Murugan was getting bored. Standing at the balcony on 8th floor of his apartment and looking at the sky was all he could do. As far as he could see, the lanes streets and roads were empty, no one was going around, no passer-by, no vehicular movement, no sound except for some stray dogs barking and screeching. When silence is very strong, they call it ‘The sound of silence’. That eerie sound was jarring now. Because he had been made to stay at home, that too compulsorily, he was at a loss of wits. The various methods suggested to him on what’s app to kill time (they say usefully) seemed very silly and childish to him. He also had a good round of few movies. After some point, films also lost their charm. Whiling away the time with nothing on hand was something very absurd and cruel. Just then he heard a big thud sound. Sound from inside the house.
He went inside only to find his wife in a sort of mess. His wife, Valli had opened the cupboard for whatever reason, but the damn thing had emptied everything it had on her. She was about to fall when he entered and held her in time. He led her to the cot and made her sit. He told her convincingly that he would reset the cupboard by putting things neatly inside. It was an assorted mess of too many wares. Dresses, in-wears, towels, blankets, tiny boxes containing fashion jewelleries, some curios, gift items, glossy paper for wrapping, threads, crochet hooks, handbags ----- the list seemed endless. Tiny sundry items rolled on the floor.
Many small items were kept inside a travel bag. The bag was not closed properly. The bag had slipped from its place and while falling down, it brought other items on the cupboard also along with it. As the bag was open, things got scattered around the room, as if they got a new found freedom to move about. Earlier they were all ‘locked down’ inside the bag now let ‘scot free.’ Even Murugan would react the same way, once the lock-down period imposed now due to deadly ‘corona virus’ would be lifted. As a good boy, he sat down now to set things in order.
He started segregating items variety-wise like dresses, blankets etc, then some items upon their sizes, tiny small medium and big and then some items kept aside as gifts and curios, etc. etc. There was a shelf in the cupboard for each category. So, he decided to unload shelf by shelf as some items still remained there and then reset them. So as to keep everything intact. His dresses and accessories were tucked properly in their respective places. Other miscellaneous items also he segregated and kept them as instructed by Valli. Some inside the bag and some elsewhere in a separate shelf. She was giving orders from her comfortable seat on the cot. By and large almost many items had returned to their places. Some were weeded out and some discarded and some kept aside for giving away. Only Valli’s dresses remained. The last but not least.
Why they be left? He removed them also from the cupboard. She came forward to fold her dresses very neatly and hanged them in hangers and he placed them in the shelf. He admired her selection and collections. Each one had a unique story to narrate. Like, when it was bought or who gave it and for what occasion, how old were some dresses and so on and on. Many interesting conversations sprung up in such episodes. While keeping things back in position, he happened to come across a photo tucked into the folds of her dress. While hanging it on the rod, it fell off to the floor of the shelf. It fell face down. He lifted and found it be a photo of a charming young guy. Unfortunately, it was haphazardly torn half-way. Out of curiosity, he took it. The photo also spoke of her good selection and collection. But, but --- it gave rise to many doubts.
Too many unanswered questions rushed to his mind. Why was it kept hidden inside a dress, who was the guy, why the photo was torn crudely by hand, why was it never shown to him, why she never spoke about it or ‘him’ --- the charming guy. Why was she secretive about him? In these many years of their married life, they never had any unshared secrets between them nor any suspicion against each other. But now something suspicious? What worried him most was the torn portion of the photo which was not available there. He looked at her. She was still busy with folding her remaining sarees and dresses and simultaneously narrating when and where they were purchased. She was totally unaware of his disturbing thoughts.
Stretching the photo towards her, he abruptly asked her,
“Ok, so much about your tales on your dresses. Now you tell me about this photo.”
She instantaneously plucked the photo from his hand and held it close to herself. She exclaimed, “Once upon a time, he was my favourite hero.” There was some extra special glee on her face and shiny sparkle in her eyes. She was in her ecstasy and he was in a juxtaposition. Unable to appreciate her overenthusiasm in her ‘prince charming’ on one side and unable to get full details in solving the mystery on the other --- particularly the missing portion. Hiding his thoughts, he told her, “Let me also share your joy. Tell me more about him.”
