This is a story from a small town of Paori in the hill district of Garhwal, now a part of state of Uttarakhand in India.
Ram Prasad Mamgain was a primary school teacher in Paori. He had a daughter Shristi. Ram Prasad’s wife suffered from tuberculosis. He had often seen his wife coughing and panting for breadth. He would rush to her with a glass of water and medicine on such occasions and try to keep Shristi away from her. Ram Prasad had kept his wife in a separate room with a separate set of utensils. That was the custom those days; the victims of tuberculosis were kept in isolation. No one even talked to them.
Ram Prasad served his wife with rare devotion till the end came. He was then forty-five and Shristi was merely eleven. Ram Prasad Mamgain didn’t remarry even though in his community, men elder to him would have done so. He perhaps had an apprehension that he might have caught the disease from his wife. He was therefore worried for Shristi. She was a bright student and Ram Prasad after long pleading and cajoling was able to shift her to his brother’s place in Lucknow.
“I am sending you away because I want you to concentrate on your studies. Your mother wanted you to be a doctor and I want her dream to come true. Don’t worry about me for I have lived my life and I too want nothing more in my life than to see you as a doctor. I will be sending money to your uncle every month. Your uncle has agreed to the arrangement.”
Young Shristi listened to her father pensively. Her heart ached to leave her father alone.
Ram Prasad continued after taking a long breadth.
“You will have the company of your cousin. He is your age; reads in an English school. I have asked your uncle to get you admitted in the same school.”
Shristi was studious by nature and her father’s words rang in her ears every now and then. She did very well in her school examination and qualified the entrance examination for a course in medicine.
For Ram Prasad, it was the happiest day of his life when Shristi qualified as a doctor. There were not many doctors from their community. In any case, Shristi was the first lady doctor from her community. For Ram Prasad and his folks, it was a big occasion and even though Ram Prasad had never touched liquor in his life, he allowed it to be served in a lavish scale. Ram Prasad him self had to be carried to his room.
A couple of months later Shristi was appointed as a medical officer at Dehradun District Hospital. Ram Prasad had retired by this time and shifted to his village. His fears had come true. He too had been afflicted by tuberculosis. The village people had ostracized him. They neither went to him nor did they allow him to enter their homes.
Shristi went to her village immediately after assuming the charge of her new job and was aghast to see her father. She insisted that he accompanied her.
“I will treat you, it is a curable disease or else I will consider all my efforts to become a doctor have gone waste,” she told Ram Prasad.
Shristi was an enthusiastic young doctor, always encouraging her patients, bearing a smile even when going was tough. She treated her father with dedication and in a year’s time Ram Prasad was nearly cured. Shristi was delighted to see her father up and on his feet.
Shristi was twenty-seven and Ram Prasad was now keen to get her married. “I may not live long. I want to see you married and settled before I leave,” he often told Shristi. Shristi gave her consent.
“I have only one child and she is a doctor. I want an equally qualified boy from a well to do family and make sure, their stars match perfectly,” he told the family priest.
The search for a suitable bridegroom ended with Arvind, the only son of Kula Nand Dimri, a well-established businessman in Kotdwar. Arvind was never a good student, his interest in books waned as he gained access to his father’s money. After several attempts he graduated in the lowest grade. Kula Nand asked him to join the family business.
The family priest was elated on his find.
“Ram Prasad, this is the best match you could get for your daughter. I have studied their horoscopes. Their stars match perfectly. Your daughter will have a long and prosperous happy married life.”
Ram Prasad was happy with the priest who wanted to impress his client further. “The boy belongs to a rich and renowned family of Kotdwar. They have a palatial house and several servants. Shristi will live like a queen.”
Ram Prasad was quizzed for he had lived all his life in Paori and around. “Which family are you talking about?” He asked the priest.
The priest was waiting for the question. He gave a long drag on the cigarette and pausing a little he said, “It is the Dimri family, the richest family of Kotdwar town.”
Ram Prasad knew the Dimri family and that the family was quite rich though it didn’t enjoy the best of reputation.
Ram Prasad wanted to be doubly sure. He knew the family priest was garrulous and a little dicey. For a few chips from Kula Nand, the priest could be exaggerating.
Ram Prasad made copies of the two horoscopes and took them to another priest and he was quite relieved and happy when the other priest also confirmed matching of the stars assuring a harmonious happy married life for his daughter Shristi.
Kula Nand Dimri had acquired an ostentatious life style. He had started as a menial servant in the house of the District Forest Officer posted at Kotdwar when he had come out of his village thirty years ago. Kula Nand but had a sharp mind and knew how to keep his bosses in good humour. Over the years, he had travelled a long way. He was now the wholesale timber merchant of the district, owned two trucks, a passenger bus and his house, Dimri-Mahal was the prominent landmark of the Kotdwar town.
