A bit of Spice from my life
(A translated piece of a chapter from the very popular series ‘Jiboner Kalojeere’, originally written in Bengali by Poet and author Arghya Dutta)
In which class he would be studying then? Standard VI or may be Std. VII. Well, I am not talking about me but about my son. Most of the answers of some arithmetic problems given as home task to solve last night, had gone wrong due to some silly mistakes, when I checked on my return from office. It was evident, he did not concentrate. Tried to attempt the sums half-heartedly. My first response was a slap which came with a thud upon his thigh, jetting out of his half pant. The force my slap left an impression of distinct red marks of my five fingers on his whitish thigh. Taken aback by the sudden impact, he bites his lips and stares at me without batting of an eyelid.
“How could you make so many mistakes! Did I not explain to your multiple times last night? All sums are on similar lines. Where was on your mind? What did you do during the afternoon? My hand goes up for another slap.
“Tomorrow, there will be a drawing competition in our school. So I was busy practising “
He withdraws out of fear. Voice trembles to hide a sob. Yet so stubborn, he never cries.
Nupur joins our conversation at this point. “My gosh! how could you hit him so hard, leaving such distinct marks? If you are so intolerant, why try to teach him at all!
The poor boy has been asking me since afternoon when will you return from office, telling me “ If Baba shows me the finer points,I will certainly stand first in drawing competition “ .
“You should have shown interest to see what he has drawn “! Nupur grumbles.
“Okay, show me what you have drawn “, I ask.
He goes away with a solemn dark face, but does not return for quite some time. So I get up to check what is he doing for so long. Find he has torn the drawing sheet into pieces and sitting with his hands resting on the table. From gentle movements of his back, it is apparent he is weeping.
In a flash I step back in time, maybe I was of his age in class seven, when I was painting a design on the earthenware pot with white poster colour, using fine tip of a brush. Suddenly I felt a fist blow coming on my back, almost chocking me out of my breath. “Oh, now I understand what you are upto so silently! You have been painting throughout the afternoon. I know for certain you will score only 55 in Maths and to your father, I have to say you got 85. Go and practise Maths”, said mother. I recollect, the ornate pot carrying a lovely design was thrown out of the widow and crushed on the road below.
Inspite of such disciplinary actions, I was devoted to my mother. Father was an absolute scary figure. This boy is also behaving alike. His is growing up centres around his mom. Even while changing clothes, he would be okay in presence of his mom but father has to go out. Perhaps only time in a year he would approach willingly and seek help from father, whenever there was a fancy dress competition or a painting competition at school. Once I asked him, when he must be around ten years old “You are okay if your mom is inside the room while changing your dress but feel uncomfortable whenever I am there. Pat came his reply “Mom will shut her eyes when I am changing and open only when told to do so.”
“I also do the same, don’t I ?
“I know very well that you keep peeping and only say that you have not seen anything. Why do you give mischievous smiles, if you don’t see at all“? he quipped.
He was born on the first day of Baishakh (Bengali New Year Day). In a few years’ time he found on his Birthday, parents would be busy celebrating the New Year Day cultural programs. His role would be to capture those moments on a Sony Handicam when his mother would be participating in dance performance. Many a times Nupur complained on this issue “Why do you always have to organise a programme, book a hall in advance, without even asking me? It is his Birthday after all! We ought to celebrate with him! “
“Oh, come on! This is also a part of the celebration! There would be a midnight cake cutting ceremony! Next day I have already invited friends Biju and Atul for his Birthday party. “I try to reason out. Nupur retorts “Biju and Atul are his friends or our’s !” He listens with ashen face sitting near his study table.
On a rainy day, after alighting from school bus on his way back home, he finds a tiny turtle and brings it home clinging to his chest “Mom, this will be my pet. My brother really. Can you find whether brother or a sister? “
“You are already twelve years and still ask such silly questions? Go, leave it at the fountain inside the park “I say. He stares at me unfazed. I realise the churning going on inside his head. Then bites his lips and murmurs “Then get a real brother or a sister for me. I find it very lonely at home. You try to snatch away Ma from me. When Ma is unwilling, you still force her to go out with you. Even at home both of you are busy with dance, music or drama rehearsal!
“Don’t talk rubbish. One cannot get a brother or a sister through such absurd demand. – I retort. “Then atlaest bring for me a puppy dog. I am telling you, I get bored staying alone”, says he. I see his eyes get moist, turns away his head. I then recollect years back, when father would visit Kasthadanga taking away mother, leaving us under the care of grandmother, I would feel similar anger and pangs of separation. Never realised, I have become a kind of selfish giant for him and it was all my own fault. On that day itself, Nupur and I decided to adopt a baby girl. Started visiting adoption centres, one at Dr. Annie Besant Road, Worli and other two in Matunga and it was quite a hassle. Filling up of required forms, submitting photographs of all three of us, my Income certificate etc. apart from facing probing questions at Adoption Centres- like “Why only a girl child for adoption? Would any close relative be the Guarantor? “. After two years, while in Ninth Standard, he said there was no need for a brother or a sister for him, much to our relief.
In the year of his SSC Examination, he would study all alone in our small flat, while there would be rehearsals for our musical ballet ‘Shyama’ in the adjoining terrace throughout the evening. Before his Higher Secondary Examination, he accompanied us to Kolkata to attend the marriage ceremony of my only niece. Now I realise, he gets a good grade in his tests and without any additional expenditure or hassles he secured admission in a good Engineering college and that was only through his own merits and sincere efforts. I, as a father never had to sacrifice anything for the sake of my son and never allowed Nupur to forsake anything either. The years of his attaining adolescence, were full of fun and mirth we indulged in.
“Why do you sit in the dark room during evening time “? I asked on my return from office.
