Revati slowly shook her head.
“No Arpan, I can’t. Memories of your father are all here. I just can’t leave this place and move in with you people. I’m very sorry, son.”
“But, mom, you’ll be all alone here,” Arpan sounded sceptical and worried.
“Yes, mummy, Arpan is right. We can take better care of you if you move in with us, please,” Divya echoed her husband’s worry.
“And, mom, you’ll have the company of Abhimanyu, too,” Arpan added.
“No, Arpan. I just can’t; at least, not now; not so soon. It isn’t even three months since your father passed away. Let us see for some time. You are only ten kilometres away. Don’t worry. I won’t be alone. Your father’s memories will keep me company.”
Revati was lost in nostalgic memories.
“You know, this house was built with his sweat and blood. You were very young. God! How we struggled and what all we sacrificed to make this dream house of his, no, ours stand…”
Arpan and Divya fondly listened to her soft voice narrate incidents from the past.
Sundar, Revati’s husband, was sixty-two when he suffered a massive heart attack, which he could not survive. It was a near-mortal blow for the fifty-eight-year old Revati. But survive it, she did. She was consumed by melancholy and depression and withdrew into a shell. For three months, she had been resisting and turning down the invitation of her son and daughter-in-law to move in with them.
‘How can I leave? Sundar’s soul is in this house. I’m sure he won’t, if he were in my place.’
Revati was dusting the house.
‘Starting today, I’ll look through Sundar’s things,’ Revati decided.
She worked through the entire morning, sifting, sorting and storing away Sundar’s clothes.
‘I’ll have lunch and then look through his papers.’
By the time she finished her simple lunch the maidservant arrived. Revati waited for the maidservant to leave and then plunged into her husband’s table and steel cupboard. She sifted through the voluminous collection of files and records, retaining important ones and separating others for Arpan to review.
Finally, she came to Sundar’s personal diaries, neatly stacked in a chronological order. She glanced through a few entries from a couple of old diaries and smiled. She picked up the current year’s diary and went to her bedroom and sat in the comfortable teak wood rocking chair, which was Sundar’s favourite. She experienced an ethereal feeling of being securely ensconced in his warm and affectionate hug.
She flipped through the pages, starting from the beginning and smiled at some entries. Suddenly, she found a white envelope slip out from in between the pages. She placed the diary on her lap and looked at the envelope. She was slightly amused to find her name scrawled on it. She anxiously opened the envelope. Inside, there were some thick baby pink coloured letterheads with floral design at two diagonally opposite corners. She opened the fold and was pleasantly surprised.
It was a letter from her husband, written a few months before he passed away!
It was written intermittently over a few weeks, with a few days’ gap in between. It was penned on different dates in different inks in his untidy handwriting.
Revati began reading the letter and smiled…
Revati finished reading the letter and wept…
She read the letter again and again, assimilating every emotion, every expression, and every nuance of her late husband. She wiped her tears and read the letter once again. She felt the presence of her husband in every word of his letter and every letter of his words. She felt his presence in the house beckoning her. She placed the letter on her chest, closed her eyes, and leaned back in the rocking chair and gently swung forward and backward.
Revati felt a light breeze, which rose from nowhere, flow through her salt-and-pepper tresses. A twinkling smile pranced on her lips.
‘Sundar…Sundar…why did you leave me?’ She murmured gently in a trance-like state.
A gentle humming sound filled the entire house.
Slowly, ever so slowly, the humming subsided…
…only to be replaced by a gentle voice…
Revati smiled without opening her eyes.
A few days elapsed…
“Hi, mom. How are you?”
“I’m fine, dear. How are Divya and Abhi?”
“They’re OK, mom.”
“Can you pick me up, dear?”
“Of course, sweetheart; say when.”
“Yes, dear, now.”
“I’ll be there in half an hour.” He paused. “Mom, is everything alright?”
“Why? What could happen to me?”
“You sound a little…out of sorts…”
“I’m fine, sweetheart. It’s just that…I…I…I miss your dad, and I miss you all.”
Arpan could hear his mother’s soft sobs.
“I knew…I knew this would happen. You don’t listen to me, mom. I begged you to move in with us…”
Revati cut short her son’s anguished words.
“You are what?”
“I am moving in with you, son.” She chuckled.
“Mooooom…” Arpan screamed.
Revati abruptly moved the handset away from her ear to obviate the obvious damage to her ear drum.
“Right now, darling. I’ll come with a few clothes and shift my things tomorrow.”
“Great, mom. I’ll be there in half an hour.”
‘Happy?’ Revati asked softly.
‘Yes, my love.’
‘Only now I understood how worried they – you, too – would be.’
‘I could never see you suffer even small pain.’
‘You are right. Your memories will go with me wherever I go or wherever I live.’
‘Don’t brood over me. I can’t bear it. Be happy whenever you think of me.’
‘I promise. You know, Abhi is just like you; cannot bear to see me sad.’ She chuckled.
‘You’ll come to me when your time comes. Until then, be happy with our family.’
‘I’ll wait for you, my love.’
‘I’m waiting, too, to join you once again; this time inseparably.’
‘I love you, sweetheart.’
‘I love you, too, darling.’
