(A short story)


By Prof. N. S. PHADKE

(Rendered from Marathi by the Author)


The downpour of thunder-showers lasted for nearly an hour. The street in front of Meera’s house was flooded and a red angry current of water gurgled through the gutters, carrying with it dust and dirt and dry leaves and rags and bits of paper. A large piece of a torn photograph whirled and danced on the current, and was at last lost to sight.


This piece of photograph had for many days past remained locked in a chink in the gutter. It used to flutter with the breeze, and whenever it waved, it looked like the hood of a cobra. But even strong gusts of wind had failed to dislodge it. Today it had been at last released from its bondage. The eddying water had carried it away. The other bits of the photograph had gone with the wind long ago. Only this piece had remained caught in the vicious grip of the gutter’s crack. It too was now gone at last. The last lingering proof of Meera’s proficiency in dancing was wiped out. There was nothing left now to remind the world that Meera was once a talented dancer and that people had predicted that she would make a big name for herself.


When Meera was a nine years old young child, dancing had filled her whole life. She had gone to school but had found no interest in the books. She used to pass examinations, but her heart was not in her studies. Even when listening to the geography lessons in the class, little Meera used to rehearse the dancing steps. Her teacher would ask her a question, and Meera would stand speechless. “What were you thinking of, Meera?” the teacher would ask angrily. Meera had no reply. While looking at the blackboard on which her teacher solved an example in arithmetic, Meera’s little feet under the bench moved to the accompaniment of an imagined rhythm on the India drum (Tabla). There was no love lost between Meera and her books. It was a minor miracle how she passed every grade. Perhaps the blessings of Nataraj (the God of the dancers) helped her secretly.


Meera’s teachers had totally disapproved of Meera’s dancing lessons. The Principal of the school sent frequent notes to Meera’s father–Dadasaheb–reporting that Meera was not progressing satisfactorily in her studies, but Dadasaheb ignored those notes. He knew that Meera had a talent for dancing, and, given proper training and opportunities, she would excel in that art. Meera responded extremely well to her parents’ encouragement. She became widely known as a promising dancer before she was eleven years old. She gave public concerts, snatching prizes and medals, and newspaper columnists showered unstinted praise on her. “This little lovely star will shine with increasing brilliance in the future.”


At the age of eighteen Meera flowered into an artist of wide repute. She had now passed her School Leaving Examination and attended a college. But she was well-known and popular in the college not as a clever student but as a danseuse. She gave public concerts not only in her own town but also in many other places, and music conferences held in distant parts of the country sent her pressing invitations. Her performances were applauded everywhere. Her dancing teacher was pleased with her. Her mother and father were happy in the thought that Meera would always devote herself to the art of dancing, and achieve greater name and fame. That was to be Meera’s life, they thought. “When do you intend to marry Meera?” women asked Meera’s mother. She waived the query smilingly with the reply “What’s the hurry? Meera is still a young child.”


Meera’s parents honestly thought that she was a young child. In their loving eyes Meera was not a young girl of twenty, about to blossom into full womanhood, but an innocent child in her teens. They looked at her with the same fond affection with which they had covered her in her childhood. They could only see the amazing strides which their daughter had made in the art of dancing. They had no eyes to notice that Meera had left innocent childhood behind, and grown physically as well as intellectually. They still called her ‘Baby’, and honestly believed that she was still a baby. They imagined that nothing in the world except the art of dancing held any interest for Meera. But Meera was growing. Many other things than her art attracted her. She found delight in the company of girl friends of her own age. The applause of men gave her a peculiar pleasure. Flattering words of young men tickled her, and she was even more pleased with what their eyes conveyed to her. There was a thrill in imagining the words which her young admirers left unsaid. She realized that there was something mysterious and tantalizing in the company of young men, and she felt drawn towards a delight which had no name nor shape. As a child she had been used to express in her dance the joys and sorrows of love only mechanically, but now these emotions touched her young heart. They lasted even after her dancing lessons and public recitals. They throbbed in the depths of her being unceasingly, and she experienced a new nameless restlessness.


