UNFINISHED LETTER Fiction Short Story – A Passionate Romance By VIKRAM KARVE
Here is a story from my archives... I wrote this "old fashioned" romance long long back...in the 1990s perhaps...Dear Reader, indulge me, please read it and do tell me if you like it...
Jayashree entered my life the moment I saw her photograph on Sanjay’s desk.
And my life changed forever!
Till that moment, I had never wanted anything belonging to anyone else.
I stared transfixed at her photo, enthralled, totally captivated by her beauty.
“Sir, this is Jayashree, my wife!” Sanjay said, getting up form the swivel chair.
He picked up the framed photograph and showed it to me.
I took her picture in my hand and looked intently at her, totally mesmerized.
What a stunning beauty!
Never before had the mere sight of a woman aroused such strong passions, and a yearning desire in me to this extent.
Sanjay was talking something, but it didn’t register.
I hastily said, “Cute!” for I believe that thoughts can transmit themselves if they are strong enough!
I thought Sanjay seemed just a trifle taken aback, but he smiled, and pulled out a photo-album from the drawer.
He began showing me the photographs and started describing his home, his family, his wedding, his honeymoon – the wonderful days they had spent together in Goa.
I took the album from him and looked at a photograph of Jayashree in a bathing suit which was so revealing that she might as well have worn nothing, but she conveyed such innocence that it was obvious that she had no inkling of this.
She looked ravishing. Absolutely Breathtaking! Her exquisite body was boldly outlined under the flimsy fabric and she radiated a tantalizing sensuousness with such fervour that I could not take my eyes off her.
“Cute,” I instinctively and unthinkingly said again, and bit my lip; it was the wrong word, but Sanjay didn’t seem to mind; he didn’t even seem to be listening.
Dear Reader, before I proceed further with my story, let me tell you something about myself.
My name is Vijay. At the time of this story I was the Master of a merchant ship - an oil tanker. Sanjay was my Chief Officer – my number two!
He had joined recently and it was our first sailing together.
I had not met him earlier, but in due course he proved to be an excellent deputy. He was young, just thirty, he ran the ship efficiently and I liked him for his good qualities.
But there was something in his eyes that I could not fathom. I shut my mind to it.
It’s extraordinary how close you can be to a man and still know nothing about him.
Sometimes I wondered whether he was much more naïve or a lot more shrewd than I thought.
“Captain, may I ask you a personal question?’ Sanjay asked me one evening, the first time we went ashore.
“Sure,” I said.
“Captain, I was wondering, why didn’t you get married so far?” Sanjay said with childlike candour.
I sipped my drink and smiled, “I don’t really know. Maybe I am not marriage-material.”
“You tried to get married, find someone?”
“You loved someone?”
I didn’t answer.
And as I thought about it, I felt depressed.
Life was passing me by.
I looked around the restaurant.
The atmosphere was gloomy-dark and quiet. It was late; almost midnight.
Sanjay offered me a cigarette.
His hands were unsteady.
He seemed to be quite drunk.
As we smoked, he lapsed into silence – his eyes closed.
When he opened his eyes, I observed a strange metamorphosis in his expression.
He looked crestfallen; close to tears.
Suddenly, he blurted out, “I wish I had never got married.”
With those few words, Sanjay had bared the secret of his marriage.
As I attempted to smoothen my startled look into a grin, I was ashamed to find that, inwardly, I was glad to hear of his misfortune.
I wondered how I could desire and yearn for Jayashree to this extent without ever having met her in flesh and blood, merely by seeing her photograph?
But it is true; my heart ached whenever I thought of her.
We sailed from Chennai port next morning, and headed for Singapore.
It was the monsoon season and the sea was rough.
As the voyage progressed, the weather swiftly deteriorated.
The ship rolled and pitched feverishly, tossed about by the angry waves.
As we neared the Strait of Malacca, I began to experience a queer sensation - a strange foreboding.
Though I was moulded in a profession where intellect habitually meets danger, I felt restless and apprehensive. I had felt and fought occasional fear before, but this was different – a premonition – a nameless type of fright; a strange feeling of dread and uneasiness.
I tried my best to dispel my fear, thrust away the strange feelings. But all my efforts failed. The nagging uneasiness persisted and soon took charge of me.
It was so dark that I couldn’t even see our ship’s forecastle. The incessant rain and treacherous sea created an eerie atmosphere. I was close to panic as we negotiated the treacherous and hazardous waters of the Strait.
As I stared into the pitch blackness which shrouded the hour moments before the breaking of dawn, a strange tocsin began sounding in my brain – a warning I could not fathom.
