A Play in Three Acts
Indranaths corpse (seen in a dream)
Ajen: Manoramas second husband
Shampa, Kanaklata and Adrinath: Manoramas daughters and son, from her first husband.
Policemen, mental asylum staff, a butler and two servants (no dialogues).
[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 mans 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 its just me and (a little emphatically) him. Alone. Handsome man, wasnt 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 dont know, I dont 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: mans, beasts. (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, lets 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 wont 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?
opens one eye slowly, it grows unnaturally bloated and stares at her, motionless
and grotesque. A mans voice, low and husky, resounds: What did I do wrong?
Why did you kill me? Instantly the stage is in darkness and Manoramas
terrified scream rends the air.
Ajen (limply, in a sleepy tone) What? What is it?
Manorama (moans) Ouf!
Ajen (approaches the bed) Nightmare? Again?
Manorama O-oh! Its 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 Ive sweated. And my heart (touches her chest) still going thump, thump, thump.
Ajen Thats nothing. Get up (he plumps up the pillows at the head of the bed).
Manorama Please, hold me.
Ajen Youll 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?
Manorama The same time. Early dawn. Three times. (Shudders)
Ajen I have told you to take sleeping pills why dont you?
Manorama (broken tones) Medi-cines!
Ajen Why, arent they working?
Manorama Doctor, cant you cure your own wife?
Ajen (lightly) I could, if she was really ill.
Manorama Why do I have these dreams then?
Ajen Who doesnt 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 cant you lie beside me and put me to sleep?
Ajen (with a crude smile) If I lay beside you, wouldnt 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 Thats 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 its 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 Thats true. (She seems pacified, ponders for a while) Do you know, I was really keeping well for a very long time now. And why wouldnt 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) Isnt it a Saturday today?
Ajen (Irritated) So what if its 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) Dont 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? (Manoramas 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.
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
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 doesnt come to see his mother.
Ajen Thats 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 wouldnt want a ninny who clings to his mothers 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 didnt 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 hed stare at me steadily; and then hed smile a heavenly smile. Thats 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 wasnt a greater shrew than my first wife. But didnt 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 wouldnt 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. Shed 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 its the other way.
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.
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.
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) Aahbliss! 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 Ajens shoulder and closes her eyes) But (her eyes snap open) . . . I wanted to ask you something. There was something I wished to ask (strokes Ajens 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) Dont 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, wasnt it a Saturday?
Ajen (goaded) Which day? What are you talking about?
Manorama (drags her words) That day, the day he returned?
Ajen Why are you calling him he like a silly woman? Does Indranaths name get stuck in your throat or are you such a chaste wife that you cant bring your husbands 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 dont 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) Dont 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 Bhaduris lover; I would have to be a villain!
Manorama (sparks flying from her eyes) Really! Arent 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 friends wifes 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) dont forget,
it is you who has the nightmares,
[A short silence.]
Manorama (acquiescently, as if defeated by Ajens last words) But you are a doctor couldnt you . . . couldnt you save him?
Ajen Save whom? The instant he fell, he was gone. Perhaps hed 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!
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) Youre 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.
Manorama (shudders) Telephone! At this time! Who is it?
Ajen Let me see. (He picks up the phone and comes back) Someone wants you, its 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 dont you take the phone before the call disconnects?
up the receiver with a trembling hand) Hello . . . (raises her voice), hello
. . . yes, yes . . .who? . . .Adri . . . Adri, is that you? I cant hear you,
speak up. . .yes, this is mother . . .from where?
Ajen (a little later) Why the sudden visit?
Manorama I dont know, couldnt make out . . .the connection was very bad.
Ajen This exceeds all expectation.
Ajen I hope it wasnt 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 . . . wouldnt I know his voice? Mother, I am coming home on Sunday this is what he said to me.
wasnt he supposed to go to
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 hasnt come home in five years . . . why would he suddenly
Manorama So, since he hasnt 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 Wont 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; Ill 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 Aesops 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 Mums the word. (Finger on his lips) Not a word about this do you understand?
Manorama (delayed response) About Adris 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 sons mind? And what would happen if your Adrinath cannot withstand the venom?
Manorama (startled) Thats 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 Dont 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 didis 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: Kanaks wedding arrangements, Adris 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 Ill 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? (Manoramas 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!
Kanak (looks around) Didi . . .didi . . .didi!
Shampas 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 dont you come here Ill 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 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 Dont you even feel hot?
Shampa (shields her eyes) Ugh, its 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) Ive told you I cant stand the light! Cant you draw the curtains?
Kanak Dont be angry, didi. (She draws the curtains and returns) Come on, lets 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 Youre getting married?
Kanak (nods her head slowly) Id thought Ill spend the rest of my life with you, take up a teachers 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. Fathers 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 Theres no reason to think so. But that doesnt mean I have to stop hoping.
