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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

I guess the occasion demands to be recorded. Finally, I got my very own, signed copy of ‘Available Light’. In this day and age, we must be grateful for whatever light is given to us. In truth, this book, for me, is a very personal artefact, not just because I have read a majority of the poems in the book on my computer (and discussed and dissected them with Madhu, and Liyi), and also because the book contains a heart-breaking essay on Vijay Nambisan, a personal hero of mine. Thank you, CP sir, ‘The Last of the Bad Boys’, for tagging me along in this incredible journey.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Talking about working with poets in my day job, recently, I had the great fortune to help my former editor CP Surendran put together his older poems for the collection Available Light (which is making waves in the market; though I am yet to receive my copy). It’s wasn’t all fun, there was a looming deadline, but it was learning experience. Two things stood out, his very dark, almost perversely bizarre, sense of humour, and his willingness to tackle the issues of psychosexual male ego at its most raw, visceral state. I think this poem exemplifies both. What fun!

Friday, December 01, 2017

This happened. My Sananta Tanty translations are in the longlist of Jayadev National Poetry Award. And I am in the same list with Gulzar as a translator! I am already a winner. Thank you. I can die in peace now.

The list also happily contains Nitoo Das’s second collection ‘Cyborg Proverb’, and in another happy coincident, Nitoo clicked the cover photograph for ‘Selected Poems Sananta Tanty’.

You order the book at http://www.amazon.in/dp/8192935531
You can find Cyborg Proverbs at https://www.amazon.in/Cyborg-Proverbs-Nitoo-Das/dp/B075RGQQYK

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Our grandchildren refuse to read their mother tongues

Renowned Bengali author Nabaneeta Dev Sen and illustrator Proiti Roy were the winners of the second edition of the Big Little Book Awards 2017. Instituted by Parag, an initiative of Tata Trusts, the awards were announced on the closing day of Tata Literature Live! held from 16 to 19 November 2017 in Mumbai.

At the same ceremony, actor-playwright Girish Karnad was conferred with the Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution in the field of theatre. Meanwhile, the Publisher of the Year award went to Penguin Random House. Advice and Dissent: My Life in Public Service by YV Reddy won the Business Book of the Year award. Book of the Year Fiction award went to Son of the Thundercloud by Easterine Kire and the Non-Fiction award went to Pankaj Mishra’s Age of Anger: A History of the Present. In the First Book of the Year category, non-fiction prize went to Indica: A Deep Natural History of the Indian Subcontinent by Pranay Lal and Prayaag Akbar’s novel Leila own the fiction category.

A first-of-its-kind in India, the Big Little Book Awards seeks to honour authors and illustrators who have contributed to the world of children’s literature. For authors, the focus is on one Indian language every year. The first edition of the awards focused on Marathi. This year, nominations were invited for authors writing for children in Bengali. The illustrators’ entries were not limited to any language.

This year’s winner for children’s literature in Bengali, Nabaneeta Dev Sen has been writing for children since 1979. A feminist author, she has also written widely for adults spanning across several genres – novels, travelogues, short stories and plays.
The winner for the children’s literature illustrator award Proiti Roy has illustrated story books, picture books and textbooks for children, for publishers like Tulika, Orient BlackSwan and El Alma, a publishing house in Kolkata.

Sakal Times spoke to Nabaneeta Dev Sen on the eve of her winning the award. Edited excerpts from the interview.


Bengali has a long history of children’s literature. How has it evolved?
Bengali children’s literature started with Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar in the 19th century with tiny stories for children in his first Bengali wordbook for children, Varna Parichaya. Bangla children’s literature started with strong roots in Bengal. Upendrakishore Ray wrote Bangla children’s fables that we grew up on and my grandchild also knows, though she does not read Bangla. His grandson Sayajit Ray’s first classic children’s film was around a short story by Upendrakishore — Gupi Gain, Bagha Bain.
Our children’s literature developed on its own with local fables, fairy tales, funny stories, and ghost tales, etc from the villages. And with endless tales from Sanskrit classics, Bengali children grew up on our own local literary imagination for a long time, but soon the adventure stories and detective stories began to appear, whose basic idea was western, but the story materials hundred percent Bangla. Our generation knew western stories along with the Bangla not only because there were many English medium schools in the cities, but also because the standard of teaching English was high in the Bengali medium schools as well.
The scene has totally changed today and there is a strong line of cultural demarcation between the English medium students and the Bengali medium students. Bangla medium students still read a great deal of Bangla children’s literature, but unlike our times, the English medium schools today do not stress the mother tongue at all. Our grandchildren refuse to read their mother tongues. This is true of all the regional languages of India. Our new generations are slowly losing touch with our past, with our roots, with our inner selves. What we urgently need is to translate our own regional language children’s literature into powerful modern English to allow them to know their cultural roots.

There is a fear that reading habit among children is declining?
One day, we suddenly heard my granddaughter speaking perfect English, though she lives in Delhi, goes to a Hindi medium school and hears Bangla at home. We soon discovered her teachers were Micky Mouse and Minnie mouse from the cartons she saw on the television, long before she learned to read any language at all.

Now the TV and the Tab, and Mom’s telephone, these have changed their world. How can we compete with this strong magical attraction if we cannot produce a Harry Potter where broomsticks, witches and children live freely together, even solve problems together?
Our world has changed too, the parents are busy at work, small flats do not have room for the grandparents to tell them tales; the TV does it instead. The lack of human touch, the lack of mother tongue is changing their mentalities from the inside and destroying their imagination. Everything is visualised for you. Nothing is left to your imagination. Even the lovely picture books, I feel cannot always serve the expected purpose. For us, words did the magic of evoking imaginary moments.

You also write for adults. How is this different from writing for children?

Of course, when you write for a child, you have to concentrate on the good things of life. You want them to look forward to a pleasant, peaceful, friendly world and creating a world which depends very much on them. For adults, you live your life as it is in your work.

Your favourite children’s books?
My most beloved prose book in my childhood was one of the first collections of Bangla fairy tales from village elders published in the early forties Thakurmar Jhuli, (Granny’s Backpack) by Dakshina Ranjan Mitra Majumdar. But theverses that still hold my heart in their grip is Shishu, a book of poems for children by Rabindranath.

Among my own? That’s hard to say. I enjoy writing my funny family tales for the young and the old and my funny adventurous travel talesare in Kishor Galpa Samagra, and since I love to write fairy tales, Roopkatha Samagra is also a good read for kids.

(First published in Sakal Times, Pune.)

A ‘Marvel’ origin story rooted in India

Name: Awaken
Author: Ashok K Banker
Publisher: PAN
Pages: 222
Price 299


At the first glance, Ashok K Banker’s new novel Awaken (the first book in the proposed Shakti Trilogy) reads like a derivative Superhero origin story that Marvel Comics might have rejected. This is indeed a negative reaction; but this is exactly how the novel greets you. At once level, this is understandable. This is your typical YA fantasy fiction targeted at teenagers, particularly girls (and why not, young girls read more than boys), especially those fans of Twilight Saga and The Hunger Games and so on. Even the language Banker uses is hip and cool (and you grudgingly admire Banker’s skill in mimicking the speech patterns of 20-something girls.).

This is when Banker’s skill as a storyteller grabs you, and doesn’t let go until you have finished reading the book. After all, this is the author who successfully retold the Ramayana in a series of books. But mythology and sci-fi fantasy are two very different beasts, and it is to Banker’s credit that he manages to tame both. He knows his tropes: Introduce a vague threat and push unsuspecting central characters into an undefined conflict before they get their ‘powers.’ Then introduce a sidekick to guide the superhero into her destiny to fight the ultimate evil.

