Saturday, November 10, 2012


Time to Fly

(The  original story was written in 90’s and  is included in author’s  Odia  anthology  Sabuja Upatyaka (ISBN: 978- 81-906605-3-7) under the title ‘Udibar Bela’ and  is  first time translated  into  English.  For Western readers, this story may torch light on the Eastern milieu of socialization for girls in society.)

That was the first letter ever addressed to Suparna. Before that, a greeting card with the picture of a boot house in Mumbai had come to her from her cousin who studied in Bhubaneswar. He had sent cards to all the children and one of those was for Suparna.

Her anxiety was swinging in the hands of her father’s elder brother. Who has sent her the letter? Her contact was confined to her home and her school which was a girls-only school. There was no chance of any letter from anyone. Her uncle, without his glasses, was taking time to read the name on the envelope, “Who, Jay……….Jay”.

“Jayanti?” Suparna muttered, unable to control her anxiety. She had come to know about this girl called Jayanti only15 days ago. An excursion bus had stopped in front of their house on its way from a girl’s school near Rourkela. It was between seven-thirty and eight o’clock in the evening. The bus had stopped so the girls could go to the washroom and there had been a power cut in the town. Some young guys roaming around in the paan shops started loitering around the bus. The teachers of the girl’s school were scared and wanted to leave as soon as possible. She had met Jayanti just for a moment when she had come to her house to use the toilet and they had exchanged addresses in her brother’s room.

Uncle said, “No, not Jayanti; it is Jaydev.” Jaydev? No, she was not at all familiar with this name. She was in eighth grade in a girl’s school. Before this, even in the co-educational school she attended, she did not know anyone called Jaydev.

Uncle had a tinge of sarcasm in his tone. “Your father was asking Soma, ‘Why her college friends are coming home?’” Suparna could not listen to all the other comments he was making. She was shaking with fear and shame.

She had felt a new kind of attraction looking at the boys but there were always restrictions. She could not go out to the market at will; cycling around was unimaginable; she could not even jump around on the rooftop or climb on the guava trees; she could not laugh loudly or sit in front of an open window. She remembered clearly that she had to sit for seven days in a room where no men could come -- that first experience of puberty, that feeling of meaninglessness. Why this? Why that? The questions kept changing her appearance. When she came out from the dark, she had kajal in her eyes, red bindi on her forehead, and blushing cheeks -- a beautywith heavy feet that could not be touched by the torments of the heat.

Finally uncle gave her the letter. As soon as she got the letter she ran to the place behind the new stationary shop set up by her uncle. The letter had been from Jaydev who had come to Cuttack to do his diploma in engineering. He had found her name in the penpal column of a monthly magazine and sent the letter as a courtesy. He had extended his hand in friendship.

Somebody had given her the postal stamp with a picture of the moon and the Apollo spaceship. Suparna had been very excited to see the stamp and had kept it with her as she really liked it. As she kept thinking what she could do with the stamp, she kept it inside the novel she was reading. And then she used the stamp to send her details to the penpal column of a monthly magazine. She never imagined that the Apollo stamp would be instrumental for a new relationship.

This was the first time she was thinking a lot about the relation with the boy. Since childhood, she was always more friendly with boys than with girls. When she was born, no one in her family or her uncle’s family had any daughter for three or four years. And even after her birth, no girl was born in the household for several years.

Her mother always talked about amazing things about Suparna’s birth and how she had only one thing in her mind: the birth of a son -- her own son. It was a winter night. Even the severe cold could not disturb her mother. On the other hand, she kept on putting all her strength to open the door so that Suparna could come out but she would not. She was beating and hammering from inside to come out from the closed cave. Her mother narrated the incident in a strange way. Maybe it was laziness or maybe it was the excitement of having lived through the time -- the time when her mother was really unhappy.

“I must have prayed for a son to all the gods and goddesses I could remember. You know your father, right? He was upset because I had two daughters previously, one after the other. You were born at three in the morning. Your father had been to Kharagpur on business. I had cried throughout the night. I prayed to all gods. ‘Oh God, make this girl into a boy by the end of this night.’ I must have opened the cloth to check whether you had turned to a boy. Old Sadhua had been to fetch the nurse. He kept on consoling me throughout the night when he saw me in that state. In the morning your aunt came and kept on smiling behind the corner of her saree. Your father did not look at my face for almost 15 days. Your grandmother had come to cook special food but she also, along with your aunts, did not stop to spare a word or two. Special food to the mother for this girl child! As if a mound of gold has dropped from heaven!”

      Suparna was never a mound of gold for her family. But she became a way for a mound of gold as a male child had been born two years after her birth. Grandmother was patting her back while combing hair and was saying, “Yours is really a golden back, who carried a boy for your mother.” She was telling to her mother, “Remember, you will give her a sufficient quantity of gold jewelries during her marriage as dowry.”

There was no science behind it but certain events were attached to it. Suparna’s mother said that her granny had fed her mother a worm from Suparna’s shit putting it inside a banana, with a hope that the next one would be a male child. How horrible! Suparna felt like vomiting when she thought about it. She felt sad for her mother’s destiny; for the destiny of all women. Why did such things happen to women?

Since childhood, she had been dressed up like a boy. Her hair was cut in a boyish style, so much so that they used to shave her on the neck and around the ears. Her nick name also sounded like a boy’s nick name. Even for a long time after her younger brother was born, she was always dressed like a boy. Moreover, there were no girls in the family when she was growing up; so her childhood was spent with boys playing with swords made from stems of plants or iron rods and throwing stones at piles of cigarettes boxes. After she was a bit older, her cousins started learning how to ride bicycles; she followed suit. She sharpened the thread for kite flying and roamed around with a kite.

Sometimes Suparna had to take charge of their shop which had a dealership in controlled commodities. Her father used to entrust her with the responsibility of the shop when the manager of the shop went home on leave. The shop was attached to the godown so some servants were always around. When her father was not there, some of the servants would come and mutter a few words of film songs near Suparna who would sit near the cash box. The older servants would sometimes shout at the younger ones or take them away from the area. Suparna never liked all those pranks of those young boys but even then, she never complained to her father. Under the garb of the boy, a girl was always a girl. Some people would look at her with excitement while others would give her dirty looks. She had to bear this. Otherwise, how could a bold girl like Suparna tolerate all this? Or maybe she just shrugged it off.

But Jaydev’s letter had brought for her a bit of fear, a bit of hesitation. She had pondered over whether she should reply to the letter and then suddenly, she sat down to reply. Before that, she had written essays and letters on notebooks but never on the envelope. How would she address him? Dear friend? Jaydev? Or, Brother Jaydev ?

After the exchange of three to four letters, she felt more and more comfortable. This was a bold step for Suparna in their family. Her father used to be so busy with his business, he did not know who was studying in which class nor did he know when anyone was sick with diarrhea or typhoid. By that time, Suparna had three more brothers and sisters. In spite of all his busy schedules, his family was expanding. When the children were to be born, he would stay at home; he would be sad if the baby was a girl and happy if the baby was a boy.

But Suparna’s mother no longer tolerated this kind of reaction from her father. Plus, her mother and father were not always on good terms anymore. Suparna’s mother believed her father gave more importance to Suparna’s aunt compared to her. No one knew how much truth there was but Suparna’s mother said those things when she talked about the past. “What can I say, my dear daughter? All three of you girls were born one after the other. Your father is not so good afterall. Your aunt was persuading him to marry again. Your aunts would not look at my face in the morning because I was condemned for not bearing a son.”

Even after her two brothers were born, there were occasionally misunderstandings between her parents over her uncle’s household. Uncle was without work for a long time after his huge shop had to be shut down because of a case over sales tax. Some money was being spent on the case. In the meantime, Somani, her cousin, was studying medicine so money could not be sent regularly. So Suparna’s father sometimes sent money. Apart from this, uncle had a habit of inviting the rich and famous to dinner. By that time, he had gotten into the habit of borrowing money and spending it. He used to sell property which belonged to all the brothers. Sometimes he would mortgage the common property and get a loan from the bank. There was always a lack of money in uncle’s household. The harvest from his land would not last for a year. The land was simply not enough. He had to buy rice and this was an unusual thing for the family. Suparna’s father used to help him at times. And this was the reason behind the fights between her parents. Suparna’s mother used to be very angry. She used to say, “Who helped me when I was in need? How much they have tormented me? How they had ridiculed me? This man does not have any brain. I hope I have seven daughters so that my children would get the money and there would be nothing left to give his brother.”

One day, Jaydev came over to their place. Her uncle’s younger son came and informed her that somebody was looking for her.

‘Who will look for me?’ Suparna thought. Her friends from school always came straight into the house. Who is this person standing at the gate looking for her? Until today, everyone used to request Suparna to please go and inform her father. Who is looking for her now? Suparna came out hurriedly.

He must have been 18 or 19 years old with a thin and tall figure. As soon as he saw her he asked, “Can you recognize me?” There was no chance of recognizing him; they had never exchanged pictures. Nonetheless they could each figure out that they were Jaydev and Suparna. Suparna was dwarfed in the presence of Jaydev. Suparna had put on a red frock printed with flowers. She lifted her face and looked at the boy. He smiled and said “I am Jaydev.”

A shiver ran through Suparna -- the same Suparna who could cross crowded streets with her bike; who ravaged through the town; who could rebut anyone without hesitation. Will she say Namsakar? What would she talk about? Jaydev was standing at the gate, the same place where Somani’s friends used to come and gossip for hours.  But this was different.

Suparna never felt uncomfortable when Somani was standing and gossiping with her friends but some people in the household were uncomfortable. Some approved of it while others criticized it. It was not exactly approval but they had to come to accept the fact that without this gossiping with boys, Somani could not get on with her education. For the first time, they had seen the sight of the dissection of a frog which lay on a tray and Somani expertly cut it through with scissors. While she was still doing her ISc, everyone in the household accepted she would study medicine. So no one ever complained about boys coming over to the house.

