Friday, 20 June 2008

A Tale of the Lost

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…


Sayan said...

Impudence? What a wonderful piece of writing Sayantani!
But, let me just say that though the story sounds rather bleak and gloomy and might send an honest but unsuspecting reader into depression; it proved to be nothing of the kind for me. Rather, it reminded me of vibrancy, energy and the power of human spirit! However odd this might sound, it reminded me of Hemingway’s Santiago. It reminded me of the fact that a person, though being a slave all the while to the realities of nature combined with her inability to struggle against something immeasurably greater than herself; the best she can do is never give up. A person though lacking in personality, or intellectual ability (remember Forrest Gump?), though desperately lonely, can indeed survive tremendous pain, physical, emotional or spiritual and can continue to move on creating hope where there is none. No animosity; just the spirit which says – Do not give up, not this time, not just yet. No metaphor, just a ferocious inner voice that says – life itself is enough!
“Dor bare bare narte hobe, Hoyto duar khulbe na, Ta bole bhabna kora cholbe na”, says Tagore. And when a person is able to do that, the particular balance of suffering and joy, success and failure loses it’s meaning; this life affirming attitude is indeed success itself.

The presence of a cruel, pain-inflicting world looms large in the background, but an untiring battle is ceaselessly being fought within (and without). Fighting this battle is triumph itself.
Sayan Datta.

Sudipto Basu said...

Knowing my friend well, I can understand why she wrote this wonderful piece; and in what condition she wrote this.

Gloom is a special emotion. It makes us see things clearer than when the fogs of merriment cloud our truest senses. The protagonist of this piece saw truth in her gloom; and I am sure even my friend did so. Because I happen to know that Sayantani was certainly not in the brightest of spirits when she wrote (I'd spoken to her just some hours before) this short post. And yet she created something beautiful-- beautiful in it's simplicity and charm.

If one has the eyes (not only the physical pair!) and if he has seen enough of this world, he will be able to instantly recall stories similar to this. It is commonplace enough and yet incredibly admirable. I even see shades of myself in bits and parts here and there.

By the way, love is a wonderful emotion. Wonderful because it has powers that can only be God's own. You don't need to say "I love you" every three minutes to know this emotion; maybe you don't even need to talk. You just know that there is something inside you that gives you an inexplicable warmth, and urges you to seek for truth. Love begets hope; love gives rise to determination. The choice between theism and atheism is the choice between love and hatred-- nothing else.

"She" chose to believe in herself and go on fighting, "she" chose never to succumb to the basest of instincts.. If it wasn't love (for Benimadhab, for herself, for God, for truth, for mankind-- whatever!), what was it?

Beautiful as you are, my dear friend, I hope you cheer up a bit now. And keep writing-- you have people who understand what you say. The best thing about posts like these is that you don't require the brain to understand; the heart suffices. :)

Kaushik said...

Friends, it is a fact that soft, sensitive, thinking, open-hearted, self-questioning (never self-doubting), conscientious folks do suffer more and often silently and irretrievably and refuse to be patted just like that ; it is often said that since they have such large hearts, the extent of suffering is all the more deep, pervasive and painful. Often, a shroud of despondency cloaks their otherwise eager and powerfully agile dispositions and it’s so difficult to cast it away coolly like that of an odd magician’s stage-managed vanishing trick!.

Come to think of it, the simple instances of unintended 'gaffes', inadvertent 'wrong-doings' etc would be leaving deep mental scalds, perpetually bothering them (most of us would not even care half the dime to such indiscretions, let alone the consciously committed ‘discretions’), which they conscientiously feel could and should be purged through expiations. For them, it’s almost always a relentless, raging tussle with one’s mind, – the flurry of one’s actions, their ethical and moral underpinnings, would almost always, be clinically judged by the sentient consciousness, the innate sense of morality that lurks within, and nothing, practically nothing (a friend’s warm jab, a gentle nudging of the dear one) would make amends, if the same are not vindicated and atoned for, by the inner voice.

With a mind that deeply resonates, reacts to the thousand perversities that continue their dull charades day in and out, with a mind that is deeply empathetic and never self-absorbed as to cast itself in a shell and ignore the biddings that crowd our living space as mere ‘distractions’, worthy of being ignored, … yes, this suffering is a hard bargain that often one can’t do without.

But as Sayan and Sudipto so brilliantly summarises, it has to be cathartic and redemptive. One has to see reason and hope beyond the wretchedness and insularity of the daily drill and pull up determinedly… pull up with one mighty swagger…otherwise, it would be so unjust to the lovely people around us who care and would love to be cared for…

Regards, Kaushik da

Sourabh said...

Well Sayantani, it is a wonderful piece of writing from you. For some the story may seem just like a story, that will always remain in books, but there are instances of such things happening in reality. We speak of being devloped,charitable and fast but perhaps your story will compell us to look deeper into us and ask ourselves "Are we really concerned in any way with charity ?" If it would have been so perhaps the world, if not India would have been a better place to live.
With regards,
Sourabh Sengupta

Anonymous said...

Thanks Sayanda, Kaushikda, Sourabh (er, don't mind my asking this, but do I know you, Sourabh??) and Sudipto for writing in. Sorry for not writing in any reply for so long. Even today I'm not actually "writing". So, do pardon me. I'm not in a state presently to write more than a "thanks" and a "sorry", somehow... My world is changing rapidly around me. There are blocks falling away, leaving behind some huge gaping holes in Sayantani's universe - I'm trying to hold on to the blocks but they are slipping through my fingers helplessly...

Subhra Das said...

A wonderful insight no doubt. They say sadness is more poigant than happiness, and I fully agree with Sudipto that it is the gloomy aspect of life which makes us see things in a clearer light.
Life is afterall not a bed or roses hence it is better to be in full acceptance of reality than create illusions of Cinderella around us.
Hope to see more posts of this kind which touches the reader deep down and realize that somewhere down the road of life he/she had faced/felt the same way.