What should be done with Ruby's picture?
Amrit’s parents died in a tragic road accident years ago. He was their only son and was living far away from home studying in a college. It was so hard for him to continue his studies with the very little money his parents had set aside for him. He did private tuition in the evenings to get some extra cash that he needed so desperately to pay the hostel fees. After graduation he was lucky to find a job in a Bank . Things started to brighten up for him and he looked quite cheerful. When I saw him last he was deeply in love with Ruby, a girl who I knew very well. In fact she lived very close to the house we lived in.
Prior to my joining a company far away from the town we, all the friends, had a get together. Amrit was all quiet. We asked him the reason but he wouldn’t tell and finally broke down in tears. Ruby was going to get married to one Young business man of a very well- to- do family having their house in Mumbai. We were shocked.
‘This is not the end of the world my dear friend, don’t be so upset, God is there, He will sort things out for you.’
Amrit listened to what I said and thanked me. And then said ‘ Friends, I shall leave the area for good and I think that will be the best thing to do.’
‘But what about your job in the Bank?’
‘I shall quit if I find a job elsewhere, it doesn’t matter even if salary is a lot less. After all I have to look after myself only!’
‘Why, won’t you ever get married and have a family?’
He laughed loudly and said ‘Well, no way, I shall never get married.’
We had thought that with passage of time things would change but very soon he really left the area for good as he found for himself a job as a Teacher in a primary school in a remote village.
Just before his departure he had phoned me and all the friends about his new assignment. Knowing his adamant nature all we could do was to wish him best of luck.
From time to time he would phone us, we would phone him and this way we kept in touch. One day when I phoned him up to say that I would drive down to Jodhpur on company work he was excited and said, ‘ My dear friend, since you would come all the way to Jodhpur why don’t you come and stay with me even for a day, I shall be delighted to meet you and have some chat.’
It was Saturday. I completed my work in Jodhpur and after lunch proceeded to the village to meet Amrit at his school. He kept on directing me over cellphone exactly how to reach there. I reached the village driving down the narrow pathway and parked my car outside the school.
The school gate was open. Amrit was just coming out. He hugged me and smiled.I couldn’t believe that his health would deteriorate so much. He looked very thin.
‘ What have you done to yourself?’ I asked.
‘ You mean my long hair and beard?’ He laughed and then said ‘ Come on let’s go.’
As he jumped in the car I started driving very slow since the path was muddy at places due to yesterday’s rain and there were pot holes.
‘Do you live in this village?’ I asked.
‘ No, the place where I stay is three miles away from here.’
‘ Why couldn’t you stay in this village itself?’
‘ I wanted even a quieter environment my dear.’
I was talking to him and wondering how could he manage to adjust himself in such a remote area!
‘ There you are’ He showed his house and we got off.
It was an old house looking like a hut and there were no houses in the vicinity.We got inside. The sitting room had lots of books scattered all over the study table and there were half a dozen of pens in the pen stand. In one corner of the table rested a small transistor radio.
The only bedroom that he had was in a mess with clothes hanging behind the door and on the bed and on a small table near the bed there was an alarm clock and several bottles of medicines, tablets and a glass half filled with water with a lid.
He quickly made some tea and we sat in the sitting room. To my utter surprise I found a picture of Ruby hung on the wall.
‘Good God is this the one you have drawn? I knew you could draw pictures but never knew that yours would be of such a good standard!’
Amrit smiled and said ‘ Thank you. I am so glad that you have liked it. I had completed the drawing the very day she turned me down or else I would have presented to her!’
‘ Did you draw her looking at her photo?’
‘ No, from the picture she has in my heart, the picture which I can see whenever I close my eyes.’
‘ Do you still remember her often after what she has done to you?’
Amrit’s eyes were in tears. ‘I won’t tell lies to you my friend. I do remember her often. You see, it’s not her fault that she has left me. Her parents, as you know, are very rich. They didn’t want their daughter to get married to someone who is from a poor family. She succumbed to family pressure really.
‘ But do you still love her?’
‘ I do my friend I do. It is not possible to forget someone so easily. Would you believe the day she got married I went to a temple in Jodhpur to pray for her happiness.
I tried to change the topic.
‘ What do you do in the evenings , on Sundays and other holidays?”
