You And Me
You And Me
"Amma, Amma, please drink at least this juice Amma. You have not had anything since morning", said Ravi.
"Ravi, I simply do not feel like having anything. Please do not force me. Please let me go. My time is up. I am waiting only to meet Pushpa. Have you informed her?"
"Yes, Amma! I have called up Srinivasa uncle. He said he would be getting her today. She will definitely come. Don't worry."
Chandra turned towards the wall. Tears rolled down her cheeks. 'Pushpa, how are you? Hope Srini is taking good care of you', she said to herself.
When Chandra met Pushpa in that high school for the first time, she never knew that the two of them would become life-long friends. They were from the nearby villages. There were only eight girls in that class of 35. Four girls were from the same village and hence always flocked together. The other two girls were very quiet and did not talk much. Pushpa and Chandra became close because they had common interests and goals. Both of them wanted to go to college, study up to post-graduation, take up jobs and lead independent lives. They did well in school but both of them had to put up a fight with their families to go to Mysore and continue education.
"My father does not mind me going to Mysore, but my mother is dead against that. She says I have to get married in a year or two. She asks me to learn tailoring and stay at home", said Pushpa.
"Both my brothers encourage me to go and study. But my father is not willing to send me. He says he wants to get me married immediately, as my mother is not alive to share the responsibility. Unless I get married, my brothers cannot marry. That is his concern", said Chandra.
Pushpa was the eldest of three daughters and two sons. Her father was the village accountant. Theirs was a very traditional family. Her brother Gopala was a farmer. He just finished his schooling and settled down in the village. Her younger brother Srinivasa was in the eighth grade. He was a very bright student. Her two sisters were still in middle school.
Chandra's father had a lot of landed property in the village and was a very respectable farmer. Both his sons just finished school and started helping him on the farm. Chandra, being the only daughter, was pampered and doted upon, more because she lost her mother when she was just eight years old. Since her mother's death, her father only took care of the kitchen, with the help of Subbamma, a destitute woman, who worked for them since long. He wanted a break from that responsibility and thought that if his sons get married, he would get some relief.
However, Pushpa and Chandra were too stubborn. "No way, I am not going to marry right now. I want to become a post-graduate and earn my living", said Chandra. Her brothers convinced the father, who finally agreed to admit her in a college in Mysore. Then, Pushpa fought her battle at home, brought her principal Rajagopal Sir home, to convince her mother and she too got admitted to the same college.
The two of them rented a small house (an outhouse, as it is called) in Sridhar Sir's house. Sridhar Sir was a lecturer in their college and they knew him even before because he hailed from the town where they did their high school and his father was Rajagopal Sir, their principal. Sridhar's family was big – his wife, three children, his brother Rama, his wife and two children and his unmarried sister Gopi were all living in the main house. They had an inhouse cook and a maid who came every day to help them.
"Don't worry Sir, the two girls will be safe here. We will take care of them. The college is just 5 minutes away from here. The bus stand too is just a kilometre away. Whenever they want to go home, they can catch buses from there", said Sridhar to Chandra's brother, who came to drop both of them.
Thus started a very interesting, eventful and enjoyable journey for Chandra and Pushpa. Mysore was a very peaceful and small city then. People were very friendly and helpful. Chandra and Pushpa had no problems at all. Sridhar's family took good care of them and they too were very helpful to them. Both of them did their B.Sc. For M.Sc., Pushpa chose Mathematics and Chandra chose Physics as the major subject.
During the five years, Pushpa and Chandra really got very close to each other and decided that they would spend their entire life together and hence will not get married. After M.Sc., when both the families started pushing them to get married, they vehemently refused. They both got jobs in a very prestigious school in Bangalore and shifted to Bangalore, against the wishes of the families.
Pushpa's brothers and sisters got married and settled down in different places. Her brother Srinivasa settled down in Bangalore, when he got into a State Government job. Her parents lived in the village with her other brother Gopala. They were old and tired of advising Pushpa. They were angry with her and did not even visit her in Bangalore, when they came to Srinivasa's house.
Chandra's father died and her brothers were happy taking care of the farm. Their children were studying well. They all loved Chandra and visited her often and she too visited them at least twice a year. The children respected her a lot and were proud that she had won the Best Teacher's award.
Though the bonding between Chandra and Pushpa was strong, Pushpa did feel a bit uncomfortable whenever Chandra's family members visited them. She felt bad that except her sister Kamala, no other family member was friendly with her. Kamala lived in Mumbai and came down very rarely. Srinivasa was just cordial when she visited her parents in his house but not very friendly. His wife was very unfriendly. 'What have I done to her? I am leading my life independently. Why does she ignore me?' Pushpa wondered.
