Vikram ChandraIndiaWriting2000


"Okay," she said. "Enough thinking now. Tell, no." "You’ve heard this one already." "That’s all right. Tell."

So he ate, and told her an old story, which he had told her many times before: in the days when he was just a sub-inspector, a case had been brought to him of a double-suicide that was about to happen. A Tamil girl had fallen in love with a Sindhi boy. They were barely adults, they had been students together, and they loved each other despite the objections of the families. Both families had resisted and raged and forbidden and gaoled, and now, telling the story across the distance of years, it was funny that both families had felt themselves injured and insulted and lessened by the connection. The Sindhis were rich, and thought the Tamils dowdy and poor and incomprehensible and dirty. The Tamils were Brahmins from an ancient line, and thought the Sindhis unclean and casteless and incomprehensible and vulgar. The girl and the boy thought each other delicious and essential, and finally they emptied their parents’ respective purses and ran away. The girl, in a last filial act, left a suicide note, saying that they were going to love each other for a few days of beatitude, and were then going to exit the heartless world, and from their brief happiness the lovers wished the families well. A confidant of the Tamil family persuaded the distraught mother to put aside dignity, and brought her and the note to the police station, where a certain Sartaj Singh was given the problem. The young sub-inspector was himself, at the time, suffering from a separation from his own true love, one Megha, who had been taken on a six-month tour of Europe and America by her parents, away from her incomprehensible lover, who had decided to become a policeman after all. The young sub-inspector, in his darker moments, suspected that the lovely and wealthy Megha was not so averse to the length of this lengthy foreign trip, and maybe wanted to see herself whether and how essential this difficult love was to her, to her life. "God", Megha said. "I can't believe you still go on about that, after all these years. I came back, didn't I? I married you, didn't I?" "Quiet," Sartaj said, pointing to Megha’s stomach. "I’m telling the story."

So: this young and handsome sub-inspector was fired by the drama of the case, by the keen emotion of young love teetering on the knife-edge of death, and he flung himself into the details. He talked to the parents, and endlessly to the friends of the lovers, and slowly and very confidently he marked and followed a trail of taxidrivers and bus-conductors and restaurant waiters, all of whom had remembered the bright young couple. Meanwhile the lovers ran short of money in the honeymoon suite of the Grand Hotel in Ooty, and contemplated suicide by insecticide. They actually had the can marked "XXX Poison XXX" sitting ornamentally on their dressing table, and were writing their absolutely final farewell notes when Sartaj found them, when he opened their door with a passkey. He took them back to Bombay, to a meeting with both families at the police station. The girl's mother burst into tears as soon as she saw her daughter, and flew at her, slapping and striking, and Sartaj had to peel her off. Three constables held the girl’s father down as he shouted curses at the Sindhi boyfriend. The boyfriend’s father, mild-mannered till now, picked up a chair and made for the Tamils, calling the girl an entrapping Southie whore. Sartaj sent the two communities to opposite sides of the room, and lectured them all, told them the children were no longer children, they were adults. There was no use talking reason to any of them, because they were all reasonable men and women who lived by another sort of reason. In the Sindhi father’s eyes there was now the fervid satisfaction of possession, through his son, of a victory won and territory taken. He despised the girl, but was gladdened by his son’s dominion of her, as long as it ended right here, with her discarded. The Tamil father was burning with shame, he couldn’t sit down, he kept wiping tears from his eyes and clenching and unclenching his hands...

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