We are born with nothing and carry nothing with us when we die. No one escorts us into the living world and no one accompanies us in the domain of mortality. All our needs and seeking is for the ephemeral interlude between our birth and death which we call as life.
The entire span of life comes to be a run after and in the pursuit we keep seeking for something or other in alibi of our needs. Individuality, eminence, affluence, authority, contentment and satisfaction, all these seem so momentous for the métier of life; in the tug of survival. Nevertheless, none of these materialistic reaching is never doable nor is of the essence without which we cannot survive. Not an iota of triumphs which we attain sustain for eternity. Yet our hunt is unending. Wryly though, what we own we don’t revere its worth and that which isn’t within our reach we always hanker for. And sometimes by stroke of luck when we come into the possession of something undeserved and far-flung, we can’t vie with. Every so often we only recognize a wee element of it. And sometimes owing to our own faux pas such a possession occurs as ignorantly trivial.
In actuality, one transcendent thing that stealthily moves behind our entire acquisitive desires and which we strive for though in insentience proposition is love and care in its varied forms. When we are a child we seek for the warm care of our parent, as we grow we chase for intimacy in friendship, as we attain our youth we meltdown to infatuation, as we mature we seek for our spouse’s ardor, in our professional sphere we look for favor from our colleagues, as we turn old we look forward to affection and care from our children. This is the one and only prodigy that ensue with us and the only possession of virtuousness that travels with us subliminally. When we encapsulate in the end moments of our breathing journey, we realize that in sanguinity all that we had been hunting for, this was the only abridgment we had earned and lost from time to time but never capitalized on profusely when it was so available to us. It’s too late by then to realize.
And perhaps it is the verve of this reminiscence of what we sowed and what we reap that keeps our soul yet alive when the body becomes as good as dead.
The impending story is a creation of imagination and has no relevance to any factual or real life instance. Any resemblance to the same with fact related to any person, dead or alive is purely coincidental.
All views expressed in the story are author’s personal. Names of individuals and places used in the story are fictitious.
The author does not intend to hurt anyone’s feelings and emotion or disrepute anyone’s sentiment. Nor wish to humiliate in any manner any person or any class or section of the society. The author neither wishes to incite any communal prejudice or ill feeling towards other community.
This is only a point of view which the author wishes to share with everyone.
Akhilbabu was bedridden for almost nine months now. After a yearlong ailment he was asked to take VRS as he could no more perform and had become a liability to the department. He wasn’t enough old but circumstances and his drinking habit resulted into a premature aging and gasping his last breaths. He was detorriating day by day. His vocal strength was no more supportive to speak his sufferings. Lying in his bed he could envisage the frustration and exasperation of his spouse who was feeling no joy in either feeding the food she made with much added effort so that he could somehow swallow it down his throat nor there were any more nous of allegiance in her heart in cleaning his urinated rags and muck soiled bed sheet. If she smelt something filthy she would realize he has done something unwanted and would clean. But most of the time he would be with it. There was no more question of involuntary or voluntary call of nature. When it does come it passes out at its own, pleasing him for the moment and displeasing till such time she would discover and cleanse it off.
Old age with suffering is more painful than the old age itself. It doesn’t only make the person suffer but it also makes the people around to suffer in manifolds. And when death approaches indolently despite of the dying persons begging for it, it becomes more unendurable for the person and insufferable for the person who carries the pain along with the dying man.
His being alive had now become a curse on her, a torment and a penance to the lady for perhaps a sin of her past or her far past. If she was brave and amply cruel too she could have probably pressed a pillow over his face while he was asleep and put an end to her misery. But she wasn’t. This had of late become a contemplation which would haunt her like a nightmare.
Though not quite distinctly, Akhilbabu would hear her talking to his daughters over telephone updating them with his situation. Sometimes she would also shriek and blubber corroborating her predicament. He could realize that his daughters were also perhaps impatiently been waiting to hear the final news. His son worked in a remote Tea Garden, gave in the impression that telecommunication was erratic and that he was extremely busy with his work and wouldn’t give her any call. Or perhaps was also perchance been waiting for the final call to reach him instead. His daughter-in-law would however once in a blue moon call up to enliven with the status.
Akhilbabu would be very maddened at times and would ask the almighty why he is not being unfettered from his torment but nothing emerged to succor. Rather his woes only deepened manifolds. Streaks of tears would roll down his wrinkled chicks through the overgrowth of his grey beards and dried within while his hands didn’t had the muscle even to reach the tepid flowing streak and wipe it off. He knew he has to continue half-alive till it’s a final call.
Memories of yesteryears rolled down into mirage of his subliminal deserted mind as he lay helplessly on his numb back and stiff spine; the childhood he cherished and the youth he ruined, the manhood he matured with and experience he abused, the trust he deceived and the promise he kept, the contiguity he forbidden and the love he yearned, the veracities he hated and the fantasy he was attracted to, the sins he was a part of and the restraints he made to, misadventures he encouraged and misdemeanor he resisted, the anger he stormed with and the fear he succumbed to, the cloak-and-dagger he let slip and the secrecy he concealed, the despicable he encouraged and the magnanimity he stood by. Friends he renounced and foes he attached to, aptitudes he lost gradually and ill habits he opted to, victuals he ought to have avoided rather which he cherished to, relations he avoided and company he clung to, actions that embarrassed him and deeds which made him proud of, incidents that hurt him and moments which elated too. And in exactitude, the rumination of the one single episode which changed his entire life, the puerile chapter which resulted into a misapprehension that led someone to feel deceived; a paraphrase of daresay so vindictively unforgivable that persecuted him forever.
His whole bygone days revolved reluctantly through his subconscious ruminations exerting jolts inside his body as if to rouse him up one last time, one last effort to unveil the truth and the isolated truth to his wife, make her au fait of the veracity, a divulgence of a dying man to refurbish misgivings righteously, but to no avail. Nothing was enough to force his down for the count body to life. It pained him and it pained very deep and very hard. He was feeling choked and panted. He felt he was drowning, as if the whole world around him was shrinking; attenuating into his eyes and was getting vanished somewhere deep inside him. He tried to pull his strength to screech out for help but he could only growl. He was becoming stiff.
Suddenly he could intuit that there was some mayhem beginning around him too. Through his partially opened deadpan eyes he could see, indistinct though, there was some vigorous movement of people around him. He could feel some alien looking shadows trying to shake him up. In a poorly audible and incomprehensive babbled voice some whispers too in his ear, probably trying to ask if he could hear and respond. And then a loud noise mixed with shrieks and howls, he was muddled but unable to riposte.
After a while, he could feel he was being lifted as crudely as a quilt and dragged out of the bed. He was put back on a harder unversed surface and it moved, moved really fast perfunctorily jarring and often throwing up and plunging his body down on the hard surface. His entire body shivered and it pained severely. Unbearable to the pain he buckled to his consciousness.
When he regained cognizance he felt he was now in a rather pleasingly noiseless unmoving cubicle, smelt strange and unpleasant. He tried to open his eyes as far and wide as possible to see a wonted and mien unfamiliar maneuvering something over his sedated chest. He realized that he was in a hospital and a doctor was examining him. His audibility appeared little improved, though still much retarded as earlier. There was some relief to his pain and agony and he could feebly feel he was clutched upon by various vents and pipes crawling all over his body like serpents.
“We did what we could do … He will breathe as long as he would.”
He realized that the doctor has admitted defeat. He was unperturbed however to realize that “Its time.”