“No, it is nothing“, he replied .
“No, you have to tell me, why. You do not attend your classes regularly in college. I thought in the First year of Engineering, there is quite a pressure to study to complete the syllabus. I never find you studying much. How was your exam? “
I do not wish to continue my studies. Will quit – he says.
“What? I began screaming. He gets up from the bed and switches on the light. Staring straight towards me and sitting upon the chair he says “I will not continue my studies of Engineering. Will give up. “Before his unfazed gaze, I feel low. For the first time I realize, my son is an adult youth and has a mind of his own.
“Have you gone mad? So many students do not get an opportunity to study Engineering! You will spoil a coveted seat! Why did you enrol in the first place? “I retort.
“Well, it was never my wish. You only insisted that I appear for the joint entrance test. You had suggested that I specialise in Civil stream – supposed to be the father of all engineering studies. Moreover, Infrastructural developments are the prime activities now. There will be ample jobs in this sector “. My mother’s words begin ringing in my ears “you want to, give up studies? So many students do not get a chance even! Already two semesters are over! “.
“No, I have no liking for Lathe Machine, Milling Machine etc. I am fed up. Just because father insisted, I had enrolled. Now that father is no more, for whom should I continue? I will study literature, yes Bengali literature, that is what I mean”, I said.
“Have you gone out of your mind? After three years when you complete your course, Central Tool & Dye Makers, may select you along with some more students for a specialisation in Sweden. Leaving aside such bright future, you opt for studying Bengali Literature! Look at your elder sister! Having qualified with such high marks in her MA Degree Examination in Bengali, till date she has not been able to find a job even in Govt. School as a teacher!
What will you do after quitting Engineering studies?“ I ask .
“I will study literature with English Honours “.
“I have submitted blank answer papers. I have not attempted any mathematical problems. I will not pass this time. ‘
“You did it purposely, isn’t it? He does not answer but stares without a blink.”
My mind flashes back – how during my HSC examination, while answering Maths paper I ensured not to score even minimum twenty marks. Submitted my answer paper and walked out of the examination hall after an hour nonchalantly and went to Rupabani theatre nearby, to see the matinee show of ever green hero Uttam Kumar and Vidya Sinha starring in ‘ Kitaab “. Was lucky enough to scrape through and save a year due to good marks obtained in optional subject Biology.
Nupur and I kept discussing the issue in a hushed tone. We try to do his brain wash during the day. Try to drive home the fact that he must complete the course and acquire his basic B E Degree. Subsequently, if he still desires then can always study literature. Nobody will object.
It is a wonder how he got rid of the ghost of literature from his head. He passed BE Degree examination with distinction. Took up a job for a year or so and again started feeling bored . Often he would say that Civil Engineering was not his favoured profession. This time we allowed him to take his own decision about his future studies. He left the job and cleared the entrance test to join a reputed college to study MBA, following which he has now taken up a job of his liking according to his specialisation.
He was then a student in second year at college. We had planned to visit Dapoli along with our friends. Nupur was not very keen to go, leaving him all alone in the house. But I was insisting that we must go to enjoy the company of our good friends and it would be great fun.
“Both of you will stay away from the house during this weekend also?’ he asked.
“Why, Grandmother will be at home with you. Can you not spare mother even for two days?”
- I answered.
“Ok”. Turns his face away. Keeps silence.
On Sunday, very late at night when we enter the flat turning door key, to our surprise we find on my study table, five medals are on display along with certificates of appreciation won by him. Realised, on Saturday evening at college annual day, he won the in various competitions. We stand transfixed in front of his innocent face, now sleeping in tranquillity, like a child. Nupur bends down to kiss softly on his forehead and whispers “perhaps for this reason he was so upset when we left. He wanted our presence on Saturday evening to show us these prizes, he was sure to win.
That was the last time we went out leaving him alone in the house. Nupur also resolved not to attend any stage show or social gathering on the New Year Day evening, falling on his Birthday. Suddenly one day, I find the fellow has turned to be my friend. Whenever all three of us would go out, he would seek my company more than his mother. While facing any problem in office, he would call me first “Baba, can you give some suggestion, what needs to be done! He would thus seek my advice. On my Birthday, he would quietly put some bunch of currency notes inside my purse as a surprise gift. He would be the first to suggest at my age what would be the best form of physical exercise, about healthy diet plan and even opine about the minimum time gap to be given between consuming alcoholic drinks.
“So, any plan to get married? I ask.
“Oh, no! Even without marrying, I have a pair of twins -a boy and a girl! He answers back.
“But not of same age! The older one is senior by seven years”, I laugh.
“Who would realise that? Both of you appear like twins and not like a married couple! So much similarity! The way you fight and quickly reconcile!” He bursts in a hearty laughter.
He buys air tickets for him and mother to be with his ailing grandfather in Kolkata. Touches my hand gently upon the car steering. “Bye Dude, take care. I know, you will be missing your sweetheart. Ma get down fast”. He puts up a smiling face while getting down and rushes towards the entry gate trying to avoid a direct look towards me, perhaps hiding his emotions. Nupur turns around, comes near the window telling me “I know, you will miss us now as loneliness will be your only companion.”
“Yes, this time more than you, I am going miss this husky guy! Take care of him, have a safe journey “I said.
Nupur smiles and starts moving away. Before starting the car, I keep staring at him, at his erect posture, walking briskly, holding bags in his both hands. Who is he? Perhaps me only. Exactly resembling me almost thirty years back. After thirty years from now, when there will be no trace even of a drop of my blood on this earth, no piece of my muscle or a bone, my entire body including my eyes, nose, mouth and heart will not remain behind, when I will have no work left, all my memories will be gone forever, yet I will continue to live through this young man. May be from there, I will drift to some other body.