• kewal sethi

too close for comfort

too close for comfort

kewal krishan sethi

on a pleasant evening, it was my practice to take a walk and what better place to do it then the wide road that was very sparingly used. and can one be surprised if one met an old friend along the road who has the same idea. and it happened on that day which i remember so well. we walked along and chanced to read, or rather, had nothing better to do then read the advertisements that was displayed on the billboards that was tied to the telephone poles. there was a new slogan and it read ”indu is film”.

“wrong”, said my friend, “indu was my love, or rather my third love.”

it was very natural to ask- ^who were the first two”.

“ well, the first one was mahindra and the second was sneh prabha”.

i was interested. where did she live.

oh! - near connaught place - hailey road to be exact“.

“would that be 9, hailey road”

“yes, of course, how do you know”?

how did i know? i should have. it was there that i had gone to on my wedding day, sitting awkwardly on a mare with a loud band and dancing, rather jumping about, relatives in front and some stragglers behind. it was there that i and sneh prabha became man and wife. that was 10 years ago. i was now the father and she the mother of two. but did i ever suspect the truth. she was the third, no second love of this devil in the sheep clothing. how close were they. knowing this man, it could be the worst. he had a ways of that type - attractive, handsome, likely to entangle the hearts of innocent girls. he had just the right type of and just haircut the right knowledge of the modern art which so beguile the artless young hearts. he had just the right collection of the books, rites type of pictures and just the right type of the photographs of the actors and actresses. he had learnt the dialogues n his armoury which the heroines of the indian screen would have liked to hear. it is quite possible.

but what about her? did i ever suspect?. but then women are always so clever in these matters. who can say what their secrets are. never had we exchanged any gossip about the days that had gone by before we had met. or rather, i had said plenty but she said very little in response. i was so engrossed that i did not even notice this strange phenomenon. but now it all came alive. it was all so sudden, so recent an event. did she remember him whenever i touched her. yes, she did. whenever i touched her, she did. she seemed to withdraw into herself every time it happened. i did not think it was in any way strange. that was the way with the young brides, i had told myself. but now i knew the real reason. it was not all that innocent.

that night, i return home as a sad man, and, of course, and, of course, earlier than. usual. the walk was an unpleasant affair but the welcome that i received was even more so. “what! you are back already. are you well”.

it is this sort of sort of hypocrisy which i dislike. i could not come back to my own house when i wanted to. i was unwelcome. the longer i was out, the better it was. i abhorred search queries. they made me sick. i did not reply. what is the use of creating a scene. but would she let me be. oh no! still it would not be correct to lose my temper even if all the provocation was there. i could not be a beast. no, it would be alright. whatever is, is. one cannot change it. one must endure it. that is the only way for a man to behave.

i moved away slowly i went to my bed. i lay awake for long time that day and when eventually sleep came, the great relief came.. but that day even this was short and brought up only visuals and i woke up quite worked up. i checked the time. it was three o'clock. i tried to go back to sleep. i counted all the sheep that i could imagine. i walked to and fro over the length and breadth of the small courtyard that we had many times over. and mean time she slept. did she know about me? i lay down again. i went over the scene in my office that happened that day. but it was a changed one now. the boss had found an imaginary mistake in my work. he well knew that it all signified to me to be told that i should be careful. i ran the office almost single handed. i was at my sarcastic best. the boss wilted against my jabs. i had a field day until suddenly the boss came back with quite irrelevant remark. as i was preparing to deliver a final jab, the boss said, ”indu is my third love”. and i was left with a pain in the pit of my stomach. but i was relentless . and i picked up the pieces and went to war with the gatekeeper who had bugged me 3 weeks back. i had my way till the gate keeper the word ‘indu’. how did it get into the dialogue. i was providing the script. even so it was there and the scene to be cut. i was back with the present . i woke up.

sleep did finally come and then went away. with a dullness that i had not experienced earlier. i got ready and went to the office. the office was a dull affair that day. the boss was as surly as usual ever but was too busy to be of any help. one could always discuss the boss. one could mimic him. but what can you do if a man is sullen and keep calling everyone at different times to come and go, to go and come. if everybody is kept moving, that is hardly the way one can develop gossip session.

i returned home even more sullen than when i had left. and mind you, this went on for nine days. each day was worse than the previous one. even my wife noticed it, she , for whom. the phrase ‘are you well’ was synonym with ‘how do you do’ and ‘ good morning’. she was so concerned. she was so soliciting. she was so consoling. she was so good. she was disgusting. what do you do with such women. but i was so accommodating. i was silent.

