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“It helps that I am not on social media and that I don’t read literature on me, about me,” Sudha laughed. “As for people’s perceptions, I have learnt to live with it and above it.”
Deepa couldn’t stop staring at her interviewee. She looked so raw, bereft of her trademark kajal-lined eyes and the cherubic smile. Deepa couldn’t believe it was the same Sindhu S whom she had interviewed five years ago.
The award-winning author was always polite and humble and she was so even now, but there was something different here. If then, Sindhu S was Deepa’s favourite author, now Deepa has found a woman with unlimited inner strength, a personal side which Sindhu never bothered to share with the outside world.
She was the perfect recluse if you could call her that. Her interviews were sporadic, appearing only when she had a book release. She spoke about everything except for her personal life. Till last month, no one knew who she was in her real life. Her fans tried to connect the dots through the spectacular yet humane characters she created.
November 2020 changed everything. Sudha’s memoir When My Banyan Tree Moved Away, sent shockwaves pulling at every heartstring it met on the way.
“Tea or coffee?” Sudha’s question startled Deepa.
“Tea should be fine.”
“So, how is your magazine doing? Sorry, haven’t seen ‘Women and We’ for some time now.” Sudha smiled. “Shall we start then? I have a hospital visit in the afternoon.”
“Are you ok?”
“Oh, yes, visiting someone I know.”
Deepa took out her notepad and looked at her notes, then looked at Sudha, unsure.
“Go on, Deepa, what happened?”
“Sudha Ji, a question that seems to be on everybody’s mind is this – why this revealing memoir now? It was like opening a dam shutter. Your life is in the open now which you had managed to hide so well till now.”
“Well,” Sudha cleared her throat. Is she choking? But Deepa saw that she was laughing. “By the way, your term ‘revealing memoir’ is confusing. What is a memoir if not revealing?”
She stopped and looked at Deepa.
“Deepa, I turned 60 this year. I am officially a senior citizen now. I am a bit tired. I had carried this burden inside me for long. I wanted to throw them out. I wanted to be free and free from every emotion that came with it.”
“Weren’t you afraid about people’s reaction? There are stories, articles, tweets, many in your support but many judging you as well.’
“It must have been painful to relive memories.”
“Come on Deepa, you have read the book, haven’t you?”
“Of course, I did,” Deepa looked surprised at the question.
“So, why this question?”
“Everybody is talking about it.”
“Which incident are you referring to, Deepa?” Sudha’s doubt appeared genuine.
“Oh, Oh!” Again the laugh.
“Come on Deepa, of all the 15 chapters, are you also focusing on just one? All other chapters were happy ones, right?”
“You know I have always admired you. I have read all your books. I felt the pain, that is all!”
Sudha took a deep breath. “When it happened, exactly 25 years ago, it left me shattered. It was as if someone pushed me out of my comfort ride into a dirty pit, exposing me to the cruel world. It took years but I can say I have healed.”
“That was cruel, Sudha Ji. You had no clue whatsoever?”
“Never! I still remember that exact moment when he said, “I want to tell you something!” I kissed him and exclaimed, “Shoot!”
“You know, I had thought that it was about the home renovation we were planning. And then he blurted, “I think we need to move on.”
She stopped, maybe not because she was gathering the words, but reliving the moment that jolted her world.
“He said in his calm voice, “I had a son yesterday!” I got up startled, or did I jump from my seat? I don’t remember, but I think my heart stopped for a moment. “
“How come you had no idea that your husband was having an extra-marital affair?” Deepa found it strange.
“He was my banyan tree, Deepa! He was everything one could want in a husband –supportive, kind, loving, giving. Forget clues, there was never an indication of anything amiss.”
“He left then?”
“He said he wanted a divorce and that his son needed him. It is not that I did not react. I screamed, I begged, I even pleaded not to leave me. I let go of every respect and dignity. All I wanted was him to stay. I did not know of a life beyond him, without him. The affair, the betrayal, the cheating, nothing deterred me. Maybe, more than the fear of being alone, I was scared of having to live without him.”
