Aug 24, 2010
Amit Raaye barrister. When, moulded in the English cast, his surname transfigured into Ray and Roy, the rubric was rubbed, but it summed up to more. That is why, desiring singularity of surname he conceived so strange a spelling, that to his English men and lady friends, his name, already suffering from a hardened T, took the form of AumiT Raye.
Amit’s dad had been an all conquering barrister. He had amassed a pile high enough for three generations to effortlessly deep-dive into decadence. But in spite of the cataclysmic clash with inherited wealth Amit managed to survive unscathed.
Before even stepping into the threshold of graduation in Calcutta University, Amit was admitted into Oxford. There he passed seven years in passing and passing up exams. Intelligence ensured minimal study, but he did not come across as limited in knowledge. His dad had not expected the unexpected from his son. His sole desire had been to dip the soul of his only son in the colourful texture of Oxford so that the hues of memory refused to fade on his return to homeland.
I like Amit. Charming lad. I am a new author. My readers total up to a meagre few. Among them Amit stands out in terms of credentials. The vivre and éclat of my style has caught his fancy. According to him, in the Literary-land of ours, the authors who are famed lack style. The works of these writers resemble the camel of the creature world. Asymmetry reigns across their structure and substance, their pace is loose, disconnected. Their tread is limited to the bare, blanched desert that is Bengali Literature.
According to Amit, fashion is the mask, style is the visage. The commoners of Literature, the ones who cater to their own souls, are the owners of style. And the noblemen, whose business is to meet the demands of the masses, fashion is for them. Bankimesque style can be found in The Poison Tree, where Bankim has really surpassed himself. On the other hand, clinging to the Bankim Bandwagon, Nasiram pulls Bankim down in Manmohan’s Mohunbagan.
The commercial danseuse can be sighted under the canopy of festive tents, but at the moment of the auspicious meeting of eyes, the bride needs to be veiled in a Benarasi. The canopy is fashion while the Benarasi is style – to capture the special colour of the shadow on the special face. In Amit’s opinion, our hesitation to step away from the well trodden path of the common reader’s market leads to the neglect of style. In the legends of Daksha’s ceremonial homage we find the elucidation. Indra, Chandra and Varuna were the fashionable gods of heaven, they were invited to the auspicious rituals. Shiva, however, had style – so original that the chanting masters of ceremony believed it to be unconventional to solicit him in their guest-list. I like it when a graduate from Oxford says all this. I believe that I have style – and that is why my books are liberated after a single edition, without rebirth or reprint.
My brother in law Nabakrishna could not bear Amit’s expositions. “Don’t tell me of your Oxford graduate,” he used to say. He was a hair-raising M.A. in English Literature. He has had to study lots and perceive little. He recently told me, “Amit puts the lesser authors on a pedestal to reduce the stature of the great ones. To beat the drums of slight and scorn is his hobby, and he has made you his drumstick.” Unfortunately, present at the scene of discourse was my wife herself, his sibling. Yet, to my great joy, she did not like what my brother in law said at all. I realised that her tastes matched that of Amit, yet she was limited in her scholarship. Women are naturally intelligent.
Sometimes I have my own doubts when I see that he has no qualms to denigrate some of the famed English authors. The ones who flood the common market with the endorsement of the stamp of nobility. Whose works do not need to be read for appreciation, who could pass us off as passable critics with eyes-shut eulogies. For Amit too, it is redundant to read their writings. He does not stop from disparaging them, eyes wide shut. Truth is, the famed are too widely public – like the waiting room of Bardhaman. And the ones he has discovered himself are his monopoly, as if the saloon car of special trains.
Amit’s addiction is to style. Not limited to literary selection, it spreads across the choice of attire. There is a special cast in his features that makes him not one of many, but the one, standing out among the many. A clean cut, clean shaven, fine dark, full face. Spirited bearing, shining eyes, sparkling smile, sprightly movements, spontaneous response always at hand. His mind is like a flint stone that kindles on contact. He often puts on traditional clothes since people of his group do not. White dhoti, folded with care, because it is not popular for his age. The Panjabi he wears has buttons from his left shoulder to right waist, the sleeve slit to the elbow. Around the waist, the dhoti is wrapped by a strand of brown zari, to the left of which hangs a small satchel of Brindabani pattern. In this satchel rests his pocket watch. His Cuttack shoes are of white leather patterned with red. When he goes out, a folded Madras wrap with wide intricate borders hangs on his left from his shoulder to knee. When invited to friends, he puts on a Lucknow Muslim hat, white weaving over white. I would say it is less of an attire than a loud laugh. I don’t understand the essence of his English apparel, the ones who do say he looks dishevelled but distinguished. It is not his passion to adorn himself into the attractive, but to scorn fashion is a frolic too endearing. Everywhere one comes across those whose horoscopes somehow map their ages into chronological youth. Amit’s unattainable youthfulness, due to his unadulterated springtime of life, is unrestrained, reckless, riding the tide of time outwards, washing away all in its way, with nothing clutched in his palms.
On the other hand he has two sisters, Sissy and Lissy. As if brand new procurements of the new market, specially packaged in fashion wraps. High hoofed shoes, the coral-amber necklace visible through the cuts of her laced jacket, the saree stretched out in a rigid slant. They tap tap in steps of haste, speak a bit too loud for taste, in stages roll out refined laughter, look haughtily with a soft curved smile on the lips, know what is called soulful look. Pink silk fans swish about frequently near their cheeks, and seated on the arm rest of the chairs of men friends, these fans strike their fake reprimand towards their fake audacity.
Amit’s attitude towards the ladies in his group stirs envy in fellow men. He is not aloof towards girls in general, but has not shown weakness to anyone specific either, yet ordinarily there is never lack of the sweet charm. In other words, he has no eagerness for women, but is not short of enthusiasm. Amit goes to the parties, plays cards, purposefully loses bets, entreats the off-key lass for an encore, asks the one wearing garish colours about the shop where such clothes can be purchased. He comes across with preference for all newly introduced, but it is well known that his bias is neutral. The man who worships many gods glorifies each god as superior in private. The gods understand but are not displeased. The mothers never lose hope, but the daughters have understood Amit to be the golden horizon – within reach but unreachable. About the girls, his own mind debates, but does not conclude. That is the reason for his bravado in elusive overtures. That is why he can make friends easily – even close to the inflammable he is safe from combustion.
That evening during the picnic beside the Ganga, when the moon rose over the deep, still, gathering darkness of the other bank, he was accompanied by Lily Ganguly. He softly whispered, “The new moon on the other side of Ganga, and you and me on this. This synthesis will never recur in eternity.”
For a while Lily Ganguly’s soul shimmered to the surface. But she knew the truth of the words was limited to the elegance of delivery. To demand more is to crave the ephemeral colours splattered on top of a bubble. So, quickly unravelling the transient spellbinding, she laughed aloud. “AumiT, what you said is so very true that it need not have been mentioned. The frog that plopped into the water just now, even that won’t take place again in eternity.”
Amit laughed in reply. “There is endless difference, Lily. The frog leaping this evening is an unrelated, trivial matter. But you and me and the moon, the flow of the river and the star etched sky, together create a unique tune – like Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. I think in the factory of the divine engineer Vishwakarma, there is a crazy craftsman. The moment he attaches a turquoise to diamond and diamond to emerald and puts them together with a flawless rounded piece of gold to create a supreme ring of one moment, he flings it into the ocean. No one will ever find it again.”
“Good for you, AumiT. You don’t have to worry about paying the bill of this jeweller of Vishwakarma.”
“But Lily, consider this. If after aeons we meet by divine chance under the shadows of the crimson forests of Mars, and if we stand facing each other across a thousand mile canal, and if that fisherman of Shakuntala slits the koelakanth of time to reveal the heavenly moment of today, if we start and glance at each other, what would happen next?”
Lily chastised Amit with her fan and said, “Then again the golden moment will unmindfully drop back into the ocean. You have lost so many such moments carved by the crazy craftsman, there is no record in your mind.”
So saying Lily got up quickly to join her female friends. This was one instance of many.
His sisters Sissy and Lissy ask Amit, “Why don’t you marry?”
Amit responds, “For the matter of marriage, the most important is the bride, and immediately after that the groom.”
Sissy says, “That’s funny. There are so many girls.”
Amit replies, “Girls were married in the ancient times, by matching destinies. I want a bride, whose identity is her own. Who is second to none in the world.”
Sissy says, “When she comes over to you, you would be the first and she the second. Her identity will rest on yours.”
Amit says, “The girl for whom I carry on matchmaking in my mind is of a wrong address. Often she does not end up reaching home. She is like a star falling from the sky who bursts into flames on contacting the atmosphere of the heart, does not land up in the dwelling place.”
Sissy says, “Which means she is not at all like your sisters.”
Amit replies, “It means she does not come to the house just to increase head count.”
Lissy joins in, “I say Sissy, Bimi Bose is waiting for Amit to beckon her, so that she can come running to him. Why doesn’t he like her? He says she has no culture. Why, she stood first in Botany M.A. What is culture but education?”
Amit responds, “The crude stone from whence the glittering diamond is cut is education. The luminous light that sparkles forth is culture. The stone lends weight, the light gives illumination”
An enraged Lissy says, “Ahem. He does not appreciate Bimi Bose. Is he at all good enough for her? Even if
Ami suddenly turns crazy to marry her, I’ll warn her not to reward him with as much as a glance.”
