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Short Stories

Separate Paths

Written By: Smt.Sundri Uttamchandani

I don’t know what got into me that I turned Subhadradevi’s photo upside down. As Ravi got home, his gaze immediately fell on the upside down photograph and he asked, “Who turned this photograph?”
For a moment I thought of saying that Baby did it. But I was habituated to telling the truth, so I said, “I did it.”
He quietly went towards his room. It is not right to say ‘quietly’. At first he threw a bitter glance at me, then he set the photograph straight and after that he did look in my direction, as if I did not exist for him. I thought I must pull him from behind and ask him, “If Subhadradevi was everything to you then what was the need to bring me into this house?”

But now I couldn’t expect the same loving answer of the first night to the same question so what was the need to spoil my mood? Then I thought that even on that first night when he had replied, “You look like Subhadra that is why I went after you.” Even then that answer did not appeal to me internally because as I understand today, no woman wants to be the ‘other’ woman in her husband’s life…No! I am not thinking straight. Every woman perhaps wishes to be the ‘other’ woman but by her own choice. But if her husband looks at her as the ‘other’ woman then perhaps she doesn’t like that. Yes, that is right, that is why after a few months of marriage when Ravi had called me Subhadra I had jumped out of the bed…And he repeatedly told me that since Subhadra was already dead there was no reason for me to be envious. Even then why do I hear bitter voices inside me like a peacock’s painful cries? I want to be myself and I want someone to love me for me, Savita…”

One night, crying bitterly, I told him, “I feel that because of this photograph of Subhadra there is a hair-line thin gap between our complete love for each other.” This time he jumped out of bed and there was a light in his eyes, “I thought that you too would love the one I love.”
On close examination, I saw that what was shining in his eyes were tears, which he did not shed before me…A man after all is a king with a king-like ego!

“Ravi!” I had also called out to him once, but that night he did not just go into another room but rather miles away from me. Every moment I felt as though the both of us - two very different people - had made a mistake by getting stuck with each other. He desired an artist like Subhadra and I don’t deny that at times through pure hatred I may have even referred to her as a ‘dancer’ and shown my envy to Ravi. But in Ravi’s absence and hidden from him, I had gone and enrolled myself in a dance class. What excuse could I give myself for this? My intelligent mind gave me an answer that ‘Savita, you love Subhadra too. You acted in school plays and danced to the music - perhaps there is a dancer hidden within you too and that is why Ravi had said on the first night that you looked like Subhadra and that is why he came after you.’

But today when he threw a bitter glance at me after the photograph incident and went away into the other room - at that moment I thought to myself that if Subhadra was alive today I would have killed her…
But this bad luck was not the only thing poisoning my life. One day Ravi came home and announced, “Ashadevi has arrived. I have arranged a poetry reading here, at home tonight.”
“Asha? Chhee. A poetess with a name Asha? Such a common name! She could have called herself Aisha or Ashna…isn’t she a poetess herself?”
“No” Ravi said. “She has learnt some folk dances and it is heard that she has a sweet voice.”

I said, “If she reads your poems well I shall record them.” And really, the poems were worth recording…
The poems were of course good because they were written by Ravi but they became even better because of Asha’s voice.
It was ten in the night and Asha was anxious as she wanted to go home. Ravi told her laughingly, “You may go but one more of my collection of poems has to experience the sweetness of your voice. It has not been recorded by Savita.”
“I shall come tomorrow again…Even the day after…I shall not stop until I have rendered all your poems. There are hardly any good artists in our city.”

Ravi said, “Asha devi first just see how small is our city. Barely five thousand square miles…”
Asha replied, “But the mountains, waterfalls and greenery have made it more beautiful than heaven.”
I thought of saying ,”Though I have not seen your city but I love my country so much that I can actually feel the extent of your love for your city.” But these words could not come out of me. A few of Ravi’s other friends too had come. They were the ones who showed Ravi’s house to Ashadevi. Though the friends could drop Asha devi to her relative’s place, Ravi went along with them. They bribed the taxi driver with a few extra rupees and five of them went into the taxi, instead of four.

