Friday, February 10, 2012
I Decide to Leave Mrinal- To My Children Series- 26
On 15th August 1997, when India was celebrating its 50th anniversary of independence, I decided to end my marriage with Mrinal. Some trouble had shot up in that morning. The arguments reached a climax and I walked out of our home in Mayur Vihar Phase 3 in East Delhi. I walked, walked and walked. I saw a bus on the way and I got into it. I had not even looked at the board that said where it was going. The bus took me to the New Delhi Railway station. It was around 11 in the morning. Kerala Express was there on platform number 9. It was about to leave. I just got into the general compartment, which did not have an inch of space. The train chugged away from the station sharp at 11.20 am.
People often believe that most of the married people are happy. We see a lot of ideal couples around. But behind the facade of the ‘ideal’ I see the lurking shadows of pain, suppression, anger and violence. If you are a married person you know how difficult it is to work things out. Today, when young friends see Mrinal and myself spending time together, sharing many things and generally impart the feeling of being a ‘functional’ couple, and they believe that it is a worth emulating life, I tell them to be careful and not to be deceived by appearances. Let me tell you the truth, our marriage has never been that easy or ideal. We had tremendous personality differences and our choices were quite diversified. But when you are in love you tend to overlook all those differences. Once you are married, the differences keep coming up.
Our marriage did not work initially because we were not planning to get married. When we were in Baroda, both Mrinal and I had decided to live together but live an independent life without conventions and the bondages that came along with marriage. We thought of spending a life together like Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir (lofty ideas natural to young age). She wanted me as her life partner and that was the end of it. She did not insist on getting married but made it a point that we stayed together. In Delhi, when we rented a one room accommodation in Laxmi Nagar, we made the landlords believe that we were a married couple. They did not ask too many questions mainly because we did not look a newly married or a courting couple. We looked like two young people perfectly married for quite some time.
As our friends’ circle widened and as we felt that we could alleviate ourselves from near penury, we thought of moving from Laxmi Nagar and going to a housing colony where we could afford a two room flat. While the thought was on, both my mother and Mrinal’s parents came to know about our staying together and the so called live-in relationship. It was not a surprise for them but they thought it was right time to tell us that it would be better if we got married and ‘settled’ rather than going on with the live-in relationship. We put our head together and we too felt that marriage would bring some qualitative change to our life together. We thought so mainly because the kind of rhythm and rhyme natural to the initial days of any living together relationship was slowly deteriorating. I do not want to demonize Mrinal and say that it was she who made things difficult. Nor do I want to take the whole responsibility. To cut the story short, I would say it was not working the way we thought it would and it should.
I remember, our artist friend, Roy Thomas asking one day, what Mrinal and I talked continuously even when we were in the midst of friends. Mrinal wanted to know everything. She felt insecure in the middle of a lot of Malayalis who always made it a point to talk in Malayalam without considering the presence of non-Malayali people around. I do not consider it as a problem so long as the person with different linguistic bend in the crowd does not mind it. But Mrinal wanted to know everything. She was trying to understand what we said and why we laughed and so on. She was trying her best to be a part of the crowd, which consisted mainly of bachelor boys with anarchic tendencies both in public and private domains. What I did during those occasions was translating everything as fast I could in English and Hindi so that she would feel comfortable.
Even when I was not translating things to her, we were talking something. Mostly we talked about art shows and often they ended up in fights. They ended up in fights because our views differed radically. Often we started off with some healthy arguments only to be degenerated into an ugly fight. Whatever she liked, I disliked and vice versa. Though Mrinal was very liberal, she did not like me giving too much of time to friends. She liked the same if she was around. The important factor that contributed to our growing disliking for each other was our inseparable existence. We were together all the time; we slept together, woke up together, we cooked together, we taught together, read together, drank tea together, ate lunch together, met friends together, watched movies together, went for shows together, attended programs together and even wrote articles together.
