“So, Mamoni! all set?”
Dr. Rajat Mukherjee was all smiles today. A glint of pain showed up now and then but he hid it well enough. He was proud, very proud of his only daughter Debolina. Getting one’s PhD application accepted in one of the world’s most revered universities is not an easy ask. Debolina had done it and how!
Debolina was happy. Relieved to the core. For years in to her graduate and post graduate studies in Jadavpur University, Debolina was always taunted by her relatives- for studying Literature. She was glared upon when her father’s friends from medical school asked- “So what are you studying now?” and she answered back in a wimpish tone- “Literature, Comparative Literature.” The presumption was always in favour of Medicine, Engineering or for that matter Sciences. But Literature came as rude shock to all.
And now she was going to Harvard. What an answer to all! A country where “Made in Vietnam” but “Marketed from USA” still sells like hot cakes, this was an achievement, nonethless. Dr. Mukherjee had arranged for a family get together before the day Debolina was scheduled to leave for foreign shores. Mrs. Mukherjee was busy attending to all.
“Taposhi Di, take one more bhteki fry, please!”
“Laltu Da, one more, one more chom chom…this for Tukun”
Bits and pieces of conversation strewn across the roof followed Debolina, Tukun to her immediate family. She was ready to leave this place of her own, the only place she called home in her twenty two years of existence. She was excited about all that was awaiting her. But she felt remorse too. Boney mashi, the one who had trashed her future prospects as- “Useless!” a few years back came with a bouquet to congratulate her.
“Daroooon Khobor!! Congratulations! So very proud of you :)”
“Why are you so late Boney di?”
“Arey the traffic….so Tukun when is your flight tomorrow? Are you carrying woollens?”
“Take a few spices also….for immediate need”- Rani dida jutted in the conversation.
Tukun smiled. She smiled a lot, until she boarded her flight. May be that was the only way she could console Ma. Her mother who always took a backseat in every decision made in the household. Her mother who loved playing second fiddle to the awe inspiring personality of Dr. Mukherjee, her father. Her mother who did not cry a bit before she vanished beyond the point of security check and immigration cues in the airport.
Tukun looked up. The Air Hostess was here to ask for her meal preferences. She had a long flight ahead….and a longer journey.
“Are you looking for this?”
Debolina was startled! She was so engrossed in her search for her cell phone that she failed to notice that someone was standing right next. The Library still felt jolted to be waken up by the shrill sound of the cell phone ring.
“Thank you so much! I just couldn’t place it.”
“Happens! Happens more in case you read Jhumpa Lahiri too much”
“Hey! you like her?”
“Well, being a Bengali, and that too a graduate student in an American University, if I claim that I don’t like her works of Bengal, Boston and Beyond…I will surely be lying.”
“You are a Bengali?” Debolina exclaimed with joy!
“Yes Madam, 100% pure breed Bengali….I swear by my Robi Thakur.”
Kabir had already extended his hand for friendship and Debolina couldn’t refuse the easy going charm. Kabir, as she later learnt was a Bangladeshi. Debolina had first mistaken her for a Calcutta bong. To which Kabir had joked- “Snobbish Calcuttan, It seems you think all the bengalis you know hail from Calcutta and read in your convent schools. Huh!”
In stead Kabir Siddiqui hailed from Dhaka. A bright young Statistics scholar from Dhaka University, Kabir was also here on a full scholarship. Their area of research was way different, and the cities varied, but poetry and rhyme found them. And the language. Debolina had spotted almost thirty desis in and around her apartment and Department but none of them spoke her mother tongue.
Language, what an amazing creation was it. Debolina sometimes wondered whether she would have taken that instant liking for Kabir, if not for Bengali language, a language they both communicated in. There were days when Kabir stayed back in her apartment for an extra cup of tea while they both hummed their favourite Rabindrasangeet.
“Bujhley Debolina, This tea is a wonderful boon to us…the ‘still’ colonized souls from the British. This Starbucks fed nation doe snot know how much are they missing out because of coffee.”
Laughter and a Joy Goswami later, Kabir would stood up to go and finish his assignment due next week.
Debolina, would wave her goodbye.
Two months had passed on since the day Debolina had left Calcutta. Her mother now knew how to use Skype and communicate. She wrote her emails. There were emails from her dad too. He spoke to her at length on the weekends. Today was one such day. Her parents were pestering her to come back home during the winter break. Debolina was disapproving. She and Kabir had made plans to visit New York around that time. A plan her parents would never approve of. She tried to divert the topic of the conversation.
“Bapi, you always told that our ancestors were from Dhaka”
“Yes, from erstwhile East Bengal. Why?”
“No generally. Where in Dhaka Bapi?”
“Bikrampur. but that was long back….why are you suddenly interested Mamoni? I say you come back this winter. Don’t think about funds. You won the scholarship and am mighty proud of that. But I can fund your travel expenses.”
“It’s not that Bapi. I have lots of work pending here”
“Can’t you come for two weeks?” Mrs. Mukherjee jutted in between the video call on Skype.
“Aha! can’t you see she is telling that she has important work. you will never understand. But still Mamoni, try to come.”
“I will try Bapi”
“Ok! Maoni I have to go now. I have an appointment with you siddhesh Kaku today. He is coming for a routine check up.You remember him right? His son is now working with Microsoft in New York. You can meet him during the winter break. He was thinking of visiting Boston too.”
