They have gone, one after another. Tridib had gone on the ritual day. He managed one day- leave on emergency. His office didn’t grant leave without any seven days’ notice…even if one’s father died. Why on this Earth did people die without any intimation? Science is stepping ahead of everything. But no one can envisage death… slowly or abruptly, crawling or slithering, in which way it pounces and seizes its prey. Uma sighs.
Did she foresee that? Everything was usual … perfect…pristine. Vabotosh Mukherjee was not at all a messy person mentally or physically. Everything he did with priggish perfection. He never ran with time rather time had to keep pace with him. 5.00 A.M.: waking up, sipping warm water with honey, going out for a walk, 6.10 A.M.: Coming back to get fresh and have a healthy breakfast at 8.30 with butter, bread, egg and banana. Everything in his life was disciplined and flawless. His nail to hair, tie to socks hair brush to wrist watch all were arranged in immaculate perfection. But only one thing was not perfect for him…his wife Uma.
Uma was not the perfect companion for him. If love marriage was possible for him ignoring the glaring eyes of guardians he never had married Uma. Uma never cared for perfection. Her hair like the nimbus cloud always dangled here and there surrounding her tiny round face. Her nose is flat and her forehead is broad. Her teeth were all arranged in chaos as if they have forgotten their ascribed seats and sat here and there jumbled together. But when she smiled she looked childish and beautiful. Vabotosh never said that. Her mother used to say. Vabotosh always grumbled and whined at her clumsy ways of being. She used to forget her comb and often placed it on his table. She forgot to close the window when the south wind torments the glass fineries decked in the closet. She allowed them to blow carrying dry leaves, dust, wild petals and the rare smell of bygone memories. She loved to race with the wind in her little restless heart. She never cared to dress up perfectly when going out. For her simplicity is beauty and for him arduous perfection. She was so shameless to sing loudly now and then beside the window at night or whenever she wishes to. She used to giggle even at the trivial jokes of the servants or vegetable man. He had to check all those uncivilized habits of her with his uncivilized crackdowns. Yes, she became silent to some extent but only in his presence and this enraged Vabotosh too much. Often he found her singing on the roof in a low voice or chattering gleefully with the neighbour or sipping tea together with the maid. She had no dignity.
Uma never cared how much Vabotosh detested her till one day he declared she should change her room as he could no more tolerate the burden of sharing the bed with an unmannered woman. Though at first, she took it as a new prank later she realised how serious he was. She realised after 10 years of their marriage how annoying and unwanted she was to him. How pathetically he had to tolerate her, though she gave birth to his four children.
Now they had gone…Atashi, Manasi, Sudip and Tridib…one after another. Manasi’s eldest son is preparing for the final exam of class ten and Sudip has joined a new job. Atasi’s mother-in-law is ill. Everyone has his or her own life.
Now she is alone. In slow steps, she enters Vabotosh’s room. A picture is hanging over the bed on the wall… a well-groomed smug face decked with fresh garland.
His smile was perfect. As Uma scrutinized the picture she thought. He smiled cautiously as if keeping in mind how many teeth he would show and how to sidetrack the rest without bulging his cheeks. His moustache is perfectly pruned and coloured. Uma looked at his eyes …her heart shivers …they are like the eyes of a living man…she feels as if he was inspecting her even from that dead world…. scanning her manners. Unconsciously she arranges the pleats of her saree, looks at her bangles and checks his table again if she has forgotten her comb there. Uma locks the room and stows the key in the cupboard. Malati, the cook has taken leave for two days after these 15 days of drudgery and chaos. It is ok…now she can manage on her own when everyone has gone.
An overpowering silence descends upon the house. The kids are no more shouting, the cooks are no more scrambling their utensils. Consistent calling, shouting, talking, whispering, yelling, and gossiping all have stopped slowly as if a tornado has gradually dwindled to perfect quietude.
Uma feels this calmness is soothing as well as disturbing. Sudden freedom is unleashed on her as she feels aimless about what to do, where to start, and what next.