The ship was pitching violently. I felt sick with fear and stood gasping for air, clutching the telegraph. I had to get outside, into the fresh air, or I’d suffocate.
As I groped my way along the rail in the bridge-wing, I heard a shrill voice behind me, “Don’t go away, Captain! Please stay. I can’t handle it alone. I can’t. Please, Sir. Don’t go!”
I turned around. It was Sanjay. He looked at me beseechingly with terror and fright in his eyes.
It penetrated to me in flash of revelation what I’d done.
I had transmitted my own fear into my crew. Sanjay was the Chief Officer. For him, to confess in front of the crew, that he could not handle it, brought home to me the fact of how desperate he was.
I had to take control at once.” You are not supposed to handle it as long as I’m around,” I shouted. “Go down to your cabin and catch up on your sleep. I don’t want passengers on the bridge. Get out from here.”
The moment those words left my mouth, I instantly regretted what I had said; but it was too late now. Sanjay was close to tears, humiliated in front of the crew. He shamefacedly left the bridge and went down to his cabin.
Suddenly, a searchlight was switched on, dead ahead. Instinctively I shouted an order to the quartermaster to swing the ship across the ship across to starboard. I crossed my fingers, desperately praying to avoid a collision. It was a near-miss, but the searchlight kept following our sheer to starboard.
I was angry now. I stopped the engines, picked up the loudhailer, rushed out the bridge-wing, leaned over, and shouted, “You stupid fools. Are you crazy? What the hell do you think you are doing?”
“We are in distress,” a voice answered. “Throw us a rope.”
I called the boatswain and told him to throw over the monkey-ladder. “Be careful, and report quickly,” I told him.
Ten minutes must have passed but there was no report. The silence was disquieting, ominous. I decided to go to the deck.
Before I could move, four men entered the bridge. They were wearing hoods. As I started at the nozzle of a carbine pointed at me, comprehensive dawned on me pretty fast. This was piracy on the high seas.
Incredible, but true. I had never imagined it would happen to me.
Undecided as to my next move, I stood there feeling far from heroic. There was no question of resistance. After all, this was a merchant ship, not a man-o’-war. Saving the lives of the crew was of paramount importance. The man pointing the carbine at me said softly, “Captain, we are taking over. Don’t try anything foolish. Tell the crew.”
Suddenly, there was deep shuddering sound followed by a deafening roar. The ship rose on top of a steep quivering hill and slithered down its slope. There was a resounding thud followed by reverberating screeching vibrations. We had run aground.
Suddenly the ship lurched wildly, throwing everyone off-balance. Sanjay suddenly appeared out of nowhere, made a running dive and grabbed the carbine from the pirate.
It happened too quickly, and so unexpectedly that I was totally dumbstruck. Everyone seemed to have opened fire. Bullets wildly straddled the bridge.
There was pandemonium, as crew members joined the melee, grappling with the pirates. I hit the deck and froze.
I don’t know who pulled me up, but by then everything was calm and quit. “The pirates have been overpowered,” said the boatswain, “but the Chief Officer ……….”
I followed his gaze.
Sanjay lay on the deck, in a pool of blood.
I knelt down beside him.
His face was vacant, but he tried to focus his eyes on me, whimpering, “Jayashree, Jayashree...” I shook him, he tried to get up, but slumped back – Sanjay was dead!
Six months later I knocked on a door.
There was long wait.
Then Jayashree opened the door.
Her gorgeously stunning dazzling face took my breath away.
She was even more beautiful than her photographs.
Dressed in white sari, she looked so proud in her grief that I felt embarrassed.
I had myself not yet recovered from the shock of Sanjay’s sudden death.
I said, awkwardly, “I am Captain Vijay.”
She looked directly into my eyes and said, “So I see.” Her dark eyes were hostile.
“I am sorry about what happened. Sanjay was a brave man, and we are all proud to have known him.” My words sounded insincere and I felt acutely uncomfortable.
“Proud!” she exclaimed, her magnificent eyes flashing. “Some people might feel grateful, especially those whose life he saved.”
I was stunned by the sting of her bitterness.
Never had I felt such a burning shame; the shame of being held responsible for someone’s death.
I looked at Jayashree helplessly, pleading innocence, but it was of no use.
It was hopeless now to try and explain.
The hurt was deep, and I had to let it go in silence.
Jayashree excused herself, turned and went inside.
It was then that I remembered the real reason for my visit.
