Archive | January 2014

কাবুলিওয়ালা/Kabuliwalla/The Merchant of Kabul


My five year old daughter Mini cannot stay quiet for even one moment. After her arrival on earth, she only took a year to learn how to speak and has not wasted a single waking moment since then in silence. Her mother often scolds her into holding her tongue, but I cannot do that. It is so unnatural to see her when she is not saying something that I cannot bear it for too long. This is why her conversations with me are quite enthusiastic and prolonged.

In the morning I had just started the seventeenth chapter of the novel I am writing, when Mini arrived and started, ‘Baba, the doorman Ramdayal calls a crow Kauwa, he does not know anything. Does he?’

Before I could to enlighten her on the differences between the various languages spoken, she moved on to another topic. ‘See Baba, Bhola was saying that elephants spray water from their trunks in the sky, and that is how it rains. It is amazing what nonsense he can speak! All day and all night, how does he do it?’

Without giving me time to express my views on this either, she suddenly asked me, ‘How are Ma and you related?’

Although I felt like saying she is my wife’s sister, I said aloud, ‘Mini, go and play with Bhola now. I have work to do.’

She then sat down by my feet next to the desk and started playing an animated game of Agdum Bagdum, clapping her own knees with her hands. In my seventeenth chapter, Pratapsinha was about to leap from the high windows of the prison into the fast flowing waters of the river below on a dark night with Kanchanmala clasped to his breast.

My room was by the roadside. Suddenly Mini left her game and ran to the window and started calling loudly, ‘Kabuliwalla, Kabuliwalla.’

A tall Afghan Kabuliwalla was ambling down the street, wearing loose clothes which were somewhat worse for wear, and a turban. He had a sack slung over his back and carried a couple of boxes of grapes. It is hard to say what Mini thought when she saw him, but she started to call him very loudly. I thought it would be a real problem if this fellow came over with his sack; it would certainly signal an end to my wish of finishing my seventeenth chapter.

But as soon as the man turned his face, smiled at Mini’s calls and started walking towards our house, she ran off into the house at top speed, to be seen no more. She had a firm belief that if one looked into the Kabuliwalla’s sack, a couple of live children were sure to be found.

The Kabuliwalla came and greeted me with a smile – and I thought, even though Pratapsinha and Kanchanmala were in grave danger, it would be rather rude to not buy something from the fellow after calling him.

A few things were bought. Then we talked a bit. The talk revolved around politics, the Russians, the English and the border protection policies.

Finally before leaving he asked, ‘Babu, where did your daughter go?’

I wished to wean Mini off her irrational fear and had her called from inside the house – she stood very close to me and looked suspiciously at the man’s face and the sack. He took some sultanas and prunes out of it and offered them to her. She did not accept them in spite of his entreaties and, doubly suspicious of his gesture, remained hidden behind my knees. The first visit went like this.

One morning a few days later, as I was leaving the house for work, I saw my daughter sitting on a bench near the front door and talking without pause to the Kabuliwalla, who sat at her feet smiling happily and occasionally voicing his opinions in broken Bangla. In her five years of experience Mini had never had such a patient audience apart from her father. I also noticed that her little lap was filled with nuts and raisins. I told the Kabuliwalla, ‘Why have you given her these? Don’t do that any more.’ I then gave him a fifty paise piece which he stowed away in his sack without any hesitation.

When I came home, I found that the fifty paise coin was at the centre of a full scale argument.

Mini’s mother had a shiny white disc in her hand as she questioned Mini in a voice filled with rebuke, ‘Where did you find this?’

Mini explained, ‘The Kabuliwalla gave it to me.’

Her mother asked, ‘Why did you take money from the Kabuliwalla?’

Mini who was very near tears by now said, ‘I did not want it, but he still gave to me.’

I arrived on the scene and rescued Mini from imminent danger and inevitable tears.

I learnt that this was not the second interaction that Mini had had with the Kabuliwalla, he had been coming every day and had conquered a large part of her tiny greedy heart with bribes of pistachio nuts.

I noticed that there were a few words and jokes that were in use between these two friends – such as my daughter’s smiling question as soon as she saw Rahamat, ‘Kabuliwalla, please tell me what you have in that sack of yours?’

To this Rahamat would reply in needlessly nasal tones, ‘Hnati, Elephant!’

There was a subtle sense of the ridiculous in the statement that his sack would hold an elephant. It was not really that subtle, but it amused them both a great deal – and I felt good as I listened to the innocent laughter of two children, one old and one young on those autumn mornings.

There was another thing that was a matter of mirth to the two. Rahamat would say to Mini, ‘Khnoki, wee lass, you should never go to your in-laws’ home!’

Bengali girls are familiar with the term ‘in-laws’ home’ all their lives, but as we were quite modern in our attitudes, we had not informed our little daughter about this place. Thus she could not understand fully what Rahamat meant but to not have a reply ready was foreign to her nature, and she used to ask him in turn, ‘Will you go to your in-laws’ home?’

Rahamat would then shake a huge fist at the imaginary in law and say, ‘Rahamat will beat the in-law soundly first!’

Mini would hear this and laugh a great deal at the thought of this unknown creature’s plight.

It was now autumn and the weather was beautiful. In ancient times kings used to go conquering other lands in this season. I had never gone any where outside Kolkata, but for that very reason my heart would wander the world freely. I was like a traveler forever in my own home; I always missed the places out there. Whenever I heard of foreign places my heart felt drawn to them, similarly when I saw foreigners, my mind conjured a tranquil scene of a river running through a forest, a hut in a clearing and mountains in the distance, and thoughts of a carefree happy existence would spring to mind.
And yet I was of such a lazy disposition that I intensely disliked leaving my familiar corner and going out. This is why the story telling sessions with the Kabuliwalla in the mornings in my little room sitting at my own table satisfied a lot of my yearnings for travel. As he talked in his slow baritone in broken Bangla of his own land, scenes of high mountains on either side of narrow desert tracks, camel caravans loaded with treasures, turbaned riders and men on foot, some armed with spears, others with ancient flint lock muskets floated before my eyes.

Mini’s mother was very easily frightened. A noise on the street was enough to convince her that all the drunks and miscreants in the world were descending on our house. In spite of having lived on this planet for a not inconsiderable period of time, she was constantly fearful that the place was filled with thieves, drunks, snakes, tigers, diseases such as malaria, caterpillars, cockroaches and pesky foreigners.

She was not completely at ease with Rahamat the Kabuliwalla. She had repeatedly asked me to keep a careful eye on him. When I tried to laugh her suspicions away, she asked me a series of questions, ‘Have children never been kidnapped? Is there no slavery in Kabul? Is it totally impossible for a huge Kabuliwalla to steal a small child?’

I had to admit that even though it was not impossible it was unbelievable. Not everyone has the same ability to believe however, and she continued to be afraid of most things. But I could not ask Rahamat to stop coming to our house through no fault of his own.

Every year in winter Rahamat would go home. He was extremely busy collecting his dues at this time. He had to go to many houses but he always came to see Mini once a day. It always seemed like they were conspiring when you saw them together. When he could not make it during the day, I would see him in the evening; to see that tall man in his loose flowing clothes with his huge bag looming up in the darkness was quite a shock at first. But when I saw Mini running to him with cries of ‘Kabuliwalla’ and her face wreathed in smiles, and heard the familiar innocent banter between two friends of disparate ages, my heart was filled with happiness.

