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Sarala lay like a piece of cloth on that bed. Mahesh and Maya were sitting beside her bed with sorrow. Doctors had given up. It was only a question of time. Not that they wished their dear mother to die but they could not see her suffer silently. What was that which bothered her at this last moment? She would not tell. But her deep eyes spoke volumes. Maya whispered to Mahesh, “Mahesh, did you know Amma had a love affair before she married Appa?”
That was shocking. “What? Love affair? Who told you?”
“Amma herself had told me long before I got married. Do you remember that day when I had gone out with Raghu and Amma was mad with me? On that day, she poured out her feelings to me. It seems she was in love with her classmate Guru. after nearly 5 years of courtship, Guru ditched her for some flimsy reason.”
“Does Appa know all this?”
“Of course he knew. She told me all this in Appa’s presence and warned me of the repercussions of getting into an affair with the wrong person. She told me how much she suffered to date though Appa gave her all the love and she had a wonderful life with him. She loves Appa very much and Appa loves her. She would have had a perfect life but for Guru.”
“That’s quite strange. How could she admit her love to Appa and yet be loved by him? Appa is really great Maya.”
“Appa is really great and that’s what Amma loves him for. He’ll miss her a lot.”
Sarala could faintly hear her children talk. Tears started pouring out. Though her relationship with Guru was purely intellectual, those romantic songs of the sixties would awaken the woman in her. She enjoyed a sad romantic song sung by Sunil Dutt over the phone for Nutan! If the pain of love was so sweet, she wanted to enjoy it! She used to compare that pain to the labor pains of a mother who would enjoy the pain in the hope of seeing the little one, created by absolute love and carried by her all the nine months! Not once had Sarala or Guru yearned for physical joys. She remembered that wonderful day when Guru proposed to her.
Sarala was about to leave the college and as usual, was searching for Guru to bid good-bye. He was not to be seen anywhere. She went home disappointed.
“Come on Sarala. You will meet him in just 15 hours from now! Why do you sulk? Excess of love is injurious to health!” teased Rohini.
“Oh. Shut up Rohini! I just wanted to return his book.”
“Oh, ya Deepa. Did you know Sarala JUST wanted to return Guru’s book? She is JUST his classmate. And catch Guru studying today! Today is his birthday. Sarala, by the way, what’s your gift to Guru?”
“Why should I gift anything? As though he is a kid to celebrate birthdays! I didn’t know it was his birthday.”
“That’s the biggest joke! Okay. Keep it a secret. But don’t lie. Girls, do you remember that romantic birthday scene in Bobby? You must have seen Sarala watching that scene with tears in her eyes! I could see romance oozing out all over her body and here she acts like a good old sanyasin!”
Sarala went home with a heavy heart. She was not in a mood to talk to anybody. Why did Guru vanish without even telling her on a special day like this? Yes! Rohini was right. She did love Guru intensely but did not dare to express that. When everybody else read her love, why was Guru so dumb?
In the evening, Sarala took out her Physics book half-heartedly and a pink envelope fell out of it. She looked around and ensured that nobody was around. Her heart missed a beat when she saw Guru’s hand on the envelope. She opened the envelope eagerly. A single pink sheet read as follows:
You may be wondering why I left college abruptly today. I placed this letter in your book and had no guts to face you after that. I was eager to know your response. But not today! Today is my birthday and I do not want to disappoint myself! I just want to say, I love you and would like to spend the rest of my life with you. From your eyes, I could see you too felt that way. If I am right, come to the college in your favorite brown saree tomorrow. That’ll do.
Sarala’s heart started beating faster and louder. She quickly folded the letter but only to open it again and reassuring herself that what she read was correct. She could not wait until the next day. She felt hot and shivery and read that letter every half an hour. She spent a sleepless night. In the morning, she freshened up and wore her brown saree. She left home early, saying that she had a special class and literally ran to the college from the bus stop. She was one hour early and what a surprise to find Guru waiting at the gate in his olive green kurta which was her favorite! They just stood looking at each other shyly and tears rolled down her pink cheeks. How very romantic! In fact, on that whole day, they hardly spoke to each other. Their looks conveyed everything. Even to this day, Sarala could get back all those feelings fresh from her mind.
Sarala’s thoughts suddenly jumped to that awful day when she received Guru’s last letter. She was in her office when she received that letter.
My dear Sarala,
You may be wondering why I did not write to you for nearly six months. I was busy with my work. Your letter requesting me to come and speak to your parents along with my parents really shocked me. Of course, I had proposed to you. But those days were different Sarala. Life is not that simple as we dreamt. We have to go grow out of our childish and teenage pranks. You know very well we are of the same age and thus when you are already of marriageable age; I am too young to get married now. My parents would not approve. Meanwhile, it is very strange but true that I am unable to relate to you the same way that I once did. Was that infatuation? We shall call it a day and part as friends. I am sorry if I have hurt you but life teaches us to accept disappointments. This may be the first for you but not for me. Don’t ask any questions and move on. You are a nice girl and life is full of surprises. Enjoy and take care! Forgive me.
So easily Guru had sealed off a romantic affair just by scribbling a few words on a sheet of paper! ‘Infatuation! How dare you label my true love as infatuation! Why did you do this to me?’ Sarala was shaken fully. She could not overcome the grief for nearly two years. Her parents and friends supported her. Rohini introduced her to the theatre. Sarala got fully involved in theatre and gradually came out of the grief. Her parents settled her marriage with Ravi, a scientist.
Sarala then suddenly remembered her first night. She had seen so many nuptial night scenes in movies and had a very romantic idea about that. But on that day, she was very nervous, as she had to face Ravi and not Guru. She meekly went into the room and on seeing Ravi, she broke down. Ravi was shocked and said, “don’t be scared. I will not harm you. Let us be friends. We have all our lives to spend together. Let’s talk about each other.”
