Sabuj knows everything by heart. He knows what comes free with what, has them almost memorized.. It’s very difficult to deceive him.If there is something for free with a purchase, no shopkeeper can hide it. May it be as insignificant as a key ring, ball pen or something more significant like a toothbrush or body soap. Nobody can deceive Sabuj. He only buys the specific products, that come with free gifts. If the shopkeeper refuses, he visits another store. As if Sabuj is earning the free gift. It is only him who can find that out. Fourteen-year-old Sabuj has brought the monthly grocery, in his new cycle. His free gifts almost equal to his purchased items. It seems, the boy who just crossed the mark of fourteen years, has won the whole world! Rini is watching him, intently. Sabuj appears to her not as a boy, but as a man. She can’t believe that, this is the child whom she gave birth, held within her wombs for months, had named Sabuj, meaning green in Bangla. How fast he has changed, grown up.
Sabuj was organizing the items on the table, one after another. Rini looked on. She got irritated, “Why on earth did you bring this toothpaste?We never use it.?”
Sabuj shrugged with all his youth, “A toothbrush costs ten rupees. Mine had to be changed anyway.”
“You could’ve bought it separately.”
Sabuj laughs. “Why should I buy it separately if I get it for free? We already have hell lot of key rings Mom.”
“What do you mean?” Rini is confused. Did she tell her son to bring key ring? She was just asking Sabuj, why did he change the regular toothpaste that they’ve been using for such a long time? Sabuj smiles, “Oh Oh ! Mom, you are not getting it at all.”
“Did I mention anything about key rings?”
“Key rings are for free with a toothbrush, and we have many of those rings, why should I take it again?”
“You may not, but what’s the correlation of it with our previous paste?”
Sabuj explains, “Obviously, there is a correlation Ma. A Toothbrush doesn’t come for free with your paste; would have to buy it separately. It would have been another expense, and another key ring…”
Rini is amazed at his explanation. Sabuj resembles his father. Was Niloy like this at this age?, “Free gifts should not be left behind, and then…,” Sabuj continues.
“Ok, alright, let me see what else you’ve brought. Oh my! What oil is this?”
Sabuj says, “Why, is it bad? You’ve not applied it yet.”
Rini sees the new brand of oil. A television ad displays three young adults laughing with their heavy loads of hair in its marketing. What’s free with it? There must be something for free, or Sabuj wouldn’t have brought it. She knows her son. Has he reached the age when he can buy something being mesmerized by a female face? She pondered for a while. “Mom, a pack of hair dye is free with it.”
Hair dye! Rini is astounded, “It’s of what use?”
“What’s the use? That I guess, you must know.”
Rini gets angry, “First you tell me, what a hair dye is?”
Sabuj says, “Why, it’s applied to hair.”
“Why is it applied to hair, tell that first you monkey.”
Sabuj ! Oh dear Sabuj ! He’s still almost a kid. He brought it as it was a free item. The shopkeeper must’ve told him, take it, your parents can use it. Sabuj is still confused, what exactly is this. It is also another material to apply on hair, then why’s Mom asking?
Rini continues, “Tell me, why is hair dye used?”
“Why, it’s applied on hair, black magic, hair becomes black Mom.”
Rini says, “You brought it for your father? Did you?”
“Yes, yes.” Sabuj feels relieved. Dad’s white hair will be completely transformed. So it is dye? Right! What will dad do now? “Yes Mom, it’s for dad.”
“You think that you can make him use that!”
“Don’t know Mom, but if it’s a free item, why would I leave it? If dad doesn’t use it, I’ll do, and may be you too can.”
Rini starts laughing. “When will you apply it, what’s its use for you?”
Sabuj says, “Then you can apply.”
Rini sighs. Niloy’s hairs become white, all of a sudden. How old was he at that time? Sabuj arrived when Rini was twenty-three and Niloy was thirty. Now, Sabuj has crossed fourteen, Niloy, forty four and Rini, thirty seven. Niloy looks old with his white hairs, at only forty four. But he is so ridiculously stubborn. He won’t apply hair dye by any means. He thinks his hair will be destroyed with dye. But all these people around, do they all have naturally black hair, that’s not at all colored? Niloy’s colleague Mr. Banerjee has crossed fifty long back, and his head is full of lustrous black hair. It appears as if Niloy has crossed fifty long ago, and Mr. Banerjee might be forty at the most. It is Niloy who disclosed that Mr. Banerjee’s hair is colored. Then ? She had even bought a pack of hair dye – Black Mehendi. Niloy didn’t even touch it. Rini threw it away afterwards.
Sabuj shows her something, “Here Mom, this is your washing powder, and this came along.”
Good ! Rini feels happy to see the pack of 50 gm shaving cream. Niloy will need this. He goes to tours pretty often. These are indeed needed in small tours. Sabuj is saying, without this, they would have deducted three rupees; but 50 gram itself costs eight rupees. Hence he brought it. The way prices are going up everyday, it’s always better to choose products instead of money.
Rini looks at Sabuj, surprised. He is so matured! He already knows that in today’s market, it’s more profitable to turn money into products. Wait, what’s this? Her body soap costs thirty rupees each. So she uses that throughout the month, along with other less costly body soaps. But Sabuj has brought not one, but three of those. Three of that soap, shaped like a duck-egg, cost ninety rupees. “Why have you brought three soaps, Sabuj? I told you not to bring these.”
Sabuj says, “Oh Mom, there was an excellent offer. Take two and get the third one for free.”
“What do you mean?”
“Three comes for sixty rupees. It would have cost ninety rupees, if purchased separately in three months. It may cost higher if price gets hiked, and prices will certainly hike.”