By that time Somani’s cousin brother had started working in the nearby subdivision. He used to come home sometimes on Sundays or during some holidays. He and Suparna’s uncle never got along because uncle wanted to sell him at a heavy price in the marriage market. But he always found some fault or other with each and every girl who was shown to him. According to him, some girls were squint-eyed; some were limping; some were stammering. Everyone was talking behind his back that he had had an affair with someone. But her brother got along quite well with Suparna’s father, who consulted her cousin brother on everything.

Once an unpleasant incident happened with Somani when her brother was visiting home during his holidays. It seemed like it was election time. Some students from the college came home to do some election propaganda around ten o’clock at night. Before they could meet Somani, they came across her brother. No one knew why matters became serious but there were some attacks. Suparna’s father, who came home a few minutes after the incident, had supported her brother. More than her brother’s attacks, her father’s support for him created a different kind of situation at home. Uncle was angry. And so was Somani. The sights of Somani gossiping with boys at the gate were not seen after she left for medical school.

After a long time after his first visit, Jaydev was once again appeared at the gate. Wondering where she could have him sit, she took him to her brother’s room. That room used to be vacant after her brother had left home.

In front of her brother’s room was her uncle’s newly opened stationery shop. Her uncle had mortgaged their home and got a loan from the bank with which he got his daughter married and set up the shop. Somani’s elder sister was dark and had to be given a lot of dowry for her to get married. Even though the shop was kept open throughout the day, uncle never used to be in the shop. Instead, he would spend his days at the card club. Apart from the shelves on both sides of the room, uncle’s shop and brother’s room had only the curtain as a partition. So whenever any customer came to the shop, one of the children would go and sell the goods at a price of their choice.

Suparna had no choice but to take Jaydev to that room and got him seated because at that time, her grandfather’s old house was being rebuilt. Everything was gone except for a bedroom and the kitchen. Suparna left Jaydev sitting in that room and went into another room. Her father was suffering from malaria at that time and shivering very badly from high fever.Her mother was pressing his legs on top of the blanket. Suparna went and stood nearby. Her father’s shirt was hanging on the bed poles. She was scared to ask; but she had no choice.

“Baba, may I have two rupees?”

“Why?” he asked.

“A pen friend is here. I want to get some snacks for him.”

“Pen friend?” both the parents questioned at the same time.

Suparna could not say anything. Baba was perhaps irritable because of his illness and with an irritating tone said, “Take it.”

Suparna put her hand inside his pocket, took two rupees, and fled to the nearby shop to buy some snacks for Jaydev. Even after he ate the snacks, Jaydev kept on sitting there. Suparna had thought that she could get him to go after the snack but this thought proved to be wrong. When Jaydev showed no sign of leaving, Suparna asked him, “Do you have any work to attend to here?”

“Not really” said Jaydev. “I just came to see you again. Do you know when the next bus to go back to Cuttack is?”

Suparna felt blood draining out from her face when she heard those words from Jaydev. She became pale. That meant Jaydev was not leaving just then because from their place, the bus to Cuttack left around three-thirty and the train was at four o’clock. So will he sit here all this time?

In the meantime, the aunts had peeped into the room. A few of them had already asked, “Who is he? Why is he here? How does he know you?”

Suparna was unable to explain the concept of ‘pen friends’ to her aunts. Apart from that, what could she talk about with this boy whom she had just come to know?

Suparna left Jaydev in her brother’s room and went inside the kitchen in the pretense of doing some household chores. Since her father’s illness, her mother could not fully attend to the kitchen. That’s why she had to help her sister in grinding the spices and cutting the vegetables. But of course, she went and checked on Jaydev to see what he was doing.

Jaydev was sitting in the empty room. No one went inside the room and he didn’t come out of the room. That was when it all happened. Uncle had come back from the card club to take his lunch. He may have asked Jaydev something when he saw him sitting in her brother’s room. Aunt or someone may have complained to him. During that time Suparna’s elder sister Minani was arranging food on a plate for Jaydev. Suparna was getting the salt and the water. Uncle got into Suparna’s bedroom. When Suparna’s mother saw him, she covered her head with saree and left the room.

Uncle was saying “Just come and see. You were accusing my Soma, now come and see what your daughter is doing.”

She was dumbstruck with the words of her uncle. These were perhaps the final words; these were perhaps the ultimate secret -- to bring an end to the long anxiety welling up inside Suparna. The clouds that were hovering for a long time had at last rained. The girl who had not gotten over her childhood innocence suddenly became old with those words.

Minani was numb for a moment as she was serving rice. But her father never got up. He didn’t shout at Suparna. He did not say, “Throw the boy out.” Uncle kept on hoping her father would say something but her father never uttered a single word. In the other room, Suparna could feel her father’s helplessness. There was a difference of eight years between Somani and Suparna. A small question was perhaps haunting him -- the helplessness of a father perhaps?

(Translated by Gaurav Nayak
Edited by Paul McKenna)

Tuesday, September 4, 2012



Sarojini Sahoo

 (The  original story is included in author’s  Odia  anthology  DUKHA APRAMIT (ISBN: 978- 81-7411-483-1) under the title ‘PRATIBIMBA’ and  is  translated  by Arita Bhowmik  and  Dinesh Kumar Mali in Bengali and Hindi  respectively  with same title and have been  included  in  author’s short story collection Dukha Aparimit (ISBN 978 984 404 243-8), published from Bangladesh by Anupam Prakashani, Dhaka and  Rape Tatha Anya Kahaniyan (ISBN: 978-81-7028-921-0) published by Rajpal & Sons, Delhi.)

