By Rabindranath Tagore
Translated by: Lopa Banerjee
Bhupati had gone to Bardhaman to arrange for Amal’s marriage. After the ceremony was over, Amal went away to England, and Bhupati came back home. His good-natured spirit that trusted everyone had been bruised by the happenings, and he gradually became indifferent to the world outside. The earlier political assemblies and associations held no interest for him anymore. He thought he had deceived himself all these days with such useless pursuits. He felt he had thrown away the best assets of his life in a dump yard, as the pleasant days of his life slipped away, unnoticed.
After Amal’s marriage, he thought to himself: “At least, this task of mine is completed smoothly. It is such a relief.” He left his earlier associations and came home to Charu, like a bird returning to its nest at the onset of dusk. He thought to himself, rather determinedly: “No more of roaming anywhere; this is the place for me to settle down now. The paper boat which I played with is drowned; there is no place for me other than home.”
Perhaps, Bhupati had nurtured this preconceived notion that he would not have to lay any special claim to his wife; she was the starry presence who kindled her own light, the light which was inextinguishable by external forces. When there was a tumult in his outer world, he did not, for once, think about examining the fissures in his own home.
He returned home from Bardhaman in the evening and had his dinner promptly. He assumed that Charu would be extremely eager to know the details of Amal’s wedding and his subsequent journey to England. So he went to their bedroom without any delay and seated himself on the bed. Charu was absent; perhaps, she was busy with her daily chores. While consuming tobacco, he felt fatigued and sleepy. He was startled in the midst of his intermittent trance-like state and kept thinking why Charu still did not come to the room. Finally, he called after her and asked: “Charu, why are you so late today?”
Charu answered, nonchalantly: “Yes, I came a bit late today.”
He waited to listen to her eager questions, but she did not ask any question at all, which dismayed him. “Doesn’t she care for Amal, then?” he thought. “As long as he was there in the house, Charu frolicked and entertained herself with his presence. And as soon as he was gone from the house, she became indifferent about him?” he questioned himself. Such curious behavior from Charu seemed dubious to him. Is it true, then, that Charu only knows how to be entertained, and is not capable of loving anyone? Such indifference from a woman is not at all a good sign, he thought.
When Amal was in the house, their frivolous pleasures, their easy friendship and gaiety uplifted Bhupati’s spirit. The childish sweet nothings between the two of them, their temporary scuffles and making up, the funny games they played and the conspiracies they shared conveyed a sense of pleasant humor to him. While he had noticed Charu caring for Amal and pampering him, he was glad to be introduced to her tender, affectionate heart. Today, he was amazed to see Charu’s changed stance and wondered if all this was superficial. Wasn’t there a source for all such affectionate displays in her heart, then? He also thought: “If Charu really has no heart, where will I find shelter, then?”
In order to examine her feelings for the moment, Bhupati started a conversation with her.
“Charu, were you well all these days? Is your health okay?” he asked her.
Charu answered briefly: “I am well.”
Bhupati: “You know Amal’s wedding went well.”
He remained silent after this, while Charu tried hard to say something relevant in this context. However, words failed, and she stood, stiff, statuesque.
It was not Bhupati’s nature to observe things in the house minutely, but since Amal’s farewell had affected him deeply, he was pained by Charu’s unusual indifference. He wished to discuss about Amal with Charu as he had assumed that she, too, was deeply pained by his absence. And he wanted to unburden the agony of his heart in the process.
In the bed, he again told Charu: “The bride is quite pretty…Charu, are you sleeping?”
Charu replied: “No, I am not.”
Bhupati: “Poor Amal went away to England alone. You know, when I went to see him off before his departure, he cried like a child. My heart melted to see his emotions, and tears welled up in my eyes, too. There were two other Sahibs in the car; they were quite amused to see two grown up men crying.”
In the pitch dark of the room, Charu turned to the other side of the bed, and then, after a while, suddenly left the bed and went away from the room. Startled, Bhupati asked her: “Charu, are you feeling sick?”
When Charu didn’t answer, he raised his body from the bed. He heard a feeble sound of weeping and went to the verandah adjacent to the bedroom. Charu lay on the ground, prostrate, trying to stifle her tears. He was astonished to see Charu’s intense emotional outburst and wondered if he had misjudged her. “She is such an introvert; she does not want to express her pains to me,” he thought. He knew the intense love and the agony that bruised her heart. Her love might not be expressive and apparent like ordinary women, as Bhupati had never seen the ecstasy and exhilaration of love in her. Today, he realized the emotion of love had bloomed and spread in her innermost being. As Bhupati himself was unable to express his emotions, he knew Charu’s intense emotions cocooned in the crevices of her heart. He felt a sense of contentment.
Bhupati sat beside Charu on the ground and touched her softly, without saying a word. He did not know how to give her solace. He did not understand that when she attempted to smother her pain, she did not like the presence of a spectator in the ordeal.
