There is always a light

There is always a light
Don't be afraid if you are alone or surrounded by darkness. In some part of the world, the day has just begun. There is a always a light waiting for you to find your way to touch its radiance.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Kolkata: Half Baked Dreams

By Aritro Bhattacharya
Kolkata, India

Opposite Caffeine, Gol Park

It rained. Hard and blinding and brief. Unusual squall for a mid-May urban day. As the drops pelted down upon the rickety tin buses and the squabbling auto-rickshaws and the archaic cabs of the yore and the adolescent motorcycles, I patiently waited. As the hydrants spewed tarry sewage and the associated paraphernalia of glistening gutkha wrappers, stubs of unfiltered, carcinogenic, uncouth, cheap Charminars pulverized by the gurgling muck, a couple of earthen bhaands in aimless ying-yan swirl, and a lonely used condom sticking out like the spent phalanx of a phantasmal lovemaking, I waited. As truant love-birds, sidewalk bastards, academic discards mayhemmed, launched paper fleets, danced topless, intertwined furtive fingers which occasionally touched fiery, taboo flesh, I waited. As the feuding mini-buses, the marauding 407s, the medieval hand-pulled rickshaws writhed, squirmed and wriggled through the orgies of existence and the pot-holes and first rains and earth smells and death-raced each other to respective destinations, I waited. As Ayudh’s ashes still floated down the polluted Buriganga, cosying against drained bottles of hooch, broken kolkes, dog carcasses and the rotting tuberose wreaths of the dead, I waited. In his city which was once mine. For a girl who was once his.

I wouldn’t have recognized Saanjh if not for her characteristic Madhu Sapresque sashay which she picked up God-only-knows-how from the grainy, flickering fashion shows of 21” B-W Keltron which occupied about 1/7 of the 6 * 8 room in Chetla which she shared with her parents and a scoundrel brother. Saanjh Mitra was born out of a failed contraceptive measure, as she loved to say. She was a girl, which translated into ‘one more idle mouth to feed and get married off to someone not a pimp or a rapist’ in her environs. More so because her father, a Communist by ideal and an accountant at a local grocer’s by practice, swore upon Sukanta’s promise of making this world more habitable for the kids and decided to practice celibacy till that happened. It never happened, her wife bore his fruit twice, and he had to work his ass out to provide for them. He silently brooded over his twin failures of a broken promise and his withering utopia. He never complained though, and instead supplemented the lack of dietary proteins with mouthfuls of poetry- from Whitman to Jibanananada, his trips were eclectic. And so, born into a smoggy Kolkata twilight, into a prosaic locality of long queues at the communal tube-well, starving, littering dogs, and domestic violence and crackling radios and rowdy Kalipuja and Durgapuja and Vishwakarmapuja carousels, Saanjh was christened so by her father, who brushed aside the traditional Annapurna, Protima or Karabi.

And, as good genes and bad luck would have it, much to her mother’s consternations Saanjh loved mathematics, poetry and the colour Red. She gave two hoots to mastering the business of stitching together petticoats for a local hosiery brand that her mother dabbled in to add to her father’s infinitisemal salary, shunned the company of the soap-opera ogling girls of her colony who sighed over the chest hairs of Chiranjeet and Prasenjit and the nasal soprano of Kishor Kumar clones, never leafed through Prasad, Nabakallol or any damndest Bengali magazines if not for poetries, summarily ignored the cat-calls, whistles and sexual and romantic innuendos of drain-pipe-trousered, fish-net-vested, wiry-biceped, grease-slickened matinee Bhola, Pocha or the slightly chic Rocky of her paara.

Going much against the run of the domestic sewing-machines, she aced her class in the municipal high school where the teachers were more interested in bunking classes than the students, and gate crashed into the hallowed porticos of Presidency. On a full tuition waiver. To study Mathematics. Good she did. Where else would she have met Ayudh?

Campus folklore has it that Ayudh Sen Chowdhury, the bespectacled (the best pair of frames from G K Opticals, Ballygunge), fair-skinned, pink-lipped, guitar-strumming, Dylan-humming, Lake Place resident fell in love with Saanjh over her colourful orations in the Canteen where she borrowed liberally from her list of after-dusk expletives which would put any guy to shame, and also from nondescript little magazine ideas. However, going by his hyperactive hormones and her lithe dusk-skinned, pout-lipped, kohl-eyed, perfect-breasted figure, both of which have hordes of students vouching for, it was lust that rather paved the way for this alliance. Add to it Saanjh’s natural inclination towards numbers and Ayudh’s innate nonchalance towards anything distantly curricular, and no wonder Ayudh clung on so dearly to his lady love or lust, whatever you may term it.

