By Nishi Pulugurtha
It was a beautiful summer day. As she walked with her friends, in that small town, tracing its history and heritage, for a while she was lost in all that she had read about the place and its history. As she entered the cemetery dating back to the 18th century, every grave seemed to tell a story of times past. All of them, young teachers whose major was history, had been planning on this trip for quite some time. They had hoped to bring their students out to the place to know more about the history of the place but had decided against it. They wanted to check out for themselves. Moreover, examinations were just around the corner and it would not be a good time to take students out at this time. They sat down at one big grave, trying to savour the atmosphere of the place. It was not eerie at all; rather, the quietude of the place was calming. The five of them sat quietly for a while. At one corner was a huge tree, its branches all bare, it was dead. However, huge green leaves wrapped around it gave it a strange look. Life in death, she thought. The bright green leaves holding the branches of the dead tree in a fierce embrace, unwilling to let go. At another corner, the red shimul flowers stood out from a corner. And right beside it, another dead tree, its branches brown and bare.
Parama was a fun loving, enthusiastic young girl. She was junior to me by a few years. When she joined the department a few years ago, she brought a vigour and zest to it. Always brimming with ideas, enthusiastically roping the kids in, planning projects, all the while working hard at making the subject and its details a little more interesting – Parama loved her job. One could understand that clearly. When she smiled, and she smiled a lot, her friends and acquaintances said she could light up any dreary day. It was not till we became great friends that I started to feel a sense that something might be wrong somewhere in her life. Not one to complain or crib, Parama always had a fun way of doing things. She always said, “There is a positive way of looking at things and no matter how difficult things could be, there is a small star twinkling somewhere.” The positive had to be sought out she said, “I always do it, it helps, you know.” “It is not as if it removes all the wrong and the negative, but at least it makes things far less worse than they actually are, Krishna,” she had told me one day.
That day, I felt clearly something amiss in her life. I could not ask her, but sitting in the staffroom with the cup of tea in front of her, I could feel it. We left for home as usual, I needed to pick up a few things and Parama came along. Mili joined us too, she usually did. Boisterous and great fun, Mili was the head of the history department. A very good teacher and a favourite with students, Mili was a great friend and always a pleasure to be with. If you had a problem, a query, a doubt, something for which you needed help, advice, suggestions, it was to Mili that we all turned. Mili, Parama and I did that trip one spring day. It was Mili who had pointed out to me that day in the staff room that Parama was clearly disturbed.
We hit the mall and after I picked up stuff I needed we stopped for a cup of coffee. This was something we did often. It gave us time to catch up on various things – work, movies, what we had been reading and the like. As the conversation continued, Parama suddenly said that something that happened a few days ago hurt her a lot. “What is it,” I asked. “Is it something at work? Did someone say something?” Mili asked. She shook her head. We waited for her to speak. It was obvious that whatever it was had caused her a lot of pain.
“The other day, when I was at the Mall picking up a few things for home,” she said, “I called up Ashim.” “I wanted to find out if he was on the way home from work. He could then pick me up from the Mall.” Ashim, her husband, was a banker, his office was not very far from the Mall. Parama had married him about eleven months ago. The marriage had been a small affair. Not many were invited. Ashim did not like meeting people and till date I never met him. I had been to her place, but Ashim was never at home when I visited. I had invited them over for dinner a couple of times, but Ashim never came along. Parama would say he had work and could not make it. I never thought much about it. Mili had spoken about it once; it struck her as a bit strange. I felt the same too. But, then we let it be.
“Ashim said he would pick me up from work on the way home,” Parama continued. “My hands were full and getting a cab would be difficult at that hour. Moreover, Ashim would not have to take much of a detour.” She paused for a while, stirring her coffee gently. Mili looked at me, both of us were completely quiet not knowing what to expect. “When he came near the Mall, he gave me a call. I walked out of the Mall and saw his car parked a little in front. There was a gentleman sitting in the front. I climbed into the rear seat, putting all my bags on the seat too.”
“The engine revved up and the car began to move. I was waiting to be introduced to the gentleman. Nothing of the sort happened. Ashim and he kept talking. It was as if I was not there.” We kept looking at her, her eyes welled up with tears and we could feel her fighting them back. “They were speaking about travel and other things, it was not the usual office banter,” she went on. “Almost close to home, the man alighted from the car with no leave taking of me; he did not even acknowledge my presence. Ashim asked me if I would like to move up to the front seat, I shook my head without even looking in his direction. There was silence for a fraction of a second before the engine revved up. The trees, people, signboards all whizzed by in a blur.”
We sat quiet for a while not knowing how to console her. She kept avoiding our eyes. The pain, the hurt, all had come back as she recounted the events to us. At times, she seemed to search for the right word. “I had to tell this to someone, it was weighing heavy on my heart. I did not want to trouble you both, but I could not keep it to myself.” Mili was the first to react. “We can understand the pain and humiliation that you must have felt that day, Parama. You can always talk to us, that is the least we can do for you.” Tears flowed down her cheeks as she looked at us.
As I sat in the cab on the way home, my thoughts invariably turned to Parama and what she had told us over coffee. It was all so very disturbing. Such a lovely, friendly, amiable person and so much of pain and hurt that she had to go through. Her smiles and cheerful demeanour had been so deceptive. Difficult though it may be, I knew she would let no one take it away from her.
Dr. Nishi Pulugurtha is Associate Professor in the department of English, Brahmananda Keshab Chandra College and has taught postgraduate courses at West Bengal State University and Rabindra Bharati University. Her research areas are British Romantic literature, Postcolonial literature, Indian writing in English, literature of the diaspora, film and Shakespeare adaptation in film. She is a creative writer and writes on travel, Alzheimer’s Disease, film, short stories and poetry. Her work has been published in The Statesman, Kolkata, in the anthology Tranquil Muse and online – Café Dissensus, Coldnoon, Queen Mob’s Tea House and Setu. She has a monograph on Derozio (2010) and a collection of essays on travel, Out in the Open (2019).
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