Here, this ultimate evil (a Sauron prototype, if you like) is simply called the Haters, an alien race. They are coming to destroy the Earth. It has been foretold, by another alien race centuries ago, who left a solution in some Indian genes, which will be awakened when the threat is imminent, or some such gobbledygook, which are not really importantly.

What is important is that these people with alien genes will be called Perservers and they will have different powers. Pretty basic, really, except how Bankers locates the story in the context of contemporary India, and introduces three flesh and blood teenage girls, whose lives are disrupted when they realise that they are Perservers.

Kiara from Delhi starts to grow bullet-proof and golden fur. Ahmedabad’s Saumya learns to teleport at will. Sia from Nagaland can kill with an unheard song. As this is the first book of a series, we only get the setup and Banker sets up the scene for a grand adventure, by convincingly locating his three heroines in the real world before fantasy kicks in.

Ultimately, what won me over was the introduction of a Naga character, rooted in her milieu, in a YA fantasy fiction, even when representation of India’s northeast remains scanty in the mainstream. The encounter between the Naga teenagers and a bunch of Indian Army jawans has such poignant realism and newsworthy relevance that I would happily recommend this book to any discerning readers. Can’t wait for the next instalment, Assemble, even if it reminds you of The Avengers.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

The Sky above, the Sky Below: Story

The Sky above, the Sky Below
By Dibyajyoti Sarma


Wednesday: 4.05 am

He woke up at the impulsive cry of a wild owl. With great effort he opened his eyelids and stretching his hands towards left he tried to understand the place where he was in. The night in jungle was dark. He gazed towards the sky above. Behind the old simalu tree that was the silver moon on its eleventh day. There was still time for dawn.
He was lying above wild grasses with his dress tattered. Now, as he woke up, he tried to get up from his grass bed with a leap. But he failed. A current of pain passed throbbing his body. He felt like crying. But there was no sound. It has been so many years that he had forgotten how to cry. He felt a sudden weight upon his head. He touched his forehead with his left hand. It was bloody, still liquid. And his eyes were burning. He licked his lips. It was dry like leather. He dreamt of something cold, something crystalline… what was it? He tried very hard to remember.

Wednesday: 4.20 a. m.

'Water'—he gave his desires a voice. Lying on the sward, he tried to call someone who could bring some water for him. To keep his pulses running he needed water. But there was no one to answer him. Keeping his hands behind his back as a support, he finally got up and sitting on the ground, he looked around. Where he is going to find some water? Everywhere was solitary music of jungle. In the north, there lay the Bhutan Hills… He pondered over for a moment what to do next. He tried to lift his body only to find the numbness of his legs. With tremendous effort he removed his boots off and tried to move forward. He was searching for some water.

Wednesday: 4.29 a. m.

He went a few steps ahead when his legs suddenly crashed under a heavy object. He stopped for a second and had a glance. It was a human body laying… a man with a green uniform covered with blood. The jawan was already dead. He thought. Instantly, he noticed the dead man's canteen lying near. The found was like a cool breeze after burning heat. He grabbed the water flux and drunk the water to his heart's content. As his need was fulfilled, he felt a sudden sadness enveloping him. His tired legs could no longer support him. He sat down near the dead man.

Wednesday: 4.43 a. m.

In the dim glow of the sunless morning, he was investigating the body of the dead jawan. Poor fellow! He thought. Joining this job for little dough, he had wasted his valuable life for no reason at all. He thought about his family… A stranger, he was a handsome youth… the jawan was lying in a position as if he was sleeping after a terribly hard day. His brother also slept the same way. The iron door locked carefully for so many years was suddenly ajar.
His brother… Bhaity… He murmured. No. He tried to control himself, his disobedient emotions. No. He had forgotten all that… his brother, mother, home, his village… everything. He closed his eyelids and saw a young lad running with his full strength on a railway track and a train chasing him. He could not stop. He had to run till his death. It was his destiny … the young lad was he.

Wednesday: 4.59 a. m.

It was nearly dawn. Birds were awake and the darkness of the jungle was getting clearer. The whole surrounding was ready to welcome a new morning. He should leave the place before it was dawn, he thought. The next army convoy may arrive at any time. With great difficulty he rose. Except for some minor scratches he had not had much injury. He had blood in his face, now creamed in purple. His jeans were torn with blood in it.
As he was prepared to leave the place, he saw the carbine of the dead man lying under his left arm. He should get the carbine along with him, he thought.

Wednesday: 5.11 a. m.

As he tried to pull the carbine lifting the dead man's hand, he felt warmth of the dead hand. The jawan was not dead.


{The story is unfinished and, was written in 1998-1999. I was trying to translate an Asomiya story of mine.}

Priyamvada and I: Story

Priyamvada and I
By Dibyajyoti Sarma


One
Priyam reached the bus stop as usual, 6:30 sharp. The bus would arrive at 6:35. She would spend these 5 minutes sitting on the corner of the bench, and gawking at the long winding road through which the bus would approach, and at the small alley through which the man would toddle up. Both as punctual as ever! The man would notice the bus at the turning, and get to the bus stand (deserted except for Priyam) at the same time as she would get up from her bench. Till the bus reaches, he’d wait for a few seconds looking obliquely towards the sun. The bus would stop without any signals (Priyam wondered if it’s the same driver always); the man would wait for Priyam to get in, and when she’d take her seat near the window, he’d get in, wait for a few seconds near the empty seat beside her, then sit down. The bus would resume its journey.
This had been the routine for the last month since Priyam began to commute by bus. After that near-fatal accident, her father wouldn’t allow her to drive vehicles again. But the job was something that Priyam did not want to miss. Hence, these morning journeys by bus!
For the first few days, Priyam didn’t notice the routine. Then she observed that, as the bus reached, there were always just 2 empty seats. She also observed that the man would always wait for her to get in first, and always occupy the seat next to her. Priyam did not object. He was just a co-passenger.
But when she began to realise that the man also got down at the same stop as hers, she was frightened. Was he stalking her? The idea flattered her, and she brushed it aside. He was an older man, probably in his late forties or early fifties, small, slightly built, and always impeccably dressed. On comparing, she found that her father would certainly look unsightly in front of him. Looking at his golden cufflinks, Priyam sometimes wondered, why the man looked very rich. Why was he not traveling in his own car?
The bus conductor was hovering over her. She paid the fare. So did the man. Then Priyam realised that she had not seen the man’s profile completely. It was always through a squint. And she was almost sure that the man never looked at her. Probably, he was not even aware of her existence near him. He was looking ahead, erect, full of determination.
The very thought that the man was not aware of her existence made her feel sick. It was not fair! She wanted to shout, as she would have done to her father. She decided suddenly, she must talk. There was no other choice. And there’s no harm talking to a stranger.
But how? She placed her hands on the railing in front of her seat, and quietly tried to shift her position. The man also shifted a bit giving her enough room to settle. It was now or never. She was determined. She had got to say something and then proceed; bah, Priyam hated pretensions. She took the straight route.
She turned to the man, stared at the silver hair at his temple for a while, and muttered, “Must I break the ice? Must I talk first?”

