BANNED UNDER THE BANYAN TREE
- Confessions of a ‘Cheap Erotica’ seller
What makes you think that the story of your life (woefully unlived-in up to that time) deserves to be told? Or that people will want to read it?
- Sasthibrata Chakravarti ( better known as Sasthi Brata)
This story or Confession (as you like it to be) happened to be written in Bengali by an unknown hawker (selling eroticas in guise of newspapers) named PannaLal (better known as Panu). Apart from translating to English, nothing much has been changed. At places though, I had to edit and enrich the diverse literary flavours and delete a few ardently salacious and political lines. The language used by PannaLal finds resemblance with the Battala (meaning under the Banyan tree) literature and so erotic, revolting, tickling and also cheap at times. With utmost sincerity I have tried to keep the original story unchanged, since the person who led me to this manuscript had once said -autobiography or confession demands honesty.
I happened to visit Kolkata’s college street in search of a book called Encounter of Sasthi Brata, being highly impressed by his flaming autobiographical work -My God Died Young. Deprived of the pleasure of obtaining it at leading bookstores, I started searching at the obscure ones. As Sasthi Brata writes about such shops - Bookshops cling like running sores all along its sides; bazaar notes, made-easies, a-pass-in-half-an-hour, sure-predictions, stare at the passer-by from the shelves. In one such murky bookshop, although I couldn’t find what I was searching for the last two hours, I noticed this tattered manuscript lying gloomily on the road side. The first few pages caught my attention and I purchased it instantly. The owner seemed damn happy to get rid of it and gave it at a throwaway price. When I asked how he obtained the manuscript, he didn’t have much to answer. Except, it was discovered in the debris of a house where all perhaps had deceased.
I tried to contact PannaLal but failed .His manuscript neither had his mobile number nor his email address. And although he vividly describes his home somewhere near Chitpur in north Kolkata, the exact address is nowhere mentioned. It seemed he had struggled long to get his work published, for it vibrates at various junctures in his story. His beautifully captured ethos of a book seller’s life mixed with comical illustrations of the society urged me to translate and bring forth to the readers.
RAT – KILL
I now realise hoping was always idealistic, like dark nimbus clouds on scorching summer noons, roaring and puffing but never melting down. I now realise that life was always a routine, like morning ragas at radio stations.
Invisible faces, unforeseen lives. Our sweat and silence bleeds history. Crying, pleading and hoping to break free from the eternal darkness. Like happy tunes vibrating inside a raped soul. Painting rainbows against the gloomy vastness of a sky.
Light and rain. Hopes and pain.
For I had hoped and remained alive – all these forty years of my life. With a bed-ridden mother, a disabled son in a pigeonhole called ‘home’ and a bunch of grave looking paperbacks to sell. You look at the vulgar cover, flip a few crusty yellowish pages inscribed with inexpensive ink, and I hear those silent words jingling in your heart ‘filthy and polluting’ .
Voluptuous sirens pictured with tales of passionate love underneath. I can imagine how your faces scowl and I know how you call them - cheap erotica, Battala (under the Banyan tree) craps, porno, quick excitement (and fall) ...whatsoever. And then under the blatant sun, you timidly look sideways and silently slip a raunchy one at the darkest corner of your executive bag. Rich people, rich desires. Yes, I am one of those whom you watch every day selling those banned eroticas under the guise of daily newspapers. On honking mornings, scorching noons and crimson evenings. At busy railway stations, along the muddy roadways, near the buzzing bus-stands or under the sacred banyan trees. Pale imaginary (at times real) salacious tales with stirring covers hiddiciously waiting for the next customer. Full of sexual innuendos. Spicy dramas, incest stories, paedophile desires, adolescent crushes and much more. I am full of such desirous stories. Enjoying them in my idle times when dirt and filth dances on that everyday road. Poor people, poor desires. Weaving tales of sinister cravings against the grey backdrop of my brain. Whatever it might be, I can’t stop respecting it. You see, your cheap erotica has been the sole bread earner for my family.
So what is it all about? You might be thinking. An Autobiography? Not much, I guess. Autobiographies are for rich, as for poor it’s more aptly the saga of sting. Or punctuations of pain. Or better to say, confessions. Confessions of being alive. A necklace woven with beads of pain and perennial hopes crafted on it. Hopes that drive us to live one more day.
But it’s not all too dark, you see. At times, a million butterflies flutter their vibrant wings on my barren horizon. Like when watching Shiuli, my neighbour Mukul Dutta’s wife bathing at the municipal hand pump, her uncovered breast pressed against the gushing water, her deep brown nipples defiantly protuberant. I remember how sensitive they were, sending a message down there with a flick of a thumb and forefinger. Still now when the day turns dark and cloud claps and growls above, I remember the lost warmth of being inside her. Memories often are cradle of fantasies. Perhaps the human soul needs excursions, and must not be denied. But the point of excursion is that you come back home again. Or watching the buxom receptionist of Tara Enterprise & Sons walking down with creamy legs and the most clefted pair of buttocks I have ever seen. A tanpura tumbled, perhaps. Or watching my son Binu dragging his wasted pair of legs to the wrecked doorsill of our house. He sits there on rainy days floating paper boats on the choked drain running all along. Pure moment of bliss for me in rain soaked pain. Binu dreamt to be an elephant shaped autumn cloud watering the plants in the sky with his trunk. When I asked him of what he wanted to be in life. A sweet looking elephant shaped autumn cloud by profession. With the extremely important task of watering the sky plants .Glowing yellow flowers at heaven’s door watered by Binu shaped autumn cloud .You will probably be curious to know more about Shiuli and the receptionist .I am afraid, I cannot tell you right now. We shall rewind the tape and hear the story from the beginning. Then perhaps you will finally discover and feel. Discover your drama like when drawing curtains on a monsoon-tempered afternoon. Feel a million butterflies flapping in your mind. I might be letting you into my secrets. But with all the reality shows around, who cares? We are all post-modern now, are we not? We have all read Kama sutra, splashy magazines stating which actress sleeps with whom and the rest. Have we not?
I know my saga isn’t that important. Surely it won’t bring a revolution. Million fragmented pieces like me are so deeply interwoven in the country’s fabric. But then, isn’t it tickling knowing the life of one such ‘cheap erotica’ seller. Whose cheap books, you have surely read behind closed doors or under the blanket at some stage of your life.
Baba, will I ever go to school? – Those soft eyes of Binu questions me day and night .Radiant hopes in kerosene light flickers in his heart. Tormenting a father’s soul with nothing much to do. I watch him sleeping and know dreams of a neat school uniform, a decorated tiffin box, a Mickey mouse water bottle is beautifully shaping in his mind. Binu shaped autumn cloud going to heaven’s school. With Mickey mouse water bottle swaying down his neck. Silent crystals glow at the corner of my eyes as I mournfully watch his crippled legs. That teardrop I hold in the cup of my palm is a diamond of memories. Tired smiles of my once domestic bliss reflect on its borders. That sticky pillow with smells of hair oil and smeared vermillion of the morning, that bindi pasted on my opaque mirror, curry stained sari, the soft music from the colliding bangles and thousand shattered piece of memories. Painfully embedded in it. Poor people, rich memories. That hairpin lying on the bathroom floor, that unfinished economical soap soaked in her smell .Memories inside memories. It contains those unheard cries of Bakul, my wife as the bullet pierced her bosom. I was lucky not to be present when the police open fired on the protestors at Horigram. Her blood brought revolution at a cost of hundred rupees. And then the next monsoon washed it away bringing victory. Truckload of living ghost from our Bustee- slum was taken there. Hundred rupees, perhaps was pretty cheap for a life. And for a husband, who never saw his wife again. Not even her body for performing last rituals. At times I feel my city is full of vultures, they live on the corpses of other people’s emotions .That raindrop I hold in the cup of my palm is a diamond of memories. Aching cries of my mother fills the void of my walls. She had been praying long to her God to fulfil her soulful desire of death. And I, my mother’s son had been praying long to my God to eliminate a feeding mouth. Same God, different prayers. Different prayers, seeking same favour. The painful economics of staying alive had washed away debris of love and affection from my sinful soul.
