Thursday, September 26, 2013

Providence


Ashim had always believed that a divine intelligence existed and that the entire universe was proof of the manifestation of its will.
He called this super consciousness, God.
So, when the doctor announced that he and Shudipa could not have children, he was unperturbed.
If that was God’s will, how could he say otherwise?

They drove home in silence. On entering their apartment, Ashim noticed as he switched on the lights, that Shudipa walked straight to the kitchen. Normally she would wash her feet before doing anything. Strange, he thought.

Before he could realize, Shudipa opened the refrigerator and emptied an entire bottle of chilled water over her head. “Shudipa!” Ashim rushed to hold her in his arms.
“Of all people, why us, Ashim, why me?” she wailed.

Ashim forced her to look into his eyes.
“Listen to me. You have to believe me when I say this. It is not your fault.”
“Then why me? Ashim, tell me one good reason why me?”
He hugged her tightly while she whimpered into uncontrollable sobs.

“So why doesn’t everybody get what they want? Why is there so much misery all around?” Shudipa had asked Ashim one day, a few months into their marriage. His unflinching faith in the divinity intrigued her.
She lay with her head on Ashim’s stomach, while he read the newspaper on that lazy Sunday afternoon.
To someone near the ceiling fan they would look like a T.
Ashim had laughed at her innocent question.
He had gone on and explained an excerpt from the scriptures.
Shudipa’s bewildered eyes had betrayed disbelief.
“You won’t understand”, Ashim had mocked and pulled her into his arms.

Today Ashim didn’t have an answer to her question.
The sight of his beloved, young wife lying spent on the floor from crying pained him immensely.
For the first time in his life Ashim wanted to question the Benevolent One. Out of the million children being born in this world every day, why couldn’t he arrange one to play in her arms? Suddenly he felt tired as if he had returned from a battle, lost. He began to weep profusely for his wife.
That night they remained on the kitchen floor, she, with her head on his lap, and he gently stroking it.

Next morning Ashim woke up to find Shudipa sitting at the window sill and staring outside. She had a blank look in her eyes. Though surprised and seriously worried, Ashim decided to give Shudipa time to heal, naturally. Everybody had the right to be silent after all.
He cooked lunch while talking to Shudipa like he normally did, when he cooked. Only Shudipa didn’t respond.
After he was done, he fed spoonfuls of cereal to her, not even a hint of the previous night’s events crossing his words. He left for office after placing lunch, covered with upturned plates, on the dining table. I have to be normal, he repeated to himself. When he returned in the evening both the lunch and Shudipa had not changed their places.

Shudipa was too disturbed to speak for the next two days. She refused to eat or to sleep or to move out of the room that she had, they had, planned would be their baby’s. Grief made her look like her own ghost.

On the third day, Ashim could not bear it anymore. He clasped her hands and wept on her lap.
“Please become normal, Shudipa. I can’t see you this way.”
“Am I of no importance to you?” he reasoned adamantly, when Shudipa refused to look at him.
“Please Shudipa, Come back to me.”

Shudipa was seventeen and a decade younger than Ashim when he married her. She had completed her twelfth year in school.
“What a huge room!” she had remarked on entering their room for the first time.
“You like it?” Ashim had asked. She had instantly nodded her head while surveying the entire room with enlarged eyes.
“Will you sing a song for me?” Ashim had gently coaxed.
“The neighbors are sleeping” Shudipa had replied abashed.
He had played with her earrings while she sat huddled on their bed in that cold November night.
“Won’t you say something?” Ashim had tried to break the ice.
“I want to go to college”, she had given voice to her earnest wish. “So it shall be.”
Ashim had lovingly replied. The ice had soon melted.

Ages had passed since that day. Or so it seemed to Shudipa.
A tear silently rolled down her cheeks as Shudipa gently ran her hand through his hair.

“I am going to teach”, Shudipa announced at breakfast, one morning. Ashim looked up from the newspaper, at her sad face. He remembered the day when he had first set his eyes on her.