Bhupati had retired from the duties of his publication and had also painted an image of his future in his own mind. He had promised to himself not to hope or strive for impossible and unattainable goals, and decided to stay within a closely-knit world comprising of Charu, his studies, and the little domestic responsibilities of their lives together. He had thought of rekindling his abode and his life with the easily available, humble and beautiful homely pleasures, which would establish peace and serenity around him. He thought of their lives together henceforth, woven with smiles, chatting and light-hearted banter, the easy everyday arrangements of entertaining each other, which was not difficult to achieve, yet which would result in happiness galore.
But, gradually, he realized that the small pleasures of life, too, were difficult to attain. Though it was not an object bought with a price, it was not within easy reach and he did not know the way to find it himself.
Bhupati was frustrated as his relationship with Charu could not be revived, and he blamed himself for it entirely. He was sure that in all these twelve years, while he was busy with his newspaper, he has had lost the practice of talking intimately with his own wife. He went to their room every evening without failure and spoke a few words to her, to which she would reply curtly, but the conversation did not proceed beyond that. He started to feel ashamed at his incapacity to forge intimacy with his wife. He had thought this was an easy task, but he himself felt stupid enough not being able to accomplish it. It was easier for him to give talks in assemblies.
One evening, he had envisioned he would have a memorable time with Charu and fill the evening with smiles, humor, romance and his affectionate touch. But it seemed difficult for him to spend that evening. After a period of voluntary silence, he thought of leaving the room, but he was reluctant as he thought of Charu’s reaction.
“Do you want to play cards, Charu?” he asked her. Unable to find any other alternative, Charu agreed to it. She brought along the cards quite unwillingly, and after playing for some time, lost easily and voluntarily. There was no enjoyment, no contentment in the game at all.
One day, after some conscious deliberation, Bhupati asked her: “Charu, I was thinking about bringing along Manda to our place again. You seem to be so lonely here.”
Charu was annoyed at the mention of Manda’s name. She snapped at him: “No, I don’t need Manda at all.”
Bhupati was pleased to see Charu’s aversion towards Manda. “She is a pure, chaste woman, after all; so she cannot keep her patience when she sees an aberration to chastity in the house,” Bhupati thought to himself.
But as her initial wrath and annoyance waned, she thought it might be a good idea to bring back Manda. Perhaps she would be able to keep Bhupati in good humor. She knew Bhupati was looking for emotional contentment through her, and she felt agonized in her inability to give it to him. She knew he had left every other place in the world and depended only on her to derive the pleasures of his life; she feared to see his eager dedication for her because she was unable to respond to it. She wanted this to end soon. Why didn’t her husband divert his attention towards any other pursuit, like another new publication, maybe? She thought. During all these years they had been together, Charu did not have to think about entertaining him. Bhupati, on his part, had never demanded any attention from her, never asked for happiness from her; he had never groomed Charu to cater to his own needs either. Recently, his sudden demands from Charu bewildered her, puzzled her. She did not know what he wanted, what gave him peace and contentment, and even if she knew, it was not easy for her to provide them.
If Bhupati would have approached her slowly, it would not be so difficult for Charu to respond to him. However, it was his sudden, unpredictable act of begging for love and affection that embarrassed her.
She replied again: “Okay, bring along Manda; if she is here, she can look after you well.”
Bhupati smiled at this: “Looking after me? That is not needed.”
He felt anguished, torn inside. “I am such a worthless man; I cannot make Charu happy in any way,” he thought.
Then, he diverted his attention towards literature. When his friends came to meet him in the house, they were astonished to see him reading the poetry of Tennyson, Byron, and also the fiction of the Bengali author, Bankim Chandra. They started to mock him, make fun of his sudden love towards poetry and literature. He replied: “Well, you know, even a dry bamboo can bear flowers, but nobody knows when the right time is.”
One evening, when they were together in their room, Bhupati lit the large lamps in the room and said to Charu with some hesitation: “Will I read to you something, Charu?”
Charu replied: “Yes, sure.”
Bhupati: “But what shall I read?”
Charu: “Whatever you wish to.”
Bhupati was a bit sad to see a look of disinterestedness in Charu; still he continued: “Will I translate a few lines of a poem by Tennyson and read them to you?”
Charu replied: “Yes, read it.”
But the reading session did not continue smoothly, due to his hesitation and lack of enthusiasm. He groped for proper Bengali words for a while. Then, looking into Charu’s blank eyes, he soon understood that she was not concentrating at all. Loneliness resounded in the little room lit with lamps where they sat together.
After a couple more futile episodes, Bhupati abandoned the idea of sharing his literary interests with his wife altogether.
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. She tweets at: @rooafza
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 ‘Disability: Art and Culture’, edited by Shilpaa Anand, MANUU, Hyderabad & Nandini Ghosh, IDS Kolkata.