Outside, along the dirty lanes of my slum, I can still hear hand-made crackers bursting. Splinters of fire sucking hundreds of smiles and slowly fading into memory. Pounding mikes playing erotic filmy songs, taking a break from their usual political blabbers.
Nesha nesha legeche premer nesha, Tai Majnu debe Laila ke sasha
(Intoxication of love has intoxicated, so Majnu will give his cucumber to Laila)
Surreal blinking lights temporarily washing away the persistent darkness. The heavy air carries smell of sweat and alcohol. The clogged municipal drain carries smell of human faeces and wasted blood. Spilled at party clashes. Sleepless eyes drenching their thirst with party-funded country liquor. Dancing away their undying pains for one glorious night. I knew this night quite closely. I had planned for this night, while silently watching moonlight in dewdrops. When Binu perhaps had forgot crying and slept with unquenched hunger. With dreams of Binu shaped autumn cloud watering the sky plants.When my mother had mumbled Hari’s name (Lord Krishna’s name) all throughout her insomniac night. I touched my face on the rusted irons of my curtain-less dilapidated window, feeling the cold on my cheeks and the night on my soul. Men, women and children- jumping, howling, cursing and dancing. Inexpensive t-shirts, saree drapes flying in the air .All hypnotised by tonight’s political freedom .For tonight, the new government of Bengal People’s Party (BPP) completes their one year in power. And I couldn’t find a better day for my confessions. While silently watching all my hopes to fade away in that darkness. Sublimating slowly like the amorphous camphor .For tonight, the freshly purchased rat-kill stands gloomily beside my unpublished erotic novel. Eagerly waiting to finish off another family of rats in the pigeonhole.
Under the Banyan Tree -I
Repentance - by Sushmita Roy
I had been married for long. My husband is a General Manager in a multinational company. Mostly he stays outside due to high work pressure. Even at times he frequently travels abroad to attend numerous business meetings. Our only son studies at a boarding school in Darjeeling. I have all the luxuries at home. My husband has given me everything except the physical pleasures for which I keep craving. I don’t have to do anything at home. My four maid servants take all the care. I spend my time shopping, attending kitty parties and visiting friends. All was going smooth. I was deeply bored from inside but accepted my fate. I spend my lonely nights watching boring movies over and over again. My lips have forgotten what a good kiss is. I look at the chandelier hanging from the ceiling and mourn my days. It was all going in the same fashion. Then suddenly I met Gourav at the office party and everything changed.
It happened in the month of August. I still remember it was raining heavily that day when Gourav and I entered his flat. We were all wet and extremely excited. My husband, Subrata had gone abroad for a business trip. I was spending my days as lonely as ever. One day, I got a call from Meghna .She was the wife of Subrata’s colleague. I had met her couple of times at different office parties. We soon became good friends. Meghna had called up to invite me for the office party happening next week. I said to her that my husband was out of town. Without him, it’s very boring going to those parties. But Meghna kept pestering me a lot. She said all the other wives will be there and we will have great fun. Reluctantly, I accepted. It was long I haven’t attended any such parties. Most of the kitty parties happened to occur at friend’s home. So, no one bothered much to dress up very delicately. That evening I looked at myself in the mirror. It had been long, long time that I had looked at myself deeply and delicately. It had been long that someone had caressed my body. My breasts were waiting long for a man’s kiss. I took a long time and dressed up very beautifully that evening. I was wearing a red Jamdani sari and a deep cut black blouse. I asked our driver to take out the Honda city and went to Subrata’s office where the party was being held. Meghna and the other wives greeted me as I entered. ‘You are looking very beautiful’ she said. I smiled and blushed. The cultural programs had already started. I watched a few officers staring at me. A ten year old girl was performing Rabindra sangeet at the stage. Soon, I started feeling deeply bored. I asked Meghna to accompany me to the coffee shop inside the cafeteria. We came out of the auditorium and walked towards the coffee shop. It was evening now, the birds chirping on the tree branches .Somewhere, I felt deeply lonely. I remembered my son. We ordered cold coffee for both of us. It was there I met Gourav. His handsome looks made an immediate impression on me. His masculine figure attracted me. He came to take the order and smiled at me. I could see his eyes twinkling looking at the deep cut of my blouse. I smiled back at him. Meghna haven’t watched us silently speaking .I slowly drank the coffee at times watching Gourav. He was also looking at me occasionally. I could see his curved biceps under his tight t-shirt. Suddenly Meghna got a call from her husband and left. I was alone sitting at the shop. Gourav came towards me. I could feel my heart beat growing faster. ‘Hello Maam’ he said. ‘I haven’t seen you earlier. Have you recently joined?’ he asked. His eyes were fixed at my blossomed flowers. I said that my husband work in this office and that he is out of town. I wanted to take his mobile number but I couldn’t. Somewhere deep in my heart, a sense of guilt was pestering me.
That night I couldn’t sleep properly. I dreamt of Gourav .My body became very hot. I could feel his lips all over my body. Instantly I woke up. I was profusely sweating. I went to take a bath. I watched my naked body in the bathroom mirror. My body seemed flattening and going a little harsh instead of ripening. My belly has lost the fresh, round gleam and my breasts looked meaninglessly hanging down. I twisted my neck to get a clear view of my back, my waist and shuddered. The longish slope of my buttocks has lost its richness. That triangular puff of mousy brown hair down which guided a man to the place seemed worn out. There seemed a strange sense of meaninglessness in my body. It was long waiting to make love. I felt a deep sense of nothingness mixed with the sudden desire of making love passionately in my body. After a deep shower, I could sleep. Again I had the same dream next night. And the night after. I tried to remember my husband. I tried to remember my son. I tried to break free from the strangling clutches of desire.
I rebuked myself for such guilty thoughts. I tried to erase those dreams off my mind. I went to kitty parties. I went to friend’s homes. I tried to forget everything. I tried to remind myself that being a married woman I cannot love another man. It’s strictly against our custom and society. Even if the man of my life, my husband sleeps with numerous girls in his business trips. No one questions a man’s character. But God perhaps had some different plan for me.
The next Sunday, I suddenly met Gourav while shopping. I had gone to the local mall for buying some sarees and cosmetics. Gourav had also come for his monthly groceries. We talked for an hour about different things. I watched Gourav frequently looking at my voluptuous breasts. I adjusted my sari. We went to the snacks parlour inside the mall. I was about to leave the mall when he invited me for a cup of tea at his place. He said his flat was quite near to the mall. At first, I refused. Those dreams came haunting me. Gourav kept on pestering till I agreed. He was behaving like a little kid. His sharp looks combined with his childish nature made an instant impression. I called up our driver and said that I will be late as I had a lot of shopping to do. I told him to take the car back home. I will be catching a cab and coming home, I said to him. I didn’t want my driver to watch Gourav with me.
