Ram Kumar was a second-class officer in The National Bank of Nepal. Married for thirty-five years to the same devoted woman and working year after year amidst the same stack of ledger files, he could be best described as normal. With gaunt features, thick horn rimmed spectacles and a toothbrush moustache, Ram looked as if he was born to be a bank clerk. Now at the age of fifty-five, with just three more years before retirement, he had only one more obligation to fulfill-get his young son married.
Maya Devi, Ram's better half was a small and stout woman. Physically they made a strange couple, like an unmatched pair of shoes. His swarthy, bony features against her sagging, milky countenance. However, when they were married, appearance was insignificant. Keeping with Hindu traditions, they had seen each other only a few days before their marriage had been arranged. Now after years of solidarity, you could say their union was an old gray institution, slowly weathering but never falling. Ram did not remember the last time he physically displayed love to his wife. Only memories remained, like work out black and white pictures.
Maya Devi was uneducated and before she had learned to play as a child, she was taught to submit herself to fate. The fate of being born a girl child. It was carefully instilled in her that all girls grew old before they grew up She was married when she was a nubile twelve-year-old and had looked up to her nineteen-year-old husband as a father figure, an impression that left an indelible mark in her mind. In the course of her life, her sole purpose had been to bear children for her husband and look after them. Day in and day out. It seemed that in their married life, she had been everything to Ram, from a faithful servant to a caring nurse-except a passionate wife.
They lived with their son Rajesh, in a one storied house in a dusty suburb of the town. The peeled off painting on the fa?ade told the age of the house and like every other house clustered in their neighbourhood, a tall antennae shot up from their roof, telling the world they owned a TV set.
Rajesh was the youngest and the only son among the five children. A young man of nineteen, he had just finished college. He was frail and docile and had lived a life cowering in his father's shadow. Every decision in his life was taken by his father, right from the kind of clothes he would wear to the college he went to, which he obliged without questioning.
In college he had taken a fancy to some of the girls in his class but the courage to go and speak to them was always thwarted by his father's looming shadow that stuck to him like his own. On the last day of college, Rita, the girl famous for her loose hair and looser remarks confided in him, rolling her eyes in a particular way.
"You know Rajesh, had it not been for that pencil moustache of yours, you and I could have been a hit item."
She made her remarks and vanished, but it fluttered the wings of Rajesh's heart and for the first time in his life, without his father's consent, he shaved, and walked around like a blushing peeled potato.
Now, as a graduate in science, Rajesh was at the threshold of a career. His father, who had always dreamt of his son becoming an engineer, had used all his resources, spoken to all friends and relatives to put in a word or two at various sectors of His Majesty's Government. Finally a neighbour who knew people in high places agreed to put in his influence.
"Look Ram ji, I will have to stoop down to a lot of officers; eventually your son should not let my name be tarnished." The neighbour's word came down as a stern warning.
And so after months of groping around, Rajesh finally landed up with a job, as a sub-overseer for a road construction project, under His Majesty's Government, in the western region of Nepal. Ram himself accepted the offer with folded hands. With pride in heart and trepidation in his eyes, he sent his son off, on a rickety bus, to work in one of the most rural parts of the country.
Rajesh's work consisted of going to the fields all day, carrying maps and running around to the engineers' orders. He stayed at the staff colony, a cluster of white single storied houses with tin roofs, the only prosperous township in the impoverished lands of the village. Each employee was given a room with an attached bathroom. The rooms were sparsely furnished with a bed, and a creaky steel cupboard, which was like an old woman treasuring secrets of everybody who occupied the room. (To be continued in Issue #124)