By Rabindranath Tagore
Translated by: Lopa Banerjee
Bhupati called for Charu in their room quite untimely. He said to her: “Charu, we got a very good marriage proposal for Amal.”
Charu was rather unmindful at the moment. She asked: “What proposal, you said?”
Bhupati: “A marriage proposal for Amal.”
Charu: “Why? Didn’t he like ‘me’ enough?”
Bhupati laughed out loud, hearing this. He added to Charu’s benign, humorous comment: “Well, I haven’t yet asked Amal if he liked you or not. And even if he did, don’t I have a wee bit of right on you? I am not ready to leave that, you see!”
Charu: “Oh, what nonsense are you speaking? I heard you say, you got a marriage proposal for yourself.” Her face flushed with embarrassment.
Bhupati: “Oh, had it been that, would I run to you so eagerly to convey the news? There was no hope of getting any tips for that, anyway!”
Charu: “Ok, a marriage proposal for Amal? Then what is the delay for? Go for it immediately!”
Bhupati: “The rich, renowned lawyer of Bardhaman, Raghunath Babu has recently asked for Amal’s hand in marriage with her only daughter. He wants to send him to London after the wedding.”
Charu was astonished. She asked: “To London of all places?”
Bhupati replied: “Yes, to London.”
Charu seemed to be amazed. “Will Amal go to London? That is an amusing piece of news! Well, why don’t you tell him about this yourself?”
Bhupati: “I was thinking, why don’t you call him and convince him about it, before he hears it from me?”
Charu: “Me? I have told him countless times. He never listens to me. I cannot tell him about it.”
Bhupati: “What do you think, then? Won’t he agree to this?”
Charu: “You know I have told him so many times already, but could not convince him ever.”
Bhupati: “But this time, the proposal is really lucrative and it would not be wise of him to deny it. You know how much debt I incurred recently; it would not be possible for me to shelter him for long now.”
Amal was summoned to the room. When he came, Bhupati told him: “Amal, Raghunath Babu, a lawyer from Bardhaman has proposed his daughter’s marriage with you. And he also wishes to send you to London after the wedding.”
Amal said, rather nonchalantly: “If I have your permission for this, I have no objection.”
Both Charu and Bhupati were amazed to know of Amal’s reaction. It was beyond their expectation that Amal would agree to this proposal so easily and instantly.
Charu taunted Amal at his sudden display of obeisance. “Ah, well, he will agree only after obtaining his brother’s permission…What a loyal younger brother! Where was all your loyalty hiding all these days, dear?”
Amal’s face lit up in a smile, unable to provide an answer to his Bouthan (elder sister-in-law)’s easy banter.
Seeing his silence, Charu wanted to instigate him even further; and said, in a jeering, mocking tone: “Better put it this way then, you are the one craving to get married now! What was the need, then, to avert it for so long with this stupid pretense? Hunger in the belly, coyness in the face, isn’t it?”
Bhupati added fuel to this discourse. He replied: “If he did it, you should know he did it for you entirely. Lest you envy the idea of having a sister-in-law!”
Charu blushed to hear this, and started quarreling with Amal. She said: “Envy? And me? What are you saying, Amal? I never envy anyone. It is not right on your part to say things like this.”
Bhupati: “Oh, well, can’t I even indulge in joking with my own wife?”
Charu: “No, you can’t. I do not like this kind of a joke.”
Bhupati: “Ok, then, it is a grave sin to joke with you. Please forgive me for this. Anyway, what about this marriage proposal? Is it final, then?”
Amal replied in the affirmative.
Charu: “But why do you want to rush into this marriage? Don’t you even have the time to see the girl and decide whether the alliance is suitable for Amal? I did not know all this while that you were so impatient to marry.”
Bhupati: “Amal, if you want to see the girl before marrying her, I can arrange for that. I heard that she is quite beautiful.”
Amal protested: “No, Dada. I do not feel the need to see her now.”
Charu: “No, do not listen to him. How is it possible to consent to the marriage before even seeing the bride? If he doesn’t want to see her, we can see her on his behalf.”
Amal: “No, Dada. I do not really feel the need to delay this any further.”
Charu: “Oh, is it so urgent, then? A little delay will break your heart, is it? Then go and wear your wedding topor and start for the journey right now. What if somebody snatches away your priced possession from you?”
However, no amount of mockery could alter Amal’s mind now. He was determined to leave the house as soon as he got a chance.
Charu instigated him even further: “I never knew, Amal,that you were so eager to elope to a foreign land so soon. Tell me, were we treating you so badly here? Aren’t you satisfied enough with your life, unless you transform yourself into a Sahib with a coat and a hat? And would you even recognize us poor black souls after returning from London?”
Amal replied: “If this were not true, why would anyone ever go to London?”
Bhupati accompanied Amal in his easy humor. “Well, Charu, that dissociation with us black people is natural, you know. That is the whole point why people migrate there. However, don’t you worry, as long as I am there, I will be your staunch admirer!”
Content with Amal’s reply, Bhupati sent a letter to Bardhaman immediately. The date of the wedding was then fixed.
Meanwhile, Bhupati’s publication became defunct due to the lack of funds. All of a sudden, he had to give up his quest to serve the masses through his editorial pursuits, which had become his only way of life. The road that he had traversed out of habit and compulsion for all these twelve years came to a sudden, abrupt cessation. Bhupati was not at all ready to face this vacuum in his life. All his endeavors, suddenly halted, looked into his face like hungry, destitute children; he took them along with him and made them stand before his loving, caring, affectionate wife.