Soon, we came out of the mall and started walking. It was cloudy. My heart was beating faster thinking of what will happen. I was feeling nervous. I looked at the faces walking past if anyone had recognised me. Luckily none of the known faces were there on the street. My mobile buzzed all of a sudden. I looked and saw Subrata calling. The pangs of guilt catched me as I picked up the phone. It went for a few minutes. Same usual talks, same mundane thoughts, same routine dialogues. The distance between us had made our relation just a compromise .I left the phone and scolded myself for such evil thoughts and felt maybe Gourav has nothing in his mind.
I adjusted my saree which was fluttering in the wind. It’s just a cup of tea, I told myself. Suddenly, it started raining heavily. We were caught unguarded as we haven’t brought any umbrella with us. Gourav said to me that his flat was just a few minutes away. A cold breeze started blowing. We walked briskly and then started running. By now, it started raining heavily. I was completely drenched. I started panting soon and stopped. I was short of breath. My bosom was jumping. I saw Gourav’s eyes fixed on them. I looked up in his eyes. Desires craved within those chestnut brown eyes. His hair was all wet and looked beautiful. I felt like running my long fingers through them. His t-shirt stuck to his masculine body. I was now walking very close to him. I could feel his hand on my bulged buttocks. He was slowly rubbing his hands there and then suddenly pressed it. I felt extremely excited but didn’t tell him anything.Soon, we came to his apartment. The watchman observed us from his small room near the gate. I was totally wet now and so was Gourav.
As we entered, it was all dark. I could feel a sensation running all along my body. He immediately switched on the lights. His room resembled that of a bachelors with shirts, vests, underpants all scattered. I smiled as my eyes slowly examined the room. Gourav took off his shirt and went to get a towel for me. I silently watched the small turf of blackish masculine hair round his chest. His shoulders were broad and manly. Drops of rainwater clinched to them. His white slim back was curved with a small patch which seemed like a birthmark near his hip. His jeans were heavy with its wetness and dragged down, making the elastic of his underpant clearly visible round his waist. My heart was pounding a thousand times faster now. He came back soon with a towel and handed over. Gourav’s eyes had a sense of nervous excitement in them. I opened my hair pin and started drying my hair. I was shivering in cold. Suddenly, I felt a strong touch on my belly. My body was on fire. Gourav has grabbed me from behind. His throbbing heartbeat laced against my body. I could feel his moustache stub just behind my neck. I tried to resist but my body surrendered. His shaking fingers touched my naked skin. I could feel his hardened penis on my back. He madly rubbed it in the crevice of my buttocks. His hands were all over my body. This is wrong, I said to myself. I shouldn’t do this! I am a married woman, I have a family, a husband. Even if he doesn’t loves me. Even if he cares only about money.
I tried to break free but with each try ended more deep inside him. I was transported to an imaginary land where no one lived other than us. Gourav kissed on my collarbone and my slim neck. My whole body was awake, hair stood on ends, my hands were cold. I sensed his saliva on my already wet body. I breathed in his body spray. I closed my eyes in endless joy. His fingertips run havoc through my wet hair. He grasps my hair in a fist out of excitement. I was more drawn into him. It pained but I was moaning in pleasure. As he softly touched my thick pulpy lips, I bit his finger. The fire was burning me within. It flames swept away the guilt arousing in my belly. My body melted in his arms. Soon, Gourav unwinds my sari .He opened my blouse and my petticoat. I struggled a bit and asked him to leave me. But I couldn’t do anything. My long wait had made me hungry to get a man’s touch. And what could be better than Gourav, with such good looks and a curved masculine body. I closed my eyes and started enjoying. He unhooks my bra and runs his hand from my back to my behind. I was feeling eternal pleasure. I was totally naked now without a single thread of cotton on my body. He kept on madly pressing on my breasts and rubbing my enlarged nipples with his thumb. My nipples responded to his touch. It was now aroused and hard. I could feel his hot breath on my neck. All these were making me mad. I pressed hard on the swollen object inside his pant. His penis was stirring like a live bird inside his taunt underpant. I was feeling to give it the warmth of my mouth. Fondling it and playing with my tongue. He played a bit with the curly mouse brown hair below. Gourav rubbed his finger down there on my gashing slit. I was thoroughly wet now. My wait was about to be over. I was feeling like bursting. A million needles pricked my skin running through my veins. Gourav was biting on my shoulder. I could feel his sharp teeth on my skin. It made me more excited. Then a strange thing happened.
He left me and I saw him searching something. I became anxious and extremely excited. My whole body waited to feel the ultimate joy. Drops of sweat appeared on my eyebrows.A little later, he came back with a tube of Vaseline. He started applying it on my anal aperture. It was something very new to me. I haven’t done such thing till that time. Also his tool felt quite large even inside his pant. So, I was in lot of fear. I told him not to do it. Please no, I pleaded. My head was now filled with fear coated excitement. But Gourav seemed very excited. He immediately opened his pant and I was amazed to see his enlarged tool. I grabbed it with shaking hands. I run my slender fingers across its length. I could feel the wetness on its tip. I felt the curly hairs of his groins and slowly squeezed his balls. He applied the Vaseline on both the bodies at the specific regions. I looked into his eyes. My devastation was written there. Gourav asked me to bend a little. And then, slowly he pressed his.....
Under the Banyan Tree -II
‘Kakuu...o...Kakuu (Uncle...O ...Uncle)’ a soft nervous voice disrupted my afternoon enjoyment. At last! A customer in my premise. Dull moments during noons are often pensive. When the roadside orchestra buzzing on your ear bones create a vacuum in your brain. Cacophony of hundred honking howls making the air inside loathed with death silence. In such dull moments, I usually enlighten myself with a story or half. Entwined in dust coated hungry dreams. The scorching sun was right up over the banyan tree spreading laziness all around. Its golden streaks came passing through the thick foliage and made the ground dust catch fire .Right under the tree, overlooking the crowdy road, my convenient and portable shop was cautiously set. A few outdated newspapers and the treasures beneath. And few such sensational stuffs in my ragged cotton bag. Gudka and betel spitstain rangoli encroached a considerable area on my outskirts.
Resham, the Hijra was busy clapping her hands and banging on car windows when I looked up from the book, my nerves still tensed and my prick excitedly suffocated inside my stiff underpant, into the plum face of a school goer. A warm breeze swept past. An anxious irritation still persisted in my veins. I was slowly entering the climax of the story in my brain when suddenly halted. I perspired profusely of sensuous daydreams. Of Vaseline and wet days. In my mind, I was Gourav now about to do it to that married woman. I am a hawker, she is a woman, there is hunger in my life. His eyes were fixed on the raunchy cover in my hand. Unruly hairs on his sweaty head played in the wind while strict discipline shaked his legs. Dusty shoes, uneven socks and a humongous school bag resting on his back. What you want, I asked while trying to minimise the bulge on my pant.
The mother Crow fearfully shouted kah, kah, kah! from the branches above. I can now easily guess her feelings hearing her distinctive pitch. Our long association had turned us into neighbours. The youngster signalled at the thin paperback held in my hand. He looked sideways timidly, and then requested to have a look at it. ‘Bhalo eta (Is it good)’ he asked anxiously. I watched the sparkle in his eyes as he read a few lines inside. I smiled. His voice had a strange nasal twang of adolescence.
