Valentine’s Day Prose By Ketaki Datta

A Diary of Undying Love

1970: It was Spring in Kolkata. Tarangini had just come from Dhaka to settle here. With a bundle of memories, stashed at a nook of her mind, she had come to build a shack with Suranjan, a man fixed by her destiny, to hold her hands for life, with a nonverbal promise of staying together. They married much later, though the people of the locality at Dhakuria knew that they were man and wife. Later, at the insistence of Suranjan’s sister , Madhumati, they had to tie a nuptial knot, formally at Kalighat Temple, followed by a decent feast, with just ten or twelve near ones. A sepia photograph in the showcase of their living room, still bore the testimony of their ‘formal’ union.
But, Tarangini shed tears in the kitchen, while doing ‘posto-pabda’ [ a kind of fish(Pabda), cooked in the paste of poppy seeds] to a turn or while washing clothes in the narrow washroom. Sometimes again, when Suranjan had been off to Howrah on work, she got lost in her thoughts , flipping the pages of memory on her metal terrain, inadvertently. Dipak-da figured faintly, her Dipak-da, they never talked much but when he used to come to their place to talk to her older brother, she eavesdropped. She snatched off the platter of sweets from her mother’s hand, feigning to save her precious time, serving Dipak-da herself. Dipak-da cast a quizzical glance at her which transformed into a lovelorn one when she grew into a nubile girl, but then, the decision of coming to ‘this’ Bengal threw down water on all her expectations. She did not know where Dipak-da had vanished. Her older brother breathed his last a couple of years ago. Her parents too left her a few years preceding that. Later at the insistence of Madhumati, her friend Tarala’s cousin, she had to go for her wedding with Suranjan, a businessman by profession. Truly speaking, he used to deal in unstitched pieces of cloth, at Mangalahat market. At least, she would have a square meal everyday, a husband to take care of her and a dwelling to reside in. Factually, she had a husband, inwardly, she was with her Dipak-da.
1980: A decade had slipped by. Tarangini was a mother of a five-year-old boy. And she was in the family way again. She longed for a girl-child this time. Suranjan even rummaged through the old books and the epics to find a name for his ‘daughter’! He would love to call her ‘Simantini’. A bit antiquarian though.
A son was born again, smashing all their wishes to smithereens. Her mother-in-law, however, was very happy. To her, a girl-child was a curse, though she had a daughter of her own. And she was closer to Madhumati than to Suranjan. Yet, she was happy to see another son being born to her daughter-in-law. She named him ‘Ayantik’. The older one was ‘Supratik’.
Ayantik resembled none in this family. Rather, he had remarkable similarities with Dipak-da. But how would that be possible? Dipak-da never came to pay her a visit since she came here. Inwardly, she spent all her hours with Dipak-da, but that could hardly leave any impact on the shape and features of the newborn. Thank God, none knew of it . Her mother-in-law tried to trace resemblances with her son, with her brother, with her husband, who had passed away long back. But, Ayantik took after Dipak-da, and it was known only to Tarangini. Suranjan used to come back home each evening to take his son in his lap and call him an exact replica of his own, ‘ kochi Surjo’[ little Surjo; ‘Surjo’ being the nickname of Suranjan] ! Tarangini used to laugh in her sleeves.
1990: After two decades of her stay in Kolkata, Tarangini came to know the metropolis like the back of her palm. From Dhakuria, every alternate afternoon, she used to go to a seamstress’s house at Kalighat, for working for a couple of hours or so. Supratik had just finished his school and was about to take admission in a college. And Ayantik was still in school. Expenses mounted with each passing month. Her husband’s Cloth Store at Burrabazaar ran well, yet her support came handy as both the sons were being educated in a proper manner.
That evening, as she was returning home by a public bus, she seemed to run into a man , who resembled Dipak-da so closely! Her memories got the better of her, she slid back into the days of yore. She felt abashed to look for long at the middle-aged man. The man stared at her too. She could feel that. Was it Dipak-da then? The pockmark on the left-cheek proved him to be none other than Dipak-da. But, she kept quiet. The man got down somewhere near Deshapriya Park. The afternoon shadows of the lambent sun grew tall on the pavements, chock-a-block with people from all walks of life. Tarangini looked straight on the road through the bus-window. She strained her eyes but no trace of the man fell within her ken. She came back home with a heavy heart, though none could feel anything by casting a glance at her ever-smiling face. Ayantik and Supratik were conversing in the living room, Supratik seemed to help his brother with his studies. Her husband would come back home in an hour or so. Her mother-in-law grew decrepit these days. She brewed tea and served her, drank a cup herself and served the boys with puffed rice and fritters. Evening tiptoed in, night followed, the next morning dawned , the days yielded to a month and the month to years. Life trudged along at its own pace. Dipak-da peeped in and sometimes stayed in her mind for days together. Her silent search for the man was on, however. She herself wondered, but what for!
2000: A new millennium knocked at the door of Tarangini. It was Day One of January, 2000. Supratik had grown into a twenty-five-year old youth. He had won a cushy job at Allahabad Bank. ‘Kochi Surjo’ was in the college, studying Political Science as major. He dreamt of being a District Magistrate in future. Tarangini was aging , her eyesight had gone feeble. Yet, she had not given up her job at the seamstress’. Her husband was not doing bad at his Cloth Store. The household ran smoother than before.