One morning I was checking proof sheets in my little room. The last couple of days before winter finally took its leave had been unseasonably cold. The pale winter sun that came through the window and fell on my feet underneath the table felt comfortingly warm. It was probably around eight in the morning – the early risers were returning from their morning walks, wrapped against the weather in mufflers. Suddenly a great uproar was heard on the road.

I looked to see two guardsmen dragging Rahamat along in chains – with a band of curious children in tow. Rahamat’s clothes were bloodstained as was a dagger in the hands of one of his captors. I went outside and asked the men what the matter was.

After speaking to both parties, I managed to find out that one of our neighbours had borrowed money from Rahamat for a Rampuri shawl – he had denied having done this and in the ensuing argument and scuffle Rahamat had stabbed him.

As Rahamat showered the liar with many unmentionable curses, Mini came out calling, ‘Kabuliwalla, Kabuliwalla?’

Rahamat’s face immediately broke into amused smiles. He did not have his sack with him and thus their usual banter could not take place. Mini directly asked him, ‘Will you go to your in-laws’ house?’

Rahamat smiled and said, ‘That is where I am going.’

He realized that Mini did not smile and, showing his bound hands, he said,’I would have beaten him up, but how can I, my hands are tied.’

Rahamat was jailed for a few years for the crime of causing grievous bodily harm.

I forgot about him, in a manner of speaking. While we were spending our days at home in the midst of our familiar daily routine, any thought of how a freedom-loving mountain man was spending years behind prison walls never really occurred to me.

As a father even I have to admit that Mini’s capricious behaviour was very shameful. She forgot her old friend quite easily and made friends with the coachman Nabi. Even later, as she grew older, she made friends with girls rather than with males. She did not even visit her father’s study as much as before. This was a source of much disagreement between the two of us.

Many years have passed since then. Another autumn is here. My Mini’s wedding has been fixed and she will be married during the Puja holidays. Along with the goddess returning to Kailash, the source of happiness in my home will also leave for her in-laws’ home leaving us in darkness.

The morning had started beautifully. The freshly minted autumn sunshine was the colour of liquid gold that had been purified with sulphur. That sunshine had granted an ethereal splendour even on the dreary exposed bricks of untidy crowded houses in our Kolkata alley.

The shehnai flute had started playing in our house as soon as the night ended. That tune seemed to weep from within my ribs. The sad strains of Bhairavi filled the earth with the pain of approaching separation. It is my Mini’s wedding today.

There was a great deal of noise all morning, with the arrival of many people. A cover was being erected on a framework of bamboo, glass shades were being hung in the rooms and verandas with much tinkling of the crystals, and workmen called out loudly to each other all over the house.

As I sat in my study checking accounts, Rahamat came and saluted me.

I did not recognize him at first. His sack was not there. He did not have the long hair of old and his body had lost its sense of pure physical strength. I eventually recognized him by his smile.

I said, ‘How are you, when did you get back?’

He said, ‘I was released from jail yesterday evening.’

The words sounded somewhat incongruous. I had never seen a murderer face to face; my heart seemed to withdraw into itself at his sight. I kept thinking it would be best if this man had just left us alone on this auspicious day.

I said to him, ‘There is a ceremony at home today, and I am a bit busy; you should go now.’

As soon as he heard this he got up to leave. Near the door he paused, and after hesitating a bit, said, ‘Can I not see the wee lass?’

He must have believed Mini was still just the same. It was as though he thought Mini would come running for him, calling, ‘Kabuliwalla, Kabuliwalla’; there would be no change to the old routine of very amusing banter. He had even brought a box of grapes and some dried fruit in a paper bag, possibly borrowed from some friend of his – he no longer had his own supplies.

I said, ‘Today there is a ceremony here, you will not get to meet anyone.’

He seemed a little upset. He looked steadily at me in silence and then saluted me and left the room.

I felt a strange pain. I was thinking of calling him back when I saw him coming back on his own.

He came in and said, ‘I brought these grapes and some dried fruits, please give them to her.’

I took them and started to get some money out to pay for them. He suddenly grabbed my hand and said, ‘You are very kind Sir, I will remember this forever – but do not try to pay me. Sir, just like you have a daughter, I too have a daughter back home. I used to bring dry fruits for your daughter because she reminds me of my child, I have never come for the business.’

Saying this he put his hand into his loose clothing and pulled out a scrap of dirty paper from somewhere near his chest. He unfolded it very carefully and smoothed it onto my table.

I saw a tiny hand print on that piece of paper. Not a photograph or a painting, but a print taken by coating a palm with some soot and pressing it on paper. Rahamat had come to Kolkata every year to sell dried fruits carrying that memento of his daughter – that soft tiny palm touching his saddened heart with sweetness.

My eyes filled with tears at this. I forgot that he was an Afghan fruit seller and that I was a well-to-do Bengali gentleman – I understood that we were both the same, he was a father and so was I. The little hand print of his girl so far from us in her mountain home reminded me of Mini. I instantly sent for her to be brought outside. The womenfolk were not pleased. But I paid no attention to this. Mini shyly came and stood near me dressed in red bridal clothes, her forehead decorated with sandalwood.

Rahamat was startled at first on seeing her, he could not bring back their old camaraderie back. Finally he smiled and said, ‘Khnokhi, little girl, will you go to your in-laws’ home?’

Today Mini understands what the in-laws’ home holds, she could not give him the answer that she had before – she blushed on hearing his question and turned her face away. I remembered the first day the two had met and felt a strange sense of pain.

After Mini had gone Rahamat sighed deeply and sat down on the ground heavily. Suddenly it was clear to him that his own daughter had grown up as well in the mean time – he would have to re-acquaint himself with her – and he would never get the old times back. Who knows what he had gone through in the past eight years! The shehnai flutes played on in the gentle autumn sunshine, as Rahamat sat in an alley in Kolkata and dreamed of a desert in the mountains of Afghanistan.

I took some money and gave it to him. I said, ‘Rahamat, go back to your land and to your daughter; let the joy of that reunion bless Mini’s life.’

As a result of giving this money away I did have to do without a few things I had planned for the celebrations. I could not organize the sort of lighting I had wanted, nor the band I had hoped for and the family was not happy about this; but the light of goodwill brightened the happy ceremony.

Letter to Victoria Ocampo

To Victoria Ocampo
(Ocampo was Tagore’s hostess in Argentina from November 1924 to early January 1925, when he sailed for Europe. )

