“Have you seen the Taj before?” Amit asked Deboshree while staring at the white monument termed as the symbol of eternal love by everyone alike.
Amit could never recall being in love. He was not flamboyant, rather shy by nature. His small town upbringing did not give him a chance to be suitably equipped for a lengthy conversation with a lady. Probably this was the first time in 26 years since his birth when he was alone for so long with a lady, the daintily made Deboshree, his newly married wife of 14 days.
Amit’s father worked in Jamshedpur. Throughout his childhood days, he was always taught to study hard and be suitable enough to fetch a job in the company which defined the future of iron and steel industry in India and needless to say, Amit was very successful in his endeavour. He bagged a job in the company as Graduate Trainee after completing his engineering from IIT Kharagpur.
On the other hand Deboshree hailed from the big city that troubled Amit all the time- Calcutta. He visited the city during every school holidays since his grandparents still stayed over there, but the sight of the the monstrous Howrah Bridge made him feel uneasy. The crowds on the streets, the ‘phuchka’ vendor who served his mother’s favourite flour balls with tamarind laced water, the tram ride from his Kalighat home to Dalhousie- every thing reminded him of how his world had the peace and vanity of silence where nobody intruded. He sometimes wondered whether he was a loner…whether he disliked Calcutta. He durely did not because he loved his breakfasts at Flurys and the pending birthday treats from his grandfather at Mocambo. But his heart was set out in the peaceful haven of his Bistupur home.
In fact, Amit was stunned by the opulence and grandeur of Deboshree’s Shyambazar home when he first went to see Deboshree. He wondered how she managed to stay in such a big house alone with her parents, whether she would be able to stay in that 3 bedroom company provided accomodation in Jamshedpur. He truly had the luxury of a small custom made garden, but it was no match for Deboshree’s house which was at a stone’s throw distance from the famous eatery which serve Calcutta’s most favourite mutton curry. However, 15 minutes in the drawing room of the Mukherjee household he understood that Deboshree had company, a rather large one including her cousins, uncle an aunts who were rather excited with the prospect of Deboshree getting married off to an engineer.
He was scared, very very scared to meet the Loreto Convent educated girl shortlisted from the bunch of photos by Mr. and Mrs. Banerjee becuase she was pretty, had a degree from Shantiniketan, was apparently well read, cooked, sewed, had a good family lineage and to say the least- could be the ideal companion for their son.
Amit was not a part of this decision making process. He had left the choice on his parents. But he could not deny that there was something in that one photograph of Deboshree that he had seen, that made him agree to make a very short visit to Calcutta in the scorching April heat. The match was finalised soon enough. The families talked, Deboshree was asked to sing by his mother. The customary questions later Amit’s mother had asked her whether she would be able to adjust in Jamshedpur, since it would not have all the amenities of a big city.
Deboshree’s ‘jethima’ (aunt) had replied – “Parbe, Parbe! sob parbe- Of Course! she can, girls can adjust to anything didi…..consider me, when I got married I was just 16 and I did not know how to cook dal even…from there on, I have been cooking every day for this entire family of 34 members. You don’t need to worry at all.”
Amit had tried to steal a glance at Deboshree, to understand what she would have told in answer to his mother’s question but the conversation had by then moved to the ideal marriage dates. A monsoon wedding and the customary “Oshtomongola” (visit to the bride’s house after 8 days) later, Amit and Deboshree were off to their honeymoon to Delhi and Agra.
Amit had long planned for this vacation and she had once called up Deboshree on her family’s telephone- the only time before their wedding, to ask for her permission. He could overhear the hushed tones of excitement in the background surrounding his call. Even on the day after Oshtomongola, when they were scheduled to catch their train for Delhi from Calcutta, he could feel the palpable excitement in the Mukherjee household for their daughter travelling on a honeymoon vacation.
“Oh! chordi, you are so lucky….he is a man of exquisite taste” Deboshree’s cousin Nita had commented.
“Aha! how do you know?” Deboshree replied with a flirting gesture.
“Arrey baba! he is taking you to Delhi and Agra…..imagine you are the first girl from our family to go on a honeymoon…..last year my friend Piyul had got married and she was so prouf that she was going on a trip after marriage…..and that too, she was going to Puri…where everybody goes…but you are going to see the Taj Mahal in Agra…please get us replicas Chordi”
“Okay baba! I will” Amit could well sense the hint of pride in Deboshree’s voice when she replied. Amit thought she was happy and that made him happy since he wanted to know about the person that Deboshree was.
“Acha! chordin.” Nita had further enquired, “I heard that Amit da would be traveling to America for a training for 3 months…are you also going with him”
“Let’s see, it’s not decided yet re…but high chances”
Though Amit was eavesdropping into the conversation, he could see Nita’s face turn a shade greener with jealousy. Of course! she was a year younger than Deboshree and was yet to complete her graduation. But she was dark and not as well mannered as Deboshree…rather coquettish to say the least, a fact which made her and her parents aware that she would not be as lucky as Deboshree in her quest for the perfect husband.
