Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

The Little More

Prof. W. E. Hookens

(A short-story)

Considering the matrimonial crashes I’ve had, I wish I were a poor man. I’d then think more in terms of bread and butter than the airy thing called love, or try the most difficult thing of equating sex with love! Of course the well-to-do try anything and the fact is that they have more money than anything else at their disposal, including brains. They can try permutations and combinations, and yet there is the remotest possibility of coming anywhere near the goal. But there it is. It’s like gambling or drinking. You say one more and yet one more and there  is no stopping you, because you aren’t really ready for stopping and are taken in by the craze. And so was I. I really feel that I must go in for real exercise of the mind or the will. Now that I see the westerners after the thing called Transcendental Meditation. I am all for it. I’ll have to undergo the rigours of life. But let me come to my story.

There was Agnes, my first wife. I met her when I was abroad. And I liked to see a saintly girl rather than the so-called ones I thought I saw in the company of the college-going girls? saw in India. You can imagine what she was with such a name. She was almost a saint and I thanked my lucky stars that I had met one in the flesh. She’d do all she could for me and life would be one’s endless beautiful dream. I thought I’d love a saint because I was not one. But it was not possible. A saint’s a saint and wants no love. And love for a saint is so different from love as we think, know or feel it. But I cannot be blamed for marrying Agnes. She had the body of a woman who was ripe for love and I was confident she’d give me a fill of love as I wanted it. When she broke into tantrums that were uncontrollable I began to think I had made a mistake in marrying her. But that could not be, and one day something told me to tell her straight what I thought of her, and how cockeyed she was in the thing called love. She nearly went into a fit.

What did I think she was? A loose woman? Not I, I said. It was not loose of her to behave like a wife. She was behaving like a wife all right, because she was living with me, She was sleeping with me, and was that not enough? I began to smile at her naiveness. I was no, child to take her reasoning seriously and when I saw her leave me with a huff I knew she was serious all right. I had made up my mind to have it out with her. I had borne enough from her for over eighteen months. I was certainly not wanting her to call me a hungry animal because I was nothing of the kind but, normal. “But you’ve had, your sex satisfaction last month,” she reminded me, and at the same time she was letting me know that as far as she went, she had nothing of the sort. “It takes two hands to clap,” I said with a finality she understood. “You’ve got to live with me as a wife or quit. It’s no use bluffing others or ourselves when it’s not a fact.” “What do you want from me?” she asked me with an exasperation that tempted me to bring out my worst. But I concealed this with a humour that she failed to understand. “My dear girl,” I then said with a beseeching tone, “I am a normal man and I want the sex in you that will bring me to the point oflove, if you know what I mean.” I had said enough and I was surprised myself for putting the thing so tersely. But then I had made love my guiding passion and I knew I had failed with her. She walked out on me. I am glad she took the initiative because she had tested me to the limit and I might have strangled her for what I thought was her frigidness, born of puritan living.

I felt lonely without her. People who knewme began to ask me where Agnes was and I began to cook up stories. She had gone to her mother’s, then she had gone to see an ailing girl-friend and finally she had gone on a holiday! Soon I realised that people didn’t care a damn whether she had walked out on me or not. They were far too busy with their own affairs and they were not being nosey when they asked me about Agnes. It is the most normal thing to ask a man where his wife is, and no man shudders at the question unless he has a guilty conscience. I asked myself whether I was the guilty one. And the answer was a Big No! Was I, I asked myself again, unbalanced when I asked her to be my wife after Ihad seen her a couple of times in church and had ventured in talking to her on her way home. The answer again was: that it was the most normal thing I had done. Again I asked myself whether I had, in any way, bluffed her or put her off by studied tactics.

I had certainly not made love to her in the sentimental way that our boys do in our country. I had not held her hands warmly nor edged close to her nor taken her to any park to lie beside her and feel love thrilling down her spine or mine by a touch here or there. I was, in short, at my best behaviour. But then, may be, I told myself, I had pretended to be a saint like her and that was what had probably endeared her to me. But no. It could not be that because I can never play at being a saint. I am far from being one.