S.S. Giulio Cesare
13 January 1925

Dear Vijaya,

I am drifting farther and farther from your shore making it possible for me to recall the memories of my everyday surroundings at San Isidro against a background of separation. I am not a born traveller – I have not the energy and strength needed to know a strange country and help the mind to gather materials from new experiences to build a nest in a new land. Therefore when I am away from my own land I seek individuals who may represent to me the country to which they belong. For me the spirit of Latin America will forever live in my memory in your form. You helped rescue me from the regimented hospitality of a reception committee and allowed me to feel through you the pulse of your country. Unfortunately the language barrier prevented free communication of minds between us, for you never felt fully at home in the only European language I happen to know. It was unfortunate because you have a richness of mind which naturally longs to offer its own wealth to those you accept as your friends. I completely understand the pain which you must have suffered for being unable to express your deeper thoughts to me and to remove the fog that screened off the world of your intellect from my vision. I am deeply sorry that it has not been possible for me to have an acquaintance of your complete personality – the difficulty being enhanced by the literary richness of your mind. For such a mind has its aristocratic code of honour about its manner of self-expression choosing to remain silenced than send out threadbare thoughts. But never think for a moment that I failed to recognize that you had a mind. To me it was more like a distant star rather than a dark planet. When we were together we mostly toyed with words and tried to laugh away our best opportunities to see each other clearly. Such laughter can cloud our minds, raising superfluous dust and blurring our view. One thing most of my friends fail to understand is that where I am real I am profoundly serious. Our reality is like treasure, it is not left exposed in the outer chamber of our personal self. It waits to be explored and only in our serious moments [can it] be approached. You have often found me homesick – it was not so much for India, it was for that abiding reality in me in which I can have my inner freedom. It becomes totally obscured when for some reason or other my attention is too much directed upon my own personal self. My true home is there where from my surroundings comes the call to me to bring out the best that I have, for that inevitably leads me to the touch with the universal. My mind must have a nest to which the voice of the sky can descend freely, the sky that has no other allurements but light and freedom. Whenever there is the least sign of the nest becoming a jealous rival of the sky, my mind, like a migrant bird, tries to take its flight to a distant shore. When my freedom of light is obstructed for some length of time I feel as if I am bearing the burden of a disguise, like the morning in its disguise of a mist. I do not see myself – and this obscurity, like a nightmare, seems to suffocate me with its heavy emptiness. I have often said to you that I am not free to give up my freedom – for this freedom is claimed by my Master for his own service. There have been times when I did forget this and allowed myself to drift into some easy captivity – but every time it ended in catastrophe and I was driven by an angry power to the open, across broken walls.

I can tell you all this because I know you love me. I trust my providence. I feel certain – and I say this in all humility – that he has chosen me for some special mission of his own and nor merely for the purpose of linking the endless chain of generations. Therefore I believe that your love may in some way, help me in my fulfillment. It will sound egoistic, only because the voice of our ego has in it the same masterful cry of insistence as the voice of that which infinitely surpasses it. I assure you, that through me a claim comes which is not mine. A child’s claim upon its mother has a sublime origin – it is not a claim of an individual, it is that of humanity. Those who come on some special errand of God are like that child; if they ever attract love and service it should be for a higher end than merely their own enjoyment. Not only love, but hurts and insults, neglect and rejection come not to grind them into dust but to kindle their life into a brighter flame.

Your friendship has come to me unexpectedly. It will grow to its fullness of truth when you know and accept my real being and see clearly the deeper meaning of my life. I have lost most of my friends because they asked for me for themselves, and when I said I was not free to give myself away– they thought I was proud. I have deeply suffered from this over and over again – and therefore I always feel nervous whenever a new gift of friendship comes my way. But I have accepted my destiny and if you have the courage to accept it as well, we shall be friends forever.

Shri Rabindranath Thakur
[signed in Bengali]

17 January

Tomorrow we shall reach Barcelona and the day after Genoa. I am about to leave my easy chair in my cabin. That chair has been my real nest for these two weeks giving me rest and privacy and a feeling that my happiness is of value to somebody. I do not know when it will be possible for me to write to you again but I shall always remember you.

(This chair had been given to the poet by Ocampo who requested that the doors to his cabin be removed in order to allow the chair to be placed inside. It can be seen in Rabindra Bhavan)

বিপদে মোরে রক্ষা করো এ নহে মোর প্রার্থনা/Bipodey morey rokkha koro e nohe more prarthona/It is not my prayer that you may save me from danger

বিপদে মোরে রক্ষা করো এ নহে মোর প্রার্থনা–
বিপদে আমি না যেন করি ভয়।
দুঃখতাপে ব্যথিত চিতে নাই-বা দিলে সান্ত্বনা,
দুঃখে যেন করিতে পারি জয়॥
সহায় মোর না যদি জুটে নিজের বল না যেন টুটে,
সংসারেতে ঘটিলে ক্ষতি, লভিলে শুধু বঞ্চনা
নিজের মনে না যেন মানি ক্ষয়।
আমারে তুমি করিবে ত্রাণ এ নহে মোর প্রার্থনা–
তরিতে পারি শকতি যেন রয়।
আমার ভার লাঘব করি নাই-বা দিলে সান্ত্বনা,
বহিতে পারি এমনি যেন হয়।
নম্রশিরে সুখের দিনে তোমারি মুখ লইব চিনে–
দুখের রাতে নিখিল ধরা যেদিন করে বঞ্চনা
তোমারে যেন না করি সংশয়।

রাগ: ইমনকল্যাণ
তাল: ঝম্পক
রচনাকাল (বঙ্গাব্দ): 1313
রচনাকাল (খৃষ্টাব্দ): 1907
স্বরলিপিকার: কাঙ্গালীচরণ সেন, ভীমরাও শাস্ত্রী


Bipodey morey rokkha koro e nohe more prarthona –
bipodey ami na jeno kori bhoy.
Dukkhotaapey byathito chitey nai ba diley shantona,
dukkhe jeno koritey pari joy.
Shohay more na jodi jutey nijer bol na jeno tutey,
shongsharetey ghotiley kkhoti, lobhiley shudhu bonchona
nijero mone na jeno maani kkhoy.
Amarey tumi koribe traan e nohe more prarthona –
toritey pari shokoti jeno roy.
Amaro bhaar laghob kori nai ba diley shantona,
bohitey pari emoni jeno hoy.
Namrasheere shukhero diney tomari mukho loibo chiney –
Dukhero raatey nikhilo dhora jedin korey bonchona
tomarey jeno na kori shongshoy.

Raga Iman Kalyan
Taal Jhampak
Bongabdo: 1313
CE: 1907
Swaralipikar: Kangalicharan Sen, Bheemrao Shastri


I do not pray so that you may save me from danger –
Instead, I entreat you to make me grow unafraid.
Perhaps you might consider not consoling me when I am filled with sorrow,
Let me instead learn to conquer it when faced with pain.
When I have no one to lean on, let my own strength not desert me
When life only takes, giving back false hope in return
May I be strong enough to resist it.
My prayer is not for you to be my savior –
I would rather you gave me the will to overcome.
I would rather you did not give solace and shoulder my burden,
But give me the might to do the same for myself.
Let me humbly know you for my own in times of happiness –
So that on the darkest of nights when the world turns away
I may not doubt your benevolent presence.

Raga: Yaman Kalyan
Beat: Jhampak
Written in 1907
Score: Kangalicharan Sen, Bheemrao Shastri

Follow the links to hear –

The great thespian Soumitro Chatterjee reciting the song:

Swagatalakshmi Dasgupta:

বধূ/ The Bride


“বেলা যে পড়ে এল, জলকে চল্!”–
পুরানো সেই সুরে কে যেন ডাকে দূরে,
কোথা সে ছায়া সখী, কোথা সে জল!
কোথা সে বাঁধা ঘাট, অশথ-তল!
ছিলাম আনমনে একেলা গৃহকোণে,
কে যেন ডাকিল রে “জলকে চল্”।
কলসী লয়ে কাঁখে পথ সে বাঁকা,
বামেতে মাঠ শুধু সদাই করে ধুধু,
ডাহিনে বাঁশবন হেলায়ে শাখা।
দিঘির কালো জলে সাঁঝের আলো ঝলে,
দু ধারে ঘন বন ছায়ায় ঢাকা।
গভীর থির নীরে ভাসিয়া যাই ধীরে,
পিক কুহরে তীরে অমিয়-মাখা।
পথে আসিতে ফিরে, আঁধার তরুশিরে
সহসা দেখি চাঁদ আকাশে আঁকা।
অশথ উঠিয়াছে প্রাচীর টুটি,
সেখানে ছুটিতাম সকালে উঠি।
শরতে ধরাতলে শিশিরে ঝলমল,
করবী থোলো থোলো রয়েছে ফুটি।
প্রাচীর বেয়ে বেয়ে সবুজে ফেলে ছেয়ে
বেগুনি-ফুলে-ভরা লতিকা দুটি।
ফাটলে দিয়ে আঁখি আড়ালে বসে থাকি,
আঁচল পদতলে পড়েছে লুটি।
মাঠের পরে মাঠ, মাঠের শেষে
সুদূর গ্রামখানি আকাশে মেশে।
এ ধারে পুরাতন শ্যামল তালবন
সঘন সারি দিয়ে দাঁড়ায় ঘেঁষে।
বাঁধের জলরেখা ঝলসে যায় দেখা,
জটলা করে তীরে রাখাল এসে।
চলেছে পথখানি কোথায় নাহি জানি,
কে জানে কত শত নূতন দেশে।
হায় রে রাজধানী পাষাণ-কায়া!
বিরাট মুঠিতলে চাপিছে দৃঢ়বলে,
ব্যাকুল বালিকারে নাহিকো মায়া!
কোথা সে খোলা মাঠ, উদার পথঘাট,
পাখির গান কই, বনের ছায়া!
কে যেন চারি দিকে দাঁড়িয়ে আছে,
খুলিতে নারি মন শুনিবে পাছে।
হেথায় বৃথা কাঁদা, দেয়ালে পেয়ে বাধা
কাঁদন ফিরে আসে আপন-কাছে।
আমার আঁখিজল কেহ না বোঝে,
অবাক্ হয়ে সবে কারণ খোঁজে।
“কিছুতে নাহি তোষ, এ তো বিষম দোষ
গ্রাম্য বালিকার স্বভাব ও যে।
স্বজন প্রতিবেশী এত যে মেশামেশি,
ও কেন কোণে বসে নয়ন বোজে?”
কেহ বা দেখে মুখ কেহ বা দেহ;
কেহ বা ভালো বলে, বলে না কেহ।
ফুলের মালাগাছি বিকাতে আসিয়াছি,
পরখ করে সবে, করে না স্নেহ।
সবার মাঝে আমি ফিরি একেলা।
কেমন করে কাটে সারাটা বেলা!
ইঁটের ‘পরে ইঁট, মাঝে মানুষ-কীট–
নাইকো ভালোবাসা, নাইকো খেলা।
কোথায় আছ তুমি কোথায় মা গো,
কেমনে ভুলে তুই আছিস হাঁগো।
উঠিলে নব শশী, ছাদের ‘পরে বসি
আর কি রূপকথা বলিবি না গো!
হৃদয়বেদনায় শূন্য বিছানায়
বুঝি মা, আঁখিজলে রজনী জাগো,
কুসুম তুলি লয়ে প্রভাতে শিবালয়ে
প্রবাসী তনয়ার কুশল মাগো।
হেথাও ওঠে চাঁদ ছাদের পারে,
প্রবেশ মাগে আলো ঘরের দ্বারে।
আমারে খুঁজিতে সে ফিরিছে দেশে দেশে,
যেন সে ভালোবেসে চাহে আমারে।
নিমেষতরে তাই আপনা ভুলি
ব্যাকুল ছুটে যাই দুয়ার খুলি।
অমনি চারি ধারে নয়ন উঁকি মারে,
শাসন ছুটে আসে ঝটিকা তুলি।
দেবে না ভালোবাসা, দেবে না আলো।
সদাই মনে হয় আঁধার ছায়াময়
দিঘির সেই জল শীতল কালো,
তাহারি কোলে গিয়ে মরণ ভালো।
ডাক্ লো ডাক্ তোরা, বল্ লো বল্–
“বেলা যে পড়ে এল, জলকে চল্।”
কবে পড়িবে বেলা, ফুরাবে সব খেলা,
নিবাবে সব জ্বালা শীতল জল,
জানিস যদি কেহ আমায় বল্।


The Bride

‘The hour grows late, come let us go get the water!’
Someone calls from afar, in that timeless tune,
Where is that companion I yearn to see, where is that river!
Where are those steps, under the Peepul tree!
I was in a trance, all alone by myself,
When someone seemed to whisper, ‘Let us go to the river’
With the pitcher balanced on my hip, along the winding path
On my left the fields go on forever,
While on the right bamboo groves lean ever closer
The dark water of the lake sparkles in the twilight
Dense woods on either side hide in shade.
I let myself float gently in the deep still water
As a cuckoo calls from the banks, its tones so tender
As I return, above the darkened treetops I see
A sudden glow as the rising moon paints the sky
An old fig climbs where the bricks have given way,
That is where each morning I used to go first.
In autumn the earth sparkles with dew drops,
And oleander hangs in scented clusters.
The wall is covered all over by green climbing vines
Bejeweled in purple bloom.
I place my eye at a crack and watch from this side,
My veil forgotten, about my feet.
Field after field, beyond them all
Where a faraway village seems to nudge the sky.
Over here there lie ancient green palm groves
Standing in ranks close to each other.
The lake appears like a gleam in the distance,
The cowherds gather on its banks in friendly banter.
I do not know where the path is going to go,
Perhaps passing on the way many strange lands
Where the cities are built of foreboding stone.
And a giant fist oppresses with all its might,
An anxious young girl without any pity in sight!
Where are those open fields, those avenues broad,
Where is the clear birdsong, by shaded forest roads!
Who are these that stand so close?
I feel so constrained, for fear they should listen.
These are useless tears that are stopped by the wall
And come back to me.
No one understands why I shed these tears,
In amazement they all search for reasons.
‘Why are you never happy, this is your great fault!
This is the way of these simple village folk.
All her people are constantly around her,
‘Why does she still insist on closing her eyes?’
Some look at her face, some at her limbs
Some say it is good, some nothing at all.
I have come to sell this flower garland,
Everyone judges it but there is little love.
I wander alone, in the midst of them all.
How will I spend my time all day!
Brick upon dour brick, peopled by insects of men,
They know not love, they do not love play.
Where are you, dearest mother of mine,
how have you forgotten me so well!
When the new moon rises, I will sit upon the terrace
Will you tell me no more stories of the times of the past!
In sadness lying on an empty bed
I know how you spend the night in sleepless wait,
in the morning to the temple with flowers you go
to seek blessings for this daughter living far away.
Here too the moon rises above the houses at night,
here too each door is touched by moonlight.
It has been seeking me in countries far and wide,
As if it wants to me purely out of love.
That is why I forget myself for a moment of carelessness
Running to the door to see who it is that waits outside.
Immediately there are eyes that are watchful,
Discipline raises its angry head.
They will not give me love, nor lighten my day.
It always seems to be as dark as night.
But the water calls me to her inky cool breast,
It is better to seek death in her depth.
Call everyone, let us call them to come,
‘The day passes us by, let us go fetch some water.’
When will the day end and all games cease,
when will the hurts of life be soothed by that water so cool,
if anyone should know, please tell me.