Rini calculated. Sabuj has brought thirty-rupee soap in only twenty. That means, Sabuj has actually decreased the price. She brought all three soaps closer to her nose. Aah! What exquisite smell ! She can now use it everyday as its price has come down to twenty along with the free gift. This is only mid-March, the winter is yet to die out completely, and the city is already burning hot. The last glycerin soap is left unused after a few days’ of use. The time of repeated showers are here. Coconut oil is melting. Streets might be melting too in heat. The good days of Pepsi-Cola are here to stay. A soap, like this makes the time much more lazy. She can even sleep while standing in front of the stale water reservoir in the bathroom, with this soap in her hand. Sabuj has done an excellent job.
Sabuj said, “Mom, I have to go to tuition now.”
“Yeah sure, paddle carefully.”
Sabuj nodded, and went out with his bag on his shoulders. Suddenly he seemed very aged. Now he is again a boy. Rini stared at him wholeheartedly. As if dawn’s light is reflecting from his face. Even a few days back, he would jump around the rooms and break things apart. Walls were full of alphabets. He wouldn’t eat if his mother wouldn’t feed him herself. Still he can’t eat properly. Sabuj, whom she brought in her laps from nursing home, and put on this bed – now he sleeps alone. He has a separate room. Amartya Sen* is also there on his wall, alongside Sachin and Sourav**. Her son has grown up so much. Emerged in her thoughts, Rini started to organize oil, soap and other stuff. She separated free items from the purchased ones. And again, mixed one of the two separate soaps along with the free gifts. Actually, it wasn’t possible to understand which one of these same soaps is free, and which two were purchased. Any of these is free or purchased. Rini started to smell the raw soap.
( * Bengali nobel prize owner Economist, ** world famous Indian cricket player)
“It’s a pack of hair dye, your son brought as a free gift.”
“What’s the use?” Niloy sounds reluctant.
“For you, to apply in your hair”, Rini said.
“No, I don’t use those things.”
“Who doesn’t know that?But you’ll have to use now.”
Sabuj was not at home. After hiding the hair-dye for three days, Rini has felt that today, a Saturday is the right time to pressurize Sabuj’s father. Why won’t Niloy use it when everybody does! Why will the condition of his hair deteriorate if he uses it regularly? It can be thought about later. And she just kept talking about this hair-dye.
“How does it bother you if I don’t dye?” Niloy asked her ultimately.
“I don’t want to live with an old husband.” Rini surrounded Niloy’s neck with her hands in pseudo anger and said, “You look old because of the white hairs, what’s your age anyway that you’re acting like an old man.”
Rini also said, “I won’t go to bed with an old husband.”
Ultimately, Niloy agreed. He Had no option to disagree? Rini said that she would throw it away if Niloy doesn’t use it.
“Who shall I save this for? Whose head will you find to pour this Blackmagic on?”
“No, no, money matters.”
Maybe, but Rini will surely throw it away. What’s the point in grabbing some extra space? Niloy laughed, how much space does that little packet take? Whatever, but it does. A visibly annoyed Rini shoots her logic, it surely does. This neglected packet will soon become an attraction for the mice. They will spread the black powder through out the house, does that sound fine? This black color will spread on clothes instead of white hair. Sabuj’s clean school uniform will also get soiled by this black-magic. It will soil Niloy’s shirts as well, Rini starts to explain. Niloy gets astonished, one pack of hair-dye is so powerful! It appeared that the Blackmagic will magically turn everything black in anger if it doesn’t get to reach the white hair. Is that really possible?
Rini swells in anger. She has accepted Niloy’s decision till date; but, won’t do that anymore. People of Niloy’s age look so smart on the street, as if they are hardly twenty eight or thirty. But look at Niloy, as if he has already crossed fifty, and on the verge of retirement. All because of this white hair. While listening to her chatter Niloy asked, “Would you make me some tea, please?”
“I can’t. If you don’t listen to me, I won’t listen to you either. And I’ll simply throw this away, will ask Sabuj not to bring this stuff, who told him to bring this?”
“What would he do if he gets a product for free?” Niloy talks on behalf of his son.
“Won’t take it, will gift it to somebody else.”
“But why, money matters.” While saying this Niloy was stunned. He was trapped in his own words. He couldn’t see a sign to get out of the trap now that Rini was spreading with her words. It’s true. Why should Rini have to throw it away? It’s still pricy even though it was received as a free item. Won’t they have to pay for it if it was purchased separately? Niloy succumbed at last. He told himself that his rigidity is meaningless. His father’s time is not reigning anymore that he has to grow old, and read religious books soon after crossing forty. Now the average lifeline has increased so much. These are Viagra days. What will happen when Viagra hits the open market? A fifty year old will regain the same agility when he was twenty-twenty two. Then why is Niloy reacting so much to this Blackmagic? That lady Chandrima Pal, his colleague? Her hair was all white only at forty. How beautiful she looks after coloring her hair. Niloy keeps staring at her.And thenAjoy Kundu, another one of his colleagues, had hairs n whiter than Niloy. Now he is a handsome man, at forty-right started a relationship with a twenty four year-old woman. What an amazing life he leads! The world crossed the rope of the twentieth century to touch the twenty first, and he is still backdated by a hundred years. What happens if he colors his hair? Nothing, except Rini will be immensely happy, and may be Sabuj too. Sabuj, whose name in Bangla means green, wants to turn his father green too. Niloy had a smile on his face, as he remembered Sabuj’s innocence. Nowadays, the world is captured in the vitality of green. Green Movement. People want to stay young for a long time; shouldn’t Niloy set pace with that too? Niloy’s father’s friend Mr. Suprokash used to apply color on his hair and was a laughing stock for everybody. Time’s changed.
Niloy agreed, said, “Okay, I’ll do.”
“Are you sure?” Rini suddenly kissed him. What a great length of time has already elapsed before this kiss. What’s happened to her! After Sabuj grew up, her hesitations had turned her into an extremely introverted person. That same woman, Rini, is coloring Niloy’s hair with hair-dye. She even kissed him!. All of a sudden, she was regaining the excitement of her early years.
