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  • Kolkata's Elektra (Buddhadeva Bose's Kolkatar Elektra -- tr. by Sreejata Guha (Parabaas - Buddhadeva Bose Section) :

    Kolkata's Elektra (Buddhadeva Bose's Kolkatar Elektra -- tr. by Sreejata Guha (Parabaas - Buddhadeva Bose Section)




    Kolkata's Elektra

    A Play in Three Acts

    Buddhadeva Bose

    Translated from the original Bengali by

    Sreejata Guha







    Preface by Buddhadeva Bose


    There is no mention of Elektra in Homer or Hesiod. She made her appearance for the first time, in all her glory, in the second tragedy of Aeschylus’ Oresteia. Thereafter she was instated in the minds of one and all by Sophocles and Euripedes.

    In modern times Elektra has been the protagonist of plays written by Austria’s Hugo von Hofmannsthal (Elektra), United States’ Eugene O’Neill (Mourning Becomes Electra) and France’s Jean Giraudoux (Electra). Elektra’s portrayal in Jean Paul Sartre’s play Les Mouches is also noteworthy.

    In each of these representations, the playwrights have depicted this tragic and intense heroin of Greek mythology and the other characters associated with her, in the light of their own times, locale and values. By setting this play in contemporary Bengal, I have made a similar attempt.

    B.B.

    Characters

    Manorama

    Indranath’s corpse (seen in a dream)

    Ajen: Manorama’s second husband

    Shampa, Kanaklata and Adrinath: Manorama’s daughters and son, from her first husband.

    Policemen, mental asylum staff, a butler and two servants (no dialogues).

     

     

    Act I





     

    [The curtain rises on a dark stage. A woman moans softly, as if a noose tightens around her throat or as if she is struggling for breath. Spotlight on one section of the stage: a ghostly blue light. A portion of a bedroom is revealed, blurred, like seen through a soft mist. The room has a scarlet Kashmiri carpet and a bed is laid on it. On the bed lies a man’s corpse, covered from neck to toe by a white sheet. The sheet is bloodstained and the body is bloated. Along the head of the bed, at a tangent stands a dressing table and before it sits Manorama. She is about thirty-five years old with a slim, firm body; she is quite attractive. The dressing table has row upon row of cosmetics lined up on it and on one corner stands a vermilion-red timepiece. Manorama mutters to herself.]


    Manorama (sniffs the air a few times) – Mmm, bad odour. So soon? (She picks up a perfume bottle in haste and sprays herself liberally) How long has it been? (She peers at the timepiece) What time is it? N-nine hours and . . .nine-forty. That is (counts on her finger) – one, two, three . . .seven hours. Now it is nine-forty, almost ten. Day? Or night? But of course – it is day. The curtains are cutting off the light. In the dark it’s just me and (a little emphatically) him. Alone. Handsome man, wasn’t he? Washed-out face, blue, purple. The stomach is stretched like a drum. Ugly! (She looks away) I like nice smells. (She dusts her face with powder, sprays perfume on her clothes and palms) I like pristine white beds with lavender strewn on it. (She smells her own palm) Aah, Chanel. (For an instant she shuts her eyes and breathes deeply; she opens her eyes and sniffs the air again) Mmm – the stench again! It keeps coming back, like flies.

     

    [Gets up, goes to draw the curtains and stalls, as if recollecting something.]

     How did it happen? I don’t know, I don’t know anything. I am astounded – stunned – thunderstruck. (A short laugh, as if she likes the sound of that) Yes, thunderstruck. A sudden scream, like a beast. Ear-piercing noise, heart-stopping: and then (whispers) – and then I saw him. A tremendous man, his feet stretched out beyond this carpet.   The scarlet Kashmiri carpet (looks at the ground) and even redder the blood: man’s, beast’s. (She stops, draws breath through her mouth) This is all I know, no more.

     

    [Manorama is silent for a few seconds, ruminates, then she starts and runs to the door, placing her ear on it.]

