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  1. #1
    varalotti's Avatar
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    Default SHE - Episode 17

    SHE
    A Serial By Varalotti Rengasamy
    Episode 17


    “Shalini, why don’t you join my Ashram and become a sanyasin? The trials and tribulations you have gone through have prepared you for the highest life of a yogin. If you are ready, I will initiate you on this new moon day, which is just four days away. You will never have a moment of grief after that. You will be giving yourself to God.”

    Shalini was first shocked by Sharma’s statement. Then she thought over it. Her fortieth birthday was just months away. Twelve years of going in search of her identity, what did she find? Was there an identity within her that was worth these twelve years of search and all the trials and tribulations that accompanied it?

    Shalini had an active life of another twenty five years to go. She did not yearn for male company as she did earlier. Even with Shylender she was prepared to accept his proposal, if at all he made one, only out of a sense of exhaustion and a deep sense of gratitude.

    But for Shylender, who knows, she might have even been convicted of killing Raj Metha and either hanged or put behind bars for a life term. And during the two years she fought the case, she did not have anybody to talk to except Dr. Shylender. Coming to think of it he was more like her father’s friend sent by her father for the very specific purpose of protecting her.

    In a way Shylender’s life has also been as stormy as hers. But in his case at least, there was a Swamiji to show the way. Swamiji had been almost a God to him. At times she thought of going in search of that Swamiji. But then abandoned the idea.

    If Swamiji was Godsend for Shylender then Sharmaji was Godsend for Shalini. That thought gave her slight shivers. May be her mission was in renunciation and her identity could be found by reading the scriptures and abandoning the external world. Then should she give away her wealth to charities and assume the life of a hermit under Sharma’s tutelage?

    A few months before she had met one of the girls who did CA with her. Aparna, unlike Shalini, came from a more conventional, orthodox background. Her father did not let her go for work even after she completed her CA. She was married off to a wealthy engineer. Within three years she became the mother of two girls. When the girls were old enough, her husband had let her set up her own practice.

    Aparna and Shalini once met in the canteen of <st1:place><st1:PlaceName>Music</st1:PlaceName> <st1:PlaceType>Academy</st1:PlaceType></st1:place>. Over the hot Adai and Avial the women exchanged notes on their lives so far. Shalini told her without a tinge of jealousy, either in her voice or in her mind:

    “So Aparna, you are now happily settled. Wife, mother of two children and above all a practising chartered accountant. Putting into practice what we studied. Should be one swell of a life dear. I am happy for you.”

    Shalini thought that she would accept the compliment with a shy smile. Instead Aparna let out a sigh. When she spoke there was more of exasperation and resignation than enthusiasm in her voice.

    “My life is a straight hell, Shal. Yes, I have everything, family, money and a profession. But I have to work both at home and in the office. My mother-in-law is very religious and orthodox.

    “She wakes up at 5 in the morning for her puja. I have to be up at least an hour earlier to make the arrangements. Then cooking, waking up the girls and packing them off to school.

    “Then to office where a mountainload of work will always be waiting. When I go back home at 7 exhausted, the entire family will be waiting for me. I have to then cook for all. The girls will be busy with their studies and would never venture to come a mile near the kitchen.

    “My husband when he is home will be permanently glued to the TV. Many times I will have to carry his food to the bedroom.

    “When I clean the kitchen and go to bed at 11, my husband will switch off the TV only to have a physical relationship with me. I will be so tired that I will not have strength even to say no.

    “I will just close my eyes tight and pray it should be over soon. I will have barely four and a half hours to sleep. Then the alarm will go off. Another day exactly like the previous day will start.

    “This is my life for six days. Sunday will be a holiday for all of us, except God. Even on that day, my mother-in-law will have to do the puja by five which means I will have to get up by four.

    “The only luxury I have in life is the two hours sleep I have on Sunday morning after breakfast.”

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  2. #2
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    Default Part 2!

    Shalini was lost in thought for a while. Aparna continued to talk, now in a different tone.

    “I wish I had the choices you had, Shal. You do what you want to do. You relate only to those people whom you want to relate to. You do not have an obligation to relate to a person like my mother-in-law.”

    Shalini thought for a while before she spoke.