Two
The bus shuddered and I looked towards her. Having started the talk she was feeling sorry; there was the look of a small girl who had made a mistake knowingly, and was waiting for the reprimand. I gave her a smile. “Otherwise, how would I know that you wanted to talk to me?” She heaved a sigh of relief.
“But isn’t this obvious? We’ve been travelling together for last one month.”
“Going where?” The sound of surprise was in my voice.
“I mean, traveling together every day.”
“Oh, yes.”
“By the way, I’m Priyamvada.” She was determined to continue.
“And, Priyamvada, blue is your favourite colour!”
She gaped at her dress and smiled coyly. “This is not blue, it’s navy. But how did you know?”
“Because you are wearing this dress for the fifth time in the last month.”
“That means you have been following me for last month!” She laughed heartily. “But it’s not the colour that’s my favourite, it’s the dress; a gift from Rakesh, my sister’s husband. He works in the merchant navy.”
The bus reached its destination. Priyamvada’s face was clouded. We descended from the bus together, and stood facing each other. She was beaming at me, playing with the straps of her handbag. I was beaming too. There was something very peculiar about this girl.
“You work nearby?” She was very good at breaking the ice. I pointed to the building standing haughtily across the road, bearing the signboard of a bank. “Are you a manager there?” She asked again.
“Why don’t you come over some times and see for yourself.” My sense of courtesy was at its best. She beamed again.
“But isn’t it too early for banks?” I looked straight into her eyes. She was flustered. “I mean, won’t you have a cup of coffee with me?”

We entered the restaurant that had just opened. The day was breaking fast. The charm of the morning in marketplace—a man was having a bath in his maroon underwear, the milkman had just left in his M80, 2 paper boys were hanging around the bus station, and the boy who bought us water looked sleepy. We settled ourselves, Priyamvada in front of me! She was no longer beaming. She was scrutinising me meticulously and she was not sure. It was my turn to continue the conversation.
She was willing to talk. She had her preferences though. She preferred coffee whereas I’d have liked some tea; she insisted that we should have macaroons whereas I preferred upma. I liked the gold-yellow sunlight; she despised yellow. She was working as a graphic designer in a software firm; it was fun for her. She liked colour, computers and the Adobe Photoshop. She was the younger of 2 siblings. Her father was a doctor and the mother was ‘an expert cook’. “However, she has failed to teach me,” she commented. “Sometimes, I like to cook, but learning the culinary skills only to be someone else’s wife, you tell me, isn’t that a stupid idea?” She finished the macaroons and said again: “I don’t want to get married. If I go away, who’ll take care of my parents? They are so lonely without me. And this silly sister of mine, she’s busy seeing the world with her equally stupid husband.” She smiled happily. “They keep sending me photographs.”
As we were ready to leave, she thanked me for the coffee—the macaroons were not mentioned—and asked when I leave my office. I told her it was usually late.
Next morning, we exchanged good mornings before the bus arrived. After we had paid the fare, she told me that she had been very angry with her mother yesterday because she had refused to buy another new sari. I asked why she wanted her mother to buy a new sari.
“You don’t understand how important it is to me. I have to do a new design today, and I don’t know what colours to use. I always copy the colour combinations from her saris.”
“Probably, I could help you.” I offered. “What about the colour scheme of my shirt?”
“I don’t like orange. But, hey!” she almost jumped up holding my hand straight in front of her, “that’s a cool combo, orange in a peach background. Real cool, no?”

Three
The title of this story sounds misleading. The story is not about me. It’s about Priyamvada, and the last days of her girlhood. I’m nothing but a small part in her story. And, mind you, it’s not a love story. Love needs no story!

Four
Excuse me! To continue further into Priyam’s story, I must tell something about myself, some little indispensable details, if you like. I’m 55, I live alone, and I have the guts and affluence to lead my life the way I want. And, at this age, I was not planning to fall in love, that too with someone like Priyam.
But there was Priyam; there was something about her… Let’s continue.

Priyam was certainly enjoying her trips. For me, too, it was a good break. She was as bubbly as ever, talking all the time, about her childhood, her sister, her parents (she even spoke about me to them), her friend Prajakta who was getting married next month, and was going to Philadelphia, her fears, her desires…
After 3 days, when I saw her waiting nervously outside my office, I was worried. Now she was getting little too much. Why was she following me? Then I realised that she did not even know my name. She did not have any of my contact numbers. I had to go down and meet her. And I did not mind; she was a good company.
“Hi,” she waved to me and when I reached her, said, “sorry to disturb you. Mom has prepared something for you, your favourite upma!”
We went to the nearby restaurant. As I was savouring the upma and praising her mother’s culinary skills, she asked me: “Who else are there in your house?” The seriousness of her tone made me look up. She was staring at me with her unblinking eyes.
“Let’s see, a few sky blue walls, a few empty vases, a good collection of seashells, and lot of books.
“I was talking about living things.”
“Oh, I had a cat till few years ago. He died.”
“So, you live alone.”
“No, I have 48 portraits in my walls.”
“But you are not living in a Harry Potter world where portraits can talk!”
“You like Harry Potter? How fascinating!” I cried enthusiastically in order to stop her from making further enquiries. “I like him too.”
“Who else do you like?”
“Michel Foucault.”
“Who’s he?”
“Oh, he’s a writer of bedtime stories.”
That night, I did not read Foucault before going to sleep. I thought about Priyam. Silly girl, she undeniably needs a boyfriend!
When I told her about it the next day, she laughed so hard that some people actually turned around to see what was happening.
“But who’ll fall in love with an old girl like me?” she shot back.
“How old are you?”
“Ok. Forget it; I have to get married where my parents arrange. What about you? Did you have an arranged marriage?”
There were few things I preferred not to discuss. I kept mum.

I again! I always believed in Mark Twain, and in his saying, “familiarity breeds contempt—and children.” As my meetings with Priyam continued, however, I came to appreciate that familiarity may breed something else too—a sense of belonging, some purposeless purpose. It was like having a marvelous vacation without having to worry about anything else. Such was the company of Priyam!
All she needed was little pampering, small supports to her views, and she was the entire world. She had always something to talk about; she had always something to ask. And it was always the half-an-hour bus journey when we talked. After a while she stopped asking her nasty questions about my personal life. It was then that I decided; we could go a little further: there was no harm intended. She was a kind of pleasant dream to me. I knew one day I’d wake up to find that I never knew anyone by the name of Priyamvada.
One day, I asked her if she would go out for a movie with me. She asked which movie. When she was told that it was some English film, she flatly refused. She despised those white-skin girls. After a short pause, she added, “what about a Hindi movie? At Mangala; I like the place.” I had but to agree. “But would you be able to free yourself for the afternoon? I’ve to reach home before 7.”

After a few days, she informed me that her father had had a stroke, mild one—not dangerous, yet. She said that she was worried. Her father was in hospital. I asked if I could come and see him. She said there was no need.
It was not her father that worried her. It was that this incident gave rise to another bout of arguments about her impending marriage. This time, she hated to argue. She knew her father was worried about his health and, before anything unmentionable happens, he would like to see his daughter married. Padma mausi even got a proposal for her. The guy worked as an investment banker in Atlanta—the single son of rich parents, a perfect match.
“But sooner or later you have to get married anyway,” I tried to console her.
“Yes, but…” She looked straight into my eyes. She was wearing a magenta salwar with a feather-white dupatta, and no jewellery at all.
“You’re not wearing anything on your ears,” I said.
“No. Ornaments are for my sister. I hate to wear those. I wish I were a boy. Then I would not have to go anywhere after marriage.” She fiddled with her purse for some time and then asked suddenly, “Tell me, can I make a good wife?”
“Why not?” I retorted.
“It’s just that I don’t have any experience with guys.”
“Tell me if I can help you,” I said sarcastically so that she would laugh. “I can find you a young man for romance.”
“Thank you very much,” she answered with equal sarcasm, hitting my elbow with hers, “I can take care of myself.”

