The Leaves Fall
[A new suburb on the outskirts of Calcutta. Husband and wife are relaxing in cane chairs in the front verandah of their home. They have just eaten lunch; it is past two in the afternoon. The husband is sixty-five years old, the wife, sixty.]
Husband : The fish was bad today.
Wife : Not bad. Just high.
H : Bad! Itís coming up my throat. It stinks.
W : Thatís your poor digestion. Drink more lime juice.
H : Nothing wrong with my digestion. Bad fish! Stinking!
W : Not bad, just high. And fish is out, anyway. To say nothing of fresh ones.
H : You say fish is out? Gosh! Think of the Hatibagan market where Ö
W : Cut out that Hatibagan of yours! That was ages ago.
H : (after a momentís silence): Ages since Iíve tasted real, fresh, stinging mustard.
W : Gosh! You had some just the other day.
H : Phoo! Stuff you bought at some store. No flavour, no sting! The real homemade thing is what I mean. No one makes mustard at home any longer.
W : Who has all that time?
H : Ages since Iíve eaten a fried pumpkin flower.
W : What a thing to moan about!
H : My mother made a hash of yellow lentils and chipped coconut. Delicious! And those steamed shrimps you used to cook Ö
W : Oh, stop! Always talking of eating. Guzzlers, you men of Bindigarh!
H : Shrews, you women of Raiganj!
W : Your home would have gone up in flames if I were a shrew.
H : Cut out that back-chat! At my mother again, huh?
W : She is dead and I donít want to be unkind, but the lady, your mother, had a tongue!
H : You were not dumb either.
W : Which woman could remain dumb with a mealy-mouthed husband like you?
H : Itís cause I was mealy-mouthed that the flames didnít start. It all went by your will.
W : My will! A fat lot that mattered!
H : It was you who drove Monty out of home.
W : A good turn I did him, that hefty hulk of a nephew of yours! Didnít even have a university degree, and married, too! Just a dead weight on you, he was. And look at him now. A swell business man. Has two cars. Itís because of me that it happened.
H : Because of you! Thereís a limit to boasting. Havenít seen the lad, though, for a long time.
W : Heís kept busy. Hunting clients and keeping them.
H : Wonder his hairís beginning to turn.
W : Why shouldnít it? Heís fifty.
H : Oh, no! Not fifty. Heís just coming up.
W : Fifty, if a day. Maybe fifty-one.
H : Absurd! Phone and find out.
W : None of my business.
H : Long since there was a letter from Bulu.
W : One came last Tuesday.
H : No, on Monday.
W : Tuesday it was. I remember. That was the day Sumiís daughter got married.
H : I remember, too. That was the day I went to see my dentist. Monday.
W : Well, bring the letter and check.
H : None of my business. So Bulu and her family arenít coming back this year?
W : Itís all up to them. Tablu has cut six teeth. Looks cute in his vest in that photo. A regílar dandy. Ooh Ö when shall I see the little man!
H : Buluís having bouts of cold.
W : Not any longer. Sheís cured, now that they are in Minnesota.
H : Wrong there! They are not in Minnesota any longer. Theyíre in Virginia now.
W : They were in Minnesota in February. A very cold place.
H : Terribly cold. One thousand lakes. Scenic. But terribly cold.
W : Who knows when theyíll be back Ö
H : Itís all up to them. When Harit comes back, he will set up as a big doctor.
W : Wrong there! Harit isnít a doctor but a biologist.
H : Harit is an Indian M.B., isnít he?
W : But a biologist is what he has now become. Works with microscopes. Pries into drops of water, scrapings of teeth, blood of frogs, and suchlike. Is working on a specific for rheumatism. All that is in Buluís letters - very tidily put - only you never read them through.
H : Itís not so cold in Virginia. Bulu has out on weight.
W : Looks lovely in those photos. In that Kanchipuram sari I sent her. The one With the red border. Had to hunt all the stores before I got it at Bhallaís. With the vermilion mark on her forehead. Simply lovely - like Lakshmi herself! Those coloured photos they have over there are marvelous.
