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  • Hridi

A Lump of Jaggery for an Empty Nest

This is Bua’s divan. It’s built of bamboo transported years ago from the Andamans. It is a nest. No bird lives in another’s nest, even if abandoned. Which is perhaps why no one cares to sit on it. Except Rubai, of course, who is too forgetful for rules.

Like many, Bua lives far from where she was born- The Land of the Golden Crop: too many rivers, too many floods. This is her fourth home. In the Surf City, closer to the setting sun. The evenings here arrive late like the mornings. The whole clock machinery is a trifle shifted, let’s say a half inch.

This is Rubai’s fourth home, inside her head. Here she is, diligently labouring at her French. Her fourth tongue, none her own. Bua lived a whole life in one language, Rubai envies her. Her dreams always so wordless, like silent films. Torn in the squalor of this open- armed cosmopolitan, the thousand dialects in the local trains all stink of their owners’ sweat, their monotonous absence of direction. An extension of Bua’s refuge, Rubai ended up being exiled from life. How people scatter, in search, pulled and pushed. And hushed. Says a random page of the leather- bound notebook she keeps behind her books.

She moved from her first home some seven decades ago. A young girl saying goodbye at school, crossing the not-yet-erect East-West fence, her big brother in the lead, a litter of other siblings trailing, and the widowed ma bringing up the rear. This was a while before the Partition, or so Rubai has heard. It sure feels grand to have a story in the ancestry. Walking across the full moon, Timon, Pumbaa, Simba! Bua often speaks of the zamindari back home, correction, the first home. The grand Pujo, festivities surpassing modern imagination… (Theirs is a long inheritance from the court poets of the kingdom. Hence, Rubai smiles, her poetic strain?) Years later, Rumour whispered of the horrible fate meted out to the old mansion. No one had the heart then to poke the ashes. There was the new life- the poverty, almost surreal, across a border. The rented verandah home, the search for a groom. And one fine day there she was, the plump ugly bride to a good poor man with a penchant for stories. She was lucky too.

This le voyage all in her head to find the island called “home”, the sparrows chittering on the window sill clearly disapprove of; they know how cheap they sell roofs at the bazaar these days, yet how in the GPS Age, it’s almost impossible to find a hidden shelter.

Bua does love her paan, Rubai her cupcakes, neither comprehending the other. Bua knows her old 60’s Bengali numbers to heart, Rubai leans classical. Rubai’s poetry, Bua’s TV soaps. Bua gave up faith years ago, Rubai never started on one. But gee, they sure love their wine together. Two bitches, one wrinkled, the other fresh in bloom, tied in the same elite choice for intoxication? Funny how kindred spirits sync.

It’s been sometime that the oldie’s hearing’s been ebbing away. This together with the almost childish naiveté becomes most hilarious, entertaining or offensive in turn to the neighbours, much along the Professor Calculus lines. Her mortal fear of ghosts, that lovely Sylheti accent, obsession over hair dyes (pitch black at eighty!), the sleeveless blouses beneath the carelessly tossed saree, perfectly matched to the last! Like most grannies, she hoards water bottles and loves boyfriend- talk. Bua, the world’s pitha queen, each little sweet a work of art, the poor housewife’s odd canvas, wringing in perhaps every colour from the joy- sorrow syrup swallowed so easily, so heartlessly, the countless stories, so easily forgotten, and that special ingredient of hers, the stubborn resilience. The stone visage on hearing of her brother’s death. The day her old man passed away, Bua wrapped up her little own and left the house for good. Her third home, not turning back once. For folks as these, goodbye’s no surprise. Apparently, Bua and BhaloDada used to sing duets of Oliro kotha shune bokul hanshe, the popular Hemanta Mukherjee serenade. Rubai doesn’t remember BhaloDada and wouldn’t take the tale either if it wasn’t for this tune, the only one that could get the delirious woman to swallow food.

These are strange times for losing. Perfect in a sense, Time captured, Time still, walking backwards, lulling forwards, rolling into the gutter and sobbing at midnight like drunken fools. Yea, the yellow flag is good for the bereft, so little fuss, so commonplace yet so unique. The perfect tragedy. You remain in these pages, exotic herbarium, Tuntankhamun’s tomb, perfect, a beauty.

The sun heats the air. The air rises, leaving emptiness. Into each chequered space rushes in cold air from the sea. The fabric of nothingness shivers from the cold. Then all day long that too warms up, walks into the clouds. The void fills again. Living near the sea, Rubai is a daily witness of this simple chore. Night is a secret process of replacement; we seldom notice for all air molecules look the same, invisible. Only the heat circulates. Says her brown book.

This morn, dark pompous clouds have been gathering in. Nuage from the alphabet book. A powerful breeze steadily rises in howls, swirling the careless young woman’s dark hair- a portrait: Rubai at her window thinking of L'Étranger or rather, The Outsider, as she found it. Once she gets a hold on her French, she means to read the original. The gusts keep scattering the dry leaves from the potted plants. The blue globe on her brown desk is spinning of its own accord, such is the force. Finally, the kalbaisakhi thunderstorm, that famous midsummer irony, announces itself among the outraged curtains. Ma calls. Rubai absorbed, doesn’t hear at first. A second shout penetrates, she looks up and hurriedly leaves the room.

The wind flutters the leaves of the khata, stops abruptly at a marked page. It’s dated for the twenty- second. Four days Bua’s couch had gone empty. Reads- A lump of jaggery and the toe of a ginger is all I offer, Madame. Leave the rest to Imagination, let's say, you treat a cold, Or say she's flown, become funnily recurring, in different shadows over eighty-three years approximately, since birth certificates weren't for women in her days. Here's a song yet to be rehearsed Yowl of joy giving sixteen dimensions, a mere memory. So foolish, the bunch of y'all, saying goodbye like tragedy Pah! Say it like she deserves it, Wish her fine summers if you can, you bastards so insanely egotistical, drooling grammatical, Don't make it stink with yer foul tears, Let her find the rains, have her win in grace The torment and strength of the swishing tides. Fill those sagging breasts once more Full of the moons each inherits and saves till after the last.

With a blaze, the sky cracks up like peanuts ‘tween expert fingers. The drops catch the gale, touching the first two words- A Lump. The ink blurs.

Up into the thirteenth- floor window rises a faint petrichor, defying the falling rains.



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