Ashim was visiting his aunt in the village, when a bhajan, tugged at his heartstrings. Never in his entire lifetime of twenty-seven years had he heard such a melodious voice, almost divine in nature. He had followed its strains and reached the riverside. And there he had first set his eyes on Shudipa.
She played with the running water as if aware that Krishna was playing with her too.
Her love for the dark lord flowed unrestrained as she sang with complete abandon unaware of everything else.
The river, trees and the birds seemed enchanted and the universe had come to a standstill. Ashim too was in a trance. The song ended, and there were tears in his eyes. He knew what he had to do next.

“Well, that is a great idea.” Ashim responded carefully. Shudipa had been touchy, off late.
“Have you applied anywhere?” he continued gently.
“Not yet. I am going to check if the pre-school in our neighborhood has any vacancies”.

Shudipa joined the pre-school within a few days. Ashim thought that their lives were coming back to normal finally. He was to know otherwise.

One evening, Ashim and she were having their tea.
“I can’t do this, Ashim”, Shudipa shivered between sobs, suddenly.
“It’s too painful….The mothers, they all come and drop their children and pick them up and hug them…” She simpered. “I can’t...just stand there and watch everything and not think…”

Ashim gathered her into her arms. “Shhhh... It’s alright” He should have seen this coming. He should have never allowed her to join the nursery.

Tears had all dried up in Shudipa’s eyes. All that remained was emptiness. Like drought.

Shudipa was fiddling with her mobile, one morning.
Menu. Click. Messages. Click. Create Message. Click. Sad Smiley. Happy Smiley. Sad Smiley.
A few button clicks was all it took. How ironic, she thought and laughed sarcastically at her fate.


The bell rang. It was Padma, their maid servant. Like Shudipa’s, her eyes too were red and swollen, perhaps from a night of crying. Her daughter, Kamala, stood expressionless beside her.

“Didi, Kamala will take my place from today.”
Kamala was fourteenish and Shudipa’s eyes put forward the looming question. Why?
“Her father home brought a new wife. We don’t have a place there anymore.”
She added slowly, “She gave him a son.”

Shudipa looked above and closed her eyes, trying to absorb what she heard, trying to stop the tears that were welling up in her eyes. They stood that way for an eternity, she leaning against the half opened door, Padma and her daughter standing outside, trying to understand the one common thing that they shared – grief.
“So be it”, sighed Shudipa after some time. She suddenly felt sad for the uniform, the bag and the books that would never be used from that day.

“So why doesn’t everybody get what they want?” Shudipa had once asked Ashim.
“Doesn’t your God want us to be happy?” Ashim had laughed at her question.
“The sorrows and joys that man faces are the fruits of his karma in several previous births. His reactions to these create more karma which will be dispensed off in his subsequent births” he had explained lovingly.

Somehow it just didn’t make sense. It never did.

2.

“Ma, are we going to Chotka’s house when my summer holidays begin?” Tito asked his mother.
“We might. Let’s see”, replied his mother, while tying his shoelaces. Tito was seven years old.

Last night, Tito dreamt that he, his Chotka and Kamma were sitting on a giant wheel, holding on to each other tightly while his parents looked on from below. He wanted to know, if the was any possibility of his dream coming true.
Tito had practically grown on his Chotka’s shoulders. His first transformer, his first Phantom comic’s book, his first Citroen miniature model, were all gifts from his Chotka.
That morning Tito chose to sit beside one of the windows of the school bus instead of playing rock paper scissors with his friends. He remembered fondly, the lazy afternoons spent with his Chotka in telling and hearing stories of the valiant little prince ‘Khokon’, of the how he fought the dangerous dragons and saved the princess of the faraway kingdom of magic. No one except the both of them knew the secret – that prince ‘Khokon’ was actually Tito himself.
Everybody knew that his Chotka was Tito’s best friend. But not many were aware of the fact that Tito also loved his Kamma very much. When Tito was 3 years old, his beautiful Kamma came into their lives. Today as he looked at the world moving outside the bus window, Tito wished that he were sitting on her lap and his Chotka was on the seat beside.

3.

“Dada, cha”, Kamala held a cup of tea in front of Ashim, one Sunday morning.
“Hmm”, Ashim took it, barely glancing above his newspaper.
“Is your mother unwell?” he asked, surprised a little to see Kamala in place of Padma and genuinely concerned.
“Kamala will work with us from now on”, replied Shudipa, from the dining table.
“Why, what’s the matter?” asked Ashim, continuing to read his paper.