Her dancing teacher engaged a young violin player to accompany her along with the other instrumentalists. The music of this young man’s violin enhanced the orchestral effect and increased the beauty of Meera’s dance. Now and again this young violinist, Madhav, would strike such beautiful notes that the spectators would feel as though a dazzling flood of light had suddenly illuminated the stage. Meera would then look at him, and he too would look at her. She gave him a secret smile, which he too returned secretly. He knew that she had inwardly said ‘Well done!’ and she too would hear his unuttered words ‘Well done!’ Everyone praised Madhav, and Meera experienced a strange happiness when she heard people talking about Madhav’s rare skill.


‘People like your violin very much’ she often told Madhav.


‘Ah people! But what about you?’ Madhav asked her.


‘I’m of course one of the people.’


‘No. That’s hardly enough for me. I want your personal word of praise. Do you like my music? Tell me.’


‘Have I not already told you? Don’t I say ‘Well done’ with my eyes even when giving a public performance? I’m sure my concert will not be a success without you.’


‘No, no, Meera’ he said, ‘I don’t deserve this much praise from you. My music is only a decoration on your art. It attracts people’s attention only because of your wonderful dancing skill. There is a rare pleasure in accompanying your dance with my violin.’


‘O, shut up. You mustn’t praise me like this. You’ll make me conceited and spoil me.’


An All-India Musical Conference was held in Meera’s town. Top-ranking musicians, instrumentalists and dancers from far and near were invited and gave their recitals. Meera was awarded a gold medal for the best dancing performance.” There was no end to the congratulations which were showered on her.


‘I very much wish to congratulate you’ Madhav said to her, ‘but I feel a little shy...’


‘Shy?’ Meera broke into a laugh. ‘Why?’


‘When the whole world is applauding you, what value will you attach to my praise?’


‘You are mistaken, Madhav. To tell you the truth, I am waiting to be patted on the back by you.’


‘Honestly?’ Madhav’s face brightened up as though he had heard something which he had not expected to hear. He grinned and patted her on the back. ‘What a wonderful performance you gave, Meera! They should have studded the gold medal with diamonds and rubies.’


‘Ah ! You always say things which fill my head with wind.’ She smiled and stared at him in mock disapproval.


‘May I make a request, Meera?’ Madhav asked. ‘I feel I must do something beyond merely congratulating you in dry empty words. I would like to give you a party. Will you come?’


‘At your house?’


‘Where do I have a house? I don’t have any parents...’


‘Oh, I am sorry...’ There was sincere grief in Meera’s voice.


‘We’ll go to some nice hotel. We’ll have a little fun. Will you come? May I ask your father?’


Meera suddenly covered her mouth with the palm of her hands and shook her head. ‘No, please, no. He wouldn’t like it. Don’t ask him.’


‘But Meera, I very much wish to give you a treat. I shall be very much disappointed if you don’t let me.’


There was a strange tremulous note of ardour in his voice, which touched her heart. She had no strength, she thought, to hurt him. But she also knew that there was no chance of obtaining her father’s permission. For the first time in her life Meera experienced the tension of two opposite feelings. What should I do? What should I do?’ she asked herself frantically. And then something occurred to her which occurs inevitably to a girl of her age, caught in love. Cheating! Meera gave a start. But that lasted only for a brief moment. For, when love enters a young woman’s heart, it gives her a new courage too, just as it impels her to cheat her parents. There is a peculiar lure for a young woman in love in gratifying some secret desire without the knowledge of the parents.


‘Why should I disappoint you?’ Meera said. ‘I’ll come. Anywhere. Without telling my father...’


‘Thanks, Meera,’ Madhav whispered, as he took both her hands.


Meera told herself as she returned from the hotel, that she would never cheat her parents again. But such resolutions of young girls are rarely carried out. The courage to cheat which seems like a daring act at first, comes easily as temptations offer themselves. Secret pleasure has a sweetness of its own, and its enticement is difficult to resist...Meera began to desire and enjoy Madhav’s company more and more. They both soon understood that they had fallen in love with each other. They met secretly whenever they had a chance.


‘What will happen if my father comes to know about this?’ Meera asked Madhav.


‘Ah, how can your father ever know?’


‘I’m very much afraid. And besides, I don’t like secrecy.’


Madhav once said to her, ‘I too don’t like this secrecy. I’m fed up with it. I would rather like to stand before your father and tell him that I love you.’