    “Aparna, don’t ever think your life is bad or mine better. True, I had an unlimited range of choice. I have had good relatoinship with at least half a dozen men. If your life is straight hell, as you said, then my life should be a clear heavan, as it is completely different from yours.

    “I must confess Aparna, it is not so. It is just different. Neither better nor worse. I have seen many people who live sort of your kind of life tell me that I am blessed. But I am not sure. From where you stand, my life might look like the garden of Eden. You will have to come here, to live in my shoes, to know what it really is.”

    “Life is not a gamble as philosophers love to speculate; it is an eternal trade off. We have to give up some thing in order to get something else. We always long for what we have given up. We see others who have made different trade-offs and feel that they live a better life. But the truth is others seeing us think the same way.”

    Both the women did not speak for a while. They exchanged some pointless pleasantries and took leave of each other.

    What Shalini had been planning was a kind of quasi-retirement. Would it not be too early, she thought. Or was it an active life but in a different direction? No, it was not. Living the life of a sanyasin, whatever may be the cult or religion or sect you belonged has to be a kind of retirement. For you are away from the highway of busy traffic and take refuge in the bye lanes of temporary solace.

    She remembered her father’s advice to his close friend on the subject. The friend was working for an MNC in <st1:City><st1:place>Delhi</st1:place></st1:City>. He had been a globe-trotter, a high flying executive who had made his millions pretty early in life.

    Once when he visited Chennai he hosted a dinner for Shiva and Shalini at an exclusive club.

    Over his first round of drinks he told Shiva that he was planning to retire.

    “It’s pretty too early, Ganesh. You are not even fifty.”

    “I know. But I have worked enough. I have had enough. You know what I am going to do? Sell all my properties in <st1:City><st1:place>Delhi</st1:place></st1:City> buy a small house in Kodaikkanal very near the Kurinji Andavar temple.

    “I will live on the interest from my savings. I will do nothing. Get up in the morning. Have a brisk walk. Then after my bath visit the temple and then go around the streets of Kodaikkanal. Come home for a good lunch. Two hours nap. Dress up and go to the lake. Walk around the lake a few times, seeing tourists from across the country. Come home for a light supper and a warm sleep. Well, if that’s not a peaceful retirment, what is it?”

    Shalini was so impressed by that man’s plans. But Shiva was not. He was thinking. Every one especially the friend’s wife was looking at Shiva. After a full minute Shiva asked his friend:

    “Have you bought the house in Kodaikkanal?”

    “Not yet. I have identified a good, compact house, just a stone’s throw from the <st1:City><st1:place>Temple</st1:place></st1:City>. Have given a token advance. Will finalise the deal within a month.”

    “Ganesh, take my advice. Don’t buy the house. Take it on a lease, let’s say for 6 months or one year.”

    “What happened to you Shiva? I am going to live in that idyllic place till I die. Why should I not buy that house? Why go for a lease?”

    Shiva’s smile was indulgent.

    “I have been observing this kind of phenomenon of late. Working in a busy metro like <st1:City><st1:place>Delhi</st1:place></st1:City> or Mumbai and then opting to retire in a totally laid-back town. I have not even seen one who could do that successfully. We cannot shift life’s gears downward, as we do in a car, when we slow down. I can tell you a hundred cases where an arrangement like this has failed.

    “And you have not seen Kodaikkanal during off-season. Especially during rains. Completely deserted and abandoned. Though there are hospitals and doctors, nothing like what you get in a regular town, like let’s say <st1:City><st1:place>Coimbatore</st1:place></st1:City> or <st1:City><st1:place>Madurai</st1:place></st1:City>.

    “But that’s not the point. I have formed a hypothesis that it is very difficult to live in a town, that’s not as busy as the one, you have been living for years.

    “Listen, Ganesh. Give some money to the building owner and stay there in that place for a month, let’s say in June. If you find the living ok, you go for one year-lease. And if after the end of one year, you still find that ok, you buy the place and settle down there.”

    Shalini was upset about her father throwing cold water so mercilessly over his friend’s retirement plants. She saw the man’s face fell and once they were alone, she started a hot argument with her father.

    Shiva just smiled and said, “Dear, let’s just defer this argument to July, after the end of the trial period. Ganesh would not go against my words.”