Image from the internet:

চোখের বালি ২৩/ Chokher Bali 23


সংসারত্যাগিনী অন্নপূর্ণা বহুদিন পরে হঠাৎ মহেন্দ্রকে আসিতে দেখিয়া যেমন স্নেহে আনন্দে আপ্লুত হইয়া গেলেন, তেমনি তাঁহার হঠাৎ ভয় হইল, বুঝি আশাকে লইয়া মার সঙ্গে মহেন্দ্রের আবার কোনো বিরোধ ঘটিয়াছে এবং মহেন্দ্র তাঁহার কাছে নালিশ জানাইয়া সান্ত্বনালাভ করিতে আসিয়াছে। মহেন্দ্র শিশুকাল হইতেই সকলপ্রকার সংকট ও সন্তাপের সময় তাহার কাকীর কাছে ছুটিয়া আসে। কাহারো উপর রাগ করিলে অন্নপূর্ণা তাহার রাগ থামাইয়া দিয়াছেন, দুঃখবোধ করিলে তাহা সহজে সহ্য করিতে উপদেশ দিয়াছেন। কিন্তু বিবাহের পর হইতে মহেন্দ্রের জীবনে সর্বাপেক্ষা যে সংকটের কারণ ঘটিয়াছে, তাহার প্রতিকারচেষ্টা দূরে থাক্‌, কোনোপ্রকার সান্ত্বনা পর্যন্ত তিনি দিতে অক্ষম। সে সম্বন্ধে যেভাবে যেমন করিয়াই তিনি হস্তক্ষেপ করিবেন,তাহাতেই মহেন্দ্রের সাংসারিক বিপ্লব আরো দ্বিগুণ বাড়িয়া উঠিবে ইহাই যখন নিশ্চয় বুঝিলেন, তখনই তিনি সংসার ত্যাগ করিলেন। রুগ্‌ণ শিশু যখন জল চাহিয়া কাঁদে, এবং জল দেওয়া যখন কবিরাজের নিতান্ত নিষেধ, তখন পীড়িতচিত্তে মা যেমন অন্য ঘরে চলিয়া যান, অন্নপূর্ণা তেমনি করিয়া নিজেকে প্রবাসে লইয়া গেছেন। দূর তীর্থবাসে থাকিয়া ধর্মকর্মের নিয়মিত অনুষ্ঠানে এ কয়দিন সংসার অনেকটা ভুলিয়াছিলেন, মহেন্দ্র আবার কি সেই-সকল বিরোধের কথা তুলিয়া তাঁহার প্রচ্ছন্ন ক্ষতে আঘাত করিতে আসিয়াছে।

কিন্তু মহেন্দ্র আশাকে লইয়া তাহার মার সম্বন্ধে কোনো নালিশের কথা তুলিল না। তখন অন্নপূর্ণার আশঙ্কা অন্য পথে গেল। যে মহেন্দ্র আশাকে ছাড়িয়া কালেজে যাইতে পারিত না, সে আজ কাকীর খোঁজ লইতে কাশী আসে কেন। তবে কি আশার প্রতি মহেন্দ্রর টান ক্রমে ঢিলা হইয়া আসিতেছে। মহেন্দ্রকে তিনি কিছু আশঙ্কার সহিত জিজ্ঞাসা করিলেন, “হাঁ রে মহিন, আমার মাথা খা, ঠিক করিয়া বল্‌ দেখি, চুনি কেমন আছে।”

মহেন্দ্র কহিল, “সে তো বেশ ভালো আছে কাকীমা।”

“আজকাল সে কী করে, মহিন। তোরা কি এখনো তেমনি ছেলেমানুষ আছিস, না কাজকর্মে ঘরকন্নায় মন দিয়াছিস?”

মহেন্দ্র কহিল, “ছেলেমানুষি একেবারেই বন্ধ। সকল ঝঞ্ঝাটের মূল সেই চারুপাঠখানা যে কোথায় অদৃশ্য হইয়াছে, তাহার আর সন্ধান পাইবার জো নাই। তুমি থাকিলে দেখিয়া খুশি হইতে– লেখাপড়া শেখায় অবহেলা করা স্ত্রীলোকের পক্ষে যতদূর কর্তব্য, চুনি তাহা একান্ত মনে পালন করিতেছে।”

“মহিন, বিহারী কী করিতেছে।”

মহেন্দ্র কহিল, “নিজের কাজ ছাড়া আর-সমস্তই করিতেছে। নায়েব-গোমস্তায় তাহার বিষয়সম্পত্তি দেখে; কী চক্ষে দেখে, তাহা ঠিক বলিতে পারি না। বিহারীর চিরকাল ঐ দশা। তাহার নিজের কাজ পরে দেখে, পরের কাজ সে নিজে দেখে।”

অন্নপূর্ণা কহিলেন, “সে কি বিবাহ করিবে না, মহিন।”

মহেন্দ্র একটুখানি হাসিয়া কহিল, “কই, কিছুমাত্র উদ্‌যোগ তো দেখি না।”

শুনিয়া অন্নপূর্ণা হৃদয়ের গোপন স্থানে একটা আঘাত পাইলেন। তিনি নিশ্চয় বুঝিতে পারিয়াছিলেন, তাঁহার বোনঝিকে দেখিয়া, একবার বিহারী আগ্রহের সহিত বিবাহ করিতে উদ্যত হইয়াছিল, তাহার সেই উন্মুখ আগ্রহ অন্যায় করিয়া অকস্মাৎ দলিত হইয়াছে। বিহারী বলিয়াছিল, “কাকীমা, আমাকে আর বিবাহ করিতে কখনো অনুরোধ করিয়ো না।” সেই বড়ো অভিমানের কথা অন্নপূর্ণার কানে বাজিতেছিল। তাঁহার একান্ত অনুগত সেই স্নেহের বিহারীকে তিনি এমন মনভাঙা অবস্থায় ফেলিয়া আসিয়াছিলেন, তাহাকে কোনো সান্ত্বনা দিতে পারেন নাই। অন্নপূর্ণা অত্যন্ত বিমর্ষ ও ভীত হইয়া ভাবিতে লাগিলেন, “এখনো কি আশায় প্রতি বিহারীর মন পড়িয়া আছে।’

মহেন্দ্র কখনো ঠাট্টার ছলে, কখনো গম্ভীরভাবে, তাহাদের ঘরকন্নার আধুনিক সমস্ত খবর-বার্তা জানাইল, বিনোদিনীর কথার উল্লেখমাত্র করিল না।

এখন কালেজ খোলা, কাশীতে মহেন্দ্রের বেশি দিন থাকিবার কথা নয়। কিন্তু কঠিন রোগের পর স্বাস্থ্যকর আবহাওয়ার মধ্যে গিয়া আরোগ্যলাভের যে সুখ, মহেন্দ্র কাশীতে অন্নপূর্ণার নিকটে থাকিয়া প্রতিদিন সেই সুখ অনুভব করিতেছিল– তাই একে একে দিন কাটিয়া যাইতে লাগিল। নিজের সঙ্গে নিজের যে একটা বিরোধ জন্মিবার উপক্রম হইয়াছিল, সেটা দেখিতে দেখিতে দূর হইয়া গেল। কয়দিন সর্বদা ধর্মপরায়ণা অন্নপূর্ণার স্নেহমুখচ্ছবির সম্মুখে থাকিয়া, সংসারের কর্তব্যপালন এমনি সহজ ও সুখকর মনে হইতে লাগিল যে, তাহার পূর্বেকার আতঙ্ক হাস্যকর বোধ হইল। মনে হইল, বিনোদিনী কিছুই না। এমন কি, তাহার মুখের চেহারাই মহেন্দ্র স্পষ্ট করিয়া মনে আনিতে পারে না। অবশেষে মহেন্দ্র খুব জোর করিয়াই মনে মনে কহিল, “আশাকে আমার হৃদয় হইতে এক চুল সরাইয়া বসিতে পারে, এমন তো আমি কোথাও কাহাকেও দেখিতে পাই না।’

মহেন্দ্র অন্নপূর্ণাকে কহিল, “কাকীমা, আমার কালেজ কামাই যাইতেছে– এবারকার মতো তবে আসি। যদিও তুমি সংসারের মায়া কাটাইয়া একান্তে আসিয়া আছ– তবু অনুমতি করো মাঝে মাঝে আসিয়া তোমার পায়ের ধূলা লইয়া যাইব।”

