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

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




    Kolkata's Electra

    A Play in Three Acts

    Buddhadeva Bose

    Translated from the original Bangla by

    Sreejata Guha

     

    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 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, a bed is laid on it. On the bed lay 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 firm body and 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 liked 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 runs to the door and places 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 looked here and there 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 examines 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 brushes 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 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 us 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. But 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 comes on stage again. Now the corpse was gone and Manorama lay 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 her skin of her throat-column 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, aren’t they working?

    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 was really keeping well – for a very long time now. And why wouldn’t I be fine? Who is luckier than I, who has 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 fills 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) 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 keeping 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: 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 said 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, 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 a strange man [to him](?? -- maybe we do not need this explanatory "[to him]").... Brainless beast, how was he to know that Indranath is that man with 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 with 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 my self 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 Majumdar (?? was Mazumdar--eslewhere it was Majumdar) 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, notI.(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 joined him in his miserable end. (?? "nimitter bhaagi halo Kali"--does it mean sort of like "Kali was held [unfairly] responsible" or something like that?)

    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, fast . . .Alitalia, flight no: 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 ghost-call!

    Manorama – Ghost-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 with 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, will 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 (a little later, 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 lay her eyes on 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 – 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.]

     

     

     

     





    Act II






    [The same day, three-thirty in the afternoon. The curtain rises on the ground floor of Manorama’s house. It is a huge living room. A portion of the staircase going up can be seen at one end of the room. It is an old-style, wide wooden staircase, carpeted and shining with glossy black varnish. There are three doors, one each to the right, left and center. The right-door leads out of the house and the other two lead indoors. There is a window to the right, with the hint of trees and a garden outside and the sun streaming in brightly. For a few seconds the stage is empty. Then Kanaklata comes down the stairs, dressed to go out; she is fashionably clothed. Her sari, blouse, purse and umbrella are impeccably matched. Her hair is piled high on her head in a bun. She is around twenty-three with a face that can loosely be described as pretty.]


    Kanak (looks around) – Didi . . .didi . . .didi!

    Shampa’s voice (off) – I can hear you. What is it?

    Kanak – Where are you?

    Shampa (off) – Right here!

    Kanak – Again she has gone in to that hole in the wall; (knocks on an invisible door under the staircase) Come out didi, I need to talk to you.

    Shampa (off) – Why don’t you come here – I’ll show you something.

    Kanak – Be a darling, didi, come out.

    Shampa (off) – I am busy.

    Kanak – I beg of you, didi; come out for a minute.

     


    [Shampa comes out from under the staircase. With a worn, old sari draped casually around her, she is tall, thin, emaciated and at first glance looks a little hunched. Her disheveled, matted hair looks reddish for lack of care. Her skin is actually fair, but has taken on a bronzed, rusty hue. Her cheeks are sunken and her eyes elongated and narrow; her gaze is often wan, sometimes sharp and at times unusually bright. She is twenty-eight but looks far older. Her face bears no trace of beauty and yet she cannot be called ugly. Her expression, her carriage and her voice holds something that is intoxicatingly charming.

    Shampa blinks a few times and then, after a conscious attempt, focuses her gaze on Kanak.]

     

    Kanak – Didi, what exactly do you do inside that cubby-hole?

    Shampa – I look for skeletons; I pile fossil upon fossil and re-create history.

    Kanak – Old trunks, broken boxes, dust, rats and cockroaches – is there no other spot in the house?

    Shampa – That is my place; I belong where the past rests.

    Kanak – Don’t you even feel hot?

    Shampa (shields her eyes) – Ugh, it’s so bright here! Why are the windows open?

    Kanak – Just look didi, the day is just like an autumn morning.

    Shampa – So what? How does it matter?

    Kanak – Just take a look outside –

    Shampa – Nothing, there is nothing to see; winter, summer, monsoon, autumn – all the same, they are all alike. No difference. Just the same pain, the same anguish, and the same anticipation: for that which is not there, for that which will not happen.

    Kanak (sympathetically) – Didi, please just listen to me –

    Shampa (sharply) – I’ve told you I can’t stand the light! Can’t you draw the curtains?

    Kanak – Don’t be angry, didi. (She draws the curtains and returns) Come on, let’s sit here for a bit.

    Shampa – I shall not sit. Tell me what you had to say. (She studies Kanak closely) Is Sunanda coming?

    Kanak (blushing) – You know, didi, I have said yes.

    Shampa – You’re getting married?

    Kanak (nods her head slowly) – I’d thought I’ll spend the rest of my life with you, take up a teacher’s position in some college and move out with you. But –

    Shampa (lifelessly) – I understand everything- (should be a period instead of "-"??)

    Kanak – Besides, how long will this go on?

    Shampa – Why say so much – have I asked you for an explanation?

    Kanak – You know, I have thought long and hard. I gave it a lot of thought before I said yes. You and I, two sisters – we have no one to call our own, no one to come to our aid. They have bought off all our relatives and every staff-member of this house. Father’s friends no longer even come this way. We do not even have someone to talk to.

    Shampa – Are you forgetting Adri?

    Kanak – Why should I forget him? But how do I know that he remembers us? Does he ever write to us or ask after us? I have heard that he writes to mother sometimes, but no one knows what he writes. Do you believe he will ever come back home?

    Shampa – Certainly! He has to.

    Kanak – How do you know?

    Shampa – There’s no reason to think so. But that doesn’t mean I have to stop hoping.

    Kanak (after a short pause) – But didi, brothers and sisters don’t share a home and neither do they live life together. We need to think how we shall live. All this while I was beside you, now Sunanda will also stand by you – I have given him that right. A man has become our friend – wasn’t it necessary?

    Shampa – Perhaps for you. When is the wedding?

    Kanak – Probably very soon.

    Shampa – Great, what is there to say – run away, escape from this house as soon as you can.

    Kanak – And you?

    Shampa – I am all right.

    Kanak (looks at Shampa unblinking for a few seconds) – Didi, tell me the truth: do you wish I wasn’t getting married?

    Shampa (laughs a little) – Silly girl! Why would I wish that, and if I did, why would it stop you? You have forgotten – you’ve stopped thinking about that which cannot be forgotten. There is no more to be said about it.

    Kanak – Didi, it’s been twelve years –

    Shampa (harshly) – Twelve years! The burden of this grief would defy eternity. Don’t you see them (looks up): living on brazenly, head held high. And she – our mother – hides the pus on her heart with gem-studded jewelry. Dear heavens – that criminal is our mother!

    Kanak – For shame, didi: that’s no way to talk.

    Shampa – I am a witness Kanak, I must say it. I am a witness and hence I am reduced to this in my own father’s house. Each one of their maids is an empress in my comparison.

    Kanak (heaves a sigh) – You have brought yourself to this, all on your own. You will not listen to anyone. Why don’t you eat properly, didi? Why don’t you do your hair or wear a nice sari?

    Shampa – This is my way of snatching all power from everyone; I am beyond all torture.

    Kanak (after a pause, speaks empathetically) – I feel very sad for you, didi.

    Shampa – For me? You feel sad for me? (her voice grows shriller) Can’t you find anything else to feel sad about? Feel sad for him Kanak, for him – weep, scream at the top of your head. Let the roof of this house crash with your screams. Weep for him who gave birth to you, the one they fed to the dogs, on the very day he came back, at the entrance to his own bedroom.

    Kanak (terrified) – No! No! No!

    Shampa – No? Do you mean to say I am wrong?

    Kanak (timid, scared tones) – It was an accident, didi.

    Shampa (smiles bitterly) – It is pointless talking to you. You did not see it. You and Adri were both with grandma in Dehradun at the time.

    Kanak – But you tell me, do accidents never happen? Who can avert them?

    Shampa – If it was accidental, then why was Adri packed off abroad? So young then, he could still not sleep unless his didi sat next to him! And that Ajen Majumdar! (Looks up) He clings to his lover like glue, and controls this house like the devil incarnate – I suppose that too is accidental? And she – that woman who feels for dogs, loves plants with her heart and soul – have you ever asked how many tears she shed for her husband?

    Kanak – Please forgive me didi, I cannot think such terrible thoughts – no, I cannot and I do not want to! Even if that is the truth, I do not want it. Bury it, bury it deep under the soil – deep, deep inside so that no one ever finds it. . . .(pleads) Didi! (Shampa starts walking away. Kanak reaches out and stops her) Don’t go, please listen.

    Shampa (coldly) – I have heard you, now let me go back to my work.

    Kanak – Wait, there’s more to talk.

     


    [A charged silence.]


    Shampa (impatiently) – Tell me: have you suddenly lost your tongue?

    Kanak – I’ve just heard something terrible.

    Shampa (starts)(?? it is OK, but maybe "startled" or "with a start") – Adri! Has something happened to Adri?

    Kanak – No; at least not that I know of.

    Shampa – What else is there that can be so terrible?

    Kanak (edges closer to Shampa and whispers) – You, for you – do you know what they have decided for you? The asylum.

    Shampa (suddenly wails in agony, in a choking voice) – N-n-nno! (Hides behind Kanak like a frightened animal and clutches her shoulders) Are you sure?

    Kanak – I was eves-dropping: talking on the phone with Dr Kanjilal.

    Shampa – Which one of the two was it?

    Kanak – The other one. A few words fell on my ears clearly. (In tears) Didi, they are going to take you by force!

    Shampa – And she – the one whom we call mother – did she say anything?

    Kanak – She came to my room in the afternoon suddenly. She spoke at length about how happy she was that I am getting married. Then she said, “We have fixed a match for your didi as well, a very good match. She stands to gain if she agrees. Tell her. Make her understand. This is the last chance.” Mother looked very wretched today, as if she was breaking down. On one hand they are planning with the psychiatrist and on the other hand offering you marriage: it is all very mysterious. Does mother not know about the other plan then?

    Shampa – You can rest assured, the two are hand in glove. It’s a brilliant trap, between the devil and the deep sea.

    Kanak (fervently) – Didi, will you please say yes?

    Shampa (muttering melodiously) – I shall never be a wife to anyone; I shall never be a mother to anyone.

    Kanak – Never? On no account?

    Shampa – On no account! Never!

    Kanak (suddenly as a new thought strikes her, she brightens up) – There is a way out, didi. Come away to Bombay with us. Come, let us run away, tomorrow. I can get married there – shall I tell Sunanda? Tomorrow morning flight? No one will be able to lay a finger on you there.

    Shampa – Are you asking me to turn traitor for fear of my life?

    Kanak – Traitor? Traitor to whom? (Agitated) Tell me didi, explain to me – tell me how I can leave you in danger like this?

    Shampa (stares at Kanak with glittering, sharp eyes) – Will you stay with me? Will you? (hugging Kanak with one hand) Come then, let us do that task together – that work for which I have lived all these years.

    Kanak (fear in her voice) – What work?

    Shampa – The work that, when finished, will make autumn a joy again, will fill the monsoon afternoon with melody and the air will no longer carry the stench of blood.

    Kanak (gazes at Shampa intently, trying to gauge her thoughts) – What do you mean?

    Shampa (pauses, then pushes Kanak away) – No, it’s nothing. You know how I ramble. I feel I have given my word to someone, as if I am indebted to someone.

    Kanak – Won’t you come, didi, to Bombay with us?

    Shampa – I shall never leave this house. My life is here, here lies my work and my destiny.

    Kanak – Didi, we shall not be able to fight them. They are powerful and we are just girls, helpless.

    Shampa – I am not helpless, and neither am I a woman.

    Kanak (hopelessly) – Will you really not recognize what a great crisis is staring you in the face?