Kanak (after a short pause) But didi, brothers and sisters dont 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 wasnt 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 wasnt 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 youve stopped thinking about that which cannot be forgotten. There is no more to be said about it.
Kanak Didi, its been twelve years
Shampa (harshly) Twelve years! The burden of this grief would defy eternity. Dont 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: thats 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 fathers 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 dont you eat properly, didi? Why dont 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) Cant 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) Dont go, please listen.
Shampa (coldly) I have heard you, now let me go back to my work.
Kanak Wait, theres more to talk.
Shampa (impatiently) Tell me: have you suddenly lost your tongue?
Kanak Ive 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. Its 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!
as a new thought strikes her, she brightens up) There is a way out, didi.
Come away to
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, its nothing. You know how I ramble. I feel I have given my word to someone, as if I am indebted to someone.
you come, didi, to
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?
Kanak (with a start) That will be Sunanda. I need to go out, didi. Please be careful and dont 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 sisters 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. Arent you ashamed, Kanak? Havent you seen a wife, a mother? Go then, dont 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.
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.
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!
Manorama (stands behind Shampa) Shampa!
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. Dont 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 wifes crime or her misfortune? You are todays woman will you too demand that she suffer all her life for it?
Shampa Some women feel the pain and some dont. Some women know how to love and some dont.
Manorama I was ill and bedridden at the time, suffering for two months, nearly at deaths 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 wifes 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
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 wouldnt 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: dont make war, make love.
Shampa Make love! Thats 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 dont 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.
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
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 didnt 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?
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.
Manorama Shampa, will you never understand me?
Shampa I am my fathers 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; cant 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? Cant 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 didnt enjoy college. You quit your
dance classes. French, sitar, painting you started all of them and felt
bored. I wanted to send you abroad:
Shampa Adri was young, he didnt 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, its a fashion.
Shampa Do I look very fashionable to you?
Manorama Dont 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 mothers 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.
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?
moon-sign is Aquarius; emeralds and rubies are good for me. Your moon-sign is
Pisces. Topaz and
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.
Manorama It will be you first and then Kanaks 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
Manorama Then something else will happen. It wont be nice.
Shampa What will you do? What will you do with me?
Manorama Everything that is necessary for the benefit of ones child.
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) Wont 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. Its 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 dont: do not blame me later, dont say I did not warn you. Until tomorrow morning.
Shampa Misery, now it is just you and me. Come, let us go back to the real work.
Adri Looks like no one is around. (Dropping his luggage to the floor) Bearer, bearer! Is anybody there? Has everyone gone to sleep?
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? Dont you get better clothes to wear in this house?
Shampa You dont 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?
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 whats a little dust? (He hugs her) Where is everyone? Mother? Chhordi?
Shampa You didnt 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 Its a very hard task, Adri. Will you succeed?
Adri Ill try, to the best of my ability. Is mother asleep? Wont 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; Ive 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?
youll get mad at me, but homesickness as you all know it, really doesnt
affect me these days. Do you know, I have really roamed the world in the last
few years for every holiday.
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. Arent 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?
Adri Oh no! What are you doing?
Shampa Why, whats 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!
I bought them in
Shampa You wrote? To me?
Adri What? You didnt 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 dont have to stick to your Western manners with me why dont you come out and say that I look like a hag? They call me a witch perhaps they arent far off the mark. (short laugh)
Adri They Who?
Shampa She whom we call mother. He whom she calls her husband.
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 Id like to visit
didnt know you were headed for
Adri You didnt? Strange! Doesnt 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
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 thats 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 Ill 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 Youd say aypple and I had a hard time getting you to say apple. And when we came to V-W, thered 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. Id 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 minds eye and I could even smell them, and the tea.
Shampa Youve 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 fathers arms. It was so sudden that he actually didnt 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, cant 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 hearts 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.
Adri Didnt you go to cremate him?
Shampa I didnt 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?
his fingers through his hair) No reason. Do you know Didi, Ive seen so much
of the world, but Id never visited
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?
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
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 dont 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 Adris 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.
Shampa Why are you staring like that? Do you really think I am off my head?
Adri N-no. Thats 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 (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. Wont you let me even catch a nap in peace?
Shampa (calmly) Mother, look who is here.
Adri (stands below the stairs and speaks joyfully) Mother, I have come its me.
Adri (laughs) What is it Mother you cant believe its 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 Thats 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 Mothers necklace! Glowing red like fresh droplets of blood.
(Adri glances at his mothers 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 didnt you go upstairs, call me?
Shampa Adri stopped me from waking you. Hes learnt good manners abroad!
Adri (hastily) I Ive 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, isnt 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. Ill leave the entire second floor to you, and Ill have it decorated to your taste. It is your home, everything will be as you wish. (Edges closer to her son) Youll stay, wont you? (Adri cringes and moves away.)