Amit says, “Unless touched by insanity would I ever want to wed her? In such a predicament, arrange for medics and not matrimony.”
His relatives have given up on his marriage. Their conclusion being that he lacks sufficient maturity to take on the responsibility of nuptials – the reason for his dreaming of the impossible and staggering everyone with the unconventional. His mind is like the light of the will-o’-the-wisp, dazzling over paths and meadows, impossible to be established inside domestic walls.
Meanwhile Amit gladly loiters around unrestrained, hosts strangers to tea at Firpo, needlessly treats friends to joyrides in his car, buys expendable stuff and distributes them among all and sundry, misplaces recently purchased English books at different places of visit, not bothering to retrieve them.
The quirk that gets on the nerves of his sisters is his compulsive disregard for convention in talk. In a gathering of the respectable, he is bound to venture opinions contradicting the honourably approved sentiments.
Once, some political-theorist was singing praises of democracy. Amit said, “More than a hundred holy sites were created across the country when Vishnu slashed the remains of Sati into pieces. Democracy today has installed innumerable fragments of aristocracy. The world is being infested by small petty aristocrats – in society, politics, literature. No one has a semblance of gravity, since they don’t have self belief.”
When a socially conscious friend of feminism was criticising men for the discriminatory dominance over women, Amit lowered the cigarette from his lips and gushed, “If men stop, female dominance will commence. The domination of the weak is too terrifying.”
The women and the champion of feminism in the assembly fumed, “What is that supposed to mean?”
Amit said, “The party with the shackles fetter the bird in chains. The ones without manacles, bind through opium, in other words through deceit and delusion. The shackler ties you down but does not beguile. The opium vendor places you under control and also misleads. The female case is filled with opium, nature being the evil supplier.”
One day at a literary gathering, the poems of Rabi Thakur was the hot topic. For the first time in his life, Amit had agreed to be the chairman. He had gone mentally dressed up in the regalia of battle gear. A goodhearted old timer was the speaker. His only purpose was to prove that Tagore’s poetry was truly poetry. Apart from one or two college professors, the majority agreed that the proof provided was satisfactory.
The chairman stood up. “Every poet needs to practise poetry within a time frame of five years. From twenty five to thirty. I won’t venture to say I want better from the next, but I do want novelty. When the Alphonso mango is over, I won’t say bring Alphonso-er mango. I would ask my mate to fetch a large custard-apple from the new market. The green coconut is short termed, valued for essence. The hardened coconut has extended time, regarded for substance. Poets are short-lived. Philosophers are older than mountains ... The major complaint against Rabi Thakur is that the gentleman is emulating old Wordsworth and living unjustifiably long. Yama sends lamp lighters to snuff out the light of life, but the guy holds on to the arm rest of his chair even when he stands tottering to respond to the call. If he does not slink away to oblivion on his own, the onus is on us to leave his assembly and walk away. The next one who will arrive will also come snarling, battle ready, claiming eternal reign. The abode of immortals will seem tied to his door post. For a while the devoted will garland and anoint him, feed him to the fill, prostrate themselves to him ... and then will arrive the auspicious day to immolate him, the propitious moment of the liberation of the devotees from devotion-bondage. This is the ritual for the worship of four legged gods of Africa. The same holds true for the two, three, four or fourteen legged deities. There is nothing as sacrilegious and impure as making worship tedious through rituals. Appreciation proceeds through its own evolution. If the fascination of five years back remains static and fixed half a decade on, then we have to understand that the poor soul has not realised that he is dead. A shove will make him see the proof that his sentimental relatives were delaying his last rites, probably to deny his deserving successor forever. I have vowed to reveal this illegal conspiracy of Rabi Thakur’s group to the public.”
Our Manibhushan’s glasses flashed in reproach as he asked, “You want to remove loyalty from literature?”
“Absolutely. From now on, it is the quick termination age of the poet-president. My other opinion about Rabi Thakur is that the substance of his works is akin to his own scribbles, rounded or wavy, like a rose or a fair lady’s face or the moon. It is primitive, like the mock show of the handiwork of nature. From the new poet president I want terse, straight lines. Similar to a shaft of an arrow, spear or thorn. Not like flowers but as streaks of lightning. Like an analysis of neuralgia. Like the angular, edgy Gothic churches, not the rounded domes of temples. No problem even if it is resembles mills, factories or the secretariat building. From now on, leave aside mind deluding artful posturing of verse vaults. The senses need to be abducted as Sita was abducted by Ravana. Even if the mind goes forth protesting and in tears, go forth it must. The geriatric Jatayu will forbid, but will die in the process. And after a while, Kishkindhya will arise, some Hanuman will leap through, torching Lanka and arranging for the mind to return to its abode. Then we will reunite with Tennyson, will tearfully embrace Byron, will tell Dickens – forgive me, for I have slighted you to recover from infatuated illusion ... If the fascinated artisans had forever erected domed stone bubbles across India, every gentleman would have sought retirement into hermetic woods the moment he turned twenty. In order to love the Taj Mahal it becomes necessary to shake off its addiction.”
(Let me note here that unable to wade through the wave of words, the reporter of the meeting had lost his bearings. His report had turned out even more abstruse than Amit’s speech. I have set forth whatever pieces I could salvage from the ruins.)
On the question of the repetition of the Taj Mahal, the red faced devotees of Rabi Thakur remarked, “The more the merrier when it comes to great things.”
Amit said, “Just the opposite. In the kingdom of the Almighty, it is a blessing that good things are a rarity. Else, crowded by His likes, He would have ended up mediocre. The poets who are not embarrassed to live to sixty or seventy, they punish themselves by becoming cheap. Ultimately the pretenders and copycats surround him in battle formation and make faces at him. The soul of his writing is soiled. He lifts stuff off his past works and becomes a receiver of stolen property. In these circumstances, it is the responsibility of the readers never to allow the too old poets to survive. I am not talking about physical survival but poetic. Let the longevity of the relics be used to the full by old college professors, veteran politicians and ancient critics.”
The speaker of the day spoke up, “May I know whom you want to instate as the president? Name him.”
Amit abruptly said, “Nibaran Chakraborty.”
Amazed voices raised themselves from various chairs, “Nibaran Chakraborty? Who’s that guy?”
“Today’s question is the seed from which will rise the giant evergreen of an answer tomorrow.”
“Meanwhile we need a sample.”
“Then listen,” saying so, he produced a long Cambis bound exercise book from his pocket and started reading.
The one unknown –
To the land,
Of the familiar band.
Cause of infinite jest.
I bring Almighty’s dispatch
Eternal lord –
Sends undecipherable word.
Who are the brave,
Challenging death crave –
To answer the absurd?
Rush roars on breast –
Dies on crest
On shores of crag
In suicidal brag.
No garlands, bosom sans splendour
No armlet, amulet or piece of armour.
In fate that for me ever forbidden
Victory mark lies hidden.
In beggarly tatters – still
Empty I will
Your treasure store.
Open the door
Have extended my hand
Briskly fulfil my demand!
Heart aflutter, shivering, grim,
Earth and sky fill to the brim.
Fearful wail rises fierce
Horizon does pierce –
At once depart
O rampaging beggar
Back does dart
Nightly slumber sharply stabbed in heart
Bring on suite of arm.
Flay my being with clashing alarm.
Let death slay death, life will endure
Legacy will I ensure.
Wrap me in chain
In moments – free again
From shackles that did entwine
Find will your freedom in mine.
Bring on the holy writs.
Rush at me with learned blitz.
Savant and scholar
With loud arguments will endeavour
To negate decree divine.
Know I in heart of mine,
Scythed to fragments.
Eyes dazed by weak words will take flight
Alight the fire.
Whatever today meets desire
Tomorrow is thrown on pyre,
If it does ignite
Worldwide by right
Let it burn.
Sorrow let us spurn.
Through my baptism by fire
Let on all the world blessings transpire.
Inscrutable words of mine
Rain blows on those who opposite opine –
Make them fretful,
Crazy my verse
Raises the confusion curse
For seekers who have lost peace
For hungry whom fate does fleece.
With hands on head will pledge
One by one acknowledge
In rage, fear and sorrow
Openly on the morrow
His identity will intone.
The one we know not we say
With sun and storm in summer, the world does he sway
Stingy clouds does twist
The secret store of rain
Torn free, across earth’s terrain.
Rabi Thakur’s devotees were stunned into silence that day. They threatened to send in a written response.
While he was driving back, having stunned the gathering into a stupor, Sissy asked him, “I am sure you have created this entire ruse of Nibaran Chakraborty beforehand to fool the good hearted people.”
Amit replied, “The one who propels the uninvited forward is called the uninvited deity. I am the same. Nibaran Chakraborty has landed today, no one can stop him now.”
In her innermost mind, Sissy does feel proud of Amit. She asked, “Amit, do you wake up in the morning and sharpen all the razor sharp words that you will use for the day?”
Amit replied, “To be prepared for what is likely is civilisation. The barbaric are unprepared for anything on the earth. Even this is jotted down in my notebook.”
“But there is nothing called your own. You say whatever sounds good at that point of time.”
“My mind is a mirror. If I wrapped it completely with my own considered opinions then it would not reflect every moving moment.”
Sissy said, “Ami, you will spend your life amidst reflections.”