Meanwhile, having informed about his deteriorating condition his youngest daughter Jhunu and son-in-law arrived. He whispered to them, “I’m fine, don’t worry”.
“Yes Baba, you are fine. Maa has wisely opted for a separate cabin. Charges are more but you will get special attention and care.”
No matter how despicable and worthless ones children or family is, their presence always sooths when one realizes that any moment he would breathe the last. In the empathetic gaze of one’s near ones, perhaps a dying man tries to reconnoiter a little more life to live; one tries to pursuit affection he feels dilapidated his lifetime; ones desires to be accredited for all altruism he disseminated whole life; one wishes to read forgiveness in the eyes of his dear ones for all sins he did in his lifespan.
He starred at the door hoping that his other children would also arrive and arrive soon.
“They have all been informed. Minudi and Chinudi are arriving. They are coming by flight, should reach by evening.” Jhunu comforted.
Jhunu was youngest among the daughters. She and her husband were working together in a government hospital and both earned reasonably good. She would visit her house more frequently as she stayed nearby. Favorite to her parents, she would spend plentifully on them. Minu, the eldest daughter married to a Defense personnel stayed in Bagdogra. She was dear to her parents too. Whenever she visited her parents the kitchen cabinet would be full. She would get stuffs from the CSD canteen. Chinu the second daughter was married to a Government employee and stayed in Calcutta. She wasn’t though a frequent visitor but whenever they visited she would take care of her parents clothing and other domiciliary needs.
“Babai, did he get leave?” He asked in a mumbled voice.
Babai was the only son, youngest in the family, was working in a remote Tea Garden. He avers of work pressure hand over fist and responsibility. Owing to his busy schedule he would hardly come home or attended to any family functions. Moreover, he never liked to blend into his relatives. He could never get along with them. For some reason or other, it always resulted into fierce exchange of words each time he came across them. His being youngest in the family could have been one of the reasons for which everyone treated him commandingly and he didn’t like it. He would keep himself confined to his work and his professional circle only. Since he visited his home rarely so was his spending for his parents sparse.
Even parents count on their children to nurture them in their old age and there is nothing foul in their expectation. Obliviously at times parental liking incline towards children who looks after them and this is obvious.
“Yes, I spoke to him this morning. His Directors and higher-ups are on a visit to his garden. Sooner they leave, he will start.”
“Hmmm, it will take him quite a long drive.”
“Yes, almost ten to twelve hours’ drive”
“Hmmm…! Then I may not see him,” he sighed.
“Kaka”, his eldest nephew Dipendu taunted; “Babai had always been a discourteous and un-homely boy in the entire kinfolk. He never heeded any importance to family values.”
“He is a disgrace to the family” Nipendu, his younger nephew joined the blather. “He was still somewhat bearable before marriage. After marriage he has completely enslaved himself to his wife”.
“I knew it would happen. When he opted to marry a girl from different community, he should have been forbidden.” Ratna his eldest niece splattered fuel into the fire.
“Kaku, your children have all followed your spoor. They are all heedless to the family tenet and remiss of our community code. Selected life partners of their own choice as you did at your time and from other communities and religion”, Dipendu persist on.
“Our girls getting married to other community is still understandable but why do the boys need to bring from other.”
No matter what situation weight or surroundings seeks; bound by the inherent ilk some people can’t resist being nasty and sadistic. These kinds of people probably don’t wish to emerge out of their confinement from a preset dogmatic mentality or perhaps they want to persevere with the bequest of becoming societal lords and illustrate their perseverance to any available opportunity.
Akhilbabu wondered, how merciless of his kin, to pick up this debate at such a juncture? He knew his daughter-in-law Tulika and his son very well. Babai is not the nut that Tulika could break and mold. If Babai was a debatable character it was none other but Babai himself was to blame. The milieu in which Babai grew up and in fact his other children too factually he couldn’t have expected any better than what they all were today.
Love marriage what they all did, but not without their parent’s consent though. Even Akhilbabu himself did a love marriage to a Hindu girl belonging to Assamese community against the endorsement of his parent and family. He in those days faced with enormous resistance and hostility from his elder brothers and other relations. Perhaps back in his heart and mind this remorse was alive which prompted him to consent and encourage when it was his children’s turn.
A marriage irrespective of love or arranged needs to click and sustain to survive. Otherwise, in a miscarried marriage whether arranged by parents or by anyone shall face similar fate of mischance and doom and one ought to go through similar hell a life. This is a gimmick set by the destiny but needs to be poised and placid by the duo itself. Bizarrely his marriage life ended with a regular and indeed into an everyday call of conjugal quarrels as a result of incoherent suspicions and delusions. Though they dragged almost the entire connubial life span under the same roof but never stayed as a nuptial twosome.
“…Though my marriage failed,” he thought, “but by God-given my children are leading a peaceful life; … so long … so far” he wheeze. In spite of such an environment of practically no parental governance, lacking elderly guidance and in absence of any basic ethics and family nearness, his children completed their schooling and college benignly and today they are all settled and leading their life with their spouse of own liking. They are all happy with their spouse and children, what else was needed for parents to be beholden about.
It wasn’t that his children never had any connubial disagreement with their spouse but they did find out a way; a way out to get over it. Each time they had a situation, they learnt from their mistakes and muddle through. When needed they did accepted to their partners predilection and yield to ease out an issue but so often also made their cohorts to genuflect and agree to their picking. They worked out an amiable covenant with their partner and learnt the art of reconciliation and reciprocation to survive their wedlock. This was a lesson they learnt from the failed relation of their parents and Akhilbabu learnt from his children, though too little and too late.
The chronicle had gravid in the backdrop of the undergoing turmoil in wake of partition and formation of the two new nations, India and Pakistan. The English Rulers hit their final axe on their colonial dominion which they had ruled for over two hundred years. Till a day before what most of the populace considered a piece of idle talk to be a concocted rumor only woke up from their sleep to realize that a fistful conceited people who claimed themselves to be the leaders have consented to divide the country. The disquiet and disgruntlement for losing their homeland, their place of established livelihood and the dwelling of their much ardor, sweat and blood was enough jolts in their core to erupt the fierce Hindu-Muslim riot. The clutter spun by the concord of the Leaders of both sides left the commoners to exile. Each community felt the other to be responsible. There was uncontrollable inferno in all the three territories; India, the West Pakistan and the East Pakistan. Angst and hatred amongst people were so high that they could no more tolerate one another and became bloodthirsty for each other. Both India and Pakistan went through communal inferno and slaughtering. Overnight innate of one nation who struggled together against serfdom got divided into verboten and autochthonous. While the verboten were unwilling to move into their newly born motherland on the other hand the autochthonous were obstinate to let any of the émigré to stay back. Life of Muslims in India and Hindus in both West and East Pakistan had turned into a hell and it was an on-run situation for all Hindus from both the sides of Pakistan. So was it with the Muslims in India. Whichever territory was dominated by one community, the other community underwent hell of agony and bloodbath.
Predominant by the Muslims in East and West Pakistan territories the Hindus could do nothing but flee to save their lives.
Akhilbabu’s fathers were four brothers and had plenteous legacy in Chittogong of present Bangladesh. Prior to the partition they were the Jameendaars. They owned plentiful of lands and paddy fields. They would hire poor Hindu and Muslim peasants to work for them. Akhilbabu’s father was the third. The eldest of all was the landlord and would manage the property as a whole, the next one would mostly remain in town dealing sale of grains and dealt with the family business. Akhilbabu’s father use to look after the farming while the youngest one handled collection of revenue, rent and tax. Being the youngest among brothers and having the clout for revenue collection he was the pampered lad in the family. This led him into becoming a spoiled brat. He would engage in fights, afflict laborers and raped women and young girls in the locality. He hatched enormous antipathy against the Muslim crofters and wouldn’t leave any opportunity to quash them. He had developed a very unpopular and infuriating reputation and owing to his action people had been growing a concealed grudge against him and the rage grew for the entire family as well.
