By Rabindranath Tagore
Translated by: Lopa Banerjee
Bhupati had inherited a lot of money and generous ancestral property, so it was quite natural if he didn`t bother to work at all. By sheer destiny, however, he was born a workaholic. He had founded an elite English newspaper and that was how he decided to cope with the boredom that his riches and time, which was endlessly at his disposal, brought to him.
Since childhood, Bhupati had a flair for writing and rhetoric and would relentlessly write letters to the editors of English newspapers. He also loved speaking in assemblies, even when he didn’t have anything significant to add to the discourses.
Years passed by, and he grew increasingly confident and eloquent in his English composition and oratorical skills, which was further nourished as he continued to receive accolades and support from influential political leaders. They loved him as he was rich and accomplished and wanted him to join their ilk.
Eventually, his brother-in-law Umapati, a frustrated and failed lawyer, came to him with a plea: “Bhupati, it’s high time you publish your own newspaper. You possess the perfect background and necessary skills for it.”
Bhupati was not only convinced but even inspired by the proposal. He believed getting published in newspapers and journals, that were run by other people, was demeaning. As the owner of his own publication, he could wield his pen and his own persona, liberated, uninhibited, and complete. With his brother-in-law to assist him, he embraced his new role as the founder and editor of a new publication.
Bhupati was young, passionate about his editorial work, current affairs and world politics to the point of addiction, and there was no dearth of people to arouse his passion for dissenting on an everyday basis.
Thus, for a number of years, his unflinching devotion to his publication prevented him from noticing that at home, his child-bride, Charulata, had gradually bloomed into a young and beautiful woman. The editor, obviously, was preoccupied with more important happenings in the national political scene, like the border policy of the contemporary Indian Government.
In a household infested with riches and boredom, Charulata continued to live, bloom like the flower that could not bear any fruit, not as a necessity, but an embellishment in the midst of her effortless, prolonged days and nights. There was no lack of abundance in the household, but only an overpowering emptiness that she knew as her own.
Any other wife would have fought with her husband, enacted a few dramas, the quirky idiosyncrasies of conjugal politics transcending and threatening all limits and boundaries of domesticity. Charu, however, was not fortunate enough to indulge in such acts. It became increasingly difficult for her to penetrate the thin layers of paper which wrapped her husband’s attention.
On one occasion, a woman relative, in her efforts to attract Bhupati’s attention towards his young wife, had admonished him. With a sudden consciousness, he replied: “Ah, well, Charu needs the company of a friend. Poor girl, there’s nothing in the house to keep her busy.”
Immediately, he summoned his brother-in-law Umapati to bring his wife as a companion to Charu. The editor assumed that Charu was missing the company of a woman of her age, and that was the only void in her life. He was thus relieved when Umpati’s wife Mandakini was brought along to keep her company.
At a time when the pristine sunlight of the exploration of love between a man and a woman would let them unfold each other in a new, rejuvenating light, the man and the woman, unconscious of the golden, glistening dawn of their mutual love, didn’t realize when the fresh aroma of togetherness had worn off, leaving them older, dull, over-familiar to each other.
Charulata had a natural affinity for reading and writing, and due to her literary leanings, her days seemed light to her. In a number of different ways, she had arranged for her own studies in the house. Bhupati’s cousin Amal was a third-year student; Charulata beseeched Amal to help her pursue her studies. In this pursuit, she would have to tolerate many of his endless tantrums, which included providing him with incentives for eating in hotels, buying expensive books of English literature, and inviting his friends over for a lavish feast. Charu had accepted all of this as her sole responsibility in lieu of his tutelage, as ‘Gurudakshina’. Bhupati had no demands on her; on the other hand, Amal’s demands, on the slightest pretext of tutoring, were never-ending. Charu sometimes feigned anger and rebellion over this, but deep within, it was necessary for her to bear with these little outbursts of affection.
Once Amal demanded: “Bouthan (sister-in-law), the son-in-law of the king of our college enters our college premises with an exclusive hand-woven shoe made of carpet. I want a similar pair of shoes soon, otherwise I would feel so belittled!”
Charu: “Ah, well! Do I now have to be your cobbler? No way! Take some money and buy it from the market whenever you wish to.”
“Oh no, that is not done!”
Charu really didn’t know how to sew a shoe, but she wouldn’t admit this to Amal. The fact that nobody other than Amal demanded anything from her tempted her to comply with his demands. Thus, discreetly, meticulously, she began to learn the art of sewing on a carpet when Amal went to college. Later, one summer evening, when Amal’s need for the shoe diminished, he was summoned by his sister-in-law.