Of all places, Amit chose to travel to the Shillong mountains. The reason was that people of his group never went there. The other motive – it was a site not flooded by parents laden with eligible daughters. The hunter with the arrow aimed at Amit’s heart frequented fashionable quarters. Of all the mountains in the country boasting ritzy retreats, Shillong was the one most constrained for his target practice. The sisters shook their heads and said, “You have to go, go alone. We are not coming along.”
Stylish short parasols in their left hands, tennis rackets in their right, attired in fake Parisian cloaks, the sisters went to Darjeeling. Bimi Bose had preceded them. When the sisters convened without the brother, she looked around and discovered that there were lots of people in Darjeeling but not a soul.
Amit had made it known to everyone that he was going to Shillong to enjoy the disarming solitude. It took just a couple of days to realise that without the normal army of people, the charm of disarming solitude vanished rather quickly. He does not have the passion for roaming amidst scenic sites, toting a camera. He says, “I am not a tourist. It is my nature to taste with my mind, not at all to gulp with my eyes.”
A few days were spent on the slopes of the mountains, reading under the Deodars. He did not touch fiction, since that is the archetypical holiday hobby of the commoner. He started reading Suniti Chatterjee’s “Theory of words in Bengali”, in the hope of a conflict of opinion with the author. In moments between the war with word-theory and lazy sluggishness, the hills, mountains, woods appear beautiful, but the beauty does not sink into the soul. As if the monotonic strain of overture, life-less, tuneless, toneless. In him there is an expanse, but not oneness, hence distributed trifles scatter within him, without accumulating. The lack of fixated harmony in his firmament, that disperses his soul in ferment, is as much a cause of woe for him in the mountains as in the city. However, in the city he is able to drain the disquiet in multiple manners, while here, the angst accumulates, much in the way a captured cascade transforms into a lake. Hence, he was contemplating “Escape down the slopes, on foot, Sylhet, Silchar wherever fancy takes me” when the monsoon arrived on every mountain and forest, spreading its shroud of moisture-laden overcast darkness. The news blew in that the ranges of Cherrapunji had stopped the attack of the combined clouds of new rain with its bosom, now dense heavy downpour would excite the mountain springs into rupturing their banks. He made up his mind to retire for some days to a bungalow in Cherrapunji – to recreate such a Meghduta whose invisible heroine from the land of Kubera would be like the lightening, flashing time and again on the soul-sky, leaving no trace of name or abode.
That day he put on highland socks of bulky blanket cloth, sturdy leather shoes with thick soles, Norfolk khakis, knee length short trousers and a sola hat. He did not look quite like the yaksha drawn by Abani Thakur, a closer resemblance being a district engineer out on road inspection. However, in his pockets he carried half a dozen slim editions – verses in several languages.
Twisting and turning tracks, green ravines on the right. The final destination upwards on this route was Amit’s lair. Wanderers being improbable, he drove silent, incautious. At that moment he was thinking of the suitability of the motor messenger for the modern day faraway beloved – an ideal union of the elements of smoke, light, water and wind, and a note carried by the chauffeur elucidating everything. His mind was made up. Next year he would greet the first showers by motoring down the path described by the cloud-bearer. Perhaps the wayfarer wife that destiny had kept hidden for him behind flower laden doors would materialise for some implausible reason, be she one of princesses Avantika or Malavika, or a deodar-wood dwelling Himalayan lass. It was then that he saw another car making for the top. No room to pass, he collided even as he braked. Slight dent, hardly qualifying as accident. The other vehicle rolled a while before coming to a stop against the mountainside.
A girl got down from the car. On the background painted by the recent brush with death, she unfolded like a prominent painting created by a streak of lightening – independent of all around her. It was like the goddess Lakshmi rising from the seas whisked to tumultuous froth by the Mandar Mountains, the bosom of the ocean still palpating in swells. Amit looked at her in that singular moment. This girl would not her reveal her innermost nature amongst others in a drawing room. In the world, we may come across worthy people, but very seldom in the worthy location.
She wore a thin bordered white saree and a jacket of the same woollen material, feet adorned by white shoes of local make and model. Dusky glow in her complexion, she stood tall. Under the shade of dense, long eyelashes, the deep doe eyes were serene; the broad expanse of her forehead was revealed by the tresses tied tightly at the back; the shapely mould of the face around the chin delightful as a semi ripe fruit, pretty as a peach. The sleeves of the jacket reached the wrists adorned by plain, dainty bangles. Free of fastening by a brooch, the drape on the shoulder reached her head, pinned to the chignon by a Cuttack patterned silver clip.
Amit left his hat in the car and quietly walked out to stand in front of her – as if waiting for his due chastening. The sight probably evoked pity in the girl, and some amusement. Amit softly said, “I have sinned.”
The girl laughed, “Not a sin but a blemish, with its source in me.”
The inflections carried the flawless swell sparkle of spring water. Like the voice of a young boy, it was smooth and unrestrained. That day, on his return, Amit had thought for long how to describe the unique taste and touch of the tenor. Opening his notebook he wrote, as if the light fumes of amburi tobacco, without the sting of nicotine, filled with the soft aroma of rose water.
The girl explained her own lapse, “Hearing of a friend's arrival, I set out on a search. Just a while after climbing up this road, the chauffeur declared it could not be this one. There was no way back but to retrace from the end. So we kept climbing higher, and collided with his highness.”
Amit said, “There are authorities higher than his highness – a very ugly, crooked planet of fate. This is its devious deed.”
The chauffeur informed, “Not much damage, but it will take time to repair.”
Amit said, “If you can forgive my vehicle’s villainy, I can take you wherever you permit me to.”
“It is not necessary to hitch hike. I am used to hiking the hills.”
“The necessity is mine. The proof of pardon.”
The girl remained quiet in slight demurral. Amit said, “There is something more to say on my behalf. I drive – not really a noble deed, there is no way to drive this thing to posterity. But, that is my only identity revealed to you for a start. And even into that, fate has twisted a flaw. In conclusion, I would like to prove that in this world I am at least as eligible as your chauffeur.”
On the first acquaintance with a stranger, the portent of unknown peril keeps damsels from dismissing diffidence. But with the brush of crisis at commencement, a large expanse of the barricades of beginning was blown away with the first breath. Some divine intervention on the deserted mountain roads tied the knot of familiarity. Did not dither. In the chance lightning streak, what struck the eye would be glimpsed at again and again against the background of darkness when awakened at nights. It was impressed in the midst of sensibility, like the burning mark of the sun and stars on the azure firmament during the big bang.
Without speaking, the girl got into the car. Following her directions the vehicle reached her destination. She got off the car and said, “If you have time tomorrow, do come here. I’d like to introduce you to the lady of our house.”
Amit wanted to say, “Time lies heavy on my hands, I can come right now.” He was checked by inhibition.
On returning, he pulled out his notebook and wrote, “O path, what madness did you indulge in today? Tearing two souls from separate locales, you probably hurtled them on a concurrent course. The astronomer is wrong. From unknown skies, the moon came into the orbit of the earth – their cars collided, and guided by that deadly deed, for ages and aeons are they journeying side by side. The light of one shines on the other. The ties of the journey are not sundered. The depths of my mind say we have together embarked on an endless expedition, on the thread of our path will we string a garland with glittering moments picked up every instant. No longer can I afford to remain at the doors of fate, with fixed salary and fixed ration. Our transactions will always be impetuous, sudden.
It was raining outside. Pacing restlessly and often in the veranda, Amit voiced in his mind, “Where are you, Nibaran Chakraborty? Possess me, bring forth words.”
Out came the long thin exercise book. Nibaran Chakraborty expressed –
The path entwines in a bond untied
On wafting wind do we two ride.
Dust-born coloured moments of day
Soul with powdered hues do spray,
Monsoon clouds do wave the veil
Dance of horizon fair,
Lightning struck spirits regale
With a sparkle rare.
No bunches of champak gold,
No flowers strewn beneath - behold.
Anon at some eventide hour
Whiff of a nameless flower,
Lazily the cloud is belittled
By the sun breaking day,
Atop arrogant peaks are settled
No treasures amassed, silver or gold,
Nor nurturing care does us enfold.
Wayside birds dance to beat,
Chain not we their loving tweet,
Two of us content with the song
Of wings that love flight.
With the sudden we go along
Shine in fleeting light.
Here we need to look backwards. Once we are done with the tale of the past, the story can move forward unfettered.
A storm of social revolution had blown across the terrain of English education in Bengal to sweep the ritualistic fumes of traditional learning and the prevailing winds of college curriculum closer to each other – and in the midst of this upheaval had plunged Jnanadashankar. Born in the distant past, his era had somehow slipped into the present. He had been born in advance. In wisdom, words and ways he had been asynchronous to his generation. Like a surf loving seabird, he enjoyed meeting the gusts of calumny with his welcoming chest.
