Gopan had just lain down after having lunch when his wife, Indrani extended the not-yet-opened inland letter to him.
“Came today?” He explored.
“Who?” He inquired.
“Read,” he ordered.
As Indrani cut the upper pasting with her right forefinger, Gopan let out a long, lazy yawn and dropped his head on one side of the pillow closing his eyes.
His wife gaped at him, wondering whether he was awake to hear her reading his sister’s letter. Gopan opened an eye and met her gaze. She shifted her eyes to the blue leaf. Words in sloppy handwriting were scattered on the blue ground that was as neat as the summer sky in Barmer.
“Dear Dada, greetings to you and Boudi,” Indrani’s eyes gleamed finding her respectful mention, “I’ve been waiting and bearing my husband’s rebukes for last six months since you had left after your annual leave. Was your promise of returning two-hundred-fifty rupees hollow? Either you’ve forgotten it or your wife…,” her eyes swelled abruptly like a wafer put in hot oil does. She read a few words silently.
“What?” Gopan grew restless, “Your wife…further,” he said.
“Your wife stopped you,” Indrani read with a lump in her throat, “I’m writing this letter to tell you that I’m going through hell because of a father like Baba and a brother like you. You should not have committed if you didn’t want to pay back the debt of two-hundred-fifty rupees that Baba had taken from Souvik. He insults me every day and even beats me because of your folly. Please send the money soon and oblige your sister.
Love to kids. Waiting…
Your younger sister
Indrani was still looking into the letter, not wanting to see the agony and anger in Gopan’s eyes.
Out of six-hundred-sixty-seven rupees of salary, Gopan sent three-hundred rupees to his father every month. In order to save the HRA, he, with his wife and two children, lived in a rented single room accommodation with a common lavatory for five tenants. No JCO of any armed force must have ever lived in such unprivileged circumstances. That decision not just affected their living but Gopan had to cycle eight miles to reach his unit. Scorching heat and blast of ‘loo’ in that remote part of Rajasthan tempted him to become selfish and heartless many times but the dutiful son in him squashed it.
His colleagues too, lectured him to be practical and keep his own family’s interests before his father’s family. When he refused to listen, they hailed his devotion and docility.
With a jerk, Gopan sat and adjusted the pillow behind his back. “Didn’t you send them the money along with the usual amount the month after we returned from Delhi?” Indrani inquired.
“I did,” Gopan shouted. Indrani looked into his raging eyes for a moment and then looked down. Gopan shook his head, “Baba kept everything with him and didn’t give any money to Souvik,” he again jerked his neck in disgust. Indrani already knew that after reading Sushila’s letter. However, she was not the one to speak anything against her in-laws. Sometimes, she assessed whether the precept was paying off well or making them suffer. But, her silence in such matters had seen Gopan’s love and respect for her surge as years passed.
“Bring an Inland-letter. Let me write her a reply,” Gopan said. Indrani stood up to abide by the instruction. “Bring two. I’ll write one to Baba too,” he said as his wife opened the cupboard.
Gopan wrote short letters for his sister and father. To Sushila, he wrote that he had sent the money two months back and the only mistake he made was that he hoped that their father would pay off the debt.
He asked his father to give Sushila the money meant for her.
After writing, he folded both the letters, licked the dried gum and pasted them. Then, he wrote the addresses and lay down on the bed.
August was about to end. A fortnight had passed since Gopan replied to Sushila.
That day, when he returned to his unit after the field duty, his Section Officer called him and handed over a postcard. Seeing the handwriting, he at once knew who had sent it. As he turned to leave, the officer spoke, “I’m Sorry, Gopan.”
“What happened, sir?” Nonplussed, he asked.
“I read this postcard,” the officer said with nonchalance, “Though I’m apologising to you, I’ve no regret I read what your sister has written,” he said. “We all know what sacrifices you make for your family. I feel, they, your father in particular, have taken you for granted. I was aghast to read the way your younger sister has cursed you and your wife for an amount as small as two-hundred-fifty rupees. I was wondering for the last one hour, what is the price of a relationship!,” The officer looked at him. The two pairs of eyes met across curtains of moisture. What if they were soldiers, their emotions too, were involuntary.
“May I leave, sir?” Gopan had no words to say to his considerate superior, neither for nor against his deduction after reading the shameless postcard. “Why Sushila didn’t think even once before writing a trivial family matter on a postcard and sending it to his office address?” He thought, “Writing a postcard is like walking naked in a market.”
“Wait,” said the officer, opening a drawer. He took out two-hundred-fifty rupees he had already kept there and extended the notes to Gopan, “Here, take this money… go to the post-office right now and send a money-order to your sister.” The officer ordered. When Gopan hesitated, the Section Officer stood up and shoved the three notes in his hand, “We’ll settle this afterwards.”
“Thank you, sir.” A sob escaped from Gopan’s mouth.
“No…no my boy,” the officer patted his shoulder, “Write a sentence for your sister on my behalf in the message box of the money-order. Will you?”
Gopan gaped at him.
“Write that Two-Hundred-Fifty rupees may be big enough to silence her husband but it is inconsequential before the fortune of having a brother like you,” he again dabbed Gopan’s shoulder, “Proud of you,” he said, pressing his lips.
Gopan walked out with slow steps. “Some strangers get to know your real worth sooner than the family would ever know,” he was thinking as he rode on his bicycle.