Published on 15 November, 2020
My FIRST DIWALI IN A HYDROGRAHIC  TENT (prof .Sreedevi Krishnan)
This happened in 1966, four months after my marriage to a Naval Officer, ignoring the Tsunami of opposition from our families, as we were transgressors of their "marriage laws" which decided who should marry whom, when and how.

Our first punishment - an unprecedented shortage of Family Quarters in Visakhapatnam - was tackled successfully by my continuation of my job as a lecturer in the Maharajaha's College and getting the Warden's Quarters where my determined husband could come in his motorbike every evening.

Three months later, we decided to celebrate our first Diwali in Arakkuvalley with our close friends mainly to counter our missing the 'Thalai Diwali, the grand finale of the 'approved' marriages in my husband's community.

But, just a week before Diwali, the captain selected my husband & his friend Lt. Phanse to lead the 'Advanced ' party to Paradeep for theodolite observations to build a port there.  While taking leave my husband reassured me that he would be back for Diwali with Sambal Puri saris & silver filigree jewelry from Cuttack, though he could not contact me from his Hydrographic tent in Paradeep. Unfortunately , the very next day of my husband's leaving , a state wide riot broke out against the decision of Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi for setting up a 'steel plant' in  Salem instead of Visakhapatnam. In the following violence and vandalism , Andhra university students burnt the railway station in Visakhapatnam, destroyed buses and forced the closing of all educational institutions, banks  and even grocery stores. The inmates of my Hostel left for the safety of their homes, except Karuna, a degree student whose father could not come on time to take her home...

The next evening, an excited Karuna pleaded with me to join her in the only bus going to Berhampur, her native place and from there I could go to her uncle, Mr. Vamanamurthy an ex-MP and leading advocate in Cuttack, who would easily help me to join my husband in Paradeep. 
Equipped with a letter of introduction to Vamanamurthy from Karuna's father, I boarded the only bus which reached Cuttack at 9 pm. After listening patiently to Karuna's rattling in Oriya, requesting the bus driver’s assistance to indicate the General Post Office, just opposite to Vamanamurthy's house,the macho driver  waved at me with a broad grin showing his sparkling white teeth against the charcoal black face. So, with a new-found confidence and enthusiasm, I  day-dreamed about Diwali Celebration,ignoring the piercing stares , whispers and even loud comments about me, the onlylafy- passenger in the Bus.   Those days   Eve – teasing ,,leave alone not  punishable, but not even mentionable to anyone else . Moreover ,from the pleading talk  of Karuna in Oriya  to the friendly driver and  his protective gesture towards me gave me a strange confidence .

After a few hours of journey ,the bus was stopped for a  refreshment break near a thatched shop with drinks ,biscuits etc .I was hungry ,thirsty and needed a break badly .But the looks ,grins and gestures of the passengers while getting down and the dimly- lit road some how gave shivers down my spine .

For the first time ,I  felt unsafe and looked around to see one gentleman who could understand English but alas , all of them looked equally  vulgar ,lustful and wicked men .Further ,according to the schedule ,we should have reached Cuttack an 9 pm, an  hour earlier.

Soon,glued  to my window -seat , I started wondering about the trustworthiness of the driver . When I saw many passengers getting down at a bright- lit place I tried to get down thinking it was Cuttack ,but the driver looked at me and said , repeatedly not here “General Post Office’ . According to Karuna, Vamanamoorthy , an Ex .MP’s big house ,opposite to General Post office could be reached by just crossing the road from the bus – stop. And the driver, my savior was entrusted with the task of showing the place to get down .

Suddenly, I saw the driver making some lewd gestures and coming towards me with a cool drink , fruits etc .  One look at his beady, lustful eyes, I realized the enormity of my risky journey to an unknown place which in all certainty would end up in my tragic death.          
After a couple of hours’ nightmarish journey, I saw sign boards of Cuttack, but the speeding bus stopped only at some dimly -lit place, bus depot with me as the last remaining passenger . By this time . I was mentally preparing for the most brutal attack and  murder with this monster’s massive hands .Then the most horrifying thought occurred, none  would even find out about my disappearance from Vizianagaram until it was too late . Clutching tightly at my Vaishnavite ‘ maangalya Suthra ‘ depicting Mahavishnu’s Sanghu and sudarsana chakra, I closed my eyes , was I praying ? I don’t know .

