Santhanam was on his way back home. He was on a boat. In the farther distance was seen a steamer – in its shadow only. It stood there anchored. Hope too, promising Santhanam to anchor in his heart, betrayed him and had gone away.
Those who had seen him on the boat at noon can’t believe the same man is on board pushing the boat. He had no soul anywhere. The boat effortlessly moved along the force of tide. He had to push the oar only to guide.
The boat was approaching now to a hillock. On its side was a cabin and beside it a big structure of the light house. The waves ran continuously and hence foamed in loath but they left those foams at the shore and happily returned. As Santhanam reached the hillock he got off the boat. He pulled the boat to the shore, took his bag and walked towards the cabin.
Darkness began to descend. Without changing his clothes Santham climbed the tall line of the light house stairs. He lit the lamp. Flashes of lights silently penetrated the glass walls and spread across farther places. The play of light and darkness told the passing ships, ‘Here’s the stony place. Be away.’ Light and darkness altered. But it seemed light would eat up darkness. It moved quickly like hissing of a snake.
Everyday he finished this task of lighting the lamp and got down but today he didn’t. He remained seated there inside the lamp cabin. Through the glasses he watched darkness spreading. It was that darkness that integrated both –the sea and the sky.The lamp took rounds after rounds. The game of light and dark went on. Santhanam thought that this not only warned the steamers but also to the other people. It said: here’s the stony place, here’s the danger, don’t come. And so none came there.
But when became conscious of this, he laughed at his foolishness. All were far away, very far actually…. But this thought ‘all very far’ occupied his mind. Though he laughed it couldn’t go. When the distant steamer shone with lights he identified it. It was ‘S S Kaveri’. But no sooner the name Kaveri he uttered than a he heaved a sigh.
With what expectations had he been to there! Leaves were not granted but he had consoled himself: A meeting to Desouza will approve the leaves. It’s not a great matter. He braced himself and started for the port. But on reaching there…
‘O Santhanam! It’s good you came. There’s your cable. It’s in the office. Come along, I’ll hand over it to you.’ A clerk who had come out to take tea saw him from far and told him loudly and when he neared the clerk patted him and asked lightly, ‘You seem to be in a great mood today. What’s up dear?’
Santhanam gave a little smile but didn’t say anything. He knew it must be mother’s cable asking him to come home at earliest for the marriage. There was no doubt it. A familiar young girl’s face rose up into his mind. With the clerk he hurried to the branch office for the cable. He saw under a tamarind tree a green bus ready to transport the employees to the town. If he’s brisk he can catch the bus, he thought.
Santhanam couldn’t stop himself. He opened the cable there while in the office. As he read he felt no vigour to standt. The face lost brightness. Dropped himself in the chair. He gazedthe cable.
His friend was surprised at this. He asked, ‘Anything wrong dear?’ He had no mind to anything now. Shook his head and rose to go outside. Still he held the opened cable. The friend drew his attention, ‘Your bag dear.’ Without any response he lifted his bag. From wide open window when he looked outside he found that the green bus had already started. It took a turn near the office and passed by raisin dust clouds. It had no worth for Santhanam. He was careless to it
As if the bag weighed heavily he was bent on one side. He stepped ahead with lost soul. He took the boat again. Everything he did was mechanical and lifeless. He didn’t know when he untied the ropes and pushed it on the water. Each word of the cable ridiculed him. Mother had put it very clearly: Kaveri’s parents didn’t agree. She would be married not to you but to your elder brother. The marriage is fixed on the second day of the new moon. Hence don’t take leaves.’ This wasn’t difficult to understand yet he separated each word and thought about them. He was thirty six and his brother of forty two! His age of marriage had already passed but had hopes. But now… What’s there’s if he too remained bachelor like the eldest? Mother had arranged everything with all her great efforts.His face became dull like the soiled water of the channel.
The boat sailed effortlessly by the experienced hands. The descending evening began to swallow up remaining light of the day. On the right side in the distant he saw a steamer. The white light house on the hillock was immediately noticeable in between the dullness of sea water and darkness of the blue sky. There was no wind. Water stood still. Though it was the time for tide there were no waves on the crescent inlet. The light house stood forlorn and mute like a sphinx in the Egyptian desert. Like a few travellers moving to unknown destinations Santhanam too was moving in his boat.
On the light house top revolved the lamp and here down at the sea revolved Santhanam’s mind.
Before the earth is confused more because the darkness that enveloped everything the crescent moon dimly shone up in the sky. He looked at it. He knew it was the second day of the new moon. As it reminded him this day he also realised the fact that on this very day his elder brother was getting married to Kaveri. He body shook in the excitement. At the same the far anchored ‘S S Kaveri’ roared. He watched the ship. Kaveri who was ready to marry him now stood far away from him like thatstill ship! He laughed dimly – as the coal sparks go cold on a gentle wind touch.
Thoughts began to shape his mind. When that sheep was to arrive from far distance, from its radar, message to the port must be reaching, and when it anchored, a pilot launch too must have started to this side. The roaring he heard indicated that the pilot launch was preparing to guide the steamer to the port. He was disappointed. He thought had he possessed a radar he might see the marriage taking place in his seventeen hundred sixty mile away village. How it would be if he can stop it!
He moved suddenly to the big glass window. He felt right that moment the pilot of the guiding launch must be boarding the steamer. A strange thought came to his mind and he sat holding his head between two hands. ‘Kaveri’ followed the customs of anchoring and stood still away from the shore but she was dragged from there!
The steamer still whistled gently.
Yes, the steamer still whistled gently.
To come out from this depressing situation he came down very quickly from a ladder. Never had he showed such a speed!
When he came to the last step he stood there for a while.
In the dim light he saw that a whole crab family from the nearby rock was on way to this side but on seeing him stopped suddenly. The family took a ‘turn’ and swam across the opposite side. Santhanam’s pale smile grew paler, darker.
He walked few steps mores. Wind rose a bit. Waves too rose. They beat the shore as if they were frustated. It seemed that they would eat up the whole port building that stood strange across the dull wide channel. But the waves had to return from the light house base – like water returning from Tantalus lips.
The tide had brought mangrove branches and they floated across near the boat cabin. It was his everyday practice to pick them up but today he didn’t do it. Even some coal pieces thrown from a ship were drifted to this side. A big wave came and pushed all of them to the cabin enyrance. Santhanam too entered there. Another wave followed and dropped few more pieces and returned very swiftly.
At the back wall of the cabin Santhanam stood holding window iron bars. He wished he shout ‘I’m innocent’ like the French Captain Drakes who was encaged on to a lonely island. His feelings became worse. He tightened the grip on the bars.
Pale light spread out side. In the far were seen dim lights of that steamer. The roaring of the infinite alteration at the sea hung into the air.
And he was far… very far… seventeen hundred and sixty miles away…Kavery’s marriage tunes…. Contempt sat on his smile. He emitted a long breath of pain and made its way silently through that smile.
He felt suffocation. He felt the steamer, Kaveri, his mother, his native land everything was far. They were far and were in a design – an arrangement of some plan. Everything woven with each other. Each one of them has a relation. Each of them bound together and moved in some momentum unknown.
For the first time he realised the fact that the far off anchors are neither of that steamer, nether of Kaveri, neither of his mother, nor of that Southern native land. The anchors are of his own. His are far off anchors!
He himself has anchored very far, very far from all of them. And he found himself never ever so much solitary.