“Kire Neel? Ki khobor? What’s cooking”? The reverie was broken. I could just make out a whiff of Chanel. Oh yes, Saanjh had come a long way. But more of that later.

People say grief can turn you into idiots. Standing in the rain I thought the theory was totally retro. Or perhaps it was not. We really were playing the parts of idiots. It was barely a couple of days since Ayudh had died. Yes he did. He was all of 26. More of that later.

And here was Saanjh, his muse and I, his accomplice in numerous escapades, walking in the rain towards the Caffeine nestled in between Grub Club and Amber take-away.

His favourite haunt. Across His zebra-crossings and His traffic lights. His paper-mâché coasters. His ceramic mugs. His framed Garfield strips. His Café Negro. His Cappuccino Grande. His greasy chicken nuggets. His loosely-strung guitar. His stunned hearts. His dried tears. His starched, Chanel-ed, vermillioned, impregnated ex-girlfriend. His irritated best mate. His breathing poetries. His Dylan Thomas. His Sreejato. His Saanjhbaati. His Akashneel. His broken links. He was this close to playing God. He so is not here.

“Saanjh, you should have made it to his house before they took him away. Kakima was asking for you”.

“Saanjh, you should meet at least meet with Kakima once, she needs that.”

“Saanjh, do you miss Che? Motorcycle Diaries? Boolean Algebra? Marijuana swigs? The day we decided to launch a radio station for the insomniac, suicidal and the prostitute?”

“Saanjh, will you name your unborn foetus Ayudh? Even if for a second? So that he is born into poetry?”

“Saanjh, Ayudh died. I am scared. This city is no longer mine. Shred it into pieces. Distribute the pieces among the leper, the love-child and the love-lorn.”

“Saanjh, shed a tear. For God’s sake. Ayudh is dead.”

No quivering lips. No trembling hands. No choked larynxes. No nauseating longings.

The unsaid words crawled all over the place. Traipsed over the acrid coffee smell. Into the manicured nails manoeuvring the mobile phone. Whirring it, buzzing it, typing texts. The syllables animated the weary fingers rubbing the bloodshot eyes and porcupine stubble and acetic eyelids. Two mannequins, layered in Levis, Fabindia, Ray Ban, dog-eared Nike, Dr Scholl’s’ pumps. Enacting the charade of familiarity. And grief and conversation in a faux-pas bistro in a faux-pas cosmopolis. Nothing is said. Nothing is asked. The blowing AC circulates no apparent torment. Perfect harmony.

The last sip trickles down the gullet. Tasted like gasoline. Pity Ayudh can’t taste this. Would have puked. Would have been fun. Madhu Sapre in Chanel next to me stirs. Swift flick of wrists. Pays check. Tips. Plumbs deep down into the Gucci bag. God, isn’t she RICH nowadays!!! Fishes out a papyrus from the forgotten times. When Ayudh was alive.

“Neel, Ayudh wanted you to have this. I’ve been carrying this albatross for many lives now, it seems.”

“What is this”? Even though I know it in my bones.

“No idea, a letter perhaps. He wanted me to give you this if he died before you. I don’t think he meant so soon. You know, how humongous an emotional bastard he was. And how he loved writing……”

“Yes, he wanted to get published”.

“You bet. And now he’s gone! I believe his ‘omnibus’ is still hidden somewhere. For posterity. But for whom?”

Sepulchral silence. The first quiver. The first sting. The first acid rain.

We step out.

A pair of leaden Kolkata skies implode into a zillion Ayudh droplets.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Armour of Amrapali

By Dr Bina Biswas
Secunderabad, India

A foundling at the foot of dawn -
Loveless animal couplings with
mere nightly gratification of the want of flesh
had borne this lovely fruit of 
irresponsible lust.
The mother had abandoned her 
with callous ease.
Swathing her in a spotless linen
and stowing her in a wicker basket
to be left to her own devices 
under a mango tree -
She had fulfilled her motherly obligations
and got rid of her shame.
But a divine gift she was
for the guard on his homeward way
after a nightly vigil at the House of Elders.
With infinite tenderness he picked her up
and carried her home to his childless wife,
to be nurtured and cherished.
Found under a mango tree,
her foster-father lovingly named her 

The tale of Sunda-Upasunda,
warring over the peerless Tilottama
made the decision easier for the Elders.
They apprehended a blood-bath borne of lust
over the nubile beauty of Amrapali
and this they could ill afford in peaceable Vaishali.
They declared that when she came of age
she would be wedded to, not one,
but to all males of the Republic of Lichhabi,
whosoever fancied and could afford her.
They etched out a gory career of a courtesan for her.
She was to become a Janapadabadhu,
a Bride of the Republic.
A foundling could hardly expect more.