Sarala was touched by these words and she opened up her heart. She was simply fascinated by Ravi’s broad-mindedness. He said, “Sarala, we are beginning our lives today. Bury the past. I too will. Let us build our lives with bricks of faith and love. It will be strong. Let’s start afresh now.”
Thus began her life with Ravi and she enjoyed every moment of it. She mothered two lovely children and had adoring parents-in-law. Her bondage with Ravi strengthened day by day and she could never spend even a day without him. He stood through all tough times with her. He encouraged her in all her endeavors and appreciated her roles in the theatre. Despite all this, many a night she dreamt of Guru. She would wake up with a start every time she dreamt about him and felt she was cheating Ravi.
Sarala consulted a psychiatrist and found out that she felt cheated by Guru and could never pardon him. She demanded an answer. If only she could communicate with him and get an explanation, her mind would rest.
After nearly six years of search, Sarala found out that Guru had settled down in a farmhouse at Dehradun after his retirement from the army, with his wife, whom he had loved and married and 3 children. That was a shock to her and she felt all the more hurt. How could Guru do this to her?
One day she discussed her predicament with Ravi and with his permission, wrote a lengthy letter to Guru and waited for the reply. Guru never responded. Here she was lying on her deathbed. She wanted an answer from Guru before she died. Very crazy.
Suddenly the doorbell rang and Ravi opened the door. A smart old man stood there. Ravi could say he was Guru with Sarala’s vivid description and as old photograph that he had seen. He was taken aback for a minute but then he invited Guru inside. Guru was a bit hesitant but was surprised that Ravi spoke to him so freely.
“How did you know our address, Mr. Guru?”
“My classmate Bharat is in touch with me. He got your address through another classmate Rohini. I came here to meet my grandson at the hostel and I thought of dropping by to say hello.”
“Then, do you know that Sarala is very ill?”
“Yes. In fact, I contacted Rohini yesterday and she told me about Sarala’s condition. That’s what brought me here Mr.Ravi.’
Ravi suddenly turned gloomy. His eyes shined with tears. “Sarala is counting her days Mr. Guru. I am unable to see her suffering and wish she went into eternal bliss. But she would not breathe her last till she gets a reply from you, Mr. Guru.”
Guru was shocked to hear this. Had Sarala discussed everything with Ravi? He felt ashamed of himself. His eyes welled up. He could not face Ravi. What a man was he? How could he talk so casually about his wife’s old love affair to her ex-lover? How mature and wise! Here he was! A heartless fellow! Ditched a true lover, married Sindhu after a second stint of love drama and made his life miserable by doubting Sindhu’s every friendship with men! In fact, Sindhu had even stopped talking to him since his third child’s birth. She stayed with him only for the sake of the children. She devoted all her time to the Social Service organization of which she was the President. Guru often felt lonely and dejected and thought maybe Sarala’s curse made his life thus. He had no guts to reply to Sarala’s letter for he didn’t know why he had ditched her. Was it just that Sindhu was more beautiful, richer and more sophisticated? Then, why did he in the first place love Sarala and propose to her in a hurry? After all, had he not done so, maybe Sarala would never have ventured into such thoughts!
“Mr. Guru. What are you brooding at? Let’s go in and see Sarala. There is very little time left. She wants to see you. She would not tell me but I can see the anguish in her eyes.” Ravi’s voice brought back Guru to the present.
Ravi and Guru entered Sarala’s room. Maya and Mahesh got up. They wondered who this old man was.
“Maya, go get some coffee for Mr. Guru. By the way, Mr. Guru, these are my children Mahesh and Maya”, said Ravi.
“Namasthe uncle”, said Mahesh and Maya with a surprise...
“Sarala, look who has come to see you!”, said Ravi softly, bending over Sarala and touching her forehead with love.
Sarala weakly turned and looked at the two of them. It took a minute for her to digest the truth. Guru was here! Her Guru, whom she hero-worshipped one day, was here! She looked at Ravi with gratitude and love and tears started flowing from her sick eyes.
“Guru. How are you?” she asked.
“I am fine Sarala”, replied Guru with wet eyes.
“Guru, I will wait outside. Please feel free”, said Ravi.
“No Ravi. You stay here. Anytime I may go. I want you here till my last moment. After all, we have no secrets to talk about. You are aware of everything.”
A strange feeling engulfed Guru. What sort of relationship is these two enjoying? So perfect and so healthy!
“Guru. Did you receive my letter? Why didn’t you reply? Did you know your memories were thorns in my smooth life with Ravi? I wanted to weed away those thorns but my stupid mind, which was pierced so wildly by you, would not let me do that. That’s why I sought your help. You have arrived very late Guru”, said Sarala between her sobs.
“Sarala. I am so sorry. I feel ashamed to use that term. Yes. I had no explanation to give you Sarala. It is just that I cheated! The lure of physical looks and money overtook my senses! Sindhu is also a very good lady but I didn’t respect her also. I just want to say that you are lucky to have married Ravi, the perfect gentleman. You deserved him and not a cheat like me. I have suffered enough for ruining your rosy path with thorns. At least now, get well and lead a smooth life with Ravi, Sarala. I am really sorry, though that can never bring back the past and make up for the damage already done”. Guru started sobbing intensely. Ravi patted him with his gentle touch.
Sarala looked at Ravi and beckoned him to go near her. She held his hands tightly and kissed them.
“Yes, Guru. In fact, I am lucky to marry this wonderful person. Pray that I can spend a few more years with him peacefully.”
Guru just hurried out of the room and left Sarala’s house abruptly. He did not want to see a sad ending. He just wished that Sarala’s prayers were answered positively by God.