     


    [A motor horn sounds outside.]

     

    Kanak (with a start) – That will be Sunanda. I need to go out, didi. Please be careful and don’t forget what I said.

    Shampa (calm and collected) – Do not worry about me Kanak. You go ahead on the path you have chosen.

    Kanak – Mother will probably talk to you today. Think carefully and give your answer, okay?

    Shampa – That I will have to do.

    Kanak (a trifle reassured) – ’Bye then? I shall be back quickly. Be very, very careful. (She touches her cheek to her sister’s and then leaves by the door on the right.)

    Shampa (gazing after Kanak) – Each to their own. Kanak, my very own sister, my own flesh and blood – she too. The bestial cavern opens up once again – in the same house: that cavern where the angel of death pounces from behind and the other two signal with their eyes. Aren’t you ashamed, Kanak? Haven’t you seen a wife, a mother? Go then, don’t let me come in the way of your happiness. I have understood that I have no one and nothing: except for the pain, the agony and that anticipation . . . for that which is not there, for that which will not happen. And echoes – endless and eternal.


    [Shampa sits on a chair and with her chin resting on her hands, thinks for some time.]

                Mania, mono-mania, obsession, fixation: so many words fashioned by them. A bunch of cheats! Thugs! Scoundrels! As if there is nothing called love, remembrance, dedication! . . .Psychiatry – it is the bane of this world. And that one, who is sitting upstairs – she too is perhaps neurotic? Schizophrenic? She did not realize what she was doing – and therefore she did not do it! Wonderful! (laughs shortly) That is the end of good and bad, right and wrong. God is tumbling around in the dirty drains. People have come to terms with the fact that the man is no more: hence I cling to him, for dear life, with all my might! Just me, no one else.


    [Shampa is silent for a few seconds. Then she rises and comes to the fore of the stage. Suddenly she looks like a little girl.]

                Father, where are you? Can you hear me? I know how miserable you are, how lonely. I know how terrible was that night, how terrible your death. No one believes it, father . . . they say it was accidental! They call me a lunatic. What is my crime? I have loved, I still do. The man is no more, but the love can still persist. Tell me, father, is love a business venture that I will give with one hand and take with the other? Do you not know how many tears I have shed for you? No, I weep no more; my tears have dried, my heart has shriveled, I look like an old hag! This is I, whom you called Rapunzel, apple of your eyes, the songstress. Do you know, father, I too am lonely like you. I have no mother and I shall never be a mother to any one. I have no sister and neither am I a sister to anyone. But they cannot stand that, father. Do you know, they have laid a trap for me. Either I fall in line with them or I shall be put in a cage like a beast. . . . No, I am not asking you to save me. I know you cannot do that. If that is what lies in store for me, let it happen. I am not afraid for myself. But I do ask you: will you not avenge yourself on them? Tell me father, for the very last time – speak! Let them hear you one last time. Tell them that sin is still sin, grief is still grief and revenge is still revenge. This is not the bunkum of psychiatry, but pure, unadulterated truth! Through me – speak up through me! Give me your blessing, so that I have that much time to spare, and do not buckle down at the last minute. . . .Father!

     


    [Exhausted, Shampa sits down and looks ahead with empty eyes. Silence for a while and then slowly, Manorama enters from the left. She is dressed to the hilt with a bright coloured sari, rings on her fingers, necklace on her throat, bracelets and bangles on her wrist – no effort spared. All the jewelry is gem-studded. Her thick, dark, wavy hair is parted neatly in the middle and her lush lips painted crimson. Her large eyes are darkened with kohl and her face is impassive. With all her jewelry, clothes and the deadpan face she looks like a clay idol of a goddess – dazzling and a trifle menacing. When Manorama walks in, Shampa does not see her.]

     

    Manorama (stands behind Shampa) – Shampa!

     


    [Shampa rises from her chair, moves a few paces away with her hands crossed over her heart in a defensive pose.]

     

    Manorama – Why are you not looking at me? Will you be angry with me all your life? (Shampa is silent) Will you always think of me as a foe? I – your mother? (Shampa is silent) Shampa, do you not love me one bit? Have you ever tried? Have you ever considered that I may not be happy either? (Shampa is silent) Do you know, I have nightmares these days and I cannot sleep for fear. Can you tell me what will drive away the nightmares and allow me to sleep again?

    Shampa – Penance mother, do a penance. Sprinkle holy water in the house.

    Manorama – So you too have started believing in God?

    Shampa – What choice is there? They are the ones who send you those dreams. Don’t you know what it means?

    Manorama – What does it mean, tell me?

    Shampa – They want atonement.

    Manorama – But who has wronged? And what is the crime? What is the atonement for?

    Shampa – Ask your self (?? yourself? may be OK to stress self), in front of the mirror, alone in a room. Or you can look at me – I am your mirror, your answers.

    Manorama (pause) – Are you so vicious with me because I have not renounced my life at the feet of the Hindu society? The death of a husband – is it a wife’s crime or her misfortune? You are today’s woman – will you too demand that she suffer all her life for it?

    Shampa – Some women feel the pain and some don’t. Some women know how to love and some don’t.

    Manorama – I was ill and bedridden at the time, suffering for two months, nearly at death’s door. At such a time your father suddenly upped (??--maybe deleted?) and left with a job in the army, leaving me all alone. Ajen was treating me and he saved my life.

    Shampa – Real men do not sit by their wife’s bedside.

    Manorama – And then for seven years – seven long years, the man was not to be seen. He did not come home on leave either. Most times I would not even know where he was.

    Shampa – He was facing danger, facing cannons, walking under skies from which bombs dropped: in Libya, Singapore and the jungles of Burma. He was fighting the fascists.

    Manorama – One day I heard that he had dropped out of the Army. The war ended and yet he did not return. Eventually he was located in Netaji Subhas Bose’ (??Bose's?) army. He simply wouldn’t tire of fighting.

    Shampa – My father, the patriot! The brave man!

    Manorama – What is your definition of bravery? It was pure hatred – violence, cruelty. I had asked him to stay back and not leave me: don’t make war, make love.

    Shampa – Make love! That’s something that even dogs, cats, pigs and apes can do.

    Manorama – How can you be so crude – you too are a lady.

    Shampa – What can I do if the truth is crude?

    Manorama – You do not know the whole truth. You do not know how I went through those seven years. We are women – we need a man; it feels very lonely, very empty. We need protecting.

    Shampa – Speak for yourself – don’t say ‘we’.

    Manorama – I begged so hard and yet your father went away; he did not listen to me, did not think of me.

    Shampa – Perhaps you missed him very badly? And to console yourself –

    Manorama (stopping her, coldly) – I was his wife. He had duties towards me.

    Shampa – But he did not want duty from you. He did not ask anything of you that went beyond the bounds of the heart. And you wanted him to be your shield and stand guard over you.

    Manorama – Shampa, no one lives by their heart. If everyone does his or her own work, life goes on smoothly.

    Shampa – His duty lay all over the world. He was noble, you are self-centered.

    Manorama – I had to be self-centered, for the sake of all of you. All three of you were very young then. Adri was a baby. There was a war on and crisis all around. Nothing was stable. And amidst the mayhem I was all alone – a woman with children.

    Shampa – Mother, were you frightened at so little? Did you start in terror when the Japs hurled two tiny bombs over Kidderpore? Did you ever think of London, Moscow or Berlin? What about Hiroshima?

    Manorama – Enough – for me that was more than enough. For women who become mothers, nothing is more grotesque than war.

    Shampa – But soldiers do not attack from behind. They face death on their own terms.

    Manorama – I want order. I crave for peace.

    Shampa – Written in blood: peace. The war has ended: has it?

    Manorama – Let me finish what I was saying. Right then when the world was going to pieces and I was losing my head, Ajen came and stood by my side. He took over the role of the head of the family. Thus the days passed – not one, not two, but seven years. In the final year I did not even get a scrap of news. The British declared him a revolutionary. I did not (?? "know" missing--typo?) where he was hiding or even whether he was dead or alive. And then one day – when the country had just gained her freedom – he came back suddenly.

    Shampa – The husband returned to the wife, the very instant it was possible for him.

    Manorama – Why didn’t he come earlier? Not even once?

    Shampa – There must have been hurdles great enough.

    Manorama – What hurdles? What could possibly be such an obstacle?

    Shampa – Where did he get a chance to explain all that?

    Manorama – Fate!

    Shampa – Yes – after surviving the thousand perils of war, the wild beasts and reptiles in the jungles and the deathly viruses – eventually in his own home . . .Fate! Yes, certainly.

     


    [Silence.]

     

    Manorama – Shampa, will you never understand me?

    Shampa – I am my father’s daughter.

    Manorama – And yet, it was in my womb that you were conceived and I am the one who gave you birth.

    Shampa – You stand before me and speak and he . . . is no more.

    Manorama – There is no sadder soul in this world than a mother. A child is born, she grows up, all the work is done by mothers, all the pain is borne by them: all sacrifice, all patience, all the tender loving care is demanded of them. The fathers have no role in it at all. A body within a body, a soul tied to another heartstring – fathers cannot fathom these things. They stay in their own world, sometimes they cuddle the child a bit and when they wish they go far away. The same child, when she grows up and tells her mother –

    Shampa – Stop it! I hate that moo-ing; can’t stand it. It makes me sick.

    Manorama – It makes you sick? The word ‘mother’ makes you sick?

    Shampa – Guess why?

    Manorama – Because you are sick.

    Shampa – If I am sick what is the cure? Can’t you get me cured?

    Manorama – Am I not trying that for a very long time? I have told you a million times, do whatever you wish, but do something. You didn’t enjoy college. You quit your dance classes. French, sitar, painting – you started all of them and felt bored. I wanted to send you abroad: England, France, America, wherever you wished. But you didn’t go.

    Shampa – Adri was young, he didn’t understand. But why should I go?

    Manorama – May I ask why you have crushed your life underfoot, smashed it to bits and ruined it so vehemently?

    Shampa – I have done exactly what I wanted to do and that is what I am still doing.

    Manorama – Tell me, for whom do you weep? How much of him do you even remember?

    Shampa – I have had to remember – so that others do too.

    Manorama – This is not your grief, it’s a fashion.

    Shampa – Do I look very fashionable to you?

    Manorama – Don’t you feel ashamed to walk around dressed like a beggar?

    Shampa – If I stared feeling shame, how would others feel their shame?

    Manorama – Ego – unnatural ego! As if grieving is your sole property in this world. And you must advertise it in a big way too!

    Shampa (glancing at her mother’s appearance) – No one else became a widow, but someone has to dress like one, right?

    Manorama – Shame! Is there a limit to your brazenness?

    Shampa – Some people call it idealism, dedication.

    Manorama – Do you know the truth? You just want to torture your mother, you wish to torment me. All that you did not do and all that you are doing is to that one end only. Am I right or not? (Shampa is silent.) I have gone through hell for you – still do – for these twelve years. But I can take it no more Shampa. Now you take your poisonous glare elsewhere – let me live.

    Shampa – You wish to live mother? You still wish to live? Do you ever think of those who are dead?

    Manorama – You are so cruel!

    Shampa – Most people are only cruel to others. I do not make much distinction between self and other.

    Manorama – And yet I must speak again – simply because I am a mother.

     


    [Silence for a while.]

     

    Shampa – Mother, the gems in your necklace are so red, like drops of blood! Just like drops and drops of fresh blood. Do you still love the colour red?

    Manorama – My moon-sign is Aquarius; emeralds and rubies are good for me. Your moon-sign is Pisces. Topaz and Pearl suit you best. I was just thinking what kind of jewelry I shall give you for a trousseau.

