(English Translation of the original Tamil novel ‘POI’)
(Chapter – I)
‘You’ve been crying!’
‘Here… look up, let me see.’
Seeing her red-rimmed eyes, Giridhar drew her close to him and hugged her.
‘I don’t feel like leaving, when you stand here looking so sad, Durga. Do you think it is going to be easy for me to stay away from you and the children? The only difference between us is that you cry openly, while I don’t show my feelings.’
He drew her closer, bent and kissed her on the forehead.
‘Shall I just call the Managing Director and say: ‘Sorry, Sir, but I can’t go’?’
Durga tapped him on his head in playful admonition. ‘Silly!’
‘No, Durga, I’m serious. Being separated from you and living so far away…’
She placed a finger on his lips, stopping further speech.
‘You are being very childish, Giri. And just as you are about to leave!’
‘I can’t help it. You think I haven’t noticed how you’ve been looking the past four days? As the time to leave comes closer, the only thought I have is, how can I go away leaving you and the children… and for six months! No I don’t think I can go, Durga…!’
‘If people hear you, Giri, they’ll laugh. To say this now, when you have to leave in two hours’ time!’
‘Let them laugh, I don’t care. No one can understand how I feel.’
Durga buried her face in his chest. Playing with the buttons on his shirt, she spoke in a serious tone.
‘Giri, why do you feel so bad now? Are you worried about the children and me? You don’t have to be. Think of all the good things awaiting you on your return—your promotion as Works Manager, with a better salary, a bigger house, a car and other perks. Our life will only get better and better. Time will fly. Please bear it somehow.’
Giridhar turned her chin to face him.
‘Will it? You don’t really believe that, do you? Look at me straight and say it!’
Before she could answer him, Jaggu came running in, shouting, ‘Amma…’ He looked thoroughly scared. Visu followed, looking mischievously at his brother.
‘Appa, listen to Visu. He says that if I fall asleep you will leave me at home and take him alone to the airport…’
Giridhar lifted his son whose eyes shone with unshed tears at the prospect of being left behind.
‘You think Appa would do that?’
Jaggu looked disbelievingly at his mother, seeking confirmation.
Durga shook her head, laughing.
‘But Visu says…’
‘He is just teasing you. Visu, don’t tease your little brother?’
‘Why shouldn’t I? He is so lazy. It’s not even eight o’ clock and he says he’s feeling sleepy! So I said, okay, go and sleep. We’ll leave you here and go to the airport.’
Giridhar gave his son a loving pat on his head for this piece of adult wisdom. As he sat on the bed with the little fellow, Durga sat beside him, her arms round the older boy.
‘Appa, have you put away the list I gave you?’
‘And mine?’ his other son asked.
‘Don’t forget the car, Appa—the one that goes vroom vroom when you hold the controls in your hand and press a button, just like the one Sudhir’s father got him from America.’
‘You want a car, of all things? I’ve asked for a rocket. When I set it up in the garden, switch it on and say ‘three, two, one, zero,’ it will zoom up into the air, you know? I will be Rakesh Sharma and I’ll set off in a rocket!’
Jaggu watched this performance open-mouthed as Visu spread his hands wide apart and boasted.
‘Will it fly high? You’ll be a Rakesh Sharma?’
Jaggu looked up at his father.
‘I don’t want a car, Appa. I want a rocket… just like Visu’s.’
‘Hey! I asked first. The rocket is for me. You buy him a car, Appa.’
‘No, Appa, buy me a rocket, too!’
Durga held the fighting boys close to her and kissed them both. ‘All right, that’s enough,’ she said. ‘Both of you will get everything you have asked for! Now, run along outside. Appa has to get ready. It’s getting late.’
The boys left the place, still arguing. ‘No, only for me, not for you.’ Durga smiled at her husband.
‘How am I going to stay away from you and the children for six months, Durga? And don’t say: ‘If you make up your mind, you can do it’. At least you are not going to be quite so alone, you have the children. What will I do?’Durga laughed again at Giri’s outburst. She tried to calm him with a mixture of mock-anger and fun.
‘There you go again! Maybe you should have told your MD that your wife and children come first and you would rather be with them than get foreign trips and promotions. Maybe Srinivasan would have been glad of the chance. He certainly deserved it, with all those trips he made to the MD’s house carrying baskets of fruit!’
Her words, meant to rouse the man who sat before her with downcast eyes, had the intended effect. Giridhar grabbed hold of her in a fierce hug.
‘Now you are saying completely contrary things! You were the one who brainwashed me into accepting this chance by telling me that opportunity only knocks once. It was you who gave me the courage to brace myself to take the chance despite our separation!’
‘Yes I did. But I don’t think I would have if I had known how you would crib about this separation!’
‘Okay, I accept. I am my wife’s adoring slave. Satisfied?’
‘Very. Now, why don’t you get ready? It’s getting late for your flight.’
The pain and suffering of the imminent separation turned into teasing and joking, resulting in much laughter, although tinged with some sorrow. Giridhar got ready and Durga went to the front of the house, ready to leave for the airport. At that moment a private taxi drew up outside the gate and Durga’s father Subramaniam stepped out.
‘Ready, Giri? Shall I put your suitcases in the taxi?’
‘Yes, just give me the briefcase. The rest can go into the taxi’s boot.’
By the time they rushed around, taking turns to load the luggage in the boot, Visu and Jaggu had already taken their seats in the taxi.
‘Thatha, are you coming to the airport, too?’
‘Of course I am! Do you think I’d miss seeing your father off on a foreign trip?’ asked Subramaniam, proudly. Then, turning around, he addressed Giridhar. ‘Go, say your prayers and we can leave.’
‘Mama, can you come in for a minute?’ asked Giridhar.
Telling the two boys to keep an eye on the luggage, Subramaniam followed Giridhar into the house. As soon as they reached the inner room, Giridhar took his father-in-law’s hands in his and said: ‘Mama, it is your presence and your wife’s which give me the confidence to leave Durga and the children and go away for six months.’
Subramaniam patted his son-in-law supportively on the back.
‘Don’t worry, Giridhar. Go in peace. They will be our responsibility till you return.’
Giridhar looked at Durga. Taking the hint, Subramaniam went out to give them a few last minutes together.
Laughingly, she replied, ‘I’m coming to the airport with you, aren’t I?’
Giridhar draped an arm around her shoulder. With his other hand he lifted her face and kissed her gently on the lips. Then linking his fingers in hers, he walked towards the front door.
‘Appa… won’t you sit next to me?’ came a young voice, quickly followed by another one, ‘No, he’s going to sit next to me…’
Giridhar sat between the boys ending that particular argument, with Durga sitting near the door. Subramaniam emerged, having locked the house door, and sat in the front seat of the car. The taxi started to move.