     

    . . .Sounds? I think there are many feet on the stairs; softly, they are treading very softly. . . .Strange – why am I scared – it must be Ajen coming with people. I must say he works fast. He is doing it all alone: working on the police so that a postmortem can be avoided, arranging for the cremation to take place, and so many other things. Informing the friends – I mean his friends, with whom he was drowning in revelry until two in the night. A sumptuous feast, wine flowed like water and men and women celebrated. They were having deer-meat – such a pretty animal – how could they? He was saying to me, ‘Why are you so dismal – I have returned after so long – come, let’s enjoy.’ How could I explain that it was too much revelry for me? And then . . .he had in tow a strange-looking actress; they seemed to be quite close. I do not blame him – he is a brave soldier, back from a war and it is not as though he had never gone astray before now. But then, I am the wife – and before my own eyes! . . . Men! But then we cannot do without them either. What would I have done if Ajen was not there? . . .(listens hard) That must be them. (Returns to the mirror and studies her face) Am I looking pale? (She brings the lipstick to her lips and stops short) No – this won’t look right for the moment, my husband is dead. He has passed away. I am grieving. (She rubs her face to wipe off the powder) Hair? (She picks up the brush, but puts it down again) Let it be. (She runs her fingers through her hair and dishevels it) Is that fine? . . .But there are no tears in the eyes; I am not weeping. We-ll! Am I an uneducated country bumpkin that I shall wail loudly and let out heart-rending sobs? I am the renowned Mrs Bhaduri, a daughter of the royal family of Firozeganj, and I behave soberly in any situation. . . . I shall sit, like this (adopts a poignant pose before the mirror) – silent, a statue hewn in grief. They will all say, ‘What a woman, what forbearance, what dignity!’ Let them come, let the whole city come running to our doorstep for Colonel Bhaduri – I am ready.

     

    [Manorama rises. She tugs at her clothes and neatens up. One more time her glance skids over the corpse, as if against her own volition. Her eyes grow still, she pauses to think and then slowly, she walks to the head of the bed.]

               

    Manorama – Listen – you there, lying all wrapped up in a sheet – I am speaking to you. Any moment now people will be here and I shall not get another chance. Listen well: I know nothing, not one bit of how this came to pass. (She raises her voice and leans over the corpse) I know nothing – is that clear? . . . Come then, let me strike a deal with you. You have given me much grief, always gone your own way, never considered my feelings or tried to understand me, but I shall not remember any of it. Yet, let me ask this much of you – do not torture me any more, all right? Are you listening? All your friends praise you, love you. If you are truly good, then – no more, let it all end right here, no more grief for me . . .do you get that? (Pauses) Okay then, goodbye. (Takes two steps back and pauses) Forget me – please try and forget me: this is my request, plea, my appeal . . .are you listening?

     

    [The corpse opens one eye slowly, it grows unnaturally bloated and stares at her, motionless and grotesque. A man’s voice, low and husky, resounds: ‘What did I do wrong? Why did you kill me?’ Instantly the stage is in darkness and Manorama’s terrified scream rends the air.

    After a few seconds’ silence the ghostly blue light illuminates the  stage again. Now the corpse is gone and Manorama lies on the bed. We can see her through a haze as she lies in dishabille, her head lolling off the pillow, her face terrified, her eyes half-shut, gasping for breath as one leg dangles off the bed. Ajen walks in wearing striped pajamas and a dressing-gown. He switches on the table-lamp and now all is visible clearly.]

     

    Ajen (limply, in a sleepy tone) – What? What is it?

    Manorama (moans) – Ouf!

    Ajen (approaches the bed) – Nightmare? Again?

    Manorama – O-oh! It’s too much!

    Ajen (a bit coolly) – Get up; drink some water.

    Manorama (opens her eyes and pleads) – Could you please help me up? (She raises her arm weakly) See, (cranes her neck) feel this – see how much I’ve sweated. And my heart (touches her chest) – still going thump, thump, thump.

    Ajen – That’s nothing. Get up (he plumps up the pillows at the head of the bed).

    Manorama – Please, hold me.

    Ajen – You’ll do fine on your own. Here is the water (he picks up the glass of water from the bedside table and offers it to her).