Writing together was the biggest of problems. As I mentioned before, our observations and opinions differed when it came to art. That does not mean that there were no points of ideological convergence at all. Whenever we agreed upon certain kind of art, we wrote things together well. The pattern was simple; I started the articles at the typewriter. Then read out it to her. She then furthered it with her observations which I converted into written form. It went on for quite some time and we came to know that it was not going to work for us. But the fear of getting separated we continued and the more we did it the more we fought. Interestingly, we did not fight for personal matters; each fight started off with art and ended up in passionate love making. In the meanwhile, language also became an issue. If I talked too much in Malayalam with my friends, Mrinal thought it was a deliberate ploy from my side to put her down. I felt the same when her brother and activist-artist, Manoj Kulkarni visited us with his painter friend, Late Kishore Umarekar came to Laxmi Nagar to spend time with us and mostly they spoke in Marathi.
Then it occurred to us that if we got married things would be different. It was the same time that our families were also compelling us to tie the knot. As we were against all kinds of social conventions and I had a special liking for being a self styled anarchist during those days, we did not want to go for a family kind of marriage. We opted for a court marriage. After seeking advice from friends and especially from Cartoonist Unny, we went to an Old Delhi court where most of the marriages were done. To our dismay we came to know that there was a ‘notice period’. They would advertise the name and pictures of the bride and bridegroom for a month or so and within that period if nobody objects the court would help them to tie the knot.
It was a lucrative and practical option for us. However, things were not that easy. We came to know that there was a parallel industry running along with the court marriages. When the names and pictures of the bride and bridegroom were published on the court notice board, a group of people came up with objections. They must be random people operating in and around the court. They may not be even the relatives of the bride and bridegroom. As these people knew that those who opted for court marriages faced some kind of objection from the families, they made it a point to take advantage of the situation. When the court told you that there was an objection, you were forced to meet these people and they settled the matter by accepting some amount of money. Some good mannered people warned us of this practice and we thought it was not good to get into trouble especially my name sounded absolutely Christian and Mrinal’s absolutely Hindu Brahmin with the surname, Kulkarni. We knew that we were in for big trouble. So we decided to avoid the route of court to get married.
Roy Thomas was a good friend and he was the first one in Delhi to start huge paintings on tarpaulin. He used to previews of his works at his rented home in Rajendra Nagar. He was a good host and entertained friends over weekends. It was through him we came in contact with another friend, Selvaraj, who was an accountant by profession but designed furniture. Soft spoken Selvan (we used to call him like that) was more comfortable with Mrinal than me. Jyothilal too was close to Mrinal because he thought I was too outspoken and arrogant. Selvan got us our first gas connection just before our marriage. We got it from Janakpuri and it was an offence to transfer gas connections without proper papers. So bringing the gas cylinder was a big problem. Selvan and me went to Janakpuri and from there we got the cylinder and connecter, got into an auto, travelled all the way to Laxmi Nagar, throughout fearing the police intervention.
In Rajendra Nagar, Roy Thomas treated us with Old Monk rum, beef, fish and whatever we thought good for a weekend. Mrinal was a strict vegetarian (and still one though she cooks non-veg with relish, discerning the taste with smelling the fragrance of the recipe) and Roy Thomas always made it a point to cook some vegetarian dishes for her. Actually Mrinal was the only girl in a predominantly male crowd of bachelors and everyone took care of her. Malayali boys are generally known for their chauvinism. However, when Mrinal was around most of them showed real concern for her and it was difficult for her to develop other friends from her own gender. She could vibe only with a very few girls like Manmeet Devgun, Kruti and Meetu Sen.
