each other fairly well. More so in a wedlock. But with Prema, it was as if only the tip of the iceberg was visible even after all these years. The way she responded to certain situations, the queer expressions she occasionally displayed were unfathomable to me. I wondered if the dubiousness about her had anything to do with my description of adventures with Jayanti. Then I ruled it out. She never probed me on why Jayanti and me didn't get married, whether I still felt something for her or she felt something for me. Nothing of that sort. The mystery around her was probably genetic. Her father was taciturn. So was her brother. But her younger sister was happy- go- lucky type. In all those fifteen years I hadn't seen Prema lose her temper even once. I had myself created innumerable situations where even an angel would throw tantrums. There were hundred other ugly situations which came up on their own. Nothing seemed to upset Prema who punctiliously carried on with her curry powder business, working from our home, five assistants helping her in powdering the spices and packing.
It confounded me when Arunima walked into our house one day. She greeted me with the same smile that tormented me for years. The same bewitching smile. The corners of her eyes had darkened a bit but the laughter in those orbs remained. She told me she was joining Prema's business as partner. Prema had long stopped discussing business with me after I confessed my lack of interest in it. I was earning more than enough as a lawyer and loved the job to the exception of all others. I was nevertheless happy that Prema was happy. So brooked the din and unpleasant odour of her business. I probed Prema delicately regarding Arunima and learned she was trying to harness the latter's selling skills. That was an area Prema was wanting in.
The day Arunima arrived I lost a case in court. I simply bungled a cross examination and harmed irreparably the case which was clearly going our way till then. Such happenings recurred day after day until my friend lawyers forced me into taking a break. I cannot say for sure if Arunima's constant presence in the house intrigued or delighted me more. They say I abruptly ran out of the house one day and began hacking down plantain trees with a chopper. They must be true though I hardly remember a thing. Arunima no more frequented the house after that since, I was told, Prema had announced closure of the business. While I was returning to senses and started picking up threads of reality I found Prema most motherly. Those times she looked like a mountain to me. A tender mountain. It towered far above me but caressed me with unseen hands. She asked me no questions but kept looking at me with her fathomless eyes now and then. I know my wife had correctly analysed the situation for she resumed the business two months later sans Arunima. Ever since that I feel my mind is a transparent mirror house where anyone could peep into. I don't mind the way it is.