     

    [Manorama lifts her head with great effort and leans back on the pillows. She drinks the water, splashes some on her palms and pats it on her forehead and on top of her head. In the dream-scene she was still in her youth, but now she is a forty-seven year old middle-aged woman. She is still attractive but at this moment she is pallid and washed-out with dark circles around her eyes and the skin of her throat-column is sagging. Ajen is about fifty years old, good-looking in an effeminate sort of way.]

     

    Manorama – Ajen, is it dawn now?

    Ajen – Almost.

    Manorama – The same time. Early dawn. Three times. (Shudders)

    Ajen – I have told you to take sleeping pills – why don’t you?

    Manorama (broken tones) – Medi-cines!

    Ajen – Why, don’t they work?

    Manorama – Doctor, can’t you cure your own wife?

    Ajen (lightly) – I could, if she was really ill.

    Manorama – Why do I have these dreams then?

    Ajen – Who doesn’t have dreams?

    Manorama – Not like that. (Shudders and whispers) Shall I tell you?

    Ajen (suppressed exclamation) – Oh damn!

    Manorama – What did you say?

    Ajen – I said, try for some sleep instead. I need some more sleep too.

    Manorama – Wonderful husband! Whether his wife lives or dies, he needs to snore away till eight in the morning!

    Ajen – Are you aware that I returned home at one-thirty last night?

    Manorama – Where were you?

    Ajen – There was an urgent call. (After a pause) The old man nearly passed away; somehow managed to save him after a hard tussle.

    Manorama – These days you seem to get too many urgent calls – all late in the night (casts an oblique glance at him).

    Ajen (a flash of anger flares in his eyes and goes out instantly) – Do not stir up trouble where there is none. Go to sleep, I am sitting right here, beside you.

    Manorama – Oh, I am so lucky – he sits by me! Why can’t you lie beside me and put me to sleep?

    Ajen (with a crude smile) – If I lay beside you, wouldn’t your sleep be disturbed? Instead, have half of that red tablet –

    Manorama – This is a curse – medicines! No sleep: try Hypnol; feeling sad: try Allegrin; breathing problems: Coratone for sure. Only drugs, no place for love, concern and sympathy.

    Ajen – That’s a new one; medicines – a curse.

    Manorama – And this body, this is a curse too: the holder of all disease and sorrow. (Suddenly on a softer note) Ajen, please check my pulse, and my heartbeat, here – it’s hammering away so fast.

    Ajen (strokes her pulse lightly and taps her heart) – There is nothing wrong with you.

    Manorama – Are you sure? Nothing at all?

    Ajen (with a wispy laugh) – If you were truly unwell, how could I be so calm?

    Manorama – That’s true. (She seems pacified, ponders for a while) Do you know, I have been really keeping well – for a very long time now. And why wouldn’t I be fine? Who is luckier than I, having received everything in life: happiness, companionship, respect, wealth, everything. And a husband like you! (She throws a look at Ajen that is partly timid and partly coy) Tell me, am I right?

    Ajen (mechanically) – Sure, absolutely.

    Manorama – I am doing very well, I have no grievances. Am I right?

    Ajen (mechanically) – Right.

    Manorama – But you know, after so many years, ever since the beginning of August . . .three times counting today – the same dream (a pause and then she whispers): do you know that August was his birth-month?

    Ajen (pretending to be puzzled) – Who are you speaking of?

    Manorama (after a few seconds, suddenly in a startled tone) – Isn’t it a Saturday today?

    Ajen (Irritated) – So what if it’s a Saturday?

    Manorama (Agitated) – Three Saturdays in a row – the same dream. (Sits up straight and leans towards Ajen) Do you remember Ajen?

    Ajen (with more ire in his voice) – What are you talking about?

    Manorama – No, nothing. (Terror clouds her visage as she looks ahead with empty eyes.)

    Ajen (shakes her by the shoulder) – Don’t look into space like an idiot. Forget it, forget it all.

    Manorama (mutters to herself) – Saturday, if on the twelfth begins the Purva-bhadrapad star –

    Ajen (excited) – What are you saying! You – intellectual, progressive, a social icon, the respected Manorama Devi! Are you forgetting who you are? (Manorama’s lips open but no sound comes out) So what if you have had a nightmare? So three times – so what? (His voice grows more confident) Dreams are bunkum, all dreams. See, now you are awake, there are no dreams. This is your room, your home in Alipore and you lie in your own bed. You have ten maids and servants, unending cash in the bank, everything is all right.