‘ I read a lot, listen to radio, write whatever comes to my mind and planning to write a novel ! Ha Ha Ha ( He laughed quite loudly). Besides, I clean my clothes, iron them, do cooking, shopping and most importantly spend a great deal of time with the nature – listening to chirping of birds, watching movement of animals even vicious ones at times’
‘Good God do you come across tigers and lions?’
‘Don’t they try to attack you?’
‘ No they don’t, tried to frighten me in the past. I used to be scared before but not now. They know that I can’t do them any harm and so they walk away’.
We then went to the kitchen and whilst I pealed the potatoes and onions he made other preparations to make a nice and hot chicken curry. With nothing to do in the evening we had the dinner early. There was no elaborate arrangement. We had lovely hot rice with chicken curry and they tasted so delicious.
We chatted for hours. He cleared all the mess in his bedroom, made the bed nicely for me and prepared a bed for him on the floor in the sitting room after laying some mattresses .
‘That’s not nice Amrit, you should sleep in your own bed!’
‘I knew you would say all these. Look my friend, you are my best friend and my guest. Don’t worry about who will sleep where. No problem for me, I am just fine here’.
We had sweets, cups of coffee and a few cigarettes and thereafter went to bed. There was total silence . I wondered how could Amrit live in this house all by himself!
Waking up early in the morning I found Amrit very busy in feeding the birds in the field near his doorstep.
‘ Poor birds they all come here every morning, I have to give them something’, he laughed.
I had a wash and I was getting ready to leave.
‘Can’t you stay for lunch?’
‘No my friend, as you know, I would have to travel a long distance!’
‘Yes I understand. I won’t stop you’.
We had our breakfast. He insisted that he would come with me up to Jodhpur.
‘But how would you return?’
He laughed and said ‘ I shall come by bus up to the school gate and from there I would walk’.
‘Woudn’t that be tiresome?’
‘I got used to it my friend, don’t worry’.
As he got off at Jodhpur he stopped me for a while and said ‘ My dear friend I am so glad that you came to see me. I have a request, please do let me know how is Ruby keeping and if she looks happy’.
I promised that I would let her know.
‘One other thing, convey my regards to your parents and to all the friends. Do remember to visit me again soon as you never know how long I can live! I shall leave your cellphone number with my colleague , Dilip Roy, so that if anything happens to me you will at least know’.
‘Why are you talking all rubbish?’
He laughed, shook my hands and waved till I drove away and went out of his sight.
I went back to office the next morning and got very busy with work - so much so that I returned to my flat rather too late at night.
Though I gathered Ruby's news from my friends who had seen her recently as she had spent a few days in the town with her parents I still cannot forgive myself as I failed to pass on the information to him.
Next Sunday I went to my hometown to see my parents. Little did I know that Amrit was serious when he said that he would let Mr. Roy know about my cellphone number. It rang as I was chatting to my parents. It was Mr. Dilip Roy who called. Like a bolt from the blue it was when he gave me the saddest news . ' Amrit collapsed in the classroom yesterday. He was rushed to a nursing home in Jodhpur. He breathed his last only ten minutes ago. We had tried to contact you several times but the lines were engaged. Please come, we , all the teachers , are here.’
I stood still and silent for quite sometime. With eyes filled with tears we, all the friends, rushed to the nursing home. Amrit’s body was on the bed, he looked as if he was sleeping peacefully and would wake up when called! The doctor came and spoke to us, he was astonished to know that none of us knew that he had been suffering from cancer for the last six months!’
Mr.Roy talked to me in private. He knew about Ruby and Amrit’s drawing of Ruby's picture. I asked him to keep the picture and all his belongings in his custody till we could decide what to do with them.
After Amrit’s dead body was cremated near the village where he had stayed for the last two years we returned to the town broken hearted. The news of his death spread far and wide in no time and the entire town was in grief. What about Ruby? Presumably she was unaware of Amrit's death as she was in Mumbai and it was very unlikely that her parents living in the town would convey her the news!
Amrit’s sudden departure for good has made us all speechless. I am still carrying the heavy burden of thought in my mind as to what should I do with the picture of Ruby which Amrit drew but couldn't present to her, no idea how Ruby would react if this could be given to her !