They came close after a long span of time. These days, the body doesn’t react like before. Who knows, why? It seems that life is stripped off all kinds of variations. Astonishments – are they bereft of astonishments? Niloy is transformed into a young man again. Rini was getting more and more vibrant. She was blushing red seeing Niloy – the same young man who mesmerized her seventeen years ago.
She called her son, laughing. When Sabuj entered, she said, hey, look at your father! How awesome that you brought it.
Sabuj is very happy. His habit of finding free gifts, which he practiced to perfection to surprise his mother, could revitalize his mother so much – he couldn’t even imagine this. Free things are never used – at least that was his overall experience. Spoons, and glasses were free items so many times with pickles, Horlicks, or clarified butter; all those are never used. Once, a small bucket came for free with detergent powder. It was never used. Everybody forgot that it was a free gift right after a few days. Buckets, spoons, glasses never made this household so joyous. Those are forgotten like other household things. Sabuj felt so proud. Dad is looking different. The old daddy with his white hairs has gone. Now it seems he can easily be called Niloy uncle! His father is blue and he is green. Blue, green– blue, green.
Rini did it at last. She was waiting for the right moment for a long time. She wants back the young Niloy again. Is she old enough to lead life with a man, whose hairs are all white? Life just changed a lot. Magical black – the magic color painted everything. Spring arrived. The magic color started to engulf her sky, her air. Winter suddenly passed away. Rini felt, they accelerated the passing phase of winter. Husband and wife, with magician Sabuj, standing behind them. A thin line of mustache below his nose, broad chest, with a height of five feet four, Sabuj is still growing. Niloy is tall too. Five feet six and-a-half. Niloy says Sabuj will be taller. Rini feels, not only Niloy, Sabuj will be taller than all. Sabuj’s head will someday touch the soft clouds of the sky. Rini can’t breathe when she is wrapped in Niloy’s arms. She frees herself, kisses his forehead, and says, what an intelligent son I have. Only he could do it. Without him, I had to do with an old hubby.
Dol-purnima just passed. Most probably, tonight is the fourth night after the full moon. Winter has suddenly vanished from this city. They couldn’t keep the window open even last night. The room was gradually getting cold since evening. Tonight, Rini has removed the curtains to a side with windows wide open. The sky is visible from the bed. The moon, bright and big, melted moonbeams pouring laziness over their mosquito-net, Drops of moonlight leaking down to their bed.
Rini asks, “What have you brought?”
Niloy was on the edge. He sat up and said, “I can get free gifts too, you know.”
“And what is it that you got?”
Niloy has brought something free. But what did he purchase? What came free with what?
Niloy said, “A surprise for you.”
“What is it?”
Niloy brought out a packet from a corner of the bed and said, “I’ve brought the most beautiful lingerie for you.”
“What?” Rini was a bit surprised. She switched on the bed lamp. It’s a beautiful packet. Niloy hid it since evening. Why didn’t he show it? To surprise her in bed. And what if Sabuj sees it? It’s for their eyes only. Niloy was scared that Sabuj could see this; hence he hid it.
Niloy opened the pack and showed her the lingerie. Rini was surprised to see that pink is actually vibrating from the transparent lingerie. Is it really aclothe, or an amazing system to make nudity more prominent? Rini can’t seize to be amazed. The way Niloy is showing it to her, with the lingerie stretching from his one hand that’s touching the net to the other arm – that itself looks like an advertisement. Niloy is handsome. Every hair of his head is dense black. Niloy is half-naked now, wearing only a pair of shorts, he looks like the uncontrollable youth of an ad – an ad woman wants to get even raped by this tremendous youth. The woman, as if, also belongs to an unknown world. Her shameless face is the real material for an advertisement. Rini thinks of ad women in this way only. Else, how can a woman feel happy to describe the qualities of sanitary napkin? Shameless happiness.
Rini asks, “Whose is it?”
“Why, it’s for you.”
“Why did you bring it all of a sudden?”
Niloy smiled, without saying anything. He didn’t say why did he bring it, whether it was his gratitude to Rini that she brought back his youth. But, that also isn’t real truth. He always had a longing for this lingerie. He had stopped so many times, after seeing this enwrapping the nudity of a mannequin in a window of a shop in Esplanade. He stopped, observed, but couldn’t enter the shop. He hesitated. Felt ashamed. This lingerie is for women, who are merely young. People who gift this are much younger. Motorcycle – jeans – t-shirt, sunglasses – a young woman leaning on his back – as if sleeping. Niloy crossed that age many years ago. He couldn’t stand side by side with that blue jeans, blue t-shirt and sunglasses, with the weight of his age. His hair was all white. Those hairs – turned dense black and gave back Niloy his courage. He boldly entered that shop today; and brought an amazing piece of pink cloth for Rini, that doesn’t lose its color even in the dark. Its pink body, pink nudity is visible even in the dark.
Rini asked, “How could you bring this?”
“Why, isn’t it beautiful? Can you imagine its price?”
Upon listening to the price Rini said, “Can I ever wear it? Is it good enough for me? It’s useless.”
Niloy turned her own words to her – “You are talking like an old hag.”
“Am I not old then?”
“Oh! How dare you say so? How can I sleep with an old wife?”
Rini said, “I’ll wear it over other clothes.”
Niloy hid his face and laughed. The lingerie is now on Rini’s lap, squeezed. All of a sudden, Niloy switched off the light and said, it’s called honeymoon lingerie, comes with free body oil.
“What do you mean?” Asked Rini, sitting in dark.
“Free gift. I also got one. You thought only your son can get those?”
‘What did you get?”
“I told you already – it’s body oil.”
“It’s for massage – good for skin.”
“You do that – I don’t need that.”
Niloy laughed again, in a whispering tone, said – “It’s for women.”
Let me see. Rini again switched on the light.