Roy Thomas said that there was an Arya Samaj Mandir in Old Rajendra Nagar and this temple conducted marriages without any fuss. Cartoonist Unny took us to this Mandir and the priest there agreed to get us married. We informed our relatives and my mother came to Delhi from Kerala. We were still living in Laxmi Nagar. A week before the marriage, there were ten people living in that one room including my mother and Mrinal’s parents. Though I liked friends and relatives to certain extent it was very difficult for me to spend more time in the company of people. As most of these people came to Delhi for the first time and was not aware of the ways in which this city worked, I became responsible for everything. I had to run around like a mad man to arrange things. Of course, friends were there to do things but I was the man in charge. And to add to my pains, the relatives were going full steam preparing for a formal marriage.
As idealists, Mrinal and I had decided not to depend on the money of our parents or relatives. And we refused to take any money from them. In fact we did not have much to fall back on. A joint bank account in the United Bank of India, Bengali Market that we had opened with the help of Amit Mukhopadhyaya, the then editor of Lalit Kala Contemporary Journal, was touching the danger mark. For our living, I was depending on the money from column in the Hindu Business Line, from the Hindu Group of Publications and Mrinal was making some money out of her teaching in the College of Art. I could not have jumped deadlines or abstain from writing. Preeti Mehra, the editor of the Life section in the Hindu Business Line was my anchor then. She helped me by giving chances to write more than my column and also giving chance to Mrinal to write. In the meanwhile, Mrinal had started writing for the Financial Express from the Indian Express Group.
So even when I was running around to arrange my own marriage, I had to stick to the deadlines. Writing in a room filled with twelve people including myself was a difficult thing for me. I wanted loneliness and peace. This situation made me tremendously irritable and the irritation got befitting resonances from Mrinal. Fights erupted in regular intervals. Finally we went to the Arya Samaj Mandir on 20th July 1996 and as per the Arya Samaj rituals got married in front of fire. Cartoonist Unny signed as the witness of our marriage. Roy Thomas was the master of the ceremony. N.N.Rimzon, M.J.Enas, Gigi Scaria, Cartoonist Prasad, Anil Dayanand, Sumedh Rajendran, Abhimanue V.G, Merlin, Sunitha, Santhosh Babu, Nandakumar, Bhagyanathan and so on were present during the marriage rituals. Gigi Scaria was the ‘official’ photographer of the event because he was the only one in the group at that time who had a camera. I wore a white dhoti and white shirt and Mrinal wore a red silk sari. After the rituals I changed into a pair of grey cotton trousers.
We travelled back to Laxmi Nagar after marriage in a Fat Fat, the old Harley Davison jugaad vehicles that plied in Old Delhi at that time. I was carrying all the luggages, garlands and other paraphernalia of the marriage. I was feeling infuriated as I kept on thinking about condition in which I had put myself into. We were better off without marriage. Now the marriage had brought all these burdens on me. After reaching home, I had to rush out again to buy provisions for kitchen as that part was being neglected for the last few days. And on the so called ‘first night’ of our marriage, we slept amongst ten other people. There was nothing to expect or exciting about the so called first night as far as our marriage was concerned. Our marriage was consummated long back. Now what we wanted was a few moments of privacy to sort out our differences. Mrinal knew that I was angry and I knew that she was helpless. Things took an ugly turn when I refused to accompany the family members to a sightseeing trip in Delhi. Finally I had to relent and by evening when we reached the Red Fort area in Old Delhi, I jumped out of the car, hopped into a bus and went to the Barahkhamba Road in Connaught Place to deliver my article to the Hindu Business Line that I had typed out in the previous night. This action of mine brought criticism from everyone. And I just did not care and this led into a huge fight between me and Mrinal. A solution was immediately brought out by our relatives present at home. The diagnosed our problem as sex deprivation and let us sleep alone in the only room and they all went to sleep at the terrace. I don’t know whether that had really solved the problem of our marriage there.