    Shampa – You are making a mistake. It is Kanak who is getting married.

    Manorama (suddenly adopting a harsh air) – Just you hear me now Shampa: it is time for you to get married.

    Shampa – Yuck!

    Manorama – It will be you first and then Kanak’s turn. That is how it must be. I have taken enough of your nonsense; no more.

    Shampa – I have reached the end of my tether too.

    Manorama – If you refuse to agree this time, then –

    Shampa – Then?

    Manorama – Then something else will happen. It won’t be nice.

    Shampa – What will you do? What will you do with me?

    Manorama – Everything that is necessary for the benefit of one’s child.

     


    [Long pause.]

     

    Shampa – Who is the groom?

    Manorama – Let me tell you everything. The land-broker Janardan is really very keen. But I do not wish you to fall in to the wrong hands. That Avijit – Chartered Accountant – do you remember him? I got a letter from him suddenly today. He is still a bachelor and he still lives in hope –

    Shampa – I see no fault in Janardan either. Does the hen get a chance to choose her rooster?

    Manorama – I am not joking Shampa. I need an answer – a clear answer.

    Shampa (pause) – Won’t you give me some time to think?

    Manorama – Certainly. You have a day to think.

    Shampa – Just one day?

    Manorama – One night actually; just tonight. It’s enough: nearly sixteen hours. Tomorrow morning I need your answer. I would like to send for Avijit no later than tomorrow. Remember, it will be to your advantage if you agree. And if you don’t: do not blame me later, don’t say I did not warn you. Until tomorrow morning.

     


    [Manorama climbs the stairs with measured, proud steps.]

     

    Shampa – Misery, now it is just you and me. Come, let us go back to the real work.

     


    [Shampa goes back towards the room under the staircase. For a few seconds the stage is empty. Then, Adri enters swiftly from the right. He is twenty-one, dressed in narrow, drainpipe trousers, a lime green shirt and a slim tie, a maroon jacket. On his feet he sports tapering, Italian shoes. He has a head full of slightly wavy, brushed-back hair and his face bears the stamp of health and ruddiness that is a gift of cooler climes. On his shoulder rests an overnight-bag and he holds a suitcase and a portfolio.]

     

    Adri – Looks like no one is around. (Dropping his luggage to the floor) Bearer, bearer! Is anybody there? Has everyone gone to sleep?

     


    [Shampa steps out and comes forward with steps that drag.]

     

    Adri (to Shampa) – Is the mistress at home? What about the young ladies? Where? Upstairs? Is the mother home? And her daughters?

    Shampa – Who do you wish to see?

    Adri – Please send for someone to take my things upstairs. (Moves towards the stairs.)

    Shampa (Blocking his way) – Who are you?

    Adri – Sort of cheeky, this girl (?? instead of bold, would underline be better?). (Stops short) Come here and let me tell you something: why are you so shabbily dressed? Don’t you get better clothes to wear in this house?

    Shampa – You don’t have to worry about my clothes, young man. Tell me what you want. Have you been sent by Dr Kanjilal?

    Adri (Stops abruptly and looks at Shampa intently) – Who are you?

    Shampa (returns the intent gaze) – Who are you?

     


    [Brother and sister stare at one another in silence. Shampa notices Adri’s luggage. She bends down and reads the labels on them. When she straightens, her expression has undergone a sea change.]

     

    Shampa (disbelieving tone) – Really? . . .Really? . . . Is it you?

    Adri – Didi! (He stretches out his arms and goes to embrace Shampa. She recoils and shrinks away.)

    Shampa – I was wading in old documents; I am very dusty.

    Adri – Nonsense! So what’s a little dust? (He hugs her) Where is everyone? Mother? Chhordi?

    Shampa – You didn’t ask about the other one.

    Adri – Who? Oh . . . (laughs lightly) Didi, are you still up in arms? How strange! In those countries women get married so many times, more so if they lose their husband at an early age. I like it that way. Besides, Didi, we have grown up now.

    Shampa – In no country does a woman re-marry if she was once wedded to a man like my father.

    Adri (trying to lighten the conversation) – Let these things be for now. Tell me, give me all the news. I have just arrived and you want to sulk? I shall not let you, wait and watch.

    Shampa – It’s a very hard task, Adri. Will you succeed?

    Adri – I’ll try, to the best of my ability. Is mother asleep? Won’t you call her?

    Shampa – She just went upstairs for a nap. She did not sleep well last night.

    Adri (a trifle disappointed) – All right then, let her be. Where is Chhordi?

    Shampa – Kanak has gone out. She is getting married soon.

    Adri – Really? Splendid; I’ve come at a really good time then.

    Shampa – Yes, at the right time – on the dot in fact.

    Adri – Did you all assume I shall never return?

    Shampa – NotI. Does anyone ever leave their home, their land behind forever?

    Adri – Perhaps you’ll get mad at me, but homesickness as you all know it, really doesn’t affect me these days. Do you know, I have really roamed the world in the last few years – for every holiday. Europe is truly amazing. Sometimes I feel like staying back there.

    Shampa – So why have you come back?

    Adri – Well, you are all here.

    Shampa – There you go: homesickness, blood ties. You have no choice but to return . . . Come, let us sit down here. (They sit on the sofa, side by side) Take off your jacket. Aren’t you feeling hot? (Shampa helps Adri to take off his jacket and loosens his neck-tie). Take off the shoes as well. Make yourself comfortable. Shall I take them off?


    [Shampa bends down to help him with the shoes. Adri grabs her hand and stops her.]

     

    Adri – Oh no! What are you doing?

    Shampa – Why, what’s wrong? As a child you never wanted to wear your shoes. It was I who put them on for you and took them off too. (Takes off his shoes) Wow, very pretty pair of shoes!

    Adri (pleased) – I bought them in Rome. This is the latest fashion. (Pause) Didi, try and visit Athens once. There is nothing like it in the whole world. Nothing to match the Parthenon. You know, I’d thought you’ll come to London to study. It would be grand if you came. I wrote to you so many times – but you never replied.

    Shampa – You wrote? To me?

    Adri – What? You didn’t get them? Not even one? (A shadow crosses his face and he gazes at Shampa intently for some time) Didi, how did you . . . when did you start looking so different?

    Shampa – You don’t have to stick to your Western manners with me – why don’t you come out and say that I look like a hag? They call me a witch – perhaps they aren’t far off the mark. (short laugh)

    Adri – They – Who?

    Shampa – She whom we call mother. He whom she calls her husband.

     


    [Adri lowers his head. Long pause.]

     

    Adri (looks up) – Didi, are you unwell? Are you suffering?

    Shampa – How long will you be in Kolkata?

    Adri – Not too long. About a fortnight or so. On the way I’d like to visit Japan and then on to Berkeley.

    Shampa – I didn’t know you were headed for America.

    Adri – You didn’t? Strange! Doesn’t mother tell you all anything about me? (Shampa is silent) Did she even tell you I was coming?

    Shampa – Did you let her know?

    Adri – I had called mother, from Athens. Don’t you know?

    Shampa – When? What time?

    Adri – Last night, I mean – this morning. It was nearly dawn in Kolkata then. I was supposed to reach by tomorrow evening. But suddenly I just took an earlier flight.

    Shampa – Oh, so that’s why! That is the reason! Therefore the sixteen hours! (suddenly embracing Adri tightly in an emotional upsurge) Adri! My brother! My ally!

    Adri (moves away) – What is it, Didi?

    Shampa – I’ll tell you later. (Gazes at Adri wondrously) First, let us have a chat – just like the old days. Do you remember when I used to give you phonics lessons? (?? Why not use Sahaj Path, the proper noun--would it be possible to keep the Bengaliness of the specific lessons...if not too difficult that is...)

    Adri (Same wonderment in his eyes) – ‘A for apple, B for ball.’ (?? the phrase chhaTo chheleTi... comes back later with some connotaion of a small boy and his relationship with his elder sister later on...)(laughs innocently.)

    Shampa – You’d say ‘aypple’ and I had a hard time getting you to say ‘apple’. And when we came to V-W, there’d be so much of wheezing.

    Adri (recites) – ‘The brothers V and W, sit in a corner violently wheezing!’ (?? can the Bengali alphabets be kept? "The alphabet brothers k and kh, sit in a corner violently coughing khuk-khuk --just some random idea..)

    Shampa – Great, you remember.

    Adri – Who can forget these things? And Didi, that ‘Kinchit biscuit’!

    Shampa (recites) – ‘Jagu, fetch me some tea and Kinchit biscuit.’ (?? why not keep the opriginal name "Banchha"? it sort rhymes with "kinchit" (kinchith?--also should the K in kinchit be in capital??)

    Adri – I adored that word, ‘Kinchit’. I’d often wish it would rain all night long one day and at dawn someone would fetch me tea and Kinchit biscuit. I could see two round cookies in my mind’s eye and I could even smell them, and the tea.

     


    [Short pause.]

     

    Shampa – You’ve come home after so long . . .suddenly; totally without warning. Just like father. Do you remember him? Do you remember father?

    Adri – How can I? He was at war even before I learnt to speak.

    Shampa – And that day – you were not here that day either. It was September and the sun shone brightly. In the evening a taxi drove into the gate. I spotted it from upstairs, before everyone else. I ran down the stairs and leaped in to father’s arms. It was so sudden that he actually didn’t recognize me – so many years had passed and I was older, wearing a sari. And then – I was a grown-up sixteen-year-old lady almost, in a sari and he heaved me up in his arms and kissed my cheeks. He smelled so sweet – no, no, not sweet; he wore such an amazing, manly scent. He was wearing a khaki suit and a blue neck-tie – I cannot describe how handsome he looked. He was taller than you, his chest so huge and his cheeks had a bluish stubble. Within seconds he started calling up people and then he took the car and went to the market. I was with him. All the time. So much was bought, so many places visited, such a variety of food cooked and so many people came home that night. Laughter, conversation, joy, father was like a fountain of joy. I was with him all the time, sitting close to him, almost touching him. He changed from the khaki suit in to a pair of blue trousers and a white shirt. He looked even more handsome then. When the clock struck ten mother told me to finish my dinner and go to bed. Father said, ‘Poor thing, let her be. Just for today, can’t we ignore some rules?’ But mother insisted. And I (bunching her hands in to fists and stretching them forward) – I fell asleep . . .Adri, I fell asleep.

    Adri – Didi, let it go.

    Shampa – No, listen. You have grown up. Now you can be told everything. In my sleep a terrible cry pierced my ears. I rushed out and saw – dog and man lying in a pool of blood. His lips were still moving, in an indistinct mutter. But then that too stopped.

    Adri – Didi, why are you troubling yourself with these memories?

    Shampa (after some silence she heaves a sigh) – Three grandchildren of the evil witch are still being reared in this house, being fed, walked and cuddled.

    Adri (weakly) – What is their crime?

    Shampa – Am I blaming the beasts? Do you know what they did to me? They medicated me: that doctor Ajen, by stealth! They did not let me weep to my heart’s content or even to catch a last glimpse of him. When I came back to my senses, all was gone. Nothing was left; the man was lost, disappeared – extinct, erased, forever after.

     


    [Few minutes’ silence]

     

    Adri – Didn’t you – go to cremate him?

    Shampa – I didn’t get the chance; my sleep kept me in chains. They finished everything in a hurry.

    Adri (suddenly) – Do you know what kind of a bed they carried him on?

    Shampa – How would I know that either? But why do you ask that all of a sudden?

