I have married Promita. How surprising! I have actually married Promita. Just returning from the registry office. Promita does not like a ceremonial wedding, nor do I. A topor for the head, a garland round the neck, sandal paste dots on the forehead, — together one would look so uncivilised that to imagine it even, makes us laugh. Whatever it is, we were to have a reception and not a ritualistic wedding. It is to be held at Somnath Hall, even if not at swank places like the Great Eastern or the Ritz. My friends and relatives, Promita’s friends and relatives and all our common friends, — all of them are to come. There is to be no dearth of glitz. Only Promita has declared that she will not dress up like a typical bride and sit pretty as a picture on the throne supplied by a decorator. She will wear the shocking pink Baluchari, which I had gifted to her and will move around in my company. From the hall to the verandah, from the verandah to the passage, from the passage to the hall once again. I and Promi, Promi and I. Everybody would be able to see. Those who doubted the match even a few days back could see us now and I hope they will be compelled to believe the fact. I don’t know, can’t say for sure, but a small thorn like a bee’s sting will probably pierce through many breasts. There will be a burning sensation in that spot. So, what can I do about that? I have always said that I am going to marry Promita. Promita will marry me.
We climbed into the car together. I don’t have any parents. Only a brother and a sister- in-law. We few of us together, visited the Kwality and could celebrate frugally. Then we went back to the car again. Now we will go over to our recently purchased flat at Salt Lake. We have purchased everything there, with meticulous care for the last six months. Promita has suggested and I have gone and purchased them. Again, I have named a few and Promita has got them. Almirah, suitcase, dining table, sofa-couch, utensils, gas-stove, fridge, book-case, racks, a miniatureof Kali from Kalighat, a South Indian Nataraj, a papier mashie Buddha. Everything was purchased with all the personal savings I had in store. I am basically thrifty. My friends call me a miser. Let them see for themselves now, what I’ve purchased for Promita’s sake. Let them decide if I have been miserly in any respect. In the reception party to be thrown in another two or four days, where arrangement has been made for the smooth course of food items beginning with Moghlai Biryani, then smoked Hilsa, Chicken Butter Masala, Kashmiri grilled Mutton, Fish Tandoori, and lastly, Pista Chocolate ice-cream, let anyone find any trace of my miserliness. Well, really! Is it possible to throw away money just like that? To smoke away packet after packet of cigarettes or drink away bottle after bottle of whiskeys, taxi rides, restaurants at the drop of a hat! What a waste! Let the time be ripe for the actual spending, I shall surely spend, mindlessly spend, such as now!
I am a researcher by profession. And Promita? Promita too has a profession. Well, it will be more appropriate, if one would call that a passion rather than profession. Promita formerly, had an obsession for writing. It is chiefly due to this obsession of hers that she is a writer now. A novel, amazing, scintillating writer. She broke the previous conventions in the country and received the Academy award overnight, only at the age of thirty-three, specially for her sensational novel on prostitutes, “Nagarir Nati”.
I was also present at the prize distribution ceremony. I could see Promita wrapped in an electric blue sari, walking smartly forward. A lightning flashed through her gold- rimmed glasses. Sharp nose, serrated chin, intelligence darting from her eyes like the spiky edge of arrows, all around. She had the mark of a genius at every step. The way she made for the stage, her high powered glasses, how she resumed her balance gracefully as she stumbled slightly, the way she received the prize from the governor, with a gentle, charming yet a trenchant smile, bowing her head slightly — how amazing! Haven’t seen anything like this before. It is not to my knowledge whether anyone has ever encountered something like this.
