THE TRUE MEANING OF LOVE
[Short Fiction - A Love Story]
I do not know how the idea entered my brain in the first place; but once conceived, it haunted me with such urgency that a strange force took charge of me, impelling me to act. I tucked the packet under my arm and walked towards my destination, looking around furtively like someone with a guilty conscience.
The moment I saw her photograph I knew that I had to see her. A man’s first love occupies an enduring place in his heart. Ten years. Ten long years. She had married money. And status. I was heartbroken. Yet I bore her no pique or rancor. Never will. How can I? I had truly loved her. I still love her. I will always love her. Till my dying day.
I was desperately eager to impress her. To give her a gift would be too obvious. I did not know how much she had told her husband about me, about us, about our unrequited love!
Her children should be the same age as mine. Maybe slightly older. They say the best route to a married woman’s heart is through her children. I looked at the packet under my arm. A gift. A gift for her children. The deluxe set of children’s encyclopedias I had promised my son. And my daughter. Year after year. For the last three years. And did not buy. Because it was too expensive. And now I was going to present it to Anjali’s children. Just to impress her. Why? I do not know.
As I rang the doorbell, I felt a tremor of anticipation. Suddenly I realized that I did not know whether Anjali would be happy to see me or pretend she didn’t recognize me. The door opened. Anjali looked ravishing. She gave me her sparkling smile and welcomed me with genuine happiness, “Sanjiv! After so many years! What a delightful surprise. How did you manage to find me?"
We looked at each other. Anjali had fully blossomed and looked stunning. She looked so exquisite, so dazzling, that I cannot begin to describe the intense emotion I felt as I looked intently into her radiating eyes, totally mesmerized by her beauty.
“Stop staring at me, “Anjali said, her large expressive eyes dancing mischievously.
“You look so beautiful. And so young!” I said with genuine frankness.
“But you look old. Even your beard has becoming grey.” Anjali paused, probably regretting what she had said.
Then suddenly she held out her hand to me and said, “I am so happy to see you, Sanjiv. Come inside.”
Her house was extravagant. Wealth and opulence showed everywhere. Anjali carried herself majestically with regal poise; her demeanor slick and confident. No wonder! To ‘belong’ had always been the driving force of her life. Money, status, social prestige, success – she had got everything she wanted. I couldn’t help feeling a pang of envy, and failure.
“You like my house?” she asked. “Sit down. And don’t look so lost.”
I sat down on a sofa and kept the gift wrapped packet on the side-table.
Anjali sat down opposite. “How did you know I live here? We shifted to Mumbai only a month ago.”
I took out the wallet from my pocket and gave it to her. “Your husband’s purse. I saw your photograph in it.”
Anjali opened the purse and started to check the contents.
“You don’t trust cops, do you?” I said with a smile.
Anjali blushed. She kept the wallet on the table. Then she looked at me with frank admiration in her eyes. “IPS? That’s fantastic. I never thought you would do so well! What are you? Superintendent? Deputy Commissioner?”
Now it was my turn to blush. “No,” I said sheepishly. “I am only a sub-inspector.”
“Oh!” she said, trying to hide her disappointment. But I had read the language of her eyes. The nuance wasn’t lost on me. Suddenly she had changed.
“Is Mr. Joshi at home?” I asked.
“He is still at the office,” Anjali said.
“Oh! I thought he would be home,” I said.
“I’ll make you some tea,” she said and started to get up.
“Please sit down, Anjali. Let’s talk.” I looked at my watch. “It’s already six-thirty. Let’s wait for Mr. Joshi. Maybe he’ll offer me a drink. And dinner.”
“My husband comes home very late,” Anjali said. “After all, he is the Managing Director and the CEO. There is so much work. And conferences. Important business meetings. He is the top boss – a very successful and extremely busy man.” She couldn’t have spelt it out more clearly. I got the message loud and clear.
Anjali changed the topic and asked, “Where did you find my husband's purse?”
“It was deposited in the lost-and-found section last evening,” I lied, trying to keep a straight face.
“It’s strange,” Anjali said. “He didn’t mention anything.”
“He may not have noticed,” I said, tongue-in-cheek, “After all Mr. Joshi is a very busy man to notice such minor things like a missing purse.”
“Yes,” she said, giving a distant look. Anjali opened the purse once more and examined his credit cards and driving license. At first she appeared confused. Then she gave me a cold hard look. But she didn’t say anything. There was a long period of silence. Grotesque Silence.
Anjali kept staring at me. Looking directly into my eyes. A distant look. Almost dismissive. I began to feel uneasy. Suddenly I remembered the gift wrapped packet I had brought and exclaimed enthusiastically, “Anjali, where are your children? I have got a gift for them. Just a small present for your kids!”