    Adri (running his fingers through his hair) – No reason. Do you know Didi, I’ve seen so much of the world, but I’d never visited Athens. When I went there I felt that gods and goddesses were not the stuff of legends and myths – they are real, they are there, in Athens. (In a trance-like voice) It was when I finished calling mother and went and sat on the verandah of the hotel-room. Perhaps it was a full-moon. People thronged the streets as if on this moonlit night they had all come to offer homage at an altar. I gazed at the Parthenon. I’d gone there three times that day and had just come back from there – yet I yearned for it. White, simple pillars row upon row, the roof caved in, so much is ruined, others have looted – yet, so alive. It is truly a living temple. Suddenly, as I sat there, my eyes drifted shut and I dreamed.

    Shampa (leaning towards him) – Dream? You had a dream?

    Adri (in a low voice) – I dreamt of father.

    Shampa (stifling a cry) – Father!

    Adri – It is not a face that I knew, but I felt for a fact that it was him. He was lying down, pale. ‘My bed is very dirty, change the sheets.’ I heard him say the words clearly. ‘Bed is dirty, change the sheets.’ As his voice faded I woke up.

    Shampa (holding her breath) – And then?

    Adri – Suddenly I felt I should go to Kolkata immediately. I felt very restless. I came out; after trying a couple of airlines, I got a seat on a Lufthansa flight. It was scheduled to leave in an hour. I packed in a few minutes; once I boarded the plane I felt I was being juvenile – silly. I should have stayed another day in Athens! Who knows when I’ll be able to go back there.

    Shampa (stands up and speaks elatedly, like a victor) – God, you exist! Love, you are not a myth!

    Adri (stunned, rises slowly) – Didi, I am not sure I understand. I feel there is a lot I do not know yet. I feel I don’t really know you. What is it, Didi? What has happened?

    Shampa – Come closer. (Adri draws closer, Shampa puts her arms around his neck and whispers in his ears.)

    Adri (recoils sharply) – W-what? What did you say? Mad-house? (Shampa nods slowly) No! No! No! (His eyes mirror terror.)

    Shampa (eyes bright with an unnatural glow) – There, you can hear the bells tolling in my heart (draws Adri’s head to her bosom). He has given you his command as well. The debt must be paid off. The vow fulfilled. The skies will no longer be thirsty, the air will be purified, the rainy afternoon will overflow with music. Just this much – I had wanted just so much, Adri. I waited for this, for you. Then – you and I together: in prison, in the madhouse, who cares? We are two birds, ocean-birds – liberated.

     


    [Adri stares at Shampa – fearful, silent, unblinking.]

     

    Shampa – Why are you staring like that? Do you really think I am off my head?

    Adri – N-no. That’s not what I am thinking. Tell me Didi, what shall I do – what can I do.

    Shampa (finger on her lips) – Shhh! Footsteps on the stairs. She is coming.

    Adri (whispers) – Who – Mother?

    Shampa (whispers) – Adri – beware! Not a word more. I shall tell you everything later.


    [Manorama appears at the staircase landing. She is dressed as before.]

    Manorama (takes two steps down and spots Shampa first) – Why is there such a ruckus here? Who were you speaking to? My sleep is so light, the slightest sound is enough to wake me. Won’t you let me even catch a nap in peace?

    Shampa (calmly) – Mother, look who is here.

     


    [Now Manorama spots Adri. She takes a step forward and stops short on the stairs. Shampa throws her a quick glance. Manorama looks from Shampa to Adri and her face mirrors joy and terror simultaneously.]

     

    Adri (stands below the stairs and speaks joyfully) – Mother, I have come – it’s me.

     


    [Manorama comes down to the last step and places her palms on Adri’s cheeks and gazes at him silently.]

     

    Adri (laughs) – What is it Mother – you can’t believe it’s me?

    Manorama (overwhelmed) – Adri, my darling! My love! How you have grown. (She kisses him on the brow and he cringes away) Oh, so now you feel shy? But a son is never too old for a kiss from his mother.

    Adri – How are you mother?

    Manorama – How do you find me?

    Adri (with laughter threading his voice) – Fine. Great. You look very beautiful.

    Manorama – That’s what every son says to his mother!

    Adri (suddenly, in an altered tone) – Mother, why are you wearing so much jewelry?

    Shampa – Have you seen Adri, how pretty are the gems on Mother’s necklace! Glowing red – like fresh droplets of blood.

    (Adri glances at his mother’s throat.)

    Manorama – They have healing powers, it is good to wear them. When you get married all this will go to your wife. . . . Shampa, you are so strange. You just sat here all this while with Adri; why didn’t you go upstairs, call me?

    Shampa – Adri stopped me from waking you. He’s learnt good manners abroad!

    Adri (hastily) – I – I’ve just arrived, Mother: a few minutes ago.

    Shampa (narrowing her eyes as she looks at her mother) – Mother, Adri came home so suddenly, without informing anyone: just like father, isn’t it?

    Manorama (blanches) – So, if a boy wants to come back to his own home why does he have to inform anyone? (Adri glances at his mother and Manorama drops her gaze.)

    Adri (somberly) – You are right mother, I am coming home – why would I have to inform. (Tries to lighten his tone with effort) Suddenly I had a great wish to see you, Mother. So I came home.

    Manorama (pleased, rushes in) – Listen Adri, let me tell you right away: do not leave the country again. Stay here, in your own home, with your mother. I’ll leave the entire second floor to you, and I’ll have it decorated to your taste. It is your home, everything will be as you wish. (Edges closer to her son) You’ll stay, won’t you? (Adri cringes and moves away.)

    Shampa – A man worth his salt never sits at home with his mother.

    Manorama – Adri, won’t you stay? Will you leave again?

    Adri – But I – I have to go to Berkeley, Mother. I have already written to them saying yes.

    Manorama – Adri, I am growing old –

    Adri – No, no, you are not old; you do not look old at all. (Looks at Shampa and then at his mother) You are still the same as before. But Didi – I didn’t recognize her, you know.

    Manorama (listlessly) – Really? So, do you have to go to Berkeley?

    Adri – They have given me a fellowship. It is really good. You won’t have to spend anything on me anymore.

    Manorama – Well, just listen to you talk! Like I am really quaking in fear of the expenses! Everything I have is in reality yours. Daughters are born to go away, the sons are yours to stay. Listen, there is a good news – your Chhordi is getting married.

    Adri (faking surprise, halfheartedly) – O-oh really? That is a good news.

    Manorama (warily) – Your Didi may also be getting married.

    Adri (truly surprised) – Didi’s marriage? Didi’s? (He glances at Shampa and then looks away.)

    Shampa (suddenly, pleading) – I beg of you mother, please do not ask me to get married.

    Manorama (gently) – This is a peculiar resolve of your Didi’s – she will not marry. Meanwhile Kanak’s marriage is fixed. How does it look if Shampa doesn’t marry first? It is also customary in our country that the elder one goes first. Now that you are here Adri, try and convince her.

    Shampa – Adri, you know your math, right? Some do it twice and some not even once: that’s what balances the scale, doesn’t it?

    Manorama – I do a different calculation. There is misery in life and yet it is human to try and be happy.

    Shampa – Flies feast on festering wounds and frogs deem the dirty drains to be their heaven.

    Manorama – Did you hear that Adri – did you hear what your Didi just said?

    Adri (distractedly) – Do not involve me in these matters, Mother. I would like to stay out of it. (moves away.)

     


    [Ajen enters from the door to the right. He wears trousers and a half-sleeved shirt. He comes to a standstill. His gaze skitters from Shampa to Adri and from Adri to Manorama. There is a moment’s eye-contact with Manorama. A dark shadow looms over his face but instantly he drags a smile to his lips and advances towards Adri. Shampa exits silently, unnoticed by all.]

     

    Ajen (Heartily)Hullo, my boy, nice to see you. (extends his hand.)

    Adri (reaches out to shake his hand)Hullo. (The two men shake hands in the best of western tradition.)

    Ajen – Welcome home.

    Adri – I – came home suddenly.

    Ajen – Very good! Excellent! Well, you look wonderful: a handsome young man! Have you seen him, Rama? Would he have had such an excellent physique had he lived here? So, you are a B.A., Cantab! Wonderful! So, are you now en route to Berkeley or has the wandering son returned home for good?

    Adri (distracted)Berkeley? . .  . Yes, of course. I must go. (suddenly, as if something else comes to his mind) I mean – I am supposed to reach there on the twenty-fifth, but – I do not know what to do.

    Manorama (her face lights up) – So – you will stay? Is that final?

    Adri – I have to think. (after a pause) You know mother, I do not have any patriotic connection to this country as such. But there is something else – a pull of the blood-ties; I can feel it after coming here. Somehow I feel (looks around the room) – this is where I belong.

    Manorama (thrilled beyond measure) – My Adri! My love! (To Ajen) Please convince him to stay back?

    Ajen – He is a mature adult, he will do as he deems fit. In our country parents interfere too much and it hinders young men from growing up properly. Am I right, Adri? (Places his arm on Adri’s shoulder affectionately, Adri slips away.) Have a smoke? (Opens the cigarette case and offers it to Adri.)

    Adri – Thank you. (Reaches for the cigarette and stops himself) Not now, later.

    Ajen (in a tone dripping with informal amicability) – C’mon, take it. You’ve grown up abroad; do you still believe in all that traditional nonsense? Listen, let me be frank with you. Do not think of me as an elder or suchlike. We are friends, OK? (proffers the cigarette case again.)

    Adri (Takes the cigarette and speaks in a flawless, courteous tones)Thank you sir. (Lights his cigarette with Ajen’s lighter) Mother, wouldn’t it be nice to have some tea now?

    Manorama (bustles about) – Oh sure, certainly! I don’t know where my wits were – one look at you and I forgot everything. (Goes to the door on the left) Bearer, tea please! What will you have with the tea? Sandwiches or puri? Come in, let us all go and sit at the dining table.

    Adri – Mother, let me go and have a quick wash.

    Manorama – Don’t be late, the tea will be ready soon. Go on upstairs, I’ll send your luggage. And I’m coming up soon; in case you need anything . . .

    Adri – Don’t worry. I don’t need anything.

     


    [Adri went up the stairs. The minute he turned the corner, Ajen’s expression changed, and Manorama’s too. Both of them drew closer and looked extremely anxious.]

     

    Ajen – When did he come?

    Manorama – I am not sure. I’d just fallen asleep. When I came downstairs I was shocked.

    Ajen – And the witch – was she there?

    Manorama – She was. (Ajen face is clouded.) Why are you so worried? She is a helpless girl and you are so afraid of her?

    Ajen – She is no longer helpless.

    Manorama – But my son loves me – he will love me. ‘Blood ties’ – didn’t you hear him?

    Ajen (almost to himself) – Meanwhile I have made all the arrangements. Kanjilal will send his men tomorrow. But – Adri has just arrived and within a day his sister – no, let us watch for a couple of days more. We must keep an eye on them. And then if (leaving the sentence incomplete) – did he say why he came a day early?

    Manorama (purring with pleasure) – He said, ‘Suddenly I wanted to see you, Mother.’!

    Ajen (almost to himself) – Adri will perhaps go on to Berkeley, he will not stay here too long. In that case . . . Shampa’s arrangement – can wait for later, can’t it?

    Manorama – Listen to what I have to say. Let Kanjilal’s men come tomorrow. If the situation doesn’t look good, they can go back. No one will know who they were or what they came for. I shall explain to Adri about Shampa today. He has grown up, he is bright and has lived abroad – surely he’d be reasonable. Besides, if Shampa suddenly agrees to the marriage, then there’s nothing like it. You know what I want most – Adri will stay and Shampa won’t: this is what I want.