Kula Nand was happy that his son was getting married to a doctor. He knew Ram Prasad Mamgain was a poorly paid teacher and that nothing could be expected from him in dowry. Kula Nand, a shrewd person had his own plan. He wanted Shristi to resign her government job and start private practice. To succeed in his plan he had greased the priest’s palm sufficiently.
The marriage was only a week away. Knowing Ram Prasad’s financial position, Kula Nand took on him self the responsibility of making all arrangements. Things were moving well but Ram Prasad’s mind was at unease. He remembered his father’s words some thirty years ago. “The priests are a greedy lot. They can lie to any extent to make their clients happy.”
Ram Prasad left for Rishikesh telling his people that he wanted to get the blessing of his ‘Guruji’ before solemnising his daughter’s marriage. “I will be back tomorrow evening, he told his younger brother.
Ram Prasad got the two horoscopes examined afresh for the third time and when his ‘Guruji’ confirmed that it was a perfect matching of stars, Ram Prasad was greatly relieved. He returned to Paori a happily assured person.
The marriage was a grand show. People from the small hill town of Paori were suitably impressed. Ram Prasad was quite happy and so was Kula Nand.
The happiness but dissipated much quicker than any one of them would have imagined. Shristi refused to resign her job.
“You work for a paltry sum. I want to make a nursing home in Kotdwar and you will see money pouring in,” her father-in-law impressed upon her.
Shristi didn’t like the idea and Ram Prasad was in a dilemma for he knew Shristi was proud of her job.
“I have hardly any experience and a nursing home needs specialised treatment. Let me work for a few years and gain some experience. We can take up this project a little later,” Shristi tried to persuade her father-in-law.
“Don’t bother, I will hire good experienced specialists, you only have to count the money,” Kula Nand laughed, pleased with his own sense of humour.
Counting money was not the ambition of Shristi’s life. She resisted the move and joined her duty a week later at Dehradun, annoying her father-in-law. A week later Arvind joined her at Dehradun.
Arvind was up set at the very look of the government quarter allotted to Shristi. The door and window panels were cracked and the paint had faded. On the walls, at several places, bricks were showing as the plaster had peeled off. There were cobwebs hanging from the ceiling and ochre patches of rain marks dotted the wall surface. There was a pungent odour inside the house.
Shristi was pleasantly surprised to see Arvind. She knew Arvind was accustomed to better living conditions. She was apologetic about the state of the quarter but promised to get it done up soon.
“Arvind, I am so busy with my work and father is too old to do anything. Any way, I promise to take care at the soonest possible.”
Arvind didn’t respond. Next day he engaged two hands and got the house cleaned up. In the evening when Shristi returned from her office, she was pleasantly surprised to see the house spruced up.
“Arvind, you must have worked the whole day. It looks different. I will now get the repairs done and get it painted.”
Arvind simply nodded. “You must be tired, let’s go out for dinner,” he suggested. Shristi hesitated for she had to cook for her father.
“Please give me a little time. Let me cook something for father and I have to give him an injection.”
“Ah! That will take the whole evening,” Arvind was put off. Trying hard to keep his temper he asked her, “Why do you strain so much? I mean, why you aren’t amenable to my father’s suggestion. Surely, it would make life comfortable.”
“Arvind, try to understand. As a professional, I look for job satisfaction rather than comfort or money for that matter. I would be reduced to a manager in the nursing home, counting money and that is not my vision of life.”
“What’s wrong in that? Aren’t you doing the job for money?”
“Arvind there is difference in what I am doing here and what you are suggesting.”
“It’s plain bullshit. You are not doing a social service. In the ultimate analysis it is money that matters.”
“I wish I could make you understand,” Shristi said, throwing her hands in exasperation. The evening was ruined.
Arvind noticed Ram Prasad often coughing and spitting phlegm. He had a suspicion. The idea of living with a TB patient petrified him.
“What disease is your father suffering from?” He asked Shristi one evening. Shristi looked at Arvind and replied, “He had tuberculosis but he is nearly cured of it.”
Arvind was shocked and shaken.
“What? Your father has TB? No one told us… that priest is a bastard… and you must have known it earlier. Oh God! What a fate, married in a family afflicted by TB?”
“Arvind, please cool down. It is true, my father was suffering from TB but he is nearly cured. I am personally looking after him. I assure you, no harm will come to you.”
“Shut up you liar. I now realise why you rejected my father’s offer. I cannot stay here even for a day; I am leaving by the morning bus.”
The altercation between the couple upset Ram Prasad terribly.
“Son, I will leave for village tomorrow. In any case I don’t have many years left and I can’t see your life ruined for my sake.”
“You are a bigger liar, a crook and a bloody cheat. I am sure even your daughter has TB and soon I too will have it.”
