A prince charming came riding on a white horse. He was disturbing Malini.… very much disturbing her. A perfect daydreaming… virtually dreaming during daytime. He came, he went, whenever she was free and alone, be it day or night. Just then a notification on her mobile phone drew her attention and brought her down to realities. Wow! A message from Ragini! She was coming to India after a gap of two years and was keen on meeting all friends. OMG! What a great surprise! Ragini was very charming. She was no doubt, beautiful earlier also. But in these two years, she had grown even more prettier and above all, what a matured behaviour. Malini just could not resist her thoughts of holding her exclusively for herself, by bringing her into her family fold. ‘If only, I can fix Ragini, for my brother Raghavendra, the two can be a perfect match… made for each other. Ragini as friend, will be transformed into a new relationship called ‘sister-in-law’ and the two can be forever in a new bonding’. Malini thought, ‘first, let me ask Raghu, then ask Ragini about her opinion’. She sent their group photo taken in the evening, to him and asked for his comments. She knew well he would not reply her that soon, but she had to set the ball rolling. Surprisingly, he replied. “It will be nice to have a cordial relation between the ‘sisters-in-law’ to ensure peace and prosperity in life, but that alone should not be any criterion for choosing a life partner. More than any thing else, how can a brother get married first, when his sister is still a spinster, even if she were to be few years younger to him. So, first let us see you get married”. She was slightly happy that he thought of her marriage. She could hear ‘the sound of a galloping horse’ coming closer.
Raghavendra was working abroad. Only now, he was in a stable job, even if it was abroad. Earlier he was in the habit of quitting jobs at a slightest excuse and he blamed it on absence of job satisfaction. His hop-in hop-off job style, coupled with his own vagabond carefree nature, worried his parents a lot, particularly, his mother Nandini, so much so, that they did not even think about Malini’s marriage. Probably, they wanted to stabilise financially, before they took up such a big responsibility. The pension amount of Ramachandran, was just enough to sustain themselves on a day to day basis, not even covering their odd needs arising occasionally. Her guilt consciousness of not bringing up the boy properly was the sole reason for Raghavendra’s ‘not-at-all-bothered’ attitude, was telling heavily on Nandini’s health. Not knowing how to correct him she fell at the feet of God, observed long hours of prayer, kept frequent fasting, fell into depression, one leading to other problems and finally passed away. Raghavendra lit the funeral pyre and performed the last rites and rituals connected with it. He could not console himself nor his father or sister. Mother was a mother, a lovable lady, irrespective of her age. Whether God answered her prayers, or better senses prevailed on Raghavendra, or he landed on a right job now, whatever be it… he was a regular office-goer. That was all that mattered. Immediately after mother’s death, he set off on his new-find job and flew off. Even though there was a slight improvement in their financial status, prospects of Malini’s marriage remained bleak. The Prince charming had to wait before mounting on his white horse to fetch her….
Nandini’s death was an irreparable loss for Ramachandran, a big jolt at first, and then a permanent lacuna in life. Loss of soul-mate was indeed a lifelong vacuum and the loneliness that followed was hard to kill. When Malini offered to take him with her to Mumbai, where she was working, he refused point blank, saying he would not budge an inch away from the place where his precious loving wife lived. He insisted and stuck to the same place where Nandini breathed her last. When taking him was not possible, Malini said she would quit her job and be with him. He did not agree to that also. Quitting the job meant loss of income and his meagre pension would not be sufficient to meet all of their needs. Melur, a small town near Madurai, was certainly not a place where Malini could pick up job easily, even if it was for a lesser remuneration. Malini had no choice than to leave him alone. She went back to Mumbai. But before going, she got him a laptop and a smart phone. She also taught him the basics of handling these complicated modern devices, which made communication easy—irrespective of distances. These man-made hand tools could not fill his void. He often fell sick and felt lonely. Every time he complained of pain or sickness, Malini came running from Mumbai, took care of his health and comforted him. Soon such visits became a routine. So, she engaged a local girl, Shaalu alias Shalini, as a wholetime caregiver and Shaalu turned out to be a person beyond anybody’s expectations- quick in grasping and fast in handling the chores- a rare quality found in helpers of modern days. She helped Ramachandran in more than many ways, including reading out books and magazines. Shaalu’s presence and attitude did comfort him, nor helped him to come out of cocoon. To make life more comfortable, Malini, in one of her visits, engaged a tutor from a local computer centre. He made it possible for her father to understand, gain knowledge and make use of browsing, internet, email, skype, video, audio, music, camera, also perusing features like youtube etc. so that his world was widened and time was spent usefully. Daily emails, weekly skypes, occasional videos from Raghavendra, of his site-seeing, youtube musings, and so on… were all under father’s grip and on his fingertips. With all such efforts, life was comfortable and cosy for all-- but not for long.