After partition it was a let loose to the Muslims in Pakistan to rampage Hindus living in there. Hindu villages were massacred overnight. Houses were gutted to fire, wealth looted, properties ransacked, Worship places vandalized, women raped and killed. Grudges repressed for long against this Jameendaar family broke the dams of restraint too. The youngest was first to be brutally butchered and killed by the ravaging mob. The eldest one was dragged out on to the street and burnt alive. The one who was looking after sales and deal in the town was never found again.
Akhilbabu’s father and his family somehow managed to sneak out of their dwelling and flee. They took shelter in a Buddhist Pagoda in a Chakma village situated somewhere near Indo-Bangladesh border. Akhilbabu’s father adopted Buddhism, not because that he was elated by the preaching, he thought this would disguise him to a monk in the interim of hallowing. When it comes to one’s life and death a person embark upon any and every available option available that shall keep him or her alive. The hoax however couldn’t mask his masquerade too long. Soon the Muslims also attacked the village and this time they were after the Buddhists monks too. So they all flee towards the border.
Hindus, Buddhists, Chakmas all amassed on the border to cross over into India for refuse. With infuriating scenes both in the Eastern and Western Pakistan and herd of refugees crossing across the border Government of India resort to deploy armed forces to restrain them at the border. Distressed and terrified, they tried every ways and means to plead the guards to allow them to cross the border. They attempted to breach the guard by jostle and hustle, by the means of bribing and even emotional coercion in the name of Hinduism and humanity. The border was too wide and spread and humanly impossible to guard. Moreover, for the asylum-seeking migrants making new routes into India had remain no more by choice but necessity to keep them alive. In the chaos many managed to outdo and crossover. Akhilbabu’s parents were amongst those who also somehow managed sneaking into India and travelled far down to Assam. This was way back in 1948-49.
Landlords who in past provided shelters to commoners, today turned into shelter seekers themselves. Akhilbabu’s father took up a job in one of the Tea Garden Bungalow. A generous British Sahib and Memsahib grew sympathetic on the deserted family when they heard about their woe and mercifully helped Akhilbabu’s parent to settle down gradually. Impoverishment of the family continued but they were alive. For quite a long they stayed in the platform under the open roof of the Railway station.
With the nostalgia of majestic life they were habituated of in the very recent past to that of the enduring disparity and destitution they were going through, it wasn’t an easy errand for Akhilbabu’s father and his family to recover from. The ambiguity of their existing penury killed them on many instances by many deaths. But then the family wanted to live and decided to get beyond their past. They all realized there was no coming back of what they left behind. The relinquished past was their kismet and the ongoing extant is again the diktat of their destiny. Travail was the only exigency to live to tell the tale. They buried their past and moved on. People traipse through various adversities of time but their virtuosic element adapts themselves to the changing circumstances too. Perhaps that is why it is said that pervasiveness is the mentor of subsistence that takes the oars to halcyon days.
Akhilbabu’s father was a good Gardener. Indeed his experience of cultivation spoke for him and soon the bungalow compound grew abounding with vegetal and floral plants. Pleased by his work the Memsahib rewarded him with a small plot of vacant tea garden land along the railway track few yards away from the bungalow. Time passed and children grew. Akhilbabu’s father couldn’t afford education for all his three sons with a scanty wage those days. The eldest son after completion of his primary education managed to grab a job of Chaprasi in the court. The next one left his studies early and joined the tea factory as artisan helper. Akhilbabu was the only amongst the three brothers who could sledge his studies and complete his Pre-University, PU as commonly called those days. Owing to the meager family earning upbringing of children were amidst natural dearth. This was predictable in any destitute atmosphere. Akhilbabu’s father could only afford Akhil’s school fees therefore young Akhil had to earn in whatever little way to buy his books and writing materials. He would sell beetle-nuts in the weekly bazaar and during his non-schooling hours he sold paan-tambul and bidi in the railway station.
The cycle of life doesn’t sojourns and situation also swivels with the mutable time. Years passed. The earnings of the male folks also multiplied. The cultivation understanding and skill of Akhil’s father up-heaved his repute. The British Manager often took him to the tea garden and his cultivation savoir faire proved quite beneficial. He was rewarded and uplifted to plantation supervisor. A well admired lawyer picked up Akil’s elder brother in his office as he could manage documents adeptly and he was quite proficient with judicial procedures too. Meanwhile Akhil’s next bother had become artisan head in the Tea Factory too. The poorly made thatched hut gradually turned into a well built house. The family grew with both his elder brothers getting married. All members in the family engaged themselves to earn and their pecuniary stipulation got better and better.
While doing as a schoolboy, Akhil fell in love with Bonolata, a girl from an Assamese family. Conformist societal scenario, those days inter-caste marriage was nothing less than a crime. Unaccustomed venture was considered not only paradoxical but socially it was unacceptable too. And this was all happening at the backdrop of the year 1960-61 when the Assamese - Bengali linguistic conflict had erupted. The ambiance was quite a boiling one. Both the communities left no chance to prove its superiority and dominance over the other. The mood of the people was capricious. An uncanny environment was visible at various offices, establishments, banks, marketplace, restaurants, railway stations and theater halls. Haplessly even schools and colleges were not barred from the grip of the prejudice. The undercurrent of hatred for each other was getting reaped in the form of clashes and fights. Dominion of one community at a locality was becoming vulnerable for the other staying in. Ignorable and petty matters were fumed up into issues much bigger than one could handle. Officeholders and clerks who bunked duties and chat together a couple of months ago have suddenly distanced each other as they no more belonged to the same community. Mother tongue of the one no more pleased the auricles of the other. Slightest of mock would result into a fierce battlefield among colleagues and co-workers belonging to either community.
Akhil’s schooldays had been as delightful as it would be for anyone. Amidst rigorous studious ambiance yet his schooldays had a different captivation. A school day would start with the morning school prayer in the open ground where children stood in long queues with shorter heights in the front and the taller ones standing behind. The sorter pupil always needed to be attentive and correct while the pupil standing behind would steal all the free will to tomfoolery; pinching from behind, ram between the legs, knock on the head and so on. The front benches in the classroom would be occupied with pupil more regular and bookish who could readily be asked and questions answered to promptly. While the rear benches were reticent for the gifted ones merited for mischief-making, for whom study was the most painful thing on earth and who would habitually forget to complete home tasks. While the laborious lot sitting in the front would be operose chorusing school lessons, the rear sitters would filch tiffin from their fellow-pupils and put a frog or a toad in the container to see the fun later. While the inquisitive pupil would listen jaw-dropped to the parables, the indifferent and unmoved ones would catch a few ‘z’s hiding behind the pupil sitting ahead.
Teachers those days were very strict and would see pupil as headless donkeys. Pupils on the other hand would perceive their teachers nothing less than Adolf Hitler. They would find them petrifying even more than their parents. Caught doing a mistake and he would cane till the rumps does not bleed. As a boy Akhil encountered such merited hostility on innumerable occasions. Despite this horrendous behavior, teachers during those days earned unsurpassed respect for their dedicated service. They ensured to slog pupils on academics, educated them not alone intellectually but also morally. They nurtured children to ensure they earn a living blissfully with pride.