Nipa was otherwise occupied when the familiar stranger appeared. In one hand, she held some toast and in the other hand, a glass of water. Whilst standing around the dining table, she gobbled down the toast and gulped down the water.
Generally, after Nipa finished her morning chores, she took her sandals from the shoe stand, strapped on her watch, told the maid a few tasks she wanted done, locked the bedroom door, and left the house. Her mind always seemed to be racing ahead of her body in these moments. When her body actually kept pace with her mind, any sort of outside disturbance like a shout or the telephone ringing would set her off. Normally, she asked the maid to answer the phone and left, but if ever she answered it herself, incongruent answers would spout out; the conversation would end; and she would leave. But this time, she saw him standing in the doorway, and she couldn’t leave.
“Namaste,” she took her bag off her shoulders and beckoned him inside.
He asked, somewhat disappointed, “Are you going to work?”
She replied respectfully, “Yes.”
“Isn’t Diwakar at home?”
“No. He left for his office about15 minutes ago,” she replied.
“I hope I’m not disturbing you. You said it’s time for you to go to work as well, right?”
“Not really,” she laughed. She wondered what her “not really” actually meant. Did it mean she hadn’t made a mistake? Or he hadn’t caused her any trouble? Or was it just politeness? He wasn’t really a relative of hers nor was he really her superior, or Diwakar’s superior for that matter. Their family didn’t even really have any sort of ties with him. But still, he would sometimes come around, talk for a bit, have a cup of tea, and then leave. This had been occurring on and off for about 15 years now.  So would today be any different?
Nipa asked him, “Would you like to have some tea?”
 “Are you going to make tea? But I thought you were leaving.”
“Yeah, it’s all right. I’ll make some,” Nipa responded.
She then went to the kitchen and boiled water for the tea. As quickly as possible, she put a heated mixture of tea leaves, milk and sugar along with a few biscuits, and placed them on the centre table. He left the tea on the table for it to cool. Nipa sat on the sofa and impatiently waited thinking of all the things she had to do and where she had to be.
“Are your kids not here?”
“They went to school. How are you today?” Just as soon as she said it, she realized she had made a mistake and shouldn’t have tried to extend the conversation. It was getting very late and she needed him to go right after he had finished his tea.
“Same old, same old. My left side has pins and needles all round.” His lips moved lazily and words couldn’t really be clearly heard or understood when he spoke. “I’ve left the town.”
“Yeah, your brother told me,” she said.
He sat up, surprised. “Really? He phoned you from our village? What did he say?”
“He said to make your kids understand.”
“Who are you to make them understand?”
“Yeah, something like that. That’s what Diwakar was saying, anyway.”
He laughed and dipped his biscuit in the tea, ate it, and then took a sip of the tea. Nipa nervously looked at the clock on the wall. After looking at it and noticing the time, she got up and thought to herself, ‘By the time, I get to the office, I’m definitely going to be late and I’m sure Mr. Swain will have a few words to say to me.  He would say, “It’s not just about asking for a promotion, Mrs. Mohanty. You need to be more punctual and on top of things.”’
He had lifted up his cup and was drinking his tea. She could see, as he was drinking his tea, his hands were shaking and as a result, the cup out of which he was drinking seemed to tremble in concert with his shaking hands.
Nipa really felt quite bad. She opened up her bag and wiped to face with her handkerchief. She retreated into the kitchen, under the pretense of some work, and then came back after a while. He had finished his tea by now; however, he still hadn’t moved.
She said, “You must be tired. Why don’t you take some rest?  I’ve got some important assignments to do at office. Some work needs to be finished and sent to the managing director today.”  She paused, then asked, “Shall I go?”
“Yeah, I’ll get up as well,” He said in response.
“Where are you going, if you don’t mind me asking?” she asked.
He laughed. “I don’t know where I have to go.”
“Then why don’t you stay? Diwakar comes home at lunchtime. You can meet him, have some food, and then go. I need to go though, okay?”
He nodded and picked up a newspaper and started glancing over it. She took out her moped and got ready to go. He still didn’t get up. Nipa felt there was something strange about the situation but there really wasn’t anything she could do at this point; she had to go.
She thought, ‘Soon the maid will finish her chores and leave. She can’t lock the house since He was at their home. All alone, in the house, what would he do by himself?’ She began imagining him sitting alone in the house.  She saw him turning the same pages of the newspaper, time and time again. He didn’t even venture out or turn on the TV. She wondered, ‘When she and Diwakar get to be His age, what would they think about? Just time; nothing but time in their hands.’ She continued wondering, ‘would they just basically start thinking about death and beyond in these times? Like a cow chewing its cud, would they basically start chewing over their experiences and incidents in their life?’ However, Diwakar will come back in the afternoon; they’ll heat the food up and they’ll eat. After they eat, they’ll probably engage themselves in conversation but Diwakar probably won’t have anything to say. He’ll just sit there and be a sympathetic listener.
To be fair, He didn’t really come around to Nipa’s house that much anymore. He would come once or twice in a year, talk about his infirmity, and then leave. She remembered though, when she was first married, he used to come at least once or twice a week. It was the same ritual every time: he’d drink a cup of tea and talk for at least one or two hours. However, his family or domestic matters were never mentioned in these talks. Politics was his favourite topic, and as such, he used to know quite a lot about famous politicians. Sometimes, Nipa would come around and listen to his and Diwakar’s conversations. And even though he had such an interest in politics, he  never stood in an election himself and never used his connections with leaders to gain anything for himself either.
On the other hand, when Nipa would visit his home, the only possessions of his she could see were a few pieces of furniture and a couple of beds with some bed sheets thrown over them. A middle-aged woman would sit like a stone in the house, her face reflecting neither happiness nor grief. She would be listless, sitting almost as if she was meditating or in a trance. She was his wife. Their three children, ranging in ages 16 to ten, would go about their tasks. One of them would always break from his tasks and serve them with two cups of tea. Nipa later found out that for the treatment of his wife’s mental condition, she had to take medicines whose after-effects seemed to leave her in this perpetually listless condition. Half the time, the children would survive on snacks such as aloo chops and boda. The situation seemed to demand such measures. They hardly saw their father; their mother rarely moved. His two oldest children had grown up, each doing some sort of job or running some sort of business. Each of them had married to partners of their own choosing from advertisements in the papers. Then there was the youngest son.
 Four or five years ago, one of the sons had demolished their ancestral property and rebuilt it a new. During that time, hehad been living in the MLA quarters in Bhubaneswar. Therefore, there hadn’t  been much opportunity for them to meet. During the times of the elections, he often came back to their neighbourhood.  In those times however, he was usually so busy that even if a chance meeting did occur on the streets, she wouldn’t usually get to say more than a few words. Almost always, he would be surrounded by people. Moreover, he was not a really a friend of Diwakar and therefore, courtesy calls seemed to be out of the question. After the representative from his party had lost his seat in the local election, however, he didn’t visit Bhubaneswar anymore but stayed within the small confines of his town.
 His youngest son had grown up and had become quite unruly and undisciplined. Midway through college, he had stopped attending lectures and could usually be found in the company of paan vendors.He had tried counseling his son and had even persuaded the principal to let his son back in to the college. However, the situation didn’t improve much. Even though his son attended school this time, he soon fell into bad company again and got addicted to alcohol and soft drugs. So whenever he would meet Diwakar on the streets, he would only talk and complain about his youngest son’s behaviour.
Diwakar used to try and console him. “All your life, you haven’t worried about your children.  Why are you getting so worried now?”
He had laughed, saying “Everyone else has matured and done something. It’s just the youngest that can’t seem to get it together. Sad, you know? What else can I do but worry?”
His youngest son had once demanded, “Give me money and I’ll go to Dubai.” He, the son, kept saying that visas and passports were not the problem; it could be arranged any how. At that point, He was fed up of succumbing to his son’s daily demands of 25-50 rupees. His son would just tarnish himself in the pursuit of drugs and alcohol. He thought to himself, ‘if this child wants to go out and do something better, let him go rather than keep him cooped up here. Anyway the guy  has to fend for himself someday.’
However, the problem was the fact he didn’t have such a large sum of money to give his youngest son. So he figured he might ask for money from his other sons and help his youngest son on his way, but it never was going to be as easy as it sounded. For instance, the two elder sons hadn’t replied to his letters, and when he called them up, their responses left him despondent. His eldest son proposed that instead of Dubai, he should ask his youngest son to set up a coffee shop on the crossroads. His second eldest son had suggested “Why does he need to go to Dubai? Just let him go and farm.”  In the end, he sold a bit of his land and gave his youngest son 50,000 rupees. Taking the money, his son disappeared for a while and reappeared after one or two months. He seemed to have fallen on hard times. His clothes were dirty; his hair was a mess; and he had lost a lot of weight -- you could see it in his cheekbones. And if he asked about his son’s time in Dubai, he got a different answer each time. If you asked about the money that had been given to him, he’d fly into a rage and instigate a quarrel.
After these incidents, misery overtook him whilst his youngest son couldn’t care less. Every day, he would threaten his father and take more money from him. If he didn’t give him any money, his youngest son would take anything -- watches, cycles, tape recorders. One of his brothers who was still living with them got so irritated that he left the house to live in rented accommodations. Now left in his house were one lifeless woman, one old man, and one unruly son. The son, would roam around during the day and then in the evening, would come home quietly and go to sleep. They never had the courage to ask about what he had eaten or taken during the day, if anything. His father would feel sorry for him and leave some food and water for him to eat in his room. Then the parents would worry about how their son would be going to sleep in such heat since he had sold the room fan long time ago. In real distress, he bought a ceiling fan for that room only to discover a few weeks later, the new ceiling fan had disappeared.
He then queried his son, “Look here son, who did you sell the fan to? How much did you get for it? I had bought the fan thinking you’d be feeling hot and that the fan might alleviate it. It didn’t even last the month.”
The son angrily replied, “You’re not giving me any money. What do you expect me to do? I need to get money somehow.”
Upon hearing his son’s answer, he became very irritated, swallowed it, and then went away. He didn’t even pay any attention to his youngest son for the next two days. But after the two days, he again started to feel restless and worried seeing his son’s way of life. This time, he placed a hand fan in his son’s room.  When he looked around, the only other thing in his son’s room was a rope bed.
One day, he saw his son with a shovel digging out the divots for the window. “Why are you digging at the window?” the father asked.
“I’m going to sell it,” the son replied.
“What? Has prosperity left you, or something? Why the hell are you selling the window? Tell me how much money you need.” But the son didn’t listen. The father, left with no option, went to the police. He thought to himself, ‘if the police were to threaten his son, he’d stop digging at the window.’ The police, after having consoled the father sent him back saying they couldn’t come. Upon returning home, Namaste discovered the window had been removed, leaving an unprotected hole in its place. He locked the room from the outside so the entire house would not become vulnerable. After this, his son would enter and exit the room through the open window.
One day, he had a huge fight with his son and fainted, falling as if dead on the floor. The son leapt out of the window, saying as he leapt, “Stop pretending.”
Their close neighbour took him to hospital. All of his sons were told that their father had fainted but none of them responded. When Namaste came home from hospital, the son who was still living in the same town as his parents, fearing for social stigma, came for a few days and looked after his father.
He had come back from death’s door, it seemed, just to face even more miserable times; fate just wasn’t with him. If he had died, it would have been a respite but alas, it was not to be. He was stuck between two states of being; he couldn’t come back but he couldn’t go all the way either -- kind of like navigating the river Styx. Now in the winter of his life, he was literally waiting for death to come and take him.
One day, he had come to Nipa’s house and was shivering. His face looked like a worn-out coin. His words were not coming out clearly as he told his woes to Diwakar. Nipa was busy in the kitchen, and she was thinking to herself, ‘Doesn’t he have anyone to talk to that he feels compelled to come all the way here to tell about his sorrows? Moreover, Diwakar has never offered any help to him, at any time. So I wonder why he comes?’
He lamented, “In this world, we’re all alone. I was planning to go live with my eldest son but he said I wouldn’t be able to live there as the way of life here is very different. I stayed for five days at my second-eldest son’s place and it was like I wasn’t even there. No one spoke to me. I felt very bad and came back. And you know what my youngest son said when I returned? He said, ‘if you die, a burden would be lifted up from us.’ And the youngest son continued, ‘if I would kill you, the police would be after me.’ He could employ a person that could crush him  under a vehicle of some sort, but sadly he’d have to pay 10,000 to 15,000 rupees to accomplish, money he didn’t have, he further told his father. Please tell me, Diwakar, have I really become a burden for the world? I want to die and death won’t come to me, and I don’t have the courage to commit suicide.”