Budhu, the famous pagla (crazy) of our crossroads, sporadically shouted indecipherable slogans. He lost his two sons along with his mind at the food poisoning incident two years back. Free government sponsored midday meals at government free schools .He paraded up and down the road in his almost naked body with a small fragmented cloth swinging from his loins. None now mattered much to him except his madness.I looked into that school goer’s adolescent eyes .I tried to penetrate his world of silence. Thin pipe shaped legs protruding from a dangling half pant. Does he masturbate at this tender age, it appeared in my mind. Then I thought it’s none of my business. It’s good to have such young customer .They keep coming over and over again. Resham waved at me while taunting a young driver. She has that shameful habit of chasing down your balls if refused money. Squeezing them like an orange for its juice till you succumb to her pestering. I assured that boy of the best salacious quality he had ever read till date and charged twenty rupees. ‘Please Uncle, I have only fifteen rupees with me now’ he begged, pulling out the crumbled notes from his pant pocket. Taxi! someone shouted at the top of his voice. Panicky passengers at lazy hours. Panicky, nervy and sweaty. Navy blue school pant with white shirt on top. The school boy feebly pleading, his shirt hanging down his waist from one side of his pant. And then, suddenly Binu’s face flashed in my mind. Baba, will I ever go to school? – had he been able to walk properly like this boy, attend school like him, would he have also read such books under his blanket. A thing to ponder. I accepted the fifteen rupees from that girlish boy and asked him to run away.Chal bhag.
The sale wasn’t good today. A few passerbies lazily glanced at my stall, then sharply glanced at me and walked away. My backside wall with party symbols was frequently washed by frequent urination. Yellow stains on a once white wall. Like a spray painted canvas.I lighted a bidi and sucked it deep. Thoughts floated in that nicotine perfumed wind. Dust and phlegm balls covered the road. I am a hawker, she is a woman, there is hunger in my life.Whoever this Sushmita Roy is, a female or a male, I thought in my mind, have written a nice sensational story. Perhaps, I can ask Mallick Da about the writer. By now, I had cooled down. Apart from the sporadic baby cries from the crow nest above, I didn’t have much to listen today. Not even Gurung, the petty constable who occasionally visits my shop for his chai-pani. Collecting local tax for selling banned materials. Wheatish complexion now tanned with years of over exposure, a flat nose absentmindedly dropped on a rounded face, pot bellied with short legs, he looks more of a comedian and less of a constable. I yawned resting myself on the banyan trunk. Across the road, the hot receptionist of Tara Enterprise & Sons was swinging her alluring hip and going for lunch. A major attraction in my daily routine. Mini skirt playing a naughty child in that afternoon breeze. Her recognition is with her behind as I had hardly seen her face. She must be extremely beautiful though with such a curvy backside. Legs of a model she has, each step equally paced with allure. Immoral desires crafted in my mind. Like playing that tanpura which swayed in front of my eyes. I watched her longingly until she vanished at the bent where BPP’s posters decorated the wall. Smiling faces, waving hands painted in red and mauve. I couldn’t read clearly from this distance, but knew it was very much about their coming to power. Congratulating general public for their faith in BPP. It was the first month of BPP’s first ever rule after toppling the Liberation Party of Bengal (LPB). Victory was in the air of Kolkata. As was vermilion dust .Rainbow coated in saffron dreams. It was a welcome change for most of the citizens.LPB had been ruling for long, as long as I can remember. And as Mallick Da usually says ‘Stagnation brings Malaria’, same condition persisted in the political sky of Bengal. It turned from bad to worse. Factories dropped shutters, Jute mills closed and suicidal deaths increased. Hunger, apathy and moral degradation were everywhere. Moral degradation was everywhere. Dark clouds of despair hung on our sky. Till the enigmatic leader of BPP, Mahua Pradhan, popularly known as Mohua Di started her lifelong fight for our democratic rights. There was no dearth of issues in such turmoil times. Blood marks smudged in a history of hate. Forceful land acquisition from the farmers at Horigram, industrial stagnation, civic lawlessness, political murders and thousand such topics. Things changed drastically within a year. With a few sacrifices though, here and there. Like Bakul and the others from our Bustee. Like hundred other unheard voices. Unheard, unsung, unread. Lives of worth two annas. But their deaths were costly. Newspapers carried front page snaps of such bodies, channels repeatedly telecasting their dead expressions. Helplessly flung around, mouths wide open, blood oozing out in ruins of the soil .Still with flint of radiant hopes beaming in their eyes. Soon BPP won with a huge majority at this year’s assembly election. As for me, I was quite happy, if you ask. I was badly looking for a change in my stagnant life. My ocean of unfulfilled desires and dreams was again on high tide. Might be they legalise my eroticas, who knows.
I looked at my watch. It was half past twelve. Lunch time, I said to myself. I took out the small tiffin box from my bag. A zooming car suddenly halted, blowing a thick smoke on my face. It honked mercilessly at the traffic before him. I tried to look inside the car but the window shade was far too dark. I get to watch a lot of drama from my place. Two stale rotis from last night leftover and a little dal.When Bakul was alive, it was rice and a curry. With a green chilly erected on it. Like little grass in a snow clad yellow lake. Love stuffed in pale plastic box. I munched them thinking of Binu and my mother. They must be having their lunch now at home. Binu, although young and crippled, is an expert in household stuffs. He helps my mother as she is unable to move out of her bed. Attending to her call of nature. Silently slipping the bed pan under her bed sheet. She stays there all day in her bed thinking of father and by gone days. At times I feel there can never be a story of happiness. Only that prepares it, only that destroys it can be told .Nothing more, nothing less. The moth-eaten meaninglessness tearing her apart as suddenly the outside becomes discoloured with irrelevant marks, smudges and gaps. Memories inside memories. Like that wooden fat bellied toy-man with small man inside his detachable belly. My mother silently looking at the discoloured hook where once a grumbling ceiling fan was. It’s now been taken down, after father climbed to it. Climbed and hanged himself.
A group of college students came. They kept looking at the old newspapers, bit nervous to ask for those books. I meet such adolescents every day. I frowned, rubbed my greasy hands in my pant and handed over a spicy stuff to them. Instantly they gobbled over it. Giggles, hush whispers and nervous excitement while pushing each other could be heard. Two copies sold. Then again it all became silent. A grey dove flew past our tree and perched on the telephone lines. I watched the barbed wires on electric poles. Birds sat there like waiting passengers at bus stands. Silent and brooding .Much above it, a lone cloud meandered aimlessly. Slow and thoughtful. The endless traffic, crawling people on the road, my city - all seemed alert in the foreground, but the background was like the pale winter morning, haze, smoky mist .And that haze seemed to be creeping forward in rhythmic nothingness. Nothingness like a man oaring on an endless blue sea. I waited for an hour. Smoking two more bidis, nibbling my nails and scratching my groin. On such afternoons, when the heat creates mirage on the tarmac road, Kamala usually comes at times. To buy scandalous literature for her madam. Madam Curiosity. Curry-stained sari, bra-less blouse and betel smeared teeth, she means business every time she comes. She carries a strange organic smell with her. And coldness in her eyes. Melons in her blouse. Her smell in the damp cash she kept tied tightly near her breasts. No cheap talks. No foul plays. I tried couple of times to break into her heart but failed. Then I stopped trying. I might lose a permanent customer, I thought. I was highly interested you know, to know about her madam. More keen to know her reaction. Like while reading Sushmita Roy’s Repentance. Does such cheap stories makes madam excited? .But Kamala’s stern looks made it all futile. Today, I waited for her to come. The time passed with dream-like slowness, and she did not come. I looked deep down the road. Two dogs happily played with a deposed napkin. I searched that curry-stained sari in the crowd. But it wasn’t there.