Though there were hardly any co-ed schools those days but generally all educational institution were situated close to each other or nearby. The Girls school was located almost proximate to that of the boy’s school where Akhil was studying. Alike any teenager whenever Akhil would cross the Girls School gate, his natural curious instinct drew him to the tall metal gate to peep through the blanked out rings and the slenderest glimpse of a girl would thrill him. The chattering of plenteous playful girls cuddled his imagination of many beautiful birds chirruping merrily. He would wonder what girls do inside the tall four walled confinement. Do they delight the same way as boys do, he would guess and deduce his own world of enamored imaginations. Along with his other schoolmates he would climb up the tallest branch of the Banyan tree from where petite indistinct sight of girls down over the tall walls amused and contented their daydreamt desire. They would exhilarate this sightseeing affair till a teacher would catch a sight of them who then pitilessly threw pebbles at them till all the mischievous monkeys climbed down and run to their classes. Back in the classroom they would go through merciless punishment from the teacher. And then they would act as if to vow not to repeat such thing ever and later continue the same act but more watchfully and with more alertness to prevent getting caught again.
After the final school bell rang, boys would run out of their school gate and waited at roadside till herd of girls came out from their school too. The trend during those days was naïve. Bunch of boys followed speechlessly behind a flock of girls till such time one after another they all disappeared into their respective houses. Such a bodyguard parade would continue for quite some time till any unplanned acquaintances were through. In the process if somebody was lucky enough to pass on a tiny chit of very mawkishly written billet-doux across to a girl expressing his liking for her, unnoticed and uncaught. If there was no reciprocation within the following day or two this would mean end of the story and recruiting in the parade behind another group of girls. However, if there was a complementation from the other side this would mean the beginning of a platonic infatuation. But never or very rarely such crush of heart made it its way to anything. It was in acceptation in Akhil’s case though. He somehow managed to convince Bonolata to elope with him.
Bonolata’s father was in Railways. Employees of railways those days had a stature well-thought-of. As a clerk in Railway Mail Service, also called as RMS he was well reputed among his circle. He had his discrete cabin in the railway station where the old man would not only doze after his daytime meal but also booze merrily in the evening. People would not dare enter his cabin after 5 in the evening. The grandee by evening would transform into a foul-tongued rogue. He would then become the incarnation of the great warrior king Lashit Borphukon himself. That evening he was relatively high than he would usually be.
At home as time eroded the agony of Bonolata’s mother intensified too. She was going around back and forth ensuring things were in place. The cows and calf had got back after day long grazing and were firmly tied in their shade. The new roaster which was bought recently during the weekly bazaar was standing close to the flock of hens inside the kennel too. She counted the ducklings again and found them right. Even the sparrows were all back to their nests. She was getting more and more petrified and the unease on her face was no-nonsense. From dusk it turned into darkness and one among her four children has not been back home as yet. Beside the anxiety of whereabouts of her vanished daughter it was also the approaching wrath of the Old man which was troubling her. The tantrum shall begin once the Old man comes to know about her disappearance. She wished if she could somehow evade from reporting the matter to him or if it weren’t in some way necessary to reveal or if she could by some means conceal the fact. But inevitably she had to divulge it to the Old man because this time it wasn’t the Old man’s favorite roaster which had gone astray but their daughter. Bonolata’s brother, Nilakanta has looked for her everywhere; her co-mates, friends, neighbor, relatives and acquaintances, all been clueless. Male folks within relations had already set out to look for her but without any breakthrough. In the prevailing overwrought communal situation amidst the hot wave, people disappearing and later to be found dumped into drains and bushes had of late become quite recurrent. Abysmal thoughts encircled within the family.
Then, piercing through the still darkness of the narrow street, complementing the barking dogs by outburst of filthy abuses, here comes home the incarnated knight. He literally dragged his conked-out bicycle. The clanking and clattering kaput sounded in tenor with the drunkard’s solo. The state of the abysmal object was explicated by the thud and thwack on the roughs of lopsided road. Poor thing, every evening it would meet the same fate and yet like a subservient slave, next morning it would be all set to prop up the rumps of its cavalier.
The family’s anguish suddenly turned into a dead numbness. Unsure of how to react, what to say or do, while remaining children started chorusing poetry and school lessons as loud as possible, the lady started stirring an empty aluminum ampoule on the earthen fireplace and hitting its sides deliberately to make-believe everything as dead normal.
Though very delighted to see an improved milieu in his house, he posed for a while, little suspicious too.
“I seem to miss a voice in the echo of chanting lesson. Who is not studying?” the Old man demanded.
The choir immediately went into dead silence and all breathe clogged instantly.
“………Bono, she has gone loo,” came an involuntarily impulsive response from the lady.
“Yes, that’s the voice which did occur not thong my ears”.
There was a puff out of momentary relief by everyone, however, lasting not long enough.
“Baideo…Oi Baideo, Has she come home?” Bonolata’s maternal uncle who had also been looking for her where about, returned empty-handed wondering if she was back.
“Ki hei khulkhali, why at this hour of dinner time, you swine knock at somebody’s door?”, crackled the Old man jestingly, having not quite correctly caught the inquiry made by the caller at the doorstep.
“You drunkard hog! Day long you keep drinking till your craw, do you have a clue that your daughter isn’t back home yet?” khulkhali yelled back frantically.
Meanwhile, at Akhil’s house yet another pandemonium was in headway.
The initial unkempt and confused family took no time to get the jolt from the blue. Shocked and shaken by what the Youngman had done and the manner in which it was done at the backdrop of the ongoing communal brawl the family was thunderstruck.
“Who is this girl”, whispered in plight and horror, “… and why bring her here at this hour of darkness?” shouted Akhilbabu’s eldest Boudi.
“Maa-re-maa, deksoni aie paagal tar kando! Oh my god, look what insane this crazy boy is onto. ” Akhilbabu’s next Boudi howled out losing her rhythm and blues.
“Shhhh!! Quite, quite. You will get everyone slaughtered”.
“What do we do now?”
“Take her back to her house.”
“Are you mad? Her family must wildly be looking for her.”
“Family!! By now all Assamese villagers should be on the streets with sword and spears.”
“Akhil, you brought her here, now you take her back”.
“Very well and get this house identified to them and then they burn us all alive.”
“Send her off alone…”
“…And something wrong happens to her, we all get killed.”
“We are getting killed anyways”.
“Let us wait till Ratna’s father is back. Then we decide something”.
“Yes, even Baba will be back by then.”
While one Boudi would come up with a solution the other would counter it down. Both the ladies made the ambiance so scary and terrified that the remaining elderly members hardly got any scope to propose. Later at night when the male members reached home, it was decided that she will be taken back to her house safely during early hours of dawn.
Scared by the tête-à-tête Bonolata wept throughout the night. Though Akhil wished to console, but he was forbidden from going near her.
After nearly a sleepless night, the traumatized family woke up early morning to have the eloped girl sent back to her house before someone come knocking and banging at the door. Now question is who is going to accompany her. None of the elder brothers had guts to tiptoe into the village.
“Decide it fast. Before neighbors wakeup she must leave the house.”
“Baba, you are an old man. You can make an excuse.”
“Excuse, what excuse will I make?”
“Make any damn excuse. Tell them she was standing under a banyan tree spelled by some spirit.”
“…and what if they refuse to listen and start bashing me?”
“Old man, you would die instantly in few blows.”
“Act fast or else we all get killed or burnt alive”
“Let Akhil go. He did it. If anyone should die, let it be him.”