Nipa’s heart had been thundering inside her chest when he said this. Depression overtook her. A few days after that, they had met Namaste’s second-eldest son who was doing some business in the market.
Diwakar asked him, “Why don’t you keep your father around? He’s wandering around without a place to live. Your youngest brother is misbehaving and is worthless. Where will he go if you don’t keep him in his old age?”
The son had replied, “He can’t live with me; he doesn’t appreciate my wife”
“Why?” Diwaker asked.
“He must be knowing,” the son replied.
“But surely, you’re there. How is this connected with your wife? You should bring him in and try make your wife understand.”
 The second-eldest son responded to Diwakar, “Others don’t have duties or what? My eldest brother seems to be avoiding the situation. Why can’t he keep him then? He has quarters in the town. Why can’t he keep my father? When my father went to hospital, nobody even bothered to visit him. Instead, they farcically advised how to take care of my father over the phone. He’s not just my father to me. What’s he ever given me? My childhood was spent in the care of a half-mad mother. Half of the time, I had to go to school with snacks from the shops. Once the principal had asked my father to come and see him, and my father didn’t get there for a month.”
“Forget it, why talk about it?  What difference does it make now?”
The second-eldest son continued, “Once, someone came to our house and asked my father, pointing at me, what’s is your son’s name, and right in front of that person, my father asked me, what is your name? That day, I had felt I had been slapped; he didn’t even know my name. The person who used to supply tea and paan in his office had arranged a highly favourable loan for me. That was how I started my business, my shop. With a lot of difficulty, I had to pay off my loan and try to enlarge my shop.”
 The son was saying all this in such a tone that his complaint, his hurt, and his anger all seemed to be flowing in a river filled with sorrow. Diwakar didn’t really have the courage to say anything further.
After this long time, he had now come back to their house just as it was time for Nipa to go to work. What could he do? What did he want? To recite new stories of woe? She wondered was it right to have left him alone in the drawing room? Shouldn’t he have left along with her? Then, finally she decided that he was not as busy as she was, so he shouldn’t mind waiting for Diwakar while glancing over the newspapers, or perhaps dozing off, thinking about his past. Both of them could have lunch together and talk over things. And perhaps on his way back to the office, Diwakar could see him off.
It was pretty late by the time Nipa reached the office. Shiva, the messenger boy, met her on the way and told her Mr. Pani was waiting for her in his office.
“All right,” she said, almost resigned to the fate which awaited her.  What did Mr. Pani want this time?  Once she reached his office, Mr. Pani rose, greeted her, and got right to the point. He greeted her with humility and smiled as if seeing her was the crowing glory of his day. He then extended his hand towards her, gesturing her to take the envelope that he held in his hand.
“Madam, will you please take back your money because I’ll spend it if I keep it with me,” Mr. Pani stated.
“What money?” she responded in surprise.
“Have you forgotten?”
“Look, I don’t have much time. What money?” Nipa asked impatiently.
“Don’t you remember? In October, you had given me a loan.”
“I had forgotten” Nipa replied, a bit embarrassed.
“Well, don’t worry, Madam. You may have forgotten the loan since you have so much money anyway, but us poor people never forget loans.”
“Look here, Mr. Pani, you know from before, I don’t deal with these kinds of things. So please take the envelope and give it in the right place.” After this, Nipa went to her work area and opened up her computer to start the day’s work.
Mr. Pani came to her work area a short time later. “Here, I entrust it to you.” After saying these words, Mr. Pani left the envelope on her desk and left. “Have a good day,” he said just as he was leaving the immediate area.
After Mr. Pani left, Nipa opened a file and got lost in her work. Junior associates had been watching from the other side of the room as the drama had unfolded. As they watched, she called her messenger boy and shouted at him. She then walked quietly to the Mr. Swain’s office.
At the meeting, she got burdened even further with additional problems and responsibilities. She then guessed that her wish to take leave in the coming week was not possible any more. At this, she got distraught, and thus the entire lunch hour got spent in shouting at her computer, cursing her destiny, and wondering what kind of job she was in.
The onlookers in her office had returned to their respective places. Absentmindedly, she put her hand into her bag, started looking for something, and was soon greeted by the fact that she hadn’t brought her tiffin box today. She called the messenger boy and asked him get her lunch from a local fast food joint with which he returned shortly thereafter. Whilst she was eating lunch, she got interrupted twice by Mr. Swain’s office. He wanted her to go on an official tour. When Nipa heard of this, she immediately tried to decline, her housekeeping duties at the forefront of her mind. Mr. Swain, of course, knew about these difficulties and for the very same reason, would always try and make her go on tour. He used to make such a big deal of her capabilities that she would have no choice but to go. As she returned from Mr. Swain’s office, she was alternating between rage and misery.
As soon as Nipa re-entered her work area, Nandita came over and questioned her.  Nandita was the office snoop and queen of gossip and...Nipa’s supervisor. Nipa was sure Nandita had found out something about the meeting and would smirk at her situation.
“What? Have you not brought your lunch today? Did you order this from the outside? Why didn’t you come over at the lunch hour? Was there an argument or something?” The questions seemed endless. “When I saw how angrily you walked out of Mr. Swain’s office, I thought to myself, ‘let me go and see, what kind of stuff Mr. Swain must have said to you to make you so angry.’”
In such a short time, Nandita had, in that small speech, been able to capture Nipa’s life. Nipa thought, ‘Why can’t I be as smart as her?’ She then crunched up the ‘chow’ packet and threw it in the bin, and said, “I really was in a hurry today and forgot to pack my food.”
“Did you throw it away because I came?” Nandita queried. “Was it egg or chicken?” she continued, twirling a paperweight which had been on Nipa’s desk. “He’s not a good person, Mr. Swain. He shows off a lot. He really likes inflicting pain on others and then laughing about it afterwards. There are these kinds of people who once they’ve got hold of someone, don’t let them go.” Nipa didn’t respond, suspecting that Nandita was trying to trap her into saying something which could be used against her in the future. Nandita, not finding anything else to say, offered, “You know, in front of the office, there’s an exhibition going on with all sorts of electronics goods and more. Want to go there today with me after work?”
 “Yeah, I had look in there earlier but didn’t go inside. If it’s convenient, we’ll go,” Nipa replied, still not really focused on the conversation. Nandrita then left and Nipa returned to her work: preparing an estimate for the branch office. She got engrossed in her work and lost track of time.
Later on, Nandita returned to Nipa’s work area. “How much more work will you do? It’s already three-thirty. I’m telling you, everyone’s going to start leaving now.”
“So sorry.  I lost track of time. I’ve got fifteen minutes more work to do,” Nipa replied.
“All right, after finishing your work, come to my work area, and then we’ll go, okay?”
Nandita had gone away and Nipa again immersed herself in her work. She knew because she was doing her work well, that Mr. Swain still thought well of her. Otherwise, he would have gotten rid of her to some remote place within the interiors. It had taken about 20 minutes for Nipa’s work to be completed and Nandita had been waiting for her. Nipa picked up the envelope Mr. Pani had given her earlier and put it in her bag. They took care of any formalities and then left the office. Nipa looked at her watch and marked it was ten of four when they left the office and came out.
For some reason, Nipa was not feeling very well and felt like going straight home but she went with Nandita to the exhibition all the same. Among the many different things she saw at the exhibition, she was attracted to a certain electronic wristwatch. She examined its many features and then played with it for a while.  You could tell she was particularly fond of it. Nandita then said, “Why don’t you buy it? It looks very nice.”
Realizing she didn’t have much cash with her, Nipa responded, “Maybe another time.” Then she remembered she had the money Mr. Pani had given to her, She could have bought the watch but then decided not to. She figured the money could be better spent buying a scientific calculator for her son. She remembered her son had been wishing for a scientific calculator for quite some time now. She knew he would be really happy if she purchased the calculator for him. After all, she could manage with her old watch; what would she do with a new watch? Making her decision, Nipa then put the watch down, and bought the calculator from another counter. For her daughter, she bought a battery-operated dancing doll. Suddenly, there were many possibilities.
After coming out of the exhibition, Nipa and Nandita both walked with their mopeds together for a while but soon reached a crossroads where they both mounted their mopeds and parted ways. When Nipa arrived home, she was surprised to see Namaste still there in the drawing room.
“Oh, you haven’t gone yet?” she questioned, a bit surprised. He looked uncomfortable when he heard Nipa’s words, and then he stood up straight. Had she said something wrong?
He responded, “The house was open. I couldn’t leave it without locking it. I could have locked the house and gone but I didn’t know where to leave the key.”
“What do you mean? Didn’t you meet Diwakar?” Nipa responded.
“No, he hasn’t come home yet,” the old man replied.
“Oh God! So you mean to say...sorry, extremely sorry. It must have been really hard for you staying here by yourself. You must have been really bored.”
Nipa’s guest sighed, “My lifestyle is like this,  you know.”
“Why don’t you sit down and eat something? I’ll make you some snacks and you can eat them and go,” Nipa offered.
“No, don’t worry. I’ll leave”
“I’m sure you must be hungry. You haven’t eaten anything since morning?”
“Nowadays, I don’t really feel that hungry”
“Diwakar must have gotten lost in his work or gone somewhere because of his work, because usually he comes home at lunchtime. Did he call?” Nipa asked, a little worried.
“Not really. I’ll leave now,” He insisted, then got up and made his way out of the home where he had taken refuge for that day. He closed the gate and departed. And Nipa really couldn’t stop him. She felt guilty and didn’t know what to do, never having been in this situation before. She sat down with a sense of guilt flowing through her. The children then came home and changed out of their school clothes, but Nipa still sat there.
Her daughter asked, “Mama, won’t you give us food today?”
A bit lost in thought, she said, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Go sit down. I’ll be with you in a minute.”
Then she remembered the things she had purchased for her children at the exhibition. Before showing them to her children, she asked them to close their eyes and said they she bought one gift for each of them. “Let’s see, let’s see,” they clamored, gathering around her in anticipation. Nipa gave her daughter her present first, and before her son could grab the doll out of his sister’s hands, she gave him the scientific calculator. They seemed to forget all about being hungry and were playing with their presents.
Nipa took out the food and served it to the children. “All right, that’s enough now. Come sit down and eat.” Nipa then went upstairs and changed her clothes.  When she came back down after changing, the children were still busy with their presents. After she called them five more times, they finally came to the table.
As soon as everyone sat down, her son got up from the table and announced, “The same food again? I don’t think I can eat this stuff again.  I’m sick of it.” Then her daughter got up from the table following her brother with much the same commentary.
Nipa had called them, tried to bribe them, shouted at them, and then said at the end, “What did you want me to do? What things should I have given you to eat then?”
Her daughter said, “I haven’t eaten my tiffin mama.”
“Why not?” Nipa questioned.
Her daughter responded, “Every day, I can’t eat the same tiffin, the same biscuits, and the same mixture. Why can’t you ever give me something different? My friends get new snacks every day. They always get something different like  idli, paratha and upma  from their house.”
“When do I have the time? Don’t you guys know that I’m working?” Nipa responded, a little hurt.
“Whose telling you to work?” her daughter questioned in response.
Nipa had gone quiet. She was used to hearing these kinds of remarks from her children and sometimes, if she was in the right mood, she could make them understand that if she worked, more money would come through, and then they’d live better. But today, Nipa was tired and a bit cranky. It had been a frustrating day.  Then she became lost in thought...
Even though she thought she had done a lot for her children, sometimes her lack of attention and care to them was very obvious. In their rough notes and their twisted letters, this lack of attention seemed to scream from the pages. And just like this, age will take over.  Her children will grow up; her hair will whiten; and she’ll become old and incapable. What will become of her? What will become of Diwakar? Maybe her children would grow up to be something great, but still her children will remember those rough notes and twisted letters, and same boring food. Maybe they’ll say, “What have you ever done for us, mama? We don’t know the warmth of our mother’s lap in winters. During our holidays, we have to have locked doors to protect ourselves from thieves and dacoits as well as from snakes and scorpions. But still, what about ghosts? They could pass through the walls and come through, na? How we must have spent those moments, those moments where we felt like we were about to suffocate in these quiet locked quarters. Those were some hard times, you know. Most of the days used to be spent in waiting. When will you come? When will you reach here? What if you have an accident on the road, what would we do? Who would we run to? Who will we phone? Was it right on your part to leave hours and hours outside, leaving us alone to suffocate in those childhood days?” Then the image of that old fellow, the guest in the morning,  blazed into view, abandoned and on his way to nowhere.
‘When will Diwakar arrive home?’ she wondered.

