The Heart Knows
by Rengarajan T S
Ravi jumped from his seat when Radha declared that she wanted to go to India in the peak of summer.
“Are you mad? I can’t forget that day when we got married in April. I was taking bath four times to feel normal. The pandit was drenched in sweat while going through the rituals. And the wedding night… remember the power went off? Uff!”
Seeing that their daughter Priya was all ears, Ravi stopped his monologue.
“I am not going”, he shrugged, as if that was that.
Piqued by Radha’s studied silence, he asked once again, “Why exactly are we going? Can I know the reason?”
Radha said that she just wanted to go. “Do I need a reason for it?”
“Are you missing your amma’s soft-soft idlis?” he mocked her. (He missed them too!)
Finally, Ravi gave in and booked tickets for all three of them.
The flight landed around 2 am at Chennai airport. Radha’s anxiety was palpable. Ravi could not fathom the cause. He was worried.
Taking a cab from the airport, they reached Kumbakonam by 10 am. Amma received them at the entrance. It looked like she had stayed up all night.
Tearful hugs and joyous chattering followed. Home, sweet home.
Ravi got up around 11 am the next day. He couldn’t find Radha anywhere. Sipping the filter coffee his mother-in-law offered, he asked, “Amma, where is Radha?”
His mother-in-law replied, “Radha got up at 7 am and went out. Maybe to see Gundu… I mean, Geetha.”
Geetha was Radha’s childhood friend. She was a chubby kid and although she had slimmed down over the years, the nickname ‘Gundu’ (fat, in Tamil), remained.
Ravi started reading the newspaper when suddenly he saw Geetha enter the house.
“Mami, where’s Radha? “asked Geetha.
“I thought she has gone to your house,” replied Amma. Ravi became curious. Around lunchtime, Radha returned but didn’t say much.
The next day, when Ravi noticed Radha heading out, he decided to follow her. He saw her pick up a bicycle from the shed and ride out. He took the second bicycle and tailed her from a distance.
15 minutes later, Radha stopped near a plot adjacent to the canal and walked into a piece of land ringed by trees. Ravi’s curiosity got the better of him.
“What the hell is happening?” he murmured.
He found a vantage point behind a banyan tree and peeped out discreetly. What he saw was shocking!
Radha was caressing a mango tree. In fact, she was talking to it. Finally, she sat beneath the tree and stared into the distance.
After a couple of minutes, he heard someone approaching. It was Gundu Geetha. After exchanging pleasantries, Geetha sat beside her and they started chatting.
Ravi quietly left the place. Back home, he was confused about what he saw. The next day too, Radha got up early and went out. Ravi knew it must be to the same spot. “Is it possible that Radha, liked someone and they used frequently meet at this very spot?”
The devil inside Ravi’s mind had started musing.
He could not bear it any longer. He decided to confront Radha that night. Back in bed after dinner, Ravi was waiting for his wife.
“Radha, what’s going on? From the day we arrived here, you’ve been so secretive. I followed you, I saw you going and sitting under a mango tree.”
She looked at him, sadness written large over her face.
“Does that place kindle some past romantic memories?” asked Ravi, pointedly.
Radha was silent. With tears welling up in her eyes, she said, “Promise me that you will not tease me and also, try to understand me,” said Radha.
“Okay”, said Ravi.
“Ravi, I am like a mother to the mango tree”, said Radha. “I need to do something … they are going to cut it down!”
“Are you out of your mind? Radha. What nonsense are you talking?” asked Ravi.
Radha continued with her story. “When I was 11 years old, one day, my mother gave me and Geetha two mangoes to eat. After eating those mangoes, we decided to plant them. We made a small kerb around the spot and I watered it every day on my way to school.”
She smiled happily, as she recalled the scene.
“Geetha’s tree didn’t come up but my tree started growing. To us, this meant something. We used to come here regularly. Over time, it became part of my life. In the next eight years, it started bearing fruit. I used to study for exams under it. I sat there for hours and ate sweet mangoes when I was hungry”, said Radha.
Ravi shook his head incredulously.
“Ravi, will you believe, that it helped me decide about you!” continued Radha.
“The day after you came to see me, I was perplexed. You live in USA. Marrying you meant leaving amma and appa and this beautiful place. I came here and asked Manga Ponnu, as I used to call her, “What should I do?”
There was no reply. When Radha burst out in anger and scolded Manga Ponnu – “You don’t care for me!” – just then, a mango dropped on her head.
“This was always the way Manga Ponnu answered all my queries,” said Radha.
Ravi was bewildered. For a moment, he was worried, as to whether Radha has developed some mental problems.
Radha continued. “After I saw the mango you brought from Costco, I just wondered about Manga Ponnu.”
That night Manga Ponnu came in Radha’s dreams and said, “Very soon, I will be cut and I will die.”
Radha kept getting the same dream every night and that’s when she decided to come back and see for herself.
“Can you believe it, what Manga Ponnu told me is true! The land has been bought by someone. They are putting a rice mill in that place. I met the landowner’s son. He said that since the compound wall is coming up where Manga Ponnu is standing, they will have to get rid of her”.
As she was speaking, Radha broke down. Priya came running to hold her mother and comfort her.
Ravi was stunned. “What’s all this? Radha is an intelligent person. She restarted he studies after coming to the US and earned a Ph.D. How can she be so stupid and emotional!” he wondered.
That night, Ravi had a long chat with his close friend Ram. Ram reminded Ravi of Jagdish Chandra Bose’s findings. Plants are sensitive to pain and affection. Ram concluded that modern science was still in its infancy with regard to so many mysteries of nature.
“Don’t worry da, try to handle the situation calmly,” he advised.
The next day, Ravi set out early in the morning and returned only by noon. This time, Radha was worried. On reaching home, he immediately went for a bath. Radha was waiting outside, wondering what happened to Ravi.
Ravi smiled. “Radha, your Manga Ponnu is safe. I talked to the owner. The compound will deviate slightly from that area. He has promised to look after the tree. We will be paying the gardener every month”, said Ravi.
Radha hugged her hubby and kissed him, forgetting that it was not a closed room.
They were sitting at Chennai airport. His mother-in-law was talking to Priya.
Ravi noticed that Radha was browsing her photo app and looking at the various pics she had taken of Manga Ponnu. Her face was relaxed and peaceful.
“I hope you don’t have any more daughters I don’t know about,” joked Ravi.
“Let’s plant a plum tree in our backyard in San Jose,” said Radha, squeezing Ravi’s hand.
Manga Ponnu – you will soon be an Akka. What more could a girl ask for?
This story was written as part of the Writer’s Gym program open to those who’ve attended Rashmi Bansal’s Short Story Writing workshop. The story has been edited by Rashmi Bansal