Rabindranath Tagore’s ‘The Broken Home’ (Nastanirh): Chapter 9 & 10
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By Rabindranath Tagore
Translated by: Lopa Banerjee
[Read Ch. 1, Ch. 2, Ch. 3, Ch. 4, Ch. 5&6, Ch. 7, Ch. 8]
Bhupati couldn’t convey to Charu everything that happened to him. Umapada used to manage his publication entirely. His responsibilities included gathering funds, settling the debts of the press and the market, paying the servants their wages and so on.
However, one fine morning, Bhupati was astonished to receive a legal notice from the solicitor through his newspaper vendor. The notice declared a debt of Rupees 2700. Bhupati summoned Umpada immediately and asked him: “What’s the matter? I had already given you the money. The debt should not exceed four or five hundred.”
Umapada replied: “Then there must have been some wrong calculations on their part.”
But his misdeeds couldn’t be hidden for long. For quite a while, Umapada was using Bhupati unscrupulously. Not only did he exploit Bhupati’s publication, but he also incurred lots of debt in the market, using Bhupati’s name. He had built a house in his village, the raw materials for which were mostly bought using Bhupati’s name, and he had settled most of those debts from the funds of Bhupati’s newspaper.
When he was caught in the act, he retorted, in a rough, nonchalant voice: “I am not eloping anywhere, am I? I will work hard and pay you back all your money gradually – believe me, if a penny is left unpaid, I swear I will change my name!”
This was not enough solace to Bhupati’s bruised heart. He was not as dismayed by the monetary loss he encountered as he was at this sudden, unexpected betrayal. From the cozy comfort of his room, he had stepped his feet on a nadir.
On the same day, he went to visit Charu in her room, quite untimely. His heart, restless and anxious, knew there was at least one place in the world which he could trust, and he was eager to feel the momentary warmth and glory of that sole shelter he had. Filled with anguish at that time, Charu had extinguished the evening lamp in her room and sat in the dark, by the window of the room.
Umapada was ready to go to Mymansingh the very next day. He wanted to elope from the scene before the debt collectors came along. Bhupati hated to speak to Umapada as he noticed his cunning ways. On his part, Umapada was relieved by Bhupati’s silence and considered he was fortunate not have to confront his brother-in-law now.
Amal came up to Manda’s room and enquired: “Manda Bouthan, what is the matter? What are all these packing arrangements for?”
Manda: “Well, we have to go away from here soon. Can we stay here forever? We can’t.”
Amal: “But where are you going?”
Manda: “To our village.”
Amal: “But why? What problems did you have in staying here?”
Manda: “I did not have any problems in staying here. I was doing fine, was living peacefully among all of you. But maybe that was creating problem for somebody else.” She cast a glance at Charu’s room.
Amal listened to all of this, silently, with a sullen look. Manda said: “Oh, what a shame! You must have thought badly about me.”
Amal decided to maintain his silence regarding this discussion. However, he was quite sure in his mind that Charu had injected some negative thoughts about him and Manda in Bhupati’s mind.
With these lingering thoughts, Amal came out of the house on to the streets. He wished he wouldn’t have to go back to his Dada’s house again. If Dada believed in his wife’s words and took him as a culprit, then he would have to tread the same path as Manda had taken. He thought of Manda’s farewell as a precursor to his own banishment from the house, which would happen sooner or later. It was a truth which was left unuttered. His next course of action was thus determined clearly – he would have to leave the house as early as possible. But how would he reconcile with the fact that Dada was nurturing wrong notions about him? For all these days, Dada had trusted him wholeheartedly, had given him shelter in his own house and had been his sole benefactor. How would Amal go away without convincing him that he was pure and unblemished all along, that he had never betrayed an iota of trust that Dada had placed on him?
Bhupati, on the other hand, was dumbfounded with shock over his close relative’s betrayal, the hasty reminders of the debt collectors, the unsettled accounts and the empty treasury. He was absolutely alone in his misery, getting ready to fight back all his pains and the burden of his debts.
Just then, Amal entered the room like the whiff of a tempest. Lost in his unfathomable thoughts, Bhupati was astonished at his sudden arrival. “What’s the news, Amal?” He enquired. Suddenly, he feared he was about to hear yet another terrible news from Amal.
Amal said: “Dada, do you have any reason, whatsoever, to suspect me of any vice?”
Bhupati was surprised to hear this. “Suspect you, of all people?” He asked. However, he thought to himself, “The world is so strange and unpredictable; it won’t be surprising if I would ever have to suspect Amal.”
Amal: “Did Bouthan (sister-in-law) complain to you about my character or morality recently?”
Bhupati thought to himself: “Ah, this is it then, thank God! The vanity or conceit born out of affection.” In his mind, he feared worse things, but during these tumultuous times, he had to listen to such trivial things too. He had to reconcile with both ways in the most prudent way he could.
If it were any other day, Bhupati would have made fun of Amal for speaking like this, but he was not in a gleeful mood to do that now. He only said: “Have you gone mad, Amal?”
Amal repeated his question, so as to ascertain the truth. “Didn’t Bouthan say anything about me?”
