It was not that busy but I did not feel like doing anything either. I tried to clear the files lying on my table but each file seemed too heavy to be dealt with. I called in the stenographer and after dictating a few lines, I found myself lacking proper words. I attempted to read a book but it appeared as if the different words in the book had got jumbled up together and made strange shapes.
It was not possible for me to reason out as to why it was happening like that. It does happen with me once in two months when I find myself blank. It was perhaps a similar day today.
When the peon brought a chit from a visitor and placed it on my table, I told him to ask the visitor to come on the following day. The peon hesitated a little and said, “Sir, the poor lady is very sad. She has been coming to meet you for the last three days. Since you were very busy, I have been sending her away. Please, just listen to her.”
“Who is she?”
“Sir, she works in the copying section of the directorate.”
“Okay, send her in.”
The peon made for the door and soon a thinly built lady entered. While on the door, she wished me with folded hands and slowly walked towards my table.
“Thank you, Sir.” She took the chair in front of my table.
I looked at her intently. She was not that beautiful but could be said to be fairly tolerable. She must have been around forty, of medium height, a wheatish complexion and with curly black hair.
“Yes, what can I do for you?”
“Sir, I am Gita. I work in the copying branch of your directorate.”
Putting aside the file which I had before me, I looked upwards and looked at her, this meant a signal for her to proceed.
“Sir, I am deeply perturbed. My husband also works along with me in the copying branch. He has left home and is living separately for the last four months. I had gone to Delhi to enquire about my ailing father. In my absence he took away all the household goods, locked the house and gave the key to the landlord.”
“ I was simply stunned when I came back. Nobody knew his whereabuts. You can very well imagine, Sir, how I spent that terrible night. The next morning, when I came to the office, he refused to recognise me as if we were absolute strangers to each other.”
“When I asked him as to why he had left home, he said that it was not possible for us to live together and if I liked I could divorce him.”
“I asked him as to where I was at fault. His curt reply was, ask yourself. Saying so, he made for his seat . I kept on gazing at his face, trying to read it but I could not. After the office hours, I started following him and with great dificulty, I could persuade him to accompany me to the coffee house. Even there he repeated the earlier sentence and remained frozen in silence.”
“Sir I have been trying hard for the last four months to know his mind, but I failed. What should I do?”
“Have you come to me for this?”
“Sir, you are Commissioner, I have a request to make……….. On his request, our directorate has transferred him to Jalandhar. My humble prayer is that his transfer be cancelled.”
“But the directorate must have transferred him after some consideration.”
“No Sir, the officers of the directorate only heard his version and must have believed him when he said that I was a vagabond and also a characterless woman. They arrived at the conclusion that if we both continue working in the same office, it would have far-reaching repurcussions in the functioning of the office. I told them the whole thing in detail, but they would hold me responsible and have transferred him.”
“But when for the last four months you have not been even talking to each other, how does it matter for you whether he lives here or at Jalandhar!”
“It matters a lot, Sir. Out of sight is out of mind. He will live there, free from all worries and relax. And I ------ I shall remain here sad, forlorn, frustrated, ignored, and burning with fire of revenge,”
For a moment , I thought that the woman was taking too much liberty with me. How could an ordinary functionary of the office dare waste so much time of the Commissioner?”
She should have come to me through the proper channel. But on second thoughts, I felt it would be rather inhuman on my part to reprimand the hapless soul.
I could empathise with her inner conflict. Somewhere within me, a desire to help her out, brewed within me.
I asked her if she wanted to seek divorce. She was vehement. “No Sir, not at all. I married him after five years of courtship. But within three years of our marriage, he has left home for the third time. On all the previous occasions, after suffering the pangs of separation, I would bring him round and smoothen out things.”
“But this time my conscience does not permit me to humour him. I feel even this time, if I try to persuade him, he will come back to me. But Sir, now I am totally broken. How long can I tolerate all this? I am simply sick of it. The woman in me is revolting. It is an insult to my womanhood.”
“Why must I keep on bowing before him everytime, particularly, when I am not at all at fault? This time Sir, I have resolved not to persuade him to return.”
I was still not able to fathom why she wanted the cancellation of his transfer when she had already decided not to play second fiddle. But she kept on grumbling:
“Sir, this time, if he wants to come back to me, he must do so on his own. He must realize his fault. And if he is not to come back, he must also suffer anguish like me. Just the way I have been suffering anguish and agony for the last four months.”
“On being away from this atmosphere, he will be totally free from anguish and I shall suffer all by myself. I beg of you, Sir, to do justice.”
“Are you prepared to reconcile with him?”
“Sir, I have not thought about this. I only want him to suffer from the fire of anguish which he has lit himself.”
“Look, if you can once again set up home with him, I will ask the director to keep his transfer in abeyance. If you are adamant, then why don’t you let him go?”
“Sir, when there is no water around even an attempt to quench thirst would become meaningless. The director is trying to stop even the source of water in the absence of which even the feeling of being thirsty will be of no consequence.”
“But my point is that when he calls you a vagabond and characterless, how can you reconcile with him?”
“I told you Sir, I have not yet thought about the reconciliation. Time will tell as to who is a vagabond and characterless – he or me.”
“During my courtship with him for five years, I tried to know him deeply. I knew his character but I thought that when a wayward ox is tied to a tether, he does not look elsewhere for food and shelter.
“My calculations, however were proved wrong. As his girlfriend, perhaps I could tolerate his being free with other girls. But Sir, as his wife, how could I? I couldn’t simply digest it.
“Probably that is the reason why he wants to live away from me. I wish I could tell him that a woman can tolerate everything except the thought that when at night her husband is not with her, he is sleeping elsewhere in the arms of another woman.”
As she was peeling off her story, I was trying to understand. Suddenly, I felt that the father within me had come alive. With affection I said:
“Gita, I have all the sympathies for you. If you wish, I can call him and set him right.”
“Thank you Sir, I am grateful to you for all this. But I don’t want any third person between us. When we became friends, there was no third person between us. When we decided to get married, it was a joint decision. So, even now, I don’t want the fire of anguish which is burning us should affect any third person. But why must I burn alone? It would be utter injustice if he is spared like that. Kindly see to it Sir, that his transfer is cancelled.”
I had assured her that the transfer of her husband would be cancelled. I had also agreed with her that he should not be absolved of the flames of the fire of anguish.
After she had gone, I felt I was engulfed in the fire, the flames of which she had left behind – in my room.