Parama Chaudhuri Come rain, come again

Lali’s story hhoto didun’s death did not come unannounced. We all knew, sooner or later, she would succumb to her illness. What I, of course, didn’t know was that she would breathe her last that very day. I was in the eighth standard and had no particular love for Chhoto didun. In fact, no one in my family seemed to have any love for her. It was only my mother who didn’t have any verbal altercations with her. Everyone else seemed to grudge her presence, the fact that she was still alive. I grew up thinking that that was the only way one could think of her. As someone who you wished were only memory. Well, I reasoned to myself, she was a public embarrassment of sorts with her rag of a sari, cracked heels housing centuries of dirt, her yellowish white hair, her insane babbling, her lunatic looks. No, to my young, impressionable mind, there was no way you could love her. You could pity her, commiserate with her unfortunate life, or, as we cousins did, make fun of her. She was our lampoon and we constantly derided her, assailed her endlessly with her our scorn. Chhoto didun always fought back bravely. She would shoo us away, but we already knew how powerless she was against us. She knew that too. Rarely would she go and complain about us to the elders of the house, elders, who were her nephews and nieces. She was in the periphery of their lives, if she was there at all. At home, she was relegated to that big, dark, musky smelling room. The windows of that room must have been open on all days, but somehow I don’t remember it. The only image I have of that room is with all its nine windows closed, streams of sunlight filtering in through the cracks in the shutters. The particles of dust caught in the spectrum of light would gently float down, as if in a dream. Chhoto didun had this small carved wooden cupboard that she kept locked at all times. She loaded it with all sorts of nothings that she had stocked over the years. Whenever she opened the cupboard, a whiff of some faint ittar would float across. At times like these, I would soften towards her. I would chatter with her and she would tell me how she used to babysit me when my parents went for night shows, when I was a year old or so. She told me that on rainy days she would hold me in her arms and sing, “Aay brishti jhhepey, chaal debo mepey” (Come rain, come again, I shall give you a fistful of rice grains). I was surprised at myself, for what I felt for her. It was a like a tug at my heart, some form of conscience nagging me for jeering at her lunacy. I could almost feel sorry for her. Strangely, when she talked to me, laughed with me, she held no bitterness for me. These were the times when she would secretly beseech me to put in some extra crackers in the packet that she would take to her grandson.

C

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I still remember Diwali the year before. It was a ritual for all of us cousins to go with my father to buy firecrackers. We would always get the crackers from the same shop every year. That year was no different. “Lali, are you all going to buy crackers for the evening?” Chhoto didun asked me just as we were starting off. “I know, I know,” I said impatiently. “I will get crackers for Bablu too. Why do have to remind me every year? Have I ever forgotten?” Chhoto didun seemed defenceless against my tirade. “No, I was just going to request you to bring along some chocolate bombs for him. He is in Class VI now, you know. So he thinks he is big enough for bombs”. I could discern a faint laugh of pride in her meek voice. “Lali, are you ever going to come? What is taking you so long?” I could hear Bordibhai shouting at me from downstairs. I waved Chhoto didun a dismissive goodbye and hurried down. “What was the oldie telling you again?” I was hit by Bordibhai’s question almost as soon as we hit the road. “Again begging for crackers? Really, she has no shame.” “That mad woman, begging for a grandson who doesn’t even look at her!” quipped in Mejdibhai. Suddenly I felt a lump in the base of my throat, and my eyes started tearing up. I felt melancholic for a woman who lost her husband when she was only nineteen. All alone she brought up her son, her only child. But somewhere down the years she lost her sanity. Her sister, my grandmother, Amma for us, took her in, but somehow she never got what she deserved. Every day she would go and visit her son and his family, notwithstanding heat, cold and rains. We would often wonder why they never took the pains to come and visit her. They would only come when there was any occasion. The stinging chatter went on between my cousins. I didn’t join in, acting as if their conversation was lost to me under the metallic sound of the tram wheels rolling on the tracks. I kept thinking of Chhoto didun, my heart almost bursting with an unknown longing to soothe her pains, to listen to her story, to hold her in my arms and let her cry. I was surprised at myself. I had never felt anything like this before. Maybe, I was growing up. When we came home later that afternoon, Chhoto didun was waiting patiently for us. “What crackers did you all get?” her voice sounded like an excited twelve-year old. “What business is it of yours?” cracked Bordibhai. “All you want is your share for Bablu.” “Bordibhai! Why are speaking like that?” I could see the gratefulness in Chhoto didun’s mellow eyes. “Come and see what we have. You can choose what you want for Bablu. Anyways, he will be coming here in the evening!” This was probably the first time that I was civil towards the unfortunate woman. I have always been quite spineless. I am the follower rather than the leader. Under Bordibhai’s domineering spirit I was but a shabby personality. I have many a times abided by the wrong for fear of a confrontation. So it was like taking revenge for years of domination. I don’t mean here to show Bordibhai in any negative light. It’s just the way she was. It was always her way or no way at all. And the rest of us just followed her blindly for fear of failing to be in her inner circle. It didn’t matter whether we were emulating পালিক পড়ুন o পড়ান http://calcuttans.com/palki