When the grandsons of such grandsires try to rectify errors of era, they tend to sprint across to the opposite terminus of the almanac. It panned out in a similar way. After the demise of his father, Jnanadashankar's grandson Baradashankar turned out to be almost the primordial progenitor of his pop and grandpa. He prostrated himself to Manasha while appeasing Shitala by accepting her as mother. He started drinking the water used for amulet washing, spent entire mornings inscribing the name of the mother goddess thousand fold. The trader class that had sprung up in his neighbourhood, head held high as highborn, was driven to discomfiture. To protect the ways of preserving Hinduism from the fatal tentacles of untouchable scientific thought, he did not hesitate to forge alliance with the conformist cognoscenti and publish pamphlets, distributing them for free, battling modern thought with sayings of the sages. Soon, through work and worship, rites and rituals, meditation and mantras, chants and cleansings, incantation and incense, Brahmin and cow adorations, he established a slit-less, schism-less stationary stronghold of sanctimony. Ultimately, after innumerable bestowal of cattle, land, gold, and takeovers of the burden of daughter, father and mother, in return bearing the infinite blessings of countless Brahmins, when he left this world for the next, he was just twenty seven.
He had been wedded to Yogamaya, the daughter of Ramlochan Banerjee, the dearest friend of his father. The two fathers had studied in the same college and had cutlets at the same joints. At that point of time there was no behavioural bigotry between Yogamaya's paternal and partner households. At her father's, girls pursued education, wandered outdoors, some of them even contributed travelogues to monthly papers – complete with pictures. Her husband took it upon himself to ensure that the daughter of such a house did not stumble on the foramen monastica in her new immaculate purified edition. In such catholic border security regulations, Yogamaya's movements were constrained by various passport protocols. The traditional veil was lowered over her eyes, and by induction her mind. When some respite enabled Saraswati, the goddess of erudition, to enter the inner chambers, even she was frisked by the sentries of the soul. She was relieved of English books outside the premises, and Bengali literature later than the pre-Bankim era, if detected, was not allowed to cross the threshold. An excellently bound Bengali translation of Yogabasistha Ramayana stood waiting for long in Yogamaya's shelf. To his last day, the owner of the house held on to the enduring wish that she would discourse on it as entertaining leisure. It was not easy for her to be locked up as a safe deposit in the ancient iron chest. Yet she kept her rebellious spirit under restraint. Under this mental embargo, her one and only solace had been Dinasharan Bedantaratna – their community scholar. He had been taken by the clarity of Yogamaya's natural intelligence. He often told her plainly, "Child, you are not meant for this rubble of rituals. The ignorant under illusion not only fool themselves, everything around the world fools them too. Do you think we believe in these things? Haven't you noticed that when we prescribe ruling, depending on the situation, we are not sorry to overturn scriptures using the manoeuvres of grammar and language. This means we don't recognise restrictions in our mind, whereas in the world we have to pretend to be ignorant for the sake of the ignoramus. When you don't want to forget by yourself, I am not capable of ensuring that you do. Whenever you want, child, send for me. I will recount from the scriptures whatever I know to be the truth."
On occasions he explained sections of the Gita and the Brahmabhasya to her. Often she fascinated the Vedanta-ratna with questions of sparkling insight, his enthusiasm in the discussions with her knew no bounds. For the multi dimensioned masters and masterpieces collected by Baradashankar on all sides, the learned man had enormous disdain. He used to tell Yogamaya, "Across the city, only speaking in your home makes me happy. You have saved me from self-castigation." A period passed this way amidst continual vows and fasting, shackled to the writs of covenant. Life from all angles turned what the peculiar language of newspapers of today would term obligatory. After the death of her husband, she set out with her son Jyotishankar and daughter Surama. During winters, they stayed in Calcutta – in some mountain in the summer. Jyotishankar is now studying in college, but Yogamaya was unable to hit upon any girl school to her liking for Surama. After endless search she had found Lavanya and to her had entrusted her daughter's education. And today, it was with her that Amit had the sudden encounter.
Lavanya's dad, Abanish Datta, was a professor in a westernised college. The learned liniment with which he had nurtured his motherless daughter had ensured that her erudition had not been eroded by the encounters with endless examinations. Even now her passion for study was immense.
Papa’s only fascination had been for education and in his girl the fascination had been entirely fulfilled. He loved her even more than his library. He believed that the mind concentrated by the cultivation of knowledge would rid itself of all the crevices required to be lifted by the fumes of fancy. It was his firm conviction that the soft mental meadow yielding domestic devotion for the husband had been laid out with the cement of history and mathematics – a compact, durable mind – unblemished by external brushes. He had contemplated as far ahead as – even if she is never married, she can remain in wedlock with wisdom.
His affections were bestowed on another soul. He was Shobhanlal. Seldom is such dedication towards academics witnessed at such an early age. There was something that attracted one to him – the wide forehead, the clear eyes, the amiable mouth, the simple smile, the handsome face. However, he was tongue-tied, embarrassed by the slightest attention.
Brought up amidst poverty, he had taken the flights of scholarship steps to climb the peaks of arduous examinations. That Shobhan could end up building a great reputation and Abanish would be recognised as one of the foremost architects of the acclaim was an ego trip on which the professor indulgently took strolls. Shobhan used to come to his house for lessons, with unlimited access to his library. At the sight of Lavanya he used to lower his head in abashment. The distance of this abashment provided Lavanya with the authority to create a bloated self image when compared with Shobhan. The men who hesitate to impress their presence significantly most often remain insignificant and unimpressive to women.
At this juncture, one day, Shobhanlal's pop Nanigopal raided his house with a volley of abuse. His grievance being Abanish, in the guise of instruction, was laying snares to kidnap his son into wedding web – to indulge his passion for social reform by putting the vaidya Shoban through inter-caste marriage. As an evidence of his allegations, he produced a pencil sketch of Lavanya. The offending picture had been discovered in a tin box of Shobhanlal, adorned by rose petals. Nanigopal had no doubt that it was a gift of courtship from the lady herself. He had crunched checks and balances to compute the current market value of Shobhanlal as a prospective groom – and had painstakingly predicted the increase in price if he waited a while. Now Abanish had been caught trying to whisk away such a valuable object for nothing. What could this be termed but heinous housebreak? Was it in any way different from embezzlement?
Till now, Lavanya had been unaware that in some ensconced altar, concealed from irreverent public eye, worship of her idol was underway. By some divine chance, Shobhan had discovered an unkempt, faded photograph of Lavanya from the midst of a pamphlet and magazine filled rubbish mound of the library. Having got it sketched by an artist friend, he had put it back where he had found it. In the manner of the coy covert love that burgeoned in his youthful soul the roses had bloomed naturally in a friend's garden. There was no history of unwarranted arrogance. Yet, he had to accept punishment. The shy soul left the house with a bent head, a red face, brushing off clandestine tears. From afar he performed a final act of devotion, the details of which remained unknown to all but the Almighty. During graduation, when he stood first, Lavanya had taken the third spot. Lavanya's self esteem had suffered terribly. There were two reasons for that. The first was that Abanish's excessive regard for Shobhan's intelligence had plagued her for long. The special affection mingled with this respect made the pain more unbearable. She had for long desperately tried to outshine him in examination results. So, when Shobhan still exceeded her, it became difficult to forgive him for this audacity. There was this lingering doubt in her mind that the difference in marks was a result of the special help rendered by her father. Yet, Shobhan had never approached Abanish for help with the examinations. For a few days, she turned her face and walked away whenever she saw him. During the masters examinations, there was no possibility for her to win the competition against Shobhan. Yet, victory was hers. Even Abanish himself was amazed. If Shobhanlal had been a poet, he would have filled pages with verse – instead he sacrificed a number of weighty marks for her.
After this their student days were over. And at this point of time, through agonizing affliction within him, Abanish perceived the proof that even within a mind in which emotions have been amortised with knowledge amor peeped through the books, without being checked. Abanish was forty seven. In that not too advanced, vulnerable, helpless age, a widow entered his heart, tearing right through the biblio barrier of the library, stepping across the vastness of knowledge. There was no further hurdle for marriage, other than Abanish’s attachment for his daughter. There commenced a great battle with desire. With fierce determination he resolves to plunge into study, but a stronger flight of fancy creeps up from behind. Modern Review sends him enticing books on the ancient history of Buddist ruins to critique, the unrevealed book in front of him, he sits motionless like an ancient Buddhist wreck himself, burdened with centuries of silence. The editor gets worried, but once the immense scholarship of the scholar tilts and totters this is the fate that follows. When an elephant steps into the quicksand, can it survive?
Now, after aeons, Abanish was plagued by lament. He developed the doubt that in all probability, in his inability to find time to glance up from the manuscripts, he had not witnessed his daughter falling in love with Shobhanlal. After all, it was absurd not to be able to love a lad like Shobhan. Naturally, he started hating the entire tribe of fathers, Nanigopal and himself included.
It was then that he received a letter from Shobhan. For the Premchand-Raychand scholarship, he had taken resort to the Gupta dynasty for his dissertation, and wanted to borrow a few books from his library in this regard. Immediately he wrote back with special affection, “As in the past, you will work in my library. Please don’t have any reservation.”
Shobhanlal became restless. He assumed that such an encouraging letter probably had Lavanya’s consent concealed within it. He started visiting the library. In the house, on rare occasions, for some instants he came across Lavanya. When that happened Shobhan slackened his pace, he secretly longs for Lavanya to speak to him, to ask him how he was, to show a semblance of interest in the dissertation he was working on. If she did, he would have been relieved to open his exercise book and discuss. He was acutely curious to hear Labanya’s thoughts about some of his original opinions. But, till then, there was no dialogue, and he did not dare try to strike up a conversation on his own.
A few days go by in this way. It was a Sunday. Shobhanlal had stacked up his notebooks on the table, and was leafing through a book, scribbling notes from time to time. It was in the afternoon, no one else was in the house. Taking advantage of the holiday, Abanish did not mention where he was going to. Just that he would not be back for tea.