I am taking this Promita, with me to my residence. To my happy nest, to my love-nest. I definitely don’t know Sanskrit. But from constant hearing, I know that sloka by heart. ‘Madhu bata hritayate, madhu kharanti sindhabo.’ Don’t know much. But Promita knows everything. I have gone crazy with her demand for books. But this craziness is definitely different from insanity — it is a state of drunken stupor, nectar inducing trance or an ecstatic madness. So many dictionaries, encyclopedias, Puranas, anthologies, novels, short story collections, critical volumes on Philosophy and Religion were in her possession and she added a countless more to her existing collections. The expanse of it! Promita has stated that I am, it seems, her single piece of a walking encyclopoedia.! She will get to know all the necessary details on science from me. And she is doing it. Physics, astronomy, anatomy. When she heard about the Black Hole, she told me, “Kanchan, probably my most ambitious novel will be based on your dark hole. I am naming it ‘Andromeda’”. The last day of destruction of a colossal civilization spanning the whole galaxy ! Amazing! What imagination! What a remarkable vision! Oh dear ! I am only a mundane teacher of science. What business do I have talking much about it? And can one call me hen-pecked? Blowing his wife’s trumpet! Could one! I know each one of them.
We got down when the car came to a halt. First, it was I who opened the door and stood aside, then scarlet-swathed Promita. The rest four had already stepped out of the car and left us with such words, “We don’t need to go in. We are through with our chores long before”.
We unlocked the door and went in. A second floor south-facing flat. There was a beautiful lamp glowing through a beautiful lampshade on the dining table, facing us. A Venus of one and half feet, in the waves of white-brown- yellow embers. On opening the door of the bedroom, a vagrant aroma of flowers leapt on our bodies, faces and heads, like innumerous naughty children. We could see that the bed was brimming with flowers heaped on flowers and only flowers. Rajanigandha, bakul, gandharaj, jasmine, champa and bel. Our green bed sheet has been transformed into a garden. The vase on the dressing table contained a mammoth sized ketaki. Dear me! What perfume it emanated.
Promita was transfixed the moment she stepped inside. A strange expression was in her eyes. A strange smile hung over her face. She said, “Kanchan, see, I’ve goose bumps all over my body.”
I said, “True, it must be when we were waiting for the car downstairs, Didi and Boudidi have worked this miracle! But what a beautiful miracle”.
Promita gave me an uncanny look. There was a huge bag in her hand. A thick diary and a slim pen emerged from there. She sat herself down in the midst of the bed strewn over with flowers like another flower, probably magnolia — though I’ve never seen this flower. She said, “Kanchan, a strange plot has come to my head all of a sudden. Look, the multi-colored Venus has managed to survive and will continue to survive, though half of her has been already scorched and melted, her hands have already disappeared, now her head too is endangered. The moment we entered the room, note how the smell of the flowers took us unawares. And your statement, ‘What a beautiful miracle!’ is reminiscent of The Ramayana. Everything is so strange. Let me pen it down right now”.
Promita smiled sweetly. When she smiles, the corners of her lips twist in some way and curl upwards. It was for the first time that I found a writer who could smile such a smile. But today I am a husband. I am the lord. I placed my hand on her diary and said laughingly, “But Promi, today is our nuptial night. This will never come again. Why don’t you make a synopsis of this plot in two to four lines? You can work on it later.”
Promita nodded her head and replied, “You are right Kanchan, as you always are. I’d rather make a synopsis of this.”
She placed the new pillow under her chest and turned over. The pen rushed on. Tiny alphabet-like ants emerged in profusion from the needle-mouth of the Pilot pen. Promita’s red lips were trembling now and then. Probably she too was carrying on a conversation with the heroes and heroines and making them speak for themselves.
As she was writing, Promita’s red sari was slightly raised from her ankle. Beside red, the shapely round of her legs above the ankles, looked even fairer. Her anchal slipped from her shoulder. The thick gold bangle in her wrist was shaking. A golden bangle in a golden hand; difficult to say which was an embellishment for which. Outside, from the canal end, an owl was hooting. I sat waiting thrilled, for almost the entire night, my body trembling, drenched in sweat, for Promita’s synopsis to come to an end. Right before the morning bird’s cry, her eyes blood shot with slumber, Promita turned to look at me like some distant traveller. Then her hand slumped. The pen loosened from her fingers, the pages of her diary began to flutter in the morning breeze. Leaning on the pillow, she gave in to ageless slumber, poor Promita!