She said,’ “Do you know how he proclaimed from the top of the world, ‘The very Best in the Universe’ (Saare Jahaanse Achcha).”
He was not getting any clue. She was only beating the bush. Ultimately, he gave up. He bluntly asked her. “Who is he? Where you met him? What went wrong? Why it got broke? Where is he now? Why is the photo half torn? Where is the other half? Is the other half with him?”
Valli got stunned by the array of her husband’s bombarding questions. The last one was too much. Did he really not know who the guy was! Was he so innocent! Unnecessarily suspecting her nothing! She too wanted to be merciless and decided to return in the same coin. She forcefully and in strong tone, told him. “Yes. Yes. He was my ex-flame. In our joyful days we roamed and loafed a lot. I was clinging to him very closely. That portion only I gave away to him as my parting gift. Ok, does it satisfy you?”
From her very tone it was very clear that she was annoyed and tried to irritate him. Instead of getting wild with her for her fiery explanations, he felt relieved and happy. She had no untoward affair with the ‘photo fellow’. He tried to comfort her, “Come on, Valli. I just don’t know who he is and what has he to do with you. All I asked you was who he was and why his photo is kept hidden inside your dresses. To my knowledge, he is not a cinema hero nor a cricketer, nor any celebrity known to me. Instead of answering me straight, you are teasing and chiding me and laughing at my ignorance. Is it proper?”
Really, she did not know what to do – to feel sorry for her innocent husband or laugh at his ignorance. ‘Can there be a simpleton like him? Can there be a fellow who does not know the famous astronaut who made India very proud? Even after my quoting his words, ‘Saare Jehaanse Achcha’ my husband is not getting the clue! What a dumb-head he is!’ She turned to him and asked, “Have you never heard of RAAKESH SHARMA! A very famous astronaut of yesteryears! The first man from India to board the spaceship. When Prime Minister Indira Gandhi asked him about how it looked and how he felt India to be --- out from there in the space, seated in the spaceship, he instantly proclaimed, “The Best in the Universe” ‘Saare Jehaanse Achcha”.
She continued, “I had great admiration for scientists, astronauts and such extra special guys who made and make India very proud. They draw the attention of the world. Awe Inspiring people! A P J Abdul kalam and Dr Sivan in our days are such people. This Raakesh Sharma was very famous in those days. Even ordinary people were very fond of him. One small petty shop owner from Ahmedabad selling tea and kites, wrote a letter to him appreciating his great successful event and mentioned it would be his greatest luck if only he got a chance to offer a cup of tea from his shop. He had given his address too. Wonder of wonders! Raakesh Sharma when he visited Ahmedabad made it a point to hunt for this petty kite seller and thrilled him. Such was this great man’s simplicity. Why will not anybody fall for him? I am no exception. Even now I adore him”.
She added further, “Coming to this photo episode, my father’s friend had a chance to attend a meeting where this Raakesh Sharma was the chief guest. This photo was taken at that time. When he showed the photo to me, I asked for a copy. The missing portion contained photo of my father’s friend which I had given to my father. That’s all. I could never imagine a simple matter like this would lead to so much confusion.”
Murugan vaguely remembered Valli saying that she had a fancy of collecting letters, photos and mementos from celebrities of high calibre. But he did not evince much interest or enthusiasm in such acts. He thought it to be childish. So, she too did not indulge in such collections.
Finally, she threw a googly on him saying, “My dear hubby, I simply would not be agitated if I get any photo full or half torn or KALPANA CHAWLA clinging to you, why even sticking closely to you.” Murugan got stumped again on his ignorance. He had to ask her,
“Who is she, --- Kalapana Chawla?”
Valli smilingly replied, ‘Ha Ha Ha! You google it and find out. May be Raakesh Sharma’s wife!’