My world was turning upside down. The dream was extending. Slowly but surely, Priyam was becoming a part of my life. Everything was different. I was longing for those moments with her in the bus; I wanted to extend those moments.
This girl Priyamvada! If I had a daughter, she would have been of her age. After some months she would be married to some NRI boy. This girl, Priyam… I was nowhere in her story.
“Who are you?” she asked me one morning, very seriously. “Why did I have to meet you?”
“Why do you ask that?”
“You know at dinner every night, my father and I share our experiences for the day. He’s intrigued by you, your jokes and your lifestyle. But what worries him more is the reason why you won’t tell me your name, or any way to contact you. He wonders if you are trying to take advantage of me.” I listened carefully, waiting. I’ll wake up soon. “He won’t tell me directly, but I understand…”
“What do you think? Am I trying to take advantage of you?”
“Oh, don’t worry; I can take care of myself,” she said jocularly, fondling my fingers. My fingers had become her new plaything.
“What would you like to know about me?” I asked seriously.
“Nothing. It’s just that you’re different. After I met you I felt as if I had been touched by an angel. I feel so confident when I am with you, when I think about you. Otherwise, my life is plain normal, nondescript.

Nondescript: Priyamvada! If you see her among 5 other girls, probably you won’t look at her twice. She was a plain girl (now, beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder) without any ornaments except for a wristwatch, and medium-length hair supported by a rubber band.
But there was something about this girl!

Five
The inevitable happened. That night, her mother announced that Priyam was not going out next day. Abhinash was coming. “Who’s Abhinash?” she asked. The NRI boy Padma mausi was talking about. Priyam turned to her father. He was waiting for her reaction. “Ok, fine.” She did not react.
She was thinking about the man. She wondered how the man would react tomorrow, if he did not find her at the bus stop. Priyam could visualise the scene. He would look uncertain for a few seconds. Then he would get into the bus, and would sit in his usual place. Probably, he wouldn’t give her any more thought. Would he? Priyam panicked. Did he think about her as she was thinking about him? Who knows?
The morning arrived in due course, and so did Abhinash; accompanied by Padma mausi, and his parents. After the preliminary introduction and some small talk, the kids were left alone to get to know each other better.
“What’s the meaning of your name, Priyamvada?” the boy asked, pronouncing the name as pre-yum-vada, as if she was some tasty vada pav or something. Priyam was irritated.
“Don’t know. It was the name of my grandfather’s ex-girlfriend. He wanted to continue her memory.”
“How interesting!” Abhinash flashed. Then he talked about his life in America; how he was planning to come back to India after a few years to do his own business, and so forth. Then he asked her about herself, which she answered diligently. When the stock of talk ended, Priyam asked suddenly:
“Would I get a job out there in America?”
“But why would you need a job?”
“What do you think? I won’t be able to stay alone in the house when you would go out to work. I may end up having an affair with your neighbour.”
Abhinash was shocked, but recovered swiftly. He promised that he would find her a job.
The next day, when she relived the experience to the man, he asked:
“But did you wear something on your ears?”
“Yes, I did, and I think he fell for that.”
“Good. So you liked him and he you.”
“Big deal!” said she in a hushed tone. Something was going on in her mind, an uncertainty about the whole affair of marriage. She looked through the window, a small temple of Lord Ganesha passed by. The man was looking at her tersely, his lips pink in the morning light.
“Father is very happy,” She tried to make the tone normal. “He was worried that I’ll make a faluda of the whole affair. I’m never serious—no?”
“That’s good.”
“What good! They are trying to fix the marriage within next 45 days. After that there’s no mohurat for a long time. The American has to return back—no?”
“But he’ll take you along with him.”
“And I’m all dressed up and ready to go. Hah!
Before they parted at the bus stand, Priyam asked the man if he would be able to give her some time in the evening. He agreed without hesitation.

With the macaroons already over and with coffee getting cold, Priyam was telling him how they were having a good time at home. Yesterday, she and her mother were singing the remix of that old song “…Sayya dil mein aana re, aanke phir na jaana re…” much to the irritation of her father who was trying to read a medical journal. Her mother even tried to persuade him to join a round of dance. Then Priyam prepared palak paneer to the satisfaction of her mother. Everyone was very happy. They were praising this Abhinash guy very much.
“Oh, I’m going to miss them so much,” she said at length.
“Who?”
“My mom and dad. And I am going to miss you too, you know.”
The man was listening to her, eyes fixed, brows intact, and his left hand firmly on his chin.
“Ok, ok, I did not call you to say all these things. Ain’t you sad that I am going away?”
“Why should I feel sad? You look very happy,” he said as Priyam smiled, “And you look exceptionally beautiful.”
“Beautiful?” She curled her lips. “Kucch bhi! I expected to hear something better than that. Anyway, what I wanted to ask is, why don’t you give me some lessons in how to become a good wife.”
The man laughed, and looked for the waiter so that he could pay the bill and buzz off. But Priyam was equally persistent to complete what she had to say. She had thought about the whole affair for several days. That day when Abhinash and company had left, and marriage was almost fixed, to her surprise, she was not thinking about her parents; which was always a concern for her. She had to leave the house one day; she was aware of that. She also knew that her mother would be able to take care of the household as ever.
But it was the thought of the man that pinched her. She was enamored by the man’s presence. His presence was something that she did not want to miss at any cost. She could not think of undoing the inevitable. But if there was any other way…
“Listen to me,” she said in a determined voice. “You have experience about things. You have read a lot. On the other hand, I’m so na├»ve, especially where men are concerned. I can cook a good dish of palak paneer all right! Won’t you help me?”
“I told you,” the man said after a long pause, “you need a boyfriend. I’m but an old man. If you want I can arrange someone…”
“Thank you very much. I want you, young or old. Be my boyfriend, please…”


Six
I don’t know why I agreed to comply with her silly ideas. She was perfectly all right. She would have made a good wife without any ‘experience with guys.’ Dear me, why did I agree to be her boyfriend? Probably, I enjoyed the whole idea, of being her lover…

Priyam… it’s hard to write about you…

Back to the story! We arranged everything. For one week we planned go out like beginners. Then we could proceed to more intimate stages. I had no idea how far we could go. But she clearly deserved some experience.
There was one condition. We were not meeting on the bus any more.

Seven
The next day, the man asked Priyam to wait for him in front of the Alankar Theatre. She was sure he’d come to meet her in the evening. She had to alter her entire routine, starting late from home so that she could stay till late evening. She convinced her mother that, as she was going to resign when the month was over, she had to work longer hours to complete her assignments.
She reached the place before time. Watching the crowd going in and out of the cinema, she felt a kind of relief, contrary to what she thought she would feel. She was not feeling guilty by any measure. Those were her last days of freedom. She wanted to the live them according to her whims.
But the man, what about him? She decided to think about it later.
She expected that the man would arrive walking. But when she heard someone calling her name from an ash coloured Opel Astra, she was surprised. She went near the car. The man was waving to her from the steering wheel. “Get in,” he shouted. She got in and the car zoomed off.
“Where did you get the car?”
“Oh, it was lying on the road. I thought you’d like to have a ride. Where would you like to go, miss?”
“Anywhere!” And she left the weight of her body on the seat. Her sense of freedom was complete.