Finally the eloped couple walked out of the house. Both walked aimlessly, terrified and mum.
“What do we do now? If I go to your house, your father will kill me.”
“He will kill me too.”
Terrible thoughts haunted them but they kept walking. Then they saw a city bus approaching towards them.
“Kot jaba? You want to board the bus?”
There was no time to think. So they climbed on. The bus had scanty passengers but they maintained to sit in the rearmost. None of the passenger appeared familiar. After a while the conductor approached.
“Well where will you get down?”
Both Akhil and Bonolata looked at each other.
“Where is this bus going?”
“Could we get down at Dhola?”
“…One rupee per head please.”
Both had no money with them.
“Dada, we have both left our house. We have no money with us.” Bonolata pleaded the Conductor.
“Please listen to us. We need your help.”
Then she narrated the entire story. The bus conductor shook his head irritant.
“What’s wrong with the young people of today? Both of you are still studying. Can’t afford even a day’s meal and dare elope? Can you imagine what agony your parents must be going through? Both of you get down from the bus and go back to your respective houses. At the most your parent will beat you, punish you. But they are not going to kill you for sure.”
“No, you don’t know my father. He will kill us both.” Bonolata started weeping.
All passengers begun to turn back one after another and wondered what was on.
“Now stop crying. Who is there in Dhola?” asked the conductor.
“…My maternal uncle.”
“And what is the guaranty that he is going to accept this situation of yours?”
“He loves me a lot. I know he will understand. He will shelter us.”
“Okay fine. I will drop you at Dhola. I don’t want any trouble later. You have not boarded my bus, I haven’t met you silly ones nor have you ever met me. Understood?”
The bus got them down at Dhola.
It was windy and cool as there was a downpour a little while ago. The midday streets were thin with fewer people. Water filled ditches and potholes were much lively and nourishing for duckling to eat and play in. The inconsistent streaks of sunlight though kept the sky shiny but the sun was often getting dull and dim behind the moving clouds. There was uncertainty in the ambiance both by the lackluster sky and the overcast situation. Streak of hesitation was visible on the pale faces of Akhil and Bonolata as well. Bonolata forced her feet to move, though were moving involuntarily towards the narrow lane of the village and Akhil followed her from behind. Both could hear the lup-dup of their heart pounding fast and growing vigorous as they were getting closer and closer to their destination. And finally they stood near the bamboo sliding gate of her maternal uncle’s house.
“Mother, look who has come…Bonolata Ba!”
Both sheepishly entered through the gate unsure how to react.
“Bonolata…O moi mori jaun! What a pleasant surprise? Where are the rest family folks? And who is this boy?”Bonolata’s maternal aunt greeted her warmly and hugged her.
“I’ve come alone Mami…He is Akhil.”
She narrated the whole shebang.
“Oh my lord, what you people have done?”
“Mami, we can’t live without each other.”
“But my darling, this society will not let you live together.”
Bonolata started crying.
“Don’t cry; let your Mama come home. He might be able to find out a solution.”
This maternal uncle of Bonolata’s was a man of different approach. He was educated, broadminded and sort of maverick. He carried strong opinion for an open and integrated society. He was inspired to Marxist ideologies. But this was a different situation. This was about his family, his own niece. He was already an odd-out in the family for his indifferent outlook but supporting this anomalous situation would only invite more trouble for him from his family and from the society as well.
“You have put me in a catch22 situation my child.”
“You alone can help us Mama. You are our last resort.”
“But how do I help you?”
“Whatever you do, you have got to help us.”
“Hmm… See I can only try and persuade your father but whether he agrees or not…Let’s see.”
Early next morning Bonolata’s uncle went out to meet her father. He knew it was a no win situation but then he thought if he were to bring a change in the society he had to start from his own house.
It was a dead silence in Bonolata’s house. The door was wide open. Bonolata’s uncle walked in quietly. The living room was already preoccupied by relatives, all looking cross, tensed and worried.
“Oh! It’s you. Come sit down. How did you come to know about it?”
“Know about what?”
“Our Bonolata, she has disappeared. No trace of her anywhere.”
“She went to school yesterday and never returned.”
“Did you enquire in the school?”
“Yes, they said her schoolbag is still lying on her desk.”
“Did you enquire with her comates and friends?”
“Yeah, she went to school together with them.”
“When did they realize she disappeared?
“After the recess.”
“Headmaster and teachers did nothing about it?”
“What would they do, there are so many pupils. Is it possible for them to keep track of each and every one?”
“Have you reported to the police?”
“How can you report to police, everyone will come to know?”
“As if people are yet to know about it.”
“This must be the act of Bengali miscreant; must have abducted her?”
“What made you think so?”
“They have been doing it off late.”
“But not to our girls.”
“You don’t know these scoundrels. They can’t fight us so they must have picked up a girl instead. And if this has happened none of these rogues will remain alive.”
“Yeah, we will drive them all out.”
“What drive them, we shall wipe them completely. Man, women, children, we shall spare no one.”
“Yes yes we will not spare anyone.”
“Calm down all of you. Why we need to communalize the issue? Let’s not talk rubbish.”
“Otherwise what else has happened? She couldn’t have been swallowed by the earth or by the sky.”
“Was she been into any affair?”
“What are you talking about? Can our girls imagine of such things?”
“Are you crazy? Do you think she has guts to do so?”
“And what if she has gathered?”
“This man has gone insane.”
“No, I’m not. I’m asking all of you what if she has eloped with someone.”
“None of our village boys are out of station. Instead they are looking around for her.”
“Is it compulsory for her to run away with any of our village boys?”
“What are you trying to say?”
“I’m saying what you all are listening. She has eloped with someone. And someone who doesn’t belong to our community.”
“What made you so certain to imagine this theory?
“Yes-yes, he is quite capable of imagining illogical theories.”
“I’m not imagining anything. As a matter of fact she fled with a Bengali boy but fortuitously they are now in my custody.”
“What?” All the male folks stood up pugnaciously.
“How dare a Bengali boy could do this to our girl? We’ll kill him.”
“Bloody hell, I’ll burn him alive.”
“Wait…wait, don’t be in a haste. Don’t behave like nuts. If you attempt anything silly they will both kill themselves.”
“They are getting killed anyway.”
“Use your heads. They are teenagers. They have committed a mistake. We are elders, can we afford to mess it further? Think with a cool head, people will come to know about it and perhaps they have already. With this blotch on her forehead we can’t get a bridegroom for her. Even if we get one she will be taunted and tortured throughout her life. Her life will be deserted.”
In the male dominated conformist society, a boy still could get away by doing a blunder. People generally ignored a misdeed of a boy as a thoughtless misadventure and tend to forget his transgression. But a girl carried it all along her life. Silliest misstep engraves a mutilation on her character forever.
“Then what do we do now.”
“If you trust my advice get them married. I spoke to the boy. He is good. Let us help him to complete his studies. He can thereafter seek a job.”
“O my lord! I’m surely being punished for a sin of past.”
“But will his parents agree to it?”
“Agree to it? We’ll make them to accept it. Their son commits a wrong and you say they won’t shoulder its responsibility.”
“How are you feeling, Akhilbabu?”
Akhilbabu’s eyesight was shrinking and he could hardly see and distinguish anyone entering his room. The doctor felt his falling nerve for a while. Life support though kept on standby but may not at all be required after sometime, he thought.
“…The status is same. Should you all wish to take him home, you can do that?”
“No Doctor, let him live as long as he can.”