The habanero-red Honda Civic sped away raising dust and gravel in its wake, carrying Revati, her son, her belongings, and, most importantly, her memories of her husband, Sundar.
“Mom, can I ask something?”
“All these days you were adamant about not leaving that house. Suddenly, you changed your mind and moved in with us. We are all very happy with your decision but how did it happen? I mean, what made you change your mind, I wonder?”
“I listened to your father’s advice, son.” Revati smiled.
“Mom, how can you…” Arpan left the sentence unfinished.
Revati understood his doubt but did not reply. She just chuckled.
“Revati, my love,
Surprisingly, this is my first ‘love letter’ to you!
I don’t know how or what to write. I am not aware if there is a ‘standard’ for a love letter. Should it be in superlatives about your body or soul? Should it lilt like a poem, a song? Should it escape with gay abandon into intangibles, imponderables and clichés? Should it be physical or platonic? I am absolutely clueless. So, I choose to write from my heart.
All these years, I didn’t have an ‘occasion’ or ‘need’ to write to you in this vein; nor did you, for that matter! Have we taken each other for granted? Maybe ‘yes’, maybe ‘no’. But we are more than certain of the feeling of love for each other. I shall walk the length of my life with you once again through these pages.
I vividly remember the evening when I and my parents visited you people to ‘see’ you for my marriage alliance. You were the first and, as it happened, you were the last, too. I was instantly smitten by you. Your child-like innocence, your beatific smile, your beautiful large black eyes, your eyelids that fluttered when you were excited, your soft mellifluous voice, your faintly tan complexion, your long thick tresses that reached below your slim waist, your above-average height, and your well-proportioned figure captivated me totally. I was completely and inextricably lost in your charismatic charm. I decided on that day that it would be you or none else. I’ll now let you in onto one of my most closely guarded secrets. I was terrified that you might reject me! I offered prayers in the temple and prayed to God that you must okay me!
We liked each other and soon we were engaged. From that day my admiration and respect for you grew in leaps and bounds when I was exposed to the intellectual facet of yours. You were a PUC-passed girl but your high-level IQ and erudition impressed me no end.
After a few months, we were married and all the physical restrictions and inhibitions were blown away in the breeze of love and romance and we were lost in endless marital bliss. You became the jewel that bedecked my life and home. Our love blossomed in the form of a beautiful son. We decided that one child was enough and showered our love, affection and attention on him. While I doted on him, you reared him and groomed him into a good person.
When Arpan was married to Divya you became her mother and I found a kind of reluctance in her to go on prolonged visits to her parents’ place! The arrival of Abhi was the icing on the cake of our family. He was the cynosure of our eyes and attention. And how well you reared him and guided Divya in raising him!
I always wondered how you could handle the pressures of all the multifarious roles you donned without a complaint creasing your brow! But handle them with aplomb, you certainly did. Daughter, wife, daughter-in-law, mother, mother-in-law and grandmother, you excelled in every role.
But what I cherish the most is your friendship. You gave with love and affection. You gave unconditionally. When I was elated, you celebrated with me. When I was depressed, you pulled me out of the abyss. When I was frustrated, you supported me. When I was befuddled by any situation, you guided me. When I was ill, you nursed me. You tended me as you would a delicate bonsai or a fine bone china. When my parents passed away you became my father and mother rolled into one. If I am what I am, if I could achieve what I have, the credit goes to your unflinching and unstinting support in the background.
If God appears before me and grants one wish I would unhesitatingly ask for you and you alone, for with you all happiness and honour will be mine. I need not ask for anything else.
I don’t know what prompted me to start writing this letter. For some time, I have been feeling that I must somehow convey my feelings. I felt that they must not be left unsaid or unexpressed. I always told you that I would find it impossible to live without you, in case you predecease me. I always prayed to God that He must take me away first. I knew you were very strong in mind and will, which I was not. Without you I would be like a child lost in a jungle. I hoped that God would listen to my fervent prayers.
With this mental background I felt it was imperative that I express my feeling of undying love for you, before it was too late. And I started putting on paper, in fits and starts, my feelings, my love, my affection, my respect for you. It wasn’t an easy task that I undertook. I decided to take my time and pen my thoughts in ‘instalments’! I decided to leave this letter in whichever would be my current diary. I knew you would definitely find it sooner than later.
In such an eventuality, I don’t want you to live alone and eternally brood over me. I want you to move in with Arpan, Divya and Abhi. They love us. They’ll take excellent care of you. I’ll know that I haven’t left you alone and uncared for. My soul will be in peace. Will you do it, my love? Knowing you as I do, I am sure you won’t. But, my love, please do it for my sake.
If, unfortunately, you predecease me…”
‘You left your first and only love letter unfinished!’
‘How could I finish it, dear? I didn’t get a chance to continue. Remember?’
‘Should have written what you would have done if I died before you.’
‘My life would have been an unfinished and unending hell, dear. I hadn’t a clue what would happen to me or how I would live after you.’
‘Oh! Is that so, my love?’
‘Did you really love me so much?’
‘How do you feel now, darling?’
‘I am once again in the seventh heaven of bliss now that we are together once again, my love.’
‘I love you, sweetheart.’
‘I love you, too, darling.’
Shyam Sundar Bulusu