By Rabindranath Tagore
Translated by: Lopa Banerjee
Charu had always been aware of the dates when Amal’s letters from England arrived. First, he sent a letter from Eden in Bhupati’s name, where he conveyed his pranaam and regards to his Bouthan (sister-in-law). Bhupati received another letter from Amal sent from Suez; Charu received his pranaam in that letter too. Another one of his letters came from Malta, where he conveyed his formal regards to his Bouthan in a post-script.
However, Charu did not receive a single letter or personal note from Amal addressed to her. She browsed through the letters he had addressed to Bhupati time and again, and was shocked to discover there was not even the slightest hint about her in those letters, apart from conveying the formal regards.
For the last few months, Charu had taken refuge in the quiet, somber, melancholic moonlight of her memories of Amal. Amal’s silent indifference towards her shattered that furtive world of melancholy she had built within her. She felt her heart torn, shredded to bits as her life of relentless domestic duties was shaken by sudden, deep tremors.
Sometimes, late at night, Bhupati would wake up from sleep to see Charu disappear from her bed. He would search for her all around, and find her seated at the window of the south-facing room. When she would notice Bhupati coming near, she would quickly stand up and say: “It was so hot inside the room, so I thought of having some fresh air.”
Anxious to hear about Charu’s discomfort, Bhupati would try to fix the fan at their bedside. He would be tense and apprehensive at the thought of Charu’s deteriorating health, while she would smile at him and say: “But I am doing well. Why do you worry about me when there is no reason to?” As for Bhupati, he made a meticulous effort to see this precious smile of his wife.
When Amal had embarked on his journey to England, Charu thought he did not get enough chance to write to her while en route. She was sure he would write long letters to her once he would reach there. But such long letters never arrived.
On the days the air mail reached their house, she would remain restless, impatient amidst all her daily chores and conversations. However, she did not dare ask Bhupati about it, lest she would have to hear the bitter truth that there was no letter addressed to her.
Meanwhile, one day when a letter from Amal was expected to arrive, Bhupati came up to Charu slowly and his face lit up with a smile. “I have something for you. Do you want to see it?” He asked her.
Charu, startled by his gesture, said: “Yes, please show it to me.”
In an attempt to have some fun with her, Bhupati teased her. This made Charu even more restless, as she tried to snatch her most cherished object hidden under the wraps of her husband’s shawl. She thought to herself: “I knew it…I knew since today morning that my letter would arrive today – all this waiting cannot go in vain.”
Bhupati’s jestful spirit implored him to have more fun with Charu. He continued teasing her, as he started to move around the bed. Charu sat on the bed, annoyed and her eyes welled up.
He was elated to notice such eagerness in Charu as a way of unfolding her treasure. Finally, he pulled out his notebook from his shawl and placed it on her lap, as he added, with a tinge of affection: “Do not be angry, Charu. Read it.”
Amal had let Bhupati know that he was under tremendous pressure due to his studies, and that he would not be able to send letters to them for quite some time. In spite of that, Charu was immensely distressed when his air mails did not arrive for some time.
In the evening, when Bhupati came to her, she started chatting with him in a casual tone, and after some time, asked him nonchalantly: “Listen, do you think we can send a telegraph to Amal in England asking about his health?”
Bhupati replied: “I don’t think it would be necessary. He had sent a letter two weeks back. He wrote to me that he is very busy with his studies now.”
Charu: “Ah, well, then it is of no use. I was just thinking if something untoward has happened to him suddenly, if he has fallen sick. After all, such things can happen to one visiting a foreign land for the first time.”
Bhupati negated Charu’s thoughts. “I don’t think so. If he had fallen sick, we would have been informed by now. Also, do you know how expensive it is to send a telegraph to England?”
Charu: “Is that so expensive, really? I thought it would just take one or two rupees.”
Bhupati: “What are you talking about? It would take almost hundred rupees to send a telegraph there.”
Charu: “Then forget about it.”
A couple of days after this conversation, Charu sent for Bhupati and said to him: “One of my sisters lives in Chinsurah now; can you go to her today and see how she has been doing?”
Bhupati was surprised at this sudden request. “Why? Has she fallen sick?”
Charu replied: “No, she is doing well, but you know how happy they would be to see you.”
At his wife’s request, Bhupati took his carriage and headed to Howrah station. However, when he was on his way, a bullock-cart stopped in front of his carriage.
Just then, a familiar postman noticed Bhupati inside the carriage and handed him a telegram sent from England. Bhupati was tense and perplexed the moment he saw the telegram in his hands. Had Amal been sick all of a sudden? He opened the telegram with much trepidation, and read its contents: “I am doing well.”
“But why? What was the meaning of this message, after all?” He wondered, and scrutinized it some more, only to discover that it was the reply to a pre-paid telegram.”
He canceled his visit to Howrah that very moment. Instead, he returned home and handed over the telegram to Charu. Her face turned pale the moment she saw the telegram in Bhupati’s hands.
Bhupati was shocked and astonished to see the turn of events. “I do not understand the meaning of all this,” he said, and enquired about it. Soon, he discovered that Charu had pawned her own jewelry to borrow the money required to send the telegram.
This hurt him immensely. “Was there any need for Charu to do all this? If she had requested me, I myself would have sent the telegraph. Why did she have to send for the servant secretly to pawn her jewels in the market?” He asked himself.
Bhupati pondered over these questions time and again, and wondered about Charu’s motive behind such an act. A tinge of suspicion clouded the nooks and corners of his mind. He dared not look into it directly, and tried to forget it with all his might, but it kept stinging him, paining him till he could no longer control it.
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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