Body oil worth rupees fifty-six comes free with a lingerie worth Eight hundred fifty Rupees. It’s not body oil even – it’s a cream – breast cream with lovely breasts of a Konark woman designed on the packet. While looking at those voluptuous breasts, Rini asked, “Is it really for me?”
“Yes, for you.”
“I don’t want this.”
“Then throw it away!”
Rini switched off the light and lied down. She just realized that the lonely piece of moonbeam, that was resting at a corner of their bed, has left them. She couldn’t see the moon anymore. Those rays, or any left off portion of that light were not there even on the net. Rini said, “You are crazy! Is it possible to wear it?”
“Can I go out of this room with it on?”
“Oh! It’s only for the night.”
Rini said, “if Sabuj gets scared at night, shall I go wearing this, what do you think?”
Niloy said, “Why, it’s only for you and me.”
“Sabuj is sitting between you and me, honey.”
Niloy wraps her within his arms, kissing her, he says, “You used to call me old, now you act far older.”
“Let me stay the same.”
“I can’t allow that!” Niloy touches Rini’s breast. “The lingerie is so beautiful, just lie down with it on, you can change afterwards, and you don’t need to wear it every night, it’s like Viagra. Niloy whispers in her ears, haven’t you heard of Viagra? This lingerie is also named after Viagra, these are the times.”
Rini keeps mum. In her ear, Niloy speaks about their first life. These conversations never take place between them nowadays, neither they speak, nor they feel like speaking. That curiosity, astonishment of life has surpassed, long back. Now, with a touch of magic color in his hair, Niloy wants to get back those days through her transparent lingerie and perfumed cream. And perhaps, Rini too.
Still Rini said, “You could have left the cream.”
“So you liked the lingerie?”
“Neither of these. I’m so mature – Will massaging with that cream make me beautiful now?”
Niloy said, “Why’s that – it’s just a free gift…”
Rini murmured, “It happens in youth. Didn’t you say once that you would bring it for me?”
“Didn’t I bring?”
“No, it wasn’t needed, Oh! I feel wretched; I have to massage my breast with that cream – why?”
Niloy didn’t answer. Rini stared at the darkness, outside. That body oil – is for this age only, she saw once in an advertisement. Women’s magazine, whose actual readers are men, showed off an advertisement that contained a pair of open breast. How shameless that young model was – and what was written there? Body means breasts – if they are beautiful, then only the body looks stunning. Oh! Rini closes her eyes. She breastfed Sabuj till he was four and-a-half year old. He just wouldn’t leave. How good looking he was. Her breasts were so full of milk! It would never finish. And that uncontrollable boy would calm down only with her milk. After her son’s birth, she also was amazing! Rini got almost addicted to breastfeeding Sabuj. Sometimes, while being outdoors, he would just start demanding for milk, and that was tough for her. Oh ! How beautiful were those days! She was just twenty three then. Twenty three is indeed a young age. It had so many hesitations and sentiments associated with it. She was so shy, couldn’t change even in front of Niloy. But those feelings all vanished after Sabuj’s birth. Sabuj used to find her breasts even in his sleep. Rini starts to fall asleep.
Niloy asked, “Will you not wear it tonight?”
“Leave it tonight.”
“No.” Niloy pulled her towards him, “It’s fine, just wear it.”
“Some other day.”
Niloy still says, “Wouldn’t you like to try a dress that’s worth eight hundred and fifty rupees? Money has its value. It can’ be thrown away; can’t be ignored.” He wants to fill up his sense of amazement, which almost vanished, yet again in exchange of money. Niloy had been melancholic for a long period of time. The age he has reached, belongs to melancholy. He didn’t quite have the power to overpower that sense of melancholy. That power has been regained and returned to him by Sabuj and Rini. Blackmagic. All hesitations are wiped off by that magic and an astounding sense of happiness is growing inside him. Rini feels that Niloy is settling of scores. Or has he actually changed by that black magic? It was true that the surprise of their physical relationship, and variety were finishing up gradually. How long one can feel staggered with a familiar body? But even though it ended, skepticism grew with Sabuj. Sabuj is growing, growing to be a complete man, roaming around with his bicycle, calling his mother with the last bit of energy in his voice – is that not enough? This new-fangled amazement is much deeper compared to their almost variation-less, and humdrum marital relationship. There was innocence in this wonder, along with slumber, and a sense of awakening. Concern and exuberance were at hand as well. Idleness and to break free from it. Niloy is trying to swathe all bewilderment. Inquisitiveness is escalating. The sense of wonder to transform a familiar person into an unfamiliar one, is swallowing the innocence of their life. Is Niloy doing this? No, it was the magic color. Magical black color. Niloy is now telling Rini to apply the cream everyday – does she know that it has a special aroma? That aroma arouses man and woman – did Rini go through the text supplied along with it?
Rini is silent. As if, she neither perceives sound, nor understands a word. Rini saw a book long ago that had a picture of a woman, bowed with heavy breasts. It was silicon breast. Those large voluptuous breasts of that naked woman made her terrified and she closed her eyes. Is Niloy trying to turn her into that silicon-breasted woman? He might just fetch that booster someday – all the glands of her breast will enhance. Niloy will also be like that giant, who enjoyed that silicon-breasted woman. Does Niloy fancy that? Not Niloy, the black-colored magic. Magic, that has entered their home unessential, devoid of any exchange.
The Lingerie got itself hidden in the dark corner of the almirah. Rini scrutinized the cream again, before her evening bath. It's cosmetic after all. She broke the seal in natural interest, and took it to the bathroom along with towel and soap. The house is empty now.
Rini started to massage it little by little on her breast. It’s a pink colored cream. The color of her breast began to change gradually. Prominent blue veins of the breast, expanded. She felt goose bumps on the tightened skin. Rini was enchanted by the aroma and closed her eyes. What a captivating scent! As if a flower is blooming. Rini kept her eyes closed while indulging in the aroma. As if she might even fall asleep in the bathroom. It seems that the aroma is entering the core of her body, diffusing in her blood.