All of a sudden the door was opened with vigour. Shobhan’s heart thudded and quivered. Lavanya entered the room. Shobhan frantically rose, but could not decide what to do. Lavanya breathed fire and asked, “Why do you come to this house?”
Shobhanlal started. No answer graced his lips.
“Do you know what your father has said about your coming here? Do you have no qualms about having me insulted?”
Shobhan looked at his feet and mumbled, “Please forgive me. I will leave at once.”
He did not even try to clarify that it was Lavanya’s father himself who had invited him. He gathered his books with trembling hands. A languishing, wordless pain tried to push past his ribs, unable to find a way. Head bent, he walked away from the house.
If the opportunity to love the one who could be much loved slips away because of some obstacle, then that does not stop at not loving, but pivots to the flip side of love – blind hatred. Unknown to herself, Lavanya was probably waiting to garland Shobhanlal someday. Shobhanlal did not quite summon her in the desired way. After that, whatever took place went against him. The last bit hurt the most. In deep distress, she ended up prejudiced against her father. She unjustly deduced that for the sake of his own liberation, he had recalled Shobhanlal and was bent on bringing them together. Thus, the full focus of her fury glared upon the innocent.
After that, by sheer persistence, she managed to get Abanish wedded. Abanish had stored away half his saved up money for his daughter. After his marriage, Lavanya declared that she would not accept any inheritance, but would earn independently. Abanish was shattered and said, “I did not want to marry, Lavanya. It was at your insistence that the wedding took place. In that case why are you abandoning me in this way?”
Lavanya replied, "The very reason of my resolve is to ensure our relationship is never restrained"
She found work. The complete responsibility of teaching Surama was hers. She could as easily have taught Jyoti, but he did not at all agree to suffer the indignity of studying under a lady teacher.
The regular everyday life was chugging along. The free hours were stocked up with English literature, from the ancient to the recent Bernard Shaw, and specifically in the Roman and Greek eras of history, in the works of Grote, Gibbon and Gilbert Murray. I cannot say that on occasions a disquieting breeze did not scatter her mental makeup in disarray, but her journey in life did not have any aperture for anything more corporeal than a breeze to enter as a spoke. At this juncture, interruption materialised riding a motor car, in the middle of the journey, without a sound. Suddenly the substantial history of Greece and Rome turned trivial, and removing everything, a very proximal portentous present shook her and said, “Wake up”. Lavanya woke up in an instant and after ages saw herself in true form, not in learning but in lament.
From the fragments of the former days let us return to the playing field of the present.
Lavanya asked Amit to wait in the study while she went to fetch Yogamaya. Amit sat in the room reminiscent of a bee in the middle of a lotus. He looked around, and each object touched him in some way, engulfing his mind in languor. On the shelf and on the table he noticed English texts. The books seemed kissed with life. They had been read by Lavanya, her fingers had turned the pages, were tinted with her thoughts and feelings across night and day, had graced the path of her eager glance, had lolled on her lap on her days of distraction. He started when he found on the table the compilation of poetry of John Donne. At Oxford, Donne and the ballads of his contemporary poets had been Amit’s primary topic of discourse. Here, their two souls chanced to converge on the poetry and connect to each other.
The smudges of disinterested days had blurred Amit’s life. In the manner of a text book in the hands of the master, whose cover comes loose with the handling through every school year. Intense inquiry did not accompany him as he waited for the morrow, neither did he find it worthwhile to welcome the current day heartily. Now he had just landed on a new planet. Here objects weighed less, the feet left the ground and walked on air, every moment moved ahead towards the unimaginable with eager anticipation, with every waft of wind his being craved to transform into a flute, the light from the skies entered his veins and the excitement in his essence was akin to the sap flowing through the trees to produce the smiling bloom. The curtains laced with dust of dreary days was raised from his mind, even the mundane seemed marvellous. Hence, when Yogamaya entered the room unhurried, even this very simple act enraptured Amit. He said to himself, “It is not just arrival, it’s appearance.”
Touching forty, age had not faded her charms, but had lent a mellow lustre. Her fair face was abundant, full. Hair was cropped in the tradition of widows, eyes lighted by motherly benevolence and completeness, the smile quietly affectionate. A white shroud without border covered her head and was wrapped around her body. Her bare feet were clean, beautiful. When Amit touched her feet in obeisance, it was as if the blessings of a goddess flowed through his every vein.
After the initial introduction, Yogamaya said, “Your uncle Amaresh had been the biggest barrister of our district. Once in a disastrous suit, we were on the verge of ruin. He had rescued us. Used to call me bou-didi.”
Amit replied, “I am his unworthy nephew. Uncle saved you from losses, and I have inflicted loss on you. You were his bou didi of gain, you will be my aunt of loss.”
Yogamaya asked him,"Your mother ... ?”
Amit said, “She was, is no more. I also very much needed an aunt.”
“Why pine for an aunt, my child?”
“Think about it. If today I had damaged my mother’s car, she would have admonished me and called me imbecile. And if the car happened to be my aunt’s she would have laughed at my incapability. She would consider it childish.”
Yogamaya laughed. “In that case let us consider it to be the car of an aunt”
Amit jumped up from his seat and touched her feet. “This is why one needs faith in the results of past life. Born in my mother’s lap, I never performed piety to beget an aunt. Damaging vehicles is not by any means a noble deed, but instantaneously, like the boon of a deity, Aunt incarnated into my life. Think, how many ages must have foreboded this.”
Yogamaya smiled and said, “Whose karma child, mine, your or the motor mechanic's?”
Running his fingers through his thick hair, Amit said, “Difficult question. Karma is not ones own, it is of the whole world. The assimilated stream of interaction of all the stars, travelling for ages, contrived to collide at nine forty eight on Friday. What next?”
Yogamaya looked at Lavanya through the corner of her eye and laughed. Before enough acquaintance with Amit, she had decided that the two were made to be matched. With this aim in her mind, she said, “The two of you get acquainted, let me go and arrange a meal for you.”
Amit's forte was in overtures of quick paced allegro. He started immediately, “Aunt has asked us to get acquainted. The initiation of acquaintance is with the name. Let us get that completed. You know my name, don’t you? What is called proper name?”
Lavanya said, “As far as I know your name is Amit-babu."
“That does not hold true in every case.”
“Multiple be cases, the holder’s name must be the same."
“What you say is not of this age. A difference in space, time and person but not in name – that is unscientific. I have decided to make my name by spreading Relativity of Names. At the root of it all, I want to make it known... to you I am not Amit-babu.”
“Are you then fond of the English etiquette? Mr Roy?”
“That’s a faraway name across the seas. To fix the distance of the name, we need to measure how long it takes to reach from the doorway of the ear to the gateway of the mind.”
“And what is that super fast name, may I hear?"
“To increase the pace, we need to reduce the mass. Please eliminate the babu from Amit-babu.”
Lavanya said, “Not that simple, will take some time."
“Time taken should not be equal for all. The world does not follow one clock on its wall. Every pocket is blessed with its own tick-tock. And it ticks and tocks based on the pocket. Thus says Einstein.”
Lavanya stood up and said, “Your bath is getting cold now."
“I will bear the cold water on my bent head, if you allow some more time to our intro ...”
“Have no more time, there’s work to be done.” saying this Lavanya left.
Amit did not go for a bath just then. He sat there replaying the form the gentle smile sprinkled words had taken on Lavanya’s lips.
Amit had seen lots of beautiful girls. Their beauty was like a full moon night, bright yet concealed. Lavanya’s beauty was like the morn, there was none of the intoxication of the elusive. Her entirety was extended and expressed with the expanse of intelligence. While making her into a girl, the maker had mixed some of the parts of a man, to see her was to know that she had not only the strength of sorrow, but also the repository of resolution and reason. This was what had acutely attracted Amit. In himself, Amit possessed intelligence, but no patience, was fair but lacked fortitude, he had experienced and learnt much, but was still searching for serenity – in Lavanya’s countenance he glimpsed a semblance of peace that could not be produced by a satiated soul, but which gained stability from the depth of her powers of prudence.
Amit thrived on association. Scenic beauty could not nourish him for long. He was a compulsive conversationalist. The hills and mountains, the forests and woods did not respond to witticism, being funny amongst them provoked dangers of falling flat – they subscribed to routine and expected the same in return. In one word, they were solemn, hence being away from the city suffocated him.
But suddenly something happened. The Shillong mountains seemed to be blending him in the spread of sensibility. Today he rose before the sun, sacrilegious to self ritual. From the window he saw the quivering fringes of the deodars, and behind it, on the light clouds, the sun had brush-stroked long golden streaks from the other side of the mountains. Burnt in the blaze, the many coloured lights that slowly speckled the sky could not be painted in words.
Downing a cup of tea in haste, Amit strode out. The roads then were deserted. He spread his legs and sat upon the many layered, densely fragrant, fallen leaves under an ancient moss laden pine tree. Lighting a cigarette, he held it between his fingers, forgetting to draw.
