Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Armchair Traveler - Rahul's Story

When her mother named her Jacaranda, the in-laws were not pleased. What kind of name is that asked her mother-in-law scornfully. Chandni would have been the right name for her. The girl was born on a full moon night. But Jacaranda she remained. A large part of the first three years of her life were spent at her cousin Rahul's home.

Rahul was three years older than her and was delighted to have a baby sister he could spoil rotten. From being a self absorbed and a somewhat spoilt brat he turned giving and generous willing to share everything he had with her including his precious toy train. He would save the snack his mother packed for school and bring it home to feed the then toothless Jacaranda. He adored his Little Sister more than anyone else.

The next ten years Rahul and Jacaranda met only twice. Once when their grandfather passed away and the other time when their uncle got married. Even at sixteen Rahul found his little cousin just as adorable as she was as a baby. He still wanted to spoil her. He still loved her more than anyone else he knew. She loved reading and he was eager to talk to her about books, specially his favorites and introduce her to the writers he loved.

You have to read Edgar Allan Poe he insisted. He learnt foreign languages and spent hours at the library reading about countries he hoped to visit one day. Every summer he had a new country personality. The French summer he had learnt enough to read and write in French, had made a French pen friend and introduced Jacaranda to French folk music.

I want to go to America so I can savor the cultures from around the world in one place he would tell her. She had a question about her math homework and he showed her three different ways she could solve the same problem. He became her hero. Rahul went back to boarding school and Jacaranda returned home with her parents. I will write letters to you, Rahul promised.

He wrote about his friends, his teachers, his dreams and his fears. Sometimes he wrote a little poem and asked her for her opinion. He encouraged her to write as well assigning her an essay or a poem or maybe a book review. Though they did not see much of each other, the letters helped them stay connected and close.

Sudeshna came into his life in the first year of college. She was warm, funny, intelligent and really believed that Rahul had a future as a writer. The only other person who thought that was Jacaranda but she was just a doting little sister. As much as Rahul valued her opinion he could not take her admiration for his writing too seriously. Sudeshna and Rahul were officially "going steady" at the end of their second year in college. His communication with Jacarnda tapered off over time until a year had passed since he last wrote to her.

He saw her again after years at his wedding with Sudeshna. Aren't you going to America like everyone else ? he asked her. My parents want me to get married first. How hard can that be ? he laughed. Harder than you think she replied. What about you and Sudeshna ? Jacaranda asked. I want to but Sudeshna does not. I could get a full ride too he replied. So what gives ? Jacaranda asked surprised. Her mother is dying of cancer, so she needs to stay in the city. Maybe in a few years Rahul said with a tinge of resignation in his voice.

They have been married ten years now. Sudeshna does not want children . Her mother is still alive though very precariously. Rahul's study is filled with books and music. Sudeshna works long hours, often travels out of town. She encourages him to write full time so he can publish his first novel. He suspects she has a lover. She does nothing to dispel this notion.

When he talks about having a child, she is quick to say How can we raise a child in this day and age on one income ? He has grown so used to staying at home absorbed in reading and writing that he no longer knows how to get a job. It is ten years since he had one. He gets freelance assignments sometimes but has to depend on Sudeshna's income. Infact he would not be able to buy all the books he does without it. He loves her dearly and imagines she does too despite having a lover.

Jacaranda lives in America. She has a busy life. He e-mails her sometimes but the communication is nothing like what they had in their childhood. They inhabit worlds so far apart that they no longer understand each other's language. He misses his Little Sister. Maybe, if they could talk again like they once could, he could tell her about Sudeshna, the pain she causes him from being emotionally absent from their marriage, about how he felt trapped in his favorite armchair reading about about the world outside his own - the quiet 10 feet by 12 feet study lined with books. Only Jacaranda would understand the guilt and shame of his parasitic existence which is retribution for both him and Sudeshna.

He longs to see America through Jacaranda's eyes,verify what he reads with what she sees.When he sets a short story in Manhattan he wants her to help him soak in the ambience of Central Park on a summer afternoon where his character is walking her Golden Retriever and contemplating suicide. Would she pick up her coffee from Starbucks and drop a full box of prescription pills from Duane Reade in it and wait for it to dissolve. Would that ring authentic to someone who lives there ?

Recently, Rahul's entry for a short story contest won a prize. He sent Jacaranda a link to it online. She was amazed at how intensely he had traveled from his armchair at home. In a misplaced sense he was living the American dream without having set foot in the country.

1 comment:

murtx said...

brilliant is simple inadequate to describe this
you have captured a feeling that unless it is experienced, cannot possibly be fathomed by anyone.
kudos to you.