(This is a Carpe Diem- ‘my annual college fest’- effort. This won the 2nd prize this year. Read on!)
The vaudeville of events that unfolded in front of Tupur’s eyes this warm January morning could have been truly surprising for any member of her generation in the Sengupta household. Not her. Her parent’s divorce six years ago had suddenly transformed her blithe self into a blotting equation of emotions. She had spent six years of her lifetime in her mother’s nostalgically old North Calcutta house. She often wondered nowadays if she loved her Mathematician father anymore. The promises made to her mother during that long drawn bitter court battle regarding her custody, made her feel that her mother needed her more. She was her mother’s daughter- a very proud one.
The house wore a festive look today. It was Chotomashi’s wedding. The troika of Boromashi, chotomami and sejomashi were on their way to gossiping glory about how Rinku mashi’s daughter had planned to elope with the neighbourhood ruffian.
Tupur was chatting with her cousins in a corner when a pretty lady of Chotomashi’s age came forward and secretively asked, “Aren’t you Sandhya di’s daughter, Tupur?”
“Yes, but how do you know?”
“Actually…am….” Her face turned a shade lighter.
Even before she could answer, Boromashi shrieked and the entire gathering gave a scandalized expression. Ma came running hysterically from somewhere hurling choicest of expletives towards the lady and holding Tupur close to her chest.
Tupur had understood. She was Bela, Ma’s cousin, the one whom her father Abinash chose over her mother.
As the family grapevine goes, Bela used to stay in this house to study in Calcutta. Tupur’s father used to teach her in the University. Their affair grew during those times until Ma came to know about it a few years later. Bela’s mention made Ma feel insecure, just as the way she was behaving now. The divorce had made her mother self doubting and hysterical at times.
It took a whole lot of persuasion and consolation from other family members to send her mother back inside. The mood of celebration was not to be spoilt.
By lunchtime the incident was a part of common knowledge.
“Abinash did the right thing. My God! What language does she use! Dugga Dugga”
“Aha! Bor-di, as if we don’t know Sandhya…she was very well mannered….don’t you remember she used to sing so well before marriage. Aha re! Think of what she has gone through. We cannot really blame her.”
“Sandhya used to consider Bela as her own sister. And look what Abinash did?”
“As if Bela did not know what she was doing? These days the girls don’t have any morals.”
The conversations flowed. Sometimes the shabbiness of this house grew on its inhabitants.
The sunset rekindled the memories of the Bombay trip Tupur had enjoyed with Chotomama last winter. The twilight hues of iridescence bathing the virginal corners of the roof of their old Calcutta house transferred her to a world of her own. Far from the maddening secret, that her father had married her mother’s cousin three days before her tenth birthday, from the eyes of her relatives in this house who always pitied her life for the lack of a fatherly figure. Far from the school registration forms which asked for reconciliation between her Father’s name and Mother’s maiden name signed thereon.
The fervent blowing of conch shells downstairs announced the arrival of the groom. Somebody called out for her.
The merriment had just begun. The bitter expression that dominated the entire morning episode had vanished from Ma’s face.
Sejomesho already had a group of people listening agog to his stories of his exploits around the world including his visit to the White House or the anecdote about the African carnivores. The authenticities of these stories were not to be judged, they were meant for good humored enjoyment. Ma had also joined. The gathering had gained momentum when Boromami, the uniformly hated snob of the family, intervened sarcastically,
“So Sujoy, how many fools did you make this time?”
“Well as Confucius says, Fools are those who consider others to be so.” Sejomesho’s stinging anglicized humour did hit the right chord.
“Huh! So now you have started dishonouring elders also. Don’t forget am your elder sister in law.” Boromami just could not swallow the follow up to her attack.
Ma intervened to make peace.
“Boudi, Don’t take him seriously. You know how he jokes around.”
“Sandhya don’t try to cover him up. He jokes around, but that does not give him the liberty to call me a fool. Am I the butt of all jokes in this family?”
“Boudi he cracks joke on all of us.”
“Really! He never cracked a joke on you or how you behaved today morning when Bela came….as if you had just run away from Ranchi’s mental asylum.”
Silence prevailed again. Boromami never really knew where to stop. Tupur could see her mother’s face cringe with shame and sorrow. She decided to take her mother inside.