H : Ramala doesnít wear the vermilion mark.
W : Puts a touch of it at the parting of her hair.
H : That you can hardly see. Women donít put the vermilion mark any longer.
W : Habul has got a promotion.Heís an Assistant Secretary now.
H : Wrong there! He was an Assistant Secretary, is now a Deputy Secretary. Next, heíll be a Joint Secretary, and a Secretary last of all.
W : Ramala, too, has a nice job. Teaches Economics.
H : It isnít Economics but Statistics. Very difficult, involving mathematical calculations. Wonder how a woman can get all that into her head.
W : You think women havenít caught up with the times? They are good for anything now.
H : They wear no vermilion marks. They sew no handkerchiefs to give as presents. They do not stand on their toes to fix wet saris on the hanging line. They do not go up to the terrace to take down the saris when dried.
W : Cut that out! Where are the terraces to come from? One sees nothing but flats.
H : Noticed Sureshís daughter the other day? She was in salwar and kameez.
W : Whatís wrong with that?
H : Awfíl! And Iím told Binodeís sons havenít even learnt to wear dhotis. They just changed over from shorts to trousers. And what skimpy trousers - seems they would burst if one tried to sit down!
W : Every age has its ways.
H : You think Shampa, too, wears salwar and kameez?
W : Guess she does. They are in Delhi, you see. And Shampa is a child.
H : Not much of a child, really.
W : Just turned thirteen.
H : Fourteen.
W : Just thirteen years and two months.
H : When Bulu was barely thirteen, ypuíd put her on to the sari.
W : Every age has its ways.
H : When next you write to Ramala, why donít you bring this up?
W : Why should I? Let them do as they will.
H : Well, then buy some nice handloom saris and send them for Shampa to wear.
W : Shampa fidgets in handloom. Says they are prickly. Itís nylons she likes.
H : Awfíl!
W : Itís old your eyes are getting.
H : Remember that pale-blue Dacca sari you had, with faint white stripes Ö
W : Oh, that! (Slightly shocked and amused) That was ages ago.
H : Girls wear borderless saris now. Thay donít oil their hair. Many smoke. And show their tummies. Boys donít learn to wear dhotis. They set up on thair own even before marrying. They listen to Western music. And drink while still at college.
W : Habul and Ramala. They drink every evening. At home, with friends. Every evening. Ramala, too. They are welcome to everything else, but why the bottle?
H : Every age has its ways.
W : But suppose they go too far? And think of the expense!
H : Let them do so as they will.
W : One often hears of broken marriages. Chitra left her husband and is living openly with Prithwish. Abinash and Madhavi have just got married, after having lived together for four years.
H : Thatís all right.
W : Nobody even minds. Something has come over people - something that beats me.
H : Better this than brawls and heartburning.
W : If only I saw any peace anywhere!
H : Itís old your eyes are getting. We are in nineteen hundred and fifty-six.
W : Wrong there! Itís nineteen hundred and sixty-five running!
[ A pause ]
H : You think they will come soon?
W : Who?
H : Habul, I mean. And his family.
W : Habulís next vacation isnít until Puja time.
H : Puja time? Thatís rather far.
W : Brother and sister havenít met for five years. Habul and Ramala havenít set their eyes on Harit. Bulu hasnít seen this new home. If they should come just once, all together! Theyíll have the run of the whole of the ground floor. Thereíll be the garden for Tablu to play and run about, Iíll buy a puppy for our little man to play with. And a tanpura for Shampa. Sheís learning thumri, you know. Has a nice voice.
H : Wait till they come.
[ A pause]
H : Itís hot.
W : But breezy.
H : Much too quiet, this neighbourhood.
W : No trams.
H : Buses, now and then.
W : Hooting of cars, now and then.
H : Rustling of leaves, now and then.