“It’s alright. I just thought of telling you all. I am not writing any more medications because it’s beyond the point of response.”
Medically, time was slithering out. Akhilbabu had already lost the feel of his body being with him. Amazingly, it could possibly be his sub-conscious spirit or a petite lust to live a little longer which was buying him some more time. A remote strength pumped air into the lungs though inconsistently, satiating that he was still alive. Or perhaps he was graced with some more time to reminisce his memoir.
After marriage Bonolata was renamed Sikha. The change in the name was more to suit introductory hassles in the society. Bonolata being an assamese name would obviously raise any visitors eyebrows and then the series of difficult questions. Bonolata was Shikha so that her real identity be concealed and introduced as Bengali. Mongolian faces all look alike and Shikha was strictly warned not to utter in Assamese.
Akhil and Sikha weren’t allowed to stay together as the family couldn’t afford a newborn. Sikha’s schooling was discontinued and her domiciliary tutelage had started. The preceding ladies had become seniors. Sikha was now needed to do all kind of household works. When there was nothing left for her to do she was wanted to comb hairs of the high rankers. Her likings and disliking no more mattered to anyone. As time eroded, her food habits, her outfits, her friends, her past time hobbies, her time to rise and her time to sleep everything changed. Her emotional lust and love for Akhil slowly dried-up too under the heat of time and never-ending domestic chore.
Days passed and years flowed. Akhil had passed out his pre-university and he was on look for a suitable job. And then there was an interview for a 3rd grade job in the postal department and he was through in it. But the hitch was his first place of posting in a tribal area very remote and cutoff from civilized world. There were mixed reaction in the family whether he should opt for or not. Close family friends and acquaintances joined in the family tête-à-tête.
“The job is good but the place is very remote and in a dicey locality.”
“Yeah, I heard people don’t get to eat anything for weeks together.”
“Yes, the natives lead a nomadic and primordial life and survive on wild produce.”
“The natives are very hostile. They eat raw meat. They eat anything and everything”
“They are kind of cannibals, very aggressive and merciless and even to this day leads wildly life. There is no sign of civilization.”
“They still live on hunting and gathering food Nature provides.”
“I am told they remain very dirty and diseased.”
“True. Really terrible! They speak in unfathomable vernacular. It’s really difficult to understand what they say and make them understand what we say.”
“I am told they remain unclothed, men and women… totally primitive type.”
“Really, don’t tell me.”
“O yes. If you laugh at them they will undress you and hook you on to a tree and let you to wild animals.”
“Why, are there no police?”
“There is but are dead scared of the tribal locals.”
“They carry long sword and sharp weapons.”
“…Also for killing people they dislike.”
“Do they kill anyone just like that?”
“Who will stop them? When there is some kind of spar with neighboring villages, the whole hoi polloi attacks with their deadly weapons.”
“What happens when they have some issues within themselves, in the same village?”
“They have their own tribal laws and they judge issues in their kangaroo court.”
“There are some localities with inhabitants still living in dark era like that of Stone Age.”
“Civilized people hardly can stay there for more than a month.”
“Then how are government establishments doing?
“Government jobs are like that. Officials are needed to go and work at remote places. But people also enjoy working in such remote places.”
“There is hardly any work in such remote areas.”
“But I am told these postings are more like punishment postings.”
“That is also true.”
“But Akhil’s is a fresh appointment, he hasn’t joined as yet so why this punishment posting.”
“He is Bengali and has competed and outdone others. Is it not a transgression in itself?”
“But this is a government job.”
“Who is denying it? They must have assumed that either he will not go there or come back home after few days of working. The position will remain vacant in any case. Someone else favorite belonging to their community will be taken in.”
“But jobs are so sparse these days. He can’t give it up just like that?”
“Yeah, there’s always an opportunity for future betterment in government jobs and earning will gradually increase too.”
“Yes, he will get his salary bang on time and a free house to stay in.”
“Moreover, everything depends on individual.”
“Yeah, what is the necessity for someone to loiter around? After duty hours stay back in the house, grow vegetables in the kitchen garden. Be indoors and enchant holy limericks.”
Finally it was decided that Akhil would take up the job.
Akhil was professionally an amiable and helpful person. His senior colleagues liked him for two reasons, firstly that he would readily help out his seniors in their work and also lend them a helping hand them in their domestic front. As a youngest member in the pint-sized establishment even ladies would make use of him. They took favor from him in their household toil like buying stuffs from the market. He would never say no and helped them out gladly. They were also fond of him and often in return would give him a deserving meal.
Months and years passed. In the course he appeared for the departmental assessments and got upgraded too. One day he asked his in charge, the postmaster if he could bring his wife.
“Your wife, your quarter, what is there to ask me. Go ahead.”
Akhil was very happy. He took leave for a week and went home.
Later in the evening while all man folks were having dinner, Akhil shared his experience at his work place.
“My boss and seniors are quite helpful. They are very fond of me.”
“Who cooks your food?”
“I cook it myself. But most of the time I don’t need to. Quite so often the ladies send me comestibles.”
“Really and why would they do so?
“Oh! They are doting upon me. Whenever they cook something special I am sure to get my share.”
“So you might also need to feed them in return.”
“Not really. But I feel I should. They are very good souls…in fact all of them.”
“How many of them are there?”
“Seven ladies. We are altogether eight staffs. Except for me everyone’s wife stays with their husband.”
“Is that locality habitable for ladies?”
“Oh yes, very much. The ladies are so good that they even tidy up my quarter sometimes.”
“Ladies visit your quarter?”
“Yes, mostly on holidays. All quarters are close by.”
“Do they visit your quarter alone?”
“Sometimes yes but mostly they come with their husband.”
“No no. Don’t allow ladies to visit your quarter alone. This is not good. How big is your quarter?”
“My quarter is not too big but adequate for a small family. The quarter has one bedroom, one living room, a small kitchen and a rear verandah. It is a family quarter. All government quarters are designed in similar way”
“You sleep on floor?”
“No, all quarters are provided with basic furniture; a cot for two, a table and a couple of chairs, Kitchen shelves, a wardrobe and so on. When I bring my wife, my boss tells me he would provide some more furniture.”
“What about food and provisions, are they readily available?”
“Yes yes. We get local rice, vegetables, fish and meat. There is a small shop for oil and other condiments.”
“How do you spend your evenings, don’t you feel bore stiff being alone in your quarter?”
“Yeah, evenings are generally boring. But I go down to someone or others quarter and play cards with them.”
“What you play cards?”
“Occasionally…most of the time we chat.”
“So you have started to gamble now a day.”
“No it isn’t like that…cards are played occasionally when someone holds a party.”
“What you party too? Akhil you are spoiled.”
“No no it’s a normal get-together sort of thing.”
“Don’t teach us what happens in a party. We know everything.”
It was not aberrant for Akhil’s family to react and retort in the manner because the milieu and perception at his home was different from his work front. An environment with multicultural people from different faction of the society working together generally conceives a polygonal outlook; open-mindedness expelled from conventional domestic compulsions and orthodoxy doctrines. And this was all about the adaptation to the changing scenario of the society of which Akhil’s workplace was just a minuscule part of.
The family was by and large pleased with Akhil’s wellbeing at his workplace. They presumed he was doing rightly well and it was alright for them. But then all wasn’t going the right way. Behind the curtain Sikha who was overhearing the conversation was conceiving an imaginary gravid of suspicion. She was making her own ins and outs to the queries which her husband was unable to answer explicably or perhaps which Akhil didn’t reply in self-effacement to his elders. Moreover, the other two ladies also needed to say something, if not overtly at least among themselves.