    Manorama – Servants. Cash. And everything is okay?

    Ajen (jocularly) – And of course, this sinner at your feet.

    Manorama (after a pause, distractedly) – I once became a mother.

    Ajen (attempting a lightness of tone) – And you still are one. Your daughter is getting married soon, a very good match it is too. Your son is a brilliant scholar of Economics and he has made a name for himself in debating at Cambridge. What more do you want?

    Manorama – My son – I pushed him away on your advice.

    Ajen – I do not understand what you are saying.

    Manorama – I sent him abroad and he never came back.

    Ajen – But he has come home in summer so many times.

    Manorama – He did, he was still young then. But he grew up, sprouted wings and now he never comes. He travels the world over, but he doesn’t come to see his mother.

    Ajen – That’s a good thing. He has his eyes and ears open and he is exploring the world. He is finding his own feet – with strength. You wouldn’t want a ninny who clings to his mother’s fingers. If a tall, strong young man hangs around his mother it is not a healthy sight.

    Manorama – Mother – it is so hard being a mother! Children grow up, go away – do not remember their mother. Ajen, why didn’t you give me another child?

    Ajen – There you go again: another child in a country like ours?

    Manorama – Another tiny life that would cling to me, helpless; and from my breast would flow a fountain for him alone. As he would wring me dry he’d stare at me steadily; and then he’d smile – a heavenly smile. That’s how Adri was, and Kanak, and (stops short and shudders) – and the other one? What about that other one? (A shadow of fear crosses her face.)

    Ajen (coldly) – Shampa? Perhaps you should refrain from wasting your maternal love on her?

    Manorama – Strange; she too was a child once, and now – my nightmare, terror and apprehension! She is the thorn in my flesh, the bane of my hearth and a pus-oozing cyst in my heart. Ajen, will I have to live with this hell all my life?

    Ajen – This is bound to happen when you insist on harbouring a lunatic at home. At least you could have married her off.

    Manorama – You know all about it; so many wonderful matches – the best of the Kolkata gentry – but my daughter did not spare them a second glance. Those were the days when she just had to reach for the moon to find it within her grasp. And now, an old hag before her time, she looks like a witch. Who would want to marry her?

    Ajen – Why not? Janardan Dhar is still after me: you know Janardan, the property dealer. He is a solid man. He would agree like a shot, with ten thousand to grease his palm. He tells me, ’Just place her hand in mine Sir, and I shall do the rest. You shall have no worries about her any more. There wasn’t a greater shrew than my first wife. But didn’t I tackle her too?’ . . .Why are you so quiet? You would like a prince charming for your good-as-gold princess, would you?

    Manorama – That wouldn’t make a difference. At the very mention of marriage she snarls like a tigress.

    Ajen (crudely) – Well, she would be a good fit for Janardan. She’d be well provided for, work hard all day long, sometimes get slapped around a bit. Then a few children will come along and your scrawny daughter would blossom. Pregnant and lactating: there is no better cure for virginal hysteria. Try talking to her.

    Manorama – I am tired of talking to her: she’s more a gorgon than a daughter.

    Ajen – Still, try once more. This is the last chance. (Pauses and then speaks coldly) If she still refuses to come around, then . . .

    Manorama – Then – what?

    Ajen (lowers his voice) – Then it’s the other way.

     

    [A short silence. The couple exchange glances and a silent communication takes place.]

     

    Manorama – So, that is what you are planning?

    Ajen – With no other choice . . .

    Manorama (looks the other way and speaks softly) – Do you really – is there really a need for that, do you think?

    Ajen – I do not see any other way out.

    Manorama – Will Dr Kanjilal agree?

    Ajen – Kanjilal has been saying for the longest time that she will not get better if she stays in this house.

    Manorama – And yet, she clings to this house so hard. What if she kicks up a ruckus?

    Ajen – There are ways of dealing with that.

    Manorama – By distracting her?