She put her hand on his mouth and said in a frightened voice, ‘No no. You mustn’t do anything so rash.’


‘But how long will this secrecy last?’


‘Let it last as long as it does. We’ll see what we can do if things come to a head.’


Meera inwardly believed and hoped that a crisis was far away in the distance. And if it was far away, why not make the best of the situation and draw all the happiness that lay in secret?….


Disillusionment came to her sooner than she had imagined. Her dancing teacher came one day as usual. She put the dancing bells round her ankles. The teacher tuned the Indian drum (Tabla), and said ‘Start’.


‘Let us wait for Madhav’ she Suggested.


‘He is not coming.’




‘Dadasaheb has asked him not to come any more. We shall have to engage another violinist. We shall soon get one. There is no dearth of violin-players. There are dozens of them. I shall bring a better violinist. Yes. Start.’


Meera wanted to throwaway the dancing bells and tell the teacher to go away. But she decided not to make any scene. ‘Why did my father ask Madhav not to come? What’s wrong?’ she asked.


‘How can I know?’ the teacher said. ‘Your father has asked me to see if we can get another violinist. He has told Madhav that his services are no more needed.’


Meera swallowed a catch in her throat. She took her lessons as usual, But her heart was not in them. She wanted to meet Madhav and to know what had happened. She could not stay in the house. She suspected that her parents were keeping a watch on her movements. She must outwit them if she wished to meet Madhav. Leaving for the College as usual she told her mother, ‘There is a lecture in the evening at the College, mother. I shall be a little late.’ ‘But don’t be very late, Meera,’ her mother told her. ‘No, mother’ she promised. She went to Madhav’s room instead of going to the College.


She put her arms round Madhav’s neck and began to cry ‘What shall we do now?’


He stroked her head. ‘Don’t be afraid, Meera. They can never separate us.’


‘But how did father know about this?’


‘I cannot understand.’


‘What did he say to you?’


‘Say? He did everything short of beating me.’


‘Did you quarrel with him?’


‘I only told him that I loved you and had decided to marry you. He went in a rage and asked me never to meet you again.’


‘O, my God! Everything seems lost’ Meera sobbed. ‘I shall really die if you are taken away from me.’


‘But that will never happen.’ Madhav caressed her. ‘I shall never leave you whatever your parents do. Listen, Meera, we shall run away.’


Meera felt a shock of surprise and fear. ‘But how can we run away?’


Madhav held her to his bosom. ‘I have a plan. I’ll tell you.’ Then he went on talking for a long time, half to himself, as though he was finalizing an arrangement of which he had thought before.


Meera was in a strange state of mind, as she returned home. Her heart was filled with the happiness that she would soon go away to some far off place with Madhav; but she was also troubled by the thought that she would have to leave her parents for good, and by the fear that something may turn up and foil Madhav’s plans to run away.


She was not on her senses in the days that followed. As she moved about in the house, she could not help thinking that she would very soon be leaving it for ever and experiencing an acute sadness. But she also told herself that all the uncertainty and grief in her life would end when she ran away with Madhav. A strange mixture of regret and happy expectancy pulled at her heart, and she became impatient for the day when she would elope with her lover. She kept counting the days and the hours which she must pass before she took the decisive step. The strain to look innocent and normal, so that no one in the house would suspect her secret plans, was too much for her to bear...But she found courage in the thought, ‘This will soon end. Very soon...’ The zero hour was to come on Friday. Her father would go to his office. She would then leave the house ostensibly for the College. And she would meet Madhav in his room, put herself in his hands, and would never return to her parents.


On Friday, however, her father remained in the house long after his usual hour to go to his office. She could not understand it. She felt very puzzled.


‘Aren’t you going to your office, father?’ she asked him at last.


‘No, I am not feeling well’ he told her.


‘What’s ailing you?’


‘The pangs of repentance.’


Meera looked at him with a start.


He caught her hand and said, ‘Let’s go and sit in my room. I want to talk to you.’


Meera’s heart missed a beat as she walked with her father towards his room. Her throat became dry and parched with fear. She clearly saw that her secret plan was about to fail. God alone knew how, but her father seemed to have sensed it.


Her father seated her on a chair and, stroking her back with great affection, asked, ‘My child, don’t you love us any longer?’