Shampa A man worth his salt never sits at home with his mother.
Manorama Adri, wont 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 didnt recognize her, you know.
(listlessly) Really? So, do you have to go to
Adri They have given me a fellowship. It is really good. You wont 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) Didis marriage? Didis? (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 Didis she will not marry. Meanwhile Kanaks marriage is fixed. How does it look if Shampa doesnt 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: thats what balances the scale, doesnt 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 (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.
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
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 Adris 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) Cmon, take it. Youve 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 Ajens lighter) Mother, wouldnt it be nice to have some tea now?
Manorama (bustles about) Oh sure, certainly! I dont 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 Dont be late, the tea will be ready soon. Go on upstairs, Ill send your luggage. And Im coming up soon; in case you need anything . . .
Adri Dont worry. I dont need anything.
Ajen When did he come?
Manorama I am not sure. Id 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 didnt 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
Manorama Listen to what I have to say. Let Kanjilals men come tomorrow. If the situation doesnt 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 hed be reasonable. Besides, if Shampa suddenly agrees to the marriage, then theres nothing like it. You know what I want most Adri will stay and Shampa wont: this is what I want.
Ajen You want Adri? (pause) Have you noticed how much like his father he looks? It wasnt so apparent when he was a child. His forehead, his lips startling in fact!
Manorama Right you are . . . yes, that is so. So much so, that even his voice
Ajen The same as Indranaths.
It is at night.
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 hed have coffee. (She places the tray on a teapoy.)
Manorama Perhaps he has gone to the verandah with Jasmine.
Kanak Didnt 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 Kanaks back affectionately) No dear, no, I havent forgotten. But isnt it a great stroke of luck that your wedding got fixed and Adri too came home!
Kanak (soothed) Thats 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.
heart and soul still lies in those foreign lands. Didnt you hear how he was
going on and on about
Kanak (a pause) But Didi (stops short abruptly)
Manorama (encouraging) Yes?
Kanak Didi really surprised us today, didnt she? Wed 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 dont find her sick at all. Let Didi be, as she wishes; how does it harm anyone? (eagerly, pleading) Mother, please do not force her, dont 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.
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 didnt know Sunanda can sing. He sang really well. He is a wonderful boy. . . . I cant seem to see Adri around. I thought Id 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?
Ajen (stops pacing and faces Manorama) So you have donned a madonna costume today: the Bengali housewife? (Mocking) Hah!
Manorama (bashfully) Adri doesnt really like such heavy jewelry.
Ajen Goodness me, mother and daughter seem to be competing for Adris approval. I saw that the princess has worn a colourful sari today and even washed her hair.
Manorama Isnt that good? A good omen. Finally her pig-headedness of so many years has crumbled. She even wore a few pieces of jewelry.
Ajen Shes 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? Didnt you look at Shampas eyes?
Manorama Ajen, today I feel good.
Ajen You just saw how shed dressed up, but didnt 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. (Manoramas 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 Ajens lips) No dont 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 Adris 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?
Manorama (moves away and laughs) Bunkum; nightmares are hogwash and they dont 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 youd 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 Adris mother.
Ajen (heartlessly) You were a wife too.
Manorama That wasnt me, that was someone else.
Ajen Adris fathers 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 dont wish to. They get killed, purely for their own idiocy. They do not understand when they should avoid stepping on a beasts 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 Cant you see? And you thought hed gone to bed!
Manorama (breathes heavily) Youre 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. Adris 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) Adrii! Adrii!
Ajen They cant hear. They are not even looking this way.
Manorama (raises her voice further) Adrii! Adrii! Come here I have to talk to you hurry up. . . . (to Ajen) I shall speak to Adri. Right now. You go to bed.
Ajen Dont be late. And dont keep him up till very late. Get a good nights 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, dont keep Adri up till very late. (Goes upstairs.)
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, its late, isnt it? Time for bed . . . Adri, youre having coffee now?
Adri Just a little.
Manorama Wouldnt 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) Its lukewarm. Shall I make some fresh?
Adri No, this is fine. Didi, will you have some?
Shampa No, Im sleepy (she stifles a yawn with her hand) Ill be off. (She heads for the door.)
Manorama (facing Shampa, in a low voice) Have you decided anything?
Shampa Oh, that thing! But theres still a lot of time. The sixteen hours arent 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, yes, 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, thats 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.)
Manorama (standing close to Adri) Adri, listen to me. (Adri looks up) How do you find your Didi?
Adri Shes lost a lot of weight, hasnt she?
Manorama (sits next to Adri on the sofa) Havent you noticed something peculiar about her? At times havent you found her . . . abnormal?
Adri Something . . .Im 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 Ive 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. Its not difficult to grasp either. A girl sitting at home idle, she didnt 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) Absolutely. 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 isnt a mental illness, what is it?