W : This breezy! This April! I like this south wind, I do.
H : The leaves fall.
W : April in our Raijang home! Flames of the forest in bloom! Ponds! Mangoes and jambolines, coral-fruit trees!
H : Fallen leaves. Drifting in the wind.
W : Long afternoons! April breezes! The scent of bakul flowers! In our Raiganj home!
H : Remember Mihijam? It was noontime. Very quiet. No one about. An old pond with bathing steps, clear and cool water. You and I stepped down to bathe. You swam.
W : You ogled the Santhal girls who were standing in waist-deep water. With bared bodies.
H : Same with you. Under the water you glistened. Like a fish. Caught you once - there, under the water!
W : Three Santhal girls! Quite nameless! You were devouring them with your eyes, but they didnít even cover their breasts. They were laughing.
H : Excess of modesty is no good. Such as yours. Coming to bed in sari and chemise.
W : All your valour was in talk. Much thunder, little rain!
H : Remember the dak bungalow at Hazaribagh? What darkness!
W : There were no electric lights.
H : A hundred thousand fireflies!
W : The bed creaked when you turned.
H : Suddenly came rain at midnight. It got chilly.
W : We had no blankets with us.
H : That night we didnít sleep.
W : We fell asleep at dawn.
H : I made tea and woke you up. Outside, there was the sun. Drops of rain on the grass. The scent of eucalyptus in the air.
W : Rubbish! You never made tea. Or woke me up in the morning.
H : I did. At Hazaribagh. I made tea and awoke you.
W : No - never!
H : Sure I did. I remember.
W : You always forget.
H : I remember. Most clearly.
W : Rubbish! I had made a fire with twigs and straw to make you tea. When the taxi broke down on our way to Ranchi.
H : I made you tea on a spirit stove. At Hazaribagh.
W : Wrong there! That was at the rest-house in Deoghar.
H : No - at Hazaribagh!
W : Deoghar!
H : I say Hazaribagh!
W : I say Deoghar!
H : Flies.
W : Rude flies.
H : Summer comes. Flies thrive.
W : Cuckoos call.
H : The dust flies.
W : The leaves fall.
H : We had a parrot in our Hatibagan home. He used to say: ďDonít be angry, Mistress. Donít be angry, Mistress.Ē The ĎMistressí was my Ma.
W : Tell me now - who was the shrew? Your mother or I?
H : It also said: ďGauri Baudi - Baudi Gauri.Ē This I taught the bird. Baudi had a light complexion. Nice and pretty she was You remember her?
W : Donít I! It was she who gave me that pair of bracelets. Ten ounces of gold. Set with gems. But she wasnít very pretty, really. Although it was because of her that your family geve me a bad name for a dark complexion!
H : Baudi had lost of note-paper. Blue, white, yellow, pink! Thick and woven, líke mats. Havenít seen the like of them for ages. Baudi had a painted tea-set. With pictures of roses and green leaves. Havenít seen the like of them for ages. Baudi had records of Amala Das. And of Kanak Das. What singing! Why donít they sing Tagore songs any more?
W : They do. Tagore songs are on the radio every day. You never listen.
H : Nothing to compare with that! Itís English songs they listen to now, not Tagore songs. Itís other songs they listen to. ďPitter-patter, rumble-tumble, hurdy-gurdy.Ē Awfíl!
W : You understand nothing of music. The tunes are livelier now. Tagore songs are dull.
H : Tagore songs are splendid!
W : Dull!
H : How suddenly Baudi died! Of pneumonia. Just nine days of illness. Nobody dies of pneumonia now.
W : Or of typhoid. Or the black feaver.
H : And of malaria.
W : Yet people are dying. One gets invitations to weddings. And to funeral services. You know what I saw the other day? There was a wedding on, with lights and feasting, and just then rose the Hari cry* from the pavement. Are you still afraid of the Hari cry?
W : Much of my fear is gone.