After they left, I don’t know what insecurity gripped me. I thought to myself that these men are quite strange! If Ravi had not gone with them, would these friends have kidnapped Asha devi? Ravi returned after an hour. I was listening to Meena Kumari’s songs which I had recorded. A feeling of sadness had come over me. As soon as Ravi came, he removed that tape and inserted Ashadevi’s tape. Some melody was going in my mind which was jolted…I did not like this forceful behaviour of Ravi. I went quietly and started making the baby’s bed. The baby was looking very cute in her sleep and as I kissed her, she awoke.
As she awoke, she started howling for her papa. Ravi was completely immersed in listening to his poems sung by Ashadevi. When I called out to him to pick the baby, he did not answer. Even otherwise, he does not listen to anything while writing poems. Somehow I managed to calm the baby and put her to sleep. I too slept with her. It was almost midnight when I realized that Ravi was still sitting on the armchair and the tape recorder was playing his poems in Ashadevi’s sweet voice. I shook him slightly and I thought he was asleep but I realized that when the tape recorder stopped, he played it again. I don’t know what happened to me and I shouted, “Shut it. Please shut it now Ravi.” and Ravi answered, “I shall not put it off. If you wish you may go and sleep in the other room.”

Furious, I said, “What if you go to the other room. The bedroom is for sleeping and not for listening to music.”
He said spitefully, “Remain in such restrictions. What do you know of the freedom of the soul…”
I got up as well, took my pillow and said, “If you look at a woman enjoying the freedom of the soul, it will burn you to ashes. It is us as women who have control on our tongues.”
I saw extreme hatred in Ravi’s eyes and my soul shouted, “What are you Ravi? From the very first night I have had to live with the dead body of Subhadra the dancer and now I’m living with a lively Ashadevi; I shall die of insecurity.”

After this we both kept accusing each other of various things. Oh, this storm of words destroyed all the love and affection within moments. Though I left the bedroom with my pillow but where would I find a trustworthy place for sleeping without Ravi!
On the next day as well, Asha devi came to our home. Should I say ‘ours’ or ‘Ravi’s’ because after that Ravi separated from me and we never got together again. Our paths had separated completely.
Ravi became famous for his songs. Though he was already well known but after his songs were heard by people in Asha’s sweet voice, even the film industry welcomed Ravi and Asha. Despite being with Ravi, I never considered myself as more than just his shadow…

One night I fought with him again. I said, “Ravi, what is happening? It is good to work with Ashadevi for singing your poems, but going shopping with her, and keeping parties and poetry readings in her honor, looking after all her desires…What should I make of it?”
“Ashadevi is from my native place…Her voice has increased the value of my poems. Should I not value her?”
“I cannot be with you in any of your jobs. If I had earned a name in dancing like Subhadra did, then today I would be dancing on your songs in films…Now I have grown lonely Ravi!”
“Then work hard. Who has stopped you? Come to the forefront. At least you will value your husband’s poems!”

This was a challenge to my identity. I started openly learning the art of dancing which so far I did discreetly. Ravi began earning and we purchased a bigger, spacious house. Ravi’s sitting place was in the big hall. There were cupboards full of cassettes, tape recorders and musical instruments for Asha in one corner.
More than half of my room was filled with musical instruments and ghungroos. Little Shilpi had so many toys that her room resembled a toy shop. It was only the bedroom which was empty and clean. Slowly, the bedroom contained only a bed. Ravi now often forgot to tell me where he was and on which film shoot he went with Ashadevi. His habit of kissing Shilpi in her sleep slowly left him. But if he ever heard any praise and success of his songs on the radio or TV then he would bring many toys for Shilpi and would shower her with a lot of love but even that was momentary.

Then I heard a strange thing from the others that Ravi had spread a word that I would never perform on any of his songs.
Suddenly a large block of ice fell from the Himalayas with a bang! Saraswati was playing on her Veena bringing the whole universe into an ecstasy from the mountain peak and I was looking at the melting block of ice. The condition of the ice block was like that of a live bird that is put in a vessel for cooking and it struggles until its life leaves it bit by bit.
“Ravi! My dance has been appreciated in some film; I have brought the video cassette. Just see it.” I told him heavy hearted.

“I’ll see it if I get the time. Leave it on my table.”
“Ravi, why don’t you consider me equal to Subhadra? Everybody says that I am better than Subhadra in dance!’
“How can I consider you as Subhadra? How can you be equal to her? I had seen your first dance in your college with Subhadra. I had praised you, kissed your hands…Subhadra praised you more than me and kissed your forehead…Can you do this for Ashadevi?”
Suddenly the reality appeared like lightning and I said, “Ofcourse I cannot do what Subhadra did, giving up her life for you to reach me, but I can certainly stay away from you and make way for you to reach Ashadevi. I hope one day you won’t say “Ashadevi should not be allowed to sing my songs in any film.”

 

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