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What happened when a childhood playmate turned into a partner? What were the dimensions of such a relationship? A story of a man and two women
What did Maya feel and think about Durgi? “Was she afraid of her?” Maya thought as she and her husband Damodar prepared to leave for his village in Konkan for the first time in their married life of 11 years. It was the first time that Damodar was returning to his native village after he had left it 20 years ago.
Maya pictured the small village on the seashore, the sprawling coconut and betel nut farms, the old ancestral village home, Durgi, the first wife and their son Sridhar. Even if Maya had not met all of them, they remained forever and constantly at the back of her mind for what seemed like an epoch now.
Sridhar was mentally challenged and almost 20 years old by now. Durgi never wrote personal letters but news about her filtered to them from Damodar’s father. Durgi always sent the accounts of the farmlands twice every year. Once four years back, she had written to say that the back portion of the house had collapsed. Damodar never wrote back. He put all her letters away in a special cupboard after reading them.
It was always while passing this cupboard that Maya found herself pondering about this chapter in her husband’s life. This closed cupboard that contained that small village childhood on the shores of the sea, where night fell suddenly and a mysterious playmate turned into silent lover and wife. Love seemed such a ‘modern’ concept when ascribed to Damodar and Durgi. They had shared something with each other that Maya could never share. They had shared a childhood.
What happened when a childhood playmate turned into a partner? What were the dimensions of such a relationship? Maya found the days when there was a letter from the village very difficult. She felt lonely, abandoned and excluded from Damodar’s life. These were the days when she felt her hardest towards Damodar…as he looked meditative and patient, pulling at his mustache as she ranted and raved.
It had taken Damodar a long time to tell Maya about Durgi…it was nearly after a year of their courtship.
It wasn’t as though Durgi and Damodar were legally married or had signed any paper. But Durgi had grown up with him. They had played together. They went to school together. She washed his clothes. They talked everyday for hours about everything and anything. They were friends. Durgi had a cleft palate. Durgi was violently epileptic. Damodar used to help Durgi. She was a distant relative, an orphan. Damodar and Durgi were brought up together by his grandparents in their village home.
Durgi had suddenly grown up, wearing womanly clothes and looking pretty and shy. Damodar was feeling frustrated and bored with the small village. It was decided that he would go to college in Mumbai for further studies. It was decided that he would leave the village soon. Damodar was overjoyed and rushed to tell Durgi the good news. Durgi’s eyes had brimmed over and her lips and chin had trembled. Something had happened between them. What had happened?
“What had happened?” Maya had asked in a dry whisper…as her Chinese fried rice remained untouched on her plate. Maya had gulped hard on her dry throat that seemed stuck. Something had happened. Durgi became pregnant. A marriage was fixed. Maya’s eyes began to brim now as all her hopes of a marriage and home with Damodar began to feel dashed. Music played softly at the background in the restaurant. “So, did you marry her?” she had to ask. A small marriage ceremony took place at the village temple and Damodar left for Mumbai immediately afterwards. “Just like that”? ”Just like that”…”we never had the opportunity to register the marriage”. There had been a child in another 6 months… …their child…something that had happened between them…
It kept going round and round in Maya’s mind. Damodar could never register the marriage…maybe he never meant to…why had Damodar behaved that way with Durgi? What did Damodar feel about Durgi and Sridhar? Compassion? Guilt? What should Maya feel about Durgi? Pity? Anger?
Maya listened with an open mouth to this family saga that left no place for her in Damodar’s life. Damodar had never returned home after he had left for Mumbai. He had never met Durgi or his grandparents or his child after that out of mortal fear of what would evolve out of such a relationship. Why had he run away?
“I wasn’t ready Maya”…
What did Damodar feel for Durgi and Sridhar?
“I don’t know Maya”…
Maya had tried to accept the situation and married Damodar but their lives had been painful for the last 11 years. Somehow there had been no question of having their own children. Durgi and Sridhar had always lurked in the background of their lives. Maya had always thought that she couldn’t trust Damodar because he had broken their trust 20 years back…he had abandoned Durgi, Sridhar…all of them.
She hated him and she hated them all for expecting so much out of him and she continued to love him desperately…and then, there was this eternal cupboard in Damodar’s life that was like a capsule of poison under her skin…his past…his childhood…that he never spoke off…but which screamed in its silence…the village home and that childhood and soul partner who stood in the twilight of their minds with epilepsy and cleft palate…with the heavy burden of what had transpired between them.
Maya felt like an onlooker to her own life wherein it was really Durgi who owned everything…even her most intimate moments spent with Damodar. Maya cursed Durgi in her mind as she restlessly shifted in bed having half dream visions of a woman with open hair and vermillion smeared across her forehead.
And now the letter…the first personal letter in 20 years…”Damu”, it said, “your son should be married and your property should have an owner…come home”. Damu…it hadn’t occurred to Maya that Damodar could be called ‘Damu’. The word ‘Damu’ and ‘home’ were laced with so much menacing intimacy that it made 20 years disappear like a trice. It left Maya nauseas to the core. It was as if that tightly shut cupboard was opening and a snake silently slithering out of it.
Damodar had asked Maya to come with him to the village. All sorts of emotions flooded Maya’s mind; extreme fear about facing the sickening and moving coil of snakes that would emerge as they both entered through this cupboard of Damodar’s life into Damu’s world of the village by the shore, his home. Why was Maya doing this? Because she couldn’t bear to see Damodar lead a split life? Because she couldn’t bear to lead just half his life with him? Because she loved this incomplete man?
The date for their departure was fixed and as it came nearer, there grew a deeper silence between Maya and Damu. Now Maya thought of Damodar only as Damu in her mind…and in their silent acknowledgment of each other, he knew it. They stood side by side at the railway station…Maya watched him…he was also Damodar she thought…would he be able to wipe out this identity and Maya from his life like he had once wiped Damu and Durgi out? As if he had heard her thoughts, Damu turned to her and said ”I love you Maya, you know. I have always loved you in my heart”.
And at that instant Maya knew that Damu loved Durgi and Sridhar just as much as Damodar had loved Maya. At that instant, Maya saw both Damodar and Damu together, more clearly than she had ever seen before. A narcissistic, manipulative and cowardly man of convenience, who had tortured those who loved him; never mind the aching of love in her heart as she imagined his sheepish grin or the way in which his sleeping eyes flickered in a dream.
Maya turned away. Leaving the blankly staring Damu standing on the platform behind her, his jaw slackened with surprise, Maya left the railway station.
*Photo credit: sparkieblues (Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License)
Deepra Dandekar is a feminist historian working on narratives of religion, community and violence in India, currently living with her husband in Germany.
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