H : Remember Hatibagan? There was that Hari cry every night, and you half dead with fear. I sat up nights with lights on. Just to comfort you.
W : Never! Never did you sit up nights for my sake!
H : Sure I did! Night after night.
W : Well, if you did, why that tone of reproach?
H : I was just stating, not reproaching.
W : The way you talk! Whole nights I spent without sleep when Habul was small. He was a night-crier, Habul was. Up you get, rock the baby on your lap, make him piss, battle with mosquitoes! Did Sir Father cast a glance, I ask? Or as much as touch the poor boy?
H : I fed Bulu out of bowl and spoon while she struggled. Walked miles to put her to sleep. Hard work, that.
W : I was laid up with illness then.
H : Bulu was a dear. A lovely child! Lots of curly hair she had. And always up to some prank. Never letting her hands or feet rest.
W : There you have it! All the drudgery was mine; and, when the babies grew into children, then came Papa to kiss and fondle. Shallow fondling!
H : Babies are a bother. No end to whimpers and screams. Now they catch colds, and have tummyaches next. And the stench of piss in the bedÖ
W : Why didnít you beat it and sleep by yourself?
H : It was you that separated the beds, not I.
W : Bulu was growing up then.
H : Both the kids could have slept with my mother. Or by themselves in another room. That was I wanted.
W : Just like you! Oh, men! They get old, but do not desist.
H : I was not old then.
W : Men never grow old, do they? Or think of themselves as old?
H : Thatís better!
W : Better! That same business every night. Awfíl!
H : You cheated me.
W : Rot! You were a bag of words, merely. Couldnít show much in performance.
H : Never had a chance, so to say.
W : Never had a chance! Remember that letter I found in your pocket?
H : Which letter?
W : You donít remember? The person you never missed seeing for days on end.
H : A friend of yours, she was. Abandoned by her husband.
W : So you took pity on her, did you? That was why you skipped office and had afternoon visits with her. And spent nights with her, too while pretending to be away on business trips.
H : You are a know-aller!
W : Right then would I have left you and your home, only that Habul and Bulu were small.
H : Thrice I dreamt you had left me and gone away. And not by yourself.
W : All rot!
H : You talked, the two of you, almost in whispers. And stopped the moment I came in. You remember?
W : All rot!
H : Remember we took a trip to Puri, all together? One night I woke up and didnít see you in bed.
W : You were dreaming.
H : You were away a long time and then you came back. And stood by the window, quietlike, looking out. In the light of the moon I could see you clearly.
W : All rot! The mighty sleep you had - not a pack of dacoits could have roused you!
H : But that night I didnít sleep again.
W : Your sweetheart you were thinking of.
H : Crows.
W : Rude crows.
H : Thereís one on the parapet.
W : Shoo! Get off!
H : There it flies! You know the difference between a crow and a raven?
W : Ravens are larger, and more black.
H : Have you ever seen a raven?
W : Who hasnít?
H : I donít think I have. Or maybe I have but donít know the difference. Jogesh knew all about birds.
W : Which Jogesh?
H : Friend of mine, Jogesh Bhadra. You donít remember? A fat, jovial fellow. A wonderful one for spotting birds. Used to go about in the countryside and take photos of them. Could identify a bird by its nest, or by looking at egg-shells. Strange hobby.
W : And trees were Manotosh Babuís mania.
H : You know what happened to Jogesh? He was up from bed one morning, but fell down near the bathroom door. And that was the end of him.
W : Monotosh Babu died of cancer.
H : Cancer is incurable.
W : Apoplexy is incurable.
H : Thrombosis is deadly.
W : The veins burst.
H : Suddenly one vomits blood.
W : Suddenly the heart stops.
H : Just the other day Sukumar died.
W : Just the other day my sisterís husband died.
H : Strange that Labanya should be dead.
W : Strange that Cousin Parul should be dead.
H : And dear old Himangshu Babu. Observed all health rules, got up at dawn, didnít even drink tea, avoided all harmful food. Even he.
