A Story by Tarini Prasad Koirala. Translated by Nagendra Sharma

Arun had known it all along, for over a year or so, that his , Rambha, was being drawn towards his friend Madhav in a romantic sort of way. As such, it was revelation to him now. But his trust upon Rambha, as also his love for her, are so complete and total that he has chosen to turn a blind eye towards her dealings with others or her affairs. Rambha also loves her husband immensely and has unflinching faith in him. Never has there been an occasion for mistrust between them, nor is there any possibility of the same developing in future. Why the mere fact of Rambha and Madhav having been mutually attracted towards each other and their having established a liaison should result in shaking his love, respect and trust towards his is something that he does not understand at all!

Had his friends even one per cent of an inkling of what Arun himself knew about the intimacy between his wife and Madhav, they wouldn’t have stopped short of casting suggestive hints or lurid asides at him, but would even have openly branded him a coward, impotent and imbecile cuckold of a fool of the first category. But Arun, in his turn, not only considers his wife’s character and behaviour as being completely in keeping with nature, but also has no complaints against his friend Madhav, nor a feeling of spite or jealousy towards him…

Arun regarded himself as an outsider insofar as his views regarding love, passion and male-female intimacies were concerned, for they were at complete variance with those of his friends, relatives and other familiar people. It was because of this difference in his approach and attitude towards matters of emotional attachment between human beings that he preferred to sulk quietly away or keep mum whenever such topics came up for discussion amongst his friends. But the irony was that his behaviour was interpreted by them as being an implicit admission of guilt, if not also of impotence, on his part…

Among Arun’s most intimate friends were Birendra Keshar and Dhir Jung. He also had a liking for Madhav, though the two weren’t all that intimate. Madhav’s relations were much closer to and more intimate with, Rambha.

There was no denying the fact, however, that Arun was very popular in his friends’ circle. Hadn’t his friends treated Arun’s liberal attitude towards his wife as a sign of weakness and had they, by of their undue curiosity and interest towards this aspect of his character, not closed their eyes towards his other activities, affairs and behaviours, they wouldn’t perhaps have been unaware of the fact that Birendra’s wife Snehalata, Keshav’s (mother’s younger sister) Mahalakshmi and Dhir Jung’s younger sister Juhi have all been victims of their own sexual (and entirely human) predilections – and, that too, at the hands of none other than Arun himself, whom they had all along considered cowardly and impotent! What’s more, not only Birendra’s wife Snehalata no compunctions in getting her own perfectly natural urges satiated at the hands of Arun, but she had similar intimacies with Keshav as well. Birendra, poor chap, was blissfully unaware of such goings-on, but Arun was in the know of it all. The only thing was that Arun evinced no curiosity or interest in these affairs at all, as he considered them to be a part and parcel of human nature, deserving no undue attention…

One day he came across Madhav on his way back from office.

“Going for a cup of ,” he told Arun. “Why don’t you also join me?”

“On the contrary, Madhav,” he replied, “I would much appreciate your joining me for tea at my own residence,” and added,”even as it is, I’m not fond of visiting restaurants, as you know. What’s more, it appears you haven’t met Rambha for a long while either!” He caught Madhav’s arm.

Madhav was a bit embarrassed. Wasn’t Arun taunting him? Could it be that Arun was in the know of the secret liaison persisting between himself and Rambha? But there was no trace of sarcasm in Arun’s invitation; he was sincere in his request and there was no room for any suspicion.

“Oh, it seems you’re ill-at-ease, Madhav,” said Arun again. “Why, you don’t feel like going to my place?”

Both proceeded to Arun’s house. Freshened-up and in a jovial mood, Rambha had been waiting for her husband to come home. But her enthusiasm appeared slightly dampened on seeing Madhav along with her husband. Thar was not a time for Madhav to come! That particular time-slot she had reserved for her husband alone…She looked a bit non-plussed. She welcomed both of them nevertheless, and asked Madhav, “How come you are here at this unusual hour – I mean, you preferred to come here when Arun wasn’t home, usually. But today…?”

Madhav was apprehensive. He thought Rambha had made a fool of herself. Could anyone dare talk in such an alarming manner and so outspokenly? He visibly reddened in the face. Arun, on the other hand, was looking at both of them with gay nonchalance!

“Madhav is shrewd,” said Arun, still smiling, to Rambha. She was staring at Madhav.

As Madhav left after tea, Rambha turned towards her spouse. “Why did you bring Madhav along? Didn’t you know I don’t appreciate it?”

Arun was dumb-founded. How was he to believe Rambha wouldn’t like Madhav’s presence? He asked in utter frankness and sincerity, “You don’t like, you said? But why? You were very fond of him. What went amiss between the two of you?”

