Call Of The Heart
Call Of The Heart12 mins 700 12 mins 700
“It’s remarkable that none of us know more about her daughter… We have zilch information!” Lakshmi was upset and rightly so that one of the residents of her ‘home’ was in coma and none of them knew who to contact.
Well-liked, the residents rallied around to help Vaidehi. The phone number given at the time of filling the form was no longer valid and so also the address given as the house was demolished to make way for another apartment complex.
Looking at the comatose person, Lakshmi wondered, “How many times has she regaled all of us with stories about her family. Where did she go? Why did she lie?”
“Oh, Vaidehi! What made you weave stories from thin air?” She sat holding her hand wondering if we really knew the other person. Sighing, she decided to probe the reason behind Vaidehi’s mendacity.
Lakshmi’s ‘Sanctuary’ was just that. It provided succour to abandoned women and children. Today, ‘Sanctuary’ had moved both in location and also its purview. Many children selected ‘Sanctuary’ as an alternative home to house their widowed mothers as they felt that they would be happier here rather than living in an empty house in some strange city. She walked out of the room and her eyes smarted both with the unshed tears as well as the bright April sun. Her brainchild was located in the outskirts of the temple town Kanchipuram some hundred kilometers from Madras.
The architect had designed this place with a lot of care. It was his small contribution to society. Each of the self- sufficient twin cottages were close enough to each other for obvious reasons of safety yet separated by a profusion of greenery and colours. A variety of Hibiscus, Nerium, Chrysanthemums and other flowers vied with each other for attention. The red brick roof kept the environs of the cottages and the administrative office cool. She walked briskly along the cobbled pathway to enter the building that housed her office. The building was an amalgamation of Tamil Nadu and Kerala architecture with a courtyard within the house and the rooms constructed around the same. The low sprawling building was covered by a veranda on all four sides with the sloping red brick roof supported by columns of the same colour. The skylight added to the charm. The courtyard was designated to cater to all the hobbies that an individual would like to take up in the ‘evening of their lives.’
The office was situated slightly to the left and she smiled her thanks as Usha, the young twenty five year old handed over a glass of cool coconut water. She sipped it appreciatively remembering the week-old baby abandoned at her doorstep one March morning. She along with others brought her up and named her Usha, the dawn. She grew up to be a wizard in all things administrative. Her website for ‘Sanctuary’ was so well-received that a well-equipped hospice was possible from all the donations received. Lakshmi knew that Usha wouldn’t have sat idle and hence she allowed her to have the platform.
“At the outset, I searched the daughter’s name Nethra Arun and zeroed in on matches in Chennai and Bangalore. I sent each one of them a personalized message. I am hoping that my messages do not go unnoticed…but…”
Identifying the nervous tic that Usha made when embarrassed, “Yes, Usha…, please share.”
Usha blushed, “Amma, there was the name of a doctor in the folder. It was actually written on the back of the application form and hence we missed it. I contacted Dr. Vijayaraghavan and he is flying down from Delhi. He……he appeared to be,” she blushed even more, “he appeared to be very flustered and it …… I feel he cried!” She completed in a rush.
Lakshmi sighed. It was becoming more and more complicated. She gave a stern warning to Usha, “I don’t want you to speak to others till we know the whole story. You have led a sheltered life and life is rarely black and white, rather it’s in various hues. I will be in Vaidehi’s cottage if need be.”
Time to ransack, thought she, as she stepped into the neat cottage. The beautiful family photo of a young couple with their children caught Lakshmi’s eyes as soon as she entered. Usually, when a photo is placed in prominence, it does not evoke much comment other than “Your family? Lovely!”
Was it Vaidehi’s way of preventing people from asking about her family? If so, the idea was ingenious. She searched the cottage systematically. It was a self-sufficient unit with a small kitchenette where the residents could make their own tea or snacks but for the meals, she preferred them to come to the dining hall. She believed that isolation could lead to serious mental problems.
She shook aside her thoughts and searched the cottage systematically. She did not know what she was looking for but each one of us usually hoard some personal stuff that we would hate to throw and she hoped that this quality would help her find Vaidehi’s daughter if she had one.
She could not find anything personal besides the clothes and somehow she felt she was missing something. It was a sheer sixth sense that made her look under the cot and withdrew a shoebox filled with stacks of letters and a couple of diaries. As she scanned the diary, she realized that the writing was a chronicle of the happening as if she wanted to pen her thoughts to be read after her demise.
I got married today…..
Lakshmi sat back little realizing that two hours had gone by and that her eyes were smarting with unshed tears.
She never stopped wondering at the selfishness of the human race. Every time she came across a fresh story it looked like people were honing and developing the skill of egocentricity and self-aggrandizement. The power play and self- centredness of the stronger ones made the gentler ones pay.
The very thought that three generations of the ‘socially upright’ lawyer family could inveigle a poor, unsophisticated girl to provide a front to hide their son’s impotence was by itself shudder-worthy. They not only gave scant regard to her own sexuality but also deprived her of motherhood. They clandestinely went in for adoption of a child from another poor relative to pass it off as their grandchild. The only ‘spoke’ that fate apparently threw at them seem to be their inability to adopt a boy child as per their wish.
To make matters worse, she was left a widow at the age of 30 after her dying husband managed to exact his ‘final wish’ from her that she would keep his image untarnished from their growing ‘daughter.’
What Vaidehi did not plan for was the fact that she lost her heart to her daughter’s pediatrician, Dr. Vijayaraghavan. She, who was uninitiated to the art of ‘lovemaking’ found it difficult to say no to the debonair, sophisticated doctor who was also madly in love with her.