fortunately, the boss wanted to check up on something and that thing was far away. he could not go there himself, so i was sent instead. a new town, a new atmosphere and no nags. it was so far removed from that woman and that man. did they meet? but he did not know my residence. i married when he was away from delhi and for more than 5 years. i had not only changed my marital status, i had also changed my residence. he had not been to my new place. it was a happy place. i had two very lovely children. i was a happy man. it was a new city. it was so good of the boss to send me there. the work was easy. suddenly all trouble seemed to vanish. i would talk to her. she has always been so good to me. always faithful. he was just a cloud on the horizon. a wind blew him there. another following close behind had blown him away. it was all over. so many flirt. he was disgustingly smart. but he was never a wrong type. no, it did not matter. i will talk it over with her.

. with a happy heart, i returned home. the boss was happy with the report that i had brought. someone had taken the beastly report that had been lying on my table when i went. there was an urgent reference and it had to be tackled on that very day. it was a busy day. back home, the children were happy with knick knacks that i had brought. it really it was serenely calm. the children went to sleep and i was finally free to talk. i would be very casual. it was merely an idea. i did not mean anything by it. it had faded a long time ago. i went at it. i mentioned the name. there was no reaction. she could not have forgotten the name. perhaps she had not heard right. but she must have. why did not she say anything something? why did the talk go away to the relatives whose letters had been received in my absence. again i worked and brought the talk around to this man. i mentioned his name. i said i had met this friend. i said that he lives quite near. she did not even care for the information. why? no doubt, she wanted to avoid the reference. it brought back memories that she had been trying to forget. by avoiding the mention of that name, she was trying to avoid the harsh realities. could she? was it so simple? could she not say how nice he was. how handsome he was. it would have been so comforting. it could have been so reassuring. it was an episode, to be described and shelved. but no, it was much more. why did she not like the mention of the name? even after all this time, it was that bad. how bad it was at that time?. oh! the monstrosity of the women. how they can fool a man for ten long years. one did not suspect and it was there all the time. what perfidy. shame, shame on the sex. pity after the pain. why? why? why should this have happen to me. what have i done to deserve this? what crime had i committed? was it this birth? i could not remember any. it must have been in the last one. was it that bad to deserve this much punishment. where is the escape? what penitence is required for the atonement of the guilt of the previous birth? .

that place, so far away, was so troublesome. the boss was a beast. if it had been a comfortable flight, he would have gone there himself. for that disgusting out of the way place, we were expected to be beast of burden. what was the work that i was doing there running to and fro collecting information which was meaningless? of which no use would ever be made. and why did she did not understand what had happened? why was she still behaving as if i was a happy man. that is what is wrong with these nags. they do not leave you alone. they hover around. if it is not asking you about your health, it is about their ailments, all imaginary, certainly. why can't they give up this habit?

what followed was a nightmare. naturally. living in a house where such hypocrite live. what botheration. could one understand it. and on top of it, to meet him. what had providence got against me. and not only to meet him alone but to do so when he had company. and some of them our mutual friends. one cannot get away. it is maddening. who made this etiquettes?. fool of the first order. if one felt like it, why could one not just walk away. gentlemanliness. unhh !

but then that coffee house or rather the house of the mutual friend who offered coffee. bitter. did they have no sugar in the house. only the sugar coated sweet tongued chaps who stole other people's wife are rather ex wives or, to be more precise, pre wives. how does one describe them? and what was he saying, holding the floor as always. remembering some anecdote from his dirty past. no doubt.

what was the question the mutual friend was asking. why do they encourage him to relate his immoral stories. what is it? “ever seen a girl he could not resist following”? did he? he must have. must have done it every day of his scandalous youth. that was what he lived for.

“yes i did”. of course he did. was there a doubt about it?

“only once”.

what a lie. but then when was that one.

“once i was standing at a bus stop waiting for a bus number 24 in connaught place. february 21 of the year of our lord 1962” .

he remembers the date. as if he was telling it every day. was it only one such date? the. scoundrel.

“suddenly three girls got down from a bus. one of them was such that i could not help it. i followed them. discreetly for a long distance. right up to their, rather her, house. i remember it as if it was yesterday. number of the house is engraved in my memory. i never met here again. i had other things to attend to. more urgent things and more entertaining. but i remember her as my second love. but then you cannot remember someone unless you give her a name i don't know why i gave her the name - sneh prabha. i wonder where she is now”.

the sun begin to smile through the clouds,

no, i am wrong.

it was evening and it was the moon smiling through the clouds.

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