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To Be or Not to Be

My best friend Karan was in a dilemma. To marry or not to marry. Karan was my senior by fifteen years, but we were best friends.

He was a happy go lucky man, who only wanted to enjoy life. Words like responsibility had no meaning in his life. In a joint family of ten, he was the eldest. He was close to his mother, and you could call him mama’s boy. His younger brothers and sisters obeyed him. All household chores were done by his mother and other family members. I do not remember if he ever went to market to buy rations or fruits and vegetables.

He was a government servant who went to office six days a week and enjoyed his Sunday. He would come home from office in the evening and enjoy several cups of tea and smoke cigarettes at a leisured pace. He was fond of good music and was also a good singer. No one in the family grudged his privileged position. Everyone respected and loved dear Karan.

Every time a marriage proposal came, he rejected it saying he could never think of marriage unless all his sisters were married. I also confronted him with same question. Karan was healthy, a good sports person, handsome and well employed. His answer was, “I cannot take the risk. Ours is just a two-room small house. Where is the guarantee that my wife would adjust. Our home is a small piece of heaven on this earth. What if my marriage turns it into hell”.

I had no answer. I tried reasoning with him: But then Karan, everyone gets married. Maybe you will be among the lucky ones whose marriage succeeds?

His answer was, wait till my sisters are married. With the passage of time, his three sisters were married and well settled. Finally, his mother put her foot down, “Karan enough is enough. You are about to touch forty. We cannot delay your marriage any longer”.

Other family members, relatives and family friends all agreed with mother. Karan bowed his head and said, mother, it shall be as you say. Karan had a fancy for girls from a particular institution and strongly believed that these girls make best housewives.

As luck would have it, a proposal came from the house of one of friends of Karan's mother. This girl had studied in the same institution Karan dreamt about. She was now serving as a teacher in one of the best schools in Delhi. Karan was thrilled. His dream had come true. He said yes to the joy of entire family.

He forgot one important thing. Girls from such institutions have high expectations from their husbands.

Socrates, the great philosopher said, “By all means marry; if you get a good wife, you’ll become happy; if you get a bad one, you’ll become a philosopher”.

One thing you must remember when you get married is that husband and wife may disagree on many things, but they must absolutely agree on one thing. Never ever give up.

Let us look at marriage this way, A perfect marriage is just two imperfect people who refuse to give up on one another.

But alas, it was not to be so in case of my friend. Looks like Karan was not made for marital bliss.

Karan and Kunti, name of his wife, tied the nuptial knot. Kunti was a strong-willed lady. She was self-centred and determined person. Compromise was not a word in her dictionary. She was adamant and she believed in the maxim, my way or the highway.

Poor Karan was devastated. He came to me with tears in his eyes. Bhai, he said, what should I do. Looks like she was waiting for some Prince Charming. Instead, she got a husband with no status, little salary, a small house like a pigeonhole and a large family.

She refuses to share a penny of her salary with the family. She believes it is responsibility of husband to look after wife and meet all her demands. Karan’s mother, a sensible lady had taken another room nearby on rent exclusively for Karan and Kunti. It was becoming almost impossible to meet whims and fancies of this girl.

Karan’s mother and others suggested that he should go in for a child. This might change attitude of his wife towards life. But tension in the family was increasing. Kunti was on her own and was not talking to anyone. And then, she got pregnant. It was summer vacation time in schools. She had holidays for two months. One day, her elder brother came to our house in a black and yellow taxi. He kept the taxi in waiting.

He straight away came to point, Kunti is in family way, and I have come to take her home with me. Once vacations are over, I will drop her back. No one had any objection. After all girls do go to maternal home when in family way. Her brother did take her away but never came back with her after summer vacations.

Karan was not the one with initiative to bring her back. Kunti was too adamant to come back on her own. Result was that gulf between them kept on increasing. A son was born to Karan and Kunti, but status quo remained.

After one and half years, vice principal of Kunti intervened and succeeded in bringing about reconciliation between Karan bhai and Kunti. Kunti Bhabi was back home with a handsome son, Kabir. But unfortunately, things went from bad to worst and everybody started blaming the family for the state of affairs and felt only solution was that Karan and Kunti should be left alone to mend affairs.

Karan was totally against it. But his mother and other members of the family felt that let us give this idea a try. May be two of them come closer when no one was around them. Hats off to Karan and his family. Within days they took a house on rent in a faraway colony. Even this attempt failed miserably and everyone including their worst critics agreed that perhaps Kunti and Karan were not meant for each other.

By and by, both compromised with circumstances and life went on. They had another son, Sagar but happiness always eluded them.

How life could be so harsh to a simple soul like Karan. Nothing in his life happened right after marriage. Karan my best friend could never find peace, joy and happiness.

Life moved on. Karan invested all his savings including gratuity and retirement benefits to buy a flat for his family in Delhi. He was getting a ground floor flat, but his wife insisted on a fourth floor flat and as usual, dear Karan yielded.

I asked him why bhabhi insisted on a top floor flat. He said cannot you see my friend, she does not want my mother to come and stay with us. Ma is too old to climb stairs to fourth floor.

I was aghast. How could one stoop so low. But that is life. Anything is possible. I was a regular visitor to my friend’s house. It looked more like a dumping ground than a house. There were cobwebs all around. Different things packed in bundles were lying in the drawing room.

This atmosphere was not at all conducive for Karan who had just recovered from Tuberculosis and was asthmatic. To make things worse, he was also a chain smoker. His argument was that he smokes when he is under stress and strain. And he was under stress and strain most of the time.

Worst sufferers of this dirty and dingy environment were their sons, Kabir and Sagar. Strained relations between mother and father had their toll on Kabir, who went into drugs. He left his job and was at home brooding most of the time. He had no dearth of money as his mother had saved enough and even his two spinster aunts were there to meet all his needs.

Only Sagar could retain his sanctity. Atmosphere at home was depressing for Karan, who started spending more and more time with his sisters, who adored him. He was also a regular visitor to my house, where he could talk freely on any subject under the sun.

Both of us loved reading, sports and music. He would come to my home always carrying eatables like samosa and jalebi. I knew my friend had not eaten anything at home. We would sit together listening to old classical songs and ghazals.

My wife would make pakoras and some other snacks and we will have gala time. Karan loved tea made by me. He would stand next to me in kitchen as I made tea using Lipton Darjeeling tea leaves. Sometimes, we would sit together in the evening sipping whiskey. That was the time, Karan was in his true elements. He would regale us with ghazals. His favourite was Begum Akhtar.

As the time passed, Karan was not keeping well. During his last days, he was at his younger sister’s place for more than a month. He had undergone operation for appendicitis and was feeling weak.

Every now and then, he would look towards the door, hoping against hopes that his wife and sons might turn up to enquire about his health. He would keep talking about them.

Festival of Diwali was round the corner. His sister and other relations decided that Karan should spend Diwali with his family. But he was unwilling to go. Ultimately he was persuaded by all of us to go home.

We agreed that he would come back after Diwali. Alas, it was not to be so. He reached home, spent some time with family and fell sick. As he was being taken down the stairs for medical help, he breathed his last. What a tragedy. What a cruelty of fate.

Goodbye my dear friend, you were not meant for this world. We would always miss you. Void left by you can never be filled. Alvida dear Karan, you will be in our hearts forever.

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