There were many who congratulated me at the reception. But no one greeted her! Isn’t it a part of social courtesy to congratulate the bride too. Even though I didn’t really mind, I couldn’t help feeling slightly bad about it. Could be possible, that I am no genius, but if I should speak for myself, for who else is there to do so, my thesis on the Second Law of Thermo-Dynamics received a lot of praise. I also have a lot of name and fame as a good guide. There’s a slight ‘Bengal’ accent in my English, which makes the students laugh behind my back. But I never paid much attention to that. For soon after, there was a profusion of ‘Sir, Sir, Sir…’ I am not a genius, but I am hard working, honest, magnanimous and dutiful, have no bad habits, lead a decent life, and have a good moral character. And my appearance? I am not fair, I am dark complexioned — jet-black. Promita says that men lose half their charm when they are fair skinned. All her heroes in her novels are dark skinned; some of the side-heroes are fair. I’ve a well-groomed healthy military moustache. Close cropped hair. I am a complete He-Man. Then? What restrains them from congratulating Promita ?
Everyone was full of compliments about the food. The costliest menu served by the costliest caterer available in the market. Is it surprising that it will be compliment worthy? This is merely an expression of my overflowing happiness. I didn’t bother my head about the price, whether it was fifty rupees a plate or sixty.
Promita stole a glance at me with her mouth full of pesta ice-cream. Her special favourite. It melts soon after it is put inside the mouth. She says that it fills her body and soul with a fragrance emanating bliss. Now, there was that incensed intensity radiating from her eyes and face. How such an organic preparation after coming in contact with the tongue, which is responsible for the sensations of taste, meets with its demands and enters the soul — is something which I could comprehend only after observing Promita. As she puts it — like poetry is to literature, so is ice cream to foodstuff.
I hired a stout and sturdy female domestic help for our small family. Her name is Shibu. For running the errands, there was a small kid, name, Munna. On my return from the Institute, on the first day, Shibu had enquired, “What will you have for tea, Babu?”
— Why, isn’t boudidi around ?
— She was here the whole afternoon. There was a phone call towards the evening. She left in a big hurry. Never mentioned anything.
— Prepare anything you please.
Well, Shibu served me with care. There was pressed rice, small pieces of fried potatoes, fried nuts, pepper and coffee. Just after I had devoured the meal with a relish and could feel the belch gurgling in my throat, Shibu stood before me again — What is to be prepared for dinner, Babu?
— Good Heavens! What do I know of that ?
— Boudi never said anything.
— Do whatever you please.
— What do you usually take for dinner?
Me? That set me pondering — Well, what do I eat? What do I have for dinner? I have never bothered my head before about food. I had taken anything that the rascal of a cook in that mess used to prepare. I thought over the subject and said, “Make some rotis, and fry some brinjal. What else? Do you have any left-overs of the fish curry for the lunch in the morning?”
— Nothing’s left, Babu. You’ve taken all of it in the morning.
— What then? Make some potato preparation in that case.
Shibu had enquired only on that day. She had learnt how far I could go and how knowledgeable Promita was in this business by that single day’s instance. Did all the shopping herself. Cooked and served and used Munna to help her in her daily chores.
But Promita returned around nine in the evening that day. She was very excited. The publisher had rung her up. Some film director had asked for her. ‘Nagarir Nati’ was to be filmed. The discussion on the project had continued till the late hour in the evening.
By the mention of the film director, I was greatly perturbed. “Please don’t go all by yourself, Promi to such places. Take me with you.” Promita smiled. That same smile, the corners of her mouth curling upwards strangely. “For sure. But, supposing I am summoned without any previous intimation? Then?” Promita threw her arms round my neck and kissed me as she said this. She did not take anything for dinner. The film director had treated her to a sumptuous meal. She was not hungry. I dined alone. Shibu had her grub, Munna too. Munna had Promita’s share of the meal too. The rascal’s tummy is really elastic. It expands at will.
Sunday. Decided to go on an outing. The whole week is spent on work piled on work. There’s no relief on Saturday either. I’ve to stick around with a set of brats at the laboratory. Return home hanging out of a crowded bus. There’s hardly any possibility of getting the feel of the fresh air. The garden surrounding Victoria Memorial is pleasant. We roam around. So many old memories. Not that old either. Tired with our stroll we sit down by the pool. There is Promita’s shadow in the water, broken and jarred like modern art. My reflection is next to hers, trembling. Darkness gathers. Quite an incensed darkness. I place her right palm into mine. Promita jitters.
