By Bina Biswas
The huge mahogany double bed lay in the middle of the room. The white bedspread was tucked in from all the sides, neatly. The side pillows lay at one side, now no use. The room was swept clean and the window curtains were pulled aside in the morning. Some medicines and bottles of syrup and a water jug kept on a peck table… an unusual silence and sadness gripped the bedroom. Many a night of embrace and love, laughter and whisper sweet nothings…the rustle of the starched sari, the tinkling of the bangles and the scent from her hair had belonged to the room…now empty. She rested on the bed, wan and unconscious and the beautiful eyes half closed and her long black tresses spread as if black wet clouds enclosed a soft white pale moon.
The husband, muted, stood there scratching his chin…could not really make out what next. The face bore no impression of pain rather expressed some compulsive feel-bad look. He came near the bed and touched her arm slightly and then left the room in a rush.
“From where did she get the stuff?” asked the inspector of Police. The Patriarch of the house nodded slightly and signalled others to leave the room…then he spoke something in a low voice to the cop and both left in a hurried pace for the living room of the mansion…
Somewhere in Jessore, an elite household had resounded with joy: “The groom has arrived, the groom has arrived, bor esheche, bor eshche”…the young girls’ cries filled the huge verandah where the marriage was to be solemnised. The ladies filled the air with Ulludhwani and blew conch-shells…laughter, hustle, commotion…’come this way please’…’no no this is not on’…’where are you all gone? Groom has come…’ and inside her room Kadambari, a child-bride stood decked up…her deep dark gazelle eyes now looked petrified…her heart heaved and feet trembled…
The groom and bride exchanged their first pious glance…shubhodristhi…the beautiful face uncovered, the big black eyes blushed and a slight smile appeared on her curved thin painted lips…
“Yadidong hridayan tabo, yadidang hridayan mamo”(I give my heart to you, you give yours to me), the priest chanted as the groom tried to steal a glimpse of the bride from behind her gossamer veil. The garlands were exchanged and the priest announced them man and wife…
The man and woman lay next to each other…her face bore the impress of exhaustion…crimson coloured cheeks, the sandalwood smeared forehead and kohl smudged eyes, spoke of an unknown pain and sorrow and the bride then turned and tried to catch up with some sleep as the groom snored away breaking the silence of the night in the room….
“Bouthan how was it in the night? But whatever said and done you look like a beautiful fawn…” said the naughty and handsome brother of her husband…Bhanu…who then walked away in a hurry.
Soon the room filled with the laughter and giggles and teases of the young married and unmarried girls as Kadambari tried to make her way to the Walnut chest kept in the corner of the room.
Kadambari was barely in her teens when she was married to Jyotirmoy who was almost fourteen years elder to her. Her parents were only too content to find an alliance from such a family of great repute and sophistication. Without any fuss she was married and she did not know what lay in future for her. The child-bride hardly understood the meaning and responsibilities of a marriage… what they could understand was to follow whatever was asked of them and obey without question. She studied in a convent and had already gathered the mannerisms and sophistications of the elite society. She was a perfect match for the groom with élan.
“I asked you Kadam, so many times that you should never leave your hair open in the evenings…but you won’t listen…one day the ghost will come and catch you by hair…” her mother would admonish while plaiting braids of her long dark tresses. The beautiful eyes wondered at every word of her mother and she would retort, “No, maa nobody can catch me…I can run away always…nobody can catch me” her mother would feel unhappy at this and keep quiet.
“Bouthan, I have composed a poem…would you please like me read it out to you?” Bhanu would announce when every woman in the mansion were having afternoon siesta and the men folks away on their work.
“No, I don’t like you to read. Give me I will read it myself. Oh! You have become a great poet of the world,” cried Kadam, when Bhanu approached her with his poem.
The room filled with soft reprimands, recitals and then either the Bouthan or her brother-in-law would leave the room in a scurry…probably after a serious literary tiff.
Jyotirmoy’s work used to keep him away most of the time from Kadam. He had to produce and direct the plays and dramas that he wrote and saw them enacted too by a group of artistes. When he came back to Kolkata to his wife, he would be busy discussing all his works with his elder and younger brothers…forgetting about Kadam. Within no time she grew up into a woman and from where she learnt all that to entice her husband she also could not figure out. But she had learnt that she had to pine for his attention as it would not come easy.
Like the parasite creeper that grows on the main tree and then slowly becomes strong on the sap and creeps and engulfs and also bears some wild flowers…Kadam’s love for Bhanu blossomed in the same manner…and thoughts about him she could not keep away from her mind. Bhanu would always tease her and praise her looks and rhyme it up in a poem.
Slowly they became playmates. The duo was unmindful of the conventional norms of the elite household and society. They started enjoying each other’s camaraderie and little had they realised when they became soul mates.
“Kadam, come and help us in the household work and stop wasting time with poems and rhymes…you are not going to get any award …” the elder women in the house rebuked her. Her big black eyes would fill with tears and she would run away to her room on the third floor and close the door behind her. She wept alone. Her mind and thoughts were blurred with one forbidden thought…the more she tried to keep it away, the more it came, overpowered and possessed her.
Slowly the sinister dark outside her room danced wild with fireflies, behind the bamboos a small lonely star twinkled...she would feel pang for her beloved…alone in the lonely dimly lit room and her heart would wrench at the sound of every footstep near her door.:.