Bhupati replied: “You know she loves you, so even if she has said something, there is no reason to take offense about that.”
Amal: “I would better go away from here in search of a job, Dada.”
At this, Bhupati rebuked him. “Amal, you are behaving like a child. Continue your studies now; you can look for a job later on.”
At this, Amal came back from his brother’s room with a glum face, and Bhupati sat down to calculate the accounts for the last three years of his publication against the receipts provided by his customers.
Amal had decided to confront his sister-in-law about all that was brewing in his mind for quite some time now. In his mind, he kept on repeating some very strong words that he was determined to tell her.
After Manda went away with her husband, Charu decided to summon Amal on her own and to pacify his anger. But that had to be on the pretext of sharing her writing with him, she thought. She had recently crafted an essay, imitating Amal’s writing, as she realized quite well that Amal did not admire her independent style of writing.
In her new composition, Charu had reproached the full moon for expressing her abundant splendor. She wrote: “All the light of the moon in its sixteen phases is embedded in the fathomless dark of the day of the new moon and even a tiny ray of it is not lost. Therefore, the pitch dark is more complete and meaningful than the brilliance of the full moon.”
Amal had exhibited all his writings to the world, whereas Charu had not done so, and the analogy of the full moon and the pitch dark sky was a metaphor through which Charu expressed this.
While this was happening, Bhupati sought the help of one of his friends, Motilal, in order to get rid of his approaching debts.
Motilal had borrowed a few thousand rupees from Bhupati once when he had faced a problem. Bhupati went up to him quite hesitatingly that day, asking to repay him the money. After his daily bathing rituals, Motilal was cooling off in his room with a fan and was preparing to write the name of Ma Durga thousand times on a piece of paper placed on a wooden box. Upon seeing Bhupati entering the house, he greeted him in the warmest, friendliest tone: “Ah, come inside, Bhupati. Why, you are rarely seen these days!”
However, when asked about the money, his tone changed. “What are you talking about? Did I borrow money from you recently? I don’t remember at all,” he said.
When reminded about the date and year he had borrowed from Bhupati, he said: “Oh, well, that has been over such a long time back.”
In Bhupati’s eyes, the world outside and its visage were going through a sudden sea-change. The abrupt unmasking of his familiar world shook him, jolted him profusely. Like a terrorized flood victim running to cling to the highest peak to save himself from the water, Bhupati ran towards Charu’s room in the inner apartments of his house to hide himself from the dubious outer world. “The world may betray me, but Charu will remain everfaithful to me,” he thought to himself.
When he entered Charu’s room, he found her seated on her bed with a pillow in her lap and a notebook nestled on the pillow. She had leaned over the notebook and was scribbling in it with rapt attention. Only when Bhupati came closer to her and stood beside her, she became consciousness and sat over her notebook in an attempt to hide it from him.
Having been overwhelmed with anguish for quite some time, Bhupati was doubly hurt by Charu’s sudden, unnecessary act of cautiousness in hiding away her writing from him.
Slowly, he went up to Charu and sat beside her on the bed. The spontaneous flow of Charu’s composition was disrupted by her husband’s sudden presence. She sat by him, silent, uncomfortable.
Bhupati did not have anything to give Charu that day, nor did he have words for her. He had come to her with empty hands, seeking her love. Just one question of concern from Charu or a bit of her attention would have worked as a remedy to his bruises and pain. But the treasure-chest of Charu’s love and affection remained locked that day. The silence between them in the room grew stronger and crushed them. Bhupati waited for a while and, then, slowly left the bed and the room with a sigh.
As he approached Charu’s room hastily, Amal was rehearsed in his mind some strong words that he wanted to convey to her. He stopped to find Bhupati’s pale, gloomy face on the way. “Dada, are you feeling sick?” He asked.
Amal’s affectionate words evoked a surge of tears in Bhupati and his heart heaved with irrepressible pain. After quite a bit of self-restraint, he replied warmly: “Nothing happened to me, Amal. Is any of your writings appearing in a journal soon?”
At this, Amal forgot all the strong, bitter words he had saved for Charu. He quickly came up to her room and asked her: “Bouthan, do you know what happened to Dada?”
Charu: “I really didn’t understand, Amal. See, his opponent journal may have slandered him.”
Amal nodded his head.
Charu was comforted and content with this sudden, unforeseen arrival of Amal and his easy demeanor. She thought of it as an opportune moment to talk about her writing. “You know, today when I was writing my new essay ‘The light of the day of the new moon’, your brother was just about to see it, but I managed to hide it away from him.”
Charu was sure that Amal would pester her to show him her new composition. With that intent, she started opening the pages of her notebook. But Amal looked at her face with a fierce gaze for a few moments, and suddenly disappeared from the room. Charu found it difficult to gauge what his thoughts were. She felt like a bewildered traveler trudging the mountains, startled to discover a bottomless pit at the end of the mist, in which she was just about to step her feet. Amal left her room silently, and a astonished Charu could not fathom the significance of such an awkward gesture on his part.
[Read Ch. 1, Ch. 2, Ch. 3, Ch. 4, Ch. 5&6, Ch. 7, Ch. 8]
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.
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