Sunday 29 July 2012

PART TWO OF "BONDING" By Lakshmi Raj Sharma

This takes the story of "Bonding" to its surprising conclusion. The story focuses on the cultural situations that occur in a country like India that has a proud heritage, coupled with a traditional past, and how modern thought and pressures have an impact.
Lakshmi Raj Sharma, the well-known Indian aurhor, is prfessor of English and European Languages at Allahabad University.

                                                     Bonding (part 2)

Himanshu observed Suparna. But he didn’t realize that as he did that he became the object of Pallavi’s observation. Pallavi adored the man who remained undisturbed by a wife like Suparna. What was more, Pallavi hated Suparna for never realizing the fact that Himanshu was doing what very few men could do. The more Pallavi asked Suparna to pay attention to this fact the more agitated Suparna became, till she finally asked Pallavi a question.
‘Have you come to Saharnpur for me or for Himanshu?’
‘For Himanshu.’
‘For Himanshu????’
‘Yes, for him. I knew your feelings towards men, and I had to save this man from you. You could have easily become violent against him, as you did with that Urfi. I was really worried about your husband.’
‘My husband? Crap! And balls! Who can call himself my husband? Who has the guts to do that?’
‘The one you married, Suparna!’
‘What’s wrong with you Pallavi? You are becoming more and more disappointing! You . . . . I am not talking to you! You’ve really changed! What’s happened to you? Has someone done some jaadu-tonaa on you. Who could have thought that my own Pallavi will be talking to me like this?’
‘If you call me your own Suparna, you should listen to me. We were quite stupid then, in College. Our actions were so silly, so unthought, so unsocial. We are born into a world where we are responsible to someone, to some people, to a community, to a society. We cannot run a society according to our own whims!’
‘You cheat! You were cheating me all these days? I hate you!’
‘Suparna, please don’t say that! You were so protective towards me, so loving, how could I have disappointed you. I was so much under your emotional debts. I had no one to love me at home, and here was someone pouring oceans of love on me. How could I have not responded to you then? How could I have broken your heart?’
‘By the same logic, how can you break my heart now?’
‘Now you are in a different situation. You are married, damn it! How can you treat your marriage like a joke? How can you have no consideration for the man you have married? Is he made of wood or stone? He also has a heart. When someone marries a woman he has expectations from her, he gives her the most significant place in his life. And you have just kicked him aside for doing that? Can’t you see what the poor man is going through?’
‘Poor man? The poor man is having a gala time. He married one wife but he has two women to call his own. He is having a rollicking time, Pallavi. We are the ones who are breaking up. He has divided us so smartly. He believes in divide and rule. He has poisoned you against me. That is the way men have ruled over us for centuries. Women stand no chance; they will always be outsmarted by men because women themselves are enemies of women. They will always support men against their own sex!’
‘Suparna! Stop crying, Suparna! I did not want to hurt you!’
‘No, you wanted to kill me, Pallavi. This is how you can murder me! Go ahead kill me, kill me, kill me!’
Pallavi had no option but to embrace Suparna. Suparna tried to break free first but then allowed her tears to get the better of her. She wept to her heart’s content as her bosom merged with her companion’s.
Suparna was once again able to get the emotional support she needed from Pallavi. But this time the situation was slightly different. Pallavi was supporting her only because without that Suparna would have broken down. She had to therefore quietly confide in Himanshu and convince him that she was staying in his house only to help Suparna accept him as husband. Himanshu was touched by Pallavi’s decision to stay on. He allowed her to have a free hand in whatever strategy she had in mind. When his mother made the mistake of complaining that Pallavi was overstaying and maintained that she ought to leave as she had been with them for more than a month, Himanshu came down heavily upon her. He had worked hard for the family’s business to be able to afford a guest staying with the family. This was the only guest he had ever had who came to stay with them. What was the point in doing business instead of a job if one could never even host a friend?
Pallavi was playing a double game. She had to do this very carefully. The slightest mistake would break her ties with Suparna or with Himanshu. She had to keep their trust in tact. Haider saw what a wonderful person Pallavi was. He kept telling his wife, the agreeable Saba, about this girl’s remarkable character. As a result there was much interest generated with regard to Suparna and Pallavi in Haider’s home. Hyder lived with his wife and her divorcee sister, Shama in a set up that wasn’t enviable. There were always problems. Saba wondered whether Haider was gradually developing more regard for her charming sister than was good for his health. Shama had the misery of nowhere to go as her widowed mother had died soon after her marriage. She was there like a hot potato which could neither be swallowed nor spitted out. She had little option but to be in Haider’s home if she was to live. But she could have aroused too much pity in Haider’s heart and ended up as his second wife. Saba therefore thought it a good idea to visit Himanshu’s place where Shama’s mind would find diversion in the fascinating situation that existed there.
Pallavi also liked the presence of the sisters as that helped easing Suparna’s tension. Suparna had been getting into fits of moodiness and posing problems for everyone. Suparna was keen on female company and these soft spoken women had a special appeal for her. That evening she was fascinated by the lemon gharara worn by Shama and the light blue one that her sister wore. She herself had got used to wearing jeans in Delhi and now in Saharanpur she found herself wearing saris or salwar suits as she had married into a traditional home and Pallavi insisted that she wear the expensive clothes that her rich father had packed with her. Suparna was on the point of finally rejecting cumbersome clothes when she saw, this evening, how graceful women could look if they wore traditional clothes. Of course she could never even dream of wearing these clothes herself unless she was dressing for a fancy dress show. For her, comfort came first and then anything else. But the fact was that Saba and Shama wore such beautiful dresses and Suparna adored the women in them. Women had this unique quality. They dressed up aesthetically for the pleasure of others. Suparna was not like other women in this; she treated herself like a man and thought it was her job to admire the effort the two women had put into their dressing.
‘How beautiful these ghararas are,’ Suparna said to them.
‘They were stitched by Ammi. She was old and sick in her last days, but she sat up and stitched our ghararas so painstakingly,’ said Shama.
‘O, so they are not readymade? How wonderful!’
‘Ammi was a rare kind of woman,’ said Saba.
‘Women are women! They are always rare,’ said Suparna. ‘Women know that they have to live up to situations. They are not like men who do what they want to rather than what they must.’