    Ajen – If necessary, or by using force.

     

    [Silence]

     

    Manorama – So then, that is decided?

    Ajen – Of course! . . . (aiming for ease) Would you like to try for some sleep now?

    Manorama (her facial muscles relax; she lies back and heaves a sigh) – Aah—bliss! This is why I love you so much Ajen; you can untangle all knots and get rid of all thorns. Come to me, closer . . . let me feel that I am satiated, contentment lies scattered around me and within my grasp (she reaches for Ajen and pulls him towards her).

    Ajen (in his ‘doctor’ voice) – No more talk, do you hear me? Now go to sleep.

    Manorama (yielding tone) – You want me to sleep? All right. (She rests her head on Ajen’s shoulder and closes her eyes) But (her eyes snap open) . . . I wanted to ask you something. There was something I wished to ask – (strokes Ajen’s cheek) tell me darling, what was it?

    Ajen (curbing his annoyance, he lightens his voice deliberately) – Nothing more to say. Just go to sleep.

    Manorama – Oh yes, I remember: (her eyes grow large and her face changes) Don’t ask me to sleep Ajen, please talk to me – talk about nice things that can chase away fear.

    Ajen (a trifle aggravated) – What fear?

    Manorama – Yes fear, in the curtain-folds, just outside the door, beneath the layers of sleep! Tell me honestly, wasn’t it a Saturday?

    Ajen (goaded) – Which day? What are you talking about?

    Manorama (drags her words) – Tha—t day, the day he returned?

    Ajen – Why are you calling him ‘he’ like a silly woman? Does Indranath’s name get stuck in your throat or are you such a chaste wife that you can’t bring your husband’s name to your lips?

    Manorama (recoils sharply and hisses like a wounded snake) – Chaste! It is always the woman who has to be chaste. And all of you – pooh! Men! Go away – don’t touch me. Cowards!

    Ajen (stands up instantly and speaks in a smooth tone) – Fine, I shall go then. Really, I am very sleepy too.

    Manorama (jumps off the bed) – You think you will escape so easily? No! Answer me (she stands with her hands on her hips and bars his way).

    Ajen (grits his teeth) – Don’t shout.

    Manorama – Tell me – was it a Saturday?

    Ajen (carelessly) – Who remembers all that?

    Manorama – You do not remember? Strange! Fine, do you at least remember what had happened – exactly, in detail? Try – try to remember. Dawn is yet to break, everyone is asleep, no one will hear us. Tell me everything, I want to hear it all.

    Ajen (tonelessly) – What is there to tell – you know everything; you were right there.

    Manorama (shouts) – No! I do not know. I did not understand. I was shocked out of my wits – I was thunderstruck.

    Ajen (mocking her) – Thunderstruck!

    Manorama (comes very close to Ajen, fixes him with her stare and speaks in sharp, low tones) – You have to tell me! What did happen?

    Ajen (looks away and aims for a light tone of voice) – What could have happened? Kali. He had never seen Indranath before. Indranath had a bath and was headed for your room – Kali stood by the door, as always. Perhaps the dog was asleep and he started from his sleep, perhaps he snarled and advanced towards the man who was a stranger to him. Brainless beast, how was he to know that Indranath is that man to whom you were tied by sacred vows. (Lips curl) That is all it was.

    Manorama – That is all?

    Ajen – That night Indranath had drunk a lot, perhaps his heart was weak. Suddenly he stumbled and fell over Kali.

    Manorama (after a pause) – It was you who instated Kali in this house. You had trained him skillfully. He could have done anything at a signal from you (she was about to say more, but she stopped).

    Ajen – You were no less fond of Kali. You made him lie in your room, in this very bedroom where we – you and I – (his lips curled in a smile).

    Manorama – Are you implying that I signaled to Kali – how dare you!

    Ajen – I did not say that. Accident, a pure accident: like a car-crash, plane-crash, train-collision – just like that.

    Manorama – Just like that. And then the pistol.

    Ajen – That was fired by me – in a final effort to save Indranath. I had to kill your favourite Alsatian.

    Manorama (after a short pause) – Did you fire once or twice?