They visited all the places in the city inhabited by lovebirds—from Kharaghvasla to Empress Garden, and all the major restaurants in the city before he would drop her near her house, every evening at 8.15. During this time, not only Priyam, but the man also did the talking. He told her about different human tendencies, love, hatred, jealousy, anger; the need to understand other people, the need to compromise, the need to share, to give and take… In the restaurants she ordered the food and he paid the bill. “It’s the boyfriend’s advantage,” he said, “or disadvantage.”
In between, Priyam also did some shopping. This time, Priyam did not agree with the idea that the man should pay the bill. “You’ll give me a good gift,” she said with an air of finality, “or else I’ll throw such a tantrum that you’ll be embarrassed.”

In the middle of the following week, the man asked if Priyam was ready for the next step. “What next step?” she asked.
“Knowing a man better.” His tone was somehow sad. “The venue would be my home.” At this, Priyam was elated.
Next day, he picked Priyam up as usual and, after a short drive, the car stopped in front of a posh apartment building, the name of which Priyam could not read in the dusk. He opened the door and ushered Priyam in. It was the most delicately arranged hall Priyam had ever seen. Two long rows of book cases, an LCD screen hanging on the wall, and numerous portraits of unknown faces, from old men to young girls and boys, and lot of seashells placed strategically everywhere in the room. He asked her to sit down and went inside. In a few seconds, he was back. He asked if Priyam would excuse him for few minutes. He wanted to have a bath. In the meantime, she could see the other rooms.
On the left was the kitchen. Mother would have loved to have a kitchen like this, she thought. Everything was neatly arranged and shining. The study contained an exquisitely curved table and pair of chairs—and more books, more seashells, and more portraits. A photograph of a young man smiling happily at the camera particularly arrested Priyam’s attention. There were 2 copies of the same photograph. She remembered that she had seen another portrait of the same person in the hall. The face looked very familiar. She could not remember. May be his son, he’s probably dead, she thought. Suddenly she was sad; the whole ambience began to give her the creeps.
She entered the bedroom. The room was less crowded. The clothes he just wore were lying untidily on the bed. She began to tidy them. Soon, the man appeared brushing his hair. He was wearing a baby-pink nightdress. He looked like an overgrown child despite his mustache, silver hair and all. Priyam felt if she could just go ahead and hug him.
“Sorry, darling”, he said. Priyam jumped up at the world ‘darling.’ The sound was so sweet! “Sorry to keep you wait.” Then he saw what she was doing.
“The next lesson, Priyam, do not touch someone else’s belongings without asking for permission, even if he’s your husband.”
She was red with embarrassment. She wiped her face with her yellow dupatta and muttered, “Er-yes.” Her natural gaiety was gone.
The man could sense her discomfiture. “Won’t you like to have a bath?” he asked.
“Bath? But I don’t have any spare dress.”
“Oh, leave that to me.” He opened the cupboards near the bed, and fished out some clothes. It was a frock of scarlet satin, elegant.
“Where did you get this?” She was surprised.
“No questions, please. The bathroom is that way.”
After having the hot water bath and dressed in the exquisite frock, Priyam’s awkwardness and fear were all gone. When she reached the kitchen, the man was preparing food.
“You look beautiful, extraordinary.” The sound of his voice made her feel good. “Now for culinary skills…”
“I know how to cook.” She protested.
“But the table manners? Now pass me the bowl, please!”
The next half hour Priyam praised the man’s cooking skills, his kitchen, talked about her mother’s love for cooking, and learnt the arts and crafts of arranging the table, placing forks and knives and napkins, and bowls and plates and water and candelabras. Then he lit the candles.
“Everything’s ready, my lady, except for one things. Come with me.” He switched the kitchen light off and, taking her by her hand, forced her to stand in front of the life-size mirror in the bedroom.
“What’s now?” she asked exasperatedly.
“Someone’s grooming. To look beautiful one needs to work for it.” He opened the cupboard and gave her a big ornament box. The box was full of exquisite jewellery of different sizes. There was one particular piece of earrings with a sparkling gem that caught her attention.
“What’s this?” she asked breathlessly, “diamond??”
“Yes.”
“Oh, my! I have never seen diamonds so big.”
“Wear them. They’ll look good on you.”
“But whose, all these?”
He paused for a moment before answering, then added mischievously. “I can’t tell you that!”
She wore the earrings. He also found a matching necklace for her. Then he took the hair brush and began to do her hair. She stood fixedly looking at the mirror. She could not believe that the reflection was the same Priyam’s. She was turning into a princess. He then applied some mascara on her brows, and some blushes on her cheeks. The face done, he gave her a lipstick and said, “Do the lips, softly…aha!…now that’s my lady, my Priyamvada…” She was looking at the mirror unbelievingly.
They ate dinner almost in silence. Twice she asked how she looked. Twice he raised his brows and smirked at her. She praised the food. He did not answer. He was visibly thinking about something else—someone, thought Priyam, someone whom these ornaments belonged to.
As soon as the dinner was over, Priyam ran back to the bedroom to look at herself in the mirror. He stood behind her.
“You have to believe this, Priyam; you can look like this always.” She nodded. “Now, don’t put your hand in your hair.” She let go her hand and murmured in a tired voice, “Time to go.” He nodded.

After 2 days, after some more lessons, Priyam had her bath, wore the scarlet dress, the diamonds (the man also found her a matching bracelet), arranged the table with the take-home food that the man had bought while coming, placed the forks and knives and other things in the proper order, lit the candles and switched off the kitchen light.
“Sir, the dinner is ready.”
The man was in the hall listening to Chopin. He arrived at the kitchen door dressed in a two-piece suit with a white kerchief tucked on the upper pocket.
“You look beautiful, Priyamvada. Why Abhinash, the entire race of young men would be ready to die for you, if you go out like this.”
Priyam knew she looked beautiful. But she also knew that it was the ambience that was making her feel good, not just her looks. And the man in front of her…? In a flash, she thought, for a man like this, Priyamvada can thwart the entire race of young men.
“You look gorgeous too,” she whispered.
“I’m but an old man, my lady.”
“An old man who has won the lady’s heart,” she said coquettishly.
As they ate, Priyam thought, why can’t she stay with this man forever, like this?
Chopin was playing tirelessly in the hall till the meal was over. As Priyam finished her last morsel and wiped her lips with the napkin, he extended his hand towards her over the table, “Care for a dance, my lady?”
This was a new lesson. They came to the hall where Strauss was now playing. Placing his hand firmly on her waist, he drew her close to him. The gap between them receded. She felt a waft of lavender somewhere, the grip of his fingers into hers, and his right hand still firmly on her waist.