Pallavi welcomed this argument from Suparna because she wanted her to rise to her own situation and settle down well with her husband.
‘How right, Suparna,’ she said. ‘A woman may come from any part of the world; her one purpose in life is to build a home, to promote the family and the husband’s interests.’
Suparna was not happy with this statement at all. She ignored Pallavi’s remark, got up and went to sit near Shama. Her movement was a signal to Pallavi, ‘Don’t say such things or you’ll annoy me!’

Pallavi got the message that Suparna wasn’t very happy when she raised the point about the importance of the home in a woman’s life. But she continued to smile at her as Suparna went and sat near Shama. Pallavi noticed that Shama had striking oriental features and wondered why a husband could have deserted such a beautiful wife.
Suparna was not far from noticing Shama’s charming face, either. She sat near her and began to probe into her life. Before long she had gathered that there was no chance of Shama and her husband getting back with each other and that now Shama was free to remarry or live the life of a prisoner. Shama did not even imagine that there was the possibility of life without a man. Suparna thought it her responsibility to make Shama understand how much was possible without a husband; that it was every woman’s right to enjoy life rather than be chained down mentally and physically to the drudgeries of a wife’s responsibilities. Suparna’s talk cheered up Shama and she suddenly seemed to change; giving up her ‘all gone’ state for a ‘so, all is not lost yet’ attitude. Suparna had the art of intellectual discourse and her talent lay in convincing women about their strengths. Marriage was, of course, not her cup of tea. Instead of making her happy it would make her gloomy. Her parents ought to have known that. She was clearly in the wrong place in Himanshu’s home. She told Shama as much in one of her weaker moments.
‘Why did you marry him, then?’ asked Shama.
‘Marriages are made in heaven, Shama!’
‘You are quite right. I was also married off to a man because he was rich, not because I loved him. I tried my best to stop the marriage from materializing, but my father knew what he was doing. I never allowed my husband to sleep with me.’
‘Good! That is exactly as it ought to be.’