Long after her mother was asleep from the dosage of sedatives, Tupur was still sitting by her side. She pondered over the purpose of Bela’s visit today. It still remained a mystery for her. Whatever obtuse understanding she had of the issue, she had made out that no body in this house could have invited her to come. Not even Boromami. Her entry to this house was permanently barred. Probably she had come to visit Chotomashi, her childhood companion. But she too had disowned her years ago. Then what made her visit this household today, after six long years. Was it only for Chotomashi or there was more to it? The ash flakes of perceptions precipitated on her mind when didu entered the room.
Didu, her grandmom, looked relieved today. This marriage was the last of her responsibilities. The negotiations for Chotomashi’s marriage proposals failed mostly because of her mother’s divorcee past. Luckily this one survived.
“Tupur, everyone’s looking for you over there. I will be here with your mother. Go quickly.”
The pheras were being completed by the time she reached. Tupur was time and again amazed by the capacity of the member’s of this house to forget. Everyone looked so happy and content now. Boromashi, Sejomesho or Boromami, nobody remembered Bela’s visit in the morning or what happened with Ma sometimes back. She doubted that if anybody had even cared to find out why Bela came to this house today. No body did apparently.
It was around eleven in the morning after the wedding when Tupur woke up. The Tottwo (gifts) for tomorrow’s Boubhat at the groom’s place were being made ready.
The old landline telephone of the house suddenly bustled with exuberance. Sejomesho answered. Tupur could hear only one side of the conversation.
“Yes, May I know who’s speaking?”
“Who?” Sejomesho’s voice cracked
“Accha! Can you give me the address?” He scribbled down something on the writing pad.
“Ok, ok, we will be there in sometime. Tupur…ok, Tupur will also come with us.”
Tupur was suddenly startled by the mention of her name in this seemingly normal conversation. She looked at sejomesho questioningly.
“Where is you mother Tupur?” sejomesho asked her.
“She is sleeping. She took some sedatives in the night.” She answered.
“Ok you go and wake her up. We need to go.”
“Where Sejomesho? What happened?”
“I will explain. You go and get your mother.”
Ma looked composed in the car. Tupur could make out that she already knew what was happening. She felt helpless. It was only she who did not have an inkling of what was happening around. Everyone seemed tense when they left the house. The frolic of festivity had disappeared.
The traffic lights blinked red. Sejomesho puffed another cigarette before Tupur could ask what had happened.
“Tupur, you have to be extremely brave. We all know how mature you are. Your father has passed away this morning. He had a heart attack day before yesterday. He wanted to meet you one last time. That is why we thought of taking you for his funeral.”
Sejomesho spoke in a monotone. Tupur listened carefully. Silently. The puzzled pieces of jigsaw were falling into place. That explained Bela’s visit to their house yesterday or speaking to her. Her immediate concern was for her mother. She seemed serene.
Individually, she did not know how to react to the situation. She had lost her father. Her school friends always told her about how much they were Daddy’s little girl. Surprisingly she had no such memories. The very few of them she had of her early ten years of existence in their Father’s house in Ballygunge were marked by quarrels between her parents. After the divorce battle was over, her mother’s insecurities never let them meet. Perhaps she was the only companion her mother could hold on to live in this world. Her father also never pressed over the Court’s orders about letting him meet Tupur once a week. May be that was his way of apologizing to her mother. He still used to send beautiful dresses for Tupur during the Durga pujo days, the ones that Ma never allowed her to wear.
She wondered if his father’s corpse still looked like the one that is there on her childhood photograph album.
It was around 1.30 in the afternoon when they reached the nursing home. Bela waited for them at the entrance. Her mother’s composure broke down as she saw the dead body. Sejomesho discussed minute medical details of her father’s death with his colleagues. Bela joined them.
Tupur was standing alone in the room perceiving everything around. The understanding was hazy. It was then that Bela came to speak to her.
“Tupur, Your father wished to see you once before he died. I could not explain anything yesterday. I was thrown out without even being given an opportunity to speak. He wanted me to give you this.”
Bela handed her an envelope with her name written on it. Tupur opened it at once. Inside there was a photograph of her on her Baba’s lap on her first birthday. A note accompanied the photograph. Inscribed on it was, “Dear Tupur, This is the loveliest memory I have of us together. I treasured this photograph all these years. Wish you luck in all your endeavors in life.
A drop of tear fell on the written alphabets of the letter. The relationship which never saw the light of the day blossomed on this winter afternoon, long after it was all over. Tupur could only say, “Thank you baba.”