Busy traffic streamed through the roads in Bangalore, taking everybody to work, while the cold winds reminded her of the depressing time spent here almost ten years ago.
She wished that she were back in Chennai, at her beauty parlour, doing something as mundane as colour coordinating nail polish shades. Instead she was on her way to her husband’s funeral.
She had not seen Suresh, for almost ten years. Not since that fateful afternoon that had haunted her dreams for so long. Their last conversation was almost three years ago, when he had called her number by mistake. He had sounded apologetic and embarrassed when he realized that he had inadvertently called his estranged wife. They hadn’t talked much. There was nothing to talk about.
Standing outside his palatial mansion, she looked around slowly and found that it was just as she remembered it from ten years ago. The same old gulmohar trees lining the garden, the large swing at the veranda and the jasmine tree that her mother-in-law had planted right after their marriage. Ironically it was in full bloom now.
She stood looking at it trying to avoid the inevitable moment. Reluctantly, she moved towards the main door. People were bustling in and out carrying trays of coffee. Some were standing in corners whispering and trying to look sorry while some were talking softly into their cell phones.
She moved slowly towards the door, feeling uncomfortable and worried about what people would say to her. Would his relatives curse her for leaving him and their marriage behind? Would they blame her for his suicide?
There were many relatives sitting on the floor, crying and whispering. She pulled herself together and stepped in. She spotted his aunt, his cousins, who were in their teens wearing pigtails when she had got married to him, and now they looked very mature wearing saris. There were some uncles and cousins whom she recognized. They didn’t notice her yet. She wondered whether they would recognize her at all. It’s been after all ten years.
She walked into the large living room slowly and went near the icebox where ‘he’ lay. One of his cousins was adjusting the agarbathi that was kept in the stand and he was saying, “The priest has come. We can take the body to the burial ground within one hour.”
The body... Suresh was now referred to as ‘body’. A painful pang shot up her heart and her thoughts flew back to their first meeting. Tall, slim and handsome, he can’t be the ‘body’.
She looked down at his body kept inside the icebox. No! This can’t be Suresh! The man lying in the icebox was not the handsome charmer that she had got married to. This man looked old, with his hair receding and a defeated look on his face. How did he become like this? What went wrong? Am I responsible for this in some way?
With over a hundred questions racing through her mind, and an overpowering feeling of guilt, she didn’t even notice that people around her had finally recognized her. But no one spoke to her; they instead made way for her to move forward and stand near her dead husband.
She spotted her brother-in-law seated next to the icebox. He looked at her with sunken eyes and slightly nodded his head. Nandini was nowhere to be seen.
She squirmed uneasily when the whispering around her grew loud. ‘She lives in Chennai.’ ‘She left him ten years ago...’, ‘What girl would live in this house with what was going on...’ She knew that she had just cause to leave him and their marriage, yet the oppressive feeling of guilt and shame pressed down on her heart. She couldn’t meet anybody’s eyes nor would she speak to anyone. Locked in her own private hell, she had a lot of questions to ask.
Why did he commit suicide? Was he in some kind of financial mess? Was he depressed? Where is Nandini?
Suresh’s death rituals began. A new dhoti was brought out and the men in the family washed his body and dressed him. Someone got a sealed jar of water from river Ganga from the pooja room to pour a mouthful for the dead man. Within an hour, all the ceremonial formalities were completed and Suresh was ready for his last journey. The priest asked her to touch the bundle of rice that would be kept in his mouth in the end. Four men from the family got ready to lift his body to take it out to the burial ground while Suresh’s brother walked in the front.
She looked at her husband’s face for the last time. He had betrayed her and had never been her husband in any true way, yet she just felt sad and angry for him. He had left her for Nandini, yet the ‘love of his life’ was nowhere to be seen when he started on his last journey.
After the body was taken to the burial ground, the servants washed the floor and the relatives took the ceremonial head bath. She stood in the hall, hesitant to go in but Suresh’s aunt came and beckoned her upstairs. But she refused to go to the room that she had shared with him. A hundred vivid memories of the time that she had spent here came rushing making her heart heavy. She took the ritualistic head bath in the guest room.
After the bath, she came down to the hall. Suresh’s aunt was nowhere to be seen. She probably left. When one comes for a funeral, it is customary to leave without telling anyone.
They were seated in the living room. A few of her husband’s relatives sat discussing the tragedy. Some looked on curiously while others cast suspicious glances at her as if she had handed over the sleeping pills to him. But the worst part of the whole affair was the unbearable guilt and anger that she felt towards herself. She constantly wondered whether he would have been alive, if she had not left him ten years ago.
She wanted to leave too but Santhanam, Suresh’s brother was nowhere to be seen. Narayanan, her husband’s friend and an inspector in Cyber Crime branch, was the only one around. She had met him many years ago, as a newlywed bride of his friend. It was his influence that smoothened the police investigations.
Suresh had taken around 30 – 35 sleeping pills in the dead of the night and it was almost afternoon, when they realized that he was dead. Narayanan arranged for the post-mortem and conducted a quick inquiry about the whole affair and had called her late in the night, to give her the news.
“He was too depressed after Nandini left,” said Narayanan shaking his head.
“Why did she leave him?” She asked. “I suppose she got fed up with Suresh,” said Narayanan softly. “She is somewhere in Germany now attending a conference, along with her latest boyfriend. She left Suresh’s company a year ago and joined another company. Suresh stopped going to office after that. She embezzled a lot of money. They could have sued her in a court of law. But he refused to register a complaint or do anything against her...”
She listened to him numb with frozen emotion.
“...for all his meekness, Santhanam turned out to be more intelligent than Suresh. He pulled out his share from the business and safeguarded his assets. Suresh turned out to be the biggest fool.”
She turned her head away with blinking tears and took the cup of coffee that he offered.
“If only Suresh had written something about her in that suicide letter of his, I would have made sure that she was behind bars. But he didn’t. I have a copy of it with me. Do you want to read it?” he asked
“No. But you can tell me what he wrote.” She said softly
He looked at her with his frank eyes and said, “That he was sorry. That he truly loved her and that he was responsible for his actions. He had called her 20 times the night before. But she didn’t answer. I suppose he got depressed by that.”
She bent her head to hide her tears but found it difficult to control her emotions. She swallowed painfully even as the tears escaped from her eyes. Narayanan patted her hand comfortingly and said, “I’m sorry. But I do know one thing; he regretted hurting you. He told me so many times.”
Shocked, she looked at him and said, “He... he never told me that. And I thought... I’m sad that he had to take this extreme step for someone who is just not worth it.” She said wiping her tears again.
“Are you leaving today?” He asked looking at her packed suitcase.
“Yes. Right away. There is nothing else for me to do here unless you have any other police formality to complete,” she said softly.
“No. I have taken care of everything,” he said looking at her with sad eyes.
“Thanks. What about Santhanam? Is he going to be fine?”
“He will be fine. He has his yoga, exercise, bhajan and baba thing going...” He replied vaguely but summing up Santhanam’s character quite aptly.
“Yeah. You are right. Anyway I will be leaving now. My taxi is waiting outside. Bye.”
Narayanan looked at her with regret. He remembered her as a fresh-faced bride, young and full of life. Suresh had been a fool... But then he had been a fool about many things in life.
About the author
An avid reader, she loves to read across different genres – romance, historical fiction, non-fiction, mystery, fantasy etc. A history buff to the core, she is currently translating Ponniyin Selvan – the evergreen tamil classic epic history by Kalki Krishnamurthy into English.
Married to film maker K.S. Manikandan, Sumeetha lives in Chennai, along with her six year old daughter.