In 1997, we could shift to a better accommodation in Mayur Vihar Phase III. It was a predominantly a south Indian ghetto but we got some wonderful neighbours who treated us with great care and love. We got a two room house with a proper kitchen, bathroom and toilet. Slowly we started buying things required for setting up a home. More than household items we gathered more and more friends. It was where our friendship with Abul Kalam Azad, the photography artist, Santhosh Babu, the hypno-therapist and Bobby Kunhu, a legal expert and activist developed in a deeper way.
Abul Kalam Azad was a photographer with the Press Trust of India. Though he was an acclaimed photo journalist with some rare feats of covering the Hazrat Bal attack and so on, his mind was elsewhere. He wanted to become a photography artist (which he became sooner than later). He took photographs from the streets and manipulated them through certain pictorial interventions to express his religious critique. He was then living with his family in NOIDA. He got a scholarship to study in France and when he came back he was totally a changed man. He was a great cook and he threw parties whenever he found a chance to organize a party at his home with his wife’s consent. An activist with the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (SAHMAT), Azad had wide contacts and he travelled by a scooty.
Santhosh Babu, the hypno therapist (Now one of the highly sought after corporate trainer) was another friend who came to our life and inspired us at each juncture of despair and frustration. We met Santhosh through Anil. We were told that Santhosh was working in the World Wild Life Fund at the Lodhi Road, next to the India International Centre. Santhosh was a lean thin man from Trissur and he spoke with a smile. A man of ideas, on the first meeting itself Santhosh told us that we could bring a lot of changes into our lives if we were positive towards it. Then one day we went to him home in NOIDA. He was living in the Jal Vayu Vihar Apartments. It was a very large house, befittingly shabby for a bachelor’s apartment. Anil Dayanand was a permanent fix there. Santhosh had some small birds and snakes as his pets. He surprised his visitors by taking out flowers and apple pieces from the air and from empty boxes. He was a magician too.
If any art critics had the opportunity to work as the assistants of a hypno-therapist in India, then it had come to us first. Santhosh one day told us that he was going to conduct a workshop at a school in Delhi and he needed stage assistants. Me and Mrinal went on to the stage as his assistants. Our job was to hold the people who underwent to the hypnotic sleep. He made them to do the feats that they were otherwise incapable of. He asked them to speak of their past. Some danced, some cried, some went into bouts of laughter. Later Santhosh developed and fine tuned his skills to become one of the corporate human resources trainers in India. His house in NOIDA was our week end meeting place for many years and were we used to meet friends like Praveen Thambi, the journalist, Anoop Kamath and many others.
Bobby Kunhu happened in our life during that time. While commuting back to Mayur Vihar Phase III, one day we met a person with thick spectacles in a chartered bus that started from the Barahkhamba road. He was sitting next to me and was reading some book. As I too was reading a book, he got into a conversation. He told us that he was working with the Times of India as a legal expert. In no time he said he was an aspiring writer and soon would publish an anthology of poems. He was impish and his laughter was innocent. Bobby lived in the next block in Mayur Vihar Phase III. Soon he became a regular visitor in our place and he came in touch with many artists friends who visited us over weekends. Josh PS, Gigi Scaria and Shijo Jacob were the regulars and they were all studying or finishing their studies at the Jamia Millia Islamia.
Peculiar in his life style, Bobby soon bought a second hand computer that worked only on doors format. It had a black and white monitor and he gave the impression that he was working towards his magnum opus, a novel. But what he really did was playing a game called Mine Sweeper, which was the only game available in that computer. Only one good job that computer did before going into the kabadi’s hands, was preparing Gigi Scaria’s dissertation for his MFA final. He always had ample supply of drinks at his home as he was earning well so most of us found ourselves at his home by the weekends. Bobby cooked meat and often forgot to eat. Sometimes his refrigerator was full of old food items. He always found it difficult to find his clothes so he went on buying new clothes. And when he shifted to another house, as we were helping him to pack his things, we found around thirty shirts from under his cot. Now Bobby is a social activist and spends his time in many cities including Delhi.