— What’s up?
— A frown flickers between her brows and disappears.
— Nothing. Ruined my concentration.
I am deeply embarrassed. Then we continue to stroll around. From south to north. From north to east. From east to west. Promita is extremely restless. She is troubled even as she ambles. I do understand her disquiet very well. Speak to her in an intensely sad tone. “I’m sorry Promi.” She jitters violently all over once again and says, “Kanchan, this is your great flaw. You always speak at the wrong moment. I had just pieced together my thoughts. You spoilt everything.”
Promita walks around and like the fall of the flower petals from heaven, notes rain in her brain, words pour on, ideas shower. To think of it this way, she is in constant tension. Poor thing!
Day passes. Night falls. Dawn breaks. I go on with my work. Return home. Find two faces on my return. Shibu’s face like the newly carved grinding stone and Munna’s elongated head like that of the pebble used for grinding. Shibu cooks, Munna serves. I sleep and eat. My sleep falters in the midnight. I stretch my hand. Promi is next to me. She gently removes it and places it down. Smiles in her sleep. “I’ve read throughout the day Kanchan, got a splitting headache, the entire dusk time was spent in untangling the complexities of the plot and the whole of the evening writing, my hand is paining. Feeling extremely sleepy. So sleepy, so sleepy, so sleepy…” Promita sinks into a deep slumber helplessly.
A year has passed by. It was that day again. The same Baishakhi full moon. Have run errands all morning. Prawns, chicken, fresh water bhetki, after a lot of hunting ; cauliflower and peas in the off-season, cashew nuts and raisin. And a large slab of chocolate ice-cream. Got it before hand and preserved it in the fridge. It’s so massive a slab that ten can feed on it. Who knows, Promita will probably push aside fish and other items, will not touch chicken and push away the pulao. She will say, “Serve me with ice-cream and only ice-cream.” So I bought quite an amount. Let Promita take tiny bites from it throughout the day as and when she pleases.
I didn’t invite anyone today. No one. We have too much crowd in the small family of two. My friends, Promita’s friends come almost everyday. Publishers, rising writer, out of fashion writer, the admirers, now a days even the film stars have begun to show up at our place. We are never left to ourselves a single evening. Either they come or else we have to go over to their place. So I didn’t invite anybody today.
Selfishness? No. Sign of modernity? No. Today is ours. Deep, secretive, solitary and silent. There’s no room for any one else today.
Shibu is an expert. She finished cooking early. She is extremely happy today, as boudi has helped her in her chores. Dadababu has done all the shopping. It’s as if some picnic is on. Munna is beside himself with joy and has been spinning round like a spiraling disc. Delicious aroma of the dishes fleeted in the air. The rascal will have his meal to his fill and was gliding in the air with glee.
One o’clock. The bell rang. I moved forward to open the door. It was Banshilal Bajoria, the producer of the ‘Nagarir Nati’, who walked in first. Behind him was a strange looking youth. Immensely tall. At least one and half feet taller than I am. His head sporting a Mumbai samosa hair-do. Did he wear a lipstick? What lovely, full fingers he had! I was left open mouthed. Banshilal was very pleased with my reaction and said, “It is Sajjad Azadi, I have here from Mumbai. Do you follow me, Mr. Mukherjee, … that Arup Kumar etc will not serve the purpose of the hero in ‘Nagarir Nati’”.
They came in. But what was the commotion outside? What was that behind them? I could see swarms of people crowding over. Boys and girls, young and old of either sex from strange and far flung areas, don’t know from where they got the news, all started pouring in without permission, without any hesitation, roaring into my seven hundred and fifty square feet small flat. ‘Sajjad, Azadi! Sajjad Azadi! Sajjad Azadi! Sajjad! Sajjad!’ Ultimately, one could hear a ‘sjjjjjjjjj’ like the droning of the bumble bees. Every minute their numbers increased. They filled in my passage, dining space, bedroom, verandah, reading room. They were elbowing each other, hitting each other, shouting obscenities at each other. Initially I requested them politely to move out. But sensing the impossibility of the situation, I used my arms and legs. Munna, I, Shibu and Banshilal. Banshilal was hitting out with his fists and shouting, “Hapnar to ekta Banduk bhi aache, Mr Mukherjee, liye Ashun, liye ashun, jaldi”. A strip of a frail girl suddenly lay herself down on the floor and screeched in a shrill tone, “ Let Sajjad walk over me only once as he had walked over Anjana in ‘Rat Ki Chiriyaan’.” Sajjad did not. But many others walked, ran over her. And then? Phone, hospital, thana, ambulance, fire-brigade.