    Ajen – I do not remember; I was not myself then.

    Manorama (derisively) – You were not your self! Liar! Villain!

    Ajen (lewdly) – I am Manorama Bhaduri’s lover; I would have to be a villain!

    Manorama (sparks flying from her eyes) – Really! Aren’t you the same Ajen Mazumdar who crept up stealthily when his friend was traveling: sly as a fox, like a cunning, greedy fox that sneaked towards his friend’s wife’s bed on all fours? Such words would hardly befit anyone else!

    Ajen (in cold, scathing tones) – Well, why blame the fox when the lioness herself invited him in, right in to the cave? So please, dispense with the outraged modesty; and besides (pauses and then seems to land upon a new thread of logic) – don’t forget, it is you who has the nightmares, not I. (He glowers at Manorama triumphantly)

     

    [A short silence.]

     

    Manorama (acquiescently, as if defeated by Ajen’s last words) – But – you are a doctor – couldn’t you . . .  couldn’t you save him?

     Ajen – Save whom? The instant he fell, he was gone. Perhaps he’d had a heart failure . . . Kali was unfairly held responsible.

    Manorama (mutters almost to herself) – Actually a weak heart  . . . too much alcohol. Accident, purely an accident . . . right?

    Ajen – Of course!

    Manorama – Really?

    Ajen – Why are you saying the same thing again and again? Death does not seek permission before it strikes.

    Manorama (strokes her temple and heaves a sigh) – You’re right! Death does not seek permission. Thank god.

    Ajen – Will you go to sleep now?

    Manorama – Yes, I shall sleep (forcefully) – I will be able to sleep now. (Laughs coyly) You are great – wonderful. Will you lie down beside me? (Takes him by hand) Come.

     

    [Telephone rings]

     

    Manorama (shudders) – Telephone! At this time! Who is it?

    Ajen – Let me see. (He picks up the phone and comes back) Someone wants you, it’s a trunk call.

    Manorama (fear lacing her voice) – Trunk call? At this hour? Who is it? Where is the call from? Who will call me long-distance? Did he say his name?

    Ajen (impatiently) – Why don’t you take the phone before the call disconnects?

    Manorama (picks up the receiver with a trembling hand) – Hello . . . (raises her voice), hello . . . yes, yes . . .who? . . .Adri . . . Adri, is that you? I can’t hear you, speak up. . . yes, this is mother . . . from where? Athens? Why Athens? (excitedly) What? You are coming? To Kolkata? . . .When? . . .Seventh . . . Sunday? That is tomorrow! . . . Just a minute (turns to Ajen) – please write it down, hurry . . . Alitalia, flight number . . . yes, tell me . . . B203, arriving Dumdum six-twenty p.m. Have you got that? Yes, all right . . . all right . . . okay then – okay, ’bye. (She hangs up, comes forward and speaks with a wobble in her voice) Adri . . . Adri is arriving tomorrow (she collapses on the bed, as if drained of all strength).

    Ajen (a little later) – Why the sudden visit?

    Manorama – I don’t know, couldn’t make out . . .the connection was very bad.

    Ajen – Not Cambridge or London, but Athens! Strange.

    Manorama – True.

    Ajen – This – exceeds all expectation.

    Manorama – Absolutely.

    Ajen – I hope it wasn’t a prank-call!

    Manorama – Prank-call? But who would pull a trick on me at this hour of the night?

    Ajen – Are you sure it was Adri speaking?

    Manorama – Of course – he is my son . . . wouldn’t I know his voice? “Mother, I am coming home on Sunday” – this is what he said to me.

    Ajen – But, wasn’t he supposed to go to Berkeley at this time? Is he coming here for some work?

    Manorama (a trifle aggravated) – Does he have to undergo an inquisition for coming to his own home?

    Ajen – No – I just wondered –

    Manorama – What? What is there to wonder at?

    Ajen – Someone who hasn’t come home in five years . . . why would he suddenly –

    Manorama – So, since he hasn’t come home in five years, woud he never come home? He has remembered his mother at last – he has to have! (a short pause as a smile tugs at her lips) The son is coming home to his mother – my son. Adri, the youngest – I wonder how tall he has grown. (Honeyed tones) Ajen, are you happy? Will you love him?