Rambha was also averse to keeping Arun in the dark. “I didn’t mean I’m not fond of him,” she replied, “but Arun, what I meant was I don’t like the presence of any third at this hour of the day.” She cast an enticing and coquettish sideways glance at him, and added with a playful, seductive smile, “this time-slot is meant only for you – I want nobody else besides. Just the two of us – you and I; I crave for nothing else.”

Arun was also all smiles as he gave a mild and loving pat on her soft, chubby cheek. Rambha looked at him with lusty eyes filled with love, opened her a bit wide and yearned for a kiss. Arun grasped he cheeks tightly with both hands and stamped a hot one on her lips.

Dinner over, the couple lay side by side under a common lamp-light on a ground bedspread and were engrossed in reading for a long while. Rambha pointed towards a news-item in the papers and asked Arun, “Did you read this news?”

“Isn’t it the same story which says a lunatic fellow murdered his girl-friend who had jilted him, as also the boy with whom she had eloped?” … asked Arun and returned to his book, unconcerned…

Rambha also displayed a natural unconcern, but asked him in a subdued and halting tone, “Wouldn’t you be jealous too, Arun, if I were to do the same?”

Still pretending to be engrossed in the book, Arun just let these words escape his lips, “Don’t know! Perhaps I will be!”

But no. He wouldn’t be jealous at all, not even a bit. He is cocksure about it. But he has found all his friends and acquaintances to be full of jealousy in matters such as this and, as jealousy has always been depicted as being natural and inevitable in the context of a sexual relationship by almost all well-known authorities on sex and eroticism, as also in novels, autobiographies and accounts pertaining to love and sex, he was scared that his singular indifference and uncommon attitude might be misinterpreted as being akin to that of a lunatic. As such, he would often express his concurrence with the views of most others in this respect, lest he be misunderstood.

He is of the opinion that his spouse, Rambha, is the only other person who is not only entirely in agreement with his views on the subject but has also adopted a similarly nonchalant attitude towards sex in general and also insofar as it concerns her own personality, in practical terms. Had it not been so, how was it possible for her to harbour such a deep and unflinching love towards Arun himself, despite the knowledge that it was his wont to satisfy himself better in the company of Snehalata, Mahalakshmi, Juhi, Shampa, Sarala, Sashi and others – and without herself evincing any kind of jealousy or envy either towards him or towards those women? She has had no complaints against Arun. He may have any number of affairs with whomsoever, but as long as it comes to a question of his loving someone, it’s Rambha alone and no one else – she is convinced of this herself and knows it to her best advantage…Also, on her part, it is enough if Arun continues loving her thus. She demands nothing more of him and is contented, satisfied. So far as quenching her mere physical needs, there is Birendra, and Manohar, just in case!

In this kind of a multi-pronged amatory situation, questions of soul, love and emotion hardly arise. For, love stands on a different footing altogether – it’s a thirst which cries out for depths, and never finds complete fulfilment, whereas eroticism and passion are urges that are satisfied by external tools – like a pang of hunger which, once satisfied, even develops a revulsion for the time being. Not so with love.

How this couple, Rambha and Arun, came to develop such an identical approach and attitude in this respect, an approach that goes virtually counter to all the accepted norms and codes of social conduct and behaviour, might be a strange and unusual coincidence…

“You’re telling a blatant lie, Arun; jealousy is something that has never been a part of our psyche,” Rambha coo-ed in a sweet, love-lorn voice. She was telling the truth.

Arun looked again at Rambha, her complexion lightened brightly in the strong glare of the lamp. She was bent over a newspaper, her protruding bosoms raised further as they were pressed against a pillow. She cast a furtive glance at Arun with mischief-ridden, frolicsome eyes. Those two tender and lovely protrusions, thurst-up higher by the pillow, seemed not only to be spilling over her bra but also out of her blouse, jutting almost as high as the neckline. Arun’s avaricious eyes got riveted on them for a while. Had he seen some other damsel in a similar posture, it would have been impossible for him not to find his physical urge overbearing. But, somehow, he was not moved on seeing Rambha so…He merely gazed at them for a while and touched them ever so lightly with his fingers. Rambha, while attempting to cover them up, pretended also to take offence and said coyly, “I know you don’t find them attractive enough, do you? Had they belonged to someone else…”

Whatever Rambha said wasn’t the whole truth, nor was it entirely untrue. Not that he didn’t find them lovely, but they weren’t capable of arousing him either… He just likes Rambha all over, every aspect of hers. That’s all!

[Courtesy: Sheet of Snow, an anthology of sixteen Nepali short stories, translated into English by Nagendra Sharma and published by Nirala Publications, Jaipur and New Delhi,1997.]