“He is a gone case.”
“Did you hear, ladies visit him when he is alone at home?”
“Yeah, even during evenings and maybe during night as well!”
“Who knows what comes to pass thereafter.”
“Huh! As if you don’t know. Youngman married and yet not allowed sleeping with his wife…”
“Oh my lord, don’t tell me.”
“Yes, someone who is living alone and aloof in a secluded location….with ladies visiting at night and day…”
“Yes its fun and game in exile…Ha…ha…”
“Oil and fire…on an arid sizzling milieu, must be a deadly combination happening…Hu…Hu…”
That night Akhil and Sikha were allowed to sleep together.
“Well Thakurpou, this must have been like an émigré for you living unaccompanied in an alien land for so many days.”
“Oh yes, poor boy ought to be rewarded for his patience and frugality.”
“No rather he needs to be sacrosanct for being ministered under the spell of seven pixies.”
“Yeah, must have been very rosy and rubicund in the arms of the seven pixies.”
The tongue-in-cheek relation of Sister-in-laws to their brother-in-laws is generally quite pliant and easygoing in Bengali society.
“Yes Boudi, but it was never rosier than being ardent under your spell. You both are more piquant and satiating than them.”
“Wow! Thakurpou has learnt to speak also.”
“Yeah, corollary of camaraderie, after all Thakurpou is no more a boy, he is a grownup.”
“Well Boudi, you two had been talking something about rewarding.”
“Oh yeah! How can we forget that Thakurpou? What you deserve, it must be accorded.”
“Yeah, we have decided that you spend with your wife tonight.”
“You are both pulling my leg now.”
“It’s up to you whether you believe or not. We grant you what we could. You reap what you can.”
“Well, Thakurpou is quite experienced now. He will for sure reap more than what has ripen.” Both the ladies giggled.
After a long wait Sikha entered the room. She showed no sign of excitement and quietly went towards the lamp, looked at the flame, paused for a while and then blew it off. She was still standing there without a word.
Akhil pulled a long breath.
“What happen now? Why are you standing there?”
“Why do I need to come to you?”
“I have come home after a long time.”
“Why, what was the need to come? You were quite comfy out there.”
“I have come for you.”
“Why, you had good companions over there?”
“Don’t act naive. I have overheard everything.”
“The whole voice-over of the drama you do in your quarter.”
“Drama …I do what?”
“Do you really want me to wake up your father and brothers to jog your memory what you do in the name of your work with your seven gnomes?”
“Don’t be silly. They were only overreacting on their presumptive notions.”
“Then why didn’t you object?”
“Listen, they are my elders and I don’t argue with them.”
“Well, then what about your Boudi’s? You were complimenting them quite exultantly.”
“See, we were having fun. They were jeering at me and I was teasing them back.”
“Really, but I never saw such flirtatious exchange of hilarity before, between you and your Boudis.”
“I am a grownup man now. Earlier I was boy.”
“Yeah, that’s exactly what they had been saying too. You are grownup. You think I don’t understand what does it mean?”
“Shush, quite down. Everybody is hearing.”
Shikha started to weep.
“Now why are you weeping? There is nothing like that. You are reacting unnecessarily.”
“I have left my house for you…I am grinding here in your house like a servant and you… you deceived me.”
“I have not deceived you dear. You are misunderstanding me. In fact everyone is misunderstanding me.”
“It’s okay…you be happy. Leave me back to my house…So you will be free to do anything.”
“What nonsense? Now stop talking rubbish.”
“You have cheated me….You have ruined my life…God will never forgive you.”
“Stop being kiddies. I have come to take you to my place. Once you go there then you see it yourself. It’s a different ambiance over there. People are not mean. They are not narrow-minded. There people help each other. They have all left behind their abode to earn bread and butter. It is a small society, rather a family. We all stay together to shy away from our loneliness and elusiveness. They love you all although they haven’t seen you or met you. This should make you realize how good they are at heart. Whom you all are calling as gnomes and pixies, this is indeed their influence that prompted my guts to talk to my boss if I could take you there.”
The sky was bleeding red with the advent of dusk. Feathered friends were returning to their nests.
“Baba, it’s me; Minu, your daughter.”
Akhilbabu tries to widen his eyes but he could only see shadow behind miasma. His audibility was becoming poorer and poorer. He body could no more feel the touch of his dear ones. He was gradually becoming dead and nonliving. All his vital internal organs were collapsing one by one. Yet he was breathing. Perhaps some unseen power was granting him to whirl through his memoir.
Akhil and Shikha received a grand welcome; a reception so exhilarating incongruent to what Shikha got at her in-laws. The seven ladies received her out-of-the-way in a very traditional approach following rituals unthinkable in a secluded place. The room was kept quite tidy and fairly decorated. Dinner for the duo was deliciously made and was kept on a table appealingly embellished.
“So Akhil, now that Shikha has come she will upkeep your house better than us.”
“Bhabi, she will need your training.”
“So you are uplifting my stature from your caretaker to her trainer.”
“Bhabi, you have to take care of me and her as well. You can’t leave us alone.”
“Akhil hereafter will no more like eatables prepared by us.”
“Bhabi, how could you even think of? You can’t divest me, can you? You must send my share every time. Now it will be not just for one being, you will need to send for both of us.”
“Well, Akhil will not be scared at night. Now he has someone to hug.”
“Why, only hug?”
“Shhh…censor censor. Such things are not spoken publicly.”
“Well girls, Akhil will not be handy to us anymore.”
“Who says so Bhabi? Anytime and any point of time. Gulaam hazeer hoga.”
“Now you will be your Biwi ka Gulaam.”
After lot of joshing and barrels of laughter all ladies returned to their respective houses leaving the couple in their nest.
“See I told you, they are very good.”
“Yeah, a bit more than what they should be.”
“Gradually, you will become accustomed to the ambiance over here. Visit them when I am away to my work. You will feel good.”
“…So that I do your proxy?”
“What’s wrong with you?”
“Nothing is wrong with me. When they teased you, you felt so good. Why do you feel wrong when I did the same?”
There was long pause.
“Why do you need to leave behind your quarter keys with them when you were away?”
“What was wrong in it? They have tidied our house, decorated it so that you feel good when you enter. You should rather be thankful.”
Suspicion is a syndrome which has no cure, although this is a gust that also evolves from the womb of love itself. Perhaps this is the ugly visage of emotion called possessiveness. It is an emotion that makes one feel owning someone forever, a sentiment that refuse to accept a third companion’s indulgence in any form, a thought that make a person insecure, an idea that denies trust, a feeling which only causes obliteration. This is a calamitous squall within a nor'easter.
Amidst the occupational and domestic drudgery days passed. The campus of adults soon became also annex with pristine neonates. All ladies could now be seen full of activity with their juniors. Sikha also gave birth to her four children, Minu, Chinu, Jhunu and Babai. The ambiances of the houses were now filled with tittering and chuckling crispness and novelty. The home turf became bubbly with playful siblings, the resonance of chorusing poetry and school lessons morning and evening made the ambience more vivacious and rejuvenated.
Men folk at workplace remained occupied in the vibes of diverse admixture of administrative red tape and transactions with clients and people seeking assistance every now and then. They were all tight to their toes. The women on the other hand had their monotonous connubial household tasks and obligations, but they would manage passable leisure time as well. After completion of their household work they would sit together and chitchat. And when they sat together they thrash out on array of issues on the earth. In course of such tête-à-tête their talks veer into tittle-tattle too; a gossip often leading into tingling lexis of one to prick and pus the other. And then these transpire to situations where god alone may help.