May be I had helped to bring the devil out of her, for a devil I am when it comes to sex. She had succumbed and then her better nature prevailed. Why should she be what she was  not? She had not wanted sex. She had thought she had wanted it. And then she knew. She saw the revolting side of it and was shocked. It was not the grand thing talked about by the romantics. I was rid of her or rather she was rid of me. We both had bitter tastes in our mouths. But then it was life or part of life and I was no eunuch not to want marriage or to seek children through marriage.

My second wife Edna was a plump girl. She gave me the impression that she would give me love from morn to night. That I met her at one of the Indian dances made me want to be with her. I had fallen for her chic sari and her prepossessing choli and her pretty dimple. That she danced divinely made me want to be with her for always and she knew it. When I asked her to my flat she agreed, and before days flew into weeks or months, we were engaged. She was all I had wanted in a woman. She had beauty and looks, and her big almond eyes made me want to see into them every time I met her. I married her and she knew there was nothing I would not do to see her happy. I bought her all the things she wanted. I took her to all the places she desired to see and it seemed that she was the girl for me and I her ideal boy, if you could call me a boy at thirty-two! But then it all changed for me when I actually saw her legs for the first time. She was forever covering them and I let her do that because of modesty. But one day I was not the gentleman she took me for and I believe I had my own way with her to the extent of ripping her clothes that covered the legs, for I had wanted to see them.

Imagine! I told myself, marrying a woman and not seeing her legs. I’d be laughed to derision! And then she and I knew what the result of it was. I let her dress and avoided looking at her lest she read my thoughts anew by way of confirmation. I said nothing. I was hurt. Why had the woman kept away the secret of the legs from me. She could have told me about them and let me decide. How could she imagine a man being such a mut to take her as she was? But then she had banked on my being an Indian and she an Indian and therefore, legs apart, all would work out well. But not so in beautiful Britain where the girls have the finest legs in the world! And I had seen enough of these legs long before the mini-skirts were the craze! I was certainly not wanting a child with that pair of legs. No, by Jove! And she would, as she had told me, soon be expecting a child.

I thought of a ruse. I was going to India and would meet her when I returned a month or two later. But she was not that green. She wanted to come with me as my lawfully-wedded wife. That I had married her in London under an assumed name made me feel scared of the consequences. I had two ways out. Either I would have to put an end to her and be caught in the end or be so mad with her that I’d beat hell out of her. The latter became a habit which I liked. I was as merciless as I could. It gave me a pleasure I had not felt before and of which I had only read in books. I was glad at the end of the month when she said she wanted to see her relatives. For she had enough of the hiding that she’d remember to the end of her life. As I had anticipated she failed to come after a week, a month and then a whole year passed without so much as a letter or a reminder that I had ever known her.

Poor thing. Her legs had landed her in a mess. But whatever were the legs doing on her? They were the oddest pair that I’ve ever seen. If she were without them she’d have been loved. What had she or her parents done to deserve such a punishment? And what an irony in a woman of such bewitching beauty! But there it was! No woman was perfect nor any man. And, as someone artistically-minded said no two sides of the face of a man or woman were ever the same, much as they looked so! And here was the most beautiful body that man has ever seen with such a poor pair of legs! And was it my fault if I saw that she went out of my sight when her legs haunted me for days and nights afterwards till I woke up in my sleep and saw them curling round me, strangling me. How could the legs curl round me if I was not that inclined, but my imagination made things worse than they were. She had to quit or die unnaturally at my hands. And she wanted to live.