I wanted to hand over what remained of Sanjay’s personal effects; an unfinished letter, a dairy, a framed photograph.
I would first give Jayashree the unfinished letter.
Once she read the letter - probably then she would understand the real reason for Sanjay’s reckless bravery, his suicidal heroics; his desperate concern about proving his masculinity.
When Jayashree returned, she was composed.
I gave her Sanjay’s unfinished letter.
She took the letter in her dainty hands and started reading it.
As she silently read on, I saw tears well up in her eyes.
I do not know whether I did the right thing by giving her Sanjay’s unfinished letter.
Probably it would have been wiser to destroy the letter and the diary – better to leave things unspoken and unhealed.
But I had thought it would be better to exorcise the sense of guilt and shame.
Better for me.
Better for Jayashree.
Best for both of us.
It was not easy, but we both had to come to terms with ourselves.
Jayashree finished reading the letter and looked at me, her eyes cold.
I looked at Jayashree, deep into her intoxicating eyes, and she looked into my eyes too.
We looked into each other, transfixed, in silence, a deafening silence.
And suddenly Jayashree’s frozen eyes melted and she smiled.
I make love to a beautiful woman on Sunday morning – yes, I make love to her with my eyes.
Here is how we make love.
Tell me, what does a beautiful woman do when a handsome young man looks at her in an insistent, lingering sort of way, which is worth a hundred compliments?
I’ll tell you what she does.
First, she realizes I am looking at her, then she accepts being looked at and finally she begins to look at me in return.
Suddenly her eyes become hard and she grills me with a stern stare that makes me uncomfortable.
Scared and discomfited, I quickly avert my eyes and try to disappear into the crowd. I feel ashamed of having eyed her so blatantly. ‘What will she think of me?’ I wonder.
But soon, by instinct and almost against my will, my eyes begin searching, trying to find her again.
Ah, there she is. She stands at the fruit-stall, buying fruit.
She is an exquisite beauty – tall, fair and freshly bathed, her luxuriant black hair flows down her back, her sharp features accentuated by the morning sun, her nose slightly turned up, so slender and transparent, as though accustomed to smelling nothing but perfumes.
I am mesmerized.
Never before had anyone evoked such a delightful tremor of thrilling sensation in me.
An unknown force propels me towards the fruit-stall. I stand near her and made pretence of choosing a papaya, trying to look at her with sidelong glances when I think she isn’t noticing.
She looks at me.
Her eyes are extremely beautiful – enormous, dark, expressive.
Suddenly her eyes began to dance, and seeing the genuine admiration in my eyes, she gives me smile so captivating that I experience a delightful twinge in my heart.
She selects a papaya and extends her hands to give it to me.
Our fingers touch.
The feeling is electric. It is sheer ecstasy. I feel so good that I wish time would stand still.
I can’t begin to describe the sensation I feel deep within me.
I try to smile.
She communicates an unspoken good-bye with her eyes and briskly walks away.
Three months have passed. She has never misses her Sunday morning love date with me, same time, same place, every Sunday – at precisely Seven o’clock in the morning.
But, my dear Reader, do you know that not a word has been exchanged between us.
We just make love every Sunday morning using the language of our eyes and part with an unspoken good-bye.
Once I was slightly late for our rendezvous.
I could see her eyes desperately searching for me.
And when her eyes found me, her eyes danced with delight, and began making love to my eyes.
Tell me, is there any love making that can surpass our fascinating alluring love making?
It feels like the supreme bliss of non-alcoholic intoxication.
Should I speak to her?
I do not know.
Why doesn’t she speak to me?
I do not know.
Does one have to speak to express love?
Are words from the mouth the only way to communicate love?
Maybe we both want our beautiful romance to remain this way.
Our silent love making with our eyes – so lovely, so esoteric, so exquisite, so pristine, so divine, so fragile, so delicate, so sensitive, so delicately poised.
Just one word would spoil everything, destroy our enthralling state of trancelike bliss, bring everything crashing down from supreme ecstasy to harsh ground reality.
I think it’s best to let our exquisite Sunday morning love making go on for ever and ever, till eternity.
What do you feel, Dear Reader?
How long should we go on making love like this?
Tell me, should I make a move, talk to her, break the spell...?
Tell me, My Dear Reader...Should I tell her...?
I’ll do exactly as you say.
Till then, I will make love to the beautiful woman every Sunday morning – yes, I’ll make love to her with my eyes.
“I want to go home...!” the father, a redoubtable intrepid tough looking old man, around seventy, shouts emphatically at his son.
