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Saturday, 9 November 2013

MY LOST PRINCESS. Part 3. By Sobhan Pramanik.

Part 3

Sobhan Pramanik

I kept the letter in my bag and headed for school but all the while my mind kept traversing around images of those glorious meadows of Mallikpur, my ailing dad and Rini.  I wonder what must have happened to the village. Dad kept telling me that situations there were worsening and so I must stay back in Kolkata and finish my schooling. But never did he reveal to me the reasons of not taking me to Mallikpur in the past decade. Was it something that was connected with my life there? Was it something that will burden my heart with a feeling of morose? I had no idea. All I could do was to wish that everything will be fine soon.

I tried my best to hold my nerves during the period of exams but none of the efforts mattered. The very thoughts of my bed ridden dad and Rini waving at me from behind those barbed fences moistened my eyes with the emotions of grief and nostalgia. Returning home from school on the last day of my class twelfth examinations, I went to a nearby market and to fulfil my promise of bringing to Rini the tiara of her doll, I purchased a new princess doll.

By the time I reached my mashi’s place, the sky of Kolkata was indulging itself in varied shades of red and purple. I sat by the window of my room and wondered how different the twilight of Kolkata is from that of Mallikpur. Back in Mallikpur, lying in the concrete pipes with Rini, we saw the sun go down the sky adorned with swirling kites. It was sheer bliss then. And now it is nothing more than a dreaded longing.

After the final sunset of my stereotyped city life, I got back to writing of my diary.
30th October – Last day in Kolkata

Ever since that day I and Rini used to meet very frequently. The post school Kulfi session and seeing the sunset together were the most cherished moments of our everyday life.
Life then to us was like a blank sheet of paper on which our togetherness drafted poetries of love and ecstasy.

It was during a Sunday afternoon while I was sitting dejected under the peepal tree packing my marbles, after having cheated in the game by Ganesh, she came up to the fences and called out to me. I walked across to her and then came to know that she was here to say that the Kulfiwala had come and so we are supposed to go and have one each. After all it was one such happening in our meeting that kept brining us close with every passing day in the last eight months that I had known her.
Since it wasn’t a school day, I knew I wasn’t carrying that two rupee I used to carry for my tiffin. But still I couldn’t say no to her.

Tucking the box of marbles in my pyjama and making sure no one sees us, I crossed the fences. She walked ahead of me as I followed her down a dusty, broken path by the vast stretches of paddy field. Shafts of warm wind in a shrill murmur were rushing past our ears. Her brisk walk kicked up loose soil from beneath her feet and behind those smokes of dust I admired her silver anklets juggling at her heels.

By the time we reached the Kulfiwala, the bright sun above had dehydrated us to a great extent. Beads of sweat rolled down from my forehead in a continuous stream. Rini asked the Kulfiwala to give us two kulfis. He then held out it out to us as Rini collected them and waited for me to pay. I took out my box of marbles and handed it over to the kulfiwala because I didn’t have money.
When questioned upon by Rini, I told her that I love her more than my marbles. She kept looking at me in absolute awe as melted kulfi streaked down her thin, brown fingers.
Something in that look told me that deep down she possesses the same feelings I possess for her.
It was our last meeting and the last time I admired Rini’s ‘teeth-missing-smile’.
Now I wait for the sun to crawl up in the east and mark an end to my stay in Kolkata.
I slept.

Birds were yet to make their maiden flight for the day as I left for Mallikpur at dawn.

The Homecoming

Walking a good half mile or so, I reached the peepal tree where we played marbles. Had it not been for the cemented pavement underneath its shade, I wouldn’t have recognized it. It had grown beyond recognition and surrounding it was many new trees. The sky looked familiar though, a clear sheet of blue with plugs of cottony clouds at places. I shifted my gaze to locate the barbed fences that ten years back used to demarcate the landlord’s property from the rest of the village and from where I used to stand and watch Rini run all the way home.
I looked behind the cluster of trees with a steady gaze but there weren’t any fences. Neither there exist those barren paddy fields with stacks of fodder grass.
Am I at the wrong place? If yes, then how come the same cemented pavement beneath the peepal.

I tried to locate Prithviraj kaka’s house. Yes, it was there, looking more elegant than before. Now I was damn sure that I wasn’t at the wrong place. Cemented pavement beneath peepal can be a coincidence. An entire palatial house can’t be. Soon I noticed a series of small brick houses occupying those paddy fields. I was taken aback to see things change so drastically.