    Ajen – The more important question here is: will he love you?

    Manorama – Won’t he? How can he not love his own mother?

    Ajen – Do all children love their mothers?

    Manorama (her face is shadowed with anxiety as her voice lowers) – But Adri, he too? No, no, he is not like that; I know he is not like that. (Shakes her head as if dusting off all anxiety) You have seen him too, a smiling, cheerful, easygoing fellow – the exact opposite of his sulky elder-sister.

    Ajen – He was a child then. People change as they grow older.

    Manorama (after a short pause, whispers) – But Adri – he has not seen his father. He called me “mother” on the telephone; it felt so good. I shall not allow him to go away again.

    Ajen – Yes, you shall command and he will sit at home like a useless wimp!

    Manorama (following her own train of thoughts) – Let him get here; I shall enfold him with love and comfort. I shall throw the most elaborate parties at home, invite the prettiest of girls and host music and dance concerts sometimes.

    Ajen – Of course, pretty girls are scarce where he lives!

    Manorama (disregarding his words) – I shall do up the second floor to his taste. He will stay as he likes, do what he likes. Food, friends – everything will be to his taste. He will know how much his mother loves him. And then, perhaps he will say on his own, “I shall not go anywhere; I’ll stay right here.” Ajen, will you mind if he stays here?

    Ajen (with a mocking smile curling his lips) – You are worse than the egg-seller of Aesop’s fables. Look out – too much of prancing about may squash the whole basket of eggs. (Solemnly) Beware, Manorama-devi, beware!

    Manorama – What are you saying?

    Ajen – Mum’s the word. (Finger on his lips) Not a word about this – do you understand?

    Manorama (delayed response) – About Adri’s arrival . . .?

    Ajen – Finally, have you got it or does the nail have to be hammered in? (Sudden violence in tone) Do you want your demonic daughter to poison your son’s mind? And what would happen if your Adrinath cannot withstand the venom?

    Manorama (startled) – That’s true! This simple point did not occur to me at all . . . as a child Adri was most fond of his didi. What – can we do about this?

    Ajen – Don’t worry, I have worked it all out. Shampa should not get wind of this at all – no one should know. Kanak may be docile and pliant, but surely you know that she is her didi’s spy. And why trust the servants? I shall get rid of Shampa before Adri arrives. She will not even get to catch a glimpse of her brother.

    Manorama – That will be the best – yes, the best thing to do. Adri will also enjoy his visit. We too will breathe easy. He is returning after so long . . . the house has to have a light and airy feel to it. After such a long time, this house will have a whiff of fresh air, little pleasures and indulgences, sheer joy: Kanak’s wedding arrangements, Adri’s laughter . . . I cannot describe my feelings –

    Ajen – Softly, Rama, softly. First, listen to the important details: tomorrow you will go to Dumdum alone. First thing, you will tell Adri about Shampa: as soon as he gets off the plane. Mad – totally insane – very sad, but what choice do we have? We had to do it for her good. At the moment no one is allowed to visit her – no one. Have you got that? This is what you will tell him before all else – and then you can say whatever you like.

    Manorama – I will – surely I’ll tell him. I shall do whatever you tell me to do – everything. Now tell me, if I do not let Adri go away again, would you mind? (Manorama’s eyes are pleading, Ajen is silent) Tell me, will you look upon Adri as your own son? (Ajen is silent) You, me and my son – our son – the three of us will stay together from now on, we shall be happy? (Ajen is silent) Adri will get married – he will live here – I shall hear the chatter of little children, once again, in this house? Tell me Ajen – our life will start afresh now, I shall be happy – at last I shall be happy? Tell me!

     

    [Lights fade out; Manorama’s face looks desolate and Ajen’s harsh. The curtain comes down slowly.]

     





    Next: Act II

     

    Kolkatar Elektra was first published in Sharodiya Desh in 1967, and later, in book form, in 1968.

    Translation ©Sreejata Guha.

    Published November 30, 2009



    Illustrations by Nilanjana Basu, who is based in California.


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    ©Parabaas, 2009

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