মহেন্দ্র গৃহে ফিরিয়া আসিয়া যখন আশাকে তাহার মাসির স্নেহোপহার সিঁদুরের কৌটা ও একটি সাদা পাথরের চুমকি ঘটি দিল, তখন তাহার চোখ দিয়া ঝরঝর করিয়া জল পড়িতে লাগিল। মাসিমার সেই পরমস্নেহময় ধৈর্য ও মাসিমার প্রতি তাহাদের ও তাহার শাশুড়ির নানাপ্রকার উপদ্রব স্মরণ করিয়া তাহার হৃদয় ব্যাকুল হইয়া উঠিল। স্বামীকে জানাইল, “আমার বড়ো ইচ্ছা করে, আমি একবার মাসিমার কাছে গিয়া তাঁহার ক্ষমা ও পায়ের ধূলা লইয়া আসি। সে কি কোনোমতেই ঘটিতে পারে না।”

মহেন্দ্র আশার বেদনা বুঝিল, এবং কিছুদিনের জন্য কাশীতে সে তাহার মাসিমার কাছে যায়, ইহাতে তাহার সম্মতিও হইল। কিন্তু পুনর্বার কালেজ কামাই করিয়া আশাকে কাশী পৌঁছাইয়া দিতে তাহার দ্বিধা বোধ হইতে লাগিল।

আশা কহিল, “জেঠাইমা তো অল্পদিনের মধ্যেই কাশী যাইবেন, সেই সঙ্গে গেলে কি ক্ষতি আছে।”

মহেন্দ্র রাজলক্ষ্মীকে গিয়া কহিল, “মা, বউ একবার কাশীতে কাকীমাকে দেখিতে যাইতে চায়।”

রাজলক্ষ্মী শ্লেষবাক্যে কহিলেন, “বউ যাইতে চান তো অবশ্যই যাইবেন, যাও, তাঁহাকে লইয়া যাও।”

মহেন্দ্র যে আবার অন্নপূর্ণার কাছে যাতায়াত আরম্ভ করিল, ইহা রাজলক্ষ্মীর ভালো লাগে নাই। বধূর যাইবার প্রস্তাবে তিনি মনে মনে আরো বিরক্ত হইয়া উঠিলেন।

মহেন্দ্র কহিল, “আমার কালেজ আছে, আমি রাখিতে যাইতে পারিব না। তাহার জেঠামশায়ের সঙ্গে যাইবে।”

রাজলক্ষ্মী কহিলেন, “সে তো ভালো কথা। জেঠামশায়রা বড়োলোক, কখনো আমাদের মতো গরিবের ছায়া মাড়ান না, তাঁহাদের সঙ্গে যাইতে পারিলে কত গৌরব!”

মাতার উত্তরোত্তর শ্লেষবাক্যে মহেন্দ্রের মন একেবারে কঠিন হইয়া বাঁকিল। সে কোনো উত্তর না দিয়া আশাকে কাশী পাঠাইতে দৃঢ়প্রতিজ্ঞ হইয়া চলিয়া গেল।

বিহারী যখন রাজলক্ষ্মীর সঙ্গে দেখা করিতে আসিল, রাজলক্ষ্মী কহিলেন, “ও বিহারী, শুনিয়াছিস, আমাদের বউমা যে কাশী যাইতে ইচ্ছা করিয়াছেন।”

বিহারী কহিল, “বল কী মা, মহিনদা আবার কালেজ কামাই করিয়া কাশী যাইবে?”

রাজলক্ষ্মী কহিলেন, “না না, মহিন কেন যাইবেন। তা হইলে আর বিবিয়ানা হইল কই। মহিন এখানে থাকিবেন, বউ তাঁহার জেঠামহারাজের সঙ্গে কাশী যাইবেন। সবাই সাহেব-বিবি হইয়া উঠিল।”

বিহারী মনে মনে উদ্‌বিগ্ন হইল, বর্তমান কালের সাহেবিয়ানা স্মরণ করিয়া নহে। বিহারী ভাবিতে লাগিল, “ব্যাপারখানা কী। মহেন্দ্র যখন কাশী গেল আশা এখানে রহিল; আবার মহেন্দ্র যখন ফিরিল তখন আশা কাশী যাইতে চাহিতেছে। দুজনের মাঝখানে একটা কী গুরুতর ব্যাপার ঘটিয়াছে। এমন করিয়া কতদিন চলিবে? বন্ধু হইয়াও আমরা ইহার কোনো প্রতিকার করিতে পারিবে না– দূরে দাঁড়াইয়া থাকিব?’

মাতার ব্যবহারে অত্যন্ত ক্ষুদ্ধ হইয়া মহেন্দ্র তাহার শয়নঘরে আসিয়া বসিয়া ছিল। বিনোদিনী ইতিমধ্যে মহেন্দ্রের সঙ্গে সাক্ষাৎ করে নাই– তাই আশা তাহাকে পাশের ঘর হইতে মহেন্দ্রের কাছে লইয়া আসিবার জন্য অনুরোধ করিতেছিল।

এমন সময় বিহারী আসিয়া মহেন্দ্রকে জিজ্ঞাসা করিল, “আশা-বোঠানের কি কাশী যাওয়া স্থির হইয়াছে।”

মহেন্দ্র কহিল, “না হইবে কেন। বাধাটা কী আছে।”

বিহারী কহিল, “বাধার কথা কে বলিতেছে। কিন্তু হঠাৎ এ খেয়াল তোমাদের মাথায় আসিল যে?”

মহেন্দ্র কহিল, “মাসিকে দেখিবার ইচ্ছা– প্রবাসী আত্মীয়ের জন্য ব্যাকুলতা, মানবচরিত্রে এমন মাঝে মাঝে ঘটিয়া থাকে।”

বিহারী জিজ্ঞাসা করিল, “তুমি সঙ্গে যাইতেছ?”

প্রশ্ন শুনিয়াই মহেন্দ্র ভাবিল, “জেঠার সঙ্গে আশাকে পাঠানো সংগত নহে, এই কথা লইয়া আলোচনা করিতে বিহারী আসিয়াছে।’ পাছে অধিক কথা বলিতে গেলে ক্রোধ উচ্ছ্বসিত হইয়া উঠে, তাই সংক্ষেপে বলিল, “না।”

বিহারী মহেন্দ্রকে চিনিত। সে যে রাগিয়াছে, তাহা বিহারীর আগোচর ছিল না। একবার জিদ ধরিলে তাহাকে টলানো যায় না, তাহাও সে জানিত। তাই মহেন্দ্রের যাওয়ার কথা আর তুলিল না। মনে মনে ভাবিল, “বেচারা আশা যদি কোনো বেদনা বহন করিয়াই চলিয়া যাইতেছে হয়, তবে সঙ্গে বিনোদিনী গেলে তাহার সান্ত্বনা হইবে।’ তাই ধীরে ধীরে কহিল, “বিনোদ-বোঠান তাঁর সঙ্গে গেলে হয় না?”