  3. #3
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    Default Re: SHE - Episode 17

    And as it always happened her father had the last laugh. Ganesh could not stay in that place for two weeks. Being used to the life-style of a metro, he could not fit in to the laid-back of style of the hill resort in off-season. There were a lot of minor irritants which he could not simply stand.

    Shalini was there when Ganesh came to thank Shiva for his most practical advice. There was not even a hint of ‘I told you so’ in Shiva’s voice. He was only sad.

    “Ganesh, this is a profound lesson in life. When we adjust ourselves to live a busy life, to pack forty hours of work in a 24-hour day, to constantly chase ever-elusive financial and career goals, we lose our ability to live in a calm quiet place doing nothing. Move over to a suburb of Delhi, may be somewhere in Dwaraka and have a peaceful life. Try doing something which you had always loved to do.”

    Shalini was floored.

    ‘Oh, Dad, where are you? Wont you have mercy on your little girl and show her the way?’

    Shalini’s mind was in a prayerful state repeating the question as if it were a Mantra.
    And the mantra worked. She had a flash. Whatever her father told Ganesh was squarely applicable to her life as well.

    Yes, she was going to tell Sharma that she would stay in his Ashram for, let’s say a month, and if she found it okay, then she would think of changing her life for ever. No need for a formal initiation now.


    Sharma was traditional in his values but quite modern in his thinking. His Ashram was situated in a scenic place a few kilometres away from Sriperumpudur, which was on the ouirts of Chennai.

    The dwellings were only huts but they had power, running water and top-class sanitation facilities. “To aim at salvation at the cost of sanitation is ridiculous.” Sharmaji quipped quite often.

    As all monasteries do they had a very strict time-schedule. Wake-up call was at half past five. Steaming hot filter coffee at six. An hour of meditation. Every day at seven someone will come from outside to talk to them for an hour or so.

    A light break-fast of fruits, idlies, cereals will follow at half past eight. What the initiates did from nine to one in the afternoon was something unique to that Ashram.

    They had a wide range of choices. They could do physical work like gardening, craft or simple industrial processes like deflashing of rubber components or do reading under the guidance of a senior or go for advanced lessons on scriptures. Shalini opted for guided reading.

    They had a simple work-a-day lunch around one and had some cultural programmes or watched videos of some lectures. Around four they had a hot cup of ginger tea and then went for an hour’s workout. In the evening there was satsang which consisted of Bhajans, namasankirthans and the rest.

    In addition to this regimen the inmates had to take turns in doing the household chores of Ashram like cooking, washing and cleaning dishes.

    Two times in a week the inmates would divide themselves into groups and visit old age homes, orphanages, hopsitals, hospices or slums to serve people in distress.

    Within a week’s time Shalini started loving the routine and was fully immersed in her study. Time was flying. For the first time in several years, Shalini felt a peace in her mind which could not be easily described.

    Destiny which was sitting on the wings and watching the show thought that time has come for it to show its face again in Shalini’s life. For one final time.


  4. #4
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    Thumbs down Re: SHE - Episode 17

    Dear Sridhar,

    All these while I was only a silent reader in this forum. But today's episode made me comment.

    Hats off to you, what a way to narrate a story!!!

    Loved all the twists n turns. Not sure what Shalini has in store for her. Hope she will atleast settle down in the next episode.

    Pallavi


  5. #5
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    Default Re: SHE - Episode 17

    Dear Varalotti,

    I surely did not expect this turn of events ! Who would have thought that Shalini would find solace in a monastery ? But if she really has, I wish her the well deserved peace in life. She has gone through some nasty tumbles, esp. the one with a murder tag was terrible and enough to send anyone into a sanatorium, leave alone a monastery !
    Besides the story, the sideline episodes you introduce are most interesting for me. You words said through Shiva are very profound. How true, it is next to impossible for a person to give up his busy life with this dream of a peaceful retirement in a forlorn place, however beautiful. Many people in the west usually invest in a holiday home, a home away from home and keep going there whenever they find time. When they finally do retire, it is often so that they give up on their urban abode and move to their beach houses or houses in the country side. I think that is the way to do. But then, how many of us plan our lives so thoughtfully...sigh !

