For the nth time Ramesh was asking me why I did not marry in my life. I had managed to give him evasive replies so far but today somehow I felt I should reveal the truth to somebody before the secret dies alongwith me.
Ramesh is a young man of marriagebele age. Even though he is an engineer by education, he preferred to develop his interest in agriculture. That was how he became close to me. At 80 with abundent experience in agriculture,since I did nothing but agriculture in these long years of my life, many used to come to me for advice.I was the first man to bring a tractor to Shivamogga from Bombay Harbour all the way by driving! I was the first man to introduce drip irrigation in this region after having a practical demo in Israel. It is only since two years now I gave up my hobby cum profession cum fancy. Lot of people come and take me to their farm seeking my practical advice and Ramesh is one of them. What made me admire in Ramesh was his ability to grasp the intricacies of plantlife. Not only that, his creative mind would also experiment and innovate the suggestions I make. Sincerety and determination are the basic imperatives of an agriculturist. Unlike a sitting landlord, a true agriculturist relentlessly works in the field becoming one among his own hired labourers. By this way not only the quality of work will be superior but also you get the best value for your money. Ramesh had all these qualities.
Coming back to the point about Ramesh's curiosity to know about my distant past, the long dead memories slowly started unwinding.
I started my story, "An incident took place in my life during my college days way back in the late 1940's, there was a girl in my college called Jean Mascarenhas. She was a stunning beauty, fair, tall and above all very intelligent. Not only was she very good at studies, she also participated in a lot of extra curricular activities such as Shakesperean Drama, various debates and was one among the editorial board of the college magazine, which was running very successfully because of her and her group.Later, quite a few of them became chief editors of leading National Weekly of yeasteryears such as The Illustrated Weekly of India (now defunct)"
"Jean was level headed, never giving chances for any boys to do any silly things but did not have any fears to talk to the boys if needed. When I was in the final year of my B.A, one fine day she approached me and asked, "I want some help from you D.N. (from those college days itself I was called by my first two initials)" All eyes turned towards us, because we all thought talking to Jean was a prized preveledge!. "How can I help you Jean, you are welcome" I said. She might not have expected me to address her by her first name without any suffixes. There was a momentary slur before she answered. That was the beginning of a friendship between me and Jean. During those days very few colleges had co-education and talking to girls would become grist for gossip mills. So, when a girl was taking the initiative, that too the most beautiful and intelligent girl of the college, well you can imagine the general reaction especially among my close friends."
"Soon we became good friends and used to talk freely without any fears in the college. We,- at least me,- thought we had a pure uncontaminated friendship for mutual benefit in our education. Why should we be afraid of gossip? We also used to go often to Light House Hill, a most preferred park at the top of a hillock facing sunset over the distant sea. We used to sit liesurely for over an hour in the evenings discussing our common subjects - only languages because she was in Science group and I was in Arts group. I had intentions of doing Research in English literature, but circumstances forced me to stop at graduation level. That was in Mangalore. There were only two colleges those days in the whole of South Kanara.(Now, Dakshina Kannada). One was St. Aloysius Boys College, situated by the side of the park on the hill, and the other was Government College - Co-education. Both were in the heart of the city. We were in Govt. College."
"On a weekend, that was Saturday evening, Jean suggested we go to Bengare beach. Even though Mangalore is a coastal town, there is no beach in proper Mangalore because many rivers joined the sea leaving no free space. And to reach Bengare, one has to cross river Netravati by a motor launch or passenger rowing boat. We never crossed the limits; never even touched each other. Those days the moral values were such, not like todays dating and live-in culture which were unthinkable in those days."
"On the beach we were discussing King Lear, one of Shakespeare's drama. Any one Shakespeare's drama was a compulsory subject for Degree English. Jean, an expert on Sheakespeare, slowly became emotional during the discussion and she suddenly pulled me to her and kissed me on the lips. I was stunned, did not know what to do, but Jean continued to hug and carress drawing my hand to her full round breasts. I was a puritan, never even dreamt of her this behavior. But it was not in my family cuture even to talk to a Christian girl. Perhaps that was the reason my parents did not put me in St. Aloysius, a Christian College. The days were such. I had taken great risk to groom friendship with Jean without the knowledge of my elders in Udupi, only because the girl was not only intelligent but also level headed and sane thinking. Her behavior now looked disgusting to me. I got mad and pushed her with great force as if I was gripped by a hungry tiger. Jean was terribly shocked by my behavior, but I was in no mood even to look at her. I simply got up and started walking back to the barge where the boats are moored. There I sat in a corner seat. Jean came and sat beside me, still under shock, but I immediately got up and moved to the other corner. The launch was full with passengers and Jean could not follow me; I didn't care."
"Next morning the greatest shock of my life was waiting for me my dear Ramesh. Jean commited suicide previous night by hanging in her room at home. In the suicide note she wrote "I could not bear the pain of rejection....nobody is responsible for my action.....".....An indelible scar, an unbearable guilt was permanently etched on my mind......"
I felt as if offloaded a big burden I had been carrying all my adult life. I took a deap breath and looked a Ramesh, who too seemed to be shocked by listening the story, my life story.
"After graduation, I went to Bombay and joined a clearing agent at the harbour as a clerk. I worked for two years. I thought the scar of the guilt would soon heal. But no! Even today Jean's suicide is haunting me. I could never forgive me for I virtually murdered an innocent young and intelligent upcoming girl because of my religious and traditional beliefs..... my cultivated sense of morality......"
A few long moments later Ramesh asked, "Uncle, now that you have revealed the long guarded secret of your life to me, can I ask a couple of personal questions?" I was not sure what he would ask and simply nodded my head slowly. "You never had a haircut or shaved your beard after that incident, did you?" He asked. I nodded. "Did you not get any marriage proposals later when you were still young and perhaps very handsome?", he asked again. I said "Yes, quite some, which I flatly rejected without giving any reason. After I crossed thirty years of age, in those days thought to be too late for a boy to marry, I stopped getting any more proposals" Again he continued, " One more last question uncle, very personal, you are at your liberty to refuse answering...." "Oh, c'mon, go ahead and ask," I encouraged. Perhaps I knew what he was going to ask. Phut, he shot off the question straight and point blank, " Have never had sex with a woman?" I was not puturbed, stared at him for a moment and said " I did not want to murder another woman in my life"