মহেন্দ্র গর্জন করিয়া উঠিল, “বিহারী, তোমার মনের ভিতর যে-কথাটা আছে, তাহা স্পষ্ট করিয়া বলো। আমার সঙ্গে অসরলতা করিবার কোনো দরকার দেখি না। আমি জানি, তুমি মনে মনে সন্দেহ করিয়াছ, আমি বিনোদিনীকে ভালোবাসি। মিথ্যা কথা। আমি বাসি না। আমাকে রক্ষা করিবার জন্য তোমাকে পাহারা দিয়া বেড়াইতে হইবে না। তুমি এখন নিজেকে রক্ষা করো। যদি সরল বন্ধুত্ব তোমার মনে থাকিত, তবে বহুদিন আগে তুমি আমার কাছে তোমার মনের কথা বলিতে এবং নিজেকে বন্ধুর অন্তঃপুর হইতে বহু দূরে লইয়া যাইতে। আমি তোমার মুখের সামনে স্পষ্ট করিয়া বলিতেছি, তুমি আশাকে ভালোবাসিয়াছ।”

অত্যন্ত বেদনার স্থানে দুই পা দিয়া মাড়াইয়া দিলে, আহত ব্যক্তি মুহূর্তকাল বিচার না করিয়া আঘাতকারীকে যেমন সবলে ধাক্কা দিয়া ফেলিতে চেষ্টা করে–রুদ্ধকণ্ঠ বিহারী তেমনি পাংশুমুখে তাহার চৌকি হইতে উঠিয়া মহেন্দ্রের দিকে ধাবিত হইল–হঠাৎ থামিয়া বহুকষ্টে স্বর বাহির করিয়া কহিল, “ঈশ্বর তোমাকে ক্ষমা করুন, আমি বিদায় হই।” বলিয়া টলিতে টলিতে ঘর হইতে বাহির হইয়া গেল!

পাশের ঘর হইতে বিনোদিনী ছুটিয়া আসিয়া ডাকিল, “বিহারী-ঠাকুরপো!”

বিহারী দেয়ালে ভর করিয়া একটুখানি হাসিবার চেষ্টা করিয়া কহিল, “কী, বিনোদ-বোঠান!”

বিনোদিনী কহিল, “ঠাকুরপো, চোখের বালির সঙ্গে আমিও কাশীতে যাইব।”

বিহারী কহিল, “না না, বোঠান, সে হইবে না, সে কিছুতেই হইবে না। তোমাকে মিনতি করিতেছি–আমার কথায় কিছুই করিয়ো না। আমি এখানকার কেহ নই, আমি এখানকার কিছুতেই হস্তক্ষেপ করিতে চাহি না, তাহাতে ভালো হইবে না। তুমি দেবী, তুমি যাহা ভালো বোধ কর, তাহাই করিয়ো। আমি চলিলাম।”

বলিয়া বিহারী বিনোদিনীকে বিনম্র নমস্কার করিয়া চলিল। বিনোদিনী কহিল, “আমি দেবী নই ঠাকুরপো, শুনিয়া যাও। তুমি চলিয়া গেলে কাহারো ভালো হইবে না। ইহার পরে আমাকে দোষ দিয়ো না।”

বিহারী চলিয়া গেল। মহেন্দ্র স্তম্ভিত হইয়া বসিয়া ছিল। বিনোদিনী তাহার প্রতি জ্বলন্ত বজ্রের মতো একটা কঠোর কটাক্ষ নিক্ষেপ করিয়া পাশের ঘরে চলিয়া গেল, সে-ঘরে আশা একান্ত লজ্জায় সংকোচে মরিয়া যাইতেছিল। বিহারী তাহাকে ভালোবাসে, এ কথা মহেন্দ্রের মুখে শুনিয়া সে আর মুখ তুলিতে পারিতেছিল না। কিন্তু তাহার উপর বিনোদিনীর আর দয়া হইল না। আশা যদি তখন চোখ তুলিয়া চাহিত, তাহা হইলে সে ভয় পাইত। সমস্ত সংসারের উপর বিনোদিনীর যেন খুন চাপিয়া গেছে। মিথ্যা কথা বটে! বিনোদিনীকে কেহই ভালোবাসে না বটে! সকলেই ভালোবাসে এই লজ্জাবতী ননির পুতুলটিকে।

মহেন্দ্র সেই যে আবেগের মুখে বিহারীকে বলিয়াছিল, “আমি পাষণ্ড”–তাহার পর আবেগ শান্তির পর হইতে সেই হঠাৎ আত্মপ্রকাশের জন্য সে বিহারীর কাছে কুণ্ঠিত হইয়া ছিল। সে মনে করিতেছিল, তাহার সব কথাই যেন ব্যক্ত হইয়া গেছে। সে বিনোদিনীকে ভালোবাসে না, অথচ বিহারী জানিয়াছে যে সে ভালোবাসে–ইহাতে বিহারীর উপরে তাহার বড়ো একটা বিরক্তি জন্মিতেছিল। বিশেষত, তাহার পর হইতে যতবার বিহারী তাহার সম্মুখে আসিতেছিল তাহার মনে হইতেছিল, যেন বিহারী সকৌতূহলে তাহার একটা ভিতরকার কথা খুঁজিয়া বেড়াইতেছে। সেই-সমস্ত বিরক্তি উত্তরোত্তর জমিতেছিল– আজ একটু আঘাতেই বাহির হইয়া পড়িল।

কিন্তু বিনোদিনী পাশের ঘর হইতে যেরূপ ব্যাকুলভাবে ছুটিয়া আসিল, যেরূপ আর্তকণ্ঠে বিহারীকে রাখিতে চেষ্টা করিল এবং বিহারীর আদেশ পালন স্বরূপে আশার সহিত কাশী যাইতে প্রস্তুত হইল, ইহা মহেন্দ্রের পক্ষে অভাবিতপূর্ব। এই দৃশ্যটি মহেন্দ্রকে প্রবল আঘাতে অভিভূত করিয়া দিল। সে বলিয়াছিল, সে বিনোদিনীকে ভালোবাসে না; কিন্তু যাহা শুনিল, যাহা দেখিল, তাহা তাহাকে সুস্থির হইতে দিল না, তাহাকে চারি দিক হইতে বিচিত্র আকারে পীড়ন করিতে লাগিল। আর কেবলই নিষ্ফল পরিতাপের সহিত মনে হইতে লাগিল, “বিনোদিনী শুনিয়াছে– আমি বলিয়াছি “আমি তাহাকে ভালোবাসি না’।’



Although Annapurna had forsaken all ties to her home, she was overcome by her love for Mahendra and her happiness at seeing him after such a long time. She was also worried that he had come seeking support from her after quarrelling with his own mother over Asha. Since his childhood he had been in the habit of coming to his aunt whenever he was in strife or distressed. She had soothed his anger when he was upset with others and had taught him to put his pain aside when he was hurt by someone.

But the main reason behind the turmoil that affected Mahendra’s married life was something that she could not help with as she was indeed unable to provide any consolation. She had left home when it became clear to her that whatever her involvement in the matter, it would only serve to double the upheaval within the family. When a sick child cries for some water but the physician issues a strict order against it, the saddened mother must leave the room; Annapurna had gone away for much the same reason. She had largely managed to forget her old life by losing herself in the daily routine of prayers and religious activities and was worried that Mahendra had returned to talk of the conflict and reopen old wounds.

But Mahendra said nothing of his mother’s behavior with Asha. Annapurna then started to worry about something else. The man who had once been unable to attend classes as it would have meant leaving Asha alone was now in Kashi on his own to enquire after his aunt. Did this mean that his affection for Asha was lessening? She asked him with some trepidation. ‘Mahin, do tell me the truth, please! How is Chuni?’

Mahendra said, ‘She is fine Aunt.’

‘What does she do these days? Are you two still as immature as before, or have you started paying attention to the demands of daily life?’

