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ISSN: 0974-892X


Jan-July, 2014



Suicide at Spring Night

Aju Mukhopadhyay


“Fact is that nobody enters the intimate life of others. Things aplenty are kept secret between man and woman, beyond the knowledge of the actors themselves, in the sense that they don’t know why something happens. They don’t understand as I myself am still dumbfounded to know why this happened though facts are like nicely printed pages of a lucid book. I am Shreyasi. I never thought that it would happen though I contested for it to happen. I am sorry that my elder sister Preyasi was deprived of the coveted marriage. My happiness surpassed my sadness for my sister, for being able to marry as chance offered me to posses such a handsome man as Nabagopal.”
She looked at the photo of Preya, the short name she was called by at home, hanging from the wall, framed. The photo shows that she was smiling happily for it was snapped in a studio for sending it to her would-be husband’s home for negotiation. She really looked beautiful; more beautiful than Shreya; she knew it. Once again she felt a sharp chill in her heart as she again realized her mischief. But even without ever so thinking aloud she considered herself lucky after her marriage as she was not born like her, with a damaged heart, that being her main weapon to win the game.
“I bet I know what happened at that twilight hours as they came to see me. We have two bed rooms in our house. As they were sitting in the outer room I felt shy of dressing adequately in spite of the fact that my mother and our neighbour, Saroja, asked me to do so. The guests were staring, hiding faces and sometimes thought of making moves to come out of the room. I bet that though Shreya was not to come out to them in the open as a matter of custom, she was fabulously dressed; drawing brows, using cosmetics and lipsticks. She had her attire attractive, tightening the shalwar with clips at the breast even without using the odna. Not that they were entirely unknown to us. Their family was known to us and the groom knew us by appearance. We had exchanges of goodwill at times with smiling faces. I bet that Shreya was gesturing at the man as he looked at us through an opening. Then mother went to the window to look who was there in the passage and realising the scene, she blocked the window. Actually Shreya was known to Nabagopal’s younger cousin. They had temporary friendship but she perhaps liked Nabagopal more. As I came before the guests they all welcomed me and after me entered Shreya, smiling. She too sat by my side. I felt nervous and had some feeling of remorse though not actually feeling any pain in my heart. My guardians felt that I was feeling sick and asked me if I was feeling Okay. Thereby they became suspicious. After some more talks they excused and left abruptly.”
“Afterwards my father and uncle met the groom’s family and explained that that day I had some problem of cough and cold so I was feeling uneasy, that the defect with my heart was a childhood affair and that there was no trace of it then. I bet, Shreya met the man in his office and tried to misguide him about me. This nobody knows but me through Elarani’s brother who worked with Nabagopal in the same office.” 
Shreya read many times so far that diary note of Preya. She could not believe an iota of it as she never went to his office though true it is that they met once outside Nabagopal’s office which was by chance. She did not utter anything about her sister’s marriage proposal. Did she flirt a little with him? She does not remember though she cannot deny it entirely. Her appearance before the guests was certainly sudden and adventurous, unexpected. If that was a mischief she knew it and could not do otherwise for it was a challenge to herself.  Jealous? 
“I distinctly remember everything that happened under the full moon spring night. After our dinner was over we gathered on the roof of our old big house with some palm trees bordering the boundary walls. Two jasmine creepers making the night whiter than the moon, spreading some ineffable essence mixed with smell of golden champak wafting in the air. By the side of our roof was another roof occupied by our cousins which was one roof at the time of my marriage. Biltu and his two sisters were loitering and gossiping there. One of the sisters was going to be married soon. Sound of their laughter was heard. We were four; my parents, me and my husband, Nabagopal. Sreeman Bose, our only younger brother, had left shortly before to join his new job in the States.”    
“We were on the roof enjoying the illusive night, hardly talking. Suddenly Preya came up from down below. I saw her room closed as we had walked up. She was moody those days. When we visited she often remained in her room bolted from inside.”
“She came fully dressed. Under the shades of trees here and there the night was charming. That was intended to be one of our last visits before we moved to Pune. Nabagopal was in a mood to oblige. Seeing her, he came near to welcome her. She smilingly came and stood by his side. On another side of him was I. To our back side was the balustrade as we stood facing our parents.”
‘Then, how do you guess the place of your posting to be?’
‘Pune? I have a few of my friends posted and living there for some time,’ Nabagopal said, ‘so far as I know it is a good busy city with lots of opportunities for shopping,’ he concluded looking at me, meaningfully.
‘Yes, yes, Pune is very busy city’, my father continued, ‘You two go first and after you are settled we intend to go sometime,’ my father said looking at Preya. But she was fidgeting a little. Even if others did not notice, I was surprised to see that she was dressed as a bride; armlets, bangles, golden chains, rings in their respective places and tiara on the head, and she had a garland of jasmine on her coiffure. It drew the attention of my mother too as she must have remembered that they had given her those ornaments when she gave me too my dues during our marriage. They were her ornaments and she could use them at any time, she must have thought.
“My six months old daughter, Riturani, too on my lap started fidgeting. To calm her I moved towards the balustrade and there in the garden, on a branch was sitting a white bird with curves and lines on its face, distinct in the moon light. With me they too moved and looked at the bird. With so many eyes on it, the bird too fidgeted and flew with a shrill cry. “Oh, auspicious! It was Lakshmi Pancha, an owl auspicious!” mother said.
“We all were by then standing side by side, facing the garden, silent for a moment. Preya was standing close to Nabagopal. And suddenly holding his hand she climbed the rail supporting her leg on a baluster and placing her hand on his shoulder jumped into the garden below, making a shrill cry while falling. Nabagopal somehow balanced and saved  himself from falling even after receiving the sudden jerk. Stunned, my heart chilled. My effort to save him caused my daughter to fall on the roof and she began crying with all her might. All of us looked below. The roof was not at too much a height as this portion of the roof was over the first floor only. Instantly Nabagopal followed by my father, running down the stairs and we too, picking up my child, came down to the garden. She was coiling frantically on her back and sides perhaps because she did not die instantly.”