I walked ahead and following the tapering road reached our house. It was a clay hut with a sagging roof. The frame of the window has been reduced by termites to a stick like wooden structure that upholds a tattered piece of cloth acting as a curtain.
I pushed through the door and entered it. The place stinks of foul air. It seems as if no one has opened its door since ages. In one corner rests a dripping earthen pot over a tripod and in the centre, over a majorly torn cot, lays baba.

Clay tiles from the roof had gone missing and had it not been for newspaper cuttings placed at the missing spots, one could see the sky through the roof. I sat beside baba on the damped floor and took a keen look at his face. His overgrown hairs had been thinning from the parting and one could easily trace silver streaks in them. His cheeks are dug in and eyes carry a web of wrinkles around it. He looks extremely malnourished.
I place my palm on his forehead and softly spoke, “Baba…”

Seconds later he opened his eyes slowly. They were narrating to me the tale of pain and suffering. I wanted to know every bit of it. He tried to raise his hand and touch my face, but somehow he couldn’t move.
“Baba what had happened?” I asked holding his forearm. In the backdrop of my voice was the constant dripping of the tap connected to the earthen pot. Little puddles of the drinking water had accumulated on the clay floor, making it muddy.

He tried to answer but the lips didn’t move. All he managed was to nod his head in utter remorse. My within was writing in agony but somehow I managed to hold back that pain that wanted to escape through my eyes.
I wanted to find Ramu kaka and ask everything that had happened to him and so I went out of our house.
I was walking towards our school as I heard someone call out in a dying voice, “Pratik…”
It was Ramu kaka, in no better condition than my baba. But he could speak somehow.
“Ramu kaka…” I ran to him. “What had happened? Why are you and dad so ill?”
“Not just we…the entire village is dying….” He inhaled noisily and broke into a coughing fit.
He then pointed towards our school building and what I saw, felt like a dagger in my heart. My school wasn’t there anymore. In its place was a white building and atop it was the hoarding that says, “Prithviraj Distributors”.
“What’s all this?” I asked Ramu kaka who was still coughing. He threw up a gobble of phlegm and began to narrate softly.
“Five years after you left, the landlord Prithviraj Bhattacharya, took the decision of pulling down this school and build a Tobacco distribution unit. He ships tobacco to Bangladesh and that brings him huge revenue. All the lands that were leased out to the farmers were taken back and in those places he had set up a retail market that sells eatables to people at high prices. Those who are a bit financially stable can buy goods from that market and rest are dying. Since then we have taken to eat once in a day, so as to preserve the grains we were left with for a longer time. And since last two weeks…there’s no food….the grains have exhausted….and….” Ramu kaka started coughing once again.

With every word he spoke a part of me was dying bit by bit. I fought hard not to cry as tears of anguish lurked in my eyes.

Now I could connect; all those construction materials behind Prithviraj’s beautiful garden weren’t meant to renovate his house. It was meant to kill the villagers for no reason. It was meant for this damn tobacco distribution unit.

I stood there unmoved with a feeling of hatred against Prithviraj Bhattacharya, jabbing its claws in my heart. I had no option than to see my loved ones die a degrading death in front of eyes. I wonder how I will be able to tolerate that.

Breaking the frightful silence around us, I finally asked Ramu kaka what my already dead heart kept beating to know about, “Kaka, where is Rini?”
My eyes were rooted to Kaka’s trifle silhouette casted on his left by the bright autumn sun.

He then with a lot of effort tried to unknot something out of his towel. As he was doing so, he started to speak, “Beta, Rini did come to me one winter morning two years after you left, to give me something for you. But that day she was caught crossing the fences. The panchayat was called in the evening and Prithviraj accused Rini’s family of conspiring against him by saying bad things about him to the villagers. They were thrown out of their house and had to spent the bone chilling winter night in the open as little Rini was caught with Pneumonia…..” the knot opened up and Kaka held out to me a box full of marbles.

I opened the box and found a note. It said.

 I love you more than my favourite Kulfi. J
What about a game of marble with me? I won’t cheat. I promise.
Your Rini.

I looked at kaka and he continued with what I never wanted to listen, “….and little Rini couldn’t battle Pneumonia”

I sat on the ground holding my head. I remembered the princess doll lying in my bag and the princess that I had lost eight years back.
There was a scream of intense pain in my heart but I couldn’t utter a word. It was when kaka pulled me in his embrace that the tears finally came.
I cried.

                                                       BY -- Sobhan Pramanik

Thank you for taking time to read. Hope you enjoyed it.

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In case you have missed the earlier parts. Read it here -

 Part 1

 Part 2

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