(Translated by Gaurav Nayak
Edited by Paul McKenna)

Friday, July 27, 2012



Sarojini Sahoo

 (The  original story is included in author’s  Odia  anthology  DUKHA APRAMIT (ISBN: 978- 81-7411-483-1) under the title ‘CHHI’ and  is  translated  by Arita Bhowmik  and  Dinesh Kumar Mali in Bengali and Hindi  respectively  with same title and have been  included  in  author’s short story collection Dukha Aparimit (ISBN 978 984 404 243-8), published from Bangladesh by Anupam Prakashani, Dhaka and  Rape Tatha Anya Kahaniyan (ISBN: 978-81-7028-921-0) published by Rajpal & Sons, Delhi.)

Part I

No one had the capability to put her curly hair under control. Her hair was swinging like flowers over the eyes, ears and nose. When Granny came home, she used to get castor oil along with other tidbits. She sat on the rope stool and put the sticky castor oil and combed her hair with the comb made from a horn. She felt she would die from pain.  But Granny would pat her back and repeat the saying, “castor oil sets the fur of the ships well.” She had seen one or two sheep amidst the herd of goats in Muslim’s lane. They were not like the sheep found in Australia or in the Himalayas; they were the sheep from the coastal regions of Orissa. The one-and-a-half-inch knotted fur looked real ugly on the dirty yellowish colour of the sheep. She felt sad thinking of her hair; because she could understand the meaning of her Granny’s words. Of course the hair got stuck together with the castor oil.

In the class, their teacher told them that they all must have heard stories about Dhruv, Prahalad and Shravan kumar from their grannies. This was not true in her case, though. First of all, Granny never told old stories. Secondly, not while she was going to sleep but while Granny sat down to comb her hair, and those stories made a mark on her innocent mind. Two of the stories she has never been able to forget. The first one was like this:

When marhattas invaded the Odisha, they came and plundered the whole place entering every house stealing and raping. Granny remained silent for a while. After a few seconds she would start, I was in the backyard. Someone shouted, “The marhattas are coming towards the village.” Within a few seconds the whole village was deserted. Everyone fled up to whatever place and hill they found. The cattle were still bound to their sheds. Rice and paddy, dal such as moong and black dal, money, and everything else was left unattended. Even the seventy-year-old Naliamma climbed up the mountain with a stick. The only person who could not go was the daughter-in-law of the sweet maker household. How could she go? She had completed nine months. As soon as she heard about the marhatta invasion her pain started. Her parents-in-law, her husband, and his brothers and sisters all left her to save their lives. No one cared for anyone or bothered to listen to anyone at that time. She had no time to cry; the child inside her was restless. She said, “Go. Why should you all give your life for me? When the marhattas come they will be satisfied with me.” In spite of saying such words, she gave birth to the child when she heard the tapping of the horses at the corner of the village. Tears were dripping down. Pregnant for the first time she cut the cord with a shell. As she wiped the child and put him in her lap and was trying to sleep, hordes of soldiers rushed into the village. The whole village was deserted. They banged the dishes in some houses and they pulled the thatch from others. Within a few seconds, they were all around the daughter-in-law of the sweet maker household.

Eight to ten heavily-built young men came and asked her, “Tell us where everyone has gone?” She was not able to utter a single word. Her whole body was shivering. She looked at them with wide open eyes. The leader of the group said, “What are you staring at? Put the fire on; we are hungry. Put oil in the pan. Fry the baby in your lap and feed us.”

The daughter-in-law of the sweet maker household had just given birth to a son. She had not even held the child for a few hours. The child hadn’t taken to the mother’s breast yet. How the mother’s heart must have been beating? She had lot of patience and lot of strength. She said, “If you want to eat the child, sit quietly.” She held the child in her lap and lit the fire in a wood burning oven. Soon the oil was hot. She stood up and with a ladle in her hand started spooning the hot oil from the pan onto the face of the soldiers. The soldiers fled the place screaming for their life.

Granny used to say this happened when she was young. Had Parijat been a little older, she could have understood that this incident was never possible because the atrocities of the marhattas occurred before granny’s birth. She did not have any clear idea about the marhattas then. She imagined that they must be like elephants, horses, tigers, lions or perhaps demons. Why else would they ask for human meat? She could not disbelieve this story of Granny but the other story made her very sad. Her mind was full of disgust.

As Granny combed her hair with the sticky oil, she would massage her back and say this back is a golden back which has a son for the family. After her birth, the much desired son had been born in this family so Granny thought her back was the golden back. She also used to narrate a short story about this. After praying for a son to various gods and goddesses, when her mother had lost all her hope of getting a son, Granny heard of a tested formula for begetting a son and applied it on her mother. Once she picked up the worms from Parijat’s stool and hid them in a banana and gave it to her mother to eat. In the course of events, her mother gave birth to the much awaited son and Parijat got a brother. The day she heard this story from Granny, her mind was full of disgust. She did not want to sit with Granny to get her hair combed anymore. She looked at Granny with a sense of disbelief. She felt her mother was betrayed. She really felt pity for her mother.
Part II

Two eyes wet with tears had haunted her since childhood. At dusk, when the dirty bulbs emblaze, she remembers those eyes. Then slowly, the lady in her forties adorning a white saree with a white blouse appeared in front of her. The lady’s voice disturbed her Parajit’s. The voice of the lady was so deep; it sounded as if it was drowned in deep water. She was very desperately saying, “Please give me something, oh Nuni, my children have been starving. They have not had a morsel since morning.” She had a cloth bag in her hand. Her pleadings never reached Parajit’s mother’s ears. The lady would sit on the ground and wipe her tears. After a while, mother would twitch her nose in disgust and say, “How can I give you every day? You come over every evening begging. What do you think? No one has any work but to listen to you?”

The lady never got up or left. In a rage, mother would bang the utensils or throw the broom she held. She used to leave the place thumping her feet without giving anything to the lady. She would roam across the house and come back to the lady and say, “Are you still there? Didn’t I say, there is no rice in the house? Where will I get rice?”

“Please give. Please, please give me something Nuni; my children will die from hunger,” the woman pleaded. She would hold mother’s hand and plead. Still mother never gave in.

Parijat could not accept her mother as her own. She wished she could go and get two to three cups of rice from the metal drum of rice and give it to the lady, who was actually Sabita’s mother. She did not have the opportunity to know whether her classmate Sabita’s family was poor. Both Sabita’s mother and aunt were widows. They looked more aristocratic than her own mother because they were from the family of the karan caste and always wore white sarees with white blouses. The sight of their pleadings for rice before her mother was really pathetic. She felt her mother should give rice to the lady. They had sacs and sacs full of rice. They would not be short of rice if she gave one or two kilograms of rice to the woman. Every year, one-fourth of the rice from the sacs went into the holes for rats. Pots and pots of cooked and leftover rice went into the cattle’s feed every day. When she thought how the lack of a pot of rice can bring tears to a human, she used to ask her mother, “Why don’t you give a kilogram of rice to Sabita’s mother? I did not like her mother leaving our house wiping her tears.”

My mother amazed me shouting out suddenly with her cracking voice, “What for? Is everything free here? I have five members in my own family. I am hoarding rice because I cannot boil paddy to make rice during the monsoon seasons. Why should I give to any one?

It’s not that my mother did not give anything to anyone. The man named Giriya from the out caste (paan) came over to beg for rice twice every week. As soon as he called at the gate, her mother would send the bowl of rice with them, “Go fast and make sure that he leaves this place as soon as possible” His eyes used to blaze like fire but his body looked as if the huge figure has lost its lustre with age. When she put rice into his bag, he asked about everything; about her mother, her father, whether they were getting adequate sleep because their house was in the town and there were too many vehicles on the road. Mother never used to come out of the house. She used to say from inside, “Uncle, please leave now. Why are you gossiping so much?”

The man, whose name was Giriya, would then get up lifting his long bamboo pole. As soon as she went inside the house,mother would ask Parajit, “What was Giriya asking?”

“Nothing in particular; he was asking about you and father and stuff.”

Mother would get scared and ask, “Did you tell him that your father is not at home for the last two days?”