On the road, lethargic government buses halted with shrieking sounds, calling passengers even from their homes. Thick dark clouds of diesel smoke hung in the space. The air remained pregnant with periodic dog barks and vendor cries. I waited for another half an hour and then wrapped up my tiny stall. I scratched my balls seeking heavenly pleasure for full one minute, and then stood up. The day sales were too low .I thought of Mallick Da’s face while I emptied my urinary bladder at the back of the tree. It came out gushingly creating a small rivulet meeting the adjacent drain. River meeting the sea. Urine meeting the drain. How he will shout and utter the deadliest slangs after knowing it. But I have to leave. I have a few exceptionally important assignments today. Like visiting the doctor at Amherst clinic for Binu’s surgery. It’s one such mundane visits I know, where the doctor will only give hope and I will only despair, but then I have to go. And then at night, pleading to our new counsellor Bula didi for the disrupted water supply. For last five days we are living without it. On other thoughts, I love visiting her small office, silently watching her enormous breasts while standing meekly at a corner. Soft dull coloured cotton sarees she wears every time, her prominent cleft between her breasts clearly visible from the skyline of her blouse. It’s tough to guess her age, whether it’s thirty six or fifty six. But the most important task for the day was visiting Nityananda Publishers near Patuatola lane with my manuscript. The bearer of my future fortunes. I cautiously checked it in my bag. I touched it with shaking hands. Closing my eyes, I silently prayed to God. This was my last resort for a decent living. This was my last resort to fight back.
Patuatola lane greets you with the raw smell of books as you enter. Small bookstores hung to their brisk business on the side of the dusty road. They just have got everything. Guides to all possible exams, solutions to any and every competitive test and references for all possible subjects. Crowd humming on them like bees on sweet smelling flowers. Marx and Tagore all piled together. On that crowdy road. Like cheap winter garments piled by Bhutia sellers on the Esplanade road. Coming straight down from Central Avenue in the crowded bus, my mind smelled of failures and dreams. Fuchkawallahs, political banners and treetop hoardings kept running back. Happy men with pregnant bellies and women with costly sarees walking backside. My nerves pumped blood faster as I remembered Mallick Da’s derogatory advice. ‘Panu, no one will even talk to you at Nityananda Publishers, trust me. I am in this trade for long. And moreover, they are the most renowned in Kolkata with all reputed authors in their bag. They won’t even look at your filthy erotic novel. Better sell it to me and I will give you the best deal.’ Mallick Da has said through his thick glasses while looking up from the account book, in midst of altering his annual income amount for tax calculations.
I, somewhat was desperate. The paltry amount of one thousand offered by Mallick Da was far too less in eliminating all my troubles. I had to arrange the money somehow for Binu’s surgery. I watched a school bus packed with noisy cream shirts and maroon half pants. Noise of happiness and childhood mirth. Of brains full of books and stomach full of food. A sense of restlessness hung inside our bus. The helper boy was busy shouting and calling passengers. Sealdah, Sealdah ! Bus crawling like an old man. Slow and lazy. Without any intention to reach anywhere. I looked at the faces of different passengers and tried to imagine their lives. Merry fat lives. Of chicken and smiles. Karthik, the pickpocket who stayed two blocks from my home smiled at me. He jumped, squeezed and chocked a few while crossing a hundred sweaty standing bodies and also stamping a few of them. It took him a while before reaching me. Ignoring the howls coming from behind, he smiled and asked me where I was going. Black sticky shirt and a loose discoloured pant. Smelly armpits in the air. Sweat, deodorant, perfume, hairoil packets in the air. I suppressed the fact that I was visiting the renowned publishing house. Mentioning it would have made no difference for him. Rather, it would have increased my problems by making me a gossip subject at my Bustee- shanty village. I just mentioned travelling for business and he understood.
Streets meandered and my thoughts floated as I searched for Nityananda publishers and booksellers. The scorching sun soaked the residual moisture in me. I smelled of sweat mixed with fear coated dreams as I kept looking for them. Mohua Di’s smiling face greeted me with clasped hands at various junctures. Her man size posters swayed in that afternoon breeze. Change was in the air. With stagnant hopes holed in it. The narrow lane was mostly devoid of people at this hour of the day as I walked. Sleeping in their sweet little rich homes. A street dog lazily barked gazing at me and soon went back to his afternoon nap. Most of the houses had closed wooden windows. Their green shutters sipping sunlight. Glowing in that steamy heat of the afternoon .Sprouting trees peeping from mouldy ledges .The sparrow perched inside the small crafted ventilator on top of the old house with dull chocolate door slowly chirped to his partner. Sweat beads hemmed my eyebrows. I smoothed my unruly hair. Clutching my bag feverishly, I tried to feel the symbol of my change inside. Writing was always a distant dream for me. The fear of books combined with my school teacher’s whipping stick had corroded education out of me. Fear was profound in my mind. Fear for knowledge. Bored deeply inside my soul with the constant thrashing at home. Unfulfilled dreams of one generation holding the beating rod on the other to fulfil it. Passed from generation to generation. From grandfather to father. From father to son. Dreams inside dreams. Dreams which were never fulfilled. Old dreams, new bodies. Died young and untimely. And which completely ended with my father’s abrupt ending. At an age when you probably had enjoyed ice-creams at school breaks, I was selling digestives on local trains. At an age when your family supported your tantrums, I was supporting my family. Clumsy discoloured plastic containers promising to solve constipation and any known or unknown digestive problem on earth. The business was average as competition was harsh. I changed trains frequently. I changed tracks, I changed compartments – but at the end all remained dull. Afternoons stood hanging, vividly sketched in the flaming colours of final despair against the muted grey of endless days, one following the other in mindless succession. Probably on one such dull afternoon on a dull compartment, I met my Messiah Mallick Da. He had a small printing press in Chitpur. Small in size, big in heritage. It was started by his grandfather pre-independence. Mallick Da inherited the press from his father along with its heritage .And thus started my lifelong association with these eroticas. Battala sahitya (literature) they are called. Crispy, rusty thin paperbacks. Some sealed, some open. Alluring everyone with a sensuous envelop. It sold much faster than digestives. Probably it answered bigger problems than constipation. I read almost all of them, with pleasure if I must add. Varied stories, varied lust. Through my years and greying hairs. Hunger for one replacing hunger for the other. Food displaced by sex. And thus, laden with such enormous experience over all these years, the idea of penning down one such erotic novel flashed in my mind. After Bakul receded in thoughts and dreams. At lonely nights. In memory shaped kerosene flame. When Binu shaped autumn cloud watered the sky plants. Slowly the image of an upper class woman emerged in my pen. An oppressed figure deprived of humanly pleasures by her utmost strict but impotent Bangladesh war veteran husband. She silently revolting against her husband and the whole scornful society with her fiery desire. And the whole society remained scornful as her desire was not pure. For it was her love for her only nephew. Hunger inside hunger. On some second thoughts, it was possibly the only alternative left with me. To break free from the darkness that had entirely engulfed my life. To dream and carry on unfulfilled dreams. And thus, Madam Aparna’s Lover was born.
