The Spring Daffodil
It was around 10 am in the morning, when Sarala, the 60 something housemaid at Mr. Patra’s 3 storey home, placed his 3rd cup of tea for the day on his writing desk. Mr. Patra, who was still busy with his paper work, paused for a moment as Sarala placed the white and blue colored bonechina tea cup with two Marie Gold biscuits infront of him. The hot vapour rings from the cup slowly floated upwards in the wintry morning of the Hetompur town.
‘Babu, here is your tea.” Informed Sarala and slowly walked away towards the kitchen.
Mr. Abinash Patra took the first sip of his tea and looked pensively at the old and worn wooden almari that stood tall infront of him. It was a dowry present that came to this house along with his mother Bilashini Devi. Bilasini lived her life in great luxury and comfort, as her father, Abinash’s grandfather, was a rich businessman, who bequeathed a lot of his wealth to his daughter. As a heritage, a lot of Bilasini’s Jewellery were passed on to her daughter–in-law and Abinash’s wife Sushoma, which she has carefully kept away for their only daughter Protima.
Protima is 20 years old and even by the city standards she has reached the marriageable age. She studied History, Philosophy and Home Science in her college, knows how to knit and paint and likes watching movies, off late, especially Hindi movies. The reason being, her girly crush on that tall actor who has become very popular in Cinema and is a rage on screen. Although she doesn’t understand the language well, Protima adores the actor whose latest release was a massive hit last month. She would save money all month to buy tickets of his films and watch it with her dear friend Sruti in a cinema hall almost 25 kilometers away from Hetompur, the only one that screens Hindi films.
Soft spoken and introverted, Protima is her parent’s pet, an absolute sweetheart, loved and cherished by them.
Thinking about his daughter Protima, Abinash continued to take long drawn sips from his cup of tea.
“Are you done with your tea?” Sushoma’s sharp voice cut his chain of thoughts and in one instant pulled him out of his reverie.
“I don’t understand how a father of a young daughter, whose friends are getting married every other month, is sitting in such a relaxed manner, without a single care in the world and drinking tea for one hour!”
Sushoma’s voice rose alarmingly, with the utterance of each word. Abinash realized that she isn’t in the best of her moods.
Abinash said a relaxed tone, “Sushoma, why do you feel that I am not thinking of Protima’s marriage? Ofcourse I am”.
“Mr. And Mrs. Sarkar, who came from Delhi to see our daughter, did not communicate anything to us yet. It’s almost been a month now, and apart from a letter confirming that they have safely reached Delhi, there has not been any other response from them. Mrs. Sarkar was so loving and considerate in her behavior that day. She even went on to say that they have no problem with Protima’s dark complexion, allaying all my fears. How often do we come across such people who think so generously? At that moment, I thought God has blessed us with such nice people! But then, I think I was wrong. Why are they not writing to us anymore? Did they not like our daughter? Everyone in our family says, my daughter is one in a million.” Saying these words, Sushoma softened, as tears of concern for her child, rolled down from the corners of her eyes, which she promptly wiped with the pallu of her saree.
Abinash noticed the emotional turmoil that his wife was going through. This strange pull of strings at the depth of the heart that is felt only by a mother for her child. The most primitive of all tendencies, the most inherent of all feelings.
If Sushoma was bearing one end of these heartstrings, as a father, Abinash was carrying the other end, the merciless yanks of concern and apprehension regarding their child’s future, would ruffle him too.
Abinash raised himself from his chair and stood up.
“Hmm. I will write to Mr. Sarkar today. It’s been enough of a wait.” He stated in a grim voice.
He looked at his wife, who was staring expectantly at him and asked, “What is Protima saying?”
‘You know your daughter, she doesn’t say much, but I guess she likes the boy. Sruti, her friend told me the other day that because he is good looking and has as a slight resemblance with that Hindi Cinema hero that she is very fond of, what’s his name… I forget, Protima has probably taken a liking for him.” Replied Sushoma, thinking hard to remember the name of the actor.
“Hindi Cinema Hero? Hahahaha Sushoma, our daughter has not grown one bit. I still remember the day we sent her to school for the first time. How badly it rained that day!” Both Abinash and Sushoma reminisced about the day.
Sushoma came and sat opposite Abinash.
“Yes, I remember each and every day ever since Proti came in my life and made me so happy, her birth was a gift from the Gods. I had prayed for 3 long years…”
Abinash put his arms around Sushoma and softly said. “I too prayed Sushoma.”
“Yes, we both prayed and finally she arrived in our lives”.
Sushoma smiled. Her face glistened at the happy remembrance of the blissful moment.
“But now, all I desire is for her to get a good groom. Someone who will love and respect her and care for her.”