The waltz and other dance lessons continued for few more days. Then, one evening, as they stopped with the final note of the piano, the man let go of her waist in an elegant fashion, bowed in front of her and kissed the back of her hand.
“My lady,” he said in an astonishingly cheerful voice, “are you ready for the next step?”
“What’s the next step?” she asked in an equally cheerful voice.
“I could do with a cup of coffee, my lady. I’m but a tired old man.”
This was another ritual Priyam enjoyed; having some small talk over a cup of coffee before they departed for the next 20 hours.
With the coffee nearly over, she inquired about the next step again.
“It’s the anatomy my dear, knowing your guy though his body, while he would read you through yours.” There was a long pause. Priyam did not know what to say. She was looking at the portrait of the boy who had fascinated her on the first day.
“Priyam…” The man tried to get her attention.
“Who’s this?”
“Oh, doesn’t he look familiar?”
“Yes, he does, but…”
“He’s the same man who’s sitting before you just now.”
“No!” she cried. “I wish, I could have met you earlier.”
The man smiled. “Now, my lady, be reasonable.”
“Tell me, can’t we just run away and get married and live together, happily…?”
“What an idea!”
“Why not?”
“Why? Priyamvada, I asked you something else.”
“What?”
“The anatomy. The guy’s body.”
“What guy’s body?”
“It would be difficult for me to explain. We’ll see how far we can go. We’ll start with lips.”
“Lips?”
“Yes, lips.” Priyam looked at his lips, they were blood red. “It’s your choice Priyam. If you want, we can continue. Otherwise, we can stop here.”
“I want to.”
“Then go ahead, my lady, be the seductress. Feel my lips, and let me feel yours.”
“How?”
“Let your intuition work, darling, you’ll know.” He got up from his sofa, and knelt before her, placing his hands on her thighs. The glitz of her diamonds sparkled in his eyes. Slowly, she picked her right hand up and touched his cheek: it was smooth and cold. “Do you love me?” she asked in a whisper. “Yes, my lady, very much.” He answered in an equally hushed tone. Her fingers began to feel his nose, then his chin, again the mustache, and the lips like a patch of dry blood. His lower lip opened displaying the orifice of his mouth. There was the colour of red lipstick in her fingers.
“Your lips, my lady,” he whispered.

Eight
Things were getting hectic for Priyam. Her mother was furious at her. There was not even 1 month for the marriage and she was still working. Priyam told her mother that it was just 1 more week. The very thought frightened her. One more week and she wouldn’t meet the man ever. She felt as if she was dying. But mother’s grumbling was not over. And why was she late every evening? Priyam anticipated this question beforehand, and she had an answer ready. She was spending the evenings with Prajakta, who was already married, and was taking lessons from her. That’s why she was doing make-up and all. To be extra-sure she had already informed Prajakta to tell the same story in case her mother called her up. Prajakta had asked in a scandalised voice what she was up to. Priyam reminded her that it was none of her business.
Priyam’s worries were not over yet. She needed the evenings for her wedding shopping; there was so much to do—buying clothes, ornaments, inviting people, and attending to so many things a marriage demands! Her sister was already here to help them. But, with a year-old kid, she was not of much help either. And how much could her father do alone?
But the man! There was only 1 week and she did not want to sacrifice it at any cost. After that kiss, she knew she was dying and she wanted to have it all before she was dead.

That touch, that smell lingered on, and she was looking for more. For the next 3 days it was the same red colour on her fingers and his whispering cry, “your lips, my lady.” And she wanted his lips and his everything…

Nine
Next evening, while at dinner, she told him her plans of what she wanted those evenings. So, was it possible for him to give his days to her for 1 week, just 1 week? He said he’d do anything for her. She said she’d quit her job the next day.
The dance and coffee over, Mozart tired with his piano; they were sitting face to face. He did not begin the lips lesson yet. She wanted the lips.
“Are you aware of this, Priyam?”
“What?”
“That you’ve fallen in love with me.”
“And you?”
“Forget about me. But it may hamper your relationship with Abhinash.”
“Ask me if I care!” she laughed weakly. Then she got up from her sofa and placed herself in front of him, the same way he did on 3 previous nights.
“Can’t we just…?”
“Run away and get married? How extraordinary!”
“I know. It’s only a week! Let me live it till the end.”
“Don’t take this seriously, Priyamvada.”
“Your lips, my love.”

Next morning, Priyam put up her resignation. It was a nasty business. She had yet to complete 1 more design for her assignments (for which she chose the colour scheme of one of the shirts the man wore), and she resolutely refused to work any longer.
She was picked up in the morning around 11 o’clock and, soon reached his place. She did not make the slightest effort to read the name of the apartment. As soon as they were inside, she spoke childishly: “I want to read your lips.”
“If you can read my lips, my dear, you will know that I need a cup of coffee. Then I’ll prepare food, while you’ll do some reading.”
Over the coffee, Priyam narrated the latest developments of the wedding. It would be a traditional marriage. For this, she would wear a sari that her mother had already purchased. But for the reception in the evening she was planning to wear a ghagra choli.
“What do you think, which colour will suit me?”
“Red, my lady in red.”
“What do you think you are, Richard Max?”
Before he went into the kitchen, the man handed her a pile of books, telling her to read them before the lunch was ready. She opened the first book lazily; she was for a shock. A man was standing in the photograph with his hands behind his head: he was stark naked. She slammed closed the book and shouted:
“Hey, what’s this?”
“What?”
“These books! This picture.”
“Human anatomy. Now, go ahead and read.”
She flipped through the pages. A couple was having sex in different poses. “Ok, this is how they do sex,” she thought, “It must not be difficult...”
She was halfway though the first book, when lunch was announced. After lunch, the man played a film on his lcd: My Fair Lady. She loved the songs.
They were lying on the carpet watching the film. She was in her light green salwar and he, on the baby-pink nightdress; his head supported by pillows and her, supported by his chest. Suddenly she muttered:
“Your heart is beating.”
“Yes.”
“I like the beat.”
On the screen Audrey Hepburn’s Eliza Dolittle was signing, “Don’t talk of love… show me.”
“Hey, can you show love?”
“No.”
“What’s love?”
“No idea.”
“No, you know, but you won’t tell me.”
“You know too!”
“Yes, love is watching a film together like this.”
Now, Eliza was singing, “without you … Prof Higgins.”
“You were talking about anatomy.”
“Yes.”
“What?”
“You know.”
“How?”
“You are a smart girl.”
Priyam turned towards the man. He was giving a naughty smile. She held his face with both of her palms and said: “I like your lips.”
“And…”
For some time she played with the lips. Then slowly she began to undo the buttons of his nightshirt, exposing his tits and the belly button.
“You’ll probably want to undo the rest.”
“What’s there inside?”
“You know.”
“Then probably I don’t want to see it.”
Priyam had a small nap before it was time to leave.

It was the same routine the next day and the day after. Every day she was narrating the new developments of the wedding. Her parents had ordered a heavy gold chain for Abhinash; Priyam wondered if Abhinash was ever going to wear it. Then the Abhinash guy himself called up. “What cheek!” Her father picked up the call, the guy said hi to him and asked for her. It was just some small talk.
In the meantime, she completed all the books that were given to her. When she came to know that he had not seen her favourite film Aandhi yet, she insisted that they should watch the film together. The next day, he arranged for the film and they watched it. She watched the song “Tere bina zindegi se” twice over.
The night before the last day, he dropped her near her house. “My lady,” he said in earnest, “your place.”
“I have something to tell you.”
“Yes, my lady.”
“Tomorrow, I’m coming over to stay with you for the night. I hope you won’t mind.”
“My pleasure…”

Ten
Must I narrate this last episode myself?