“Her father threw them all out”, Shudipa almost spat out bitterly.
“Hmm”, replied Ashim waiting for Shudipa to explain, knowing that she would.
Instead Shudipa retorted in a quieter, colder tone, “When will you ever learn, Mr.Ghosh, damn it when?”
Ashim had had enough of this.
He slammed the newspaper on the table, strode towards Shudipa and shook her in a fit of fury.
“Do you even realize what you are saying?!” his voice shook when he said this. “I married you because I loved you. And not because I wanted a child-producing machine for my wife! You really disgust me sometimes Shudipa!” He stormed out of the living room.

“Stop being so good to me for once Ashim”, Shudipa drawled loudly behind him. “I can’t stand it anymore.”
Her eyes had the faraway look of somebody whom nothing could ever touch again, not love, not pain.

4.

The phone rang on another day. Ashim picked it up.
“Boudi!” A smile spread across his lips for the first time in a long time. “How are you all?”

His Boudi responded pleasantly, “We are all well here. Tito remembers his Kamma a lot and wishes to spend his vacation with the both of you.”
Ashim felt his insides warming up with the long forgotten affection he had for his nephew.
“Ha-ha. Salute to Colonel Tito. Tell him that we would love to have him here!” He added sheepishly, “And his parents too!”

“We are just waiting for his school to close for vacations. Your Dada is tired of my cooking and raves about Shudipa’s cooking all the time. I don’t think I can keep them tied here for much long. Well, how is Shudipa?”

The question hit Ashim like a jolt. The familiar voice of a good friend that he had always seen in his Boudi urged him to vent out everything. He explained what had happened over the last couple of weeks and what Shudipa was going through. His Boudi, though irate initially that she didn’t was not taken into confidence earlier, eventually empathized with him.

“Don’t worry, Ashim. You’ve been strong for far too long. Just wait for a few more days. Let her just set her eyes on Tito. I am sure she’ll smile. We’ll find a way out of this together.”

Ashim replaced the receiver heaving a sigh of relief. He had almost forgotten that there was somebody to look after them, after all.

“Shudipa!” he harked out loud. “Tito and family are on the way.” Shudipa came running out of the kitchen. “When?!!!” she exclaimed smiling after eons. Soon it started to drizzle outside.

5.

Shudipa remembered the day when she fell in love with Tito.

She sat beside Ashim on ornate chairs made of red velvet in front of a mesh made with Rajni Gandha flowers. It was their wedding reception.
Somebody had tapped on her knees. She had turned around to see a cute little face, wearing cute little brown glasses suspended by a red cord. The little boy had wordlessly climbed on to her lap.
 “O colonel Tito!” Ashim had exclaimed on seeing him and Tito had burst into a gleeful grin. Shudipa had hugged her cute little new nephew tightly. He had remained seated on her lap for a long time while she received gifts from relatives and guests. As if they had known each other always.
And then at some point, he had pulled her hand of the seat rest and had wrapped it around himself.

Nature has strange ways of making dreams come true, ways often beyond the comprehension of man. Ways which leave him bewildered in the end, sometimes.

Tito’s dream came true. In a way which neither he nor his Chotka had ever imagined. And which left Shudipa stunned.

When Ashim and Shudipa had set out for the site of the accident on that fateful day, they had prayed fervently that his Dada, Boudi and Tito were alive.  Alive, albeit bruised and shaken, they could make allowances for that, but not more. Ashim had hoped that his prayers would come true. He would die if they didn’t he thought. He had underestimated himself. Tito’s parents had died in the accident that had met their train.
They had managed to find his father’s ringing mobile phone in the carnage. It had survived unscathed and lay beside two crushed and battered corpses. They had found him sitting at a distance numb, but alive. Thankfully.

Shudipa had crushed the little boy to her bosom as she howled amidst the throngs of other people around. People, who like them, were distraught and pained by similar personal losses.
“Why on earth did you wish to see your Kamma?” She planted fervent kisses all over the little boy’s sad face, as if to ease all the pain way.
“Why?” she kept repeating between sobs.

But the memories hadn’t taken long to be forgotten. And the pain belonged to the past soon. What remained was love, bequeathed and then begotten, forgotten a long time ago and then reminded of suddenly.
Thankfully it was only love.


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