A minstrel sang in the court of Magadha.
He sang about the radiance of Amrapali,
her physical beauty, her sensuality,
her unfathomable depth of knowledge,
her bewitching music, her ethereal dancing grace,
and her prowess with the use of arms.
Bimbisara listened with rapt attention.
He was a real connoisure of beauty and art,
as he was prowling tiger in fields of battle.
A sense of want gripped his soul,
but at this moment Magadha and Lichhabi 
had their horns locked.

The merchant was handsome
and his bag of gold heavy.
Amrapali's guardian was all smiles 
to welcome him to the inner sanctum,
where Amrapali sat playing the veena.
As the tall shadow fell on her, 
Amrapali's nimble fingers missed a stroke.
The veena, not used to such lapse,
rang discordant, as if in protest.
She looked up.
He stood there in silhouette, features darkened
from the light behind him.
His stature was tall, complexion, burnt copper,
bearing regal.
The broad chest, bare in the mild clime,
with only an Angabastra draped loosely over it,
looking so inviting to lay the troubled head on,
tapered down to a narrow waist-line,
like that of a lion.
The arms hung loose, rippling with
taut, battle-weary muscles.
This was no ordinary merchant
as the physique spoke of a Kshatriya.
Amrapali stood up, a bit dizzy in the head,
and moved to one side,
so that light fell on his face.
She saw a strong, firm jaw, sensuous lips,
and the eyes - oh! she almost swooned.
The eyes were dark, deep, soft and searching.
The lashes were long and graceful.
The brow resolute -
For the first time in her life,
Amrapali, the courtesan,
who had sung and danced for nobilities,
who had adorned the bed-spread of countless
virile, young men,
who had, with a dispassionate ease, borne out of
rigorous training,
been able to segregate her profession from life,
for the first time, the poor girl,
fell madly in love.
Bimbisara, for it was he,
gazed enthralled at the beauty before him.
The minstrel had done scant justice 
to this nubile form.
Vaishali was no place for her.
She would have been at home
in the court of Indra, the king of gods.
Forgotten was his realm and the battle raging
a few yojanas out there.
He stepped forward to hold her hands.
When his lips met hers, it was as if
two souls met after a separation of aeons.
The single flame in the earthen lamp
wavered, spluttered and died.
In the blanket of darkness,
right there, amidst the veena and mridangams,
body met a thirsty body, as soul met soul.
Amrapali had seen lust,
Bimbisara had known love.
But nothing compared to the deluge
that swept over them now -
nothing existed, nothing could,
but a man and his woman,
and all world, a mockery.

Bimbisara had departed after a few days.
Amrapali could never again know happiness,
for he had gone.
But she was never happier, too, as he went,
for she had come to know who he really was.
Within a few days, her eyes brimmed over with
unshed tears,
as she heard that the Magadha forces
were retreating all along the border.
Bimbisara was true to his words, 
true to his love.
She knew that she'll never see him again.
But now she felt that a little part of him
was growing within her.
Her child shall keep her love alive.


Goutam Buddha was coming to Vaishali.
The whole city throbbed with eager expectation.
Streets had been swept clean 
and garlands adorned evey door of every dwelling
to welcome him.
Amrapali sent her son Bimala, now a fine, young man, 
to invite him to take up abode in her place.

Amrapali looked at herself in the mirror of polished metal.
The years had been kind to her.
Her hair was still black, with not a silver strand.
Her eyes had lost none of their lustre.
Her smile was still something that
men could lay down their lives for.
Bimbisara's image had faded somewhat
from her memory.

Amrapali looked up after touching the Buddha's feet
For her nothing existed anymore,
But for those almond shaped dark brown eyes.
Looking at her with soft intensity of love
for his fellow beings,
So straight was his bearing,
With long hair tied up in a knot
on his head,
That Amrapali became breathless.
Since childhood she had worshipped Lord Shiva.
It seemed as if Shiva 
Had come to her in answer to her prayers.
She wanted to be one with him
But could not utter a word.
Amrapali's yearning was apparent to him.
He placed his right hand on her head
In silent blessing.


Sleep eluded Amrapali that night
At the break of dawn she walked over 
To where the Buddha sat in silent meditation.
The Buddha looked at her
She sat at his feet now and begged him
To let her join the Sangha.
Gautam Buddha shook his head
In wordless refusal.
The morning sun appeared to lose its glory
The birds stopped to twitter.
'But why my Lord?" She flared up.
The Buddha pondered throughout the day
And gave his consent 
When the sun was dipping beyond
The western hills.

On foot they clambered over the hilly terrains,
All of them dressed in ochre garb
with shaven pates,
Carrying a satchel in one shoulder.
A begging bowl in the left hand
A long walking stick in the right.
The column wound up the hills,
with the Buddha at its head.
The figure at the end was that of woman,
She was Amrapali
Matching her steps with her monks.
A chant filled the morning air
"Buddhang Sharanam Gacchami
Dhammang Sharanam Gacchami
Shanghang Sharnam Gacchami."