“Oh god, you haven’t mentioned these in the memoir. “
“I chose not to, but the words attributed to him in it are all his, nothing fictional.”
“So, he actually said those lines? – I need a child and you are incapable of it. I have to look at what is best for me. You can efficient enough to live your life.”
Sudha smiled. “You remember?”
“I have read the chapter many times.”
Sudha took a sip of her coffee. Her eyes drifted to the window, and stayed put.
“Why is that you chose to summarise your life after it in just one chapter? If I can say so, you started living after this incident.”
“What is living, Deepa? Is it just achievements or staying afloat amidst the storm that life puts on you? I do not wish to give living a figurative approach. Every day we breathe is living. Why give life confusing analysis when it is already complex in its own way?”
“Did you anticipate such reactions to your memoir? It is already a bestseller!”
“I don’t think about selling my books, Deepa! As the memoir, my stories are my vent. I let it out and that is all it matters. The heaviness inside me reduces, bit by bit. That is what I know.”
This woman before Deepa had a quiet fortitude about her. She was talking about the most troubling time of her life, still she looked defiant. She narrated the back stories with the same amount of fervour as she did when she talked bout her characters. There was no bias in her voice towards her real life and that of her characters’ lives.
Deepa’s thoughts came to a sudden halt as Sudha’s phone rang.
“Sorry, it is from the hospital. I have to take this.”
The smile on her face disappeared into an anxious frown, as she listened to the person on the other side. Deepa saw that Sudha did not say a word, she only listened. Who could it be? Hope everyting is fine.
As she ended her call, Sudha apologised. “Deepa, sorry, I think I will have to leave now. It is from the hospital. Maybe, we can continue this after a couple of days?”
“Yeah, it s fine. Hope there is nothing serious.”
“He is in a critical condition. He may not make it.”
Deepa was shocked to hear that name. “What! The man who ditched you, who left without a thought in the world and left you alone is back in your life?”
Sudha looked at her and said, “Sometimes, you got to do what you got to do. He called me a year ago, pleading for help. He had a stroke and was left alone in the hospital. His wife and son had left a few years ago. Why? I did not ask. I had to help him. Got him admitted in a hospital nearby. He is there since then. “
“You are taking care of him now?” Deepa was exasperated.
“Taking care of the expenses! The hospital staff looks after him.”
“Do you visit him often?”
“I don’t go to see him. I go to meet the doctor.”
“You never met him?”
“Only the day when he was admitted.”
“He must have been sorry. Did he say anything to you?”
“He cried. I don’t know whether it was because he had to ask me for help or he felt pity for himself, but I made sure he knew that I did not care for any reasoning or his words. Not because I was angry or sad, but nothing mattered now. The whys and ifs do not work all the time.”
“You have forgiven him?”
“I don’t know Deepa, but I feel maybe as I get older, I see beauty where I least expected it before. What is forgiving? Why does it matter? Who cares about it? I had a chance to help a person I had shared my life with for 9 years. It was a happy life. Isn’t it a beautiful feeling to know you were asked a help and you were able to give it? He may not live long but he will have a dignified death. I will make sure of that. “
Deepa choked. “How?” That was all she could manage to say.
“I do not know. It is easy to do what is right, I guess!”
“You still love him?”
“Again, I do not know. What I know is I haven’t cried for him. I do not feel any pain. It is a blank canvas devoid of emotions, my heart, I mean. “
“You are great!” Deepa held back her tears.
Sudha smiled. “Greatness is a huge word, Deepa. I am not capable of greatness. There were two things I could give him. One was anger for what he did and the other was gratitude for what he did. I am returning the gratitude, because it is all that I have.”
Deepa nodded. They give what they have and we offer what we have.
Sudha got up and said, “These thoughts are strictly off public consumption. Hope you know that!”
“Of course!” Deepa said. Because, who understands gratitude?
This story was shortlisted for our short fiction contest Muse of the Month December 2020.
Image source: a still from the film Qarib Qarib Singlle
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Rajlakshmi Kurup is a freelance writer. An introvert most of the time, she loves some
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