Now that I see it I feel she was no more to blame than myself for being dark-complexioned. But she could have been frank with her legs instead of covering them. She could have accepted them and may be I’d have accepted them too. It’s all a matter of the mind. She saw the legs as the most hideous thing in her life and I, in my turn, accepted her thoughts and feelings as my own and thought them hideous. But no. There was no question of
Her thinking her legs hideous. They were so. And nothing on earth could change such an impression. Whatever could the poor girl do but to see them cutoff as though they had never belonged to her. And, properly speaking, they were never meant to be hers, the perfect beauty that she was in other respects. But there it was. May be her mother dreamed of an animal and the dream came true in her legs! There could be so many reasons. But whatever they  were, she had suffered for them at home, in schoo1 and in the world. Her legs would be her downfall. If only she cut them off and walked with false ones, or had no legs at all and used the two-wheeled cycled chair that the legless use and are pitied, helped and loved by turns! I have not seen her all the five years I was in Britain but may be I’d see her one day in a psychology magazine as illustration of what the helpless can do to help themselves rather than their handicaps and make hell for themselves and others, Or may be she’d marry a blind man who’d feel her face and body and see them perfect. I wish I were that blind for she could love!

My third marriage would have taken place with the most beautiful person in my life. She was a young Irish girl who had the education and finesse that appealed to my aesthetic taste. She was musically-inclined and her voice was a joy to hear. Her face and her hands were such that an artist would have loved to have her as his model. She sat so perfectly when she was with me. She breathed the calm of life, yet there seethed within her the tempestuous ardour that made me want her more than anyone else; I was literally lost to her and did her bidding as if I were her devoted slave. And a smile from her made me want to die for her.

I took her to places and when I knew she was used to driving I got her a convertible. I let her go places when I had to go on business or what I called pleasure-cum-business. Amelia fired me to great ambitions and for her sake I wanted to earn money rather than draw it freely from the bank. For a girl like her wanted a man to work or to show semblance of work. Other girls did not mind whether I worked or not, so long as I had all the things I wanted and was spruce. But not this girl.

She hinted to me that a millionaire wanted to marry her but he just could not get to work. He had made leisure his eternal pastime and she had to give him the go by much as it hurt her. He had everything she or any girl, of ambition and taste wanted. Her mother and father, she told me, loved work and she came of an extraction that made work a sort of worship. She had much that her parents had not seen or heard of but it was through their Industriousness and far-sightedness that she was where she was: on the top rung of the ladder. A post-graduate of Dublin University, she knew what English was and she wrote poetry that made her the Idol of the Moderns.

I had written no poetry but I began to read much of modern poetry for the first time. I saw myself graduating from the poetry hat I thought I knew or understood. I found myself writing poetry or what I thought was poetry and I showed them to Amelia find myself a laughing stock. She could be cruel at times and I was on my guard. I was not as free with her as I used to be. I began to look for her weak points to qualify myself for her praise. I began to lose my respect for her, and she did the same. What had she? I asked myself, that other girls did not have; and was being a poet a superior sort of qualification? Much as I tried to reason it out with myself, I found that she was a girl too good for me, and in a weak moment of infatuation I confessed it to her. It was her hour of triumph and instead of treating me with respect as I felt she would, she began to look down on me. She failed to notice me or to return my salution. I could have been a villain for all she thought of me. I saw her cruelty all right. Yet I wanted her. But nothing doing. She met all the eligible young bachelors who were poets, established or in the running. And how she smiled at them and spoke to them as though butter would melt in her mouth. The vixen! The last I heard of her was in the papers. She was engaged to a real poet. I wanted to curse her and poetry itself, but instead I blessed them both and like the Ancient Mariner of Coleridge I found my shackles grow lighter.

Amelia had a positive influence in my life. She brought to me the sanity I wanted so much, and with it the blessings of good thoughts. I was, I told myself, well on the way to poetry; and in my own way I wrote poetry of a sort though I was shy to show others my attempts. Anyway, I loved to read my compositions and found in them a lilt and a sound meaning I had found in poems of worth. I would, one day, show Amelia my attempts and may be get into one of the poetry magazines that were being published from London and the suburbs. I sent some of my poetry-attempts to the press that printed occasionally some poetry, but they only came with regrets. I found my effusions coming to a full stop. I wished with all my heart that I would see Amelia and talk to her and feel life once again thrilling. But I had instead an ache in my heart and, much as I tried to convert this ache into its poetic equivalent, I failed. I really felt a flop.