Abinash nodded. Few minutes passed as they both sat in harmonious silence.
Abinash got up from his chair and said, “Today I will write to the Sarkars. Let us see what unfolds. They are rich, sophisticated and English speaking Pravashi Bengalis. Our Protima is also a well-educated and talented girl with great qualities. She deserves the very best.”
The same evening, Abinash Patra sat on his writing desk and opened his writing pad. After thinking for a few moments, he finally wrote.
To Mr. Pallab Sarkar,
Dear Pallab Babu,
Warm greetings to you and family. Hope you, Mrs. Sarkar and your son are doing great.
By the grace of the almighty, myself and Mrs. Patra are also fine. It’s been almost a month that we heard from you last. So, Mrs. Patra and I were thinking of asking how it is at your end.
Winter has slowly but steadily entered our part of the land. Here in Hetompur, it’s quite chilly in the morning and also in the nights. We have already started wearing sweaters, caps and shawls. Is it cold in Delhi too?
Hope you are taking good care of your health and also going for the morning walks regularly, and not skipping them.
But Mr. Sarkar, if it’s too cold, you may skip once or twice. After all, one has to take care of not getting cough and cold too.
How is your son Shekhar? Hope his office is going great. It would be great if we get to hear from him one day.
I am very pleased to tell you that our daughter Protima has started her painting classes last week. She is very interested in creative things. She shared that she is loving her classes and wishes to send a painting of hers to you all in Delhi, as a gift!
I and Mrs. Patra will wait for your reply.
With lots of best wishes to you and your family.
“It’s good enough to be sent”, thought Abinash. He has written about everything possible and right from asking about Mr. Sarkar’s health to informing them about Protima’s recently acquired skill, he has covered everything in the letter.
No, Abinash didn’t want to bring in ‘the topic’ and haste things right in the first letter. After all, there is a way to everything. He knew that if he tried to push them too hard, things might not look good. Thinking so, he put the letter inside an envelope, and kept it in his drawer.
Next day morning, on his way back from the Bazaar, he posted the letter and with a great sense of satisfaction, informed Sushoma after reaching home.
“Sushoma, I have sent a letter to the Sarkars. Now wait and see, we will soon receive a reply. I have written just the right things, without pushing too much about the topic, you know…I am sure, in the next seven days’ time, there would be a response.”
More than 15 days passed, but there was no reply. No sign of any letter whatsoever, not even a one-line acknowledgement was received from the Sarkars of Delhi.
The entire Patra household, especially Mrs. Patra became very restless.
The next day, in the kitchen, amidst doing her regular chores, the elderly Sarala, who has been working in the house for the past 45 years, broke the uncomfortable silence and spoke. “Bou didi (sister in law), I don’t understand these sweet talks amongst you Bhodro, babu loks. Please tell dada babu to write a strong letter to these Delhi people, asking them what they have in their minds. Buss. There will be an end to this day and night tension that you are undergoing every day.”
Sushoma listened to her silently, while pulling out fresh palak leaves from the worn out ones in the cluster. She meticulously put all the fresh long leaves in one big bowl and handed it over to Sarala and said, “Sarala di, please take care of the cooking for cooking today. I don’t have my mind in place, so will be unable to guide you as to what to cook. Please cook as you feel is right.” Saying so, she walked away.
In the evening when Abinash came back from work, Sushoma enquired,
“Have they already seen some other girl for their son Shekhar? Ogo suncho, please write a letter to them asking about it. And please, do not write about weather, trees, roads and moonlight this time. Enough of your useless chatter, ask them directly.”
Abinash pulled out his writing pad again and tried to his best to sound direct, without being uncouth.
Dear Mr. Pallab,
It’s been more than 2 weeks that I wrote to you. Hope everyone in your family are safe and sound.
Mrs. Patra and I would be very glad if you all please let us know your thought on the marriage of our children Shekhar and Protima.
As for us, like we had already shared earlier, we like your son and are impressed by his curricular and extracurricular brilliance and really appreciate his being at a respectable position in government organization at such a young age!
We are assured that he would be the right choice for our beloved daughter.
In your first and so far last letter to us, you had mentioned that both you and Mrs. Sarkar have liked our daughter Protima and that even Shekhar has liked her.
We are expecting some reply from you, so that we can initiate the process accordingly.
Eagerly awaiting your reply.
With Best wishes,
Advocate Abinash Patra.
Abinash was gradually losing his cool. The ‘advocate’ in the signature was inserted to tell the real worth of the Patras to the other party.
As if this wasn’t enough, soon after posting the letter, a thought crossed his mind and he quickly wrote another letter.
Dear Mr. Pallab,
I hope my letters are reaching you. Has there been a change in your residential address? You may please inform me through a telegram or through our common distant relative, Ghosh babu of Madhabpur.