her behavior to hurt an unfortunate soul. Over the years I have found out that children are extremely cruel. They can make you cry with their callousness, without once realizing their fault. Though we were not children anymore, that trait remained in all of us. I remember distinctly that it was in the following winter that Chhoto didun fell sick. It was not so much the presence of any disease, but years of little food, a lot of stress, pain, and grief that was responsible for her valetudinarian state. She kept unwell for most of the year. When my Amma would call for my father and say, “Amlan, call for Biman-da”, we would understand that Chhoto didun’s health had taken a turn for the worse. Biman-da was Dr. Biman Ghosh, our family physician for ages, whose prescription for all our woes was his unique red mixture. Other than asking my father to call for the doctor, Amma could do nothing much for her sister. It was Dada, our grandfather, who actually looked after Chhoto didun. There was a nurse to attend to her, but Dada took it upon himself to shower care on the widow who must have been to him the little sister he never had. It was only then that I could understand how much Dada cared for his sister-in-law. He was preparing to say goodbye. He would get up very early in the morning to change Chhoto didun’s soiled sheets. He would never call the nurse, whose eyes were heavy with the last dregs of morning sleep. The monsoons were a little early that year. There was a deluge the night before. I went to sleep with the sound of the rain on the window panes. The wind squalled with accompanying thunder. When I woke in the morning, the sky had cleared, awning a lucid blue above. The earth looked beautiful in its newly bathed attire. I was deliberating in bed, not wanting to give up on the slumberous heaviness of the eyelids. Maa came in and said, “Lali, you can be in bed for a little while more. There is no need for you to go to school today.” I knew then what had happened. “When Maa, when?” I asked furtively. “Biman-da is coming. He will let us know the exact time. Your Dada was up at night and it was then…” I didn’t wait for her to finish. I ran down to Chhoto didun’s room and there she lay, much, much beyond all our ridicule. The room was already filled with people who were talking in low tones. Preparations were being made for the funeral. It was already late. I had to tell her how sorry I was, how guilty I was feeling. I hated her for going away so silently. Why wouldn’t she fight with us anymore? Warm tears were rising in my eyes. I didn’t somehow want to cry in front of so many people. I went out to the balcony. There Bordibhai and Mejdibhai were standing, oblivious to my presence, giggling over some gossip. I felt disgusted. How could someone be so unfeeling? They were culpable, too; then, why was it so easy for them to forget their deed? I walked back to the room with heavy steps. “Are you still here Chhoto didun? Can you hear me?” I was talking in my mind. I had years of guilt, yet I wanted her to condone me. Suddenly I felt that without her forgiveness my life wouldn’t be the same for me anymore. I don’t know what happened to me… I just fell at her feet and wept. পালিক পড়ুন o পড়ান http://calcuttans.com/palki