"Pushpa, appa and amma are getting old and taking care of them has become a challenge. Gopala or his wife cannot come because they have to take care of the farm. Why don't you come and live with us so that you can be of help?" Srinivasa posed this question. Pushpa was taken aback. Of course, she was willing to help but she could not stay with his family, as his wife and children hardly spoke to her.
"Chandra, my parents need to be cared for. Srinivasa is finding it difficult to manage them continuously. He wants me to go there and help. But you know how is family is. I, therefore, feel I can get them here and take care. Do you mind?"
Chandra did not expect this proposal and she could not immediately reply. "Pushpa, we have been living on our own for so long. Your parents are not even very friendly with you. Now, will they agree to come here? What about our lifestyle? Will they not be averse to my presence here, as they always blamed me for your decision of not getting married? Think over! Anyway, you are 50% owner of this house and you may decide what you want. But our friendship should not get affected by this great change".
Pushpa thought over but had no option. She somehow convinced her parents and brought them over. They were very tough on Chandra and found many occasions to hurt and insult her. "Not only did you not marry, you did not let Pushpa too to marry. What kind of life is this? You will have nobody when you get old. How will you both manage?" Pushpa's mother said.
"Atthe, life moves on for everybody. Look at Bama auntie and Nagaraj uncle, who live upstairs. They have five children. A son and a daughter live right here in Bangalore. Yet, they are to themselves. Nobody even visits them. You are lucky that your children are taking care of you. These days most of the old people fend for themselves and when they become physically incapacitated, they move to senior citizens' homes. We are also planning to do that. Don't worry about us", replied Chandra.
There were small little skirmishes between Pushpa and Chandra during that phase. Pushpa really found it very difficult to balance between her parents and Chandra. After three years Pushpa's mother fell ill and passed away. She was hospitalised for a month and Pushpa was very upset when Chandra went away to her village as it was summer vacation, leaving her all alone to handle. Srinivasa did help her. After her mother's demise, her father wished to go to Gopala's house in the village
"I hung on only for your mother's sake. I want to die in the village. She could never get along with Gopala's wife. I have no problem. I will manage. Your wife is sick and cannot take care of me. I cannot burden Pushpa any further, as she has to go to school and has nobody to help her. I feel Chandra is not happy with us around", said her father to Srinivasa.
When Chandra came on hearing about the demise, Pushpa did not even talk to her properly. She was angry. Chandra got the hint but did not precipitate it further. After that, somehow their relationship did not seem like before.
"Pushpa, when I went to the village recently, my brothers were discussing about our future. They wanted me to go the village and live with them after retirement. However, I got another great idea. I thought I could adopt my nephew Ravi. He is 14 and is very mature and well-behaved. He wants to study in Bangalore. He loves me a lot. He will be a great support for both of us," said Chandra.
Pushpa was shocked. "You want to adopt? Are you mad? What about our pact to live together till we die? How can we let a third person into our lives? Why will your brother and sister-in-law agree? You can always support him for studying here and maybe he could stay with us during his education but why adopt him?" said Pushpa.
"Pushpa, I have spoken to my brother and sister-in-law. After a lot of discussion, they have accepted my proposal because they have three other children. Ravi too is willing. Anyway, he is grown up and understands his responsibility towards me and his parents. I told him that you are a part of family and he has to respect you and take care of you too. He said, 'of course, don't I know Pushpa Atthe is a part of our family? Don't worry. I will take care of both of you.' I feel it will be nice to have a younger life in our house. He will not come in the way of our friendship."
"Chandra, you could not put up with my own parents for a few years and you expect me to welcome a third person into our lives permanently. How fair is this? If you were so lonely without your 'own' family, you could have told me back then and got married. I wouldn't have stopped you. Trusting you, I showed my back to my family and today, you are taking such a big decision, without even consulting me." Pushpa could not talk further and choked. She went and shut herself in her room. She cried a lot.
The two of them did not talk to each other for a week. Then Pushpa told Chandra, "Chandra, I don't think our life together can be as smooth as before. Once we do not agree on important issues, it is better for us to separate and at least maintain our friendship from a distance. I have decided to move into a small house near Srinivasa's house. You may do as you like. Let us keep in touch and stand for each other during crises."
The departing was a very emotional one and both of them cried bitterly. Almost a year after that, the two of them did not talk to each other. Pushpa even quit from the school within a month after leaving Chandra's home and took up a job near her new house. The school authorities were shocked by her resignation. "What's the problem Pushpa? You are such a respected senior teacher. Why this sudden decision? Are you not happy with our pay packet? You can discuss with us", said the Principal Mahalakshmi.