    Ajen – You want Adri? (pause) Have you noticed how much like his father he looks? It wasn’t so apparent when he was a child. His forehead, his lips – startling in fact!

    Manorama – Ri—ght you are . . . yes, that is so. So much so, that even his voice –

    Ajen – The same as Indranath’s.

     


    [Manorama and Ajen look at each other steadily. The curtain comes down.]

     

     





    Act III






    [A few hours later, the curtain rises on the same section of the drawing room. Manorama sits alone. Her clothes have changed. She wears a white blouse and a light-coloured sari from Cuttack, and a vermillion bindi on her forehead. Her jewelry is minimal and she appears in a good mood.

    It is at night.

    Kanak enters from the left, with coffee on a tray.]

     

    Kanak – Mother, where is Adri?

    Manorama – I just saw him in the dining room.

    Kanak – He said he’d have coffee. (She places the tray on a teapoy.)

    Manorama – Perhaps he has gone to the verandah with Jasmine.

    Kanak – Didn’t you notice – Jasmine has left.

    Manorama – Oh, yes. I seem to be so forgetful today.

    Kanak (with a sly smile, in a tone of newfound empathy with her mother) – It is not what you think Mother. Jasmine, Manjula, Kasturi, the girls pulled out all stops. But Adri was like a piece of wood.

    Manorama (laughing at this newfound intimacy with her daughter) – I suppose none of them appealed. Perhaps he has found someone abroad.

    Kanak – I do not think so. Adri seems very strange this time.

    Manorama (a trifle sharply) – How so? It is for him that there is all this celebration in the house today.

    Kanak (a little hurt) – You are forgetting the other reason.

    Manorama (strokes Kanak’s back affectionately) – No dear, no, I haven’t forgotten. But isn’t it a great stroke of luck that your wedding got fixed and Adri too came home!

    Kanak (soothed) – That’s true. But you know, Adri seems very disconnected, unmindful. He did not even talk much with Sunanda.

    Manorama – Give him some time to settle down.

    Kanak (a little heated) – Really, what is there to settle down to? This is his home, his country. We are his near and dear ones.

    Manorama – His heart and soul still lies in those foreign lands. Didn’t you hear how he was going on and on about Greece? It happens, you know. As a child when I went to Puri for the first time, I came back and only heard the sound of crashing waves for a few days after that.

    Kanak (a pause) – But Didi – (stops short abruptly)

    Manorama (encouraging) – Yes?

    Kanak – Didi really surprised us today, didn’t she? We’d all forgotten what she really looked like.

    Manorama – Do you think her illness is on the mend then?

    Kanak (eyes get shadowed) – No, no, not an illness – I don’t find her sick at all. Let Didi be, as she wishes; how does it harm anyone? (eagerly, pleading) Mother, please do not force her, don’t compel her in any way. Sunanda and I shall look after her. You do not have to worry about her.

    Manorama (annoyed) – You are talking as if Shampa is nothing to me.

     


    [Enter Ajen through the door on the left. He is wearing white pyjama-kurta and sports a pipe between his teeth. His face bears traces of anxiety.]

     

    Ajen (on spotting Kanak, drags a smile to his lips) – Today all of you really livened up the evening Kanak – it passed in a blink. I didn’t know Sunanda can sing. He sang really well. He is a wonderful boy. . . . I can’t seem to see Adri around. I thought I’d offer him my cherry-brandy for a taste.

    Manorama – Perhaps he has gone to bed, he is rather tired today. Kanak, will you please check if he needs anything?

     


    [Kanak glanced at her mother once and then went up the stairs. Ajen started pacing the floor, smoking his pipe.]

    Ajen (stops pacing and faces Manorama) – So – you have donned a ‘madonna’ costume today: the Bengali housewife? (Mocking) Hah!

    Manorama (bashfully) – Adri doesn’t really like such heavy jewelry.

    Ajen – Goodness me, mother and daughter seem to be competing for Adri’s approval. I saw that the princess has worn a colourful sari today and even washed her hair.

    Manorama – Isn’t that good? A good omen. Finally her pig-headedness of so many years has crumbled. She even wore a few pieces of jewelry.

    Ajen – She’s flaunting her charms for her brother and you call it a good omen?

    Manorama – You know, I – I sense hope around the corner. Who knows, perhaps . . . Shampa has realized her mistake at last.

    Ajen – Having your son back has turned your head. Have you gone blind? Didn’t you look at Shampa’s eyes?

    Manorama – Ajen, today I feel good.

    Ajen – You just saw how she’d dressed up, but didn’t you see her eyes? I did – at the dining table her eyes locked with mine a few times. The same wintry chill, harsh, inflexible. She did join us for dinner, but she hardly ate anything – barely pushed the food around on her plate. (Manorama’s face clouded) I . . . was observing her. And suddenly . . . oddly enough . . .I was reminded of you.

    Manorama: Me? Why me?

    Ajen (almost to himself) – That night – when Indranath came home: that night you too were staring at Indranath from afar, and I was staring at – (whispers) you!

    Manorama (sharply, covering Ajen’s lips) – No – don’t say that.

    Ajen (pushes her hand away rudely) – Suddenly that scene came to mind; it was a strange sort of stare: cold, icy, bleak. (Draws very close to Manorama, looks her in the eye, whispers in a stage whisper) Do not forget that Shampa is your daughter.

    Manorama (agonized whimper) – No, I will not listen to this. Shut up!

    Ajen (almost as if he has lost control over himself) – Have you already forgotten everything? It was this very morning – your nightmare and right then – Adri’s phone call?

    Manorama – Ajen, will you too persecute me now?

    Ajen – All was well. No one would have seen Shampa from tomorrow. But suddenly Adri took a taxi from Dumdum airport and directly . . . without informing us . . . do you know, Shampa did not once look at Adri? We had dinner and chatted for so long – but never once did she look at Adri.

    Manorama – So what? How does that matter? What is so scary about that?

    Ajen (short laugh and then puffs up his chest) – Do I look like a coward? But it is also stupidity to turn a blind eye where there is a real cause for fear.

    Manorama (blanches) – What cause? Why fear? Why persecute? What have I done? What have we done?

     


    [A minute’s silence, the two stand face to face; their jaws are stiff.]

     

    Manorama (moves away and laughs) – Bunkum; nightmares are hogwash and they don’t mean a thing. Saturday, the month of August: all nonsense. I shall not think of it any more. I know everything, better than you actually Listen – the other day – that day the woman you’d stared at and this woman you see today, they are not the same person. The Manorama of that day is no more. I am someone else. I am now Adri’s mother.

    Ajen (heartlessly) – You were a wife too.

    Manorama – That wasn’t me, that was someone else.

    Ajen – Adri’s father’s wife.

    Manorama (in a piercing hiss) – So . . . should I live in fear all my life?

    Ajen – Fear dies only when a man dies. We all die but once.

    Manorama – And the one who dies, has no regrets, no complains. He submits and he forgives.

    Ajen – I do not know. I know nothing of after-lives. (Paces the floor and speaks to himself) I am a doctor, all I know is that human beings wish to live – for as long as possible. And then again some don’t wish to. They get killed, purely for their own idiocy. They do not understand when they should avoid stepping on a beast’s tail, or when to avoid their own wives. For example, Pandu. The same one in The Mahabharata. . . people say desire lives as long as you live. They are right. But the opposite is also true: terror too lives as long as you live.

    Manorama – I will not have it. I shall live anew from this day forth. Adri loves me. It is for me that he has come home so suddenly.

    Ajen (had moved to the window as he spoke; now he looks out and suddenly gets agitated) – Look at that – come here, just see this!

    Manorama (rushes to his side) – What is it? What have you seen outside?

    Ajen – Can’t you see? And you thought he’d gone to bed!

    Manorama (breathes heavily) – You’re right!

    Ajen – Look how they walk, shoulder to shoulder. Both of them look unnaturally thin and tall – like shadows, as if two shadows have suddenly got to their feet and are walking. Adri’s head is bent low and – and the witch is looking at him, talking, she is whispering in his ears! (feverishly) Call them – send for them – tell them to come inside, fast!

    Manorama (leaning over the window, raises her voice) – Adri—i! Adri—i!

    Ajen – They can’t hear. They are not even looking this way.

    Manorama (raises her voice further) – Adri—i! Adri—i! Come here – I have to talk to you – hurry up. . . . (to Ajen) I shall speak to Adri. Right now. You go to bed.

    Ajen – Don’t be late. And don’t keep him up till very late. Get a good night’s sleep tonight. Tomorrow morning I shall get rid of the ill omen.

    Manorama – We shall talk about that tomorrow. Now go!

    Ajen (stops after taking two steps up the staircase, and turns back) – Remember, don’t keep Adri up till very late. (Goes upstairs.)

     


    [Adri and Shampa enter from the right. Shampa is wearing a dark blue sari and a pearl necklace; her hair lies in thick, wavy tresses. Her skin is the colour of ageing ivory. Adri is wearing a pair of dark blue slacks and a white half-sleeved shirt. On spotting his mother Adri leaves Shampa’s side and stands with his back to them, beside the coffee tray left by Kanak.]

     

    Manorama – Where were you two? (the agitation in her voice is blatant)

    Shampa – Nowhere special. We were just walking in the garden.

    Manorama – So late in the night?

    Shampa – Adri wanted to walk in the moonlight.

    Manorama – But I thought the sky was overcast.

    Shampa (smiles slightly) – Adri loves this kind of cloud-covered moonshine. Why were you calling us?

    Manorama – Well, it’s late, isn’t it? Time for bed . . . Adri, you’re having coffee now?

    Adri – Just a little.

    Manorama – Wouldn’t it chase away the sleep?

    Adri (pours coffee from the pot) – I like my coffee late in the night. (He takes the coffee cup and sits on the sofa as he picks up a book.)

    Manorama (feels the coffee pot with the back of her hand) – It’s lukewarm. Shall I make some fresh?

    Adri – No, this is fine. Didi, will you have some?

    Shampa – No, I’m sleepy – (she stifles a yawn with her hand) I’ll be off. (She heads for the door.)

    Manorama (facing Shampa, in a low voice) – Have you decided anything?

    Shampa – Oh, that thing! But there’s still a lot of time. The sixteen hours aren’t up yet.

    Manorama – Sixteen hours? What is that? (Throws a quick glance at Adri and finds him immersed in his book) So you are giving it a thought?

    Shampa – I am thinking. Getting ready. Preparing myself mentally.

    Manorama (flattering her) – You are looking wonderful today. The necklace suits you.

    Shampa (with a subtle smile, plucking at the necklace with her fingernails) – But this is yours – remember?

    Manorama (suddenly losing colour) – Well, ye—s, of course I remember. But pearls are unlucky for me.

    Shampa – How fortunate that they are lucky for me. I love pearls and especially this necklace.

    Manorama – Very well, that’s wonderful to know. I shall buy you an entire set of pearls: as much as you like! So, will you let me know tomorrow morning?

    Shampa – Let the dawn come. (Leaves through the door in the center.)

     


    [Slight pause. Manorama glances at Adri a couple of times, but Adri has his eyes glued to the book.]

     

    Manorama (standing close to Adri) – Adri, listen to me. (Adri looks up) How do you find your Didi?

    Adri – She’s lost a lot of weight, hasn’t she?

    Manorama (sits next to Adri on the sofa) – Haven’t you noticed something peculiar about her? At times haven’t you found her . . . abnormal?

    Adri – Something . . .I’m not exactly . . . (suddenly) Mother, are you all right?

    Manorama – Not really. My heart gives me trouble. (After a pause) Your father too had died of a heart failure.