“I do Bapi and I have told you many times that I don’t want to meet his son. I don’t find him good.”
“Ha Ha Ha, take your time. Signing off! Mamoni”
The window on her laptop disappeared. Sometimes she felt that her loving father was indeed very cruel. Very, Very cruel. He did not even let ma talk properly. She could not even say a bye.
“No Kabir Da, come…look what I got…a brand new collection of Suchitra Bhattacharya stories. It’s available on Amazon!”
“Aha! don’t call me Kabir Da…how many times should I tell you that it doesn’t sound good when a beautiful girl calls you as her brother. Btw, I am only 25 and quite eligible”
“You and your flirting.”
“Madam, what will you understand of flirting. In this land of foreign beauties, nobody apart from you understands Rabindranath and Kadambari Debi.”
“Aha!He was wrong. Kadambari was his sister in law.”
“Debolina, when did you start thinking in the box full of black and white? Isn’t there something called grey? Kadambari Debi was his inspiration.”
Days Passed. The frolic and tinkle grew. Kabir was a year senior to Debolina. He had introduced him to many other Bengalis in and around Boston. Some were here for work. Some studied in the University. ! few were part of the IT crowd. Whenever they assembled, Kabir was always in the centre stage. Debolina’s stolen glances caught Kabir busily distributing luchi aloordum to one and all during Saraswati pujo. The meet for Tagore’s Birthday celebration found him hogging all the limelight for singing multilingual renditions of “Ekla Cholo re”. He was the star. Debolina was his happy shadow.
“Your parents must be a big fan of Anjan Dutta right?”
“Jah! You are from Calcutta and never heard of Anjan Dutta?”
“Of course I have…but why?”
“Arey they named you Debolina after his favourite song, right?”
It was Ina di’s house one summer evening where they had all gathered to watch the fresh off the rack DVD screening of the very popular and award winning Bengali movie of the year. ‘Antaheen’ as it was called. Rajeev Khemka, Kabir’s batchmate had nervously followed him to this full of fishhead eating bong gathering. It so happened that Kabir had suddenly visited his apartment to find him doing nothing and being the strang head that he was, forced Rajeev into this. The Gujarati in him was very scared of being served non vegetarian food. It took a lot of coaxing from Ina di to make him have the vegetarian pulao. A few minutes into the screening, Debolina was serving as Rajeev’s official translator.
“What does Antaheen mean?”
“Endless wait” Debolina answered, only to be momentarily clouded by her thoughts of the wait that she was put into. Kabir was a Muslim. He was a Bangladeshi. Her father being the high caste Bengali Hindu Brahmin would never approve of the match.
Was there a match?
Kabir was flirting with Ina Di’s sister who was visiting her from India in the other corner of the room. He was humming a famous bengali song to her. “I need you”. Yes! that’s what it was called.
So from Debolina to another songwriter’s dream, it didn’t take much of Kabir’s time. Debolina often wondered whether Kabir even had a hint how since the New York trip of theirs, the stupid whispering of “Aami tomake bhalobashi” (I love you in Bengali) in the Central Park, her entire world revolves around Kabir?
Kabir obviously broke into a peal of laughter when Debolina turned a tinge red while being whispered those three magical words in Bengali.
“Pagli!! scared you! Don’t take it seriously. Actually the weather, the surroundings….can you not be in love right now?”
That was Kabir. Whimsical. He could make such fun of people. Debolina did not talk to him for the remaining two days of the trip. But she had to eventually give in.
“Madam, seems like you are day dreaming….what’s the matter?”
Debolina was startled by Kabir’s booming voice yet again. He was driving on the way back from Ina Di’s house. They had dropped Rajeev in his apartment. There was a joke going around in today’s gathering.
“Odol bodol”. They were obviously referring to Kabir paying more attention to Ina Di’s cousin and Debolina sticking around with Rajeev for the entire evening.
“Seems like some one is turning green with envy.”
“Why should I be?” Debolina reeacted
“Who told it’s you? But, you may say whatever you like but Rajeev will take a million years to understand the pains behind Bhindeshi Taara (the distant star) in translation.” Kabir winked.
“So who will understand Kabir Da?”
“Arrey, I was just saying that it has been beautifully sung by Anindya. The reworked version by Shantanu Moitra in the movie is quite good too.”
“Don’t divert the topic Kabir Da. You always do. Tell me who can be my distant star? ? My bhindeshi taara?” tears welled up Debolina’s eyes while she spoke.
“Crazy woman” Kabir laughed. “Have you been possessed or something at this hour of the night? Ki bolchish? Go back home and sleep.”
“You know how much courage did it take for me to ask you the question. You know it right Kabir Da? Who will under stand my language? that distant star”
That winter Kabir went back home. He returned with his wife Sakina. Kabir never spoke much about his family in Dhaka but whatever Debolina could make out from bits and pieces was that he belonged to a very wealthy political family. Sakina, who took an instant liking for Debolina, had later told her that she was the only daugfhter of one of the richest industrialists of Dhaka. Kabir and she were family friends. Theirs was a ‘love marriage’. They had met at a party thrown that December in honour of Kabir. Their parents approved of the match and it didn’t take much time for them to get hooked.
Debolina returned to India to teach languages at JNU. She later married a colleague of hers there. she lives in Delhi with her two kids.
(P.S.- All characters mentioned in the story are purely fictional. Any resemblance with anybody, dead or living, is purely coincidental)