Charu had neatly arranged for Amal’s evening meal in their terrace, his dish carefully shielded with a brass cover to keep it from the sand and dust. Amal came back from college, freshened up and presented himself on the terrace. Seated on the mat, he was pleasantly surprised to discover a pair of brand new woolen shoes adorning his dish. Charu laughed out loud, seeing his expression of amazement and awe.
After this incident, Amal’s hopes skyrocketed. Every now and then he demanded new things for himself, a scarf, intricate floral embroidery in his silk handkerchief, an embroidered cover to prevent oil stains for the big chair where he seated himself in his room.
Every time Charu would object, quarrel with him, yet every time she would work meticulously, with deep affection to gratify his little needs. Sometimes Amal would ask her, “Bouthan, how much is done?”
Sometimes Charulata would lie to him and say, “Nothing.” Sometimes she said, “Oh, I had completely forgotten about it.”
But Amal was unrelenting. Every day he reminded her about it, demanded her attention. On the one hand, Charu teased and provoked him with her pretense of indifference and her feigned tussles, on the other hand, she felt amused to grant his prayers suddenly, unexpectedly.
In all of her household, Amal was the only one who made her work for him. It was an act of voluntary toiling, which nourished the desires of her heart, satisfied those unspoken innermost longings.
Bhupati had a piece of land adjacent to the inner apartments of his house, which was not really a garden. Among the coveted plants in that ‘garden’, there was an imported hog plum tree.
Charu and Amal once planned a committee for its renovation, drawing illustrations, chalking plans, envisioning the birth of a garden on that little piece of land.
Amal said, “Bouthan, you will have to water the plants of our garden with your own hands, like the princesses of yore.”
Charu was amused. She replied, “And in that little corner tucked in the west, we will have a little hut, with a young deer, a fawn.”
“And we will also have our quaint little lake, ducks will swim around it.”
Charu’s face lit up at the proposal. “We will float blue lotuses in the lake, it is a dream I have had for a long time.”
“We will also build a bridge over the lake, and a small boat will be moored in the landings,” Amal said.
“And the landing will be built with white marble.”
Amal began to draw an elaborate map of their cherished land on paper, with a pencil, a scale and a compass. Day after day, their collaborative enterprise took new shapes and forms, with new changes implemented every day, resulting in twenty to twenty five maps in all.
They began estimating the finances of implementing the map in reality. Charu had initially thought of investing in the garden bit by bit, with the help of the monthly allowance allotted to her. She knew Bhupati didn’t know or care about what was happening inside the house. Once the garden was all set up, she would invite and surprise him. How would he feel to see the garden constructed with so much beauty and innovation? She thought to herself. Bhupati must be thrilled to discover a fresh new Japanese garden implanted in his own house with the magic of Aladdin’s lamp.
However, the finances were never enough, despite their conservative estimates. Amal began to change the map again. He said: “Bouthan, I think we will have to omit the plan of the lake.”
Charu protested, “No, the lake must be there, no matter what. What about the blue lotuses I have dreamed of floating there?”
Amal said, “Then no need for a fancy tiled hut for your deer kid. We can have a simple straw roof for the hut.”
Charu was enraged. “Then I don’t need that hut at all,” she replied.
The lavish plan of importing cloves from Mauritius, sandalwood from Kornat, cinnamon plants from Sri Lanka was then abandoned. Amal wanted to substitute those with simple plants, Indian and foreign, bought from the local Maniktala market. Charu, fuming inside, said, “Forget the garden. I don’t want it anymore.”
This, generally, is not the ideal way of working on an estimate. However, it was impossible for Charu to curb the viewless wings of her imagination in tandem with the strict budgeting, and also, for Amal, in spite of what he said, it was not tasteful enough to compromise thus.
Amal said: “Bouthan, why don’t you talk about this garden to Dada (brother)? I am sure he will sponsor it.”
Charu didn’t like the idea. “What about the fun and adventure of building a garden all by ourselves, if I tell him to sponsor it? He can order and construct an Eden Garden any day, but what will happen to our own plan of building the garden?”
Seated under the shaded canopy of the hog plum tree, Charu and Amal were basking in the imaginary delight of their impossible dream. Charu’s sister-in-law, Mandakini, called them from upstairs.