    Adri – These days I’ve heard that they are able to restart the heart even if it stops beating.

    Manorama – Well, death is inevitable. Whatever the intensity of grief at that moment, one has to come to terms with it. But Shampa – is harbouring the same grief in her heart.

    Adri – Hmm. (Sips on his coffee) I am in agreement with you mother. It is best for Didi to get married now.

    Manorama (smiling) – Exactly! It took a few seconds for you to grasp that. It’s not difficult to grasp either. A girl – sitting at home idle, she didn’t bother to complete her education, meanwhile she is pushing thirty; is this a way to live a healthy life? But – do you know something? She hates the thought of marriage, she finds happiness in revolting and she hates love.

    Adri (stands up) – Hates love?

    Manorama (stands up as well) – Abso—lutely. She is vigorously revolted by all that is good, beautiful, joyous and all that one would desire in life. Now you tell me, if this isn’t a mental illness, what is it?

    Adri – So you’re saying this is a mental illness?

    Manorama – Not just me, the greatest psychiatrists of Kolkata are saying that.

    Adri – So then . . . it has gone that far?

    Manorama – They say, even now she may be cured if she gets married. Or else it’ll get worse by the day.

    Adri – Hmm. (Goes to the window, looks out and then comes back) Mother, I saw your dogs in the garden. Fabulous! I have rarely seen such jet black Alsatians.

    Manorama – You liked them?

    Adri – But I don’t think they took to me much.

    Manorama – You must be joking. Let a few days pass and you’ll see how devoted they will be to you.

    Adri – It is really amusing to think that so many dogs and cats get so much affection from people and so many humans do not. (Laughs a short laugh, a little rashly.)

    Manorama (a trifle pale) – What kind of talk is that? Affection is not cash in the bank that will fall short in someone’s share if given to someone else. Besides, love is of many kinds and all of them together bring joy to a person’s life.

     


    [A short pause.]

     

    Adri (sipping on his forgotten coffee cup) – Joy. What we call happiness, what we desire. Behind all of it there is a big inequity mother.

    Manorama (with a wobble in her voice) – Why? Where is the inequity?

    Adri – We can only be happy when we are able to overlook others’ misery.

    Manorama (mournfully) – Adri, we are just human, each of us. We are not God that we shall be able to perceive everyone’s tragedy.

    Adri – But if there is someone who wants to right a wrong, who wants to address an injustice, who cannot forget the wretched?

    Manorama – Of what use are they to us? At the most their anger will make them indulge in some rebellion; and that will lead to: more misery, more wrong and more injustice.

    Adri – Or for example, a friend of mine is in hospital dying of cancer and I go to a party to enjoy myself. And suddenly that friend comes to my mind?

    Manorama – You are not responsible for your friend’s cancer. He will die even if you do not go to the party.

    Adri – You are right. He will die even if I do not go to the party. But the dying person – could be my wife as well, or my father?

    Manorama (loses colour) – What are you blabbering Adri? Should others stop living because someone is dying?

    Adri (a moment’s pause) – Exactly. You are right. (laughs mistily) Do you know, I was reading a book in the plane . . .

    Manorama – Oh, put away your bookish sentiments. Life is about living – not reading. Living is a composite unit of joy, sorrow, good and bad. There is misery and grief, but above all else, all is well. Life is beautiful. Living is a good thing. Tell me, this exultation I feel today on seeing you – is this counterfeit? (Looks at Adri lovingly.)

    Adri (meeting her eyes) – I too am happy mother; very happy (collapses on the sofa wearily).

    Manorama (a little later, warily) – What has happened is – she no longer feels good about anything. I am speaking of your Didi. She seems to try so hard at being miserable, almost by force.

    Adri – And some people try so hard at being happy, almost by force.

    Manorama – But they are the best – it is through them that life goes on. Those who want happiness for themselves, also allow others to be happy. And those who yearn for sorrow, make sure that everyone else is miserable too. Take our Shampa for example – what does she lack? Nothing, it is all make-believe, she loses face if she is not wretched. You saw her state when you came in – how ugly! Shameful! Do you know why she does that? She punishes me that way. She has vowed, sworn with her heart that she will torment me.

    Adri (emotionally) – Torment – you?

    Manorama – Shampa cannot stand the sight of me. You can never understand how painful that is for me.

     


    [Manorama reaches out to Adri; he moves away. A short pause.]

     

    Manorama (in a low voice) – Let me ask you something Adri. Do you – ever think of your father?

    Adri (blanching) – About father? Not really. Why would I? I did not really – know him.

    Manorama – But still – have you never wanted to know anything? (Adri is silent) Tell me, if you have questions, ask me.

    Adri (wearily) – Let it be mother.

     


    [Adri’s gaze drops to the book on his lap. Manorama goes around to stand behind his sofa and she leans forward to see his face.]

     

    Manorama – But I wish to tell you a few things. You have grown up now and now I can tell you everything.

    Adri (as if startled, looks up) – No, mother, no one can tell everything. And I do not wish to hear it either.

     


    [Silence.]

     

    Manorama – Tell me, have you ever felt that your father and I – that I caused your father some grief?

    Adri – Why on earth are you asking such questions?

    Manorama – I am, beause that is Shampa’s firm belief. She has believed the same for the past twelve years.

    Adri – And you could not make her change her mind?

    Manorama – Perhaps she isn’t wrong. Perhaps I truly caused him grief – and I received my share too Adri. But Shampa never considers that I too am human, I too could have been wounded. All her compassion is reserved for the dead, and for me she can only turn the corkscrew and make me suffer – as if it is criminal that I am still alive. And to augment my guilt, she makes herself suffer all the time – for so many years – twelve years. (A little later, cautiously) Wouldn’t you call this an illness?

    Adri – Well – yes – a form of illness certainly. But please talk no more mother. Go to bed.

    Manorama – Please let me speak a little more, Adri. (After a pause, tenderly) Look, were you upset with me for some reason – is that why you didn’t come home for so long?

    Adri – I do not know why I stayed away, but I have told you why I came back – because of you.

    Manorama (face lit up with smiles) – So then – so then, Adri, tell me honestly – you hold no grudges against me? You are not angry about Ajen?

    Adri (with a peculiar smile) – Why would I be angry? I believe everyone has the right to their own life. Whatever keeps one happy is what’s right for them.

    Manorama – Right! That is exactly what I thought too. I’d wished that everyone would be happy in his or her own way, wanted what was good for everyone. Even now, that is what I truly want. But – your Didi – she is the cause of all discord in this house, not a moment’s peace. It is your home, your mother and sisters, all your own people.

    Adri – Tell me, mother, what can I do?

    Manorama (sits on the sofa beside Adri) – You persuade her, bring her around to our circle, to the real world. You’ll succeed. You can do it Adri. The stony heart has melted on seeing you. She has changed suddenly, a miraculous change. Now if you tell her – if you convince her – perhaps she’d even agree to get married. You are home . . . both your sisters getting married . . .all my dreams will come true . . . all at the same time.

    Adri (wildly) – All your dreams – all at once!

    Manorama – Misery . . . for so long have I borne it. I feel suffocated. The pure hatred in Shampa’s eyes – to this very day! But why – how have I ever sinned against her? And even if I have, can she not bring herself to cast it from her mind? Who in this world has never made a mistake?

    Adri (digging his fingers in to both sides of his temple and muttering to himself) – That, which cannot be imagined! That, which is beyond belief!

    Manorama – Someone commits the crime and someone else gets punished for it: there is no justice in this world!

    Adri (gazing into a vacuum, muttering) – No – I do not accept, I shall not accept! The world is good, life is beautiful, we all want to live!

    Manorama (frantically) – Adri, you are a divine boon to me – please save me from this torment.

    Adri (suddenly comes to life and leans over to his mother) – Mother, why do we not have any memories of our childhood? Why don’t we have memories of the time when we were six months old or two years old? Mother, did you take me on your lap and caress me? If I fell down, did you hug me and stroke my hurt away? When I refused to eat and ran around, did you run behind me and feed me, bit by little bit? Tell me mother, please tell me.

    Manorama (with deep emotion) – My darling! My dear little pet!

    Adri – Why do we forget? Why does it feel as if we were born grown up? . . . Growing up: too many obligations. Who wants to think? Who wouldn’t rather be a child again?

    Manorama – Adri – my heaven! My holiest prayers! (Draws Adri’s head to her bosom with both her hands.)

    Adri (tortured voice) – Mother, oh dear mother! (Hides his face on his mother’s shoulder.)

     


    [Silence. Manorama runs her fingers through Adri’s hair.]

     

    Manorama – Adri, will you tell me something? What does Shampa want? What can I do to make her happy? Has she told you anything – when you were out in the garden?

     


    [Adri stares at his mother for some time and then slowly moves away from her side.]

     

    Manorama – Won’t you tell me?

    Adri (coldly) – She was telling me the same things that you told me: you all want her to get married and she doesn’t want that – all these things.

    Manorama – At times she talks quite sensibly. One can’t tell that there’s anything wrong with her.

    Adri – Precisely. . . . So – so, I’ll speak to Didi. For sure. (Opens his book again.)

    Manorama – Why are you opening the book again? Won’t you go to bed?

    Adri – This is one bad habit I got into at Cambridge mother: reading till well in to the night.

    Manorama – But you can read in bed as well. You’ve come a long way today, don’t stay up late.

    Adri – Mother, you go to bed. I’ll go shortly. I seem to really like the feel of this room. This sofa is very comfortable.

    Manorama (happily) – I’ll be off then. (Stands) Sleep in the eastern room on the first floor tonight. Tomorrow I shall do up the second floor for you. Now hurry up and go to bed.

     


    [Manorama goes up the stairs. Adri lights a cigarette and stretches out on the sofa. The lights grow dim gradually. Only the burning cigarette can be seen, punctuated by Adri’s occasional wrist movement, flicking off the ash. A few minutes pass thus. Then again lights come up on stage – a blurred, blue light just like the first scene. It is very late in the night. Adri sits upright on the same sofa. His hair is disheveled, face pale and the ashtray is overflowing with cigarette stubs and ash. Shampa tiptoes in through the middle door. She is still dressed in the same sari and pearls. She carries Adri’s overnight bag in her hand. Shampa sits beside Adri and looks at him.]

     

    Adri (without glancing at Shampa) – I need proof, solid proof!

    Shampa – I have it here (bends down to unzip the bag). Letters – from father to mother (extracts a thick bundle tied with a string). And these are from mother to father (extracts a thin bundle tied with a string). And these are from mother to Ajen (extracts a fat bundle tied with a string). Old letters, living history. I have arranged them chronologically and they have told me many a tale.

     


    [Adri glances at the letters, but doesn’t say a word.]

     

    Shampa – Do you know where they were? In that little cubby-hole under the stairs – covered with grime and dust.

    Adri – Father’s letters – over there?!

    Shampa – You want to see some more? (She extracts a huge envelope from the bag and pulls out a sheaf of photographs from it) Father’s pictures – these too were lying in there. (Holds out a few photos like a deck of cards) Look: some are faded, some crumpled. They were lying beneath a broken trunk.

     


    [Adri takes one photograph and examines it. His brows, cheeks and forehead crinkle.]

     

    Shampa – Did you see this face in your dream – yesterday, in Athens?

    Adri (gazing at the photo) – This face – yes, that’s right. No – I am not sure.

    Shampa – But you knew him all right. You heard him all right.

     


    [Adri does not respond; he goes through the photographs one by one. Shampa stares at him steadily.]

