Sunday, November 11, 2012

When Scenes Change...

"So you like the room, don't you?" asked the landlady.

Raghu was about to say 'yes,' almost automatically but allowed second thoughts to take over, before he   opened his mouth. 'Will the room be airy?'

He expressed his doubt to his prospective landlady rather reluctantly, "Will the room get good breeze?"

"Good breeze?" exclaimed the landlady. "Good heavens! One can't stand the powerful flow of air into the room. The previous occupants would keep the window closed most of the time. 'Was it for preventing any foul smell entering the room from outside?' he wondered.

It was then that she opened a small window whose very existence came to his notice only at that time. The opening of the window brought some sunlight into the room. But the breeze which was reluctant to flow into the room didn't appear to be very keen to testify to the landlady's claim.

However, Raghu felt that the room was tolerably good.

"So, what is your decision?" demanded the landlady in a tone suggestive of giving him an ultimatum.

"Okay, madam. I like the room. I will move in tomorrow," hastened Raghu, as if driven by a fear that if he dithered any longer, she would show him the door. He added "if it will suit you too," as an after-thought. His initial reluctance stemmed from his misgivings about the appearance of the room and the facilities available. Located above a dark, narrow and steep staircase, the room presented the appearance of a magician's cave. But his misgivings were swept aside by the uncomfortable thought of the ordeal of searching for another accommodation and he was prompted to quickly accept the one that was readily available.

As Raghu looked out of the window which appeared to be the only likeable feature of the room, he saw another window in a house on the opposite row. It appeared to be a mirror image of this window, placed exactly on the opposite row so that a person standing behind one window could directly look at the face of another behind the opposite window. When he was about to turn back, he noticed a sudden flash of light on the opposite window. At first, it appeared to be a lightning but unlike a lightning, it didn't disappear but seated itself on the inner side of the window. A young girl was sitting across the frame of the window.

When Raghu moved in the next day, his first act was to open the window and look out. His eyes involuntarily rested on the opposite window. The flash of lightning that appeared on the window the previous day was still there. It was as if she had been sitting there in the same posture since the time he saw her the previous day.

It appeared strange to him that he should have set out to first look for her in the opposite window. He was about to turn back and attend to other things but he felt an urge to have another look at her. He was surprised that he wanted to have another look at her when he had not even taken a good look at her the first time. He rationalized his behaviour by thinking that such desires arose due to the natural curiosity of a bachelor.

When Raghu looked at her again, he observed her closely. What struck him more was her posture than anything else. What an impressive posture! Though she should have been sitting on the sill in a relaxed way, it appeared as if she was posing for a photograph, nay a sculpture. (One doesn't pose for a long time for a photograph!) The way she was sitting inside the frame of the window, tightly clasping the window grills, seemed to suggest that sitting at that place in that posture was the most important thing for her in her life! Her gaze was fixed on the sky. It reminded him of a poem he had once read:

'Though eyes are in communion with the stars
 Hands don't extend beyond the window grill.'

She presented a perfect model for that verse, he thought.

Several months passed by. The landlady was asking him every now and then whether he was getting a good breeze. Since, while being in the room, he was spending most of the time standing near the window, he was enjoying a good breeze all right! If his legs pained due to prolonged standing, he would lean on the window frame, in an attempt to fool his body into believing that he was relaxing. His window didn't have a sill like the one on the opposite house, for him to sit.

Standing near the window every evening after returning home from work became a regular habit with him. And on all days, the girl was sitting near the window of the opposite house. In fact, the moment he entered the room and opened the window, he would see her sitting at her usual place, as if waiting for him! She would be holding a book in her hand as though she needed an excuse for sitting there! Except for going into the house a couple of times, she would never leave the window.

Both of them were looking at each other, often staring at each other, untiringly. They even retired to bed at the same time after switching off the lights.

After a few days, this 'affair' began to trouble his mind. He was feeling guilty about what he was doing, not being consciously aware of his intentions and feeling apprehensive about what appeared to him as the impending gloom. He knew nothing about her, her family and her social status and wondered whether he could marry her overcoming the possible objections from both of their families. He was not even sure whether he wanted to marry her. If he didn't, why was he looking at her everyday, also misleading her about his intentions in the process?

Over the years, he had developed some expectations about the girl he would marry like most young men do. He wondered whether this girl would meet his expectations.

There was a letter from his father. His parents were in the process of fixing up a girl for him to marry. He was asked to go over to his parents' place to finalize the proposal.

After reading the letter, Raghu looked at the girl in the opposite house. As usual, she was staring at him. For a moment, his heart was filled with an overwhelming flow of sympathy for her. But the very next moment, he shut the door of the window. When he went to the office the next day, he applied for leave and left for his parents' place the same evening.

When Raghu returned to his room after a few weeks, he brought his wife along. Both of them had to stay in that room for a few days till he could rent a bigger house. As he walked along his wife, he was reassuring himself about her beauty and his privilege of his partnership with her by turning to look at her face repeatedly.

They entered the house and after introducing his wife to the landlady, climbed up the stairs to his cavern. On entering the room, his wife asked him, "What kind of a place is this? This room is like the store room of my house, dark and stuffy. I don't know how I am going to live here!" She opened the window so as to let the sunlight in.

Seeing her open the window, his heart-beat count doubled. 'If the girl in the opposite house sees my wife, how will she feel? Will she think that I have cheated her? But why should she think so? Did I ever tell her that I was in love with her? Did I assure her that I would marry her? But.. if she had imagined that I was in love with her, will she become heart-broken? Will she hang herself from the roof of the room adjoining the window so that I will be forced to look at the gruesome sight of her body hanging from the ceiling through the window?... Oh.. God!'

Picking up some courage, Raghu came near the window and standing behind his wife, had a sneak look at the opposite window.

The window of the opposite house was closed! Perhaps, the family had gone out.

The window remained closed for the next few days also. Perhaps, the girl's family had vacated the house. He felt immensely relieved by this prospect. However, he wanted to know for sure. But then he didn't know how to ascertain the truth. He thought of asking his landlady but he didn't want to create any problem for himself by showing that he had some interest in the people living there.

After a week, there was some activity in the opposite house. The window got opened. Raghu observed that some other family had moved into that house. He felt more relieved, his feelings of guilt and anxiety slowly fading away.

When Raghu returned home from the office, he saw his wife standing near the window, looking out. He went and stood near her. She greeted him and then withdrew to make him some coffee.

His eyes spontaneously focused themselves on the window of the opposite house. A lad was sitting on the sill of the window, the same place where the girl was sitting in the past, looking at his house. On meeting Raghu's gaze, the young man turned aside suddenly. Raghu realized that the lad had been sitting there looking at Raghu's wife who was standing near the window till a few seconds back. A surge of anger rose within him.

He shut the door of the window immediately.

His wife who came in with the coffee cup, was puzzled by his action and asked, "What happened?"

"Don't you feel stuffy?" responded Raghu without thinking of what he was saying. "I mean the air brings in a lot of dust. Well, we have to shift to a better house immediately."

Unable to comprehend what he was saying, his wife stared at him wondering what could have gone wrong with him so suddenly.
(Written in the year 1982)

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