Being constantly aware of the pressure of being a ‘widow’ of the family that gave more importance to the society, she tried valiantly to fight the growing attraction but the flame was too strong to be kept smouldering for long. She could not think of leaving her marital home because of her promise to her dying husband. ‘He screwed up her life properly, to make up for his inability to do so in the bedroom,’’ Lakshmi thought angrily.
They kept their affair discreet for two long years. The good doctor convinced Vaidehi to leave her marital home with her daughter and make a home with him in New Delhi where he had got opportunity waiting for him. She was trying to build up her courage to ‘tell’ her daughter the whole truth when all hell broke loose.
Nethra who was all of tumultuous and terrible fifteen was told about her mother’s ‘loose morals’ and the father was portrayed a saint and Vaidehi was literally thrown out of her marital home. That was when Vaidehi moved into the Sanctuary and refused to meet the doctor because of the guilt she faced over her daughter’s loss of respect towards her. She blamed herself and was made to feel ashamed of her own sexuality.
She tried to meet her daughter every 6 months in the initial few years, but it was not to be. After five years, she did not even know where they were for they had moved houses and she only knew that her daughter had got married and had her own children. Her family sent photos of Nethra and family as if to add salt to her permanently scarred heart. She continued to hope that one day, her daughter would be returned to her and would be made aware of the facts relating to her father, but it was not to be. Twenty years thus passed….and now Dr Vijayaraghavan was coming to see Vaidehi.
Lakshmi sighed. She knew what she had to do. Even if things don’t work out, Nethra had to be beside her mother now and that is what she would do, even if it means telling that selfish brat some home truths. She hoped the good doctor would throw some light on the whereabouts of Nethra Arun, the spoilt witch.
The doctor was as good as Vaidehi had described of him and he was distraught. He refused to leave the bedside of Vaidehi and ensured that the best of his colleagues attended on her at the hospice. He spoke to her as if there were only a few days that separated them and not two decades. He willed her to come awake and looking at the love he had for her, Lakshmi vowed that if Vaidehi ever came out of her coma, she would ensure that she would just follow her heart with or without her daughter’s approval. The doctor had no idea regarding the whereabouts of Nethra but Lakshmi knew that she would be found even if she had to be flown down from abroad as there were too many amateur detectives, most of them children of the residents, following every lead.
It was not long before a very resourceful, truly altruistic Varsha managed to find the home where the in-laws of Vaidehi lived. She had the tenacity to follow leads with all the enthusiasm of a dog with a bone. Lakshmi listened to the details, not caring about their lonely lives. She always found that people who did not know how to respect and maintain relationships were the loneliest of all.
She listened to reason when Usha insisted that she travel by flight rather than the customary train.
She wanted to visit Nethra in the evening hoping that her husband too would be at home. Her needs were taken care of by the son of another resident. She was escorted to Nethra’s house with a strict injunction that she does not venture out alone.
The initial trepidation that Arun and his family would have an evening out was completely erased from her mind. Only a certified lunatic would battle this kind of maddening Bangalore traffic two times a day!
Lakshmi was apprehensive, in case the security denied their entry but the driver was made of different mettle. He managed to make it sound as if they had a clandestine appointment and ensured that the phone call didn’t go to the owner for verification.
She breathed a sigh of relief as she rang the bell of the swanky apartment. The door opened and Lakshmi came face to face with a young lady, who tilted her head the very way Vaidehi did and said, ‘Yes?’
“I need to speak to you and Arun…this is regarding your mother, Vaidehi.”
“I don’t have a mother.” Nethra was about to close the door when Lakshmi expecting the same, placed a foot inside and said quietly, “I am sure both of us don’t need a scene.”
A man came into the room and Lakshmi recognized him from the pictures she saw in Vaidehi’s room. Arun wondered why and how the dignified lady was making his wife nervous and decided to sit next to his wife for moral support.
Lakshmi began the tale of Vaidehi and her medical condition. The mutinous expression on Nethra’s accompanied by her “I have no mother, particularly one who has no morals!” made Lakshmi lose her cool.
“Firstly, let’s get things right. She is not your real mother and neither is the man who you consider equivalent to God, your father. Now can we talk like adults?”
She addressed herself to Arun gesturing towards Nethra.
“I have no idea, what she has said about what transpired during her early childhood and adolescence. But here are Vaidehi’s diary and letters written by Dr. Vijayaraghavan, which largely went unanswered by the tone of it.”
Pausing to sip water from the glass placed next to her and giving them time to flip through the diary, she continued. “From the diary, it appears that Vaidehi was a pawn in the old tale of sacrifice due to poverty and her parents finding an easy way out of their own sad life. She had to keep the entire episode a secret because of some random wish made at the death bed. You are enjoying the sensual pleasures of your husband, I presume? Then what makes you believe that your mother is a sex-less person?”
Nethra squirmed for she was squeamish about many things. Arun narrowed his eyes as he realized that there was more to his wife’s life that he was unaware of and he did find her prudishness a bit off-putting.
Lakshmi continued softly, her eyes gentle. “I know this is all hard for you too, Nethra.
She forsake all her personal pleasures and kept trying year after year to build a broken relationship with you…but your grandparents refused to allow her that desire too………. She never let you down, till a couple of days back, all of us were under the impression that she had a wonderful relationship with you. She keeps your family photo on the mantelpiece and has stood like a beggar at your doorstep …but you in an imaginary judge’s robe have robbed her of all possible happiness.”
She went on about how the wonderful doctor was the first person who came to her aid as soon as he heard about her state. “There is nothing sleazy or carnal about their love.”
Lakshmi sat back relaxed and at peace for a job well done. As the flight took off from Bengaluru the next morning with a wan looking Nethra and a pensive and determined Arun on board accompanied by the lovely children, she was positive that with the good doctor by her side and her daughter’s acceptance, the road to recovery and further happiness would be Vaidehi’s.