These woods were on the way to Yogamaya’s home. Just as inviting flavours could be relished from the kitchen before feasts, Amit savoured the aura of the house from this place. The moment the hour hand crossed the ungodly time-zone, he would proceed there and demand a cup of tea. Initially, his hour of visit had been the evenings. Amit’s credentials as a connoisseur of literature had earned him a standing invitation for discourse-dialogues. For the first two or three days, Yogamaya had expressed eagerness for these discussions, but soon it became apparent to her that the enthusiasm at the other end was rendered somewhat diffident. It was not difficult to realise that the reason was the projection of a third dimension on what was literally meant to be a dialogue. After that, there were frequent occasions for Yogamaya to be absent. A little analysis revealed that these were not inevitable or divine, but designed. It proved to the lady that the ardour in the two discourse lovers went somewhat deeper than mere love of literature. Amit understood that although aunt had aged, her eyes remained keen and her heart soft. From this his desire for discussion doubled. To stretch the limited span, he entered into a collaboration with Jyotishankar, to help him with English Literature for an hour in the morning and two in the afternoon. He started help, and in such huge helpings, that often mornings stretched into afternoons and talk turned to trivia, ultimately, at the insistence of Yogamaya and etiquette, lunch became an absolute obligation. Soon it was noticed that the sphere of such absolute obligations was increasing with the passing hours.
He was supposed to join in the studies of Jyotishankar at eight in the morning. In his natural state the hour was ungodly. He used to say, the sleep of a creature whose gestation period was forty weeks could not be measured using the yardstick of birds and beasts. Till then, Amit’s night had attached a number of morning hours as wagons. According to him, the stolen hours were forbidden and hence most favourable for slumber.
But these days, his sleep was no longer adulterated. The desire to wake up early was now deep-seated. He woke up earlier than required, yet he did not dare to turn over, lest it got late. Sometimes, he pushed the hands of the watch ahead, but the fear of being pulled up as a thief of time stopped him from doing it too often. Today, he looked at the watch once, and found the day on this side of seven. He was certain that it had stopped, but when he raised it to his ear, he heard tick tock tick tock.
All of a sudden, with a start he noticed Lavanya coming along the road above, swinging an umbrella in her right hand. White saree, a triangular shawl with black fringes on her back. Amit did not fail to understand that in half her sight his presence had been captured, but Lavanya was not ready to meet him headlong with a full glance. As she reached the mouth of the dam, Amit could not withold any longer. He ran to her side.
He said, “You knew you could not avoid me, yet made me run. Don’t you know what a problem it becomes when you go far?”
Amit said, “The soul of the luckless lonely one who remains behind craves to cry out loud. But, how do I call? The good thing about the gods and goddesses is that they are satisfied to be called by their names. Even if one growls durga durga, the ten armed venerable goddess is not displeased. The problem is with you lot.”
“Solved by not calling.”
“I suffice without address when you are near. That’s why I say, don’t change address and go far. I can’t call even though I want to. There’s nothing sadder than this.”
“Why, you are accustomed to western ways.”
“Miss Dutt? That’s for the tea table. Consider this. Today when the heaven met the earth in the light of dawn, to celebrate the moment of mingling, they together created a unique image and in it was embossed the moniker of the two. Doesn’t it seem that the whispering of the nickname moves downwards from up above and another whisper replies upwards from down below? In our lives too, doesn’t the moment arrive to create similar names? Imagine, letting restraint loose from life, fresh, full throated, I have called you – the name echoes across the woods, flies past the coloured clouds of the skies, that mountain in front of us, on hearing it, ponders, head wrapped in clouds ... can you even imagine that this name that I call out is Miss Dutt?”
“Christening takes awhile, for now let us take a walk.”
Amit joined her and said, “It takes long to learn to walk, however for me it is contrary. After so many days, reaching here, I have learned to sit. It is said that a rolling stone gathers no moss. That’s why I was sitting along the way since dark. That’s why I saw the light of dawn.”
Trying to quickly sidestep the subtle volley of words, Lavanya asked, “Do you know the name of that emerald winged bird?”
Amit said, “I was generally aware that there are birds in the creature world, but never got around to knowing the specifics. After coming here, I was amazed to discover that there are indeed birds, and what’s more, they also sing.”
Lavanya laughed and said, “Amazing.”
Amit said, “You are laughing? Even in my deepest expressions, I cannot maintain solemnity. It’s an idiosyncrasy. My birth moment has been graced by the moon. Even in the darkest of nights, it cannot die without a smirk on its face.”
Lavanya said, “Don’t blame me. I think if the bird could hear you, it would have laughed.”
Amit said, “Look, people laugh at my words because they cannot understand them spontaneously. If they could, they would have quietly thought about it. People are laughing because today I have come to know the birds anew. But, the deeper meaning is that I am getting to understand everything afresh, even myself. One can’t laugh at that. You see, the words are the same, but this time you are utterly utter-less.”
Lavanya laughed and said, “You are not a man of too many years, still very new, where does this penchant for even more new come from”
“In response it is necessary to say something serious, which is not meant for the tea table. The novelty that has graced me is primordially ancient, old as the light of dawn, like the freshly bloomed earth-champak flowers, eternal truth discovered anew.”
Lavanya smiled without words.
Amit said, “This smile of yours is like the smile of the thief accosting round lamp of the watchman. I understand, you have already read the words in the works of your favourite poet. But, I beg you, don’t judge me to be a hardened thief. On some occasions, the mind within turns into Shankaracharya, cries out, whether it is I or other who has written the words, the duality is an illusion. Just consider this. This morning, I suddenly resolved to extract such a line from my known literature that will seem to be written at this instant by yours truly, no other poet could have inscribed the words.”
Lavanya could not resist. She asked, “Have you extracted it?”
“Yes I have.”
Lavanya’s curiosity could not be restrained any longer. She ended up asking, “Please do tell.”
“For God’s sake hold your tongue
And let me love.”
Lavanya’s heart skipped a beat.
After aeons Amit asked, “You surely know whose lines those are.”
Lavanya tilted her head slightly and let it be known, yes.
Amit said, “That day, on your table, I discovered the book of John Donne. Else, I would not have been struck by the line.”
“What else but discovery? In book shops, books catch the eye. On your table they manifest themselves. I have seen the tables of the public library, that carry the books. And I saw your table, that gives them a nesting place. That day I could see Donne’s poetry with my soul. I felt that at the door of the other poets there was jostling of crowds, like the riddance of the destitute from the last rites of the rich. Donne’s poetry palace is deserted, there is space for two to sit beside each other. That’s how I heard the words of my soul this morning ...
(in Bengali) Mon ami, please say no more ... Let us yield now to amor.”
An awestruck Lavanya asked, “Do you write Bengali poetry?”
“I fear, I may have to start from today. Whatever the new Amit Raaye will venture to do is beyond the ken of the Amit Raaye of old. Maybe right now he will walk out to wage war.”
“War? With whom?”
“That’s what I can’t decide. I keep thinking that I need to sacrifice my life immediately for a great cause, later we can lament at leisure.”
Lavanya laughed and said, “If you have to give up your life, do so with caution.”
“To remind me of that is redundant. I am not willing to venture into communal riots. I will steer clear of the Muslims and the English. If I notice some elderly fellow, of peaceable temperament, spiritual looks, driving along blowing the bugle, I’ll step into his way bellicose, with a war cry. Like the afflicted who go to mountains instead of hospitals for cure, the ones who shamelessly feast on air to build an appetite.”
Lavanya laughed and said, “If the man ignores and drives away?”
“In that case I will reach out to the sky with my arms raised high and say, for this time I give you my pardon, you are my brother, we are both the children of the same Mother India. Do you understand? When the mind becomes very broad, man fights wars and also forgives.”
Lavanya smiled. “When you spoke of war, fear arose in mind. Now that you have clarified the concept of mercy, I am certain there is nothing to worry about.”
Amit said, “Will you please keep a request?”
“Don’t roam around much more today to increase your appetite.”
“So be it. What next?”
“Let us sit yonder where under the tree, water is trickling beneath the stone covered with many coloured moss.”
Lavanya glanced at the watch in her hand, “Time there is but little.”
“That’s the most lamentable woe of the world, Lady Lavanya, there is little time. Travelling across the desert, bearing but a half filled leather bag of water. Have to do our utmost to keep it from sloshing and splashing on the dry stretch of sand. It befits the ones who have loads of time on their hands to be punctual. God’s hourglass contains eternity, hence the sun rises and sets right on time. Our tenure is limited, it is extravagant for us to waste time by being punctual. On the other side of the river of life, if I am asked, ‘What did you do on earth?’ won’t I be embarrassed in responding, ‘Spent my life working to the ticking of the clock, could not find the time to look up at the eternal things in life that are beyond all time’. That’s what forced me to say let’s go to that place.”
When Amit speaks, he blows away with his arguments any apprehension that someone else can object to what is not objectionable to him. That’s why it is difficult to object to his proposals. Lavanya said, “Let’s go.”
The woods lovely, dark and deep. The narrow road led down towards a Khasia village. Halfway across, a small spring had denied the path of man and had marked its independent way with a sprinkle of pebbles. The two sat there on rocks. At precisely this place the gorge was deep and some water had gathered, like a purdah protected damsel behind a green veil, afraid to step outside. The bare desolation of the place brought unto Lavanya the embarrassment of baring herself. She wanted to say something simple to cover it, but nothing came to her mind, almost like the stifling silence that accompanies dreams.