As I took the left from Manickram sweet shop, that old book’s smell welcomed me. My smell buds are well acquainted with them. I happen to frequently visit Mallick Da and such smell encompasses his printing press. At last, after seeking some help from a few local shops I located them. The decorated metal banner holding the name stood firm as I looked up. Red fonts on shining steel. Proudly glowing against the weathered background. The plasters of the outer wall had surrendered to time. And withered off leaving behind a sulking sore of cement and sand. Blood red bricks peeping from those age old wounds.Old building with lasting legacy. Suddenly the sky looked dark and my heart trembled. Shaking fingers of mine touched the bag with the half completed manuscript inside it. I was profusely sweating. I tried to straighten the pointing hairs on my shallow head. With fear coated eyes I nervously walked in but was immediately halted by the portly chowkidar at the entrance. A stout build short man with a rounded face, he was enjoying his afternoon betel-nut leaf .Munching it leisurely with sleepy eyes. Like a cow enjoying on rich pastures. ‘What do you want?’ he got annoyed with my untimely occurrence and stood up from his square chair. Suspicious eyes inspected me from top to bottom. Throat dry, palms moist and voice choking. My chapped lips searched for wetness. I somewhat explained I wanted to meet the editor. ‘Hobe Na (It won’t happen)’ the chowkidar replied nonchalantly and sat down munching. My hopes trembled. I knew I had to do it. It was my last resort to a decent survival. I cried, begged and profusely pleaded to the chowkidar. He kept on chewing with closed eyes, blood red betel syrup seeping from one corner of his mouth. I knew he won’t melt without a crisp note. I passed on a ten rupees note on his palm and continued begging. Afternoon receded and evening stretched its wings as I stood there at the gate of Nityananda publisher. ‘What is this?’ the chowkidar looked in a rage watching the note. ‘Do you think I am a beggar?’ he howled at me. ‘Not a penny less than hundred’ he demanded. Indeed, it was a steep price. Just to get an entry. Even higher than my last two days sales. I stood there doing tough mathematical calculations. Baba, will I ever go to school? The words rattled inside my empty head. I bargained fruitlessly with the chowkidar. ‘Not a penny less’ he said nonchalantly. ‘And you should be quick. Arjun Sir, the editor will be leaving soon’. Those last words were vital. Arjun Sir, the editor will be leaving soon. I immediately searched all my pockets. But somehow I managed to collect only a paltry eighty rupees. And I needed to keep back some amount to take the bus to Amherst clinic. The chowkidar looked up, greatly irritated. ‘What do you do?’ he asked taking seventy rupees from my collection and swiftly shifting it to his shirt pocket. I was about to disclose my profession but felt it could highly negate my chances of getting published. ‘I am a poor writer’ I said. To which the chowkidar chuckled casually. ‘I meet dozens like you everyday...now let’s go to Arjun Sir’. Several rooms, sounds of typewriter, errand boys and serious looking men later, I entered a large carpeted hall. The chowkidar raised his voice and called a non-descriptive looking man. He was quite aged and stooped as he listened to the chowkidar. Minutes later, I was escorted to a decorated room with a large flower-vase and air conditioner fitted inside. A tall, trim man standing at the window and smoking cigarette raised his hand and ordered me to sit down. My head by now was completely blank. Never in my whole life had I been subjected to such an ordeal. Like visiting an office full of educated men. I was not meant to be here. I was never meant to be. Railway stations, compartments, busy roads are for me. You can comfortably hide yourself in the ocean of people. But here I was all alone. With eyes on me. Educated eyes. What will I probably say to that man standing and enjoying the last few puffs there. Soon he will be coming to hunt me down.What if he asks my profession. That filthy truth of mine. Of shadows and dust. Of hunger and lust. I trembled feeling extremely thirsty. I wanted to go for the glass of water kept at the table but restrained myself. ‘Any past experience in publishing?’ Arjun sir asked as he embedded himself in the computer screen. I cleared my voice and submissively said no. I think it got drowned in the ceiling fan’s sound. The whole structure if you ask looked quite old. Silence proceeded. The ceiling fan’s droning sound, quick pressing of the keyboard, occasional shouts to the orderlies. ‘Leave it here...it generally takes around three months’ he kept it short and went back to the computer screen. ‘Thank you, Sir’ I replied. ‘I am very much grateful to you, Sir’. ‘You have nothing to be grateful to me for’ he answered, lighting up a cigarette. ‘It’s part of my job...and cut down that “Sir”, it’s not a military base’.
My father once said - for people like us, it’s not the food what makes you strong but your hope. The day it dies, you are gone.
Walking back on that crimson evening with neon lights passing by, I suddenly remembered him. A man of few words he was, and plentiful beatings. His acute bony structure swayed back and forth like a bamboo tree in that alcoholic trance as he kept on beating me. Till both the stick and the man would succumb. To pressures of unknown dimensions.The last time I saw him, his silent legs swayed like a pendulum from our ceiling fan. Perhaps, his hopes died that day. As for me, it was now on all time high. Arjun Sir has accepted to look at my manuscript contradicting Mallick Da’s prophecy. Also, my faith on the present government exceeded my faith on myself. Million dollar investments, new factories, special packages for the poor – the banners coloured the wind with good news. I dreamt of extinction of my dreadful days.
Then I looked at my watch and birds flying home, and panicked. I might miss the appointment with Dr. Shetty at Amherst clinic, I thought. I walked rapidly to the bus stand. I took the shortest path while meandering through narrow streets. I saw a young couple kiss in that broken light of the evening, and I cursed the whole generation. A generation without shame. A generation too bold. They fear nothing, and they respect nothing.I ran like a leopard at the glimpse of the bus and hung myself at the foot-stand. Sweaty bodies cling to each other in home returning rush. Like a swarm of mosquitoes over an oil-stricken head. Flat buttocks and bulged bottoms sharply pointed towards the pavement. I elbowed a few fat men and grumbling women, squeezing myself inside. Somewhere, I was deeply happy. Even after a gloomy sale something fruitful happened today. The bus moved in halts while remaining tilted to one side. Like an absent minded professor on his evening walk. I dreamt of uninterrupted happiness. The prospect of having the prosperity of three square meals a day .Of perfumed smell of freshly bought school books for Binu. Of a life less ordinary. ‘Dada, please stand properly’ the petite girl with small conical breasts and long eyelashes scolded me. I was standing on one leg next to her. Her face grimaced as she measured me carefully. With such abundant happiness in my heart, I was in no mood for a skirmish. I turned back to the right side where hungry smell of freshly baked samosa wafted inside the bus.