Adri So youre 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 itll 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 dont think they took to me much.
Manorama You must be joking. Let a few days pass and youll 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 someones share if given to someone else. Besides, love is of many kinds and all of them together bring joy to a persons life.
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 everyones 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 friends 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 moments 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 (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.
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.
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 Shampas 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 isnt 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) Wouldnt 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 didnt 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 whats right for them.
Manorama Right! That is exactly what I thought too. Id 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 moments 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. Youll 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 shed 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 Shampas 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 dont 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 wouldnt rather be a child again?
Manorama Adri my heaven! My holiest prayers! (Draws Adris head to her bosom with both her hands.)
Adri (tortured voice) Mother, oh dear mother! (Hides his face on his mothers shoulder.)
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?
Manorama Wont 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 doesnt want that all these things.
Manorama At times she talks quite sensibly. One cant tell that theres anything wrong with her.
Adri Precisely. . . . So so, Ill speak to Didi. For sure. (Opens his book again.)
Manorama Why are you opening the book again? Wont you go to bed?
Adri This is
one bad habit I got into at
Manorama But you can read in bed as well. Youve come a long way today, dont stay up late.
Adri Mother, you go to bed. Ill go shortly. I seem to really like the feel of this room. This sofa is very comfortable.
Manorama (happily) Ill 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.
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.
Shampa Do you know where they were? In that little cubby-hole under the stairs covered with grime and dust.
Adri Fathers 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) Fathers 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.
Shampa Did you
see this face in your dream yesterday, in
Adri (gazing at the photo) This face yes, thats right. No I am not sure.
Shampa But you knew him all right. You heard him all right.
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
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 doesnt want to let go of me. Thats 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 Adris 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 didnt they burn them up?
Shampa There must be a crack; theres 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 doesnt 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 didnt 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 doesnt.
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 Ajens wife. Father lost his mother when he was but a child. He had no one to call his own, not a sister, not his wifes 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 fathers eyes. And mothers eyes wintry for father and vivacious for Ajen. You know, a storm would erupt in my heart a tornado of love. Id 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 havent 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 Adris 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 didnt wear them, you know? She never even touched them. Adri does not know all this and he doesnt believe me when I tell him. He wants proof testimony! (A slight laugh.)
Shampa (pulls away, without looking at Adri) I have I still have something: grief. I have no brother, I am nobodys 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 wont 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 dont 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 ones own self, treachery with others!
Adri Treachery is fine in spite of it, peace is good.
Shampa The opiates 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 mothers 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 skeptics doubts are laid to rest. The way to freedom lies hidden in my hand.
Adri (sudden shriek) Didi! (He runs and grabs her hands.)
Shampa (a victors smile on her lips, her eyes are gleaming) Didnt 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 Ajens hands. I picked it up and hid it they did not notice it. Fathers remembrance! (She presses the pistol to her bosom.)
Adri Fathers 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 Ive 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 youll 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 hearts 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 wasnt 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 fathers wifes 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 wont 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 thats why. So that father, home, homeland, all become a blurry memory to you, thats 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 thats 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. Theres 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 fathers only offspring?
Adri (slurring like a drunkard) How pretty your hair is just like mothers. Your eyes the same as mothers. 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 whats in someone elses 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) Dont 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 dont need it!
Shampa (touches Adris hand lightly) Just the hand is yours; the rest is all mine. (Hands him the pistol once more) Wont 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 Adris 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 youd come. Just this little thing a tiny chore I have lived all these years for it.
Adri (hides his face in Shampas neck) Dear mother!
Shampa I am not a mother to anyone, you have no mother either. (Runs her fingers through Adris 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.
Adris screams (off) Who had killed my father? Who is my fathers murderer? Tell me! Answer me! (Sounds of struggle, of chairs and tables overturning) Where where is Ajen? Where have you hidden the scoundrel?
Manoramas screams (off) Help! Someone please help!
Adris screams (off) Do not screen him. Move away! I want Ajen!
Manoramas screams (off) Somebody, please help!
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) Youll be torn to bits by dogs! Youll be torn to bits by dogs!
the pistol away) Go! Go in to the
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 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, Kalis 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!
Clerk I came to say that all arrangements for the cremation have been made. (Looks at Shampa) Shall we take her away then?
Uniformed man Dr Kanjilal has sent us. (Looks at the two figures on the floor) Which one is the patient?
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) Dont know. I dont know anything.
Adri (sits up, looks at the circle of people surrounding him) Again! Youve come again! So many of you! Werent 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, cant you see? (Prodding Shampas 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 arent you seeing they are upon me I am being torn to bits by dogs, I am being torn to bits by dogs!
Illustrations by Nilanjana Basu.
Published September, 2008
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