Amit realised that it was essential to say something. “Look Madame, our land speaks two tongues – one refined one colloquial. But, one more was necessary – a language not for the society or for transactions, but a lexicon for nooks and corners, for places like this. Like the song of the birds, the verses of the poet, the words should have flown as naturally as tears. It is a shame that people have to rush to bookshops for this. Imagine what would happen if for every flash of a smile one needed to sprint to the dentist. Tell me honestly Lady Lavanya, right now don’t you yearn to speak in musical lilt?”
Lavanya sat silent, looking down.
Amit said, “On the tea tables, tallying up the checks and balances of etiquette is neverending. But in this place there is no approval or disapproval. So, I am left with no choice but to recite poetry to lighten my mind. Prose takes up more time than we have in hand. I’ll start if you permit.”
Permission had to be granted, else embarrassment would lead to embarrassment.
Amit prefaced it saying, “I take it that you like Robi Thakur’s poetry.”
“Yes, I do.”
“I don’t, so forgive me. I do have a special poet, who writes well enough to ensure a very limited number of readers. In fact, he is not even considered eligible for brickbats. I would like to recite his lines.”
“Why are you so apprehensive?”
“My experience in this regard is tragic. Criticising the poet laureate leads to ostracism. Silently sidestepping him leads to harsh commentary. My taste does not suit another’s palate – this is the root of worldwide bloodshed.”
“Have no fear of bloodshed. It is not in my taste to beg for the approval of another’s.”
“These words are all the music I need to start without fear ...
O unknown, my clasp you cannot untwine
Till your soul have I felt with mine.
Have you noted the motif? The bond of not knowing. The strongest connection. Captured in the world unknown, we will be liberated through knowing. This is doctrine of freedom.
In one instant – blind
Sleep married yet with wakeful mind
When lifting night’s veil did dawn appear
I saw you near
‘In which concealed nook’ – holding your gaze I enquire –
‘Of self oblivion do you adhere?’
There remains no obscure corner to hide from oneself. Treasures of the world yet unseen, lie merged in the corners of self oblivion. But, we cannot really give up.
To know you – I fear,
Is a task no mere.
With no words whispered by.
Win over will I –
The voice shrinking coy
Hand arrogant arrests ahoy.
From diffident, anxious plight
To unrelenting light.
Dogged. Powerful. Mark the testosterone of the lines?
Waking by the trickling tear
True self will instant appear
Snap will the entwine
Liberation of thee will lead to mine
You won’t get this strain in your famed author – it is like a firestorm in the solar system. This is not just lyric, it is the lesson of life.
Day turns to eve, flowing instant
Let the forceful moment
All bonds of restraint lift
In the glowing lamp of acquaint
Will I cast my life as divine gift.”
The recital had not fully finished when Amit grasped Lavanya’s hand. She did not pull away, looking instead at his face, without words.
After this they needed not words. Even the watch in Lavanya’s hand had retreated into self oblivion.
Amit approached Yogamaya and said, “Aunt, I have come for matchmaking. Please be generous while tipping.”
“Only if the match is to my liking. First tell me name, abode, description”
“The price the groom does claim is not attached to his name and fame.”
“I then see a reduction in tips for the match-maker”
“That’s unjust. The more renowned a name, the greater is his world and the smaller his home. He spends more to preserve his fame than to attend to his dame. Only a part of the man falls to his wife, not enough for a full marriage. For a famous man, wedding is nano-gamy, as condemnable as polygamy.”
“OK, slight be fame, how about form?”
“I hesitate to say, lest I exaggerate.”
“So exaggeration is necessary to market?”
“While choosing the groom there are two conditions. The distinction should not step across the door and neither should the looks the lady.”
“OK, let’s leave aside name, fame and form, what about the rest?”
“The rest that remains is in summation the worth. Well, the man is not worthless.”
“He has intelligence enough to make people err into thinking that he is intelligent.”
“Like Newton himself. He knows that he is picking pebbles on shores of the great ocean of truth. Only he does not say it with the same candour, lest people take him literally.”
“The list of attributes seems to be rather short.”
“To prove the plenitude of Annapurna, Shiva put on the appearance of a pauper, no embarrassment in that.”
“Then do introduce him with a little more clarity”
“Familiar household. The prospective groom’s name is Amit Kumar Raaye. Why do you laugh aunt? Do you think I speak in jest?”
“That fear I do have my son, lest it all ends up in jest”
“This suspicion is tantamount to accusation.”
“Son, to lighten household with humour is no mean feat”
“Aunt, that feat is feasible for deities, which renders them unsuited for marriage. Damayanti came to realise that.”
“Do you really like my Lavanya?”
“What test do you want to put me through?”
“The only test is to know for sure that Lavanya is already in your hands”
“One who knows the true value of a jewel acquired cheap, I will know him to be a jeweller”
“Aunt, you are making it a bit too refined. It seems you are sharpening the psychology of a short story. The truth is actually quite blunt. In keeping with the rules of the world, a gentleman has become crazy about wedding a lady. Summing up virtues and vices, the groom is passable. About the bride it goes without saying. In such situations, the tribe of normal aunts generally get busy with the husking pedal, pounding rice to prepare joyful sweets.”
“Fear not son, the foot is on the pedal. Assume you already have Lavanya. Even after having her, if your desire runs deep, only then will I know that you are worthy of a girl like her.”
“You have managed to amaze even a modern man like me.”
“What signs of modernity did you see?”
“I see that twentieth century aunts are afraid to marry people off.”
“Here’s the reason. Those that aunts of the previous century married off, were play-dolls. Today, the candidates for marriage have no attention towards fulfilling the playful wishes of aunts.”
“Have no fear. To have and to hold does not cut short having, rather the ardour accumulates. Amit Raaye has come into this world to wed Lavanya and affirm this theory. Else how did the inanimate motor car of mine, in this inappropriate place, inauspicious moment, involve itself in this incredibly inept incident?”
“Son, your words do not yet tune to the melody of eligible age for marriage. I hope it does not all end in child’s play”
“Aunt, my mind has a self propelled specific gravity. With its quality, the grave words from my heart rise lightly to my lips, but doing so, they don’t lose their weight.”
Yogamaya went to arrange the feast. Amit flitted from room to room, not finding anyone conspicuous. He came across Jyotishankar. He remembered that the day had been marked for Anthony and Cleopatra. From Amit’s expression, Jyoti had understood that the code of fellow feeling dictated a day off. He said, “Amit-da, if you don’t mind, I would like a day off. Have to go to Upper Shillong.”
Amit was delighted, “The ones who don’t know how to take days off during study are unable to digest the lessons. Why do you dread the impossibility of my taking offence if you take a day off?”
“Tomorrow is Sunday. In case you thought ...”
“I don’t think like a schoolmaster, brother. The calendar holidays are not holidays to me. To enjoy regular holidays is like hunting chained quarry. That way the nectar of holiday treacles to a stop.”
It was with delight that the root cause of the sudden exposition of leave theory dawned on Jyoti. He said, “For the last few days, you have been sprouting novel ideas about leave-theory. The other day also you advised me. At this rate I will become an expert at leave taking.”
“What did I advise the other day?”
“You said irresponsibility was a virtue. One should never hesitate to respond to the call of callousness. Saying so, you shut the books and ran outside. Perhaps irresponsibility had transpired somewhere outside, I did not notice.”
Jyoti was touching twenty. The waves that were carrying aloft Amit’s soul also rippled in the shores of his mind. Till now he had known Lavanya through her lectures, now from Amit’s experience had identified her as a lass.
Amit laughed and said, “One needs to be prepared for the arrival of work. The market value of this advice is high, like crown minted coins. However, on the other side of the same coin should be engraved that idle enterprise needs to be accepted with bravado.”
“In recent times your bravery is being manifest often.”
Amit patted Jyoti on his back. “When the auspicious moment for sacrificing the essential at the divine altar arrives in your life-almanac, don’t delay in the adulation of the goddess, for after that immersion does not take long.”
Jyoti departed. Irresponsibility was wide awake. Unseen remained the one in whose refuge rested lavishness of leisure. Amit walked out of the door.
The rose vines lost in bloom, the crowd of sunflowers to one side, at the other in square pots stood chrysanthemums. On the top of undulating green slopes stood a giant Eucalyptus. Leaning on its trunk, her legs stretched out, sat Lavanya. An ash coloured shawl wrapped around her, feet decked by the morning sunshine. Pieces of bread and broken walnut lay on a handkerchief on her lap. Her intention of spending the morning catering to the creatures had also been forgotten. Amit came and stood near her, Lavanya raised her head and looked silently at him, a quiet smile spreading across her face. Amit sat in front of her and said, “I bring happy tidings. Aunt has agreed.”
Without replying Lavanya flicked a piece of walnut towards a barren peach tree. Soon a squirrel climbed down – one of the few who feasted off Lavanya’s fist.
Amit said, “If you don’t mind, I will snip off a bit of your name.”
“I would call you Bonno – the wild.”
“Oh no, maybe this name would lend infamy. That sort of name is more suited for me. I’ll call you Bonya – the flood. What do you say?”
“OK, but not in front of your Aunt”
“No way. This is like a mystical incantation which loses power if revealed. This stays within my lips and your ears.”
“So be it”
“But, I too need an unofficial name of the kind. What about Brahmaputra? Bonya – the flood – came all of a sudden and overflowed the banks.”
“A tad heavy for calling often”
“You are right. Need to call a porter for calling. You do the christening. It will be your creation.”
“I will also cut short your name. I’ll call you Mita – the friend.”