But what was she thinking at that moment? Her heart pined and complained: “Strange indeed! It is great news that Amal is getting married. But how couldn’t he hesitate for one moment before leaving us to marry in an unknown family? How could he forsake us to go away to London so soon? We sheltered him with so much love for such a long time, but how easily he took the opportunity to bid farewell to us, as if he was waiting for this chance! How concocted and sugar-coated were his words! It is so difficult to recognize the true color of people. Who knew that a writer of his stature had no heart at all?”
Charu tried hard to compare Amal’s cold, compassionless heart with her own and ignore him, but she failed. Deep within, an indescribable agony continued to torment her like heated spears, while she thought to herself several times: “Amal will leave one of these days, yet he didn’t come to meet me even once, so that we could talk and resolve the tension that had been brewing between both of us.” Every day, she woke up with a feeling that Amal might come to visit her, and restore their easy, pristine friendship, but Amal did not turn up. Finally, when the day of Amal’s farewell drew near, she summoned him herself.
Amal hesitated. “I will be coming after a while,” he said. Charu seated herself on a stool by the verandah, tying her open hair casually around her head. Since morning, the clouds crystallized in the sky, making the air heavy and sultry. She started blowing a hand-fan and waited.
Gradually, as time passed and Amal did not turn up, she stopped blowing the hand-fan. An irrepressible anger, agony and impatience started to tear her up, as she said to herself: “It doesn’t matter if he doesn’t turn up.” However, her mind raced to the door as soon as she heard any human footsteps.
The clock at the far-away church struck noontime. Bhupati would come up now to have his lunch. But there was still half-an-hour left; if Amal still came, she promised she would stop the cold, silent war that they were waging with each other. How could she bid him farewell like this? Amal was estranging her, trampling over the unblemished, eternal relation between the two same-aged souls, the togetherness, the quarrels, the outbursts of affection, the endearing vine of their pleasurable moments of discussions and sweet nothings, and its soothing shadow, which delighted her, enriched her. Wouldn’t he repent one bit for it? Wouldn’t he shed a single tear to honor this priceless relationship?
Almost half-an-hour almost passed. She untied her tresses, entangling and disentangling a bunch of her hair in her fingers, while she tried hard to resist her tears.
Meanwhile, her servant came up to her and said: “Ma Thakrun (Madam), we need to get some coconut water for Babu.”
Unable to resist her emotions, Charu untied the key-strings from the end of her sari and threw away the kitchen key in front of his feet. Puzzled at her sudden outburst, the servant picked up the key and went away.
A silent anguish pushed its way from Charu’s heart all the way to her throat.
Bhupati came in for lunch, as usual. While Charu entered the room with her hand-fan to serve food to her husband, she noticed Amal in the room, seated with Bhupati. Charu avoided looking at his face.
Amal asked her: “Bouthan (sister-in-law), did you send for me?”
Charu replied: “No, let it be. It’s of no use now.”
Amal: “Then I beg your leave. I have a lot of packing left to do.”
Charu looked into his eyes with an ironic glance. “Go,” she said.
He looked into her eyes for once, and went away.
Bhupati usually stayed with Charu for a while after completing his lunch. But today he was extremely occupied with settling his accounts and transactions. He said to Charu: “I can’t sit and rest with you for long today, Charu, I am tied up with a lot of things, you see.”
Charu said: “Yes, go then.”
Bhupati thought that Charu was offended by his sudden permission of leave. He said: “But this does not mean that I will leave you at once; I can still rest for a while here.” But he still saw the anguished expression on Charu’s face, which made him all the more repentant. He sat with her for a while, but could not speak much. Finally, after much endeavor, he managed to say: “Amal is going away tomorrow; you will feel lonely for quite some time now.”
Charu suddenly went away to another room to fetch something, and didn’t answer her husband. Bhupati waited for her for a while, and then went away.
While she looked into Amal’s face, Charu had noticed his thin, frail form today. The youthful charm and vigor of his appearance had withered away, and she felt an unexplained sting in her heart to see that. She had no doubt that he was plagued by his forthcoming farewell, but then, why did he behave so strangely with her? Why did he evade Charu like this, causing her so much pain while leaving her?
While these thoughts occupied her mind, she was startled to suddenly think about Mandakini in this context. What if Amal loved Manda, and his reactions were a result of Manda leaving the house? “No,” she thought, “was it possible for Amal to have such a tainted soul, easily lured by a married woman? This cannot be!” She wanted to get rid of her suspicion with all her might, but it crawled up to her like a crafty snake, and bit her with all its venom.
Meanwhile, the day of Amal’s farewell arrived. The clouds of their estrangement still hovered around Charu’s mind. Amal came up to her, and said with a trembled voice: “Bouthan, it is time for me to go now. Do look after Dada well; he is going through a crisis, and you are his only solace.”
For some time, Amal had been noticing the depressed look on Bhupati’s face and had come to know about his predicament upon enquiring from others. He was shocked to discover how Bhupati had been struggling with his misfortune silently without seeking help from a single soul he knew, yet was resolute not to let his relatives, the ones he sheltered, nurtured, be affected by his own crisis. He thought for a while about Charu, and his own life, and swore to himself: “To hell with the Autumnal Moon and The Light of the Day of the New Moon. I will call myself a man only when I become a barrister and can help Dada financially.”
The last night prior to Amal’s farewell, Charu had been awake for a long time, thinking about her parting words to him; she had smiled and been sad, lighting up and sharpening the words several times which she had carefully stored for him. But she remained silent for the entire time during his farewell. She could only say: “Would you write letters to me, Amal, now that you would be gone?”
Amal stooped his head to the ground in a gesture of pranaam. While he left, Charu ran away to her bedroom and bolted the door tight.
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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