By Rabindranath Tagore
Translated by: Lopa Banerjee
After a massive injury, the nerves are so numbed that the feeling of pain does not seep into the being at once. At the beginning of their estrangement, Charu could not feel the intensity of the pain arising out of Amal’s absence. But gradually, as the days passed, Charu’s domestic life seemed more and more hollow with the void that Amal’s absence had created. The revelation of this hollowness stupefied Charu. She felt uprooted from a bountiful orchard, stranded in a desert, forlorn, lost. The expanse of the desert extended every passing day. The existence of this desert, this excruciatingly painful barrenness, was unknown to Charu all this while.
In the mornings, when she woke up, her heart skipped a beat as she remembered that Amal was nowhere around her. During the day, when she would sit in the verandah to dress betel leaves, she would remember at every instant that he would not trail behind her. Sometimes, unmindfully, she would dress an abundance of betel leaves, and then suddenly remember there was nobody to have so many of them. When she entered the kitchen, it would suddenly strike her that she would not have to make breakfast for Amal. As she loitered alone inside her quarters, her restless mind reminded her that Amal would not return to her from college. Her expectations to relish the pleasures of a new book, a new writing, new exciting news or other sources of amusement diminished; there was nobody she would have to sew for, to write for, nobody for whom she could buy any precious gift.
Charu was astonished to see she was writhing in pain and was restless; the endless pangs that tormented her heart scared her. She kept questioning herself, “Why so much of pain? Has Amal been so indispensable to my life that I am tortured thus by his absence? What has come over me after so many days? All the people I see around, the servants, the street workers seem so content, unperturbed while returning from their day’s work, and look at me! Oh Lord, why did you put me in such grave danger?”
She kept questioning herself thus, and was surprised to discover that there was no remedy for her agony. Amal’s memories had surrounded her being overpoweringly and there was no way she could escape them. Her husband Bhupati was of no help either; instead of protecting her from the tormenting rush of Amal’s memories, the affectionate man kept reminding her of Amal every day.
Finally, after an ongoing battle of turmoil in her own self, Charu gave up altogether. She admitted defeat without further opposition and started nurturing Amal’s memories in her heart with utmost love and care.
She would take pride in meditating on his memories – a silently nurtured pursuit that became the most glorious aspect of her life.
She had fixed a certain time for this meditative pursuit, taking a break from her daily domestic chores. At that cherished moment, inside her silent, bolted room, she ruminated on each incident of her life with Amal; she would call his name repeatedly, as she flung herself on the pillow, pressing her mouth on it. She could hear his voice, responding to her call, reverberating across the oceans. At this, she would close her tearful eyes and utter: “Amal, why did you leave me? What was my fault? Why didn’t you even bid adieu to me properly? If you had, it wouldn’t have pained me thus.” She uttered with an intense emotional fervor, as if Amal was right in front of her: “Amal, I have never forgotten you, not even for a day, not even for a single moment. The finer aspects of my being have blossomed only for you. I will devote my life to revere your presence within me every day.”
Thus, Charu built a clandestine tunnel inside the deep, dark trenches hidden beneath her everyday world of domestic chores and responsibilities. In the pitch-dark of that soundless, uninhabited world, she had constructed her own sacred temple of tears and agony. Nobody in the world, not even her husband, had the right to enter that world. It was the most secret, the deepest and the dearest place in Charu’s heart. She entered through its doors, getting rid of the mask she wore in her domestic life, laying bare her true, unblemished soul. When she came out of it, she wore that mask yet again, setting foot on the daily world of mirth and mundane engagements.
Charu had abandoned the world of conflicts taking place in her own mind, as she took shelter in the huge kingdom of her grief. It gave her some solace and also made her more devoted and caring towards the needs of her husband. When Bhupati slept in their room, she knelt down before his feet in surrender. She was flawless in her domestic duties, in caring for people in the household, and never failed to respect her husband’s wishes. She knew Bhupati would be saddened to see his kith and kin sheltered in his house uncared for; so she became the perfect hostess for them. Thus, her days ended with fulfilling all these domestic duties, and consuming the leftovers of her husband.
Bhupati’s youth seemed to be rejuvenated with this outpouring of love and care. After all these years, it seemed that he was remarried to his wife. With a newfound ecstatic exuberance, he bloomed, keeping aside his mundane anxieties. He felt as if he was overpowered by a sudden surge of hunger, a conscious, intense desire to consume the pleasures of life after being stricken by an ailment. He started his secret reading of poetry, unknown to his friends, unknown to Charu, and said to himself: “At long last, I have been able to discover my own wife, even if it is at the cost of losing my newspaper and being ravaged emotionally.”
One day, Bhupati asked Charu: “Why have you stopped writing, Charu?”
Charu replied: “My writing? That’s so immaterial anyway.”
Bhupati: “But I tell you the truth, Charu; I have never read such flawless Bengali in the writings of any other contemporary author. I must say, I agree with what ‘Biswabandhu’ journal had written about your style.
Charu: “Ah, please stop.”
Bhupati came out with an issue of the ‘Shararuha’ (Lotus) journal, and started comparing the linguistic styles of Charu and Amal. Charu’s face flushed with embarrassment. She snatched away the journal from her husband and covered it with her sari.
Bhupati thought to himself: “It is difficult for one to sustain writing without the company of a fellow writer.” He was determined to practice the pursuit himself, so that he could revive her interest in writing.
He started writing secretly in a new notebook. He took much pain to follow the dictionary, erasing and copying multiple times to attain perfection. It was an act of much effort and struggle, and gradually he developed a feeling of trust and affinity with his own writing.
Finally, when he was satisfied with the content of his writing, he made a friend copy it and then gave it to Charu for her perusal. He came up to her and said: “Charu, a friend of mine just started writing. Since you know how much I fail to understand literature, I thought of checking it with you. Do read it and see how you like it.”
He went away, nonchalantly, after he handed it over to her. Charu, however, saw through his deceptive words.
She read the writing, and laughed to herself at its content and craft. Alas! She thought. While she was dedicated to revere him, worship him with all her might, this childish squandering of Bhupati hurt her acutely. Why this meticulous effort to earn accolades from her? It would have been much easier for her to worship him, adore him if Bhupati would stay the way he was, if he did not try to overtly attract her attention. In her heart, she ardently wished Bhupati would never consider he was inferior to her, in any way.
She closed the notebook, and reclined on the pillow, her eyes wandering far across the window. Her thoughts went to the time when Amal would bring over his new writings for her review.
In the evening, Bhupati stood at the verandah adjacent to their bedroom, and started examining the flower pots with deep intent. He was brimming with curiosity to know what Charu felt about his writing, though he did not have the courage to ask her about it.
Charu initiated the conversation. “Is this the first literary piece of your friend?”
Bhupati replied: “Yes, it is.”
Charu said: “It is fantastic. It doesn’t look like his first attempt at writing.”
Bhuapti was ecstatic to hear such effusive praise from Charu and started thinking of ways to establish the writing as his own. He didn’t like its anonymous status any more.
After this, his notebook was soon filled with more of his writings. Most importantly, he soon revealed that they were his own creations.
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
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