Just when Malini thought her father would devote time and think about searching a prince-charming for her, a phone call from her father was received. With difficulty he spoke. He complained of chest pain. Shaalu took the phone from him and narrated the troublesome time he had right from morning—heaviness in the chest area, excessive fatigue and tiredness, uneasiness, lack of appetite etc…. Malini rushed to Melur. She lost no time and got him admitted in a super speciality hospital in Madurai. Luckily, it was due to some blocks in blood vessel which required immediate angioblast treatment. The doctors decided to perform angioblast after conducting a series of medical procedures including an angiogram. Ramachandran cooperated well. He went through all tests and check-ups and took up surgical keyhole balloon blast, a treatment commonly known as angioblast. The postoperative treatment at the hospital was only minimal, but after-care at home was very elaborate, with so many do’s and don’ts. Malini took note of each and every minute detail and scrupulously followed. She was with her father through and through. A great sigh of relief! Ramachandran crossed the critical stage and was coming closer to normalcy. While her presence at home was very much needed and was appreciated, her absence from work was not at all appreciated by her office. They served her pink slip. Result—a handsome lucrative job lost forever…. No doubt, it was a blow.
In the past few years, she was tiding over challenges, one over the other—initially, she was the sole earning member and her brother remaining unemployed- in spite of being well qualified; then her mother’s demise, then her father’s loneliness, then his sudden heart problem and now loss of job…, Meeting all the expenses was no magic—mounting medical expenses of father, her frequent to-and-fro travel expenses, expenses on domestic upkeep… all on the rise and on top, now, no job in hand. While trying to secure emotional security at home, the financial security took the back seat. It could not be ignored either. Her untold sacrifices for her father’s sake… would they ever return any yield any time in her favour? Anyway, she was not doing things for earning a name, fame or recognition. If needed, she would continue to do whatever she did and all that the circumstances demanded. But, occasionally, a thought would strike her mind, why was no one in her house, ever bothered about her status of being single-- mother, father, brother-- no exception. Her friends always chided her and teased at every single opportunity. Now, at this point of father’s heart problem and slow recovery, prospects of her marriage would necessarily be a distant dream. She said to herself, “Forget all these things, concentrate on getting a suitable job, which is dire need of the day.”
She started looking for jobs in and around metros and big cities, even if it was for a lesser income. Her coming to Melur immediately, or frequently as needed, should not be a problem. She spread a word through friends. She got a few offers and she chose the one at Bangalore. She gave instructions to both her father and Shaalu. She ensured that Shaalu scrupulously followed them. She insisted an email a day was necessary, giving details of medicines given, food restrictions observed, physical exercises, walking, calories burnt performed per day etc…. Further a phone-call a day, was also a must. After ensuring all things intact, she left for Bangalore. Off and on, she kept Raghavendra informed about their father’s chest pain, the consequent angioblast, his recovery and improvement. She advised, rather hinted, to him to make a flying visit to see father, when possible. He had not come to India ever since he left on job.
While at Melur, one big change she observed. One might call it a metamorphosis- Shaalu, an eighth standard drop-out, country village girl, was no more the same. She was quite good at maintaining herself, not only that, she could read and write, also handle mobile phone, laptop and other modern electronic and domestic gadgets. All these things, were apart from, helping father in every aspect. It was indeed a pleasant surprise. She felt happy and even proud of herself. She brought Shaalu into her family as a helper and today she was an indispensable member of the family. Ramachandran said he was guiding and coaching her to complete her studies and appear for matriculation examination. Once she became a matriculate, he would insist on her to take up some diploma courses which might help her for her future.
Malini was getting stabilised in her new job which kept her all the time busy. Time was running fast. Her father was improving fast. Shaalu was doing fine. Raghavendra had come and gone a few months ago. Only she could not go during his visit. New job, new assignments, no emergency calls from home… all put together, Malini remained glued to Bangalore. Except for Ragini’s recent visit and an exchange of few chirrupy mails, there was nothing unusual or noteworthy. She was so busily tied down to her work that she did not even realize that for the past few days, there was no mail or phone from home, neither from father nor from Shaalu. She did not even check to see if there was any. She thought of sending a mail to her father. Oh! There was a mail from him sent two days ago. She was staring at the computer with her heart racing against its beatings. A shock of her life!