Bitterness towards Pallavi grew in Suparna’s heart. Pallavi had turned out to be like any other woman, supporting a silly man slavishly. When would sense dawn on Indian women, she wondered. Till when would they bear the yoke of men? Could they never derive happiness from each other without thinking of men? It was a sickening state of affairs, she thought. Pallavi’s presence was gradually becoming a pain for Suparna. She didn’t know how to tell her that, though. Pallavi had come to Saharanpur at her request after all. It was probably best to wait and watch her behavior. Pallavi could see Suparna cooling off, and began to busy herself with an e-book, the novel, Leap of Faith, that had just come out.

That evening when Suparna asked her to accompany her to Shama and Saba, Pallavi said that she had a headache and would rather stay back. This seemed to suit Suparna because she would have all the time with the sisters to herself. She walked to the neighborhood friends to have a change.

When Himanshu found Pallavi alone he wondered what the matter was. After an initial hesitation for more than an hour, he walked up to her room and tried to find out. He discovered her sitting with her Kindle reading something. When he entered she got up from her sofa and asked him to sit on the other one in front of her. They both sat down a little formally and a little awkwardly at first. But before five minutes could elapse they were perfectly comfortable with each other. Pallavi told him about her life as it led to the Suparna phase and dwelt at length on how miserable her childhood had been. She then began to apologize for Suparna’s unbecoming behavior towards him.
‘But why should you be apologetic? I did not marry Suparna on your recommendation. It was my fate. I had even decided to marry her off to the man of her choice, but then I realize that she was interested in no man but in women. We were just not made for each other. I have managed to keep the flood of rage from overwhelming till now. But I do not know till when I will be able to contain it within myself. I once wanted to come down very heavily upon you because you had known that she was my wife and yet you came to wreck my home at her invitation. How could you ever have done such a thing? If you had not been so graceful in all your dealings, I might have gathered the courage to give it to you properly. But whenever I saw you I was tongue-tied. You have something so magical about you. I thought it have been this magic which you probably caste upon Suparna as well.’

Pallavi began to sob and then became hysterical. Himanshu thought it necessary to comfort her before one of his parents entered the room to see what the problem was. He went up to her, raised her from the sofa and held her close to himself. The more he pressed her closer, the more she seemed to break down. Finally, she too picked up her arms and embraced him. In that position, without meeting his eyes, she told him everything about how she had been depending upon Suparna’s support which was emotional to begin with but which had acquired a physical nature later. And now she was prepared to do anything to set the situation for Suparna and her husband right. She would leave them in their home to try out their luck with each other and return to her father to begin life anew. She told him all this while still locked in his arms and little wanting to be set free. Just then the curtain shook and Suparna entered. The two pulled themselves away from each other and stood there looking shaken and guilty.
‘Headache? This is the headache that you told me about? Headache! I am ashamed of you, Pallavi. Disgusting! But I suppose this is the best thing to have happened because I in any case had decided to take Shama with me to Delhi. We decided we’d live there instead of this place which is so unnatural for both of us. I have enough inheritance with me to support her. We’ve decided we’re doing a garment business there. I think she is an amazing person and not such a traitor like you, Pallavi. She is also in a very unenviable situation in that home; always living under suspicion that she could become her brother-in-law’s second wife. For no fault of hers she has to suffer there so much. Like me, she too was married to man. Even her parents could not see that all women are not the same. Some prefer to live in female company. In this man’s world, if a woman says that she does not like the company of men, she is treated as though she were a sinner.’

Pallavi and Himanshu looked stunned as Suparna walked out of their lives forever. But there was some relief for everyone in this arrangement, and so neither Himanshu nor Pallavi uttered a word. Silence seemed so much preferable.

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