From the look on her face, I immediately sensed that I had said something terribly wrong. I saw tears well up in her eyes. All of a sudden, Anjali looked small, weak and vulnerable. I felt a sense of deep regret as comprehension dawned on me. I looked at her helplessly, pleading innocence, but it was of no use. Some day Anjali might understand my actions, but at that moment it was hopeless to try and explain. The hurt was deep, and I had to let it go in silence.
We just sat there in silence, not knowing what to say. A deafening silence.
It is strange how moments you have rehearsed for end up with a different script.
I could not bear it any longer. I quickly got up and started walking swiftly towards the door. Suddenly I realized that I had forgotten to pick up the packet – the gift. But I did not turn back. Why? I do not know.
“Don’t go, Sanjiv. I want to talk to you,” Anjali spoke coldly.
I stopped in my tracks. I could hear Anjali footsteps behind me. I turned around to face her. She seemed a bit composed.
“You lied to me, Sanjiv,” Anjali said. “I want to know where you found this wallet.”
I did not know what to say. I tried to avoid her eyes.
“Tell me,” Anjali pleaded.
When in doubt, I speak the truth, so I told her the truth, “We raided one of those exclusive classy joints last night,” I stammered. “A posh call-girl racket……….” I could not continue...so I mumbled, “I am sorry. I did not know...”
“I know! Oh yes I know!” Anjali said mockingly. “That impotent creep! Trying to prove his virility to himself.”
With those few words, she had bared the secret of her marriage. I looked at her. Her manner was relaxed and nonchalant; her fury was visible only in her eyes.
I was nonplussed. Suddenly I blurted out, “Don’t worry Anjali. I have dropped the charges. I’ll hush it up.”
I still don’t know why I uttered those words but the moment she heard my words there was a visible metamorphosis in Anjali. Suddenly she became flaming mad. She looked so distraught and angry that I felt very frightened. I was terrified that she would go berserk and attack me, slap me, or something, so I instinctively stepped back. But Anjali suddenly turned and left the room. I waited, dumbstruck, pole-axed, frozen for a moment and after regaining my composure decided to leave and started to move towards the door.
“Wait!” I heard her scream. I stopped in my tracks and turned around.
Anjali quickly walked towards me and thrust out her right hand. She held a bundle of five hundred rupee notes. “So this is what you have come for, isn’t it? A bribe to hush up the case, isn’t it? Even from me! You unscrupulous swine, I didn’t expect you to fall so low. Here - take the money and get out. This is all I have at home. If you want more, you know where to find my husband; don’t you?”
“No, Anjali,” I recoiled in horror, “Please don’t ………..”
“Cheap!” Anjali spat out. There was contempt in her eyes. “Cheap riffraff! That’s what you always were, Sanjiv. Get out you filthy blackmailer.” She threw the bundle of notes at me. It hit my chest and fell on the ground, the money scattering near my feet.
“I love you, Anjali,” I said, trying to sound sincere.
“Love,” she exclaimed, her radiating eyes burning with anger. “So you have come to see how your barren old flame is flourishing, isn’t it?” She paused and said sarcastically, “So you are pleased aren’t you? Happy to see how successful my marriage is, isn't it?”
Her sly and sarcastic suggestion that I might be happy at her misfortune hurt me more than anything else. I turned around and walked out of the house. As I walked towards the gate something hit me on my back. I winced in pain. The three volumes of the expensive Children’s Encyclopedia were scattered on the ground, their silver paper gift wrapper torn. I knew that Anjali was standing in the door looking at me. But I did not look back at her. I gathered the books and walked away into the darkness.
Next morning, as I gradually came into consciousness from my drunken stupor, I realized that I was in my bed.
Though sunlight filtered in through the open windows, everything looked blurred.
Slowly things began to come into focus.
My daughter was sitting beside me on the bed. She touched my arm with tenderness.
There were tears in her eyes.
My son stood aloof on the other side of the bed.
There was fear in his eyes.
My wife looked at me with loving pity and said, “The children want to thank you for the lovely gift. They are so happy!”
She was holding the set of encyclopedias in her hands.
I smiled and reached out to them.
They held my hands and smiled back.
I looked at the pure unadulterated joy in their eyes.
For the first time in my life I experienced a deep genuine true love for my wife and children.
A love which I had never felt before.
Tears of joy welled up in my eyes.
I had discovered love.
Yes, I had discovered the true meaning of love.
Copyright © Vikram Karve 2009
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.