The hunger was growling inside as I came down from the bus .But with just six rupees left with me, I had little option left. I went to a nearby tea stall and drank vigorously from the jug. Water soothed my empty stomach a bit. I lighted a bidi and walked briskly towards the clinic. Dusk slowly engulfed the shallowing brightness. Street lights reflected on speeding car windows. Like your past haunting and taunting you and speeding away in the present .The milky white appearance of Amherst clinic looked grey in that gloomy darkness as I entered. Rich cars were parked on the alley beside petite fashioned bushes. The bushes looked like little children hiding in the dark .Rich people with rich cars. I walked into the general ward and waited just outside Dr. Shetty’s chamber. Tired ailing faces roamed on the corridors. Some howling and screeching ones lay on the floor. Poor people with rich diseases. Fat nurses with uncovered legs roamed and ran up and down .With serious expressions and jumping heart. A child kept playing with the IN and OUT outside the doctor’s chamber. His mother concentrating on her makeup and periodically threatening her son. Rich people with rich diseases. Their names formed strangely inside the mouth of the matron and spitted out at the top of her voice. Mr.C Aslaaam , Mr C Aslaaam, Mr K Mooonshi ,Mrs. S Bannorjeee... . I was thinking how to manage without the doctor’s fee when the attendant called me in. A gorgeously clad bulky lady was coming out and I squeezed myself by her side. The doctor was in all smiles looking at me. ‘Hey, how are you PannaLal, sit...sit...and how is Binu’ while scrubbing something deep inside his mouth with a toothpick. ‘Well, Sir...very good Sir...With all your blessings, Sir’ suddenly I was at a loss of words. ‘See PannaLal, I must say Binu’s case is a promising one. We shouldn’t lose hope.’ Dr Shetty stood up from his chair and called for the attendant. ‘Tea?’ he asked and I humbly refused. Drinking tea without the doctor fees didn’t seem like a good idea. ‘See...all we need is the money’ he again started. ‘So when are you thinking of getting all the money for the operation’ .I was always weak in maths, weak in most of the subjects I must say. That complex calculation was too tough for me. I dropped out at class ten after my father’s suicide. I feebly smiled at the doctor and said that I was trying hard. ‘You must’ he increased a few decibels and then suddenly looked immersed in his thoughts. I was thinking how to break the word of the missing fees to him. I already knew the futility of this visit but happened to succumb to the doctor’s fixed check-up dates. Only that the patient was not with me today. I was watching those smiling faces of children in the posters hung all across the room, when suddenly he spoke again. ‘I think, you shouldn’t do any further delay. If the operation is done immediately, Binu can walk, go to school, and enjoy his life. Think this way’ he said, pressed his lower lip with the upper and stopped. His gaze was now fixed on me. I was feeling guilty you know, of being a father. Of being a helpless father. I felt weak in my head. Baba, will I ever go to school? - Those words of Binu again started pestering me .Vibrating on the hollow walls of my head. ‘PannaLal, are you listening?’ the doctor raised his voice. ‘Yes Sir, yes Sir...very well Sir...I, Sir...try, Sir...’. And then in that final moment of truth, I had to say about the missing fees. I begged, pleaded almost went to his legs. ‘Ok, ok...bring it next time’ he made an angry face and called the attendant. ‘Call the next patient in’ he ordered. I rubbed the dust off my glazed trousers and left.
I reached our bustee somewhat around nine. Eyes heavy with sleep, head reeling, my legs painfully darted in the muddy dust. Endless darkness wrapped our pigeonholes where even your shadow leaves you alone. The thick air smelled of fart, daylong sweat and cries of domestic violence. Tired, drunken husbands assaulting the modesty of their wives. Trying to eliminate their day long shame by shaming their wives. Erasing inflicted insults with inflicted pain .A few scuffles, catfights here and there. Some hand rickshaws called it a day and waited silently for the next morning. A thick stagnant cloud emerged from its footstand. Madan and Mukul were sitting there, sporadically emitting balls of dense smoke. The clogged municipal drain carried bits of everything and remained undulated. Like a dead green snake.The smell coming out of it was mixed and confusing. As I crossed the cowshed which stood at the junction, I stopped .Painful cries of Mangala, the Bihari Doodhwala’s wife pierced the silence of the night. It goes on night after night. Somewhere in my heart, I have a fondness for her. I don’t know how it grew, but looking at her deep kajal -filled bovine eyes my heart occasionally skips a beat. Her enormous asset inside her crisp silk blouse is also an attraction. Her gait very much resembles Budhia- their cow. Sluggish, dreamy, peaceful. Months later, when hell broke loose on my life’s boundary, I felt her softness on one sudden winged evening. When tenderness burst into flower and the worm waited to return in my doomed life.
A few children along with their mothers responded to the call of nature behind the bushes and shrubs. I could hear their grunts, groan and moaning. I thought of Binu and mother .They would be eagerly waiting for me. And for their dinner. I neglected a few friendly calls coming from behind and briskly walked to Nimai Da’s shop. Six rotis, a shady looking curry and a bottle of Fifty Up- our economical country liquor. Mostly, this was my night’s ration. I cajoled Nimai Da to add the amount to my already humongous pending credit and ran home.
Shadows of hunger smeared my walls as I entered. The damp smell of half-dried vests and underpants welcomed me home .Binu lovingly took my bag away and searched for an invisible candy. Binu shaped autumn cloud searching for a candy. My mother cried, shouted and complained for the water problem moving into its sixth day. I emptied her bed pan in the drain. Then Binu and I sat for dinner, and mother took it in the bed. Silence proceeded. There was a lot of ambition packed into my hot little room. Binu with his elephant shaped autumn cloud ambition, me with my erotic novel ambition and mother with her early death ambition. The dinner was finished off quickly and then Binu silently went to bed. ‘How was your day, Baba’ he asked. As I went to kiss him goodnight. A soft tired smile laced his face reminding me of her mother. I smiled and said it was good. Same question, same answer. Night after night. Father and son. Asking him to close his eyes, I stroked his hair for a few minutes. Thinking about Bakul and her fairy tales. Her sleepy voice. Binu wouldn’t sleep without them. That rich prince who came on a large white horse with wide wings, that princess who was kidnapped. All such stories. With happy ending always. Where at the end, evil loses and good wins. Within minutes, Binu was deeply breathing, his eyes closed, his mind roaming on a dreamy land .Binu shaped autumn cloud watering soft yellow flowers at heaven’s door. Giant sized insect shadows hovered on my walls. Busy burning themselves on the flickering flame .I put out the kerosene lamp and made two large pegs in the moonlight. While silently watching the moon playing hide and seek behind the Gulmohar tree. In that moonlight all trees glistened naked and dark as if they had unclothed themselves, and the green things on earth seemed to hum with greenness. Just after finishing off the first one, a loud bang occurred on my door. I opened and saw Babu standing irritated. He has come to take me to Bula Di for complaining about the troublesome water supply. He quickly came inside and finished my second peg as I searched a decent dress. My underwear kept for drying from the very morning was still wet. I cursed my luck .For not finding a proper dress for such an important visit. A woman is very much needed at home to do all such stuffs. Like drying your underwear and cooking for you. I got hold of a torn pyjama and a pale looking shirt and changed into it. I thought of applying perfume on my sweaty body but the bottle was empty. Perhaps, it was empty for endless times. And then we went straight to Councillor Bula Di’s decorated office.
My city has seeds and secrets buried deep in her bosom. We belong to different worlds, we the poor, and you the rich, yet when the Sun shines above and the day presumes we are all mixed, like scattered blood on a communal riot. It’s only the treacherous night which churns out our infinite differences. Walking briskly with Babu to our saviour’s office at this hour of night, the truth stroked a chord in my heart pit, but then there was no music. It was only agonic cries and hungry silence. The endless trail of repetative soreness journeying through generations. At our Bustee. Where life goes on, neither defeated nor victorious.
Hopeful eyes from wrecked windows dreamt and whined looking at the torn road, bruised gutters in that uninterrupted darkness as we passed. Dreams which died with the past government and born again with the new government. Like the fresh wound, alive and bleeding. As the mud road took a sudden curve, I surprisingly met with Shiuli. At times your past haunts you unexpectedly. At sudden bend of your life. She had come to fetch water from the only drinking water hand pump in our area. While she was returning, our eyes met. It reminded of a rain soaked day and crumbled bedsheet. I looked up in that moonlight and saw there was a question mark in them. She held my gaze briefly, then looked down adjusting the pitcher on her waist and quickly walked away. Her pale saree fluttered in that mild breeze. There was no love in those eyes, I felt .She was happy now with her fulfilled family. Her long wait for a child was over. Somewhere, there was a pleading in her eyes, to keep everything secret. That sight of her made me uncomfortable. I pondered. I remembered. For once there was love in those eyes. Silence prevailed, at times broken only by the shrill cries of sexual pain. The only entertainment at this dark part of the city. The cries waded away, waiting to reappear from another house. It made me taut and when I entered Bula Di’s office I tried hard to conceal my hardness.