Then I could hear the monster  giving instructions to a cycle -rickshaw fellow in a commanding voice , walking away towards his Depot. Panic-stricken, I  opened my eyes and pleaded with the rickshaw man to take me to the General Post office, promising double or treble his charge. But ,he looked blank and said ,  - No English” ‘ Hindi ,Hindi, I could not speak a word in Hindi suddenly remembered the movie song 'there ghar ke samne' and said “General Post Office ke samne Vanmanamurthy ghar”.  Ignoring his shrieks of utter disbelief gesturing that I came far beyond General Post Office, the riskshaw man started the ride... But, to my shock I noticed that the bus driver chased us in another rickshaw.

After what seemed an eternity, the bus driver’s rickshaw disappeared.  I finally reached the huge house of Vamanamurthy and pressed the doorbell incessantly in the middle of night.  A pudgy, bespectacled man in pajamas opened the door, looked at my face, which must have been a living nightmare, with his sleepy and scrutinizing eyes. I wanted to explain who I was and what brought me to his doorstep, but fear, hunger and thirst took their toll on me and the words stuck to my parched lips. I desperately tried to rummage my bag for the 'introduction’ letter. Sensing my pathetic condition, the gentleman gestured me to come in and said in a very calm voice, "I'm Vamana Murthy, you look extremely tired and I guess you want to stay here tonight?"
After a shower, while I was half way through my toast and hot chocolate, I heard Mrs. Murthy wondering how a young girl like me travel at night,a real risk . . Only then I realized that the perfect hostess in front of me was an absolute stranger to me. After hearing my brief narration of the driver episode and mission of reaching Paradeep for ‘Thalai Diwali’, the Vamanamurthys said we would discuss Paradeep trip in the morning when I was clear-headed after a good sleep. 
The next morning the Vamanamurthys tried in vain to convince me the impossibility of meeting my husband in that inaccessible, Paradeep. Finally, melted  by my tears of utter despair, the most kindhearted couple drove me to Paradeep in their car...

After an hour’s futile  search,in a jungle like Paradeep  for two Naval Officers LtKrishnan   and Lt.Phanse with a few  sailors,we headed towards a restaurant . On our way, , I saw Lt.Phanse standing and smoking on the topmost floor balcony of an opposite high rise building. When I waved at him vigorously, he waved back with both hands but continued smoking. Watching this scene, Vamanamurthy asked, "Who is he…your husband?" I managed to say, “ no, his friend Lt Phanse".  Suddenly touching my hand and forehead, Mrs. Vamanamurthy said I was hallucinating due to high fever.

Meanwhile a resolute Mr. Vamanamurthy thundered, "Hey, do you know one Lt. Krishnan? This is his wife." My  husband who was napping,refused to believe his friend about my arrival,when there was no train or other means of transport to arrive at Paradeep , due to state- wide protest.Then after about  five minutes which seemed to  be an eternity to me ran towards us . He  profusely thanked the Vamana moorthy’s  for  their unbelievable kindness and  generosity.
Gently waving off our chorus of thanks, a beaming Vamanamurthy said, "Huh! I'm happy that I'm instrumental in bringing the newly – weds  together for their first Diwali, you don't get a chance like this every Diwali…do you?"

Thanks to Vamanamurthy's incredible kindness,  my husband, radiantly happy and smart in my Diwali gift shirt and I clad in a  lovely Sambalpuri sari  and silver filigree jewelry,  celebrated our first Diwali in the Hydrographic tent by distributing  sweets to the Naval team.
Though we could visit the Vamanamurthys only a couple of times after our first Diwali, we stayed in touch with them and exchanged Diwali Greetings for decades ,till they became  a permanent memory in our gratitude-filled hearts.
Join WhatsApp News
Lafia 2020-11-17 03:00:27
I always enjoy reading your articles. Great writing skill...Looking for to reading more 👍🏼
Sringara nicklas 2020-11-22 00:05:04
The story of how a young girl's naivete, courage and determination orchestrated a beautiful and poignant ending despite the multifarious risks involved. It also illustrates the hideous and ugly nature of man and his singular focus to pounce on his prey like a ravenous lion on an unsuspecting deer. However the world is also made up of genteel souls like the Vamanamurthys who were so moved with compassion at the sight of this poor waif that they not only took her in in for the night, they also ensured her safe trip to Paradeep. May their tribe increase! Wonderful writing, touching and tender! Dr. Sringara Nicklas
മലയാളത്തില്‍ ടൈപ്പ് ചെയ്യാന്‍ ഇവിടെ ക്ലിക്ക് ചെയ്യുക