One such situation turned around the whole atmosphere of the campus. Shikha and Akhil’s life in particular got devastated. In a lightheartedly started teasing among the ladies the squabble broke the walls of munificence and threshold of decorousness.
“Ladies exposing their physique is utter disgusting. This is no fashion to wear sleeveless and deep cut blouse.”
“This is meant to allure the man dear.”
“Then wear this sort of apparel in privacy. When you come out with this sort of thing in the public you tend to allure man who is not yours as well.”
“Why don’t women like you keep your man indoor instead of poking holes in other?”
“Because when women like you walk partly nude, it is not possible to tie up man indoor.”
“Then don’t complain as well.”
“You are nasty. Why don’t you take-up prostitution then?”
“Who are you trying to splatter muck upon? Ten years of childless marriage and suddenly you become pregnant, about which even your husband is flummoxed. Do you have a character?”
“Oh! Look who is talking about character? Everybody knows what character you have. A woman who fights with her husband and spent the whole night with Akhil now talks about others character.”
“Really? What had happened to your character when your husband was away for a week and Akhil spent the nights with you in your quarter? No wonder what made you so fond of him ever since.”
The glint of fire blurted out by two brawling mouths transmuted into a never-ending hellhole into someone. The decree shattered Shikha and Akhil’s life forever.
The fracas between the two ladies eventually died out but created an irreversible crevice and incorrigible damage in the nuptial relation of Shika and Akhil; The crater which neither could ever refill, an abyss which chronically got hollowed and deepened thereafter.
It is difficult to corroborate, whether it would have been right or wrong, but Akhil could have attempted to bring both the ladies to Shikha to obliterate the maiming. Or perhaps both the ladies should have realized the ruin caused by them and volunteered to mend. But nothing came to pass. In the ongoing capricious circumstances perhaps Akhil feared such an endeavor might further worsen the situation. Or perhaps he hoped in due course of time the ravage shall get darned by itself.
Divorce those days was not much prevalent. The lure impinged by the look of her naive broods and the call of maternity conceivably prevented Sikha from committing unwanted. But thereafter everything in the family changed. The coupled stayed under the same roof but never together. Both lived with their affliction but never uttered anything to one another. With passing days detachment between them kept on ever-increasing. In the beginning though for the sake of quarrel they would exchange words with each other although such verbal exchange would always end up into a fracas but gradually even such communication were given up to ghosts. They stopped eating together, stayed in different rooms, never visited anyone nor attended to any visitors. In the haggle the children got affected the most. Isolated parental concern existed but in paucity of parenting. The needs of children were attended to but in absence of responsibility. The wants of children were met with but in lack of concern. Children walked beside their parent but in dearth of guidance. Warmth for one another existed but in nothingness of confidence.
Everyone knew about the dilapidated situation in the family. There were no family friends. People, who didn’t know the intricacies, briefly came close to them and later avoided them. Bystanders made their own acumen and opinion on the ongoing forlorn situation of this family to make crafty stories. People pitied the children however also dissuade their own from their company. The overcast eventually fell upon the children as well. And as they grew the children felt humiliated by the outlook of people about them. Undecided of whom among their parent was right and who was wrong they accepted their plight as their fate. They negotiated their anomalous circumstance but appreciatively to their advantage. After completing their studies they contrived their own individuality heedless of their parents clutter. In due course they all got married of their own proclivity and maneuvered their connubial life with forethought and pragmatism.
Time was ticking out. Akhilbabu’s visibility declined to total darkness and so was his audibility. Perhaps he was not quite being able to take the pressure of the wheezing air through the mask fitted to his nostrils. He was losing and trying to breathe hard and harder. His lungs would no more expand and his feel of being in his frame was waning.
“Baba, can you hear me? This is Chinu. Open your eyes Baba. See your son-in-law, your granddaughter; we have all come to see you. You will be alright now.” And she broke into tears.
Akhilbabu was not responding.
“Call the doctor, somebody call the doctor.”
There was an outburst of cry.
The doctor checks the monitor. The thin green curve was still reaching its crest and trough though in a sporadic manner. He felt the nerves for a while. Then he lifts the eye lid to examine.
“Medically, he is alive. His brain is functioning so far but ...as I told you earlier he is a short-lived guest.”
“If his brain is working, does it mean he listens to our voice? Could he be still seeing us?”
“Eh! In such a situation it is hard to contemplate with surety and explain which part of the body is functional and which not. He has reached a situation of comatose. He is at the doorstep of death. In realism he isn’t functioning. He is being made functional through ventilation. We shut it off, he shuts down too.”
“No… No… Don’t do that.”
“Okay, as long as you want to bear the expense.... This is a private nursing home. Inform us when you want us to shut it down.”The doctor spelt out bluntly.
Akhilbabu soon took to drinking and he became a chronic drinker. Many a time he would never come back home. He would be found lying on the roadside or into the drains. His health got deteriorated day by day. His colleagues would sometime try to counsel him but to no vain. When he would be very sick his children would take him to the doctor. The doctor would warn him of his worsening condition and to give up drinking to which he would only smile. Perhaps he had lost his entire lure to life.
The department gave him VRS. Everyone thought now that he got the money he would waste it in drinking. Few well-wishers and relatives suggested the family to takeaway possession of it. Negating to everyone’s fear and qualm instead he bought a house. Long back when the couple was together, Shikha had urged for a house; a house which she would call her own and where she said they would stay together when they are old. In the derelict nuptial situation she forgot her desire but Akhilbabu remembered and fulfilled her wish.
The hours of darkness was getting impenetrable. The fatigued eyelids of each attendant to the waning man were becoming heavy. Even the dogs in the street had stopped barking. The night was dying out. It will soon be over.
At 3:48 am killing the tranquility of the room Babai’s phone rang.
“Say it Didi…”
“Baba is no more…Are you coming.”
“Yeah, we are leaving within half an hour.”
In the silence of the darkness Akhilbabu had begun his perpetual journey, unaccompanied, devoid of suffering, leaving behind his redundant and unneeded cadaver, letting many to crestfallen thoughts and many to long awaited respite, his loved ones and ones who hated him with many unanswered questions and unresolved opinions.
“There was no electricity for sometime at night?”Jhunu asked her husband.
“Yeah for more than two hours. Why?”
“I heard the UPS beeping for quite a long time.”
“Yeah, then the beeping was heard no more.”
Jhunu looked frenetically at her husband.
“I went to see your father when electricity reinstated. He took a long lungful of air but didn’t breathe back… I was late. He took one last effort to breathe which perhaps he failed. I don't know maybe he was holding his breath for someone to bid his adieu.”
Jhunu broke into tears.
“I will sue this hospital. Because of their ill equipment my father died. How could they have no electricity backup in this room?”
“Calm down, this is a cabin not the ICU. You did whatever was humanly possible. Being in medical profession even you knew nothing would have worked. This is a naïveté stance we often demonstrate for a dyeing person. We plead salvation for a suffering man and when it is time for him to, we try to buy him some more life but in the bargain actually we stretch him with more suffering to undergo.”
Jhunu’s husband tried comforting her “Leave the soul to be at peace.”
“You know ever since we came I looked at his face and I looked at his sunken eyes. It seemed as if he was scrolling his mind for something, as if trying to recollect. I saw verve on his face, something that may have kept his soul alive so long.”
“Yeah, could be the reminiscence of his life and the abridgment of it.