Awaiting your reply.
Advocate Abinash Patra,
He posted both of these letters the following day.
Few more days passed, followed by a few more, and after a whole month, one fine afternoon, after finishing her day’s work, Sarala while chewing her pan, crouched in one corner of the door, spoke to Sushoma, “Bou didi, I was thinking about something, bolbo? Should I say?”
Sushoma was busy stitching the loose ends of a blouse, to fix its fitting quality. On hearing Sarala speak, she raised her gaze from her needles and asked, “Bolo Sarala di. Speak Sarala”
“Was it not that Ghosh babu, your distant uncle from Madhabpur town who are a distant relative of these Sarkars also?”
Sushoma didn’t quite understand what Sarala meant but was startled at her power to recollect stuff. She replied, “Hmm. So?”
“Bou didi, since these Sarkars aren’t replying to the letters, how about asking the Ghosh babu’s family about their whereabouts? These days, you are mostly upset about Protima maa’s marriage and about these people not replying. You don’t speak much to me, but do you think I don’t understand? I am working here in this house for the past 45 years.”
Sushoma kept quiet. It’s been a long time association with Sarala. When she came to this house as a young bride, her mother in law had introduced her to Sarala saying, “Bou ma (daughter in law), for anything that you need, especially in the kitchen and otherwise, please feel free to ask Sarala, she will always be there by your side. Its been many years that Sarala has been working in the Patra household and she different from any other family member, and that is why, everything she said or suggested could neither be avoided by Abinash or Sushoma.
“Ok Sarala di, what you are saying might be the right thing to do. I will speak to Protima’s father”.
Next day, on his wife’s persistence, Abinash soon wrote another letter to Mr. Raghunath Ghosh, enquiring about the Sarkars who were distant relatives of the Ghosh family and were in touch with each other through other relatives and neighbours.
Within 6 days of sending the letter to Raghunath Babu, came a prompt reply.
Dear Abinash and Sushoma,
I received your letter this morning, and as soon as I got the message, I enquired about the Sarkar family to my cousin sister, who lives in Delhi and are in touch with them, through a quick trunk call. She informed me that there was a marriage in their family last week, yes, of their son Shekar Sarkar. She also expressed her surprise at knowing that you and Shushoma weren’t aware of the same.
Kabari, my cousin told me about what all transpired…I mean, I didn’t know much about it.
My blessings to you and Sushoma.
Abinash sat on the big sofa in the living room, connecting the dots. Tossing between anger and sadness, he flung the letter on the floor.
As if on cue, Sushoma entered the room looking for something, when she saw a letter lying on the floor, she picked it up and read it.
“How can they do this with us? They could have atleast informed us. What kind of people are they?” Sushoma screamed in anger and disbelieve.
She read the letter again, began fulminating, only to stop, analyse further and again burst into another round of rant. Anger, leading its way to exasperation reached a penultimate level of sadness that was gnawing at her.
“Sushoma, now stop this”. Cried Abinash.
“Brutes have behaved like brutes. Perhaps it was a mistake on our part too. When they didn’t reply to the first letter, we should not have pushed ourselves so much.” Reasoned Abinash, trying to cool Sushoma and also gain some firmness himself.
“There is no good in pondering about their inconsiderate natures now. Speak to Protima instead and inform her about it. I am worried how she would react once she learns about this. Poor girl, she must have built her air castles by now. How unfortunate are we to have to break it with our own hands.”
Sushoma wiped the tears that were flowing copiously now, after hearing these words from her husband.
The two of them, unable to fathom the horridness of the matter, sat in silence, trying to make sense of it all.
Sushoma didn’t have the heart to break this to her daughter, not today atleast. It was only this afternoon, when her friend Sruti came home that she heard both the girls discuss about some movie and that hero. Though she couldn’t hear them properly, but she had noticed the tinkling laughter and gushes of joy that ran all over Protima’s face as the girls spoke in hushed tones.
Next day morning, at the breakfast table, when Abinash sat with his morning newspaper, Protima, declared, ‘Maa, today we have morning class, Sruti will come, so we would eat together and leave. Please make some luchis for her too.” Saying this, she went back to reading her college notes.
It’s been a day and they haven’t broken the news to Protima. She anxiously signaled her husband to say it to her, to which, he solemnly went back to his paper.
Protima raised her head from her book, caught her mother in the midst of her stealthy conversation and said, “I am noticing that you both are behaving strangely since yesterday. Ok, so since you both are finding it so difficult to say this yourselves, let me tell you. I have learnt of the letter sent by Raghunath Ghosh to baba, I have read it.” She paused for a second and continued, “I mean, by mistake. I had gone to the living room, the letter kept open there on the desk made me curious. I picked it up and read.” Her face was expressionless. It was difficult to say if she was sad or unaffected.
