E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: The crowd around was laughing and jeering at her. Her saree was torn and hair disheveled and she was not even conscious of that. She was alternately laughing and crying while shouting ‘Nanna maduve Aagthiyeno?’ (‘Will you marry me?’)
Narahari (name changed) came out running and took Lakshmi home.
Lakshmi (name changed) was my classmate Narahari’s sister.
Born to a middle-class family, her father was an accountant in the AG’s office in Bangalore. Lakshmi was a very pretty girl and a tomboy to boot. As a child she liked to play ‘gombe aata ‘ with her toys, setting up a home, cooking for her husband while cradling a baby in her arms. She loved playing with ‘Pattada Gombe’ before her parents set up the stalls for Navarathri.
As was the custom those days, the elders decided that she would be married to Bhaskar, Lakshmi’s mother’s brother.
In family gatherings, they would often tease Bhaskar as to when he would marry Lakshmi. Lakshmi herself would ask him, ‘Nanna yavaga maduve aagthiyo, nanna ganda?!’ (When will you marry me, my husband?!). His discomfiture made elders laugh at Bhaskar who by now had turned crimson. On ‘Bheemana Amavase’ she would pray god to grant her a good husband.
After degree, I joined engineering and Narahari went for medicine. Bhaskar went to Manipal to study medicine. Lakshmi grew into a beautiful girl and after her graduation took up music. A tomboy gradually grew into a demure and charming girl.
We didn’t have much of communication and once in a way, I would drop into Narahari’s house. Once I jokingly asked Lakshmi, “How is your would be husband, Bhaskar?”
She blushed and ran inside.
Bhaskar’s visit to Bangalore gradually reduced as he was busy with his internship. When the date was fixed for his ‘Nishchiithartha’ (engagement ceremony) after his graduation, Bhaskar shocked everybody saying he was in love with a classmate and he didn’t want to marry Lakshmi.
He snubbed his parents saying elders had no business to get their children betrothed and marriage was certainly not child’s play.
Bhaskar’s decision, a shocker to everybody, was more so to Lakshmi who had grown with the thought that Bhaskar was her husband ever since she was barely three years old.
It was a dream that lay shattered.
Bhaskar married his colleague Shaila (name changed) and set up a clinic in Bangalore. Meanwhile, Lakshmi immersed herself in Carnatic music and started giving free lessons to the girls of Abalashrama in Gandhi Bazaar and took pains to settle the girls in life through marriage or a job. If there was any chance for an alliance or a job for any of her students she would run across to explore the opportunity. She flatly refused to have any discussion at home about her own marriage.
It was in one such meeting, she met Shankar (name changed) who had a business of his own. Ever since he lost his parents in an accident, that left his sister Priya (name changed) partially paralysed, he had decided to remain a bachelor. He was selling imported equipment and mostly supplied to defence establishments in Bangalore. Deeply interested in music, he was a member of the Gayana Samaja. Shankar hired meritorious but disabled and disadvantaged people in his company as he felt equal opportunity should be given to all.
Though nothing came out of Lakshmi’s meeting with Shankar, their common ideals and tastes brought them closer. He saw and admired the efforts Lakshmi made to settle her students in life and pitched in help wherever possible.
Though it started as a professional relationship, it soon blossomed into a friendship. They started attending concerts together. Shankar also encouraged her students by giving them chance to sing in junior artistes’ competition in Gayana Samaja.
Lakshmi had confided in him her failed alliance with Bhaskar and Shankar in turn, about his sister whom he will have to take care lifelong.
It was on the eve of Dasara, Shankar confessed his love for her. He had broached the topic just as she was arranging the ‘Pattada Gombe’ for Navarathri celebrations. As she listened to him, memories of her childhood flashed across when she grew up thinking Bhaskar as her husband.
“Have I come out of my ‘Gombe Aata’ days,” she wondered. “Will I be able to look after Shankar’s disabled sister for the rest of my life?”
She knew Shankar loved her deeply and was scared that she might lose him too if she didn’t decide soon. Next morning, she phoned Shankar and gave her consent.
They decided to get married in a temple by just exchanging garlands. Prior to that, they planned to inform their close relatives.
On Deepavali eve, they went to buy clothes for their wedding. Shankar chose a traditional red colour saree for Lakshmi, and she bought a salwar-kurtha set for him.
While they were driving home, Shankar wanted to stop by in the City Market and buy fire-crackers for his office staff.
He parked the car across and while he was coming back with the packet of crackers in hand, a fire broke in one of the shops which soon spread and the whole shopping area was ablaze. The crackers in his hand burst knocking him down.
Lakshmi who was only few metres from the ghastly scene, got out of the car and ran towards Shankar even as she saw him getting engulfed in the blazing inferno. She fainted right there. Some samaritans rushed and tried to save as many lives as they could.
Shankar’s body was charred and he succumbed to third degree burns in the hospital.
When Lakshmi woke up she was at home. She was still in a daze but wanted to see him. When she saw Shankar for the last time, she did not cry but ran back to her room and would not open the door.
Much later when they had all come back from the funeral, she opened the door and came out. She was decked up fully in the bridal red saree with the pallu drawn up to her forehead as a bride. Suddenly she started laughing and started tearing her saree.
When Narahari and Bhaskar ran to hold her, she was alternately laughing and crying, saying ‘Nanna maduve agthiyeno? (‘Will you marry me?’)
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