    L, Kamla


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    Default Re: SHE - Episode 17

    hi sir
    well...her father's advice is indeed apt. now that she's undergoing a trial period,she can definitely choose wisely.
    and i must say, the story has taken a different turn. though it may seem that living a life in the monastery is fulfilling for shalini, i can guess that Destiny is about to come out and play...

    cant wait for the final episode sir

    cheers

    - Life's too short to take it seriously...Enjoy it to the fullest -

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    Default Re: SHE - Episode 17

    Hi Sridhar:

    It was indeed a real pleasure reading the latest episode. Despite disappointments in Shal's life, we are glued to SHE. This episode reminds me of a very beautiful verse,

    Kabhi kisi ko mukkammal jahan nahin milta,
    Kabhi zameen to kabhi aasmaan nahin milta.

    {No one ever gets the world that he/she wants,
    you don't get the earth at some places and at some other places you don't
    get the sky}

    Tere jahan mein aisa nahin ke pyar na ho,
    Jahan ummeed ko uski, wahan nahin milta.

    {Not that there a dearth of love in the world,
    But you never get it as expected}


    Sorry if i have not justified the translation.

    I agree with Shiva and Maya08, it is certainly not easy to swing in a see-saw.
    I shall await eagerly to see where the grip of grief, that has caught Shalini, relax.

    Thanks
    Nikhath


  8. #8
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    Default Re: SHE - Episode 17

    The Grass on the other side seems to be always greener. That is how human mind works.
    One thing that I love about your writings is that,whatever you may write about, you really seem to get first hand knowledge and make it very authentic, for example- your narration of the Ashram life and routine. I wonder how you find time for all this.
    Now I am waiting for the last leg of destiny in Shalini's life! Hope this time round,Guru paarvai has fallen on her!

    To be, or not to be: that is the question:
    Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
    The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
    Or to take arms against a sea of troubles.


  9. #9
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    Default Re: SHE - Episode 17

    Dear Pallavi,

    I cherish your brief post very much because during your two years of sojourn in IL since August, 2005 you have broken your silence only four times. And one out of that four is on my account, to praise my narration. Thanks Pallavi. Your words do mean a lot to me.
    When a few of us writers met one writer told me that the greatest asset for a writer is the silent reader who never shows herself or speaks her mind, but silently enjoys the writing. The writer, may not even know about such readers. After reading your post I understand the value of those words.

    In the next episode Shalini has to settle down. (Or will she?) For next episode is the final one. Let's see what happens.
    I will be looking forward to your post in the next one too.
    With Kind Regards,


  10. #10
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    Default Re: SHE - Episode 17

    Dear Kamla,

    Before starting to reply I must first thank you from the depths of my heart for being there for me in all the episodes. Be it the free-flowing first few episodes, or the controversial E-11 dealing with lesbianism, or the episode which described Shal's first live-in relationship (E8) your presence has been a source of strength to me.

    I am sure you will be there for me in the next and final episode as well.

    Many renunciations occur after a stormy life. But I have found out that when people take to sanyas out of hatred for their troubled worldly lives, the sanyas is also a failure. Sanyas should be born out of overflowing love for fellow human beings without even an inkling of hatred. Only such renunciations are sustained and fruitful. What will happen in Shalini's case? Let's wait for 140 hours (or I may post the last episode a day earlier, by Wednesday Evening, but please don't tell others).

    There are two sideline stories in this Episode which have been troubling me a lot. The first is what I heard from a woman friend who is a professional. That is Aparna's story.
    The second, the retirement plan, was born out of a number of my real life encounters. A couple who had been living in Mumbai all their life sought to retire in Bangalore in those days. (Pre-software days. Calm, quiet and all.) But they could not live even for a month and went back to Mumbai.
    Again a friend of mine who worked for Maruti Udyog Delhi wanted to retire in Kodaikkanal. He got transformed as Ganesh in this Episode.

    But then, how many of us plan our lives so thoughtfully...sigh ! Actually Kamla, there is no need for a sigh here. Because very few people have been able to carry out their plans. Only those who do not plan any thing in great detail have been able to lead happy post-retirement lives.

    Thanks once again,
    Love,


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