By Dhrijyoti Kalita
New Delhi, India
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.
“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…”