Ram Prasad squatted on the ground before his son in law. “Son, there is nothing wrong with Shristi. After all she is a doctor. Please don’t go away. I will leave early in the morning.”
“You are going nowhere,” It was Shristi who was quite agitated by now. Then turning towards Arvind she said, “I am damned if I abandon my old and ailing father, the one who gave his sweat and blood to bring me to this position.”
Ram Prasad was still on the floor. “Child, my happiness rests on yours. I know you love me but …please let me go… and… if you still try to stop me, I will jump in front of a train.”
Shristi was stunned but resolute. “You will not go simply because someone cannot bear your presence. It is my decision, jumping in front of a train will be yours.”
Arvind was enraged. He rushed out of the house and went to a telephone booth to call his father.
Kula Nand Dimri heard his son and paused. “Arvind, I don’t think you should leave your wife in a hurry. May be Ram Prasad leaves the place……, I think he will do it for he loves his daughter immensely.”
Kula Nand’s words offended Arvind.
“She was your choice, I would have been happier with an ordinary woman. I cannot risk my life and in any case we are incompatible altogether. She has no place for me in her life… it is insulting …...” Arvind broke down.
“Your ego is higher than the Himalayas, not good for a woman,” Arvind said to Shristi before leaving.
Shristi was hurt. “How could you be so inhuman? Would you have done the same thing if it were your father?” She asked Arvind who stammered some expletives and left the place.
That was the beginning of the parting. “May be, I was too strict with him,” she often thought and yet she was not convinced that she should have thrown out her father. She wanted to write to Arvind and apologise but she could not, something always held her back.
Her miseries increased when Ram Prasad who was quite saddened over the events in his daughter’s life passed away in his sleep. And Shristi then found that she was carrying. She wrote to Arvind and pleaded to start afresh.
“Now that my father is no more, we can start afresh. I am willing to leave the job if that makes you happier,” she wrote.
The reply was very brief, merely a few words of condolences. Shristi wrote again and this time she told him that she was going to be the mother of his child. There was no reply from Arvind.
Shristi wrote to Arvind after a son was born to her. Several letters that she wrote thereafter to Arvind remained unanswered and then one day she received a legal notice of divorce. The charge was adultery. Arvind had disowned the child.
Shristi was shocked. She didn’t contest even though she knew she could prove in the court of law that it was Arvind’s child. The court granted ex-parte divorce.
Shristi named her son, Ram Prakash in memory of her father. When Ram Prakash was five, she put him in a hostel and opted for field duties. “I need some extra money for my son’s education,” she told her senior.
“Is this the solution to the problem?”
“You could make new beginning; you have a long life ahead of you.”
“Perhaps there are too many evil stars barring happiness enter my life.”
“That is nonsense, you should make an attempt.”
“Thank you doctor but the passage of time has not been able to heal my wounds. They are still raw and soar.”
Shristi missed her father and her son. One reminded her of her past and the other raised the hope for future. In the evening after the hard trekking in the treacherous sun when she returned to her place, she felt a vacuum in her life. There was none with whom she could share her sorrows. She knew many of her colleagues were waiting for her to fall prey to their lust. Every one believed that a divorcee was easily accessible.
Depression was mounting in her life. She took to drinking. She would bring the liquor quietly and drink to get over her loneliness. It was only a matter of time that everyone in the department came to know of it.
Shristi knew that Arvind had remarried. It was a coincidence that she had received the invite from an old college friend who was marrying Arvind. She sent her a message congratulating her.
“I would have loved to attend your marriage. I am sure you understand my predicament.”
“It was a mis-match,” she had often heard her colleagues say till they forgot her and her story.
That was twenty-three years ago. Ram Prakash grew in hostel and Shristi spent most of her life in the field.
Ram Prakash is a matured young man, and an engineer now with a decent job. He knows the tormented life his mother has lived and her addiction to alcohol.
“No more field work hereafter,” he said to his mother after getting the job. “We will stay together and that will help you get over the problem,” he added.
Shristi was happy that the ill-luck dogging her life had stayed away from her son. She often remembered her past and felt gloomy.
“Was it my fault or Arvind’s or was it destiny? Perhaps we should have tried to understand each other more rationally, tried to accommodate each other. Perhaps…” She could never conclude.
“Ma, do you have my horoscope?” Ram Prakash asked her one evening.
Shristi gave her son a searching look.
“Nirmala’s folks are insisting that our stars must match before they gave their consent.”
Shristi knew Nirmala was Ram Prakash’s girl friend for couple of years.
She looked up and touching him over his shoulder she said, “Son, I don’t have your horoscope but marry Nirmala if you love her. My father too insisted that our stars matched and matched perfectly …… and you know my life.”
Ram Prakash felt sad for his mother.
Shristi resumed after taking a deep breadth, “Son, it is important that you understand each other. Take my word; it takes more than matching of stars for a marriage to succeed.”