"No Madam! That's not the issue. I am very happy here and I know how much I will miss this school and my dear children, who love me. I have some serious personal problem. Please do not force me to share that with you. I am sorry."
Chandra was silent and morose during the farewell party. Not that their colleagues did not observe the change in the two of them. They were fondly referred to as 'twins' because they were always together.
After a year, Chandra came to the school where Pushpa now worked. "Pushpa, how can you be so stone-hearted? You did not even call me. When I call you, you do not receive my call. Is this the end of our lifelong friendship? We could talk and solve our differences. I am unable to stay without even seeing you or talking to you. Please come back. Forget the bitter past".
"Chandra, has Ravi already come? Are you done with the formalities? Don't mistake me. I needed some time to get over the shock. This was a big change for me. It's okay. Now we have moved on. I cannot come back and live under the same roof once again. I am happy alone. Srinivasa and his family live close-by. His children are now grown up and are friendlier than before. You too come home whenever you can. I will also visit you. Let us go out to movies or concerts. Oh, yes, are we not retiring next year? Let us celebrate our retirement together, though we will be retiring 3 months apart."
Chandra knew Pushpa's decision was strong. She went back totally disappointed. However, the friendship continued, as suggested by Pushpa. They hosted a grand party for their retirement and invited all friends and the family members. Pushpa introduced Ravi to all the friends as, "meet my dear friend Chandra's son Ravi".
After retirement, Pushpa started volunteering in a charitable school. Chandra started taking tuitions at home. Years passed by. Pushpa and Chandra continued their individual lives, also keeping in touch with each other. Ravi completed his Ph.D in the Indian Institute of Science and stayed on there doing his post-doctoral studies and later as a faculty. He was allotted a beautiful quarter in the campus. He shifted to the quarter along with his wife Meena, daughter Sindhu and Chandra. Chandra agreed to shift only after a lot of coaxing. She arranged for the sale of the house and sent Pushpa's share to her account. It was an emotional moment for Chandra to leave that house, where she had spent a lot of good times with her dear friend Pushpa.
"Ravi, Pushpa and I had decided to live together for life. Somehow, we got separated. At least now, we both can go and live in a senior citizen home together", said Chandra.
"No way Amma! Why did I agree to be adopted by you? To send you away to a shelter? Don't ever suggest such things. Pushpa auntie can come whenever she wants and you can go to her house whenever you want. I will take you", said Ravi.
Years went by. The friendship continued. Chandra had a heart attack a couple of years ago and thereafter her health took a downward slide. At the age of 75, she became bedridden. Till she had the attack, she continued visiting Pushpa at least once a month, as she lived just seven kilometres away. Thankfully, Pushpa was in good health. However, her nephew Srikanth insisted that she should live with them and not all alone in her house and she now lives with Srikanth, along with her brother Srinivasa, sister-in-law, Srikanth's wife and two children. Srinivasa's two daughters were married and settled down in different cities. Srikanth and his wife work in multi-national companies and renovated their house, with enough space for everybody. Srikanth's wife Nalini is a very sweet person and takes good care of her in-laws, including Pushpa. Pushpa spends time teaching Srikanth's children, helping Nalini with the kitchen work and also reading a lot. From the time Chandra fell ill, Pushpa made it a point to visit her at least once a month and spend a couple of hours, reading to her or recollecting good old memories.
"Pushpa, Ravi called me today. Looks like your phone was not reachable. He told me Chandra auntie is very sick and wants to meet you immediately. Get ready. I have booked a taxi. Let's go right now", said Srinivasa.
Pushpa was sad. She knew this was coming, because during her last visit, Chandra looked very weak and frail. Ravi had told her that she was eating very little and was lying down totally depressed.
"Chandra, Chandra, I am here. Open your eyes", called out Pushpa. After repeated attempts, she opened her eyes gradually. The moment she recognised Pushpa, she smiled and tears rolled down her cheeks. Chandra caressed her head and held her hand.
"Pushpa, tha…nks for coming", she somehow expressed. She could not talk further. Pushpa sat beside her for a long time. Silence was the best medium of communication between them. Chandra closed her eyes. After a couple of hours, Pushpa tried waking her up but chandra could only open her eyes partly and went back to sleep. Pushpa left with a heavy heart and loads of memories.
Next morning, Chandra passed away in her sleep peacefully. Thus ended a sixty-year-old friendship. Did it really end? No, as long as Pushpa lives! Pushpa had too many memories of their relationship, which will keep haunting, comforting and soothing her for the rest of her life!