A Story Of Love
A Story Of Love
Ranjan was now living in a world of colors. He was sure Padmaja loved her.
Ranjan was around 34. A handsome dashing young man. His friends had told him he was building castles in the air. Padmaja Rout, the newly appointed lady doctor was a perfect copy of the beautiful actress Hema Malini of the old days. Ranjan Parida was a mere schoolteacher. But he would say, "Now I am the assistant headmaster of a high school. I hold a 1st class Master's degree in mathematics. I have also done my B.ed.What is the harm if we get married? My next promotion could be to the post of a headmaster or school inspector...!"
Every week Ranjan made a visit to the local hospital pretending to be ill. If this week it was an upset stomach, the next week it would be a headache or back pain. Those days boys and girls or men and women didn't meet as freely as they do today. So they had never openly expressed their love for each other. Then what made Ranjan think she loved him...?
After school, Ranjan bubbled with joy, full of excitement, and an inexplicable sense of ecstasy. He would sit at his study table holding a cup of tea presumably to read the day's news. The charming lady doctor would exactly do the same sitting by her window. Ranjan gazed at her through his window. This was the only way that brought them together; this was the only fact that convinced Ranjan she loved him. The entire school knew that the assistant headmaster was mad after the glamorous lady doctor.
Ranjan came to me most of the time and narrated how kind and generous the lady doctor was. I didn't like talks centered around love, marriage, romance, etc. I loved the talks about God and religion. When I tried to draw his attention to spirituality, he would go gaga over his enchanting sweetheart's heavenly virtues and unequaled magnetism.
Whenever he arrived, I would now grudge his presence. But he was so loving and affable that my mother would never allow him going away without taking some snacks or at least a cup of special ginger-flavored tea. After his departure,
my mother would say, "How affectionate and friendly the boy is..! And you..? Whenever someone comes to the house, you don't like it...! Looks they all smell bad to you..!"
She didn't know how an unemployed person felt. I used to contribute short stories and poems to different magazines and earned a little. She reposed a lot of trust in my ability as a writer and expected great things to happen soon. So she would pester me to get married. Of course, it was some of my published short stories and articles which had afterward helped me in procuring the hand of a girl after my own heart.
On Sunday, a boastful Ranjan reached my place and announced his decision to visit the doc's father who was a famous cardiologist working at Cuttack. Ranjan, his illiterate parents, and an uncle of his who was a lecturer in history at the newly opened Derabis College went to Cuttack in a car.
When Ranjan visited the cardiologist's house, his heart missed a beat..! The magnificent building in which Padmaja's father lived rendered Ranjan spellbound. But his parents couldn't notice anything worth attention. To them, their son's education and job mattered much more than anything else. However, the lecturer felt slightly diffident. Ranjan wondered how Padmaja's parents would treat them. He disliked his own parents' adamance and cheekiness mostly peculiar to the rustics of the time.
The cardiologist's hospital itself was part of his spectacular dwelling house. The moment they reached there Ranjan's father walked up to the beautiful receptionist and asked, "Is the doctor present..?"
She lifted her eyes resentfully and said, "Which doctor do you mean..? There are so many here..!" The old man was just about to lose his anger at the cocky receptionist when Ranjan reigned him in and took charge of the situation. She wanted to know the purpose of their meeting. Ranjan was clueless. Ranjan's mother said, "We are here to talk about a marriage proposal. This is my son..! He is the Assistant Headmaster of the high school in our village..Ever heard of Bhanjapur Sasan...? Our village is adjacent to it. Ragadibandha...? Ever heard of it..?"
The clever receptionist gave a flashy smile and told them to take their seats and wait. Ranjan was full of panic. His father looked confident and cheerful and was talking aloud. His mother all smiled while the apprehensive lecturer was silently cursing. The receptionist had left her seat. In a short while, the receptionist and the doctor arrived together. The doctor was a large and muscular man. He was sweet-talking and informal. He told a subordinate staffer to order coffee and snacks. They did a lot of talking right there.
Ranjan was scared about the cardiologist's reaction to the proposal. Although he boasted of his future prospects, now he was tensed and worried. Since the receptionist had alerted the physician, he knew all the required details. After they had finished the coffee and snacks, he said, "If your son and my daughter love each other...... and if they.. want to get married, I don't have any objections."
Ranjan swallowed hard feeling reassured. Cold sweat shone on his forehead. The lecturer appeared eased off. But the old man and his wife didn't display any doubt or emotions. They were rustics who always took things for granted and disliked people dithering on this or that.
Day in and day out Ranjan began pondering whether Padmaja was sort of making a fool of him. He was troubled and without patience suffering profoundly to get a straightforward yes or no from her. He exhorted her to make her stance clear. He bumped into me at the village market once. I made out that he was boiling with anger inside. He said hoarsely, "I'll either marry her or slit her throat.." I said, "This is a delicate matter. Wait for a little longer.." He reacted sharply, "Wait a little longer..! I've wasted a whole year..?"
One evening when I was watching TV along with my elder sister and her son, news came somebody had made an acid attack on the beautiful lady doctor. The police came after Padmaja had been taken to her house at Cuttack. After this,I came to know from a genuine source that Ranjan had committed the dastardly crime. However, Padmaja had told the police she didn't know the attacker. Ranjan was perplexed to know about it. Little did he understand her puzzling silence about that.
After this incident, Ranjan's parents and relatives pressurized him to marry a girl of his father's choice. However, he had conceived a fierce hatred for girls in general. He refused to marry and didn't marry.
After a long time had passed, Padmaja's father sent for Ranjan. His colleagues inspired him with courage and hope. He told himself he had to dare the visit.
When Ranjan reached Cuttack, his heart was pounding hard. He told himself again and again: "Had she any wish to punish me she could have got me arrested, but she didn't..! Why must I fear to meet her now..?"
On reaching the cardiologist's place, he found a deathly silence ruling supreme in the house. He was stunned. He saw his erstwhile sweetheart in a bed. She was unable to speak; tears welled from both her eyes. A white sheet was spread over her.
Her parents and some relatives mostly women were sitting silently in chairs. Padmaja beckoned to Ranjan and bared her left forearm showing a big tattooed 'R' on it. He couldn't understand anything at that moment. He heard that she had been suffering from blood cancer for the last six years. Her father had toured the whole country in a desperate bid to keep her alive. Eventually, there was no hope left. She was at her last gasp.
The village people came to know about this soon. She had passed away at the tender age of twenty-seven. Ranjan was nowhere to be found.
His old parents wept jugfuls of tears and left wor away without seeing their only son.
Many years ago, when my daughter was in Class-8, I drove her and my wife to the Lingaraj Temple. After the puja, we came out of the temple. My wife produced change from her vanity bag for the beggars sitting in a line. I said to my wife: "Linux, look at that man..! He is Ranjan..!"
She only stood staring at him. His long hair and beard were matted. The fellow beggars told us his name was Ranjan and he was from Kendrapara. He had lost his wits and often
kept chattering away sheer drivel to imaginary beings for hours and hours.