My lady, they are talking about you…

Eleven
The last day! After I picked her up at the usual place in the evening, she kept talking about the marriage preparations. As D-day was approaching, it was getting even more hectic, and she confessed that she was a trifle worried.
“What lesson today?” she asked cheerfully as I closed the door.
“No lessons. Today’s the exam!”
“What exam, sir?” she muttered lazily, tilting her head, and bending towards me seductively.
“You have passed with full marks,” I said in a dignified voice. She came closer, almost touching my lips with hers. She was infatuated by my lips. And this was her last evening. She’d get whatever she wanted. But she did something extraordinary. She put both her hands over my shoulders and threw the weight of her body over me, clutching me tight.
I could feel the pressure of her supple breasts over my body. Then she drew her face over my ear and whispered: “Do you love me?”
“You know.”
“Why just can’t we…?” she dropped the sentence midway. “Would you miss me?”
“No.”
“Would I ever meet you again?”
“No.”
She did not say anything for a long while, still holding me tight. Then she picked up my right hand, and let it move throughout her body, from the forehead to her nose, lips, chin, her long neck and the plane below, her supple breasts, and lower and lower… Then she let go of me suddenly.
“You’re having a bad influence on me, you know.”
“I know, my lady.”
She reached for her handbag and fished out an invitation card. It was very different from the usual wedding invitation, with a combination of lime green and pale yellow and lots of cream coloured seashells.
“You liked the design? I did it myself.”
“One of your mother’s saris?”
“No, one of your shirts, the shirt you wore the day we went to the movie, remember?”
I didn’t remember and it did not matter.
“You are coming for the wedding.”
I did not answer.
“You are coming. Now, go and prepare yourself for the big night. I’ll cook for you today.”
After having an exceptionally long bath and dressing myself in my formal best (I wore my old navy blue suit, which I had worn only once before—a long time before, on a special occasion like today.) when I reached the kitchen, dinner was already laid on the table, with the candles lit. Priyam gave me one of her joyous smiles. “You look dashing, you know. Give me a few minutes. I’ll be ready in a jiffy.”
While she was away in bathroom, I arranged for Strauss in my CD player so that he could play for a longer time. Today, we were going to dance our night away. Then I lit the especial lights which gave the ambience a mysterious look.
Within moments, Priyam stood on the doorway, the scarlet dress flowing down her body, the diamonds glittering. She looked stunning. She herself was a dream. I reached for her hands and seized them in mine.
“For the dinner, my love.”
The food was delectable; the table impeccably elegant, she had learnt much in a short time. I was envious of that Abhinash guy.
Our dance began soon after dinner. We did not talk, but our bodies did. Our clasped hands began to sweat, but she wouldn’t let it go. She closed her eyes, placed her head on my shoulders and began to swing to the beat. Strauss played on tirelessly, we danced on, and the night was growing mysterious. We danced on, as if there would be no ending.

“My lady,” I asked softly, “care for a cup of coffee?”

She was inspecting me closely. It was hard to decipher what she was thinking. And I was doing my best not to think about tomorrow when it would be all over.
She was kind of freezing on her sofa holding the coffee mug. I removed the mug from her hand and placed myself before her.
“What are you thinking?” I asked.
“Nothing. Thank you very much, my angel.”
Her fingers were working on my lips. Her fingers were turning red.
“Why do you use colour on your lips?”
“I don’t know. I like them that way.”
“Me too.”
There was a long silence while we gazed at each other. Several times her lips trembled as if she wanted to say something but could not make herself say anything. I did not have anything to say. It was mesmerising. I could spend the rest of my life with the mere memory of that night.
“Your lips, my lady.” I said finally.
It was like eternity; my eyes closed and her tongue slipped in my mouth; my head under the firm grip of her hands.
Then she broke the contact.
“My angel!” she uttered softly. “I want to see it all, the anatomy!”
“You may not like it.”
“Yet…”
“Won’t it be better if you let it be a secret to be revealed by Abhinash?”
“No.”

I led her to the bedroom.

“My angel,” she murmured.

She kissed my forehead, nose, and lips, my close eyelids…

Waiting for the next step, I opened my eyes. She was feeling my body. Our eyes met for a fraction.
“Go ahead, my lady, it’s all yours.”

I tasted the honeysuckle!

When I woke up next morning, Priyam was still sleeping, her naked body making a brilliant curve on my bed. Soon, it would be time for her to leave. I did not bother to dress up.
I picked up the red dress along with the diamonds, and wrapped them nicely into a packet, her wedding gift. Then I prepared coffee, and woke her up.
“It’s morning!” she said lazily.
“Yes, darling.”
Her eyes fell over my naked body and then her own.
“It’s all over, then?”
“Yes, my lady.” I added after a short pause. “Time for you to leave.”
“Yes.”
We drank the coffee in silence. Then she began to dress while I watched her for the last time. She said there was no need for me to come down to drop her. She’d go alone. I offered her the packet.
“Your wedding gift.”
“What is it?”
“Open it after the wedding is over.”

And she was gone.

Twelve
And then, the end! The end!
The day of her marriage! I woke up with a heavy hangover. I could not sleep the previous night without being drunk.
As the evening approached, I found myself dressing up for her wedding, once again in my navy blue suit. In no time, I was at the venue clutching the lime-green, pale yellow invitation card in my hand.
She was sitting on the dais, with a golden-red ghagra choli, and my diamonds dangling over her ears, accompanied by the Abhinash guy. He looked as if he was her bodyguard.
As I approached, she extended her hands to me with a dazzling smile.
“Welcome, my angel. I was waiting for you.”
I did not say anything. There was nothing for me to say. The Abhinash guy was busy talking to someone else.
“I wanted to see you for one last time. Would we ever meet again?”
“No.” I said, and offered her a small seashell. “Take this. My memory…”
“Thank you, my angel,” She said almost religiously, “There’s another thing I wanted to ask you.”
“My lady?”
“Won’t you tell me your name one last time?”
“Why now, my lady?”
“I want to give my first born your name…”


(To Mugdhata, with fond memories)

An accident: Story

An accident
By Dibyajyoti Sarma


To sit alone near a crowded sea-shore like the one in Juhu can be quite a task. The solitude of the jungle has its own charm; the silence among the crowd is quite unnerving. It would have been different in Calcutta; I’ve a routine there to ward of my loneliness. I’m new in Bombay, a tourist and evenings are the bad times for a lone and poor tourist.
I pass time by looking at the crowed, especially a couple, standing near the approaching waves, the husband with his hands in the pocket of his trousers and the wife clutching the fluttering pallu of her sari by her left hand; I am especially looking at her. I don’t know why.
A small boy selling small sea shell key chains accost me. Sir, take this bunch for forty rupees. I inform him that I don’t have money. He asks me not to make jokes with him and tells me: sir, you are like my big brother, I’ll give you the whole bunch for twenty rupees. Take it sir. Impressive marketing! I give it to the young chap. Does he go to school? I ask him. Yes, he answers.
Excuse me, Okan? The key chain seller nudges me; someone’s standing behind me, clutching the fluttering pallu of her sari by her left hand.
Excuse me, are you Okan, Okan Bhatt? I look at the woman. Yes, that’s me, and you?
Dada, I’m Nila. Don’t you remember?

