It all happened quite a long time ago. They were the residents of Gosainpara, Mukundapur. Her father, with a rotund belly and huge moustache (a typical iconic example representing the middle class male-dominated-society) worked in a small grocery store that stood at the end of the lane. Her mother, a homemaker, was the mistress of the kitchen, a kind and a meek personality adorned by the red-bordered white sari worn in the old Bengali style and a big round red Sun of the sindoor drawn on her forehead. The family scene can be completed by the presence of children (and sure enough, there was no dearth of it in her family): they were three sisters (including her) and a younger brother, she being the eldest of all.
She studied in the ninth standard then, in the neighbourhood Malati Girl’s High School. She remembers the small classroom, the small desks and chairs made out of rusted tin – she, solving Maths sums, sitting at her desk at her corner of the room… Two plaits done with red ribbons hung low on her shoulders, the blue blouse and the blue-bordered white sari neatly ironed and pleated – she remembers it was the year she had just started wearing saris… It was then that she met him, her Benimadhab.
The first time that she met him was at the house of her close pal Sulekha. He had just returned to the town from the city, completing his higher education. They used to say that he was a good student – yes, he must have been a very good student… She was just a mediocre student, she recalls, “poor at Arithmetic, but good at literature”. Oh, yes Benimadhab! She had completed the Sharat Rachanabali by then (from the neighbourhood library), but Bibhutibhushan was still her favourite…
Benimadhab came from the city, but heaven knows why that made her realise she wasn’t pretty! She was dark and thin. She also realised that her father was a mere grocery seller – “Would you mind that, Benimadhab??”… Ah, Benimadhab, nothing would stop the hues from blossoming in the spring! No, it did not. Everytime you looked at her, she ran to hide herself, her heart beating, her apprehension giving way to ecstasy… After all, it was her class nine; it was her “sweet sixteen”!
Did you know anything of her feelings, Benimadhab?? She was so sure that you understood her, that you read through her “unwritten saga”, that you also had fallen in love with her… She never uttered a word about it, never a word, never to anyone.
Do you still remember her, Benimadhab?? Ah, yes! You must have said all about those days to your girlfriend, your sweetheart… She saw her only once, beside you, beneath the moonlight – flash of a brighter light, a harder light of truth! Her eyes burned, her throat choked. She didn’t cry... That day, she took the other way to home.
She never said a word – never to anyone. Her tale remains untold, buried deep in a forgotten ally of her heart. The following year, her father died of a stroke. Her mother, a widow now, didn’t have the sun of sindoor anymore adorned on her pretty forehead – a life that was to be led san colour, san taste, san merriment for the rest of it’s time. She was the eldest of all her siblings – “Bordi”. After passing her Madhyamik exams, she started tutoring the girls of the locality the art of sewing: something at which she was very deft and for which nobody seemed to ask her a degree or a certificate. The income was really meager at first and for the first few years, the family of five was almost under starvation. She was insistent on the education of her younger sisters and brother, but the school fees remained unpaid for quite some time… Their mother passed away four years following their father’s decease.
She stirs back to the present, twenty years since she was sixteen – twenty years since “Benimadhab” happened… The sister after her has taken into the profession of a call girl. This sister doesn’t live with them anymore, neither does her brother. Her brother works as a motor mechanic in the city and now resides there. She has remained unmarried – the battle for existence has been so hard that she has never had a chance to brood over her “emptiness” – the strands of harsh reality have stifled down the sobs of a teenaged girl.
I’ve retold Joy Goswami’s poem in my own words, in my very own way (I hope readers will pardon my impudence). The story could have ended where her silent romance with Benimadhab was unintentionally betrayed. But, it didn’t. Probably, because that was simply the beginning of her tale – the journey that had to be hers and hers alone. The craving for a friend, for someone to love, for someone who would stay and walk the life with her, for someone who would be there to give her the littlest of the warmth and support that every person desires – all of it started there. Precisely, “Benimadhab” was the commencement of a barren life, won over with extraordinary blatancy.
“Benimadhab, benimadhab, tomaar baari jaabo,
Benimadhab, tumi ki aar aamaar kotha bhaabo…”
At the end of the poem, a suppressed pain upsurges after all these years and suddenly, she wonders if the chastity of her faminity that she has preserved through all this time was enough a “sacrifice for nothing”; if that would ever be acknowledged by the world at large. She amuses at the stark cruelty of her fate and tests the world with a final question, “Kemon hobe aamio jodi noshto meye hoi?...” [“How would it be if I also took to prostitution?...”]
Hers isn’t a Cinderella story and she hasn’t been a Cinderella. Hers is a tale of an utterly ordinary woman (once a girl full of sensuality and perhaps, "possibility") – the Bangla tutor of the local primary school of a small town, the sewing mistress of the locality, the sales-woman at the mini-store, the type-machinist at the Xerox shop… She talks little; she is not pretty neither is she an intellectual; with a serious face but kind features, she is a person we all have met somewhere… Hers is a story of the lost – hers is a story which isn’t found in any of the world epics. Hers is a tale which is to be written yet…