By Rabindranath Tagore
Translated by: Lopa Banerjee
Charu had gone to attend an invitation. Mandakini was tying her hair in her room. Amal entered the room, summoning his ‘Bouthan’ (sister-in-law). Manda was sure that Amal knew Charu was away for an invitation. She smiled sarcastically and said: “Oh my, who were you looking for, Amal Babu, and who did you get to see? What bad luck!”
Amal replied: “For a donkey, the straw on both the left and the right side is equally precious.” He took a seat in the room.
Amal: “Manda Bouthan, tell me a story of your village; I would love to hear.”
Amal had a keen inquisitive ear for the stories of others, which he accumulated as the subjects of his own writing. Because of this, he was not as indifferent to Manda as before. The inner workings of Manda’s mind, her history, her past sparked curiosity in him. He started to ask her about the tidbits of her life, her birth place, her village, her childhood, her marriage, in meticulous details. Nobody had ever expressed such avid interest in the small, inconsequential life story of Manda before. She was relaying her own life story with extreme jubilance; in between her narration, she would say: “I really don’t know what I am blabbering.”
Amal encouraged her. “Please continue, I am enjoying it,” he said.
Manda continued with her story. Her father had a blind steward, who would fast ritualistically as an after-effect of domestic quarrel with his second wife. Finally, overcome by irresistible hunger, he would secretly visit Manda’s home for some food and one day, as luck would have it, his wife had caught him in the act. In the midst of the story, while Amal was listening to it with rapt attention and laughing at the quirky humor of the happenings, Charu entered the room.
The story remained scattered, disoriented. Charu clearly understood that her untimely arrival in the room disrupted a fine company.
Amal asked: “Bouthan, how did you return so early from the invitation?”
Charu said: “Ah, I see. It seems I returned a bit too early.” She turned back, in an attempt to leave.
Amal said: “Yes, thank God, you came back early. I was wondering when you would come home. Look, I have a new book to read out to you, The Evening Bird by Manmatha Datta.
Charu: “Not now, I have some work to do. “
Amal: “Then order me to do your work, I will comply.”
Charu knew that Amal would come to her with this new book; she had planned to start with her effusive praise of the author Manmatha to arouse envy in Amal, and Amal, she thought, would read out from the book in a mocking, sardonic tone. Imagining their reading session, Charu was brimming with impatience. She left the venue of the invitation untimely, feigning illness, disregarding all requests and pleas of the hosts. “It would have been better for me to stay where I was. I shouldn’t have come back here.” She thought now, several times.
But what about the shameless Manda? She was alone with Amal in this room all this while, laughing and frolicking. What would people think if they saw this? However, it was difficult for Charu to rebuke Manda regarding this issue. What if Manda reverted back with her own example of frolicking with Amal? But her association with Amal was so different altogether. She had inspired Amal to compose his writings, she had discussed literature with him, but Manda never had those objectives in mind. She had planned to entice the simpleton Amal, Charu thought, and it was only her duty to save poor Amal from this impending doom. But how would she convince Amal about the conniving plans of this crafty lady? What if that fueled Amal’s temptations further?
“Poor dada (elder brother),” thought Charu. He was toiling day in and day out with her husband’s publication and Manda was quietly contriving to ensnare Amal. Dada was spending his days, unperturbed with ample faith in Manda. How could Charu stay calm after what she had seen today with her own eyes? “How unfair!” She thought.
Amal had been a nice, agreeable person before; however, things started changing since his popularity as a writer began to soar. Charu was the only one responsible for his writing. What was that fateful moment when she stimulated his desire to write? Could she exert her influence on Amal now, the way she could do earlier? Amal was now being fed by the pampering indulgence of many; he would be unaffected if he omitted her from his life.
It became clear to Charu that Amal would be in a grave danger, while being in the hands of these contriving lot of people. Amal didn’t consider Charu as his peer now; he thought he had surpassed her. He was the writer now, while Charu was only a reader. Charu planned to solve this issue.
“Oh, you simpleton Amal, bewitching Manda, and poor Dada,” she said to herself.
The copious young clouds of the Bengali month of Asharh gathered in the sky. An inexplicable darkness crystallized in Charu’s room. Near the open widow, she bent over a notebook, scribbling in it, lonely, lost in her own furtive world.
She didn’t notice when Amal surreptitiously entered the room and stood behind her. Charu continued writing in the smooth, gentle light of the rainy day, and Amal continued reading secretly. There were a couple of Amal’s printed, published writings lying beside Charu, upon which she would model her own compositions.
“Why do you say that you cannot write, then?” Amal’s sudden utterance in the room startled Charu. She quickly hid her notebook. “This is so very mean!” She said.
Amal: “But what did I do, after all?”
Charu: “Why were you spying on my writing?”
Amal: “Because you won’t let me see it otherwise.”
Charu was about to tear up her writing. Amal snatched it away from her in a moment. “If you read it, I swear to never ever speak to you in this life,” Charu said.