(This poem was first published in the Kritya: Poetry in our time)

Quality Check: Do you know who you are hiring?

By Ananya Mukherjee

You have the resources, the capital and the technical support to fill in a key staffing position in your organisation such as a director job, but how do you confirm that the  potential or new hire is the ‘right’ talent? How do you ensure that the new employee holding a manager jobwill perform at a high level and deliver more of the business? How do you confirm that the hiring process is the best that you can have and what do you do to plug the gaps when you find them?  The most pertinent question above all is: how do you measure the quality of hire and set new standards for new-hires performance?

Leaning on the adage, “what cannot be measured cannot be improved”, it is imperative for organisations and more importantly, HR to know that  recruitmentas a process in your organisation is both measurable and therefore, subject to further improvisation and improvement.

Although in the past many employers simply relied on paper employment applications and excel spreadsheets to track their hiring process, the  current labour market makes this task impossible to do effectively without using an automated, web-based ATS System, HR gurus observe. But  which is the best way forward? 

Technically speaking, it all depends on the systems, companies and implementations involved, say industry watchers. Whilst one organisation may use a tool that provides a 1-5 grading scale (to be used by hiring managers) to evaluate how a new hire  performs after the first 90 days, others may use a system that includes an early 30-day check up with subsequent feedback at three, six and  nine month intervals.

Needless to say ATS or Applicant Tracking Software isgaining popularity amongst employers, especially those that are hiring at an exponential  rate across geographies today. The software allows organisations to maintain a database of applicants and job information. Rather than  browsing through thousands of resumes, human resource managers and recruiters use this information to find matches between openings and  applicants. The value of this information is enhanced since it can be stored and retrieved electronically. However, be warned, this is not a fool  proof method of selection, since you run into the risk of automatically discarding potential talent whose resumes do not perfectly match with the  predetermined profiles. 

Furthermore, as part of the metrics initiative, you may gather data on performance, retention, hiring-manager surveys and productivity. In addition,  psychometric testing also could help in accessing the potentials of a new hire. By pre-screening applicants on personality, experience,  critical-thinking and problem-solving, some organisations claim to have cut turnover by almost 30%. 

Some employers have already begun empowering HR and recruiters with on-screen, dashboard capabilities to view recruiter scorecards that  evaluate how recruiters perform on a checklist of metrics. These include measurements linked with quality of hires. 

Employers can then correlate high performers and their sources and determine where to find the best fit for the job position. 

A bad hire is costly; not only in terms of the recruitment expenses, but also with regards to lost time, low quality and compromised productivity. Hence, getting it right at the very start is critically important to business. After all, only a right talent at the right place can change or improve  business bottom- lines. 

01/ Set Key Performance Indicators or KPIs to measure the quality of hire
02/ Set up a process and system to measure against these KPIs
03/ Analyse these numbers
04/ Measure the quality of hire and recalibrate periodically
05/ Measure the hiring manager surveys, time to productivity and retention

(The article was first published in the Headhunt magazine, Singapore) 