Mother was really scared of Giriya paan. She had the belief that Giriya paan is coming under the pretense of begging alms and noticing all the nooks and corners of their house. He knew where the gold, silver and money were kept, and when he got an opportunity, he would come and steal everything.

Giriya was from Parijat’s maternal uncle’s village. That’s why her mother used to address him as uncle. There was no fondness in that ‘uncle’ address. Rather, there was a sense of fear and persuasion, “Uncle, look I am your niece. We are born in the same village. Spare my family from your evil intentions,” Parajit’s mother would often say.

Parijat was amused. How can a beggar be a dacoit? If he was a thief, why would he beg for alms at every door? When she said this, her mother narrated the story which sounded like a crime story.

In his youth Giriya was a very ferocious dacoit. His terror was felt not only in his village but spread to the surrounding villages. Those were the days, under British colonial rules, when kings ruled over the place. Kings competed with each other over both good and bad deeds. Once, the king invited Giriya to the fort. Being a dacoit, Giriya was scared to accept the king’s invitation and tried to hide. So the king sent messengers with gifts and presents to Giriya’s place. Giriya was amazed. He went over to the king and pleaded, “Please forgive me, sire”

The white-skinned sahibs were frequent visitors to the king’s palace. The king took Giriya inside and said, “Look Giriya, if you are a true son of a paan, then show your capability.” Giriya was restless. He could not imagine what the king wanted him to do. The king said, “If you can go to the fort of Madhupur and get the clothes from the queen’s bathroom, then you will be considered the son of a brave man. You will be known as a true dacoit.”

Giriya boasted, “Is that so?”

True to his words, Giriya entered through the drains into the bathroom of the queen of Madhupur and with all cleverness, got the queen’s clothes from her bathroom safely tucked inside a bamboo pole. He was aware of everything that was happening. He kept his eyes and ears open to everything.

Even in that young age, Parijat had the intelligence to point out to her mother, “You give Giriya rice because you are scared of him. When it is Giriya, you forget about finishing rice during the monsoon season but when it comes to giving rice to Sabita’s mother you are always short of rice. You are not a good person.”

Mother screamed out in her cracking voice, “What did you say?” Afraid of being hit by her mother; she ran out of the house and sat on the bench placed at the roadside stall. Parijat’s mind was revolting; her mind was full of hatred. Who was she revolting against? Why was there hatred?  

Part III 

Drops of blood fell into the toilet pan. The red blood on the white pan was creating amazing colours of dawn. The sight brought back that popular story to Parijat.

The queen was absent-mindedly making embroidery in the handkerchief. She was unhappy because she did not have any children; no princesses or princes. The king was getting older now. She was so upset about not having any children that the thought of it made tears fall from her eyes. Not only did the tears drip down but she pricked her finger with the needle due to her absent-mindedness. She squeezed her finger with an ‘ooh’ sound. A red spot of blood shone on her fingertip. Slowly, she let the drop of blood fall outside the window. It was winter and the whole palace was covered with snow looking like soft cotton wool. The drop of blood fell from the finger tip. As soon as it touched the snow a wonderful colour emerged from the combination of red and milky white colour. The queen thought, ‘I wish I had a daughter whose skin colour was like this.’

Just at that time, a very kind angel was flying by. She flew down and said to the queen, “I am aware of your desire. You can have a daughter with the skin of this colour; but as soon as you give birth to her, you will be dead. Do you agree to this condition?” The queen was delighted. The beautiful girl will roam around in the palace like a small butterfly. What can be happier than having a beautiful daughter in exchange for a single life? And some time later, a beautiful girl was born to this earth in exchange for the queen’s life.

Unlike the queen, Parijat was not enchanted to see the blood drops on the pan; she was not disturbed either. For some months now, she was discharging blood. It had become a normal practice with her. She started avoiding the toilet because of this. Once Aravind told her, enough is enough; you must go and see a doctor. It is not right to let any illness last long for any reason. Aravind was so influenced with an article written in the newspaper by a doctor that he landed up at that doctor’s door with Parijat.

The doctor could write very complicated theories in simple words which could be easily understood by laypeople. He proved with arguments that every illness was half physical and half mental. Adding these to his qualifications, they arrived at his house in the afternoon. The doctor was taking rest at that time. That day, the doctor had already finished his schedule to meet patients.

Aravind said, “There is no time limit for doctors. I have bunked the office today. It won’t be possible to bunk it again tomorrow.”
Aravind pressed the calling bell. After a while the doctor himself came out of the door. He was a huge middle-aged man. He looked at Parijit and Aaravind with a questioning glance and before he could ask anything of them, Aravind said, “Are you Doctor Mishra?”

“Yes,” the doctor replied.

Aravind continued. “She is my wife.” Then he described about her illness from beginning to end. The doctor and his guests went inside and sat down.

Now it was the doctor’s turn to ask questions. “What did you say? Pain in the under abdomen? Pain in the back? Blood all over the pan? All right. Let me check.”

Aravind was told to sit while Parijat went inside the doctor’s examining room. The doctor lit the room and Parijat lay down on the patient’s examination bed after climbing over the two-stepped ladder.

“Yes, a little towards the top. Don’t sleep. Kneel down.” Parijit knelt down. “No not like that; on your knees like a four-legged animal,” the doctor corrected.

This time she went down on her kneels like a four-legged animal and Dr. Mishra began checking her. Her muscles started stiffening out. Afterwards she thought, ‘She is a patient, which means she is an object of research. The patient’s caste, religion, sex, and age does not matter; the doctor didn’t have any caste, religion, sex, or age either.’

Dr. Mishra moved his hand towards the switchboard and the light above the inspection table was turned off. Parijat’s intuition informed her Dr. Mishra was not God. He was also a slave to the senses of eyes, ears and nose. His hunger and thirst were immense. There was no element of discretion in his choice, just like a wayward cow.  She stood up before any unpleasant incident could occur and walked towards the room where Aravind was patiently sitting and pushed open the slightly closed door with force.

Aravind asked her, “So did the doctor check you?” The doctor turned on all the lights of the room and opened the door wide as he sat down at his table. Aravind had no choice but to ask the doctor about Parijat’s health.

The doctor replied, “The patient is very sensitive.”

Aravind smiled and said, “She is a woman. That’s why.”

The doctor then replied with disgust, “Yes, woman or something else.”

Aravind was surprised and looked at Dr. Mishra -- the stomach with six inches of fat; the dyed hair smeared with oil; the clean and clear feminine cheeks.  This appearance prompted the word “disgusting,” not Parijit; NEVER Parijit.

Parijit stuffed her mouth with the end of her saree and grew impatient to leave.  

Part IV

As it is, the children turn into caterpillars during that time. There is no question of choice or preference. No mention about hunger or the absence of it. They can eat everything.

As soon as the bus stops, they get down with their water bottles and go straight into the restaurant. After washing their hands in the wash basin, they occupy a table and order food. Both she and Aravind sit as nonentities. They order food according to their choice. They get different kinds of food such as chicken, and naan (bread and peas with cheese). The restaurant is inside the bus stand. A dusky boy with a dirty uniform pours water onto the greasy steal glasses from a dirty plastic jug and puts them on the table. The water bottles brought from home lie beside the children. They drink the water from the restaurant with pleasure. Drops of sweat accumulate on the tips of their noses. Their noses start running. They eat with utmost contentment. They keep on eating even if they are full and not in a condition to eat anymore. At last, they get out of the restaurant with handful of paanmahuri, the aniseed.

No sooner have they taken a round or two about the bus stand, they insist on buying cold drinks. By that time, there is no space left in their stomachs. They take a sip or two from the bottle and leave the rest in the shop. After that, they search the magazine stand in the bookshop. As they return from the book store with all kinds of magazines ranging from movies to sports, the chocolate and toffee displayed in the plastic jars attracts them. They never forget to buy a few toffees.

Every time the same routine is followed. Whenever the children go to the native place they become like caterpillars. The doors of the bus don’t open even after all the demands of the children are met. The bus keeps on standing like a dumb king. The driver, cleaner, and conductor of the bus let every passenger off the bus, one by one, and then they lock the bus and disappear. Eating and drinking comes to end. Going to the toilet is over. Roaming around also comes to a stop. Still the door of the bus does not open. The passengers roam around the bus like flies because there is no place to sit. Legs start hurting. Bodies are in pain. Still, the bus stands still like a lifeless statue.

On that occasion, all the mischief of the children has come to an end; the eating, drinking, and buying of magazines. Nothing is left to do. They roam around like flies as an old man appears. I don’t remember who the aged beggar turns to first. I don’t remember who among them nods his head and says “no.” The aged beggar does not leave their side. Aravind moves slightly and everyone follows, even the old man. Aravind says in a loud voice, “Go away from here.” The old man does not go.

The son says, “Papa, please give to him.”

Aravind does not put his hand into his pocket. Parijat does not open her purse. The old man’s thin hand keeps on pointing towards them like a stubborn child as if it would create a hole in their world comprising of four lives. Aravind is irritated.  He now angrily shouts, “Can’t you hear? I told you get out of here. Get lost.” Aravind moves further ahead. Everyone followed him, even the old man.

The old man appears very sick. His hair is curly and looks like jute. His legs are black with blood vessels protruding. His eyes look as if they belong to a dead fish. His feet are hard like the cow’s hoof. The son says, “Please give to him.”

The pleadings of the son give some incentive to the old man and he continues nagging, “Babu, please give me, please give me,” and touches Aravind.

At that moment, Aravind screams, “Get lost you scoundrel” and lifts his leg as if he wants to kick the old man. Instead of being afraid of the ferocious look of Aravind, everyone is full of shame thinking, perhaps, all the people present at the bus stand have come to know of his meanness. First the son slips away to a distance; the daughter follows him. The old man, who is in the verge of crying, challenges Aravind, “Want to hit me? All right, hit me, hit me.”