I saw nothing good in Britain and the experiences I had made me feel that life was rotten. I found myself feeling and thinking like Hamlet. I wanted to see no Opheilia or to send one to a nunnery if I so much as saw her. I saw myself as evil incarnate. God seemed to have left me and I could not pray, much as I wanted to. I woke up at nights to find myself in a cold sweat and the women I had married accusing me of things I had not then thought of. I wanted to make amends with them all. I called to my mind each of them for a few minutes before I slept, and told them I wanted their forgiveness. I called Agnes and asked her to pray for me a sinner. I called Edna and said I deserved hell’s punishment for putting her out of my life. As for Amelia, I had not the chance to harm her because she kept out of my reach. “Amelia, my dear girl,” I begged her,” please come to me in my dreams and inspire me to live rather than make me feel the misery that I now feel.” Tired I would, then go to sleep.

I had none to go along with in the evenings or in the mornings.I was beginning to feel home-sick. Something told me I should return to India where I would feel the calm and peace enter once again into my bones and make me feel whole. And to India I left. I was not wanting to go to Bombay which I had already seen. And Bombay was so busy that it would remind me of Britain. I wanted a quiet place but not too quiet a place. It was summer and to Delhi I booked my passage. I had nothing to bring home to India with me by way of luggage and yet I was travelling heavy, laden with what I called sin. I had a whole month to go and I was wanting a change from London. I went to a Christian church in Manchester and prayed and then I felt different. But this was only for a moment. Then I felt I would have to be for a considerable time in the House of God to feel myself calm instead of the maddening conflict of nerves that gave me neuralgic headaches and made my digestion equally bad. And I prayed as I never prayed. I knelt and prayed. I asked the priests to pray for me. I lit candles and prayed before the Crucifix, then at the altar of the Virgin Mother, then at St. Anthony’s. I was in a daze but it was a relaxing daze as compared with the daze I had found myself in. I literally slept in the church.

Strangely enough, “The Hidden Gem” church was never empty. There were always people in it and they prayed fervently. It was the only church that Cromwell had not been able to destroy, because it was hidden among the warehouses. It was called a miraculous church and to it went catholics and non-catholics and even the non-Christians from the country and other countries. I began to feel a release I had not felt. I was going to India which was full of churches and temples and mosques and I would go and pray in every one of them. I would, I told myself, have nothing to do with women. They were good in their own way but they just landed me in trouble. I would keep away from them as from evil. The cool of the plane made me feel fine. I reached Delhi at last and from there set out for Dehra Dun and then by bus to the Queen of the Hill Stations.

I felt like an ailing patient who was on his way to recuperating but who had to be careful all the same. Once again my normal self returned. I was no longer depressed but hopeful and the colour and variety of the country and her people made me that life was wonderful. I felt the stirrings of passions within me when I saw a girl or a woman. I was at last in Mussoorie and I would find life grand up in the hills once I used my hill-legs. I took a convenient place and went a walking in the mornings and evenings. The Himalayas fascinated me. The colour and shade changed in the morning and noon and at dusk. I saw myself no longer alone but part of a power which stirred within me. I began to write poetry.

In one of my walks I met a girl whom I took to. The fact that she had nowhere to go to, made me feel one with her. I had nowhere to go to after the end of the day. I knew not a soul, though I saw so many pass by me. “Where are you going?” I asked her guilelessly, and she answered me in the same manner. “You seem sad,” I ventured. “Yes, for I am all alone!” “Would you,” I wanted to say, “come along with me and try your luck?” But instead I took her by the hand as though I had known her for years. And she let me take her hand and walked by my side without any sort of embarrassment. Yet she was no cute girl. I loved her simplicity and her talk. She was so much like a child. Yet she was no child, judged by her figure which looked like a Woman’s in her early prime. I took her under my wings. I would take her home and next morning leave for Doon. I would buy her clothes and make her feel presentable. But I would have to buy her some clothes immediately. I took her home and locked her in with her permission.

