(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.)
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.
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?
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.
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)