Aug 24, 2010

04. Lavanya Prologue


Lavanya's dad, Abanish Datta, was a professor in a westernised college. The learned liniment with which he had nurtured his motherless daughter had ensured that her erudition had not been eroded by the encounters with endless examinations. Even now her passion for study was immense.

Papa’s only fascination had been for education and in his girl the fascination had been entirely fulfilled. He loved her even more than his library. He believed that the mind concentrated by the cultivation of knowledge would rid itself of all the crevices required to be lifted by the fumes of fancy. It was his firm conviction that the soft mental meadow yielding domestic devotion for the husband had been laid out with the cement of history and mathematics – a compact, durable mind – unblemished by external brushes. He had contemplated as far ahead as – even if she is never married, she can remain in wedlock with wisdom.

His affections were bestowed on another soul. He was Shobhanlal. Seldom is such dedication towards academics witnessed at such an early age. There was something that attracted one to him – the wide forehead, the clear eyes, the amiable mouth, the simple smile, the handsome face. However, he was tongue-tied, embarrassed by the slightest attention.

Brought up amidst poverty, he had taken the flights of scholarship steps to climb the peaks of arduous examinations. That Shobhan could end up building a great reputation and Abanish would be recognised as one of the foremost architects of the acclaim was an ego trip on which the professor indulgently took strolls. Shobhan used to come to his house for lessons, with unlimited access to his library. At the sight of Lavanya he used to lower his head in abashment. The distance of this abashment provided Lavanya with the authority to create a bloated self image when compared with Shobhan. The men who hesitate to impress their presence significantly most often remain insignificant and unimpressive to women.

At this juncture, one day, Shobhanlal's pop Nanigopal raided his house with a volley of abuse. His grievance being Abanish, in the guise of instruction, was laying snares to kidnap his son into wedding web – to indulge his passion for social reform by putting the vaidya Shoban through inter-caste marriage. As an evidence of his allegations, he produced a pencil sketch of Lavanya. The offending picture had been discovered in a tin box of Shobhanlal, adorned by rose petals. Nanigopal had no doubt that it was a gift of courtship from the lady herself. He had crunched checks and balances to compute the current market value of Shobhanlal as a prospective groom – and had painstakingly predicted the increase in price if he waited a while. Now Abanish had been caught trying to whisk away such a valuable object for nothing. What could this be termed but heinous housebreak? Was it in any way different from embezzlement?

Till now, Lavanya had been unaware that in some ensconced altar, concealed from irreverent public eye, worship of her idol was underway. By some divine chance, Shobhan had discovered an unkempt, faded photograph of Lavanya from the midst of a pamphlet and magazine filled rubbish mound of the library. Having got it sketched by an artist friend, he had put it back where he had found it. In the manner of the coy covert love that burgeoned in his youthful soul the roses had bloomed naturally in a friend's garden. There was no history of unwarranted arrogance. Yet, he had to accept punishment. The shy soul left the house with a bent head, a red face, brushing off clandestine tears. From afar he performed a final act of devotion, the details of which remained unknown to all but the Almighty. During graduation, when he stood first, Lavanya had taken the third spot. Lavanya's self esteem had suffered terribly. There were two reasons for that. The first was that Abanish's excessive regard for Shobhan's intelligence had plagued her for long. The special affection mingled with this respect made the pain more unbearable. She had for long desperately tried to outshine him in examination results. So, when Shobhan still exceeded her, it became difficult to forgive him for this audacity. There was this lingering doubt in her mind that the difference in marks was a result of the special help rendered by her father. Yet, Shobhan had never approached Abanish for help with the examinations. For a few days, she turned her face and walked away whenever she saw him. During the masters examinations, there was no possibility for her to win the competition against Shobhan. Yet, victory was hers. Even Abanish himself was amazed. If Shobhanlal had been a poet, he would have filled pages with verse – instead he sacrificed a number of weighty marks for her.

After this their student days were over. And at this point of time, through agonizing affliction within him, Abanish perceived the proof that even within a mind in which emotions have been amortised with knowledge amor peeped through the books, without being checked. Abanish was forty seven. In that not too advanced, vulnerable, helpless age, a widow entered his heart, tearing right through the biblio barrier of the library, stepping across the vastness of knowledge. There was no further hurdle for marriage, other than Abanish’s attachment for his daughter. There commenced a great battle with desire. With fierce determination he resolves to plunge into study, but a stronger flight of fancy creeps up from behind. Modern Review sends him enticing books on the ancient history of Buddist ruins to critique, the unrevealed book in front of him, he sits motionless like an ancient Buddhist wreck himself, burdened with centuries of silence. The editor gets worried, but once the immense scholarship of the scholar tilts and totters this is the fate that follows. When an elephant steps into the quicksand, can it survive?