Both Abinash and Sushoma didn’t know how to react to this. Their daughter wasn’t terribly heart broken, atleast that’s what it looked like. Or maybe, she has been stoned by grief, who knows.
Sushoma didn’t wish to dig the matter anymore. She went back to the kitchen and started frying the other luchis.
After finishing their breakfast, Sruti and Protima left for college.
A pall of gloom fell in the house. As if the sorrow was held captive by some invisible cord which got released by Protima.
Abinash and Sushoma silently did their respective jobs. Not a single word was spoken between them that day.
Days passed followed by months.
The autumn leaves left their inherent longings and fell to the ground. Holding the lonely hands of foggy wintry nights, colorful Spring made its way.
Protima started going to the University. She had performed excellently in her graduation final year exams and was rewarded a scholarship in her MA course.
After that incident, Sushoma and Abinash never went ahead looking for any other match for Protima.
It was a warm Spring morning when the girls Protima and her friend Sruti were prattling along in their garden. Sushoma sent tea through Sarala to both of them. As the girls were having their tea, their laughter and cheer filled the air with a celebratory fragrance.
The branches of the lush green Jarul trees were waving with relish and happiness, its rich purple flowers strewn on the grounds like ornaments, the seed of hope was waiting to germinate into new possibilities and our Protima felt as if her heart was opening up to a wide new world of everlasting love and companionship.
Few weeks back she had met this guy in her University and they both took a liking for each other. The Spring brought forth a fresh flower bud in her life, in the form of this relationship. It was now just about time till the flower of her dream bloomed into full fruition.
The two girls were talking about just that. As Sruti was constantly poking her, tossing and toying ‘his’ name now and then, a glistening smile ran through the contours of Protima’s face and brightened her entire being.
As she approached with the tea, Sarala heard the girls and was very happy at this prospect. With baited heart, she rushed inside and announced to Sushoma. “Bou didi, make arrangement for Protima didi’s wedding. There is this nice boy whom she has met. Both of them are talking about that only.”
“What are you saying Sarala di?”
Sushoma’s heart skipped a beat. Exultant with joy, she walked towards the garden where the girls were having a gala time. Seeing her arrive, Sruti proclaimed. “Kakima, you have come at the right time. Please sit here and see what your daughter has stitched here. Isn’t it beautiful?” Sruti pointed towards the corner of a handkerchief with her finger.
Sushoma saw a wonderfully ornate Daffodil flower stitched in bright yellow color with the letter ‘A’ written inside it’s long trumpet-shaped centre.
“This is really beautiful. Protima, you made this?
Protima felt was embraced. She shot one angry look at Sruti, at having divulged this to her mother, and then bashfully, replied to her in the affirmative.
“Sruti, this girl will never tell me anything. Please tell me. What it is that you both are hiding from me?”
“Kakima, I have been telling Proti to share it with you. I don’t know what stops this girl from doing so.” Looking at Protima, Sruti asked, “Proti, should I say?”
“Ok, I think I have her permission. So, Kakima, there is a boy in our University, who is one year senior to us. Protima and he both like each other. They are from a very good family, the boy is a brilliant student and will get a good teaching job after his MSc. And yes, he has proposed marriage to our Protima.”
The last line sent a wave of sudden delight.
Sushoma hugged her daughter. Both mother and daughter were celebrated the moment of renewed happiness, without speaking a word, just holding on to each other, like two friends would, after long years of separation.
Sruti Continued, “Kakima, he is a tall and handsome fellow. Very similar to our Proti’s favourite Hindi film hero. What’s more, there is more similarity than just the looks. Looks like she has found her dream man.”
Sushoma turned around to Sruti and asked, “What is the name of that hero, whom you girls love watching? I always forget his name.”
“Oho Kakima, don’t you know this much also. He is the most famous actor in this country right now. The nation’s heartthrob!
“Oh yes, I always keep forgetting his name. The other day I saw his picture in the paper when he came for some shooting in Calcutta city. So tall he is, really and also very good looking!”
“Don’t worry Kakima, now you won’t forget his name anymore.” Giggled Sruti.
Sushoma looked at her daughter lovingly and said, “Proti, call this boy one day to our house. I and your baba would be very pleased to meet him. Tell him that we are keen to meet his parents as well.”
“OK maa.” Protima replied.
Sushoma got up from the chair and was about to leave the two, when she looked back and asked.
“Oh yes, I completely forgot to ask his name. What is it?”
Protima and Sruti, both looked at each other and smiled.
Protima raised the designed handkerchief and showing the stitched corner, coyly replied, “Amitabh.”