She loved me and she followed me as a dog follows its master. She was mine and there was no doubting that. I tried to change her, for I wanted her to look and feel different. But she was too shy to want a change all at once. May be in course of time she’d want to change. She would be all the better, I thought, with a knowledge of English. She would show herself as a little lady. And I would be proud to be with her! I took her to the pictures or to the bazaar, as the mood or the occasion demanded. Then I felt that I had trained her enough to conduct herself as a lady. I told her of my intention to return to Mussoorie where would congregate theelite of Delhi and the neighbouring towns. It was always a pleasure, I told her, to be in Mussoorie and to see and feel the change–to see the Woodstock school teachers and students pass by the bazaar or to see the American missionaries jaunting about the place or some tourist on horse. I knew Mussoorie well enough to go with my eyes closed but I had always gone there alone. Now I was going there with someone who was youthful and with a beauty that only the hill-tribes can boast of. I walked down with her by Camel and the cemetery on one side and the folded mountain ranges of the Himalayas on the other, made a beautiful landscape that only an artist could do justice to.

How I liked the place for its quietness! I would sit with Sandra in some secluded spot and with her hands entwined in mine we would talk and talk. It all sounded so beautiful and calm. It was more like a dream that only the just enjoy. I held on to her hands and assured her of the grand future that would be ours. I told her so much with my eyes and gesture that she was in very ecstacy and at times was very near tears through joy. Then her face would change as though an evil spirit had come by her and she would be as sad as sad can be and very near tears.

“What’s the matter?” I would say and hold her hands to comfort her. Then at home, she did all she could to make me feel the Lord and Master of the Home and before I slept she would see to it that she washed my feet with tepid water and wipe them with a care that only eastern women are capable of. She would at times playfully lift my feet and place them on her head and I would ask her why she was doing it, and she would smile. “Nothing doing!” I told her, and then I called her by a name I had not heard anyone call in the neighbourhood. I liked that name and called her by it lovingly.

“Sandra! Sandra!” I repeated as though the word were of Mantric origin. She liked the name. It seemed to fit her. She held on to me through sheer gratitude. I had not only taken her to my heart but to my home as well. I had given her the name by which she would be welcomed by all who knew her. The name was so easy on the different from the one she had. She was delighted by the name and began to sound it to make her feeling vocal.

I told her that she was not born in India but in distant Germany and that she was of European stock (as judged by her colour and features) and she smiled to the lie that she wanted to be true. I advised her strongly against speaking in any of the Indian languages lest she aroused controversy in her hearers. “No comprehend English” would make her sound French and make people feel she was of Western origin all right. She was to feel confident of herself and conduct herself like a lady. And she was nothing short of that. Never speak in Hindi,” I cautioned her, “not even by mistake!” It was not long before Sandra and I were going about the place as though it belonged to us and we were followed by a little white dog that seemed a stray but took to us as though we were his good friends, and we became what e he wanted us to be to him. He was our good friend, Sandra’s and mine, and I liked him, and when I saw that Sandra was pretty normal with him I liked her all the more. I bought her a few more clothes, and this time they were more expensive than the last.

I began to feel that my love was bringing me a reward far more than I had dreamed of. I got her ready for the hospital when she told me that she was expecting. The Community Hospital where I took her for check-ups, made her feel wonderful. She was going to have a baby and she would love him as much as she loved me. I could not brook such a rivalry...but then I smiled at immaturity. Which mother would not like her own child? I bought her a few American magazines and a good few of the English ones….and she preferred the American ones. There were, she said, better and coloured pictures in them. There were big cars and big buildings and big things advertised. And she could almost eat the food and delicacy pages, so real were the pictures, so eatably real! I told this to an American woman who said: “It’s splendid!” and then showed a set of teeth that were by no means flattering. “Who’s she?” asked Sandra. “Some strange woman of the West,” I said by way of cover. I could not tell her that the dowdies do up in India and become dowdier because life’s so easy here and so laxly so!