Mahendra answered, ‘All childishness has been put aside. We cannot even find the old Charupath text that was at the root of all the problems. You will be pleased to know that Chuni devotes all her attention to neglecting her studies as wholeheartedly as any woman has ever done.’

‘What is Bihari doing?’

‘He is involved in everything but his own work; His employees look after his affairs but the nature of their vigilance is questionable. He has always been like that. He attends to the business of others while others attend to his affairs.’

Annapurna asked, ‘Does he not wish to get married?’

Mahendra smiled slightly and said, ‘I cannot say there are any signs of that.’

Annapurna was saddened to hear this. She understood that Bihari had once been eager about marriage after seeing her niece Asha but that wish had been thwarted wrongfully and abruptly. He had said to her, ‘Aunt, never ask me to marry someone again.’ She remembered his great pain. Although she loved Bihari she had left without providing him any solace during his disappointment over Asha. Annapurna became very unhappy and worried as she wondered whether Bihari was still in love with Asha.

Mahendra gradually divulged the details of his life with Asha in Kolkata, sometimes jokingly and at other times in all seriousness. He never mentioned Binodini.

His classes had begun and he should have not been able to stay in Kashi for very long. But after each day with Annapurna, he felt the pleasure that one feels after moving to a pleasant locale after suffering from severe illness. The days passed quickly. The inner conflict that he had once suffered was now gone. After spending all his time over a few days with the pious, gentle Annapurna he felt that the responsibilities of family life were so easy and pleasant that his former fears seemed laughable. He began to think of Binodini as unimportant. He could not even remember her face clearly when he tried. Eventually he told himself with complete convicton, ‘I do not think that it would be possible for anyone to dethrone Asha from where she rules within my heart.’

Mahendra said to Annapurna, ‘Aunt, I will have to leave Kashi soon as I am missing classes. But even though you have left family life behind, please give me permission to come and see you occasionally.’

When Mahendra came home and gave Asha the vermilion container and white stone pitcher her aunt had sent for her as gifts, she began to weep. Her heart was pained by memories of her aunt’s loving patience and the misbehavior meted out to her both by the two of them and by her mother-in-law. She asked her husband, ‘I really wish I could go and ask her for her forgiveness. Is that possible at all?’

Mahendra understood her pain and agreed to her visiting her aunt for a few days in Kashi. But he was not keen about missing classes again by accompanying her.

Asha asked, ‘My aunt is going to Kashi soon, what harm in going with her?’

Mahendra went to Rajlakshmi and said, ‘Ma, my wife wishes to go and see her aunt in Kashi.’

Rajlakshmi answered sarcastically, ‘If she has wished this, then of course she must go; do take her.’

She was not pleased that Mahendra had started seeing his aunt Annapurna again. She became even more annoyed when she heard that her daughter-in-law was thinking of visiting the aunt as well.

Mahendra said, ‘I have classes and will not be able to take her. She will have to go with her uncle.’

Rajlakshmi answered, ‘That is great. They are wealthy enough to never condescend to visiting us, so going with them will be a great honour indeed.’

Mahendra’s resolve was hardened by the sharp words from his mother. He said no more and determined to send Asha to Kashi as he left Rajlakshmi’s presence.

When Bihari came to see Rajlakshmi, she said, ‘Have you heard, our daughter-in-law has expressed a desire to go to Kashi?’

Bihari replied, ‘What! Is Mahendra going to take time off classes again to take her there?’

Rajlakshmi answered, ‘No, why should Mahen go? That would not be outrageous enough, would it? He will stay here and she will go with her uncle the Great. Everyone has become so modern these days.’

Bihari became concerned, although not because of the incursions of modernity. He thought, ‘What is going on? Asha stayed here while Mahendra took off for Kashi; now that he is back, she wants to go there. Something seriously wrong has happened between the two of them. How long can this go on for? As a friend am I supposed to stand by doing nothing and just watch from afar?’

Mahendra was sitting in his bedroom feeling extremely upset with his mother. Binodini had not seen him after his arrival and Asha was next door trying to convince her to join the two of them.

Bihari came in and said, ‘Is it certain that your wife is going to Kashi?’

Mahendra asked, ‘Why not? What is stopping her?’

Bihari said, ‘I did not say anyone was stopping her from going. But why now?’

Mahendra answered, ‘She wishes to see her aunt – people do sometimes feel that they would be happy to see relatives living elsewhere.’

Bihari persisted, ‘Are you going with her?’

As soon as Mahendra heard the question he thought, ‘Bihari is here to convince me that Asha should not be sent to Kashi with her uncle.’ He wished to prevent a prolonged discussion and simply said, ‘No.’

Bihari knew Mahendra well. He realised that Mahendra was angry and that it was impossible to change his mind once he had decided on doing something. He did not raise the topic of Mahendra accompanying Asha. He thought to himself, ‘If the wretched Asha is going with a sad heart, Binodini could accompany her as a consolation.’ He then said softly, ‘Would it be possible for Binodini to go with her?’

Mahendra shouted, ‘Bihari, you have to disclose what is in your mind. I see no reason for you to tell me lies. I know that you suspect me of loving Binodini. That is not true! I do not love her. You do not have to be with me constantly in order to protect me. You should save yourself. If you had genuine feelings of friendship for me you could have told me the truth a long time ago and done the honourable thing by removing yourself from our household. I am telling you what you cannot bring yourself to utter, you have fallen in love with Asha.’

Just as a person with an injury does not think for a moment before pushing away someone trying to hurt them, dumbstruck, Bihari quickly rose, moved towards Mahendra as if to strike him; and then came to his senses, saying, ‘May god forgive you, I am leaving now.’ He then walked unsteadily out of the room.

Binodini hurriedly came from next door and called, ‘Bihari!’

Bihari leaned against the wall and smiled wanly, saying, ‘What?’

Binodini said, ‘Brother, I will go to Kashi too with Bali.’

Bihari said, ‘No, sister, that cannot be! I am pleading with you – do not listen to anything I say. I am no one to these people; I do not wish to interfere in any of their business. That can only end in unhappiness. You are a goddess; do whatever you think is right. I am leaving.’

As Bihari folded his hands in a gentle greeting to Binodini and prepared to leave, she said, ‘Listen brother, I am no goddess. If you leave it will not bode well for anyone. Do not blame me for anything after this.’

Bihari went away. Mahendra sat in stunned silence. Binodini looked at him furiously, her eyes flashing like lightning before going next door where Asha was cringing in shame and despair. She could not look at Mahendra after hearing him say that Bihari loved her. But Binodini did not feel the slightest compassion for her. If Asha had looked up at Binodini she would have been frightened as Binodini looked ready to murder someone. Lies indeed! No one loved Binodini! They all loved this shy timid doll-like creature.

Now that he was calmer, Mahendra was mortified that he had bared his soul to Bihari in an emotional outburst when he prided himself on being made of stone. He felt that all his thoughts had been disclosed with that one action. He did not love Binodini and yet the fact that Bihari knew that he did made him dislike Bihari greatly. In particular ,every time the two had met since that day Mahendra felt as though Bihari had been amusing himself by trying to discover his innermost secrets. These aggravations had been accumulating and erupted today with very slight provocation.

But the manner in which Binodini came rushing anxiously from the other room, the pleas with which she tried to prevent Bihari from leaving and her agreement to Bihari’s order to accompany Asha to Kashi astonished Mahendra as he had not anticipated this. He was very affected when he thought of how he had declared that he did not love her; but what he saw and heard made him restless and bothered him with a hundred unexplained thoughts. All he could think of with a sense of hopelessness was, ‘Binodini has heard me say…I do not love her.’

2013 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 24,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 9 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.