“Please Baba. Don’t create a scene,” the son, an effeminate looking man in his mid-forties, says softly.
“What do you mean don’t create a scene...?” the old man shouts even louder, waving his walking stick in a menacing manner.
“Please calm down...! Everyone is looking at us...!” an old woman, in her mid-sixties, pleads with her husband.
“Let them look...! Let everyone see what an ungrateful son is doing to his poor old parents...” the old man says loudly, looking all around.
“Ungrateful...?” the son winces.
“Yes, ungrateful...! That’s what you are. We did everything for you; educated you, brought you up. And now you throw us out of our house into this bloody choultry.”
“Choultry...! You call this a choultry...! Please Baba... This is a luxury township for Senior Citizens...” the son says.
“It’s okay,” the old woman consoles her husband, “we’ll manage in this Old Age Home.”
“Mama, please...!” the son implores in exasperation, “How many times have I told you. This is not an Old Age Home. It’s such a beautiful exclusive township for Senior Citizens to enjoy a happy and active life. And I’ve booked you a premium cottage – the best available here.”
The mother looks at her son, and then at her husband, and feels trapped between the two, not knowing what to say as both are right in their own way. So she says gently to her husband, “Try to understand. We’ll adjust here. See how scenic and green this place is. See there – what a lovely garden.”
“I prefer Nana-Nani Park at Chowpatty. All my friends are there,” the old man says.
“You’ll make friends here too,” she says.
“Friends...! These half-dead highbrow snobs...?” the old man says mockingly.
“Okay,” the son intervenes, “you both can take long walks. The air is so pure and refreshing at this hill station.”
“Listen you...! Don’t try all this on me. I’ve been walking for the last fifty years on Marine Drive and that’s where I intend walking the rest of my life...” the old man shouts at his son. Then the old man turns to his wife and says peremptorily to her, “You pack our bags and let’s go back to Mumbai. We are not staying here...!”
“Try and adjust,” his wife beseeches him, “you’ll like the place. Look at the facilities here – there’s a modern health club, gym, library, recreation... everything is here.”
“Gym...? You want me to do body building at this age...? Library...? You know after my cataract I can hardly read the newspaper...! And I can get all the recreation I need watching the sea at the Chowpatty...”
“Please Baba, don’t be obstinate,” begs his son. “This place is so good for your health. They give you such delicious nourishing food here.”
“Delicious...? Nourishing...? The bloody sterile stuff tastes like hospital food. I can’t stand it – where will I get Sardar’s Pav Bhaji, Kyani’s Kheema Pav, Vinay’s Misal, Satam’s Vada Pav, Delhi Durbar’s Biryani, Sarvi’s Boti Kababs, Fish in Anantashram in Khotachi wadi next door…”
“Please Baba...! All you can think of is horrible oily spicy street-food which you should not eat at your age...! With your cholesterol and sugar levels, you’ll die if you continue eating that stuff...”
“I’d rather die of a heart attack in Mumbai enjoying the tasty good food I like rather than suffer a slow death here trying to eat this insipid tasteless nonsense,” the old man shouts at his son, then looks at his wife and commands, “Listen. Just pack up. We are not staying here like glorified slaves in this golden cage. One month here in this godforsaken place has made me almost mad. We are going right back to our house in Girgaum to live with dignity...!”
“Please Baba. Don’t be difficult. I have to leave for the states tonight,” the son pleads desperately. “I’m trying to do the best possible for you. You know the huge amount of money I’ve paid in advance to book this place for you...?”
“You go back to your family in America. I’m going back to my house in Girgaum...! That’s final...!” the old man says firmly to his son. Then he looks at his wife, the old woman, and says, “You want to come along...? Or should I go back alone...?”
“Mama, please tell him...” the son looks at his mother.
The old woman looks lovingly at her husband, puts her hand on his arm and says softly, “Please try to understand. We have to live here. There’s no house in Girgaum. Our tenement chawl has been sold to a builder. They are building a commercial complex there.”
“What...?” the old man looks at his wife, totally stunned, as if he is pole-axed, “you too...!”
And suddenly the old man's defences crumble and he disintegrates... no longer is he the strong indefatigable redoubtable man he was a few moments ago -- the old man seems to have lost his spirit, his strength, his dignity, his self-esteem, even his will to live...!
The metamorphosis in the old man's personality is unbelievable as he meekly holds his wife’s hand for support and, totally defeated, the once tough and redoubtable old man obediently leans on his frail wife for support and walks with her towards their cottage where they both will spend the last days of their lives... lonely... unwanted... waiting for death.