The two, however, are not destined to unite, as the Judge weds a “wife of richest dower” and Maud marries “a man unlearned and poor”, as “care and sorrow and child-birth pain left their traces on heart and brain”.
Nevertheless, Maud and the Judge, even in the midst of their allotted lives, continue to dream of each other. These vain dreams are epitomised by Whittier thus, “God pity them both! and pity us all,/ Who vainly the dreams of youth recall.” He also notes, “For all sad words of tongue or pen,/The saddest are these: ‘It might have been!’ ” A remarkable similarity to this is to be found in a touching Tamil short story, Kadithamum Kannerum, of late ‘Kalki’ Krishnamoorthy, which originally appeared in Ananda Vikatan in 1938, with the published English translation (Penguin) by Gowri Ramnarayan.
The story is about Annapurani. She explains to her colleague how love can inspire one to high levels of creativity. Widowed at the age of nine, after child marriage, Annapurani had gone, while yet in her teens, to a wedding, where she observes a young man staring at her. Later, he gives her a letter. Overcome by love and helplessness, Annapurani spends many days crying. Illiterate thus far, she learns to read and write. She then comes to know that the man, who had known that she was a child widow, had asked her, in this letter, to marry him, suggesting she come to the evening ceremony, just holding a piece of flower in her hand, to signal her consent. Alas, in view of Annapurani’s illiteracy then, the union never, therefore, takes place!
Spurred by a will to help the deprived, lest they too miss out on opportunities for sheer want of right upbringing, Annapurani founds a remarkable institution for women and the destitute. However, like Maud Muller, she too, now aged, carries eternally the weight of the regretful longing for what could have been hers, if only...
Indeed, it takes immense dynamism, resourcefulness and presence of mind to sail on in life, never ever troubled by the feeling, “...it might have been”.
--- Courtesy 7 Dec 2009, 0406 hrs IST, K Vijayaraghavan,