Then I met an American couple who were missionaries and knew the Hindi language well. But Sandra was forewarned not to speak in Hindi and she smiled. Whenever she was asked anything she broke into her own lingo and then said: “No comprehend English!” in a manner that would do justice to any continental traveller. “Sandra,” I told her, “you must go and see these people...and study the ways of God and men!” She smiled and I knew she had not got at my meaning. And her smiles began to be rather frequent, and at times so insane that I showed a disapproval of her ever smiling when she was not meant to be smiling at all. And Sandra was sensitive enough to understand me even when she failed to understand my words. The language of the heart and  the mind was, I felt more direct when it was silent, unspoken. But these small failings did not matter so long as everything was going fine. I looked to a happy life in a happy home of my own making and design.

I told Sandra of my intention to have a home of our own and showed her by gestures the place of pride she would have in it. She smiled and it was a wan smile I had not liked to see. What was there to be wan about when I was doing all I could to make her the happiest of women? I had changed her and the change, I knew, was all for her good. At times I wished, when I saw her sad face, that I had left her as she was. For change had made her revolt, resent me, and which she afterwards covered by effusive apologies. But then she would get used to the change as the horse gets used to the bridle which it once detested.

Sandra, now heavy with child, asked me to walk with her down Camel . “Why that side?” I asked her with foreboding. Somehow Camel is associated with the cemetery and the calm of the dead and I am not wanting her to feel that atmosphere now that she has a new life in her. It was not good for the child or the mother. “My girl”, I say, “you must forget the cemetery. You have a new life in you, understand?” She gave me a wry smile. “Aren’t you well, my darling?” I ask with concern, feeling something eerie and death-like in her. “You will not see my baby,” she tells me. “What ever makes you say that?” I say, with a curiosity mixed with fear. I knew what she was thinking. If only I had accepted her and not wanted to change her into a sophisticated creature. I realised the conflicts that raged within her to be herself or someone else and she wanted to be herself. Who would not want to be the natural self rather than want change for sake of change? She could no longer live up to a pose that conflicted with her true self. And it was getting her down. I could see all this and more and strangely enough my mind began to be in a whirl. She could not be normal because she had lost this normalcy in being with me. She had to be constantly on her guard as to what she said and how she behaved and she saw in me a spy rather than the lover and husband that I really was to her.

“You are all right, my girl”, I assured her and then I began to think and feel about her, my Sandra…the one whom I had really loved and whom I’d love to the end of time. For a split second my thoughts left her and I got thinking of myself. What would happen to me if she went out of my life? For I felt she was going to leave me. And then I knew she had left me for good. She had jumped down the heights. “Sandra!” I yelled.

“You silly, little fool!” But she was down in a moment. I came home alone. I dared not tell the police. They’d not believe it was suicide and I’d have a lot to explain before I got things clear. And for all I knew it might land me though I was in no way guilty of her death. I took my trunk and walked down the bus stand, bought myself a ticket and hurried towards the plains ofDoon. Then I’d take a train to Delhi and feel free in the crowd.

Sandra, she was now gone! How much she had liked the quiet of the place and she was now there, all quiet, under the pine trees! Occasionally I go to Mussoorie and see the height from where she took a leap. I look for her to come to me but there’s only a constriction in my throat and tears in my eyes. “I’m no good for marriage”, I tell myself with conviction. “But I’d want a son, my own son...but no! I will not attempt another marriage Sandra is too loving a wife to be forgotten. She was all I imagined in a woman as wife, mother and friend. She was not educated, but she knew what love was. “Sandra, my dear!” I say and walk away...

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