Now let me come back to my running away from marriage. I got into the crammed general compartment of the Kerala Express. I had nothing in my hand. Some army men were in the compartment and they with their muscle and uniform had occupied the seats and berths. One of them looked at me and smiled. I smiled back. In fact I was not in a mood to talk anyone. I knew that I was running away from Mrinal and as the stations passed one by one, my rage turned into fear and I was thinking only of Mrinal. What she would do? She was left alone in a city where she came totally believing in me. My fear gave way to a sense of shame. When the train crossed Mathura after two hours I thought of getting down and going back home. But my pride and ego did not allow me to do that. Once again, when the train reached Agra, the city of Taj Mahal, the monument of love, I really thought of getting down and running back to Mrinal. But my vain ego prevented me from doing that. Then stations passed in greater speed and I was going away from Mrinal.
By noon, the army man who smiled at me had eked out some information from me. I told him that I was going to Kerala as my mother was in hospital. It was a white lie. He quizzically looked at me. He asked me why I did not carry any luggage. I told him that I left home in haste and I did not even bother to pick up clothes. He did not believe it, I knew. But thankfully he did not insist. Before lunch, he offered me a glass of military rum, which I declined first and accepted later. One after another I drank several pegs of rum and got into a dreamless, fearless but shameful sleep. On the third day I got down at Kollam Railway station in an inebriated condition. My sister was working in Kollam and she was there with her friends at the platform. She saw me and was shocked. But she composed herself and took me to home. My mother did not say anything for a while. I too was quite. Once I reached home, a few phone calls had come there enquiring about me. My mother could not realize what her son had done. Once things became clear, she broke her silence with a question, “Tell me, when are you going back?” She added that she was going to book the ticket tomorrow itself. I called Mrinal and said, “I want to come back.” She did not say anything.
When I was spending three days in the train, things were going differently in Delhi. Initially Mrinal thought that I would come back by evening. It was the 50th Independence celebrations of India. As I was not seen by night, Mrinal called Anil Dayanand and he came with Azad to pick her up from Mayur Vihar III. Azad took her to a SAHMAT function where Kaifi Azmi was present. Subha Mudgal sang and Mrinal showed a brave face to everyone. Then Azad took her to his home in NOIDA and told her that they all would find a way to trace me. Next morning, Cartoonist Unny and Anil made covert attempts to see whether any dead body was found in Delhi mortuaries. Once that was not found, they assured Mrinal that I had gone to Kerala. Mrinal responded in her typical style, “Mullah ka daud Masjid Tak” (Cleric will go up to the Mosque only). What she meant was this- if at all I go I would go only back to my mother. It was Sreeni of the Hindu Business Line first made the calculations of Kerala Express’ arrival in Kerala and called my mother and casually told her that he was my friend and where I was now. My mother told him that I was living in Delhi. After a few moments I made my sheepish entry into the house with my sister.
Crestfallen, ego broken and shame ridden I reached Delhi on a Saturday in the same week. By that time I had shaven off my beard and had got a normal hair cut at my mother’s insistence. I had got my eyes checked and got a pair of new spectacles. As I did not have any spare clothes and no money to buy any, my mother had bought me a pair of new clothes. So in a new attire I came back to Mayur Vihar Phase III, back to Mrinal. She received me with tears in her eyes but with befitting defiance. That evening Santhosh Babu invited us for a part at his NOIDA home, where he had invited a lot of friends. I thought they were celebrating the return of a coward. Many failed to recognize me as I was seen first time clean shaven. Anil Dayanand smiled at me with his lips curled up, a typical smile of Anil. Santhosh gave me a beautiful grin. Azad tapped at my shoulders. None asked me any questions.
After that I never thought of leaving Mrinal. I had my deviations and gallivanting after that too. We still have issues between us but I believe that we have learnt to sort them out. We have been together for the last eighteen years. But I know marriages do not happen in heaven; may be occasional juxtaposition of hell makes the glimpses of heaven more palatable.