Someone knocked on the door. Rini is back to her senses. Doorbell and thrashing sounds on the door – at the same time – it must be Sabuj. Sabuj is calling indeed – “Mom, Hey Mom, Mom?”
While responding to him, Rini came out of the bathroom. Sabuj entered rapidly as soon as she opened the door. He was almost sweating as he was trying to keep his cycle in place, and said, “Mom, look, five combs came free with one comb, and that too along with one set of safety-pins.”
Rini started laughing, “What a boy you are!”
“But of course, all these worth of five rupees are completely free, except the large one,” said Sabuj. Like a magician, he was bringing out combs of different size and shape – large, medium and small, from his pocket.
Rini asked, “What’ll be their use?”
“Keep them. You’ll comb your hair, Mom”. Sabuj hugged his mother, in a spontaneous effort to annoy her, as she just took a bath and he was sweating.
“Mom, you’ll comb your hair five times with five different combs – your hair is so voluminous, Mom! Mom, what have you massaged – what is that smell I’m getting! That soap doesn’t smell like this – is it your hair that’s smelling? But I used it in the morning and this smell wasn’t there then.”
Rini wanted to move away, but couldn’t. As if, Sabuj won’t let her. One boy has multiplied into ten and wrapped his mother from all angles. “Mom, let me comb your hair. First, with the fat teeth and then the sleek teeth of that large comb, after that, with the medium teeth of the big comb, then I’ll prefer the medium-small comb followed by that black comb – and then, oh mother – you got so beautiful hair!”
Rini cried out – “What are you doing Sabuj, get away from me”!
“No, mom, what an amazing smell – how mesmerizing the smell is!”
Sabuj laughs like a lunatic – “Wow Mom! You’re smelling wonderful ! I don’t know why it appears to me that I can recognize it somehow – in your hair and your body seems to be floating with that smell Mom, what a divine light just as is drawn in pictures – the smell is absolutely luminous!”
Rini started weeping. Is he speaking the truth or making that all up? Does he know everything? She felt scared. Sabuj entered the bathroom with a towel in his hand. He was shouting from behind the closed door, “that smell is here too, mom – and the light has a pinkish hue”.
“Stop it, Sabuj”, Rini cried out. She couldn’t take it anymore. She realized, it was not the scent of any flower – but the smell that comes out from the body of a female snake. Snake, that wants to mate. The smell is conjuring up all the rooms. Sabuj doesn’t recognize it, and that’s why he is feeling mesmerized! Or does he recognize the smell but doesn’t know of what it comes from. Oh my son! Rini pushes the regulator of the fan to its fullest capacity. She switches on the table fan also, opens up all the doors and windows, and removes the curtains. Let the smell winds away outside. Let him forget the smell. Sabuj is calling again. He says, “Mom, this scent of your body is clinging to mine, what kind of smell is this, mom?”
“Oh Sabuj, just stop it.” Rini started to cry.
Sabuj came out of the bathroom in his pajamas and shirt, “why are you crying mom? What happened?”
Sabuj said, “Comb my hair with all those combs mother – it’s been so long that you’ve combed my hair. You’ll comb and I’ll fall asleep.”
Rini has to dry up his hair fairly well before combing – water is dripping from his hair. With all the fans rolling in full speed, he’ll soon catch a cold. Rini switched off all the fans one by one.
Wind stopped blowing. Is the smell gone, or did it actually increase? Rini stared at Sabuj. She had fear in her eyes. Is he trying to recognize the smell? Rini called him, “Let me comb your hair.”
Sabuj got up. Didn’t speak a word and went to his room. Rini couldn’t call him again. The smell is growing dense. Magic-colored smell. Magic black and magic pink – both colors started to grow within the apartment, and their culpable smell gradually spread over the whole city. Rini with her grief, was submerged in that smell.
( Translated from original Bengali by Dolonchampa Chakraborty )
Two Women / Amar Mitra
They were supposed to descend at an encampment township. The kind of muffin appeals to the most common Indian habitat, something between half rural and half urban consisting of shops, market places, police stations, watch houses, offices, sub offices and lots of people with work or without. One between them has come from Ballavpur, Ranigunj, crossing the Damodar while the other from a village, existing somewhere on the rest bank of the great river. They are two, Sundoridasi and Annadarani, two crones, one is overage and the other recently aged.
Annadarani, the newly gray one, has a husband in her home but merely as a surviving one lying in bed. She had a son also but never returned after leaving in search of livelihood so far. Her husband is now a decrepit but as he once rescued her, gave her doll's house so always at the back of her mind, she carries a sense of gratitude towards him and it would be unjust to declare that she is devoid of every trace of love for him also. Her man is now nothing but a bundle of flesh like element left in the corner of room. It's her sole responsibility to feed him. Think about the name, Annadarani, the goddess of paddy fields on earth. How can she allow her own household to continue without rice? Very old Sundoridasi is in barren white stuff now, mostly unclean, tattered and overstitched. Husband passed away at dawn of her life, her deceased son has expired also at the dusk, leaving behind him three kids and a young wife. Both of them were coming from Mejia to reach Naopahari but in the trans of dozing, none could notice when the bus touched this Motukboni in the lap of hill, receding from Naopahari eight miles back. It was the conductor who made the two without fare climbing down the stairs. None of them was acquainted with Naopahari before but even within dozing, Annadarani's intuition gave her doubts. She is clad in a scarlet cotton with red and white plastic bangles in hand. Compared to the other, she holds more strength, therefore, knocked Sundoridasi....
--"Hey.. oldie.. wake up.. seems it has come.."
Half asleep, oldie, Sundoridasi uttered....
-"Gosh.. so fiery it is today."
She was closing her eyelids with the blazing world outside then, peeping through the open door.