They were pleading with her to go with them the daughters, sons, and daughters-in-law.
“What will you do in this forlorn house? Come with us. Stay with us.”
“I’ll go but not now. Let me stay for some days and arrange things.”
Uma knows they will gradually forget to ask and she would be happy enough to live on her own.
Uma starts wandering through the rooms, kitchen, dining, study, guest room, and garage, and finally, she halted in her room. A flush of smile blows over her. She opens the windows and lets the breeze blow freely… blackballing all the norms and boundaries. She looks at her messy corners and cuddles in the bed. She inhales perfect peace. She has not to be startled at a mere sound of accusation. She has not to attend anyone or anything against her will. She feels free and light like a feather ready to waft in the morning breeze.
She inhales the air… there is Tridib’s smell, Manasi’s, Atashi’s, Sudip’s smell… the smell of childhood, the smell of pranks, the smell of anger, tears, smiles, giggles, the smell of care and affection, the smell of abhorrence and abomination.
There are a lot of things she has to detangle now- the death and afterwards. Vabotosh had died… suddenly. Those days she didn’t get time to think about it. Everything happened so quickly. Now she has enough time to ruminate. She tries to recall everything from scratch. What happened that day? Uma left her bed and found he had not gone to walk. The main gate was locked as she had bolted it last night.
Uma thought as she entered his room. The curtains were closely drawn and not a single window was opened. Over the head, the fan was whirling at the fullest spade. The morning sun was burgling into the room ignoring the red eyes of the blinds. In that dim light, Uma discovered him lying on the bed…perfectly still. His room was in perfect order but something was wrong with him.
A pristine white blanket was drawn to his chest. As Uma touched him the frigid coldness sipped through her spine and she shrieked out in horror and disbelief.
She didn’t cry. She took time to understand death…so close and so near yet she could not presage any signs or symptoms on him the previous night. He was dead, dead and cold. She touched him, on his hand, stiff and still. Then she checked the heartbeat. No sound of life was there. She dialled numbers one after another. Children, relatives, people broke out with sympathy, love, care, affection.
“Don’t cry don’t cry” don’t break down…they showered soothing words. It was so confusing for her to correctly construe her emotions. So many knots were coiling inside me, so many hues of sentiments were bubbling that I was not sure which one to give preference. Should she cry? Should she remain calm and mute? What would be her right expression before this spectacular world? She felt confused and guilty. What was Vabotosh to her? Husband or Master? Of course, she got two boys and two girls out of their marriage not. But it was not everything. Was there any trace of respect, love or affection between them?
The children are married and settled. What life she spends as his wife, his caretaker and maid appear too insignificant to her. She provided him time to time food and necessary things. She dared not to sing loud, go out, speak, or laugh. She had so many faults, so many blemishes! She might have disfigured his image.
She feared to unfurl herself. He was always there to find fault with her, to judge her to criticize her, to taunt her, to dehumanise her.
Why should she cry?
From the bed, she looks out the window. The garden is blooming with white beauty under the bewitching moonlight. When Vabotosh ordered her to choose a room she had chosen this at the farthest corner, far from him adjoining the garden. The room is small and stuffy. But in her imagination sometimes it bellows, till it starts floating. And Uma begins to giggle as if the bloated room is tickling her. Pressing her face on the bed she starts laughing. She can not control it any more. Something is twirling inside her and wave after wave of laughter chokes her, drawing tears from her eyes. Being unable to stop it suddenly Uma breaks out into sobbing.
In the garden, an owl startles and flaps its wings in confusion. Aroma of wild Hasnuhana permeates the night sky.
Hey, I am Munmun, the phoenix fabulist who wants to tell you stories. I love to read stories and I love to weave stories. I feel life is an amalgamation of multiple stories, colourful threads, and threads of pain, pleasure, hope, and hopelessness. We just need to pick those hues and arrange them, knitting them with our own emotions and perception. So let’s celebrate the stories of life.