I know Vimala Ramu since when? But that is immaterial. What is important is that I have been tailing her around the blogosphere from time immemorial, or so it seems. The wit, humour and spark in her writing elevated her blogs to something more than mere leisurely scribbles. More than once I have been struck by her ingenuity which has always proved to be an alternate perspective finer than a mere smart move. The septuagenarian, in her own inimitable style, has always presented an approach to life which has been novel and inspiring.
When “Colors”, an anthology of her blogs, followed the trilogy (“Rain Song”, “Dew Drops” and “Wind Chimes”) with which she had debuted into the world of printed publication, I did not waste time to grab the same. And thank God I did as never had I come across such a delightful potpourri of impish humour and witty take on life! To say “Colors” was enjoyable would be an understatement. It was therapeutic.
So, when Vimala gave me an inkling of what was coming next out of her vast booty of experiences my antennae cocked up and remained so till I received a complimentary copy of the novella “And She Waited For Sixty Years”!!!
Beautiful Aradhana falls in love with Ajay. Being from a conservative family she is not able to express her feelings for him. In due course of time Aradhana is married to Vinod – an idea life partner, understanding, caring and supportive. It’s a marriage made in heavens. While Aradhana’s loyalty towards her husband is faultless yet she often dreams of Ajay and wonders what her life would have been if she were married to him. Life takes its own course for Aradhana, Ajay and Vinod and it is after sixty years of fulfilling married life, Aradhana discloses to Ajay that he was her first love. Not exactly a run of the mill story based on an unusual subject exacting a lot from the readers in terms of acceptance of a candid and unseasonal confession of love at first sight.
The acknowledgment in the very beginning of the book humbled me. My contribution to the novella, in my opinion, was minimal. But what augured an interview was not gratitude but a whole lot of curiosity and an irresistible urge to get into the mind of the authoress who could conceptualize a theme so different and structurize a plot so engaging on the same.
I delayed not a moment more to invite Vimala to a virtual cup of steaming, hot , chikodi coffee and take advantage of this opportunity to elicit from the authoress the unspoken words hidden between the lines. What followed was an interesting session of questions and answers between innumerable sips of dark, liquified caffein and again the grand dame did not hesitate a bit in hitting the ‘ball in her court’ ( as she put it) with that right amount of forthrightness, eloquence and may I add a whole lot of chutzpah.
As she settled down in the downy sofa, elegant and glowing, her exotic Kanjivaram saree splayed around her equally aristocratic persona, I volleyed my first shot
Why wait for 60 long years?
The reply was a patient one
You must understand that what Aradhana was telling Ajay was not a wanton statement told for titillation with a bated breath like ‘I love you’ as portrayed in chicklit romances. It was a responsible sharing of a bit of information of something long past and which was not targeted to elicit any cataclysmic effect All she wanted was to let him know that he did play a role in her early life though unknown to him. As such it required utter privacy (not for the usual reasons) and lot of maturity on the part of both Aradhana and Ajay. Such an opportunity presented itself only after 60 years.
Well, we are in the age of Right to Information. Aren’t we? But isn’t there something more to love than just information sharing ? I cajoled her into the next more intimate query:
Do you think fidelity is just a figment of collective imagination? I mean who has the password to a woman or for that matter a man’s mind?
She smiled a little knowingly before speaking up :
Fidelity is purely a mental state supported by meaningful physical activities. It is not just repeating ‘I love you’ hundred times and changing your mind in a second due to some trivial reason.
Well, my curiosity was irrepressible and her smile had encouraged me to egg on…
You have in your book illustrated a kind of balanced rope walking in so far as man-woman relationship is concerned? Your heroine Aradhana is a devoted wife yet she nurtures an almost juvenile crush for another man who is not always physically present with her? In that sense proximity seems dispensable to a fertile mind. Do you agree or disagree.
She shrugged and perhaps bided for time as she took a slow sip from her coffee cup..and then
Yes, the key words here are ‘juvenile crush’ and not ‘balanced rope walking’. Aradhana secure in her marital state never had the necessity to do ‘ balanced rope walking’. Her one sided love for Ajay was indeed a pleasant episode from her teenage years and it remained a pleasant memory and nothing more.
I was engrossed and thoughtful. How could a woman love two men at the same time without compromising on her loyalty. I had to ask her to find out :
Well, there is a thin line of demarcation between love and fascination. How would you define Aradhana’s feelings towards Ajay? Is it actual love or is it love for the idea of love? Is the emphasis more on love at a conceptual level?
Pat came the answer without much ado
Well, as far as the young Aradhana was concerned, it was the real thing for her. But, teenage itself is such a period that ‘love for love’ is often mistaken for ‘love’ itself. But in her case, since her astral handicap was also there, there was no opportunity to nurture it further into a more adult level.
I was insatiable. There is always so much to read between the lines, especially, in novels which offer what has never been said before
Realism and romance are antithetical to each other? A husband-wife relationship is more realistic because it is backed by social sanction and evolves with time? Does romantic love also has similar scope of growing into something more elevating and deep?
She patted my hand in a motherly fashion before replying
I would not say that realism and romance are antithetical but in an ideal situation they could be and should be complementary. A social sanction is only one of the firmaments on which marital love stands. There are so many other factors like loyalty, understanding, humour etc amongst which romance is not precluded.