When I could finally dispense off with the trouble and settle down to dine with Banshilal, Promita and that film star named Sajjad, it was ten in the night. Elbowing, fighting and the tussle had left my lips swollen and bruised. Broken furniture and splintered glass pieces were scattered all over the flat. There was mud and dirt all over the place. Even the bed sheet in our bedroom bore marks of the muddied feet. Shibu and Munna had tried their level best to clean up the mess. We all lend helping hands to them. The food arrangement for the wedding anniversary was put to good use. Thankfully, I had bought a good quantity of the ice-cream. Mr Bajoria was after all a vegetarian. It was he who gorged most on it. The police van was waiting outside. It escorted them away.
Now it was twelve o’clock in the night. Promita, leaning over the divan in the study had fallen asleep. The house was still. After the day’s turmoil, the silence seemed uncanny. It seemed like a haunted house. I was sitting alone in a chair, ghost like. Lit a cigarette. Don’t have the habit of smoking. Don’t smoke usually. Banshilal had left a pack behind. I was puffing out smoke and swallowing it like an expert smoker. The throat felt quite warm and tasted bitter. I went on blowing out smoke rings. One after another. The rings spiraled upwards. Ah! What bliss. My lower lip had swollen like a banana of the sabari variety. Pain racked my limbs and body. It would have been fine if any alchoholic drink were close at hand. Sajjad had left a bottle. It was in the hip pocket. Don’t know what stuff it was. Mixed some ice water and took a few gulps. Shibu was sleeping. Munna was sleeping. Promita was sleeping. It was only me who was wide-awake. Slumber evaded my eyes and my mind. Couldn’t finish even half of the bottle. Strong stuff. But good. Must be German or something. Now the head was feeling light. I could think clearly. Took out some money from the almirah. The overnight bag too. Shirt, pant, under clothing and handkerchief. Two to three books and a file. Stuffed everything inside the bag. Placed the bunch of keys on the table before Promita. Shall I pen a letter or so? No. Not required. Poor Promi. May be, she will not even sense my absence. After the pandemonium today, it’s quite possible for her to start on a new novel tomorrow. Poor soul! But what can I do? What’s there for me to do? I am not more than an ordinary teacher of the science subject!
Now I am slowly moving out. The flat and a few unbroken knick-knacks, utensils, money, Shibu, Munna, publisher, Banshilal, Sajjad — all remained. Hopefully, she will not face any inconvenience. Poor thing! I tiptoed out, so that no one is disturbed. Pulled the door after me gently. Dawn was breaking. A gentle, refreshing, body-soothing breeze was blowing. Aaah!
Translated from Bengali by Jayita Sengupta.
BANI BASU. Published her first novel, Janmobhumi-Matribhumi in 1987. She has been a prolific writer of short-stories and novels ever since and her major novels include Antarghat, Pancham Purush, Uttar Sadhak, Shet Patharer Thala, Gandharbi, Britter Baire, Astham Garbho, Maitreyi Jatak. Bani Basu received Tarashankar Puroshkar, Shiromoni Puroshkar, Ananda Puroshkar and Bankim Puroshkar in the nineties, for her contribution to Bangla Literature. Her works deal with a wide range of issues like history, myth, social issues, emotional complexities of day to day life and so on. Some of her novels like Shet Patharer Thala, Gandharbi and Ekushe Paa have been made into films.
JAYITA SENGUPTA. Teaches English Literature in South Calcutta Girls’ College, Calcutta University. She has recently published Relationships : Selected Stories by Shirshendu Mukherjee in English translation.