W : Lots of people die.
H : Lots.
H : Baudi could have stayed alive till now.
W : My uncle Hem could have stayed alive till now.
H : Jayanta could have stayed alive till now.
W : Manju could have stayed alive till now.
H : We keep forgetting them. But sometimes we remember. Baudi has been dead a long time. Twenty years.
W : Twenty, did you say? At least thirty-five.
H : Thirty-five years! That long! But it seems like yesterday.
W : Like yesterday! Forty years we have been married now. That, too, is like yesterday.
H : Forty years! When did they go by?
W : Forty years! A twinkling!
H : A twinkling! Forty years! How did they go by? Is there anything you can remember?
W : Just a few things.
H : What? How? These forty years? I canít remember a thing.
W : Habul and Bulu, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, grandchildren. The family. And this house youíve built.
H : Thatís all?
W : What else could remain with us?
H : Nothing else. Nothing remains.
H : I was small then. Saw Amar Datta on the stage once. Amar Datta as Arjuna. A Öh!
W : I once took the recitation prize at school. Basanti Devi gave away the prizes. The wife of C. R. Das. The school was run by nationalists. I even saw C. R. Das once.
H : The actress Kusumkumari had Krishnaís role. Son of Pritha, slumber in folly no more! Awaken! A Öh! What a voice!
W : The set piece was the opening lines of The Slaying of Meghanad:
When in headlong battle fell the valiant Veerabahu, the jeweled crown of heroes, And to the halls of Yama journeyed forth Ere his time Ö
Thatís all I remember.
H : We keep forgetting. And remembering. I once heard an oration of Sarojini Naiduís.
W : I once thought of joining the nationalist movement. My dream was to go to jail.
H : I once thought of walking all the way to Tibet.
W : Phoo! To Tibet! You who canít open your eyes without your bed tea!
H : I even learnt a little Tibetan. All forgotten now.
W : We keep forgetting things.
H : Forgetting - and remembering. I once became a champion in table tennis. My picture was in the papers.
W : I once wrote a travel sketch. Of Darjeeling. The first time I went there with my parents. The Monthly Clarion published it.
H : I watched the football match in which Mohun Bagan won the Shield. For the first time.
W : I once saw Ramanujaís Circus. Had never seen a live tiger before. And those girls - the tightrope walkers! Like fairies of Heaven! Looked as though they would spread wings and fly away. All night I dreamt of those girls.
H : You saw The Perennial Bachelors, didnít you? At The Star?
W : That was after my marriage. We went together.
H : Remember how Durgadas delivered the word Ďballooní? Did you watch the balloon this evening? Balloon Ö he Ö he! And that song of Niharbalaís: Even tho .. ugh the night is go .. ne Ö
W : Not going to sing, are you?
H : No. Just thinking, I was. And Sisir Bhaduriís Seeta. How you wept!
W : No more than you did.
H : Seeta Ö! Seeta Ö! That heartrending cry! Whose Ö whose voice is that?
W : Not going to act, are you?
H : No. Just thinking, I was. Remember that night at Bindigarh? The strom that raged all night? Trees crashing! Roofs flying! You were afraid. Everybody was afraid. Not I, though. It seemed to me Ö
W : And right then Buluís fever came on. All from the blue.
H : I liked the storm Ö very much. Like the opening of many windows it was. Like the opening of many doors, all at once. Seemed I myself was spreading Ö spreading far. You remember that strom?
W : All night I sat up with Bulu on my lap. You never held her.
H : I was glad of the storm. I felt fine. Wonderful. Seemed it was wonderful to be alive. You, too, seemed different then.
W : Next day the measles came out. And you didnít even bring a doctor.
H : You forget things. I brought Keshab Daktar first thing in the morning.
W : It wasnít you but Subodh!
H : It was I who went!
W : It was Subodh!
H : I!
W : Subodh!
H : You are sure you remember?
W : You are sure you remember?