Meera began to cry.


‘If you wished to marry, I would have found a good husband for you,’ Dadasaheb said. ‘What did you see in that fellow Madhav? Is he handsome? Is he rich? Whatever did you see in him?’


‘Meera’s mind reacted differently to these words of her father. Although she had decided to run away with Madhav and marry him secretly, she loved both her parents. She regretted the need to leave her home. She had, therefore, been very much touched by her father’s words. Don’t you love us any longer?’ She had even wanted to put her arms around his neck. But her mind gave a rebound when her father began to find fault with her lover. She suddenly wanted not to cry but to quarrel.


‘How can you see Madhav’s good points?’ she asked petuantly. ‘You have set yourself against him. You naturally think he is a bad man. But I love him.’


‘But why did you hide your love from us ?’ her father asked. ‘You loved him secretly because you knew he was not worthy of your love’


‘No! No!’ she said with great vehemence.


‘Then why didn’t you tell me or your mother?’


Meera could not think of a suitable reply. She felt defeated and embarrassed for a moment. But then she asked, ‘Would you have approved of my love if I had told you frankly about it?’


It was now the father’s turn to feel defeated. He resented his own embarrassment. Evading Meera’s question, he asked, ‘How could you become so shameless as to think of eloping with that fellow?’


This put an end to all loving quiet talk, and started a quarrel. Meera herself was surprised at the sudden surge of strength which she experienced. ‘Why should I feel ashamed?’ she asked in a firm voice. ‘What had I done or was about to do so that I should feel ashamed? Is it a crime to love? Is it a sin to be loved?’


Her father waved his hands. His voice was shrill as he said, ‘How can you see the sin and the folly of what you did when you have made an ass of yourself?’ Father and daughter exchanged angry hot words. Meera’s mother came into the room, and drew her into her arms. But she did not side with Meera. She expressed her complete disapproval of Meera’s love. So the quarrel continued, although words lost their harshness.


‘You cannot change my resolve, whatever you may say.’ Meera declared. ‘I have decided to marry Madhav.’


‘You can never do that’ her father told her. ‘I’ll see how you marry against my wishes. This is a nice way indeed to reward us for all that we did for you. Yes, yes, in a way we are to blame. We should have never allowed you so much freedom. But we had no idea that you would make a fool of yourself. Thank God, it is not too late. I can still correct my mistake. From tomorrow you must not leave the house. Enough of your dancing lessons. I’ll stop them from tomorrow.’


Meera was startled to hear this. But she was not much afraid. All fathers, she thought, talked like this when they were in a rage. But did they ever carry out their threats? That was not as easy as they thought. She went to her own room, and threw herself in the bed. She began to cry as she remembered Madhav. Her plan to elope has miscarried today. But there was tomorrow, and the day-after-tomorrow. She would run away with Madhav at the first opportunity. The thought that she had been caught and defeated today made her extremely unhappy, but even in the moment of crying she kept thinking of how and when to meet Madhav. She still hoped that her parents could not prevent her from doing what she wanted to do. Everything would be all right when once she met Madhav.


Meera, however, had to admit in the days that followed that there was no hope for her. Her father took two months leave and kept a personal watch on her. She was virtually held a prisoner in the house. She came to know after a few days that Madhav had gone away. Her dancing lessons were stopped. Her father gave away the harmonium and the Tabla to the dancing teacher, and threw away the dancing bells. All the things associated with her dance disappeared from the house one after another.


After about a year Dadasaheb arranged Meera’s marriage. She made no protest. All the wish to fight for love had been drained from her heart long ago. She had no eagerness for marriage. But she had no distaste for it either. She did not think of marriage in terms of happiness or sorrow. She treated it only as an inevitable stage in a woman’s life. Her husband was rich, an engineer by profession. He had absolutely no taste for music. But in other ways he was a very likeable young man. Soon after the marriage he built a beautiful house and Meera settled into the humdrum career of a rich housewife.