What a googly her father had thrown! While she was working hard, on how to make him understand that she had a daughter to be married off, he on the other hand, unaware of his duties, was sending this mail. She read and re-read and again and again read the mail. She could not digest the content. All it contained were three small sentences… “HAVE BEEN SERIOUSLY THINKING ABOUT IT. NOW DECIDED TO GET MARRIED. BLESS THE COUPLE—NO, NO, YOU GET BLESSED.” No details given, no information shared… Was it for this, did she work hard? Sacrificed so much? How many times she rushed home to see her father! What a heavy price she paid when he was getting treated at Madurai! She lost her prestigious job, just like that in a whiff. She took utmost care in keeping her parents comfortable- but they in turn bothered about themselves. At least, mother showed her concern about Raghavendra and father? Always bothered about his money, his health! Selfish. All around her were utterly selfish. Neither mother, nor father and the least of all, her brother…all selfish and self-centred. Everyone used her as a doormat and ignored. Was that all, her worth? Did they ever think of her needs, her future, her dreams, her life?
Unable to bear the burden of her father’s decision, she decided to go home and pour out her agony. Let him know that she too existed in this world and had a right to live a life of her choice. Certainly not for sacrificing her youth and wealth, all the time for others! She did not know whether the mail was endorsed to Raghavendra. She forwarded it to him and asked him to come urgently. At Melur, she found the house in dead silence. Ramachandran just acknowledged her arrival, with a cold response. Shaalu too, was silent and sitting somewhere inside the house. The eerie silence that prevailed did not speak of a warm wedding. To her utter surprise, she found Raghavendra also at home, remaining silent. Malini took the lead and burst out at her father… what was it all about? How could he think of Shaalu much younger than his daughter, as his bride? “What the people in the town, will say about your idiotic action? Have you gone crazy? Is that all our family reputation? In this small town, everyone knows the other, don’t you know that?”
Ramachandran said in cool but firm voice. ”This is all I can do for a mistake I had committed. I have to curse myself. Shame on the upbringing of my children. Shame on the education I gave to my children. Shame on the cowardice of hiding guilts and remaining silent. As a remedial measure, all I could think of, is to acknowledge the girl as part of our family. She came for taking care of me. Now it is my turn to take care of her. Whether she willingly submitted herself or forcefully drawn into the cobweb, is not my concern. But she is pregnant now and somebody has to take the blame and responsibility. It is not a small thing to be ignored. The marriage has to be performed urgently before the world comes to know of the truth. I am not going to dig why and what of things. Whatever has to happen, has happened. This is all the compensation I can offer for all the damage done by our family. What pains me a lot, is shying away, or running away from the consequences of the problem created by him. Malini, you came all the way to save my life and gave up all your comforts and conveniences for an old man, that is me, fine! Whereas, this ‘bigshot’-- he came all the way from abroad for a short spell and created a havoc and now coolly tells her get aborted. That is to kill a life! Is there any dignity or decency in his action? I was saving every single penny for your marriage, whereas this ‘honourable’ son of mine says ‘get it aborted’. I am shaken and broken. Finally, this is all I could think of as a fair deal for the poor girl who came to us in good faith. I was doing my best for her --in educating her and bringing her up as another daughter. But my own son did the worst thing for her and abandoned her. So, tell me how do I set right her life? What compensation can be offered to her? You were talking about our family reputation. What about her family reputation?” Malini was shocked beyond words. Father was exhausted after the long speech.
She turned towards her brother and screamed “You ‘Neech’! Stupid scoundrel! So coolly, you were telling me, let the sister be married first. You committed a sin. At least now, come to your senses and behave yourself “. She turned to Shaalu and asked in spite of his excesses, whether she was benevolent enough to accept her brother. Raghavendra realising his folly, then suddenly fell at her feet and begged for pardon. He did not visualise the enormity of the situation, into which Shaalu was pushed into. It never occurred to him that there was no compensation for the loss of a girl’s modesty. Respect and dignity were the two most important virtues which, every girl valued as foremost. Raghavendra was made to understand that true meaning of life was in openly admitting one’s own mistakes and making amends. His vagabond life of take it easy policy had changed. He promised that he would be responsible and honest; most importantly, behave mature. He would emulate his father and be a true son.
Father turned to Malini and asked her to fix the marriage at the earliest, that too with an open invitation to all the people known to both the families. He also said that he would gear up all his energy and time for searching a suitable prince for this princess called Malini.