More than two decades ago, it was a Saturday morning in the Fall…
Krishna shut the front door roughly, shaking the foundation of his house in Salt Lake City, Utah. He rushed to the carport, and jumped into his 1977 Volkswagen Rabbit after a heated squabble with his wife. He left the house to sort out his disturbed mind, driving aimlessly toward Craig, Montana, a small nondescript town alongside the Missouri River. His life seemed purposeless. He was a robust 37 years old, but he couldn’t fathom the depths of his troubled mind!
What he cared for and craved for, he felt, was never understood by his family — wife Rukku and his seven-year-old son Balu. Rukku didn’t even bother to understand for she was too busy with her own life, her crafts, her dreams, and her social activities. Theirs was an arranged marriage — at least that was how Krishna rationalized. Except for the short romantic spell during their honeymoon in Kodaikanal, he could hardly recall anything tender from Rukku except her wifely duties in the bedroom. Still, Krishna never cared to verify with Rukku her attitudes toward him. He philosophized that it was a feminine quality for an Indian wife to conceal her feelings toward her husband, unlike American-style demonstrations of affection.
Rukku continued her life — shopping, watching daytime dramas, playing tennis, and more. To the neighborhood and the community, Krishna and Rukku presented a model of matrimonial bliss. There seemed to be no conflict, no disharmony.
But, as Krishna admitted later, it was all in his mind. How could Rukku have divined that Krishna was anguished; he never quarreled or objected to the credit card bills that simply mounted because of Rukku’s compulsive buying. She hailed from a background of total parental control and thought she could let her hair down after marriage. And so, Krishna suffered stoically the pain that Rukku, unconsciously, inflicted on him.
The highway exit at Craig somehow fatalistically pushed Krishna to slow down and before he knew it, he was on the banks of the Missouri River, facing a serene, almost nirvanic calmness. The river with its deep inky waters seemed to beckon — offering a calm end, an escape to the turmoil that had plagued him for so long!
“What is this love made of?” wondered Krishna.
Surely, he felt marriage alone did not nourish love. He felt cheated. If love demands sacrifice, then sacrifice on whose part? It was his total sacrifice—his independence, his time, his desires, and his hobbies. For Rukku’s sake, he had curtailed his voracious reading, his visits to concerts, and plays. But what did Rukku do or sacrifice for Krishna’s sake?
Sitting meditatively, Krishna recalled an incident early in their marriage. On a Friday afternoon, he had returned home from the hospital rather early. Though surprised, Rukku didn’t enquire why. Krishna had expected a sense of tender care, even joy, but to her, it was a little upsetting.
“Rukku, you seem to be all set for tennis. Do you think you can skip today’s practice?” Krishna asked in a suggestive tone.
But she had already planned out her tennis practice with her coach, Jim Stringfellow. Krishna wondered: “Could there be an affair between Jim and Rukku? No, no, there can’t be!” Yet, her nonchalance was disturbing. Rukku remained an enigma to Krishna, and he made no effort to confront her. But, the incident turned the introvert Krishna into a suspicious husband and he began to detach himself from Rukku, who was mostly engrossed in her own activities and wifely duties.
The river flowed by, its rhythmic sounds calming his mind — making Krishna wonder why was he even thinking of leaving his precious family, his love? Incidents from the past came flooding through, giving him a new lease of life. And before he knew it, he was back again on the road with determination and a desire to explain to Rukku.
It was past midnight when he reached home. The carport was fully lit, ablaze; the front door wide open. There was Jim Stringfellow’s blue Dodge on the driveway and in the living room were Rukku and Jim. She seemed to be lost. Jim was thumbing through a magazine. Little Balu was in his pajamas with his head on Rukku’s lap. Krishna detected anguish in the atmosphere.
Krishna entered the living room softly, but even the soft sounds awakened Rukku as if from a disturbing dream. She jumped from the lazy boy and rushed toward Krishna.
“Jim…Jim…Krishna is back,” screamed Rukku full-throated. There was a welcoming symphony of lights, sounds, and sights.
Before Krishna could suspect any further, Rukku kissed him passionately on his dry lips and then asked Krishna to meet Jim. “Krishna, you know, Jim has all along been trying to console me. He is not only my tennis coach, he’s my friend Laura’s husband, and has been like a brother.”
Shaken but enlightened, Krishna gasped, “My gosh, am I glad I didn’t go off the deep…it was the river!”
When Krishna recounted the tumultuous episode to me, I felt and experienced the cultural differences between America and India. Because Krishna’s family had gone to India during the Christmas break, I went to his place to invite him for Christmas dinner, while my own family had gone to Ogden, Utah, to visit my wife Cassandra’s parents. Krishna recognized my anguish and I found myself pouring my heart out.
At that time, I was contemplating a divorce but Krishna began to narrate his recent marital problem over a couple of glasses of Merlot and methi sev. His story had the same effect on me, that the calming waters of the river had had on Krishna. Lifelike the river had many facets — the obvious and the undiscovered. And Krishna’s story made me realize the potential of undiscovered far outweighed the irritants of the obvious.
Satyam Sikha Moorty is a Ph.D. in American Literature from the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, a Fulbright scholar and taught for 31 years at Southern Utah University. Check out his latest book“Passage from India: Poems, Short Stories, and Essays”.