She used to be alone in her house during the day. As she occupied herself with knitting or sewing or reading, she often remembered her young days–her dancing recitals, the public applause, and all the glamour of those bygone days. She remembered Madhav too. She would then take out all the photographs of herself which she had preserved and keep looking at them. Would anyone now believe, she asked herself with a strange detachment but also nostalgia, that these were her photographs? ‘I myself wouldn’t’ she said to herself with a sigh. That young dancing Meera was in a way dead! Gone for good was her dance! And gone for good were the remnants of Meera the dancer!...Was Life fated to end like this by degrees? Did every person die a gradual death like this? Perish like this part by part, unknowingly but inevitable?...


Often she took out from her trunks all the lovely ‘saries’ which she used to wear when giving her dancing performances, and a strange wish came over her as she lovingly touched those exquisite pieces of silk and nylon. She wanted very much to drape herself in one of them and stand before the mirror and to gaze at the glamorous dazzling form which she once was. She wanted very much to resurrect the forgotten young dancer Meera, and to have a good look at her. That young Meera of the bygone days would never be seen now by the world, she knew very well. But what harm was there, she asked herself, if she brought to life that dead Meera in the privacy of her own house, and gazed at her? But this wish lasted only for a brief moment. There was no pleasure, she told herself, in wearing those beautiful ‘saries’ and trying to rekindle the flame that was extinguished. What was gone was gone. She had no right to try and resurrect what was dead and buried...She then put back all the photographs and her dancing dresses and locked the trunks.


An idea occurred to her, however, one day and she carried it out immediately.


The doors and windows of her house needed curtains. She tore her dancing ‘saries’ and made a dozen curtains out of them and put them on the doors and the windows. ‘Lovely’ she thought, as she looked at the beautiful cloth, waving with the breeze. It used to wave exactly like this on her own body in the old dancing days whenever she executed dizzy gyrations in her dancing performances. Looking at the curtains swirling into puffs with the wind she remembered the old moments of ecstasy, and the loud applause of people. These curtains on the doors and the windows were going to be a source of secret pleasure to her–a means of re-living the young days.


‘Our room looks different’ her husband remarked when he came home in the evening and looked about. ‘Something seems to have changed.’


She laughed. ‘Don’t you see anything new in the room?’ She put her arms on his shoulders.


‘Ah, I see. New curtains!’


‘Like them?’


‘When did you purchase cloth for them?’


‘I didn’t.’




‘My dancing ‘saries’ were lying in the trunks. I thought I might use them for the curtains.


Her husband gave a grunt of disapproval, and frowned.


He knew that Meera used to dance, and that she had made a name for herself as a popular and talented dancer. He also knew her affair with Madhav. He disliked that part of her life. He wanted to forget it. He wanted nothing in his house that would remind him of Meera’s past. Husband and wife avoided that subject very carefully. And even when a friend or a visitor made a casual reference to it, Meera’s husband closed it immediately, as one would shut a door.


‘These curtains look horrid. Take them off.’ He said. He purchased new cloth on the next day, brought a tailor, and fitted the doors and the windows with new curtains. He made a bundle of Meera’s curtains and put them away in the attic. They lay there until Meera one day called an old woman who sold crockery and glassware in exchange for old clothes, and sold them. She then also took out all her photographs, tore them into bits, flung them out of the window, and stood looking at the little pieces as they fluttered away on the breeze. They pirouetted like little butterflies, and after a while disappeared. One big piece, however, was caught in a chink in the gutter.


In the days that followed Meera stood at the window of her room when she had nothing to do in the noon, and looked at that big piece of a photograph, fluttering helplessly in the crack of the gutter. She experienced a peculiar happiness as she gazed at the only remnant of her dancing career and also of her love for Madhav. She often wished to run down into the street, to capture that piece of cardboard, and to keep it as a precious treasure. But she never did so. She only stood at the window and looked at it as it moved up and down and looked like the head of a cobra.


That piece of photograph had remained locked in the gutter for many days. It had been covered with dust and leaves. It made a fluttering noise whenever a gust of wind touched it. But it was never dislodged.


Today, however, there came a downpour of thunder showers and a red angry current of water gurgled through the gutters, and that piece of photograph, which had remained locked in its place for many a long day, was at last released. It turned and swirled in the gushing water, and was at last carried away. The last lingering mark of Meera’s proficiency as a dancer and of her young life was at last wiped out!...Life perishes like this by degrees! Man leaves this mortal world like this by bits! What is Life but a process of such gradual destruction and oblivion!