“And if you forbid me to read it, I swear to never ever speak to you in this life,” Amal retorted.
Charu: “For heaven’s sake, do not read it, thakurpo !”
Finally, it was Charu who had to surrender. Deep within, her restless mind was eager to show Amal her composition, but she didn’t think she would feel so much shame and hesitation while actually presenting it to him. She ultimately gave in to Amal’s pleas as he started reading it out, but her hands, feet froze in embarrassment. “Let me bring some betel leaves,” she said and left for the next room on the pretext of dressing betel leaves.
Upon finishing reading, Amal said: “It is wonderful!”
At this, Charu forgot to add khoyer to the betel leaves. “You don’t have to make any more fun of me. Give me back my notebook,” She said.
Amal said: “No, you won’t get it back now. I will make a fair copy of this and send it to a magazine.”
“No, never, you won’t do that,” Charu said.
This created a ruckus between the two. Amal was unrelenting till the end. When he had sworn to her several times and convinced her that it was fit for sending out to publications, she gave in, albeit hopelessly. “It is so difficult to compete with you in anything. You are so invincible, really!” She said.
“Now I must show this to Dada too,” Amal said.
Hearing this, Charu left dressing the betel leaves and lifted herself from her seat in haste. She attempted to snatch away her notebook from Amal. “No, you must not tell him about this. If you tell him, I will stop writing immediately,” she said.
Amal: “This must be a serious misunderstanding on your part, Bouthan. I am sure dada will be elated to see your writing, whether he expresses it to you or not.”
Charu: “Let it be; I do not ask for his elation.”
Charu had promised to herself that she would start writing and give Amal a pleasant surprise; she thought she would not stop until she proves herself to be worthier than Manda. For the past few days, she had written quite a lot and then tore off the pages. Whatever she attempted to write became a replica of Amal’s writing. When she tried to compare both, she discovered that parts of her writing sounded as if they had been directly quoted from Amal’s compositions, and only those seemed good writing to her, the rest appeared raw, immature. Charu imagined Amal finding those parts and laughing at them, which made her tear up the writings to pieces and discard them in the pond, lest Amal happens to see even a bit of them by sheer chance.
The first composition she created was named ‘The Clouds of Shravan (monsoon)’. She had thought to herself that she had written a unique piece, seeped in the emotional fervor of her imagination. Suddenly, with conscious scrutiny, she discovered that the piece was very akin to Amal’s essay, ‘The Autumn Moon’. In his essay, Amal had written: “Dear moon, why are you hiding amidst the clouds like a thief?” And Charu had written: “Dear friend Kadambini, where did you appear from suddenly, and steal away the moon under your blue drape?”
Finally, since Charu was not able to transcend the literary boundaries set by Amal, she decided to change the subject of her compositions. Instead of the moon, clouds, the shefali flower, the Indian nightingale, she wrote a piece named, ‘Kalitala.’ There had been a temple of Goddess Kali near the silhouetted darkness of a creek in her ancestral village. She wrote the piece about the fertile imagination of her child’s mind, her fears, her curiosity, her queer, eccentric memories centered on the temple and the ancient myths of the village folks surrounding the greatness of the Goddess. The beginning of the piece had been influenced by the poetic opulence of Amal, but as she proceeded with the piece, it became defined by its earnest simplicity, replete with the linguistic nuances of a lucidly narrated village tale.
Amal snatched away this writing from Charu and finished reading it. To his opinion, the beginning of the writing was quite delightful, but the poetic effect was not maintained till the end. Anyway, this was quite a commendable attempt of a novice writer, he thought.
Charu said: “Thakurpo, let us start a monthly publication of our own, what do you say?”
Amal: “But how will it survive without enough of silver coins?”
Charu: “But there would be no investment in our publication. It would be hand-written entirely, no hassle of printing. It would only publish both of our writings, and nobody else will get access to it. We would release only two copies, one for you, and the other for me!”
Had it been some days earlier, Amal would have been enthused at this proposal. However, times had changed Amal, and he no longer loved these secret liaisons. He was not content these days unless he could address a herd of people in his compositions. Nevertheless, he maintained a façade of enthusiasm for old times’ sake and replied: “That would be great fun.”
Charu said: “But you have to promise me that you won’t publish your writing anywhere else apart from in our own publication.”
Amal. “But the editors would kill me then!”
Charu: “Is it? But don’t we have weapons to kill them as well?”
Thus, it was decided and a committee consisting of two editors, two writers, and two readers was formed.
Amal said: “Let the magazine be named ‘Charu-path’ (Charu-reading).” Charu said: “No, it would be named Amala.”
Charu had forgotten the anguish and irritation of the interim period, by virtue of this new arrangement. There was no way for Manda to enter their monthly literary publication and for other outsiders, too, its doors remained bolted.
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.
Read the latest issues of Cafe Dissensus Magazine on Study Abroad, edited by Rajdeep Guha, TOEFL/IELTS trainer, New Delhi.