Supratik shouldered the expenses of his brother’s studies now. If his parents ever chipped in with overtures for his marriage, he firmly turned down all. He wished to see his brother settled as an administrator before he would harbour any thought of having a wife. Ayantik was diligent as ever. He kept striving hard to land his dream-job.
Cloth merchant Suranjan kept working tirelessly to keep himself busy. Tarangini’s low-paying sewing-job grew into an addiction. Much water flew down the Ganga, and a dream still lurked at a nook of Tarangini’s mind. Would she be able to see her Dipak-da at least for once, in her lifetime?
2010: Supratik is now happily married to Anwesha, a teacher of Mathematics in a Convent School.His dream has come true. Ayantik is now a Block Development Officer, posted at Birbhum. He is in love with Abantika, a year junior to him in the administrative service. She is finishing her training at Salt Lake, Kolkata. As soon as she gets posted somewhere, Ayantik would not waste a single moment to enter into a new life.
Dhaka Cloth Store at Burrabazar of Suranjan still keeps him busy, from dawn to dusk. But there is a change lately in Tarangini’s schedule. She is not commuting to her work. She loves to sit back at home and read the epics and the legendary writers like Saratchandra, Rabindranath and Bankimchandra. Even a month back, she used to borrow books from the local library. Last month, Supratik came to pay them a visit and asked a list of books to be bought for his mother. Both Supratik and Anwesha went to College Street and bought a truckload of books of her choice. Suranjan ordered a tall almirah for keeping them in her room. But, it failed to hold all the books in it. Anwesha asked her husband to buy another bookcase for arranging rest of the books in an array. Tarangini was happy to find her son and daughter-in-law to be so caring! She was beside herself in joy to think of reading so many books for many days to come. She knew not what loneliness was, when she spent her time with her treasured possessions. Suranjan never interfered with her new obsession. She read for hours on end. As Suranjan was happy to have a decent breakfast and a skimpy supper, Tarangini did not have to cook much these days. And a charwoman would come in the morning for washing clothes and utensils and mopping the floor. So, Tarangini had enough time to pamper her passion of reading books of her choice.
2020: This year has been ushered in with bells ringing in the church, the people jostling in the illuminated broad thoroughfares of Park Street, Kolkata, the youths celebrating raucously in a streamer on the river, Ganga, and Tarangini’s silent prayers to meet her love, Dipak-da! The year starts with a bang.
Tarangini, till the month of February, opens her notebook and marks with red pencil, Lajja by Taslima Nasreen and Panchakanya by Humayun Ahmad in the list of books to be read this month. No doubt, they are celebrated writers of Bangladesh and to her utter surprise, Tarangini cannot forget her roots even after fifty years of her arrival here in Kolkata. She tries to finish reading the books this February and lives up to her expectation too. In the meantime, Madhumati comes to take her mother along, as she has put up a new house at Nimta.
March comes with a blatant declaration: “Stay at home. Wear masks and wash hands for twenty seconds.” Lockdown has been clamped. Suranjan and Tarangini now stay together from dawn to night and while sleep eludes both of them, they sit up to talk or to gaze at the stars, being amazed by the beauty of the night-sky. Tarangini reads only when Suranjan goes to bed to enjoy siesta and in the other hours she talks and talks and enjoys listening to the old 78 r.p.m. records of the songs of the golden era of Bengali songs, with Suranjan lost in the dulcet melodies.. It seems to her, that, she hadn’t got enough time to know Suranjan all her life. Now, she understands that Suranjan is a perfect husband who she might have longed for, all her life! She feels blessed now. She feels complete now. She thinks herself to be successful as a married lady especially for getting a mate like Suranjan.
Why does she still remain engrossed in the fifty-year-old thoughts of Dipak-da? Could Dipak-da be a better husband than Suranjan? She never spent a thought on this question. Still Dipak-da looms large at the back of her mind. Still…
Days pass by ….Tarangini cooks, waits for her husband to get up in the morning to peep out into the street in the hope of getting a vegetable vendor.
But despite her caution, she lands up at a Corona Unit of a hospital. She does not know when it happens. She only remembers to have lost her consciousness and Suranjan’s anxiety to reach out to a health professional.
A total black-out follows.
She puts up a brave fight against the abrupt attack of the strange pathogen, but has to give in at last, quite unfortunately. And as she sinks , she can hear a voice on the other end of the plastic curtain— a familiar voice, a gasp, a last chant of a name.
Tarangini has bidden adieux to the world. The man, she has waited for so long, is ready now to hold her hands . At least , as of now, their corporeal frames are being dumped into the same pit.
“Dipak-da, you know, Suranjan will be missing me!”
Posto-pabda: A kind of fish(Pabda), cooked in the paste of poppy seeds.
Kochi Surjo: Little Surjo; ‘Surjo’ being the nickname of Suranjan.
Lajja: A famous and controversial novel by the feminist writer, Taslima Nasreen, originally from Bangladesh.
Panchakanya: A collection of five long stories by Humayun Ahmad, an academic-turned-writer from Bangladesh, who is no more.
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