“Wonderful. It has a companion in composition – ba(n)dhu, the sweetheart. Bonya, methinks, what’s the harm if you call me by that name in front of all?”
“I fear lest a treasure to one ear, loses value entering many”
“That’s not untrue. What is one for the ears of two is a fraction in a crowd. Bonya.”
“If I pen poetry to your name, you know what I will rhyme with you? Ananya – the unique.”
“What will that signify?”
“It will signify, you are what you are and nothing else.”
“That is not a big surprise”
“What do you mean? It’s a very big surprise. It is by bizarre chance that one comes across a person who makes me exclaim – she is her own self, not like anyone else. In verse I will put it as –
O my Bonya, Ananya are you
A single self splendored bijou .”
“Are you going to start writing poems?”
“Of course I will. Who dare stop the flow?”
“Why such desperation?”
“Let me tell you the reason. Last night till half past two, tossing and turning as one unable to sleep, I kept turning the pages of The Oxford Book of Verses again and again. A poem of love eluded me, earlier I used to stumble over them ever so often. I see it clearly. The world is waiting patiently for me to pen them.”
So saying he grasped Lavanya’s left hand in both of his and said, “The hands are paired, now how shall I hold a pen? The best couplet is between the hands of a couple. No poet can transcribe the simple talk that transpires through the touch of our fingers.”
“Nothing pleases you easily. That is why I fear you so much Mita.”
“But try to understand what I am saying. Rama tried to assess the chastity of Sita in external fire, and hence lost her forever. The purity of poetry is tested by tinder, but that ignition is internal. The one whose mind is not ablaze thus, how will he determine the purity? He has to consent to the opinion of many, on many an occasion the caustic of tongue. Today my soul is afire with the flame, I am trying to forge all my past impressions in the fire, whatever little remains. The flare is reducing everything to ashes. Standing in the pandemonium of the poets, I am forced to say – don’t clamour too loud, say the right word softly –
For God’s sake hold your tongue
And let me love.”
They sat wordless for a while. At long last, raising Lavanya’s hand in his, Amit caressed his face. He said, “Think Bonya. At this instant this morning, there are countless who want, and a precious few who get. I am one of the select few. In all the world you are the only one who managed to witness the supremely lucky soul under a Eucalyptus tree in a remote corner of the Shillong mountains. The exceedingly electrifying events of the world happen to be the staggeringly sober, innately inconspicuous. But your Tarini Talapatra, shouting himself hoarse, shaking his fists, spreading the banal words of bent politics from Dalhousie in Calcutta to Noakhali and Chatgan – the news of this nonsensical nothingness soon became the leading headlines of Bengal. Who knows? Probably that is better.”
“What is better?”
“It is better that the meaningful things of the race and realm move freely in the marketplace, yet don’t succumb by stumbling against the gaze of the coarse. The deep knowledge lies in the pulse of the world. Now Bonya, I am waxing eloquent. What are you thinking in your silence?”
Lavanya looked downwards without answering.
Amit said, “Your silence is akin to dismissing all my words without remuneration.”
Lavanya spoke still looking at her feet, “Your words make me afraid Mita.”
“Afraid of what?”
“I cannot even think. What is it that you want from me, and how little it is that I can give you.”
“You can give without thinking. That is what makes your giving invaluable.”
“When you said Aunt had given her consent, my heart skipped a beat. I thought the time to be caught is near.”
“Where is the catch?”
“Mita, in taste, in intelligence, you are way above me. In walking together with you someday I will fall back far behind you, you will not call out to me then. I will not blame you at all that day – no, no, don’t say a word, hear me out. I beg of you, please do not demand to marry me. To unravel in marriage will only create more knots. What I have got from you is more than enough for me, it will last me a lifetime. But you should not delude yourself.”
“Bonya – why worry thinking of tomorrow’s thrift while basking in the magnanimity of the moment?”
“Mita, you have given me the courage to say the truth. What I tell you today, you yourself know deep within. You do not wish to admit it lest it dam the sweet emotion that pleasures you now. You are not meant to be a householder. You wander to quench the thirst of your taste, in literary promenades you stroll, it is for that reason you come to me. Shall I describe it correctly? In your heart, you know marriage is what you call vulgar. It is too respectable, a domesticated delight of those scripture-quoting materialistic men who blend wife and wealth to create their love cushion and sit back against it.”
“Bonya – in the softest of tone you can speak the harshest of words.”
"Mita, may the power of love keep me strong forever, may I not shirk even a little while forgetting you. What you are, do remain that, whatever little of me is to your taste, may it be just that much, but do not take responsibility for more, that itself will make me happy.”
“Bonya, now let me tell you something. How curiously have you analysed my character. I won’t cross swords of words about that. But you are wrong at one place. The character of man is also mobile. In domestication, it is characterised as stationary, shackled in chains. Then by one stroke of luck the shackles are severed, he runs to the forest, then he has another face.”
“Which of those are you today?”
“That which is not in tune with my normal self. Before this I have come across many girls, traversing the canals of society to the posh embankments, carrying the shaded lamp of taste. That way you get to meet, but not to know. You tell me yourself Bonya, is the connection between us the same?”
Lavanya remained silent.
“When two heavenly bodies orbit at a distance, greeting each other constantly, the etiquette is edifying, evasive. They have the pull of cultural consent, not the harmony of heart. Suddenly if there is a fatal collision, the lamps are extinguished, the flame of fusion flares up. That fire is ablaze, Amit Raaye has changed. The history of mankind is similar. What seems continuous is a necklace connected with instantaneous beads. The speed of creation moves along in starts across ages, with the sporadic jolts of the instantaneous, progressing in sharp scales. You have changed the beat of my heart, Bonya. To that rhythm I have entwined your tune with mine.”
Lavanya’s eyelashes grew heavy with dew. But she could not help thinking that Amit’s soul was poetic, every experience rose with a flourish of words to his lips. That constituted the harvest of his life, his source of the joy of sustenance. He needed her for the same reason. The words that remained frozen in his mind, which weighed on his soul but did not reverberate in his life, needed to be melted with her warmth to flow down joyous streams.
After the two sat silent for a while, Lavanya asked suddenly, “Tell me Mita, do you not think that the day the Taj Mahal was completed, Mumtaz’s death was a cause for Shahjahan to be happy. To make his dream immortal, her death was necessary. That death itself was Mumtaz’s greatest gift of love. The Taj is not the expression of Shahjahan’s grief, it is the embodiment of his joy.”
Amit said, “You are amazing me every passing moment. You are definitely a poet.”
“I have no wish to be a poet.”
“My heart does not choose to light lamps of words with the flame of life. Those who have been invited to decorate the festive assembly of the world, words are for them. The flame of my life is just for my work.”
“Bonya, you are denying the word. Don’t you know how your words awaken me? How would you know what you say and what that means? I see I have to call upon Nibaran Chakraborty. You squirm at his name by now. But,what to do? The man is the treasurer of the words in my mind. Nibaran has not yet become stale to himself. Every poem he writes is to him his first. That day, rummaging through his pages, I found one written not too long ago. About a spring. Somehow the summons have reached him that in Shillong I have unearthed my spring. He writes
O Spring, crystal stream
In the aqua clear
To see their faces
Sun and star do peer
If I wrote myself, I couldn’t have described you more clearly. There is clarity in your mind that reflects every light with simplicity. I can see this light of yours scattered across everything, In your face, your smile, your words, in the stillness as you sit, in your steps as you walk.
Take my shadow
In flow of yours
Let it play on
Beside the shores
Let your ripple
Smile and join
The selfsame shadow in song.
Lend to it that
Voice of yours
For eternity ring along.
You are a spring. In the current of life, it is not only that you flow, your stream joins mine. On the common way, the harsh, immovable rocks that you flow over break into song at your touch.
Shadow of mine, smile of yours
The poet in my soul sings fervent
With that muse
In every step shines your light
Pours forth speech from soul bright
My speech this day I find
O My spring
Your waves do wake my mind
I know my being.”
With a wan smile Lavanya said, “As much as I have light and sound, your shadow is still that, I will not be able to grasp that shadow”
Amit said, “But maybe one day you’ll find, if nothing else remains, my word forms survive.”
Lavanya smiled and said, “Where? In Nibaran Chakraborty’s notebook?”
“Not surprising. The stream that flows in the depths of my soul gushes through in Nibaran’s fountain pen.”
“In that case maybe someday in fountain of Nibaran Chakraborty I will find your heart, nowhere else”
At this juncture, a help from the house arrived to tell them food was served.
Amit thought as he walked. “Lavanya wants to see everything under the light of intelligence. She cannot lose herself even on those specific turns and crossroads of life where men habitually delude themselves. I cannot refute what she has stated. One has to manifest the deep realisations of the innermost being in some way or the other – some do so in life, some in prose, touching life but moving away from it, as a river meanders from the shore. Will I continue to be swept away from the course of life by the current of rhetoric? Is this where lies the difference between man and woman? Man uses his energy to create, for the progress of the creation, he forgets himself in every step. The woman spends every drop of her energy to sustain, to defend the remnants of the past she restricts the novel creation. Creation is cruel towards sustenance, and sustenance slows down creation. Why is this so? At some place they will collide. Wherever is striking similarity, there is also relentless resistance. That’s what makes me think the greatest thing to receive is not union, but liberation.”
The thought was painful, but Amit could not protest.