Ritu's Home

By Dhrijyoti Kalita
New Delhi, India

Year 1985. December.
“Ritu, come over here, she’s waiting for you. Why don’t you eat the cutlet? She’s waiting for you, baba. Come soon and eat it. Leave that, now. Come, complete it later.”
“Wait, Ma. I’m coming. This is just about to finish. Give me a minute, please.”
“Aahi, my little girl, you start with it. He’s not going to listen to anyone. He’ll only come when he finishes with his works.”
Ritu was trying to complete his tasks as soon as possible. He had to go to the field, because. His friends were awaiting him for some time now to play cricket. They had already started with the game. He was writing as well as squinting at the wall clock frequently. He was in a hurry. Once it was dark, all finished. He’d not be able to continue the game with them.
He was only about to finish his home tasks, when Aahi, the girl from his neighborhood arrived. He felt it difficult to react how in those circumstances. It should be understood that he was annoyed when she came. He was in haste and tried to avoid and restrain from any unwanted hindrances at that time. His mother lovingly allowed her in and asked if she had come to meet him. She smiled. A pretty little girl. She came and sat on one of the chairs of the dining room, near the kitchen, where from his mother threw a volley of questions upon her- on studies, school, exams, marks she got, et al. She was probably irritated and hesitatingly looked towards the adjacent room at times only to see when he’d come and sit beside her. And, inside the room, Ritu heaved a great melancholic sigh as if the gods had fallen upon him suddenly.
Inside the room, Ritu speaking to himself-
“Oh God…what shall I do now? Why should she come, now? Couldn’t she come some other time? Is this the only time to come? Now, what shall I do? I’m done with the game. How, how will I go to play, leaving this…now? And, if I go away, Ma will leave no stone unturned to butcher me when I return from the ground. Help me God, what shall I do?”
For him, it was the most crucial and frustrating situation and his eyes were like those which saw a tiger in front all of a sudden on a clear street and could find no way to escape. He was totally restless and knew not how to leap into the next step and flee from the dungeon. To the ground, which was his heaven now. To play. With his friends.
Aahi who was also restless, for him, was playing around with her fork, piercing the cutlet and making noise by the saucer. She hadn’t yet started eating. She was waiting for him. Only when his mother came to put the glass of water, she gulped a tiny bit of the piece, much in reluctance and against her will. She was still with her hopes that he’d come and sit beside. Now and then, she tried to look and desired if her eyes could pierce through the curtains and look at what he was doing.
He came after some time, after much mind boggling and spirit consoling. But, left no way to wreck her spirit. She was astonished, shocked and received an uncalled shudder at such a wild, unhealthy and indifferent disposition; when he came and went again inside, now with his saucer of cutlet.
“Sit down, sit beside her and eat, Ritu. Why do you want to go back, inside? She has been eagerly waiting for you since so long, can’t you see? My child, she has not even touched that, you see. Why are you so rude? Come now, sit down here.”
“No, Ma. I’ve some works left and then I’d go to play. You promised me that you’d allow me to go and play, after I finish. Let me go now and complete it soon before it gets dark.”
Meanwhile his father arrived. And his mother-
“Look at him. A fool he is, a very rude fellow. The girl has been waiting for him since such a long time and this boy, look…he came and went back again, inside. The only thing he knows, is to play, play and play- cricket and nothing else in this world could bring him up. Very foolish, should he do that?”
“Aahi, my girl, don’t wait for him, you eat. He’s a fool. I’ll give him a thrashing today, if he goes to play. Exams are approaching and he needs only to play.”
“Aunty, can I go inside and look at his books?” Breaking a long silence, now Aahi uttered her mellifluous voice. It seemed as if her throat and her epiglottis were soaked in the juices of the sweetest rasgullahs. Without any extravagance, it can be claimed as the prettiest voice to be heard from a child of thirteen years.
Now, replied his father on behalf of her-
“Go, my child. Go and watch, what he’s studying. If he’s not studying anything or sitting idle over there daydreaming, you must come and tell me, ok. Go, go….go inside.”
She went inside through the adjacent room, turned left and stood at the threshold of the small study room of approximated size 10” * 11”. It was a very small room, allowing at best two persons barely to sit and talk. That was where Ritu studied and slept. She stood there and smiled at him. There was no reciprocation. She again smiled. As if he was a living carcass, trying very hard not to look at her and concentrating in disguise, in his books. The case window near him, through which noise of the game could be heard, distracted him wanton. He only wished that he could somehow reach his destination and start playing. How the noise of the sixes, fours and the falling of wickets followed by the howls of the players and the jobless spectators enticed him, could be understood only by him. Probably, he thought as such.
Aahi stood there. She was nowhere, totally embarrassed, trying hard to hide her nose. Although, the game was his primary thing, Ritu noticed critically what she had worn and how she looked. She had put on a frock of lesser sleeve that tried somehow to rest at her knees. The band she stacked with her hair was of higher breadth and allowed some fringes at her forehead, making her more than pretty. Ritu thought then, it was kind of a bad thought or a taboo perhaps, to love someone or exalt beauty, especially of a girl. He found it probably out of the world, immoral or despicable to fall in love with someone. No, he couldn’t think of that; not at all. So, he felt better to avoid such things to exhibit himself good, of proper etiquette and moral, as if, he thought, his hormones would never rise.