“What are you two doing in the garden?”
Charu replied, “We are searching for ripe hog plums.”
Manda was tempted. “Do bring some for me if you find them,” she said.
Charu and Amal laughed together in the glory and delight of their inconsequential little dreams. Manda, Charu’s sister-in-law was deprived of the bounty of imagination, so she was naturally out of this idyllic dream world and the impossible plans they both conceived.
The speculations of that elusive garden continued, while imagination was rampant and indomitable, so the committee under the hog plum tree continued to sketch their dreams, as Amal marked the places where they had planned the lake, the hut for the deer kid, the marble landing.
One day, Amal began to carve marks around the land with a small axe, in an effort to draw the boundaries for their dream garden. Charu was resting under the shade of a tree, keeping an eye over Amal’s actions. Suddenly, she said, “Amal, if you could write, it would have been great fun.”
Amal asked, “But why do you think so?”
Charu: “Well, then I would have ordered you to write a story describing this garden of ours, with the lake, the hut for the deer, this shaded canopy of the hog plum tree. It would have been a world for only the two of us, nobody else would understand it. Will you try writing? I am sure you can do it.”
“If I can do it, what will I get in exchange?”
“Tell me what you want.”
“I will draw a flowery design on my mosquito net, you will have to embroider it with silk.”
“This is sheer outlandish!” Charu exclaimed.” Nobody has ever heard of embroidering the roof of a mosquito net.”
In reply, Amal went on revolting against the familiar tradition of regarding the mosquito net as a prison, devoid of beauty. According to his explanation, this was enough proof of the lack of aesthetic senses of most of the people in this world who are not the least affected by this grossness in their own vision.
Charu immediately admitted the conclusions of his argument and was elated that the secret committee comprising the two of them was not a part of this huge majority of people.
She said, “All right, I will design the roof of your mosquito net, if you start writing.”
Amal smiled mysteriously. “You think I cannot write, do you?”
Charu brimmed with excitement. “You must have written something, haven’t you? Show it to me.”
Amal avoided her glance. “Let it be, Bouthan. Some other day.”
Charu insisted. “No, you have to show it to me today. Bring it here.”
Amal had tried hard to resist sharing his writing with Charu; he was overtly conscious of his sister-in-law’s excessive eagerness to discover his written world; he feared that she would not like it and there was no way he could overcome this feeling.
He brought his copy and started reading to her, as he blushed and coughed a bit. Charu listened to him, reclining her body against a tree, spreading her feet over the patch of grass.
The subject of Amal’s essay was ‘My Notebook.” Amal had written: “O my bleached white notebook, my imagination has not yet touched you. You are as pristine and enigmatic as the divine forehead of a newborn in the delivery room, untouched by the hands of the lord of destiny. Today is not the day when I would pen a conclusion in your last page. Your virgin, white pages are not yet dreaming of that concluding page marked in tragic ink.”
Charu was listening as he read on, statue-like, awed. She took some time to respond, after the reading ended. “How is it you still think you can’t write?” she said.
That day, under the shade of the hog plum tree, Amal had drunk the intoxicating nectar of literature for the first time. The drink was fresh and enticing, as they both witnessed the beautiful hide and seek of light and shadow on that mysterious afternoon.
Charu reminded him of picking a few hog plum fruits for Mandakini. She did not desire to share their literary and other adventures with her dim-witted sister-in-law; the fruits were picked for her to satisfy her curiosity.
Lopa Banerjee is an author, poet and freelance writer based in Nebraska, US. She has a Masters’ in English with a thesis in Creative Nonfiction from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Her unpublished memoir ‘Thwarted Escape’ has been First Place Category Winner at the Journey Awards 2014 hosted by Chanticleer Reviews. Her poetry, stories and essays have appeared at ‘Words, Pauses, Noises’, the creative writers’ blog of Kingston University, UK, ‘Café Dissensus’, ‘eFiction India’, ‘Earthen Lamp Journal’, ‘Camel Saloon’ (special anthology published on International Women’s Day), ‘About Place Journal’, ‘Spark Magazine’, ‘Northeast Review’, ‘Indian Review’, ‘River Poets’ Journal’. She has also been a recipient of the critic award and ‘Poem of the Month’ award at Destiny Poets International Community of Poets, UK.
Cafe Dissensus Everyday is the blog of Cafe Dissensus magazine, based in New York City, USA. All materials on the site are protected under Creative Commons License.
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