Later, I remember my cousins laughing at me. “My God! What drama you did, Lali!” Mejdibhai laughed uncontrollably at me. “You will be a fine actress… in front of so many people too,” Bordibhai added. “Stop it, both of you! Are you human anymore? What’s wrong with you? She died, okay? Chhoto didun died. Are you still not sorry for her? Not sorry for your own behavior? Please leave me alone and go find someone else to scorn at!” I could not believe myself! Lali, the spineless amoeba, was fighting for the right – only it was too late. Now Chhoto didun’s room was empty of its former occupant. So I moved in to that room. It made me somehow feel closer to her. One day I opened her cupboard. I found a lot of old faded photographs. As I kept looking for more, in one of the lower shelves I came across this framed portrait of beautiful young woman. There was a mocking expression in her eyes as she smiled slightly. I dusted the picture and took it to my father. “You can’t recognize her, can you?” I looked at him quizzically. “This is your Chhoto didun. She was beautiful, wasn’t she?” Now I looked at her with a new perspective. What a shabby end for such an attractive woman! Life went on as usual. Only, I was a reluctant participant. I felt as if my colorful days were over. I tried to be happy, but with Chhoto didun, a part of me had died. Why couldn’t I tell her when she was alive that I was sorry for what I had done to her? Why did she have to die thinking she was a burden to all? Why did she have to take all that insult from her grandchildren? Why did she have to die of the shame that even we didn’t respect her? I felt somewhat responsible for her miseries. If only I would defend her against my cousins! Against myself, against everyone who hurt her. And Chhoto didun would not give me any respite. Her photo hung on the wall, only to mock at me. She challenged me every day to try to mock her now. I knew I could not go on for much longer. Bitan’s story It had been raining non-stop for the past two days. Baba was really worried about the pandals washing away in the rain. But more than the rain, I was nervous about this whole marriage thing. I was excited too, but had to contain my excitement for a couple of days more. Lalima would make a beautiful bride and I couldn’t wait to see her in the bridal attire in the evening. My gaaye-holud ceremony was over and Pishima had ordered me to have some rest, to sleep some if I could. I was actually thankful for this. I needed some time alone, out of reach of the prying eyes. I wanted to just think of Lalima, of our life together that lay ahead of us. I didn’t realize when I fell asleep listening to the lilting sound of the rain. The rain continued intermittently throughout the day. In the evening, when the purohit joined my hands with Lalima’s, I promised in my mind to make her happy, to be with her through thick and thin, to give her a wonderful life, and above all to be her

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friend always. I looked at her through her veil, and though she was smiling faintly, I could discern a distant sadness in her eyes. “I will make those eyes shine with happiness” was my silent promise and hopeful prayer. The wedding night approached, and I had my heart full of unknown anticipations. I started a conversation and gradually Lalima warmed towards me. She told me about her home, her school, friends, college. I became braver by the minute and came closer to her. As I embraced her I could understand that she was shivering. I knew she must be nervous, so I comforted her. She was murmuring to herself and I felt that she didn’t hear my words of comfort. Although her head was resting on my shoulder, I had to strain my ears to hear her faint words. “I am sorry, sorry, please forgive me…” she was saying. “It’s all right, I am here with you… I always will be”. So the days and nights passed. Lalima was a little subdued. Even when she smiled she had a veil of sadness on her face. The time came for us to visit Lalima’s family for Ashtamangala. I hoped now things would be better. It was only natural for her to be missing her family. That night at her home I was awakened by the sound of trumpeting thunder accompanied by rain. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I could make out the silhouette of my newly wedded wife standing, at the far end of the room, facing a picture. I could make out that she was crying. I got up and went to her, to comfort her and bring her back to bed. “Lalima sweetheart, what’s wrong? Come get some sleep and everything will be alright.” I didn’t know what was troubling her and that was the best I could do to comfort her. She broke down in my embrace, “I am sorry, sorry,” she cried. “Please, I can’t take this anymore. No Bitan, I can’t do this… She got no marital bliss… I can’t allow myself any. And we were all so cruel to her. We treated her like an animal, didn’t think she was worthy of any respect. But I am repentant now. I couldn’t tell her how very sorry I am…” she went on uncontrollably. Then suddenly, like a lightening, she was out of my embrace. She ran to the door, unlocked it and ran out. I followed her, not understanding what was happening. Lalima was running up the stairs and in the dimly lit staircase I couldn’t keep up with her pace. I followed her right upto the terrace. She was standing in the middle of the terrace, under the sheets of rain, singing “Aay brishti jhhepey, chaal debo mepey”. I stood there transfixed, not sure of what I was seeing. And then before I realized it, my wife ran to terrace wall and there she was, leaning out dangerously into the air. I rushed into the pouring rain just in time to grasp her, but she struggled free and… I looked down. My vision was blurred by the rain. The solitary street lamp did not offer much help. In spite of the rain washing down on my face, I could feel the warm tears that ran down my cheeks. Down on the street below I could see the limp body of my new bride… her warm blood quickly washed away by the rain. Come rain, come again...

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