H : You keep forgetting things.
W : You keep forgetting things.
H : A long day.
W : The days are getting longer. Itís April.
H : Much too quiet, this neighbourhood.
W : Thereís the school bus coming.
H : Haren Babuís daughter is getting out of it.
W : The school bus is going away.
H : Haren Babuís son has bought a scooter.
W : Nagen Babuís daughter is going to Canada.
H : Birenís son has flunked his exam again.
W : Supravaís going to have another baby.
H : Which Suprava?
W : Your nieceís daughter.
H : I hear Supravaís father-in-law is ill.
W : Thatís an old story. His blood-pressure is very high.
H : I have no trouble with my blood-pressure. No trouble with my heart. I am not diabetic. I see a doctor every month. I am well.
W : My daughter and son-in-law are in America. They will come back. My son and daughter-in-law are in Delhi. They will visit us. We shall see our grandchildren. I will buy a puppy for my grandson. And a tanpura for my granddaughter. I already know what ornaments Iíll give my granddaughter as a wedding gift. I am well.
H : Why did you stop?
W : What is there to say?
H : Say something.
W : Why donít you have a nap now?
H : The whole night passes in sleep. Nothing else to do at night.
W : Creatures, these men!
H : I donít even dream! Or Jogesh! Jogesh loved birds. Baudi loved music.
W : Think Iíll keep a cow.
H : Why a cow?
W : Tablu will have pure milk to drink.
H : Cows are a nuisance. Flies, mosquitoes, dirt!
W : Iíll keep a cow, anyway.
H : I donít agree. Rather raise chickens.
W : Chickens: Dirty things! All kinds of diseases theyíll carry! And gobble up my kitchen garden!
H : Youíll have eggs. And chickens to eat.
W : A cow will give milk. Pure milk.
H : No cows! Chickens!
W : No chickens! A cow!
W : Are you sleeping?
H : Oh no.
W : Donít fall asleep with a lighted cigarette. You might burn your clothes again.
H : I was not sleeping. Was thinking, rather. Have you ever eaten a pink pear?
W : Lots. There were plenty in our Raiganj home.
H : I was thinking of the flavour of pink pears. You never see them now.
W : You do. But very rarely. And who would miss them anyway? Thereís a car coming.
H : To our house?
W : It has stopped at Santosh Babuís door. Santosh Babuís sisters-in-law are visiting.
H : Evening will come soon.
W : Not so soon. The dayís are longer now.
H : Long days. Long afternoons. Later, it will be evening. The night. Then morning. Day and night. Night and day. Day and night. But we arenít dead yet.
W : What a thing to say!
H : Much too quiet, this neighbourhood.
W : Not really. The buses pass.
H : Sometimes taxis.
W : Sometimes trucks.
H : Sometimes the swish of winds.
W : Of trees.
H : Of leaves.
W : Birds in the trees.
H : They fly away.
W : Leaves in the trees.
H : The leaves fall.
W : The cawing of crows.
H : The barking of dogs.
W : The sound of footsteps sometimes.
H : The telephone ringing sometimes.
W : The voice of the radio sometimes.
H : Sometimes utterly still.
W : Seems there is no one anywhere.
H : No sound of footsteps.
W : No swish of winds.
H : No smell of mornings at Hazaribagh.
W : No smell of babies at the breast.
H : No smell of the pond at Mihijam.
W : No smell of the grass at Raiganj.
H : Seems we have never lived.
W : We are alive.
( Translated from the Bengali by the author)
Paataa jhare jaay is one of the many plays written by Buddhadeva Bose. This was successfully produced by the Shoubhanik Group in Kolkata. Buddhadeva Bose had translated this for The Illustrated Weekly of India where it was published in two installments on May 7, 1967 and May 14, 1967 respectively. Aloke Dhar did the illustrations which have been re-used here.
We thank the Buddhadeva Bose estate for permission to publish it in Parabaas.
Published May 15, 2004
Send us your feedback