True it is. Too much sunny a day. Even the numb lap of the valley is overflowing with the rays like the body of a mirror, like the bosom of a river with glittering sands. And winds, similar to the heat-wave of a huge furnace belonging to occasions, enough to steam the whole frame. Memories of her own marriage, smell of mutton curry, like occasional flashes of lightning, were emerging in Annadarani's drowsy mind. A bowl of hot rice dubbed in mutton gravy tastes no less than ripe tartar slightest remembrance of which makes the mouth watery. It seems as if she has eaten only once in her lifetime. The shadow has turned hazy, sunburnt. Within the room, a bundle of flesh like element namely husband and under the sky, blaze. She feels an unending burning within. She fails to remember who got married once or if there was any feast in the world ever.
They were seated, crouched, at the farthest end of their bus, over dusts of numerous feet of the passengers. As the shutters were down, a peculiar half lit cloud hovered within it. Their dozing and nap were shattered by the shouts of the conductor long after. The bus vanished in the highway towards Purulia town. They were left behind, by the side of Motukbani hill.
It was Sundoridasi who first recognized.
--"It's not Naopahari..Look.."
Annadarani is worried, much worried now.
-"I'm insane.. If I try to do one thing, it turns into another.. What were you doing dear married? Done with sense also?"
Annadarani didn't answer. None of them could stand the scorching sunshine. Sundoridasi had started facing the typical irritation of skin full of prickly. They allowed themselves to be seated in the shadow of a huge Akashmoni, over dusts again with their legs stretched. Unlike the townships, the area was absolutely devoid of offices, marketplaces and most importantly, the public. They had turned utterly astonished. In front of them, hill, behind them, hill. In fact, where they were standing, perhaps a portion of the plain between two hills.
--"Is it the house of death? O married.."
Slight mutterings are heard from Sundoridasi. Just aged Annada was then scratching her head for lice, wearing scarlet cotton with red-white plastic bangles. The cotton had slipped from her head. It was on her shoulders.
-"Why did the bloody conductor left us here? Let death devour him.. bloody.."
Heat has made the lice of her head too much restless. Annadarani desperately scratches her hair with fingers. She had tied her non sticky, untidy lot by a thin string. Within a second she makes them loose to fly in the air. As they were bereft of oil long since, urge to flee instantly beyond the circle like dead leaves.
Whispers the all white one.
The track seems a grim, burnt black snake, deadly silent. With a narrow turn, it has disappeared to the north touching southward, destined to Purulia.
The village seems not very vast with very few huts, dry fields, empty crops by the side of hills. Nobody is seen anywhere in the serene sunny noon. A half open shed of beetle leaves and cigarettes is taking a midday nap in the bus stand. And a hump backed aged with half closed eyes and swollen legs is seen seated within a tea-shop. The kettle is smeared with deep carbon stamps. The fire is put out. Everything appears fast asleep here and there. They observe the whole scene with minute details which makes them depressed bit by bit. Finally, relieved, they start waiting under the Akashmoni, fixed. This is a place from which even the idea of arranging food or clothing is ridiculous. They have realised already. Even if they beg, nobody is capable of giving alms, certain. They consider the village as another beggar's den.
"What's the time now?"
Watching the sky, Annada replies..
--"Twelve perhaps.. The sun is above our heads."
-"Sure? So much?"
Annadarani replies in negative. Again the white one feels an acute sense of relief. A pure indifference surges her eyes and the whole frame. Repeating the age old habit, she drops the cover of her breast. But before that, makes a quick survey with restless pupils if anybody there. The manner of dropping her breast cover is too ancient, she knows by herself. Still, the feel of a throbbing every time she does that in open space never ceases.
The whole body is moist in perspiration. The sun, the sweat and the heat - all have mingled to make an old lying, dusted. That particular kind of heat is a devil. It arouses only the urge of lying down and then, inevitably, sleep. The white one again mutters..
--"Oye… how much passed after twelve?"
Again Annadarani in scarlet watches the sky…
--"Half past twelve I think..."
--"What does it mean?
--"Thirty minutes have gone after twelve and more thirty is needed to strike one"
Sundoridasi tries to get the meaning, fanning her bosom.
--"Sixty minutes make an hour"
-"Who said so?"
Annadarani turns to stand still to face the asking. For a while, stops killing lice. Failing to find enough smartness to answer, she feels somewhat ashamed. A blush appears in her brownish face. Then lowering her forehead, she whispers…
-"Don't you know?"
Sundoridasi smiles, baring toothless gum.
--"Oh! I forgot. Your man has not yet fled to the pyre."
Annadarani feels electrified, trembling within. The widow doesn't know he is almost near the pyre. Practically, he is on the verge to collapse permanently. The only capacity remains to touch the dilapidated veranda from room, crawling. Eyes have lost all the language, the memory, next to nil. She is wearing this scarlet cotton and red white bangles only because he still breathes.
--"Enjoy much no? Huh.."
Annadarani nodes looking at the other side. Obvious enjoyment really. Suddenly she becomes pale and tries to hide the face with palms.
--"What does an aged bedfellow do at old age? Oye proudest.. Tell na?
-"If you had your own, would realize"
Replies Annadarani, hissing.
It doesn't become clear whether Sundoridasi hears it or not; maybe she is overhearing everything and pretending to be unheard, staring at Motukboni hill. Sometimes, hills camouflage folk as clouds. Oh..the stony land hasn't drenched in rain for ages. The two had became acquainted by faces in morning at ferry of Mejia. Mejia of Bankura district situated at one bank of Damodar where on the other carries Ballavpur of Ranigunj under district of Burdwan. Sundoridasi was coming from the opposite, crossing the river. Annadarani was going in her left direction, to Raniganj railway station. They met in between as now-a-days the river bed is stark dry, giving abundance for the whole to cross by walking. First one had crossed half of the bay while the second one the rest of it.
Annadarani in scarlet cotton had enquired..
-"I wanna go Andal..Has the train departed or yet to arrive?"