Aravind does not repent for his actions. Parijat is also embarrassed and wants to leave. “Disgusting” spews out from her mouth.

Aravind asks her with concern, “What happened?” Parijat does not answer. The look in her eyes expresses her hatred. 


After science has solved every mystery as simple child’s play, questions still remain like: why do the raindrops drizzle from the sky? Why do waves beat every moment? Why do countless sperms run down through dark alleys?

She kept on pondering. Why do living beings die? Why does the sun rise? Why do desires control your life like grass even after they are rooted out? Does God ever tire out? Why does the wind never rest? Why does the mother never forget the loss of her son till her death?

Sometimes these things happen. When she sits alone, she gets drowned in fog? Does not know if it is cloud or fog? Everything looks hazy. At a distance, a blue safari is seen. She forwards her hand. Her hand swims in the clouds and fog.

She can’t touch the blue safari suit. Gradually, she notices the man who has put on the blue safari suit to be Aravind. Just like a drowning person holds on to a straw, she wants to cling to Aravind. Two drops of tears have already gone into her ears. Her hand that swims in emptiness clutches onto Aravind. She wipes her tears and asks, “What happened?” Two other people were standing next to the bed. Aravind asked Parajit, “Have you got back your senses? Are you in severe pain?”

By that time she had come back from the world of clouds and fog. She was able to understand now she was lying in one of the beds of a nursing home]. On a bed nearby, a girl of 14 or 15 years old quietly slept in a frock. She had an IV line in her. Aravind asked the man next to him, “What has happened to the girl?” The woman sitting next to the feet of the girl started crying aloud. Both Aravind and Parijat were shocked to hear her cry. Aravind tried to maintain decency and did not ask anything else. But the matter does not end there. Aravind collected information about the girl from somewhere else. A short time later, he bent down and whispered to Parijat, “The girl was pregnant at just fourteen years of age. One of her distant maternal uncles made her pregnant. The father had threatened to kill him. In the process of aborting the pregnancy using native herbs, the child had died and had begun to decompose inside the young girl’s womb. After the girl became seriously ill, they had brought her here.  She has been discharging pieces of rotten flesh for three days now.”

Parijat closed her eyes out of fear. She felt pain in her stomach and wanted to vomit. In fact, she got up from the bed two to three times intending to vomit but it never happened.

Aravind moved his glance from the girl and set his eyes on Parijat. He patted her back. He moved his fingers on her hair and worriedly ran to the doctor. Tears from Parijat eyes had once again entered into her ears. A nurse came and asked her if she was suffering from any pain. Aravind came back with some capsules for alleviating the pain in her stomach. She was supposed to remain in bed for only two hours. Time flew in the fog with the pain in her stomach and the curiosity about the girl.

Before leaving the nursing home, she wanted to use the toilet. When Aravind wanted to hold her hand and take her to the toilet she said, “I’m all right. I’m feeling better now. I can walk on my own. You wait.” Aravind let her hand go and waited for her outside.

 As she came out of the toilet, her gaze went to the basin of the commode. On a white tray, there lay soaked in blood, a fetus maybe four to five inches [10 to 13 centimeters] in length. It was sleeping like a godchild.  Eyes, ears, nose, legs, hands not even its sex was clear.  Even then, it looked as if it had just come out of an egg. The fetus was silent. Parijat didn’t know why but her heart started to burn in pain as she saw the fetus. She wanted to lift it from the tray and clasp it to her heart. She did not want to leave it on that tray and go home. Someone was knocking on the door.

As she opened the door of the toilet and came out, she was met by Rukmani, an old maid of the nursing home who her, “Babu sent me to check on you, fearing you have fallen down in the toilet.” Then the old woman changed the context and said condedcendingly, “Disgusting. What are you doing? Get an operation done soon.” After she heard the old lady’s advice uttered in an irritating tone like a superior, Parijat did not have the courage to ask, “This godchild lying on the tray, is that my creation?”

Parijat left the place before she could hold the godchild next to her heart and address it as “my dear.” She left without asking for forgiveness with her head down. She started hating herself for this unforgivable sin of her life. She condemned herself and thought ‘Disgusting. What are you doing?’


Thin green hair under the nose, eyes bright, and nose sharp. This was how her son appeared at that time when he moved away from her and said, “Disgusting. Your body stinks.”

“Stinks?” Parijat smiled. “Or smells good?”

“Disgusting. Please just leave,” her son ordered. She looked at her son and realized he was not joking. But why did she smell so bad? It was winter, so there was no question of sweat. As it was, she did not not sweat much even during summer either. Until today, she was under the impression that even her sweat did not smell that much. According to Aravind, a sweet aroma emanated from her body. Aravind was often enchanted with her sweet fragrance no matter whether she was awakened from her sleep or whether just had come out of the kitchen. Parijat often tried to smell herself but never seemed to experience that sweet aroma about which Aravind always commented.

Her son’s complaints were gradually increasing. It had become so bad that when he saw Parijat approach, he would slip away to a safe distance. It was then Parijat started putting on powder and perfume but still her son never came near her. She started feeling sad about it. This led to frustration and subsequently to fights. She could not fathom how everything had changed. From then on, when she saw her son, she would squeeze herself and stand in a corner. At the dining table, she avoided sitting next to her son and sat far away from him.

The more she constricted the more she felt angry and sad. She would cry and plead to him, “You are a part of my body; you have been made from my bones and blood. Look, your nose is exactly like mine. Your smile is like mine too. We are similar. I feel so sad when you despise me. You will never understand how disturbed I feel when I come in front of you.”

Seeing her tears, her son would then soften his tone and say, “Please don’t cry. Please don’t feel sad.”  But he would not change his attitude and would maintain his distance as usual.

Aravind used to say, “This is a new drama. Let me see.” He would then sniff all around her like a dog and say, “Where’s the stench?” Parijat thought Aravind would say, “There is a sweet scent coming out of your body.” But now, he did not say that. She used to feel sad but she now realized her body no longer smelt nice. She thought, ‘Does the bad smell mean old age?’ She remembered her maternal grandfather used to smell funny. She could not really describe how it was like but knew it was not pleasant. So was this an old-age thing? The same smell came out when you entered the Kedargauri temple.

Grandpa’s body was getting old.  Grandpa used to walk four kilometers to come to their house. His toes used to look red and swollen just like the nerves in his legs. He was unlike the grandpa’s found in storybooks. He never told them stories. Far from telling stories, he never even spoke to anyone. His eyes looked starchy and innocent. He was so thin that when he sat, his skeleton would bend and looked just like the English letter ‘G.’ Almost every time he came to Parijat’s house, she would be getting ready to leave for school. Her mother would be busy with the household chores. Without making any sound, Grandpa would sit in their drawing room after taking out the slippers made by the cobbler from tyres. Parijat’s brothers and sisters would be neither happy nor sad when Grandpa visited them. Only they used to scream so that their mother could know that Grandpa was there. But her mother never left her work and run to meet him. Grandpa used to sit and read whatever he laid his hand on, be it newspaper or paper bags. He could read the small English letters in the newspaper even without glasses. As Parijat braided her hair, she would go and put the kettle on the fire of the mud oven for morning tea. By the time she finished braiding her hair on both sides, the tea was usually boiled. Parijat would go and place a cup of black tea in front of Grandpa without uttering a single word. He would be reading the paper bags without uttering a single word. Eventually, Grandpa would gulp the bitter tea without making a face. Since it was not yet time to leave for school, Parijat would tell her mother, “Maa, Grandpa is here.”

“Let him be there,” her mother would respond without any interest.

Parijat used to get angry with her mother and say, “Why are you answering like that? He is your father.”

Mother used to mutter angrily, “If he runs to my house time and again because he wants to take his opium pills, where will I get money to give him?”

Parijat would get irritated with her mother and say, “Talk softly. He can hear you.”

Mother would suddenly scream and say, “Why are you showing off? Go and fetch the five rupees coin tied to the corner of my wet saree drying on the rooftop and give it to him.”
It would soon be time for Parijat’s school. She would run to the rooftop with heavy steps. She would get the five-rupees coin tied to a corner of her mother’s wet saree and give it to Grandpa. Grandpa would not say a word. He would put the money into his pocket, sit for a while longer and then would leave, putting on his slippers made from tyres. Parijat would feel like revolting against her mother; her mother appeared so heartless. But she could do nothing. She would leave for school, resting her books on her chest. 
Parijit’s mother used to say that Grandpa was an irresponsible man. He had done nothing in his life except maybe for being involved in the fight for freedom of the country. Grandma used to do everything right from looking after the lands and the men working there to collecting the rents from the tenants. When the country got freedom from British rule, Grandpa did not do anything; neither service nor business. Neither did he look after his lands nor did he take part in politics. Instead, he spent most of his time drinking. He used to ask Grandma for the money received from rents and then blow it away drinking. Even though he used to drink, he was never ill-mannered. He would drink and come back and sit with Grandma in the kitchen. Even the members of the extended family sharing the same courtyard never used to know when Grandpa came into the house or when he left.

Gradually as Grandma was not able to move, she could not look after the field or manage the labourers working in the fields. She could not collect rents from the tenants and all the houses in the town had to be locked.  At that point, Grandpa gave up drinking and began using opium. Grandma died. As a result of her death, Grandpa did not have money for opium.

Parijat was not aware of when Grandpa had started asking for money from her mother. But whenever he came to their house, both Parijat and her mother could understand that he needed money. As soon as she saw Grandpa her mother would start getting irritated.

In a similar way, Parijat’s son did not like many things about her; her rounded and healthy arms, her way of giving opinions on everything like a wise person, her habit of murmuring songs to herself in the bathroom and kitchen. Parijat could not please her son by putting on an ordinary saree; she could not feed on stale food; she could not pretend to be an innocent country woman from the village. Perhaps he preferred a mother like Yasoda .

