I was going through my papers in the morning, when a young girl showed up in our house. She was about thirteen or fourteen years old, wearing a colorful sari. She must have been one of the girls in our village, but I couldn’t remember seeing her before. Even in that young age, the sindoor on her forehead and the gilded conch shell bangle on her wrist told me that she was married. She was dark skinned, slim, with a pretty face and large expressive eyes. There were two gold studs in her ears. I asked, “Who are you? Whose daughter?”
The girl looked down shyly, “Bishwanath Kamar (ironsmith).”
—“Oh, I see. You are Bishu’s daughter. Well, well. I see you are already married. Where do your in-laws live?”
The girl looked even shyer at the mention of her in-laws. She turned her face away and said, “Naranpur.”
—“Which Naranpur? Ghibe-Naranpur?”
—“How long you’ve been married?”
—“So, how long you’ve been at your parents?”
—“I came day before yesterday, uncle.”
—“Good. OK. Go ahead. Go inside.”
Our own village girl, just come to visit her parents. Roaming around visiting her old friends. I felt very affectionate towards her. She was our girl after all.
But when I went inside after a while, I saw her sitting alone on the floor, playing with the end of her sari. Nobody was paying her any attention or talking to her. Perhaps they talked in the beginning, now everyone was busy in their own business. So the girl sat alone. A blacksmith’s daughter. Who would have anything much to discuss with her.
Seeing me, the girl asked, “Uncle, whose picture is that?”
—“That is my photo.”
She probably did not understand what a photo was. I said—“Yes, that’s my picture.”
--“Who has made it, Uncle?”
The girl was looking at all the items on the wall with wonder and awe. There were some photographs, and some trivial pictures from calendars, including a white girl in a cigarette poster. After all, one did not hang Rembrandt or Jamini Roy, Abanindranath or Nandalal in a village
—“Uncle, what is that white girl doing?”
—“She is smoking.”
—“Really? Women smoke too?”
—“Foreign women do. Have you ever seen a foreign woman?”
—“In Ranaghat station. We were going to Aranghata to see Jugalkishore. We saw her sitting in a carriage. Absolutely white skin!”
I saw that even though she was alone, she was enjoying herself pretty well by looking at those trivial pictures. I returned after about an hour to find her still sitting in the same place. Nobody was aware of her presence, but she did not mind at all. She had not left either.
The fact that she could come and sit in such a well to-do, upper class house was more than enough to fill her with joy. The red cement floor was scrubbed clean. The furniture was not anything fancy but neat and tastefully arranged. Besides the pictures on the wall, there was a table and chair, a table lamp from Tata. A few clay dolls—like Ganesh and mother, a cow, deer, a parrot, Radha-Krishna etc.—were nicely arranged on a wooden shelf.
This simple interior decoration struck the girl as the most wonderful. I felt bad that nobody was talking to her. Of course she did not expect anything more. In our village the upper caste folks did not deal with the likes of a blacksmith’s or potter’s children. Just the fact that she was allowed in was sufficient for her and made her more than happy.
I was going to shower and needed some hair oil. In the village good coconut oil was hard to find those days, so the ladies in the family had brought different kinds of perfumed oils, this ‘Kalyan oil’ or that.
The girl stared at me rubbing perfumed oil in my hair.
I said, “Want some?”
She was utterly surprised. Nobody had ever asked her anything like that. Definitely not a Brahmin man.
—“Then come closer dear, here.”
Then I made her wide eyes even wider in surprise. I rubbed in some perfumed oil on her head, right on top of her braided hair. She burst out laughing. A poor ignored child, shyly pleased by a simple caress.
I asked, “How do you like the scent?”
— “Can you name the oil?”
—“It’s a very famous perfumed oil.”
She looked absolutely delighted.
—“OK uncle, I better go home now. It’s getting late.”
—“OK dear. Do come again.”
She left. Perhaps I put only a few drops of oil on her head. But that was enough to make my river bathing such a joy! The generous blue sky sent a clear message of beauty. A harmonious union of the inside and the outside. It was a beautiful day. A glorious day.Published in Parabaas, June, 2014
The original story Ignored (তুচ্ছ) by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay was first collected in Asadharon (অসাধারণ), a book of short stories published by Mitralay (মিত্রালয়) in May, 1946, and later included in Bibhuti Rachanaboli (Vol.8) ('বিভূতি রচনাবলী', ৮ম খণ্ড; মিত্র ও ঘোষ; ১৪০৪) (Mitra Ghosh, Kolkata).