Sundoridasi in all white stuff had replied in the negative, informing..
-"Next one is after two hours...Where is the ghat? How distant is Mejia hence?
Standing at mid river, the married one had replied..
--"From the mooring.. One mile.. But has the train really departed?"
-"If you doubt.. Go and verify..."
Then Annadarani stopped proceeding further. She began to return. Return seemed inevitable as the train scheduled after two long hours. She didn't know exactly why she was aiming at Andal but she knew she must had to go somewhere. The thought drove her out of the house. Who would feed her if she remained relaxing within? But she must have feed her man so left her damp comfort zone.
She was seated under a great Banyan with palm on her cheeks after a round at the wharf. If she could leave two hours before, she would have been at Andal. May the place accommodate her food or clothing. May the place bring solution. Definitely it would and that's why the train departed before she caught it.
The white one also had walked along her, even sat muted by the side. Before them was the blank river only then and above, a whirlwind of dry sand. Sundoridasi had touched her shoulder..
--"Why Andal? Where's the home?"
Depressed Annadarani had turned towards her, startled. She had whispered, watching head to toe of the olden.
--"To manage livelihood"
-"Anybody known? There?"
Like a falling leaf, Annadarani had waved her head. She had suppressed the tears which were desperate to flow. Who is known to her in the world? It's been long anybody has asked for her whereabouts. Parents have passed away many years ago. Both of her two brothers had gone for working in Chinakuri coal mine, selling land and hut, everything but never returned.
The white one had commented..
-"No work on the other bank.. How will you manage? Ballavpur paper mill is lockout.. All of the three factories of Andal are closed.. Who will give you money? Where to go?"
Almost broken, married one had wailed..
-"Then.. What to do?"
The widow was silent. She stretched her eyes over the river. In this time of draught, the river dresses up alike another widow with no color, perhaps without soul also.
In the next turn, Annadarani had enquired..
-"What about your destination?
-"Here… In this bank… to the village… Mejia."
-"Whose house? Relative?"
The widow had declared…
-"Where is rice or sari? Look at me…"
-"Why? No family here? Nobody would donate a widow in starvation, something? Anything?
-"All starved widows are facing drought here. Rain hasn't visited for many years… all are in fasting now...Who will help you?"
-"Then...Where to go?"
As if both of them had uttered in the same breath... Where to go? One silently and the other, in words. Married Annadarani had withdrawn her eyes from the widow as the latter had concentrated on the crimson parting of her hair. Finally, it had shifted its center also after a period.
They decided to discuss. One was going to Andal while the other was coming for Mejia. But nobody completed their journey to their respective destinies. None went to Andal or anyone to Mejia.
Like beggars, they boarded the bus from the reed, took seats over dusts in a corner. The conductor was too humane. He allotted full concessions to their fares when they clutched his feet. But they couldn't reach Naopahari Township where they decided to reach after discussion. Instead, they arrived at this hilly Motukboni. They had started gathering each other's secrets as much as possible since the river.
Without taking her eyes off from the stark sun, Annadarani tries to hurt Sundoridasi..
-"Hello! Then you are living with two husbands…"
Sucking dry lips with drier tongue, she utters again...
-"You are a success to help two to pyre."
A nameless shadow grasps the copper face of Sundoridasi within a moment. As the shadow surpasses, her eyes blink. She tosses her head violently, loudly breathes through moist bosom in perspiration as if igniting a dying furnace, like prodding a lowering flame.
-"How many mouths to feed?
Annadarani again pricks. Killing a lice by nails, the widow points at her five fingers.
-"Daughter in law devours the son?"
-"Notice me…I have eaten my son..."
Replies Sundoridasi, hissing.
Annadarani brushes knife of her tongue more aptly this time..
-"When did you swallow your man?"
The widow moved her face away…
-"Long ago…Within youth..."
-"Then why again?"
Annadarani swirls her wrist exactly like the hood of a fierce snake before Sundoridasi.The red and white plastic sparkles. Olden Sundoridasi can't make her eyes estranged from them. Her blood warms within, eyes start itching. She has half fed her members with flakes of wheat anyhow in last two days. And since leaving the house in the morning today, nothing has entered in her stomach still noon. In the house, three of her own dearest are surviving, demurred and the witch, the husband-eater, her daughter in law is suffering in high fever. She nails prickles of her skin forcefully and flickers her tongue as a snake does.
-"Oye…what will you do with your enlarged husband?"
Annadarani maintains silence.
-"I had a son… Even if he is no more but I have grandchildren still...No one is a corpse…
The paleness of Annadarani raises steadily. Her eyes become burdened. As Annadarani starts facing the sound of a waterfall made of her own tears within the vapid sunny noon at the stony valley, Sundoridasi, using the corner of her thumb, almost like a spade, peels her sweat on the dust. Both of them refuse to see the face of the other for long. And then, the widow proposes..
-"Where to beg?"
Then what… The married one turns fixed watching the sun. It's mid noon. Sixty minutes makes an hour and twenty four hours makes a day. Everything she had learnt from her man once. Now he has lost his own humor, can't identify anyone, fails to remember anything. He only demands to eat every time, sitting within.
-"It's long since rain hasn't arrived, no?
The widow again parts her lips…
--"Yup...Damodar is carrying only sand...Roads are carrying merely sunshine and whirl winds..."
-"Does your husband know these facts?"
Annadarani gets stunned. Her sunburnt visage becomes more stoned and her heart more heavy, compared to the tor. The weight seems too grave. It's true. Her husband knows nothing. It's been many years as if for many decades and ages, clouds haven't shed rain. And all the streets are empty, no work on either bank, no clothing, no food as the cloud hasn't poured. The mankind have been dozing and sleeping like street dogs for time immemorial. All the fields are like her cracked heels. Dirt is flying, dusts are entering, and walking is increasing pain. Stones are too hot to hold foot. Does his dying husband know all these vast details? Does he know the fire is still alive which had ignited through clashing of just dry leaves in hills of Mejiya some days ago? Does he know his goddess of rice has left his home to beg rice? Does he know, leaving for Andal, she is now seating beside a widow at the valley of Motukboni? Does he know the widow has neither husband nor son but a house full of grandsons and daughters? Nope. He knows nothing. Within the darkest corner of his room, he only breathes, lying. He keeps no track with the world outside, only use to spread his tongue whenever she touches his lips with any edible element.