Some things cannot be forgotten, but it is difficult to remember either. They try to cease the movement of time. They are like thorns in the garden of spring forgotten in the big fair of life, and one day when it pricks the sole of your chapped feet…
I don’t remember when I last saw Nila. The last time I went to her house, Machima prepared luchi and aloo bhaji, especially for me. And she cried. No, no, I forgot. I went to her place again for one last time. That evening too, Nila was not at home.
Machima opened the door. Seeing me she said sweetly, “Come, come, I’ve prepared khir today. I said I was in a hurry, just stopped by to say this: “If you are sure, then let Nila marry him. I don’t have any problem. I’ll just disappear from her life. Let her be happy.” Machima stood frozen on the threshold. She knew how much I loved Nila. She knew how much Nila loved me.
For many years I was even scared to think what’ll happen if I just bump into Nila some day. I’d imagine, after seeing me she’ll break into tears, will call me names – coward, hypocrite… will slash my hand with her long fingernails - nothing of that sort happened.
“Okanda, after so many years,” she cried. What are you doing here?”
“What are you doing here?” I ask back. “How did you recognize me? My appearance has changed a lot.”
“Of course, one can count the hair on your head. But is it possible to forget you?”
I search for malice in her voice. There is none. It is the plain expression of a plain truth.
“We live here, what else,” she informed and called out to the man with his hands tucked in the pockets of his trousers. “Rana, Adige asho, come here…” Then she turns towards me and asks: “Who’s with you?”
None. I answer. I am alone.
“Not married yet. Or ashamed to travel with your wife?’
Before I could muster an answer, like an obedient student, her husband stands beside her. Nila introduces him to me. By the look of it, he’s certainly one of those big corporate bosses: manicured nail, a wiseacre smile, and an unimaginative face.
She asks me what I was doing in Bombay. I mumble something. She talks about herself. She’s in Bombay for last two years with her husband. Next year they are moving to Australia. I feel like having a cigarette. I control myself. How Nila used to fight with me about my smoking habits. Finally I had to quit that small addiction of mine. It is a long time since I began smoking again. I look at her husband and smile. Does he smoke when she’s not around?
Once I thought I would never be able to face Nila again. And here she is, talking animatedly to me in a crowed beach, as if nothing had ever happened between us, as if she was not betrothed to me, as if she never told me that she could feel my breath inside her bones, as if we never planned our lives together.
It’s not meeting Nila, but the banality of the situation, the way she is responding to this sudden, strange meeting, the way she is blabbering, animatedly, the way her husband is grinning encouragingly…
Want to have some coffee? I ask and she answers, “no, bhel.” Her husband looks at her. Probably it hurts his ego. I join in some small talk with him. Just courtesy. Did Nila ever told her husband about me? If yes, just how much? Nila offers a plastic plate of Bhel to her husband and then one to me.
Nila enquires where am I am staying in Bombay. Then she asks tell me where you live in Calcutta these days. I will try to see you next time I am there. I look at her searchingly. Why she wants to see me again? Whatever was there between us is all over. I don’t want to scratch all those wounds that are, thank god, healing. This, today evening was an accident. Nila shrugs her shoulders and says: “Leave it. God knows when I’ll go home again.”

Am I jealous of Nila? Or am I angry with her? Bitch! Once she said, if she can’t marry me, she’ll remain a spinster. And today, how she’s fluttering around her rich husband. As if she doesn’t remember me at all.
And I? When people ask, I tell them, I got divorce before marriage. I don’t have the courage to put my hands into burning fire again. People laugh, they pity me.
Perhaps Maya was right after all. Whatever was supposed to happen between you and her is already over. And it was your decision. But is it wise to destroy everything for that one decision? I’m not asking you to forget Nila. But don’t kill yourself with her memory. You can start your life all over again. With me…
One day she too got married to someone else.
That decision was mine too.
It was a difficult time. Nila had already completed her graduation. Her family wanted her to get married soon. I was still struggling, doing odd jobs.
Machima said, son, why don’t you two get married. You’ll get a good job one day. Nila too can find something for herself. And for the beginning, even Nila’s father can help.
Those were depressing days. Those were the days of blunt ego. Nila cried. I screamed like mad: “Marriage, marriage. Just get married and you’ll see how all the love just vanishes like a smoke when there’s no money.
Leave that to me. I’ll manage. She said.

Serving me some extra aloo bhaji, Machima informed. A proposal has come for Nila. A suitable boy. Good job and everything. I didn’t know how to respond. Sitting beside me Machima said: We can’t even say she’s engaged, can we?
That night I took the decision. Let Nila get married. That’s better for her. There’s no point spoiling her life with a futureless person like me.
And that morning, I removed everything from the garden of my desire, packed the sun in a black cloth and locked it inside a cupboard. I tried to stop the passing current with my fist. There was no option but to burn away into a heap of ash.

Room service comes at eight. Then who’s knocking at my door at six in the morning? Yesterday was a bad night. I didn’t sleep a wink. I open the door, disturbed, irritated.
You? It’s Nila in front of me; a big polythene bag in her hand, water still dripping from her long flowing hair.
“Wouldn’t you invite me inside?” she asks. “You are surprised, aren’t you? She closes the door and sits on a chair. She’s wearing a cloud white sari. “We weren’t supposed to meet like this, isn’t it?”
It was an accident. I grin foolishly. If I were you, I would have just disappeared from the scene.
“I know. You are coward…”
Finally. Finally. I am prepared. After all these years, I have to face all her bickering.
“But Okanda, I couldn’t. All these years I’ve been praying to god only for just one thing, that you are still alive, that I see you at least once. You just disappeared. How I tried to find any information about you.”
Bending my head down, I listen. What is there for me to say?
“I couldn’t Okanda… I… I… still love you.”
No. Those are stories from the previous birth. I don’t remember.
Would you like to have some tea? I ask.
“No,” she answers. “I have to return back soon. I told Rana that I am visiting a temple.”
Why? Why Nila has come to meet me? I can’t ask.
“Why didn’t you get married, Okanda? Seems you tell people that you got divorce before marriage – do you tell them who filled for divorce?
Have you come to ask me this? Have you come to do the accounts?
“You did all the accounting, didn’t you? I had to accept you rulings. Don’t think that you are the only one who failed. I lost too.”
Then why have you come to meet me without telling your husband?
Without speaking a word Nila gets up and picks up the polythene bag. It’s filled with marigold flowers, my favourite. She spread the flowers on the bed.
What is all this drama, Nila?
“Drama?” she sits next to me on the bed and takes my hands between hers. (Oh, these hands!) Then she speaks softly: “Drama? You played drama with me, Okanda. You just disappeared into the blue. Couldn’t even trust me that much that I could love you without any money.
My hands are between hers. She smells of jasmine. What is there for me to say?
You are happy with your husband, aren’t you?
Nila smiles. A dazzling smile. “How easily you could ask, am I happy? Yes sir, I am very happy. Did I surprise you? I hope not. I’m very happy with Rana. My husband is a good human being and he loves me. And he’s rich. What more do you want from a husband anyway?
Her voice trails off. “And suddenly amidst the luxury of my husband’s home I scream out in pain.” She pulls my hand and puts it on her heaving bosom. “There’s a live wound there… sometimes it pains… then I need you…
“I’m still in love with you.”
Nila. Nila. Don’t speak a word. Please. I’ve wrapped the sun with a black cloth. Don’t uncover it.
Nila, it was not a good idea for you to meet me.
“For one last time.” She smiles. She gets up from the bed and stands before me. So, Mr Bhatt, since you had your divorce before marriage, how about honeymoon after divorce.
She pours her fingers through my unkempt hair. “You know, finally, Rana and I have decided to have a baby. According to the doctor too, it’s the right time.”

The proximity between us recedes. And she whispers on my ear: “Give me a baby. Give me a baby from your side.”