     

    Shampa (low voice, hums her words) – Father has sent you to Kolkata, one day in advance, so that they fail to get me; so that you can complete your real mission.

    Adri (puts the photos away) – Yesterday? . . .Was I in Athens yesterday? Or was it many years ago? In another lifetime? Time plays tricks on a jet plane. Morning and night elude the hands of a clock. Sometimes the night is endless and sometimes dawn knocks off the moon at . ‘Today’ and ‘tomorrow’ get blurred. ‘Will happen’ ‘is happening’ and ‘has happened’ – all run in to one another. (Pauses for a few seconds and then rubs his forehead) My head feels topsy-turvy. Perhaps I should get some sleep. (Shuts his eyes.)

    Shampa – Father is still awake. Put him to sleep first.

    Adri (opens his eyes with some effort) – You are keeping him awake. You have kept him awake for twelve years.

    Shampa – He did not die in the war. He did not succumb to illness, on his own bed.

    Adri – Death is all the same. All dead men look alike. They have no memory.

    Shampa – We are alive. How can we forget?

    Adri – Whatever you do, he will not come back.

    Shampa – At least we can pay him back his due. The debt will be cleared.

    Adri (seeming to lose control) – Do you want a police enquiry? The hassles of a court case? Newspaper headlines? A nationwide scandal? Our mother, father – do you want their names to be dragged through the mud?

    Shampa (a jagged smile on her lips) – Do you summon the penal code when you feel wretched? If someone loves you, do you run to the lawyer? Is it all written in the law books – when you should weep and how much, whom you should love and how much?

    Adri – I say, let the law be unto itself, and let us be unto ourselves.

    Shampa – But Adri, we have a heart. It is larger than the law. It is greater than all arguments, logic, intellect and reason. That heart has its eyes – it can observe. That heart can hear, what no one else can. . . . Do you know what I feel? Father is keeping an eye on me; he has lost everything but he doesn’t want to let go of me. That’s why I cannot turn to anything else, or think of anything else. You arrived and bells started tolling in my heart. I am prepared! You must get ready too. He is gazing at you as well. Look at this (tucking a photo in to Adri’s hands) – look at his eyes. These were the eyes you saw in your dream.

    Adri (gazing at the photo, lost in emotion) – I have seen these eyes in my dream. I have not seen my father. I have seen my father.

    Shampa (leaning over Adri) – He has not forgotten you!

    Adri (as if suddenly coming to his senses, eyes large as saucers) – This cannot be called proof! No court of law will accept this as proof.

    Shampa (pushing the bundle of letters towards Adri) – Read these.

    Adri (gently shaking the sheaf of letters) – What? Some rattlesnake crouches within these? But then why did they store these? Why didn’t they burn them up?

    Shampa – There must be a crack; there’s bound to be one. And through that crack the truth will slip out.

    Adri – For example?

    Shampa – Ajen: even before father went to war. He was the reason for father going away.

    Adri – Why did he go? Had he stayed, perhaps everything would have been different.

    Shampa – When a man truly loves, he doesn’t beg for alms. Neither does he seize with brawn.

    Adri – He stayed away for a very long time.

    Shampa – He was a soldier, he was brave, he was a patriot.

    Adri – Mother was alone.

    Shampa – Alone? Ajen was there all the time.

    Adri – It is very difficult to fathom these things. Very difficult to tell the good from the bad. And besides . . . perhaps father too . . . at some time –

    Shampa (Snaps sharply) – Quiet! Not one word against father! Has your mother poured all this in to your ears already? Crying and carrying tales: ‘I was all alone – I was ailing – your father was lost in his own world – Ajen cured me!’ I have heard enough of that. Melodrama! Lies! Crocodile tears! I say, father did the right thing. Staying beside a wife who didn’t love him!! No real man is capable of doing that. But he really loved mother, he came back to her and only to her.

    Adri – And the other one – what was he supposed to do? Love cannot be forged to order. It comes on its own – or it doesn’t.

    Shampa – My father! Your father! A man like him! And instead a stupid wimp – a two-legged organism! You do not know anything Adri, you were young, you had no sense. You do not know how father sold his soul – to the woman who is now Ajen’s wife. Father lost his mother when he was but a child. He had no one to call his own, not a sister, not his wife’s sister, an aunt or any other woman. All his emotions had flown towards mother – concern, affection, caring, adulation, passion: everything that a man could ask of a woman and that a woman is capable of giving to a man. He had poured his libation at her altar: all his unquenched thirst, his dreams of bliss and his love of life.

    Adri – Is it possible for one person to meet so many needs?

    Shampa (flares up) – Why not? What is simpler than dedicating your self – if you find someone worthy of it? I know – I have seen it. I have seen the agony in father’s eyes. And mother’s eyes – wintry for father and vivacious for Ajen. You know, a storm would erupt in my heart – a tornado of love. I’d say to myself, ‘Father, I am still a child; just wait for me to grow up, I shall give you all the love, as much as you want.’ – I grew up, father came home, but our time was snuffed out.

    Adri (eyes half-closed, bleary voice) – I am sleepy, Didi. Very sleepy.

    Shampa – Have they dosed you too on sleeping pills?

    Adri – Didi, I haven’t slept for two nights in a row. Three actually. (His eyes droop shut.)

    Shampa – I have gone without sleep for many nights in a row. It hurts to sleep. Canine teeth – lodged here (touches her heart) – and here (touches Adri’s heart). Wrench it out. Then sleep – you and I – together – sleep.

    Adri (in an unnatural voice, screams) – No – wrong! It is all wrong! There is no proof. (His eyes open wide.)

    Shampa (stands up very slowly, moves to the front of the stage) – Father, listen to what he says, listen. None other than your son, your flesh and blood. He too does not believe. He wants proof. He talks convoluted logic like a lawyer. This is the same Adri, whom you jiggled on your lap, whom you called Byomkesh, Neelkantha, Trilochan. He too does not realize how terrible was that night, how gruesome your end. You have spoken to him yourself, and yet he refuses to accept it. So then, is it true that you have no one else – except me? I am your only hope. The burden rests on me alone – I, your frail, weak daughter, for whom they have laid a trap . . .to cage me? Last night . . . perhaps this is my last night father – I do not know what will happen tomorrow. Hence I have worn this sari . . . look, do you remember? You gave it to me, the day you came back; and these Japanese pearls – for mother. But she didn’t wear them, you know? She never even touched them. Adri does not know all this and he doesn’t believe me when I tell him. He wants proof – testimony! (A slight laugh.)

     


    [Through this soliloquy Adri had gazed at Shampa with awe in his eyes. Now he rises and slowly walks to her side. He picks at her necklace.]

     

    Shampa (pulls away, without looking at Adri) – I have – I still have something: grief. I have no brother, I am nobody’s sister. I have no mother and I shall never be a mother. My grief – I have kept it alive with my own blood, with my own flesh and blood . . .for many years, many many years now.

    Adri (turns and comes face to face with Shampa) – Everyone wants to forget their grief. Why do you cling to it?

    Shampa (shrill voice) – Are you here to dole out advice? No, I won’t give up, never ever – nobody can take my grief away from me.

    Adri – You strive to be miserable, your grief is contrived.

    Shampa – I have nothing else, my life is devoid of any other wealth. But for my grief, what will I live for?

    Adri – Living for grief, it is no way to live!

    Shampa – I suppose they are more alive than I am – those ones, who are as healthy and as contented as pigs? They are born, they procreate and they die – they don’t bother to ask why or wherefore!

    Adri – Pigs are good. They follow the rules. Fish swim, birds fly, man builds a home – there are rules for everything. The stars are in the sky, once in two hundred years comets streak the sky – same rules. Who are we to break those rules? However far we travel, we cannot cross the limits.

    Shampa – The rules are different for humans. Humans think: at least some people do. Humans grieve: at least some people do.

    Adri – Nobody grieves all the time.

    Shampa – No. When they eat a hearty meal, they forget to grieve. At the sight of rain-clouds or the autumn sun they forget. They forget all injustice, all foul-play, all deception. Some lives – they look like a huge, ripe, juicy mango; but just jab it once and out will crawl the lies, like a string of worms. Deception – with one’s own self, treachery with others!

    Adri – Treachery is fine – in spite of it, peace is good.

    Shampa – The opiate’s heaven! The peace of Mescaline! It is not that simple, Adri, not so easy at all!

    Adri – Your misery – is a more treacherous drug than opium, marijuana or Mescaline.

    Shampa (moves aside and looks away) – Misery – they know you not, they do not know your other names. Strength, courage, valour, gratitude: you are all of those. It is you who goes by the names of remembrance, devotion and oblation. Swell up, O Misery, engorge: fill me up as a child does a mother’s womb – and then rip me apart as you emerge; let the blood flow like water. I shall throw myself down in that stream of blood and you shall be – the victor! No more – I shall not keep you confined within me. I shall set you free so that the skeptic’s doubts are laid to rest. The way to freedom lies hidden in my hand.

     


    [She takes slow steps back to the sofa. Adri’s eyes follow her movement. Shampa bends down and extracts another item from the bag. When she straightens, in her hand is seen a pistol.]

     

    Adri (sudden shriek) – Didi! (He runs and grabs her hands.)

    Shampa (a victor’s smile on her lips, her eyes are gleaming) – Didn’t you ask for proof? See this!

    Adri (strangled voice) – This – with this?

    Shampa – This too. They killed him three times. First it was with hatred, then the dog and then it was this. Father had brought it . . .it belonged to him.

    Adri (terror in his eyes, his words slur) – You – d-did you see it?

    Shampa – I heard it. I came running. On spotting me, the pistol dropped from Ajen’s hands. I picked it up and hid it – they did not notice it. Father’s remembrance! (She presses the pistol to her bosom.)

    Adri – Father’s remembrance – give it to me (reaches out).

    Shampa – I kept it safe only for you. It was meant to be a gift on your twenty-first birthday.

    Adri – I have turned twenty-one. Give it to me now.

    Shampa – First you must tell me what you will do with it!

    Adri – I have to think about it.

    Shampa – But they did not stop to think. That would have been a waste of time, and the mission could have been hindered. I too have stopped thinking now. It only remains to act. (Steps forth.)

    Adri (stops her) – Where are you going?

    Shampa – I’ve realized that you cannot do it. I have to do it myself.

    Adri (in an unnaturally warped voice, smothering a scream) – You will go nowhere! Sit down.

    Shampa (stands still) – So then – you’ll go?

    Adri – I! (sits on the sofa, drops his head and covers his face with both hands.)

    Shampa – They had showed no mercy, Adri. Not a single drop of it. (Adri is silent.) They killed like a beast, set a sharp-toothed canine on him. He had just stepped out of his bath, cheerful with a heart full of faith, anticipation and ardour. He was to be reunited with his wife after so many years. . . .at that very instant, exactly on the threshold of his bedroom.

    Adri (without raising his head, tearful voice) – father! My father!

    Shampa – He was going to the room, dressed in a black kimono embroidered in gold – a regal man. Are you listening, Adri?

    Adri (lifts his head and heaves a sigh) – Oh!

    Shampa – They did not allow him the time to step in to his room: the signal sprinted from their eyes and the angel of death pounced from behind (gestures like a dog pouncing). And then – from the back – pistol! (Gestures like firing a shot) Man and beast crumpled to the ground together. The beast still got the chance to yelp in pain, he did not even get that. His Japanese kimono was soaked in blood.

    Adri – How terrifying! How ruthless!

    Shampa – When I saw him, his lips were still moving, as if he wanted to say something. They did not even give him a few drops of water. Even death was far more compassionate.

    Adri – Dear God!