Away in the family owned houseboat Jyotirmoy busied him with production and direction activities and enjoyed the pleasures of boat ride with his friends…little did he care to remember Kadambari whom he had left behind alone at the mansion in Kolkata.
“Kadam, will you come with me and stay for a few days on the houseboat? But remember you can come back only when I bring you here…it is not easy to see and enjoy the waters for a long time…understand?”
“Then if I don’t like to stay on boat with all your friends around then?” wondered Kadam.
“Then also you have to stay on,” replied the man in a stern voice.
“Then take Bhanu along with us,” requested Kadambari, “you will be busy with dramas and I can listen to his poems.”
“Oh! Sure,ask him tomorrow whether the poet can come right along with us or wants to join later,” agreed Jyotirmoy.
The husband’s embrace and touch would stir forbidden thought in the woman and her mind ventured out somewhere, away in the attic where one poet relentlessly scribbled love poems on pieces of paper hating and admonishing himself every time for the wrong selection of words…
Slowly the whispers grew into talks and then into complaints. The eldest daughter-in-law who had acquired the reins of the entire household after the death of her mother-in-law was a strict disciplinarian. Her husband, the eldest brother of Bhanu, held a high rank in the government and this needed all of them to follow a strict code of conduct, when they were around. The mansion was too messy with people and slowly became unlivable for the sophisticated officer and his family. They moved away to central Kolkata...to a posh locality with their two children.
Kadambari used to criticise severely whatever Bhanu wrote. Jyotirmoy would subject it to even more severe scrutiny and the young poet would feel disheartened only to gain confidence once he was back to the rooftop room…where he felt like a king.
“Jyoti, take your wife along with you this time. Take a house and start your family life. Kadam is not able to stay alone here without you”, the warning came from the Patriarch, Jyotirmoy’s father and this time he was given no choice. Kadambari and Jyotirmoy moved out and Bhanu was left alone in the mansion with the muse as his sole companion. The young poet started penning poems with vengeance and went on dedicating those to the ‘lady born out of his mind’. The heart-broken poet wrote verses…resembling his own feelings as the words laughed at the poet and the pang of separation compelled him to write more.
“Believe me this not a love letter…I have to write it into a dialogue”, the husband tried to even out.
“Then why is it addressed to you?” asked Kadambari softly, disbelieving her own words.
Tears rolled down the fair cheeks as the young mind could not believe what her husband had just told her. She remembered her happy and carefree days in the Mansion…and felt a pang for the one she had left there…
…Bhanu had to be married. The elder ladies of the house felt that it was their responsibility since Bhanu’s mother had passed away long back. The men of the house decided to start looking for alliance for the young poet who by now had already started acquiring name amongst the Bengal literati.
“Bouthan, I don’t want to marry,” he would reply when teased about this by Kadam. But as the word “marriage” was uttered, an unspeakable fear gripped Kadam’s mind and her deep black eyes would become moist.
“Bouthan, I will marry only when you find someone as beautiful as you…” and then he would leave the place in haste.
Kadambari had already invited a lot of wrath from the women of the house for her open display of love towards her younger brother-in-law. The eldest strict sister-in-law would take her aside and rebuke her for wasting her time. The women watched every step and movement of hers...now, when she came back from their Chandranagar’s house. Kadam was deeply hurt by this. Jyotirmoy remained indifferent and preoccupied and behind his knowledge his wife grew into a beautiful, young woman…that he neither cared nor noticed.
The husband’s stolid neglect gave her a chance to find love and emotional bond outside her marriage. The more the elders tried to restrain her, more rebellious she became. Slowly she started breaking away from the dead relationship with Jyotirmoy…mentally….
The suffocation in the mansion made her feel hollow within. Her surrogate companion, Bhanu, kept on dedicating his poems and books to her bringing her a lot of agonies…unfeeling and unmindful of what she could go through, the young budding poet remained ceaseless in his endeavour.
The garden in the front of the mansion had burst into flowers in autumn…in different colour and hues. The air brought in fragrance of Shiuli flower to the poet’s chamber and to the third floor room… where two lonely hearts swayed in silence…
Another child-bride, now somewhere from the interior village came to the mansion. It was a plain and simple wedding following Brahmo rituals. This time the child came to her husband’s house with a doll in her hands. She cried whole day missing her playmates in the village…the ponds where she swam with Beli, another girl of her age, till the sun came overhead…or for the mongoose and the squirrel that she had petted…the ten year old missed everything what she had left behind in her village…
The young poet, who had moved away from his “Bouthan’s” orbit, wrote poems and dedicated to his “Bouthan” even after his betrothal…caused the unfanciful heart immense injury and grief.
Behind the bamboos the fireflies twinkled, a solo boatman ferried back home, the dark on the other side of the river was dotted with dim lights from the huts, somewhere a jackal howled, a wan moon rose…inside the room on the third floor of the elite mansion…a woman searched for the box she had kept away to rid her off her pains, tears and ignominy… denied of any vent for the emotions, feelings and sorrow…she carried all these with her…consumed it all and this time she made sure that she died… at the age of twenty-five.
“…yes, please clarify, where she got the poison from? So much of opium…from where?” repeated the inspector of police as the Head of the house kept mumbling something inaudible. A court sat at the elite house. The suicide note and the letters of Kadam were destroyed and the body was cremated.
In another house in Jessore, unaware Kadam’s mother waited for her dear daughter to come back to her during the festival time and run wild around the house saying, “Catch me, if you can.” Her giggles and laughter resounded in the empty house. But, that was never to be!