Had Grandpa been as worthless to her mother as Parijat was to her son?


Parijat was getting pulled without being aware – just like a dry piece of wood being washed away by the force of a wave or maybe like a flower falling off from the tree and being taken aimlessly by the wind. She was thinking about right and wrong, virtue and vice.  Under what circumstances, under what pretense, and whether it was an auspicious day or a dreadful one, she could not fathom how it all happened. She was swimming further and further away from her place of origin. When she was in the middle of the river, she realized she had a family, had children, had dreams, and had happiness as well as miseries. How could she give up her world at this time? She was against her world without even realizing it.

Parijat was absentminded, as if she didn’t exist in this world. When her son would come back with a bruise on his knee after falling off his bicycle, she would not say, “oh” out of pity; neither was she upset nor did she run hither thither. It was as if this accident had a place in the list of events that details the good and bad things of life. When Aravind would come back from office with a fight with his boss, she would not go to him to offer any consolation. When her daughter would fail her literature exam, Parijat would not give any long lectures on the importance of the mother tongue and the motherland.

She was thinking of something and getting excited. She wet her eyes out of frustration. She had something which was her very own, very secretive which no one else could get any trace of. She felt she was getting younger. She loved watching herself in the mirror.

She said, “There is no difference at all between love and spirituality. Both of these things make you disenchanted towards the world. Both these things rest on intense madness. The desire to become one is prevalent in both these things. The road leading to both these things is crooked and never straight. Both these things embody similar entities and experiences.”

Aravind would laugh at her words and questioned, “Are you in love? Are you thinking about doing research on ‘love and spirituality?’ Are your limits only till love or are you up to any execution? You may become the second Osho, who knows?”

Parijat did not give any response to him. But Aravind did not keep quiet. Once he observed, “Your cheeks are looking pink these days.”

Parijat replied, “What rubbish! At this age, the skin dries and starts shrinking.”

At another time, Aravind observed, “How amazing. You don’t have your irritating habits anymore. Surely something has happened…….”

Parijat used to get scared. Is Aravind suspecting anything? But why would he? Parijat is spinning around like a top for his family. She looks after everyone. She does not even have a moment for herself. When she used to analyze all these things, she felt this secret liaison was even more meaningful and valuable. She wanted to treasure this relationship with care.

One day, Aravind appeared very romantic. He touched her everywhere lovingly. Parijat looked at him with surprise. As he talked about many things that had happened between them, he said, “Don’t think that I don’t trust you or don’t feel bad that I am asking you this. Everything is possible in this life. Can anyone control incidents? We have become dependent on each other after living together in a family for such a long time. Is it possible for anyone to leave? So even if something has happened, never ever contemplate the idea that we will leave each other. I am only curious to know, do you have anyone other than me ……….. I mean, have you been with someone?”

It would have been different had Aravind asked me straight instead with all these words. As Aravind was trying to show that he was a gentleman, she was wondering whether it was right to tell him the truth or not. At this moment, the door bell rang and Parijat left where they were to open the door -- just like it happens in the climax of a drama. The neighbour had come and was sitting in the drawing room. The children had started arriving one after the other as well. That day that incident ended with that.

The love of that day was not there the next day. Aravind had changed his countenance to gather information much like loving a small child at one moment and slapping him in the next. The stored suspicion inside him took the shape of irritation. They started fighting over trivial things. Parijat tried to make her presence as insignificant as possible, as if she had become an untouchable and despicable prostitute. Sometimes she thought she would tell him everything. But she did not know what to say, how to say it, or where to start from.

Should she say that as soon as night falls, her mind gets excited and she gets perturbed? After everyone goes to bed, he comes in the depth of the night with soft footsteps. The scent of his body enchanted Parijat. The whole house starts smelling.  He comes and stands near her. He kneels down near her bed and caresses her lips. As if entranced, Parijat lends her face, hands, and feet and then submits herself completely to him. She would expand herself in a loving way. The beat of the wall clock reverberates to her rhythm. Her mind and body go from a state of sheer pleasure to a state of intense pleasure. She has never experienced such pleasure in all her long married life. She feels as if her life is now worthless without him. Before he leaves, she clasps her lips to his pushing her tongue inside them. She sucks in the thin lips. And then...night gives in to dawn and another day begins.

Sometimes her mind got disturbed even before it got dark. She felt maybe he would not come that day. And when she thought about that, tears started welling up in her eyes. She remembered the events of the night before and her love area would begin to quiver and moisten in anticipation.

But would Aravind have the patience to listen to all this? A few days passed as Parijat was pondering over whether she should let Aravind know these things. All of a sudden, one day she felt that there was no need to hide it from Aravind any longer; she should tell him. At least then, she would get some reprieve from the tension and anxiousness. As she told him, Aravind laughed as he listened to everything. The next moment he became serious and said, “Psychic!”

They used to say the same thing about Rina Mahanty when they were in college. Rina was one of her roommates in room 23 in the ladies hostel. She was not like Parijat or her friends. For example, she used to remain quiet and serious all the time. She never sat at the table when she studied; she always studied on the bed. On her bed, She would spread a white sheet. On that clean bed with the white sheet, she used to keep a one-and-half-foot (46 cm) statue of lord Krishna fixed in his three-dimensional leaning posture. At night, she would sleep next to the statue of Krishna. She would never say anything about her relationship with Krishna. The girls used to address her as Meera behind her back. The girls from other rooms in the hostel would ask Parijat, “Please tell us, does she really sleep with the statue of Krishna?”

Further, Rina never went to the dining hall preferring to take her meals in her room where she would spread a sheet of plastic on the bed and eat as if she and her Krishna were eating together. Rina’s love for the lifeless statue gave her pleasure and it surprised her as well. This love affair with a lifeless statue was ridiculous when compared to watching the lively couples in front of the ladies hostel.

Rina had only shared a few secrets with Parajit during her two-year stay with her at the hostel. One of those secrets was that she would never get married. She claimed she had everything that one gets from marriage so she could not see any reason to get married.

Parajit used to think Rina was psychic. Other girls thought she was half-mad. And now, just like after listening to everything, Aravind told Parajit she was psychic.  She did not know exactly what Aravind thought of her but now, he wanted to know more and more about her lover. Every morning he would ask, “Did you dream last night? What happened? Tell me all the details.”    

Generally, her lover would not come every night. So often, Parijat would reply, “No, he did not come last night” to Aravind’s queries. He would ask things like, “What does her lover look like? What would they talk about? What things does he prefer?”

Apart from Aravind, there was now another man in Parijat’s life. Both Aravind and her accepted this new relationship as a very natural arrangement and embraced it. Nothing unusual happened. On the contrary, Aravind was incarnated as her lover and Parijat got excited to accept the ‘new’ Aravind in this state.

When everything appeared normal, Aravind’s satirical remarks, or his undertone words between them, or maybe the youth-like attitude of Parijat caused her daughter to be become suspicious and sense the presence of someone else in their family of four. She was always vigilant to know about him. When the postman delivered letters, she would examine the address to check if the handwriting belonged to any man. When the phone rang, she would secretly pick up the other line and try to listen in on the conversation. In spite of everything, she never seemed to be able to find out who the fifth person was, who breathed in the house, and who had the right to freely enter her parents’ bedroom.    

One day, Parijat noticed there was water in her moisturizer bottle. Someone had squeezed the face pack tube; the lipstick had been smudged and spoilt. One by one, strange incidents occurred. She could not find her pearl necklace after looking everywhere; she noticed someone had cut a big piece from her pure silk saree.  She was upset and cried; but still could not find the culprit.  She also did not understand why but she suspected her daughter was behind all these actions.

The reason behind this suspicion was her daughter’s behaviour.  The attitude of her daughter towards her was slowly changing. Her daughter had blunt answers for everything; she defied every instruction; she would knowingly do things of which Parijat did not approve; she would get irritated for no rhyme or reason. She had already used improper words on more than one occasion. This made Parajit realize her daughter was very angry with her.

One day, her daughter announced, “You think I don’t know anything? Do you realize, I know everything about you?” These questions used to scare Parijat. There were many secrets in a human being’s life; things that cannot be shared with anyone; that have to remain secret until death. Those secrets get buried or get burnt with the body after death. What secrets does her daughter know? She wondered.  Now, Parijat felt a little subdued.

One day her daughter told her, “There are big black circles around your eyes; you look like a ghost.” Maybe she wanted to hurt her or she said that maybe for some reason. After saying those words, her daughter satirically laughed at her. Parijat would never forget her daughter’s laughter on that day. As a result of those remarks, Parajit’s attention kept on going towards the mirror continuously to look at the black circle around her eyes. Her daughter watched her very carefully and gradually realized what she had said to her mother that day about her face had deeply hurt her. So maybe to further irritate her or may be to hurt her, her daughter then remarked, “Your skin is loose and you look like an old woman. Really, how dark you have become.” Once she even plucked a white hair from Parajit’s hair and flaunted it in front of her mum’s eyes and laughed.

Parajit was breaking into pieces at her daughter’s words but also begrudgingly realized they were not all that exaggerated. Sometime, as if to appease her daughter, Parijat would say, “Yes my dear, I have become old.” But even then, her daughter’s anger would not subside. But why was she so angry? What was Parajit’s fault?

One day, not being able to take it anymore, she ordered her daughter, “Please speak out whatever complaints you have against me; just say them openly. I cannot tolerate your behaviour anymore. But remember, my life is mine and your life belongs to you alone. From now on, I will not interfere in your life and you will not interfere in mine.”

Her daughter remained serious for a while. Then she angrily spit out with condescension, “Disgusting.” Parijat asked, “What is the reason for your hatred?” Her daughter replied angrily, “Oh hell, don’t irritate me Ma.”

(Translated by Gopa Naik
Edited by Paul McKenna)