With the touch of her hand as though her indomitable spirit was transmitted into mine. I sprinted on
Coming to the most debatable issue of your novella – platonic relationship between man and woman? Do you think it can withstand the test and passage of time ?
She was contemplative and her reply equally so
Yes, platonic relationship or friendship as it is called in normal parlance is possible and it can withstand the test of time provided it remains purely platonic without other distractions like sexual overtones spoiling it, Such a friendship is possible between two mentally healthy, psychologically normal partners – a man and a woman who are both firmly secure in their own backgrounds.
I had a sense of de ja vue. There was a kind of timelessness in her words. Love unblended, unshackled, ethereal….”haath se chhoke issey rishton ka ilzaam na do…. pyar ko pyar he rehne do koi naam na do (Gulzar)”…..”do not sully love by the touch of your hand…let love be love without a name”….. .I moved on
“And She Waited For Sixty Years” is a woman’s perspective on life, love and relation. However, the reader is inquisitive to know Ajay’s feelings towards Aradhana which remains undisclosed in the novel. Is it deliberately contrived to keep the readers guessing?
She winked and I could again glimpse that impish side of her though not so much displayed in the novel which has serious as well as sardonic undertones
The feelings of Ajay are deliberately kept undisclosed as the novella is totally from the perception of the heroine. The fact that she is totally unaware of it lends a sort of ‘mystery’ to Ajay’s character. He is a charming person, at ease with everyone. But that’s about it. “Aradhana would ask her friends how one could come to know if the other person was interested or not”. With a total lack of feedback from the other person , Aradhana had almost a clean slate to begin her life with Vinod. If the reader is perceptive enough they are free to imagine Ajay’s mind from the stray sentences dropped here and there.
The reader in me was unplugged. With the second cup of coffee, I decided to plunge forward as though it were my last resort to sanity
There is a constant comparison (at least in reader’s mind) between Ajay and Vinod – the two men in Aradhana’s life. Do you think reality (Vinod) overshadows imagination (Ajay) as Aradhana’s life progresses ?
This time, her answer was phlegmatic. Was there a chink in her veil, which she was desparate to hide, I wondered :
“Well, comparison is the last thing in Aradhana’s mind. As far as she is concerned, her attitude towards the two never reached the comparison level. As she says, Ajay was like one of the strands in the colorful bundle of optic fibers which constituted her life with Vinod”.
I shook my head to dust away the grains of doubt diluting my thoughts . Knowing Vimala one wouldn’t associate with her things like parallel worlds and suppressed desires. She is the kind who lives life to the fullest sucking up all the joys and beauty of existence around her and giving back as much in retun. She was not the one to cower down by oppressive norms and diabolic dictums of society. And its this fatih that made me ask her the next question unhesitantly
Do you think a candid confession of unrequited love can demean a woman’s position in society? You have dealt with taboos like homosexuality, exhibitionism , mental fidelity etc in your novel though in a peripheral way. Do you think it is as much taboo for a woman to declare her true feelings for a man who is not her lawful life partner?
The answer was unambiguous, straight-into-the-face, practical and sensible
It entirely depends on the type of love she is carrying for the man who is not her lawful life partner- true or transitory, sexual or platonic, juvenile or mature. It also depends on her lawful partner, whether he is an understanding type or a person of violent temperament etc. It also depends on the society in which she lives. If the people around her are broadminded or the ones whose staple diet is gossip.
There is something in Vimala’s personality, which can embolden one and idiotically so. You are not scared of a rebuff because you know even her snub would be gift wrapped in witticism. So I pushed on
Your take on feminism. Against the backdrop of Indian patriarchy, do you think it is overplayed at times and severely downplayed at others?
And I was right, wasn’t I? She was at her brazen best
According to me ‘femisnism’ is not an AAM ADMI cap which anyone and everyone can don and declare themselves as feminists. Nor is it a bra burning frenzy. Feminism is an individual inner feeling that comes up when one feels one has been dealt an unjust move, more so when there is oppression. This oppression can be from one’s own parents, husband, sons or daughters or any relatives. It is an urge to stand on one’s own ground without giving in to external pressures. This attitude when exhibited by a woman when confronting the other sex is strongly resented particularly in India where patriarchy has always held sway.
The afternoon had drawled into early evening. The shadows were lengthening and the sky was turning into a milder shade of grey. The gloss and sparkle on the face of earth was gradually ashening. It was time to say au revoire but not before I had asked the most anticipated question
The last cliched one – what next ? A bigger novel ? A greater surprise?
She laughed and said
A sequel? The characters in the present novella have all reached a ripe old age. What can come next is only obituaries. But then you never know!
Yes, with Vimala Ramu, we never know. She will always be there to explode us with laughter and intrigue us with some interesting anecdote of the past. More than that, she may come up with something absolutely unexpected and surprisingly thought provoking in her next venture. Till then we wait with bated breath.
Long Live Vimala Ramu, the witiest best I have ever come across!!!
This is the first of the Virtual Coffee Series conceptualized to bring forth a healthy and stimulating discourse on literature, art, cinema, theatre, music, culture etc. The idea is to invigorate an intellectual churning of thoughts and ideas drawing the readers and the participants alike into the vortex of a steaming hot debate or engaging into wistful remembrances of the gone by. In either case, the conversational mood shall be its mainstay and of course the mug of piping hot coffee to go with it!
Shall be eager to know how you like it!!