‘You people won’t even let me sleep. Whole day, I only work for you. For your happiness. Still, you need more and more. See, I am yet to take my dinner and here you are again with your endless complains’ our local Councillor Bula Di scorned with a betel leaf smeared mouth. I stood meekly at a corner thinking of my past and Shiuli as Babu started pleading about the water supply. He was immediately stopped by a well built man who raised his hand and asked Babu to stop. I counted the bulges in his hand. ‘Can’t you see Didi is working. Once she is done, she will hear to all your problems’. He cunningly smiled at us. Bula Di looked up from her desk and smilingly nodded at me. ‘How is Binu’. She asked. I was overwhelmed. After Bakul’s death, all big leaders knew me. She remained glued to some printed fixture, she held in her hand .Not even once she looked up from it. Only at times signalling to the muscle man who whispered something secretly to her. The room, though small was nicely decorated. Sticks of tuberose drooped from one side of the elegant flower Vase. An enormous frame with Mohua Di’s smiling face hung on the wall and swayed gently in that ceiling fan’s wind. Her beautifully architected house seemed palatial. I really wonder at times, how just two people needs so much space. Didi lived with her husband. Her only son was studying at a big college somewhere far. Big people, big colleges. Her table was scattered with plain papers and colourful files. On the other side of the table, a thin emaciated man with a furrowed face was busy arranging those papers. I stood there watching Bula Di’s enormous breasts bumping against the table and thought. Shiuli’s eyes pleaded to keep everything secret. Why did she felt so uncomfortable just at my sight. Does she still remember that day. She badly needed a child. I had only helped her. Does she still think I might... . I wondered how long it might take before we can present our pleadings to our only saviour. I wanted to go back to the unfinished half of Madam Aparna’s Lover. My half finished novel. Who knows, Arjun Sir might like the first part and ask for the rest. Dreams make your life easier. An elephant shaped autumn cloud meandered in my mind and I thought of Binu and my life.
Madam Aparna’s Lover
Who decides our fate? I had thought many a damp night with nothing much to do. Is it God whom we have never seen or the society who instructs the code of conducts silently into our ears from our very birth or is it just us. Are we not the architect of our own fate, or are we just pawns in this big historical irony. For whenever I think of Madam Aparna’s fate, I shudder with fear. Perhaps, the war has still not ended, it’s all raging within us.
The drizzle of rain was like a veil over the world, mysterious, hushed, not cold. Madam Aparna was anxious, tensed and excited. She watched the glittering skeleton of the moonlit valley from the curved window in her room and thought of Neil. Her body was now out of the shackled cupboard of marriage. Neil was yet to come from his English classes which made her a bit restless. Her mind wandered in that camouflaged darkness and it brought back the bruise .The bruise was deep, deep, deep... in her heart. The bruise of the false cultural war. To remain tied to those words which never spoke of love. It was words, just so many lifeless words. Those of her husband- retired army lieutenant Bhupati, a coveted Bangladesh war veteran. The war made his famous but shipped him home paralysed and impotent .Words of customs and rituals .Of superiority of men and their instructed life.The only reality was nothingness, and over it a hypocrisy of words.
Neil was very late today, she felt. A bicycle swirled and curled swiftly across the mud patches in the road. A dull, lifeless moon reflected on that dirty grey water. That night she remembered it was raining like this. That mad, mad night. When she first came close to him. Downstairs, the lights were still on. Bhupati was perhaps awake, busy with his reading. After the war he had shifted his family to Siliguri, a sleepy little small town in those times situated in the foothills of Himalayas. His family was small, just Aparna and him. He was afraid of his hometown Kolkata with people constantly reminding of his disability. Coming here, Bhupati felt relieved. He also brought a couple of servants with him from his hometown who took care of all household stuffs. Soon, he started his security agency. His war reputation helped to grow the business and in a very short period of time he made a good fortune. He felt happy with his success. The locals thought of him in awe and respect. Aparna who had hardly spend few weeks of marital bliss before Bhupati went away for the war, felt quite lonely here. She was accustomed to the din and bustle of Kolkata. Here, she missed her friends badly. And when Bhupati came back, there was nothing much between them, except words. Words of strict discipline and social responsibility. The business was going all smooth and soon Bhupati immersed himself into literature. Day by day, Aparna became wearier with her boring life. There was always people around her, distinguished guests, prolific leaders and local party members. Like last time when the great poet visited them in the summer. But there was nothing much life had to offer till her elder sister Manda send her son Neil to study at the local university.
She watched the clock tick ten. Neil was the only fresh air in her stagnant life. Aparna felt that the night was slowly passing by. It made her angry.She closed the window and switched off the lights in her room. Resting her head on the pillow, she thought of her life. If Bhupati ever comes to know about them, what might happen. She shuddered at the very thought of it .Their full time maid servant could be heard downstairs in the kitchen. She was busy cleaning up and waiting to serve Neil his dinner. Aparna got up and went downstairs. ‘I thought you have gone to sleep’ Bhupati looked up from the pages smilingly and watched her tired face. ‘Neil hasn’t come yet. Shankar’s mother...’ Aparna called for her maid servant. Shankar’s mother was an old woman who loved and cared for Aparna. ‘You go to sleep. I will serve Neil his dinner...’. ‘Come here Aparna...listen to what the great poet has to say’ Bhupati always shared his literary world with her.But by that time, Aparna had just got tired with sheer burden of words. She silently came and sat beside him. Her mind was elsewhere, it roamed with the thought of an adolescent body. Neil came late that night. The rain had stopped. Bhupati was off to sleep. Aparna was asleep on the dining table when suddenly the doorbell rang...
It was morning now. The soft, golden rays poured into the room. His sleepy eyes caught the early glare of the sun. He looked around and saw her sleeping. The clock showed six in the morning. She lay lazily on the bed, curled on one side. He watched her face for sometime. Her untied hairs kept a part of her face hidden. Her lips were broadened as if she was smiling in her dreams. He suddenly slipped out of bed with his back to her, naked and thin. Neil went to the window. Drawing the curtains a little, he looked out for a moment. The road below was empty. His eyes wondered at the far off hills drowsily .There was a silence like just before a storm. Thoughts were entering seamlessly into his young mind. All kind of thoughts. Of fear and delight. Of mutiny and unrest .The ample light coming now inside the room made her awake. She silently watched his nakedness while lying awake in the bed. His back was white and smooth, the small buttocks beautiful with a delicate manliness. There was no hypocrisy in them. She felt that she wanted him now, that very way .It was ages before she had felt like this .the back of his neck glowed in that radiant sunlight .It was delicate yet strong. She watched him for a moment and when he turned and saw her watching him, he felt very ashamed. Blushing, he quivered. She liked that flushed tinge on his soft face .He quickly caught hold of the curtain and tried to hide his aroused nakedness. Somewhere, there was a delicate inward strength in Neil’s youthful body. Aparna thought .She smiled at him and got up. ‘No! Let me see you. You look beautiful, so pure in this morning light! Come to me’ she said holding her slim arms out from her dropping breasts.
- Saptarshi Basu
NB : this is not the end ...it only begins here...If you have found it worth tickling your grey cells, leave a comment