    Shampa – I threw myself on him like a crazy woman; a scream of pure grief tore from my throat. But they sedated me – they did not even let me to weep to my heart’s content!

    Adri – Sweet heavens!

    Shampa – When I woke up I found – it was all over, not a trace of the man was left.

    Adri – I was too young. I wasn’t there. I knew none of this.

    Shampa – Father arrived and instantly sent a telegram to Dehradun. Kanak and you arrived in the evening. But they had finished everything long before that. You had the right to do the last rites, but they did not let you – they cheated you and they cheated him. And then – within three months – doctor Ajen became our father’s – wife’s – husband.

    Adri (sighs heavily) – Possible – is this even possible!

    Shampa – Possible – it is all possible – it is all true.  They did not even have mercy on him after death; they wiped out all trace of him. You won’t find a single photograph of father in the entire house. His photos, his letters . . .are all junk to them. Have you ever wondered why you were bundled off to study abroad – such a small boy who still needed his Didi when he went to sleep? So that you forget who you are – that’s why. So that father, home, homeland, all become a blurry memory to you, that’s why. They did not even give me your letters – they wished to steal you away from me. Do you know the reason? It is because I stand for remembrance, for dedication and conscience. They could not unnerve me – by temptation, threat, nothing. Hence my existence is noxious to them. And that’s why today what awaits me is: handcuffs, chains, the mental asylum.

    Adri (tearful) – Didi! My Didi!

    Shampa – Adri! My brother! My soulmate! (Sits on the sofa and hugs Adri) now go on – pay your respect, do obeisance and accept the blessing. (Hands him the pistol) Here, take this – there is fire in this; finally his last rites will be performed.

    (Adri gazes at her frenetically and does not say a word.)

    Shampa – They had killed him like a beast. They should die the same way.

    Adri (tonelessly) – Who? Which one?

    Shampa – Both are the same. There’s no difference.

    Adri – Ajen had fired the shots. He was the one who sedated you.

    Shampa – The other one had stood at his side, holding his gaze. She gave him strength, she encouraged him. Neither of them showed mercy and neither would receive it.

    Adri – . . .But . . .

    Shampa – Are you scared? Shall I come with you? Or do I have to do it myself? Or am I our father’s only offspring?

    Adri (slurring like a drunkard) – How pretty your hair is – just like mother’s. Your eyes – the same as mother’s. You are so beautiful, Didi!

    Shampa – Whom do you call mother? We have no mother. She who has blood on her hands and a festering wound in her heart, ceases to be a mother.

    Adri (bewildered) – In her heart . . .but how can I be sure? Perhaps the wound has dried up and on that fallow land has grown a vast patch of thorny bushes which stab at her every second? Or perhaps in the thorny bushes one or two blossoms have bloomed – perhaps you or I have failed to spot it? Who can tell what’s in someone else’s heart? We are not God, either of us.

    Shampa – Who is your God? He has been silent for the past twelve years – for ever and ever in fact. It is up to us now to do what He has not done. We have to play God. (Handing Adri the pistol) Don’t tremble, hold it tight.

    Adri (staring at the pistol, whispering fiercely) – No pardon?

    Shampa – Higher, climb higher Adri: rise above terror, forgiveness, rules. Just for once taste release, have a taste of freedom.

    Adri (angst-ridden scream) – No need! No need! I don’t need it!

    Shampa (touches Adri’s hand lightly) – Just the hand is yours; the rest is all mine. (Hands him the pistol once more) Won’t you accept this gift of mine?

    (Adri stares at Shampa with terror-stricken eyes for some time and then makes a sharp movement to push her away.)

    Shampa (peculiar laugh) – Come, let me lead you by the hand.

    Adri (a stifled shriek rips from his throat) – Fiend, get away! (Shudders as he collapses on the sofa.)

    Shampa (calm and collected) – The fiend is upstairs, Adri, sleeping. Get up, time is short. (Bends over Adri and hums to him) Silent night – everyone sleeps – but he still lies awake. He stares, his eyes wide open – there, look – he stares at you – at me (points in the air).

    Adri (covers his eyes with his hand) – I cannot see anything.

    Shampa – Listen carefully: ‘My sheets are dirty, change them.’ Erase all trace of blood with blood alone. He has commanded you.

    Adri (covering his ears with his hand) – I cannot hear anything.

    Shampa – Listen here (draws Adri’s head to her own bosom) – thud, thud, thud: it is nearly bursting, and yet it does not. I have endured this – year after year: waiting for you, hoping you’d come. Just this little thing – a tiny chore – I have lived all these years for it.

    Adri (hides his face in Shampa’s neck) – Dear mother!

    Shampa – I am not a mother to anyone, you have no mother either. (Runs her fingers through Adri’s hair) I am all you have and you are all I have. (Gently, hums) I bestow my grief on you, I bestow my strength on you, my waiting concludes in you. You and I – the same blood, the same flesh, the same recollection. Look up, look at me – listen to me.

     

    (Adri looks up; his eyes are disturbed like that of a hunted animal).

     

    Adri (looks away, speaks evocatively) – O earth, pardon me! Water, soil, fire, sky – please forgive me.

    Shampa (rising from the sofa) – Stand up, Adri. (Adri stands up shakily) Take this. (She hands him the pistol and he takes it, almost in a trance) Listen – you and I, we are no longer Adri and Shampa. We are far greater. We are greater than water, soil, fire and sky. We have transcended human limits, all limits. We are now beyond good and bad, pain and joy, right and wrong. We are free, we can do whatever we like, the world is at our feet. I have bound you, you free me from bondage. I have awakened you, you put me to sleep. Come, Adri (hugs him). Come, let us live like the gods for just one instant and then nothing matters anymore. (Releases Adri as she whispers) Now go on. Up the staircase – the room right before you is theirs.

     


    [Adri exits through the middle door. Shampa stands: still, stark, inert as a statue. Off, sounds of banging on a door and Manorama’s frightened screams.]

     

    Adri’s screams (off) – Who had killed my father? Who is my father’s murderer? Tell me! Answer me! (Sounds of struggle, of chairs and tables overturning) Where – where is Ajen? Where have you hidden the scoundrel?

    Manorama’s screams (off) – Help! Someone please help!

    Adri’s screams (off) – Do not screen him. Move away! I want Ajen!

    Manorama’s screams (off) – Somebody, please help!

     


    [Thud of running feet – Manorama runs in through the centre door; her clothes are in dishabille, her hair lies tangled on her back, her hands are raised above. She is followed by Adri holding the gun. Adri’s eyes are bloodshot, his breathing is rapid and his face is bathed in sweat. Manorama runs around blindly for some time and suddenly comes face to face with Adri.]

     

    Adri – Hand over Ajen, or else you will not be spared either!

    Manorama (pleading desperately) – I am your mother! I am your mother! (Suddenly notices the door on the right and rushes out, followed by Adri.)

    Ajen screams (off) – Murder! Murder! Help!

    Adri screams (off) – Here is that scoundrel! Here, take this!

    Manorama screams (off) – You’ll be torn to bits by dogs! You’ll be torn to bits by dogs!

     


    [Off: sounds of pistol shots followed by deathly silence. All this time Shampa stands inert, unblinking as the eyes of a stone statue. A little later Adri walks in with sagging steps.]

     

    Adri (throwing the pistol away) – Go! Go in to the Ganges! Go to hell! I do not need you anymore. I shall not touch you ever again! You made a mistake, I am stunned. Didi, go and see mother. No, not Ajen – mother. (Bitter laugh) Her eyes are still open – shut them. The blood is still flowing like a stream – stem it. Blood – I’d thought it was beautiful, like a freshly-bloomed rose, like a ruby-studded necklace. I did not know that scarlet is such a gruesome colour – grotesque! It turns my stomach. It’s stained my hands, you know (looks at his own hands) – sticky, dirty. The hand which you’d held – dirty! And (brings it to his nose) – fetid (hides his hands behind him) – can’t be hidden. It comes back like flies. I’d thought all dead men fall asleep, calmly, at peace. I didn’t know they stare – unblinking – in mortal terror – in pain – Ugly! (Looks behind him) Ugly – those animals . . .tongues hanging out – (bends down and gestures like throwing stones) Go – shoo – get away – you cannot see them, Didi, I can see them . . . they are . . . coming! (Scream rents the air) Di—di! (Rushes towards Shampa, arms outstretched.)

     


    [Shampa had been standing as before, as if she could not see Adri or hear anything he said. Now suddenly she seemed to come to life, lightning courses through her and she trembles from head to toe.]

     

    Shampa (lifts her face, hand on her heart, heaves a sigh) – Peace – at long last!

    Adri (shrieks) – Their breath is fanning my heels! Fiery blasts!

    Shampa (sighing) – Peace – peace – peace! (She sways.)

     


    [Adri goes to embrace Shampa and she falls to the ground like a lifeless animal.]

     

    Adri – She fell – through my fingers – where? (Looks at Shamps) Didi, are you asleep, already? (Kneels down and nudges Shampa) I am scared, Didi – please get up, please speak! . . .Look, there they come . . . the fiends, Kali’s grandchildren – monstrous – slithery eyes, blood on their jaws – shoo! Shoo! Get away! Whom do you want? I am not Adri! I do not know anything – I am a small boy, I still say A for aypple – I shall now sleep beside my Didi!

     


    [Adri curls up beside Shampa. For an instant the stage is in darkness and then the lights come on. It is now morning, sunlight streams in through the window. The brother and sister still lie on the floor as before – Shampa looks lifeless and Adri seems to be asleep. Ajen stands still as a statue to one side. Through the centre door an aged clerk walks in, followed by two servants.]

     

    Clerk – I came to say that all arrangements for the cremation have been made. (Looks at Shampa) Shall we take her away then?

     


    [Through the door to the right two khaki-uniformed men walk in.]

     

    Uniformed man – Dr Kanjilal has sent us. (Looks at the two figures on the floor) Which one is the patient?

     


    [Through the door to the left a few white-uniformed policemen walk in.]

     

    Police Inspector (takes out his notebook and reads from it) – Shampa Bhaduri . . . aged twenty-eight . . . found dead . . .how did she die? Does anyone know anything?

    Adri (stirs in his sleep and mutters) – Don’t know. I don’t know anything.

     


    [Everyone takes position in a semi-circle at the back of the stage, all eyes are fixed on Adri.]

     

    Adri (sits up, looks at the circle of people surrounding him) – Again! You’ve come again! So many of you! Weren’t you just three – the three grandchildren of the demonic fiend – when did you multiply in to so many? (The policemen take a step forward and their boots thud on stage; from the other end the asylum-staff take a step forward. Adri speedily shakes his hands in each direction and waves them away) Get away! Shoo! Shoo! I am a small boy, I know nothing. (Crawls like a baby) A is for aypple, B is for ball, the brothers V and W sit in a corner violently wheezing (coughs noisily)! I want to have biscuits, ‘Kinchit’ biscuits – (whimpers) please give me a biscuit! Didi, can’t you see? (Prodding Shampa’s corpse) There they come – saw-toothed beasts – hideous! (The policemen and the asylum-staff take another step forward.) Get up didi, take off my shoes, I want to sleep – sleep – I am sleepy, let me sleep! (Quiet for an instant and then his scream rents the air) Didi, didi, why aren’t you seeing – they are upon me – I am being torn to bits by dogs, I am being torn to bits by dogs!

     


    [Adri tries to stand, but collapses. The policemen and the asylum-staff move in on him, surround him and reach for him.]

     





    Curtain


    Illustrations by Nilanjana Basu.


    Published September, 2008

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    ©Parabaas, 2008

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