Within himself, he spent sometimes, at his leisure, to dream about her. But, he tried hard to compress and suppress those thoughts inside, he never desired outlet for that. He talked, as if to his thoughts, “Go, go, go inside, why do you come…and disturb me? Why do you make me so bad and immoral? Why are you here again? Go inside, please.” Like a person with diarrhea would ask his shit, when he’s attending a guest’s house and his shit fills up to the brim, about to touch his pants. 
In a couple or two of minutes, he’s ready to set out for the field, when Aahi was already gone, bidding her most embarrassing bye to his parents. Ritu had a violent feeling running underground when he got himself readied to ask the permission, of his parents, now for the most desired. He asked himself before that-
“Did I do something wrong with the girl? I never meant to do anything deliberately, of course. She was here on her own, when I’m ready for the field, to play. So, how can I attend her, when I am engaged in something else? And, indeed I’ve completed my tasks, my homework, after all.  So, Ma should let me go now…I must ask her, yes. Yes, I must. Come on, Ritu, you can do it, you can.”
When he appeared in front of his parents, Baba was sipping his last bit of tea and Ma was preparing some more cutlets to serve him for the afternoon snacks, in the kitchen, while as well, they discussed family matters that always go tangentially above Ritu’s head. Today, Baba arrived early from office. He usually arrived sometimes after the advent of darkness and sometimes even late. Now, Ritu didn’t even want to listen to, in fact hear those silly for him stuffs…someone died at the village, who’d wedded whom, groceries to be fetched from the market, et al. which however were not his concerns, even from the distant edge of the prism. And, not at least now, when…
A meek, docile child approached. Noticed their movements, gestures, the silly talks, their voice seemed even louder now. Where is he?
“What…? Have you eaten or not? How was the cutlet? Why didn’t you talk with the girl, at all? She came with her greatest expectations. You must not act as such…”
His father was not able to complete, when-
“Baba, I was studying then and I have to go to the field, see Ma promised, after I finish with my tasks. Now, I have completed everything. I must go now. May I go, please? (With enough persuasiveness and stress on the sentence) They’re waiting for me. I’m late, indeed today. See, they have been playing since so long and I’m not there with them. I’m here with my studies and now it’s done, all completed, everything’s done. I’ll come and directly sit down at my table to study. You said, you’d take my English test today. I’ll study and you take the test after that. I’ll be ready soon.”
“What do you say…Rani? Should you let him go? He says, he’s done with everything. His homework is all done. At night, he’s also giving me a test, of English today. Ha…what do you say?”
She was busy inside the kitchen with all assorted noise from outside the window-of cars, people talking aloud, laughing, young boys riding motor bikes yelling, howling, and ringing of the cycle bells that pass in each second’s interval outside, in the street and yes, of course, the sounds of oil ready to fry the raw ingredients in the bowl. She didn’t clearly come to what her husband asked.
“Ha…what do you say? Should he go, or what…?”
“Where does he want to go?” Ma asked, showing ignorance to his feelings, now. She acted, as if she knew but was reluctant or not wanted him to go.
Ritu was annoyed with this; it’s growing late anyway and now all sorts of fiddlesticks going around. What kind of a vicious circle is this, he thought to his mind.
“To the field, and where else should I want to go now?”
His mother was in a hem and haw; indeed she showed that she was trying hard to be decisive now upon his wish or it has become a fancy for him, as of now. And his father silent, indifferent. We couldn’t make out what he wished for him- to let or let not. After asking her mind for some time-
“Now, study some more…” The boy’s face cried in utter astonishment, confounded upon hearing an estranged thing as such, from his mother. He was not trying to listen further.
“Now study some more and we will be going to the market. I have some shopping to be done. (To his father) What do you say, are you ready to go today? I need the stuffs or else it’ll be too late. The jeweler’s shop will be open today, I think? It’s not closed on Saturdays, is it? They’re coming the day after; I’ve also finished with the baking powder. What do you say about a chocolate cake this time? Oho…I just forgot for one second, you’re diabetic.”
She laughs out at her own banter, as if she was not at all concerned with his feelings and whims. She goes inside the kitchen. Baba remains aloof, although he was not. And, Ritu felt as if Ma was very happy in forbidding him. He thought as if his mother was still laughing at her odd joke inside. At that moment, it was disgusting and he felt all alone in the world. He thought he should leave his home and settle somewhere else, even though it was a hostel, he’d prefer to this hell. The unaware- of- all- worldly matters mind of his, thought.
He went inside, sat at the table and kept pondering over his mother’s words. He mimicked those like obnoxious scansions of poetry and scorned. Now, his rage was such that it could tear asunder a Spanish bull. He was angry, angry over everything. His Ma was the worst in all world, he was sure now. That was a doubt, which began when he got a nice thrashing from her with the well-polished cane last time…