Annadarani states bluntly...
--"No…He has no information..."
Suddenly Sundoridasi gets shocked. She has forgotten what she had asked. She just manages to pronounce…
--"Who doesn't know?"
Annadarani doesn't reply. Again silence overpowers the two. They continue watching the highway. The bus has gone to Purulia via Modhukunda. When it will return, it's unknown.
After sometime, Annadarani asks...
--"When did the son die?"
Sundoridasi's face turns expressionless. She feels an utter blankness within her brain like a field facing draught. She mutters…
--"What did you say? In sixty hours…let's calculate.."
--"Have you gone insane?"
The widow smiles dryly. She can realize now-a-days her brain stops working properly at times. Who can adjust the deaths of husband and son being wholly sane? It might be adjusted though if hope remains with the leftovers. But with which assurance or support? She has neither property nor anything. Three grandchildren, lamps of their forefathers, are biting incessantly. Her daughter in law is shedding tears, mum, dark faced day and night. As if all the liability rests on her, on the quaggy.
Annadarani again asks...
-"Food and cloth...Be managed?"
Sundoridasi waves her head.
--"Your case is different..Much better..Grandchildren.."
With a shrunken shoulder and bent spine, the widow remains seated as if another stone. Yes, her case is different but in which way, wish, she could know. She is on road due to them, to get relief, to sit over dust if something be earned, something, at least one or two rupees, stirring.
--"Had breakfast? Husband…I mean..."
Annadarani nodes her neck silently, keeping jaws clenched. How could she break his fast? With what? She had nothing and that fear of nothingness had driven her out of the house. She has grown a fear within even to stand before him recently. Her body quenches, breathing ceases in times of his bouts of hunger.
Sundoridasi again asks...
--"Where to find water here?"
--"I have some parched rice..."
-"Really? Where? Within your pouch?"
Annadarani turns restless.
-"Wait…The eldest among grandsons had tied while leaving.."
Happy family. The widow grimly smiles with toothless gum. She had to leave hiding the grains. If the venomous devils could see, would swallow instantly, snatching.
--"I have two rupees"
Sundoridasi gets amazed with the news.
--"Yup…The man had tied at the end of my sari while leaving.."
--"Oh! Such a sweet household and husband..Though old but never forgets to take such care."
Annadarani listens, silent. Her face is dark. What a happy household. These two rupees were her last refuge. If she had left the money, he would devour it before dusk breaks. She peers fixedly at the widow Sundoridasi, thinking about her merry house, full of grandchildren.
Sundoridasi is viewing her also. Both of them doze, keeping eyes on one another. Meanwhile, the sun prepares to voyage on another half. But in reality, the span of a day is like a hill itself in this area. For the demise, it needs much more.
Dozing, Sundoridasi enquires...
-"Where is the water to eat the grains?"
--"Let's go...Find some lake...Need a bath badly...Oh! I feel so hungry..."
-"Will you? Really?"
The widow eyes glisten with lust of an unseen water body. They wake up. Waking, start walk. Leaving the heated pitch highway, they find a dusty track left through a bush. One behind another, the married follows the widow along like two pilgrims. They stagger with perspired frames, they trudge, bending, they proceed like drunkards. Soon, crossing some distance, a large pool is discovered. It seems the sun melts some silver in the furnace. The water is twinkling similar to the pupils of the two oldies. Both of them burst crying together..
Together, they shout aloud and repeat the utterance. They have to wash away all unbearable burns, dust and dirt of the day from their physic in the pool water. They desire to clean the other all wounds even, like sorrow, pang, agony, everything.
The widow fantasizes how happy the married is with the geezer and the married imagines how wealthy it feels to have a house full of grandsons and daughters.
Sundoridasi suggests not to make the saris wet.
--"No need at all... Leave them here... Nobody is around..."
Then they dive into the sapphire blue water, dive being acutely alert, peeping cautiously as virgins do in their shivering merriment during playtime. They become peacefully sheltered behind the water.
Sundoridasi plunges deep within water. None of them has drenched their skin with such chill for long. Playing with water, Annadarani tries to get confirmation...
-"Certainly...And the rupees? Enough to have sweet meats and tea for two?
As destined, gradually the time arrives at last when they have to leave the water. With sunken naked structures similar to ancient ruined shrines, two women emerge above water. As soon as their feet touch the ground, both turn alarmed all of a sudden. As if a soft sound is heard, as if someone is coming, as if dry leaves are being crunched under unknown treading. Conscious enough, the two women start running to pounce on their desolate sarees.
Wonder..Nobody had come..It was the wind of a departing day..The trees were awakening from the slumber of noon,the slumber of sun,the slumber of lethargy, the slumber of surviving from fire..And the sound was overflowing the whole valley..Realizing, Sundoridasi bursts out in laughter..
-"What? What happened? Annada? Look.."
Annadarani looks at herself, astonished..
--"Really.. what happened !"
Their sarees have exchanged their owners. Sundoridasi is clad in the scarlet cotton now and Annadarani's body is carrying the white stuff. They are standing silently, shivering. How does it happen? Automatically? Or is it the reflection of their super egos? Had they wish this? They start their journey again towards the highway, together. The time all the light was dying on earth..The hill was overshadowing the whole universe.
( ** white cloth is the sign of a widow, widows are not permitted to wear coloured cloth )
( Translated from original Bengali by Sonali Chakraborty )
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