Amit and Deboshree had talked during the train journey. They had reached Delhi around the noon and she was excited to see the Red Fort from a passing distance on the very first day of their travel. amit had planned to visit Agra on the very next day and stay there for a night. So the very next morning they were off to Agra. Deboshree was initially not happy and wanted to visit the shopping arcade Karolbagh hat she had researched so much about. Amit had to pacify her that they were staying in Delhi for 2 more days while returning back. The conversation had led to breaking of ice between the two and Amit was happy about it. He wanted their visit to the Taj Mahal to be perfect, just the way he had planned.
“I haven’t. You?” Deboshree replied ” In fact I have not visited any place other than Puri, Darjeeling and my college in Shantiketan”. She giggled with a flirtatious wink in her eyes. Amit tried to concentrate in her eyes. In stead it was the big red bindi on her forehead, the shankha pola, the never ending vermillion streak and her crisp cotton sari that drew her attraction. She was the perfect bangali bou. The way he saw Ma Durga. The moment they entered the Taj, Deboshree was overwhelmed by the gigantic architechtural wonder….her hand quickly sought refuge in Amit’s hands…and that very moment he felt happy.
“Yes, I have been here..with a few of my college friends”.
“You are so well travelled na Am…err”
“You can call me Amit, I won’t mind”
“But I am not supposed to na…after marriage you are not supposed to take you husband’s name…..your mother can mind”
“As you wish…but in my college many of my friends had girlfriends and they used to call them by their first names”
“Pagol! they had a a love marriage na!”
Amit laughed. He was scared to tell that his college was reputed to have one of the scariest gender ratios in India…and besides the one or two love stories that he knew never ever matured till the wedding platform. He just wanted to be friendly with Deboshree. Besides he would be travelling to America with her in a few days time…he had read that there even the wives addressed their husbands by their first names.
“You didn’t sya where else have you traveled” Deboshree interrupted his chain of thoughts”
“Me? well some parts of Bengal, Darjeeling, Delhi, Agra, Varanasi and Palamau in Bihar…you know Palamau?”
“Palamau’s jungle? where Aranyer Dinratri* was shot?”
“Yes! have you seen the movie?”
“Of Course! it released 2 years back na?”
“Yes! a few of my friends…we were all very influenced an wanted to make a trip to Palamau”
“So very exciting…..even I want to go there”
The conversation was interrupted by a photographer who wanted to convince the honeymoon couple to take a picture in front of the Taj Mahal. Deboshree was eager and Amit had to relent. He was keen…he has been advised to tell the three golden words to Deboshree in front of the Taj Mahal..the perfect romantic setting by his friend Shyamal. His trip to Taj Mahal was planned accordingly.
“Ei…come here…let’s go in….acha! can we see the original sones that were fitted inside or have they already been lotted away by the English before leaving the country.” Deboshree asked. She talked a lot. Amit was not used to the sounds of lady’s constant giggle and chatter. But here he was admiring a girl who had the child like char intact inside her crisp red cotton sari. And the bindi which made him fall in love with her again. Deboshree stole shy glances the very first time they had met in the drawing room of her Shyambazar home. She was too scared to look at Amit during their “Shubho drishti”, a ritual were the bride and groom were supposed to look in to each other eyes’s before being tied up within the knots of holy matrimony…but here she was free, thousands of kilometres away from the prying eyes of her cousins, her parents, her newly found strict mother in law….she was herself, the Deboshree Amit wanted to know. But Amit wanted to tell her that she looked extremely beautiful that day.
He could not. He was tongue tied.
The guide was explaining the history of Taj Mahal while they stood with the Yamuna river at their back. A few minutes later they were instructed to be back in the tourist bus after 20 minutes.
Amit was busy wondering at what must have struck Shahjahan to build a mausoleum so huge, only to commemorate some body’s death. and the poetic injustice that surrounded the walls of the Taj….a symbol of love built over the agony of so many..their pain and humiliation. He was lost for aminute when his blood rushed up to his cheek turning it a few shades red. Deboshree had just done the unthinkable. In the few moments that he had been lost, Deboshree had managed to whisper “Aami tomake bhalobash” (I love you) in his ears.
Today is the 41st wedding anniversary of Amit and Deboshree and she still maintains that the moment which defined a lifetime of their relationship was absolutely spontaneous. Amit had tried to extract the secret about how many times had she carefully planned to say the golden words in front of the world’s most romantic monument, but the answer had always remained the same.
*Aranyer Dinratri ( Days and Nights in the forest) is a Bengali film released in 1970 and directed by Satyajit Ray.
[This story is set in the mid 1970’s when the world was a far more romantic place to live in, far removed from the cacophony of cell phones and social media websites (well! a necessary evil)]