That was a ridiculous incident, he recalled at his table. He smiled and controlled his eager to laugh cheeks. He was a crazy person, he thought of himself. Why did he show his slippers at Kamala, their house maid that day and leaped like a frog several times, in front of her? She must be confirmed by that day, he thought, that he had some defects or loopholes in his brain. She was also somewhat mad, he thought. Why should she shout aloud like that, when his mother was present and alive there, in the next room? He was a little boy after all, he thought now. Why should she act as such with him, didn’t she understand anything, like what a little boy-do-did?
He was excited, yes and that was why he did that, showed his slippers to her like a mad one. And, she thought, yes that was right, what he thought now reflecting back, that she was insulted. He recalled and spontaneous words came out of his mouth-“Yes (which was uttered like the rectilinear motion of a slow flowing river in the absence of tide, like the start of a harangued hymn and the “s” came out much late when he said that “yes”)….gotcha! She has a son, yes, older than I, and a daughter, O God, who is married. She’s older than my mother, a respectable old lady. I mean whatever…but she’s an old lady after all. She must not be done like that. Shit, there’re all shits here, here everything’s shit. Why did I do that? It should not have been done. How can I repent now, no way? Nothing can be done now.” He had to remain complacent thinking no use crying over spilt milk. All’s irrevocable now.
But, the thrashing, how could he forget, started with the polished cane and ended up with the mosquito net stand.
“What a demoness? So wild, feels very happy after beating me up with her beastly hands. How can one be so cruel? Yes, I understand now, maybe I’m not their natural son, maybe adopted from somewhere.” He recalled of the silly flick he watched few days back, where the boy was told much later that, the parents he thought to be his was not actually his own, they’ve adopted him since years. He was awestruck, started thinking like in an odd reverie, strategies of leaving home. He thought, once he acquired a large heap of money, he’d return back everything that his so-called parents have invested upon him, until now. His face acted along with his thinking with exact curves and bents while his naive thinking continued, when all of a sudden, he was disturbed-
“Are you ready? What are you studying now? Are you studying or dreaming something else?”
Ma called upon from the other, without noticing what her son was doing, thinking.
“Leave that apart now. Get ready. We have to go. And remember. Don’t go on pestering for unnecessary things in the market. If you need something important, tell it to me in my ears or in your Baba’s, alright? Now, come on, stand up soon. Dress up.”
When his mother went away, he frowned and mimicked again ending in some rough signals, as if he’d like to teach his Ma a lesson, on his part. He scraped back his chair in deep anguish that created unwanted sounds of settling down to its place. That was his anger, he wanted to show. Listen to that everyone!
It was few years earlier to his Baba’s purchase of the Vespa scooter. They rode on rickshaws. Three of them. A man observing from distance would think, so harmonious nuclear family, a happy family indeed. But, how could he understand what sort of harmony was running inside his mind?
Tezpur was a clean city, a green city. Life was simple, tranquil and pleasant. It was some kind of a little developed countryside. It reminds us of pastoral assuaging of the human soul. There were no humdrums, as such and people there were satisfied, complacent with their livings and livelihood. To make a theme, it was a peaceful place to live in, people seemed happy always, leaving apart Ritu. He was addled, baffled, messed up with many things in his mind, which was acting with an adult’s shoulder now.
The place was good. No violence, which means negligible violence, existed. Social life always flourished there. The neighboring people enquired even when someone slightly coughs at the next house. There was such amicability, compatibility and co-operation amongst and amidst the denizens of Tezpur.
Only sometimes, but very less often do people come across unwanted and ugly news, which came like thunder, as they did not have the habit or the nature to get accommodated to those stuffs.
 Ritu remembered the only incident that had occurred since he was born. The shooting on the Kalia Bhomora Bridge. That was lethal. He remembered his Baba talking and the town’s people as well about the brutal killing of the surrendered extremist upon the bridge. That was clandestine as people said, on the part of the police to kill the man. He had grown quite irritating and deadly for the people and the police. So, the police high command secretly allowed killing him, registering it like usual, “encounter”. But, it was only an open secret. Who didn’t know about this? Even the disturbed soul, Ritu knew about it. Who remained not to know? Everyone knew about the Liberation Front militants, their liberating motives at the inception and forgetting about that gradually. They wanted to make the state, a country? Did they know the glossary of the word “country”? Their own sons were studying abroad and they insist people in the state not to send their sons, daughters and kin to some other places, outside the state or country, to study. They had a very clear agenda, but violent and misled. Their propaganda was led astray, was void, was worth despise, hatred and of innumerable spits. With such large ideals and patriotic objectives, they can surely commit heinous murders, plan assassinations, no matter who died, innocent and the vile. Their objective had reached the notch Lucifer had, what Hitler had, eliminating all good and prevailing evil, eliminating all Jews and prevailing German rule, respectively.