Now, after aeons, Abanish was plagued by lament. He developed the doubt that in all probability, in his inability to find time to glance up from the manuscripts, he had not witnessed his daughter falling in love with Shobhanlal. After all, it was absurd not to be able to love a lad like Shobhan. Naturally, he started hating the entire tribe of fathers, Nanigopal and himself included.

It was then that he received a letter from Shobhan. For the Premchand-Raychand scholarship, he had taken resort to the Gupta dynasty for his dissertation, and wanted to borrow a few books from his library in this regard. Immediately he wrote back with special affection, “As in the past, you will work in my library. Please don’t have any reservation.”

Shobhanlal became restless. He assumed that such an encouraging letter probably had Lavanya’s consent concealed within it. He started visiting the library. In the house, on rare occasions, for some instants he came across Lavanya. When that happened Shobhan slackened his pace, he secretly longs for Lavanya to speak to him, to ask him how he was, to show a semblance of interest in the dissertation he was working on. If she did, he would have been relieved to open his exercise book and discuss. He was acutely curious to hear Labanya’s thoughts about some of his original opinions. But, till then, there was no dialogue, and he did not dare try to strike up a conversation on his own.

A few days go by in this way. It was a Sunday. Shobhanlal had stacked up his notebooks on the table, and was leafing through a book, scribbling notes from time to time. It was in the afternoon, no one else was in the house. Taking advantage of the holiday, Abanish did not mention where he was going to. Just that he would not be back for tea.

All of a sudden the door was opened with vigour. Shobhan’s heart thudded and quivered. Lavanya entered the room. Shobhan frantically rose, but could not decide what to do. Lavanya breathed fire and asked, “Why do you come to this house?”

Shobhanlal started. No answer graced his lips.

“Do you know what your father has said about your coming here? Do you have no qualms about having me insulted?”

Shobhan looked at his feet and mumbled, “Please forgive me. I will leave at once.”

He did not even try to clarify that it was Lavanya’s father himself who had invited him. He gathered his books with trembling hands. A languishing, wordless pain tried to push past his ribs, unable to find a way. Head bent, he walked away from the house.

If the opportunity to love the one who could be much loved slips away because of some obstacle, then that does not stop at not loving, but pivots to the flip side of love – blind hatred. Unknown to herself, Lavanya was probably waiting to garland Shobhanlal someday. Shobhanlal did not quite summon her in the desired way. After that, whatever took place went against him. The last bit hurt the most. In deep distress, she ended up prejudiced against her father. She unjustly deduced that for the sake of his own liberation, he had recalled Shobhanlal and was bent on bringing them together. Thus, the full focus of her fury glared upon the innocent.

After that, by sheer persistence, she managed to get Abanish wedded. Abanish had stored away half his saved up money for his daughter. After his marriage, Lavanya declared that she would not accept any inheritance, but would earn independently. Abanish was shattered and said, “I did not want to marry, Lavanya. It was at your insistence that the wedding took place. In that case why are you abandoning me in this way?”

Lavanya replied, "The very reason of my resolve is to ensure our relationship is never restrained"

She found work. The complete responsibility of teaching Surama was hers. She could as easily have taught Jyoti, but he did not at all agree to suffer the indignity of studying under a lady teacher.

The regular everyday life was chugging along. The free hours were stocked up with English literature, from the ancient to the recent Bernard Shaw, and specifically in the Roman and Greek eras of history, in the works of Grote, Gibbon and Gilbert Murray. I cannot say that on occasions a disquieting breeze did not scatter her mental makeup in disarray, but her journey in life did not have any aperture for anything more corporeal than a breeze to enter as a spoke. At this juncture, interruption materialised riding a motor car, in the middle of the journey, without a sound. Suddenly the substantial history of Greece and Rome turned trivial, and removing everything, a very proximal portentous present shook her and said, “Wake up”. Lavanya woke up in an instant and after ages saw herself in true form, not in learning but in lament.

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