When this was narrated, Ritu remembered, he just drew it in his mind; he saw the images, saw it moving in front of his eyes, like a movie. He gazed…remained gazing for some time, he remembered. The person killed was clear in his eyes. He thought, what did the person do? How did he kill? And also people said that, he surrendered from the killing business earlier. Then how was he deadly again? He surrendered to the police, right? Again when he remembered, he got entangled in the cobweb.
He was looking at the movie banners now tacked at those walls when the rickshaw neared market. That was a definite place for sticking the banners and movie pamphlet stuffs and Ritu always waited eagerly to see those pictures there; when he knew that they were going somewhere, either to the market or to some guest’s place through that street. It was a small town and one generally had to pass through that place while going.
He soon forgot what caused him swimming in troubling waters. He forgot all that happened to him at home, Ma’s no-permission, Baba’s indifference, everything. Now, all landed. He was soon to be found engaged in getting mesmerized by cricket playing kits, chocolates and what not displayed hither and thither in the shops. Now, he thought of somehow managing to get one new bat for him and a cricket leather ball, which had been his fascination for long.
He maneuvered it, his bat; it was labeled “VAS”. Some local name, probably, children’s playing cricket bats…but Ritu was much taken by that bat.
“Baba, this…”
“Huh…this is not for sale, ask the shopkeeper. (Now, asking the shopkeeper to convince Ritu) Hello, this is not for sale, right? This is just for display, you’ve kept here, and you don’t mean to sell it, right?”
The shopkeeper just gave a coarse smile, didn’t reply anything in prompt. Because he also wanted to sell his commodities, whatever it was, of the customer, didn’t matter and why should it? He laughed like huh, huh, huh….that showed he managed either ways: to comply with Baba as well as to forward his stuff for sale.
“Sir, why don’t you give the bat to the child? Look at his face, he wants it so much. This is a good one and would last. You see here, this has a good hit and strikes well, even with leather balls, look here, Sir, please.”
The shopkeeper tried his best hand in convincing his customer. Baba asked-
“So, how much do you ask for this?”
“It is for Rs. 250, Sir.”
“What price are you giving it, tell me that?”
“Sir, what do you say, we have very little margins of profit in these commodities, believe me. Ok, for you and the child, I’ll just take Rs. 230. Fine, deal is done.”
Baba asked Ritu now…
“Can you promise me of getting the first position in the class this time? If I give you the bat, you’ll go around playing, you won’t study anymore…so?”
“No, Baba, I’m second for just a single mark last time. I promise to come first this time. You give me the bat and I will study well. I will go home and sit down to study. I’ll think of nothing else. Please just give me the bat. I promise, I promise…”
Looking at the shopkeeper-
“So, what rate do you fix for the bat now? Tell me something reasonable, don’t just ask for anything. The last time too, I’ve taken a bat from here. (Although it was the first time, they’ve entered the shop, last time they’ve bought the bat from the next street, the Ex-Police Street, Ritu remembered). That didn’t last long. It is now in a worn out state. The grip came out of the body and striking a hard ball has become difficult.”
Those were oral versions of Ritu, whereas Baba had never seen in what condition his bat lied. Those were what Ritu said once complaining about his bat to Baba. And, Baba just smiled and ignored. Even if he didn’t ignore, he simply forgot; it was however trivial for him when he was thinking about his office, managing the household, trying to buy a new plot of land and all.
But, he remembered all now. He was trying to make the shopkeeper believe that he was an old customer of his and he deserved a rebate; of consumer satisfaction he wanted to establish in front of him.
“I’ll give you Rs. 200. If it’s ok with you, you can pack, or else…we have to leave.”
“Ok, Sir, Rs. 210. Final, final, it’s done. In the middle, I have fixed it. The bargain is yours as well as mine, ok?”
The bat was bought. Ritu was the happiest one…
Now, Aahi returned home. She was very embarrassed; hatred was streaming all over her. She saw red, felt as if would kill; destroy everything that hinders her way. Reaching home, she headed towards her bed and sat down taking the pillow over her lap; cheeks swollen and looked fluffy. Her mother, Mrs. Dasgupta was engaged somewhere, probably in the kitchen.
“What happen to you, why do you sit as such, are you angry with someone? Did someone tell you something? What happened at Ritu’s house, you went there, right? You came so early, why, what happen? Now, tell me, Mumu (her pet name that was) why are you angry? Did you fight with Ritu?”
“Ma, you know, that boy’s such a stupid, he’s a rascal, he’s a demon, he’s a miser, he’s a loser, and he’s a….uh!”
“Yes, but what happened, tell me now?”
“Nothing. I was sitting over there, waiting for him and he showed as if he was busy doing some very important work inside his room. He didn’t turn up for even once. Yes, at last he came and took off his plate and went inside again. Such a…I have never seen such a bad boy in my life. (Meanwhile, her mother watches her smiling like giggling) And, when I stood in front of his room and smiled at him, Ma, you know, he just ignored me, just ignored. That’s why I returned soon. I will never go to their home again, never. Such an odd boy…I hate him, Ma, I hate him. I’ll never…”
“Ok…you hate him so much, I see now. Then why were you shouting since yesterday that you’d go to Ritu’s home? You won’t go to their home again, would you? I see something…” (She smiles again)
“Ma, why do you smile? I’m very angry today. Please don’t keep smiling. I hate him very much…”
Her mother knew that Aahi had a strong interest to play with Ritu and be with him. She told-
“I see, we have to arrange your marriage. That’s how, only we can bury the hatchet. Ha ha…”