“Immediately my father called the Nursing Home over the phone and they sent ambulance. Nabagopal accompanied Preya and my father to the Nursing Home. Crowd of neighbours gathered as usual. She lived there for five days and then expired as her heart was severely damaged; damaged as it was from her birth.”
Long after the suicide at the spring night, months after the marriage of Riturani, herself a doctor with a doctor of mixed parentage, practising at Ludhiana, and years after Nabagopal Bhaduri’s leaving the job at Pune and settling at their Kolkata house, practising as a legal consultant, Shreyasi receives a long letter from Nabagopal, her husband, which tells of past facts but that does not bring any change in her. She feels it now as a lukewarm call from a duty bound, selfish and abnormal man.
Dear Shreyashi,
“Our last meeting during Ritu’s marriage was a happy occasion for us. I am happy that she is settled there now with her husband, with her own practices. But after years of living alone I am feeling from my heart that there is no reason, there was no real reason for our separation; even unofficially. I don’t want to blame you nor wish to raise a self-accusing finger towards me. See, you knew and I confess that I loved Preyashi as much I loved you, rather more, for I had a deep sympathy for her condition and may be that I had shown it even physically as she craved for it once in your absence. But that could be only temporarily. You know how much struggle you had to make to draw me into your passionate world of love making for it was beyond my pale. May be that I succumbed temporarily to you to give birth to Ritu as it happened on your continued insistence but I really felt when I could not respond to your passionate calls on subsequent occasions. I felt badly though as your womanhood might have been hurt, I could not do otherwise than keeping myself aloof. Truly speaking, despite my handsome figure like a debonair as they called, I did not feel a call for sex as much normally a man or woman feels. It is far from the fact that I had initiation from any religious guru for which too I feel neither any attraction nor any repulsion. It was a long forgotten family ritual. I feel that the world beyond is beyond my comprehension. Perhaps the vastness and mysteriousness of it give a call to my heart but I do not respond, may be that I am not yet ready for any such call.”
After the sudden death of Preyashi who I knew before coming to your house and had an inkling of her disease but still I had gone to see her to settle in marriage with her. Don’t get hurt for you know that she was really a jewel of a woman and she was no less educated than you, the cause of your jealousy.
Why had you to engage yourself racing with her? Who asked you to compete with her heart’s desires? These are beyond you and me. Even your parents were very unhappy for that but they did not express it. Perhaps it is beyond our ken to explain how exactly one acts and reacts in a given situation. The position of the two sisters cannot be analyzed for it is futile. Have you ever blamed yourself? I don’t think so but I don’t wish it too.
When you appeared on the scene rather little awkwardly and forcibly, telling through others first and then yourself that she couldn’t be bonded in marriage for that would be fatal for her life with a congenital heart disease which perhaps could be cured at a very early age only when she used to faint getting blue sometimes, but your parents were afraid to get her operated which the doctors had not confirmed to be safe.
Strange it is that perhaps a marriage could save her from the fatal blow which she invited later on her own out of utter frustration. I felt guilty, very guilty for her situation and began to hate you. Your wounded heart could not accept my love for Preya, more so after her death. Your wounded womanhood rebounded with grievance and vengeance which you silently forbore though sometimes revolted in gesture and behavior. And when I decided to come out of Pune leaving the job, you immediately opted to live in your parental house to look after your ailing parents.
Things have gone beyond divorce for there is no meaning in it in our case. I hope that you realize. We have been living separately. Your parents have gone almost in quick succession and my mother is ailing, father died earlier. I understand that Sreeman may now come back to India giving up all his resources in America having been divorced by his American wife in whose name he bought many properties there. Out of the three children only the eldest one, on her own insistence, is coming to India. Sreeman is still young and I know that he is not like me. Though I am not sure, he may decide to marry again. His elder daughter is only ten years old and loves her father deeply.
“Though he is younger to me we have friendship and he confesses things. In this condition, as you are now beyond those days of womanhood, past your passion for bodily satisfaction, to be very frank, I call you frankly to live in your husband’s home as our age old tradition tells us, and look after him and his old mother as a good wife, forgetting all that happened earlier.”
The letter ended quite perfunctorily expressing love for his wife as a token of eternal love between a traditional Indian husband and wife.
Shreyasi was quite upset after receiving the letter. She considered once again Nabagopal as an impotent man, mentally and vitally. Reading his confession about Preya she once again felt jealousy in her heart. She could not reconcile with her sister even so long after her death. That something was trying to gnaw at her conscience created a rage in her. She could not reconcile with it. For some days this subject overlapped all her thoughts and she could not respond properly to the happiness of her daughter when she said that she would come and take her to her new home which would give her peace and happiness in life. She remained undecided if to go even for a while to Ludhina. It is far from her to agree to what the man proposed.
While such thoughts engaged her mind for days together, she received an urgent call from her brother who said that he was “Disgusted with a woman’s behaviour; to a good extent personal but to some extent racial too, may be”, he said. “Such an arrogance from a woman is unthinkable in our society”, he said. “Well, I can’t explain over the phone everything. I shall come home shortly, arrangements are being made. Didi, after all, we know each other better than any other person. Both of our conjugal lives have been unsuccessful and I say that it is quite common in Western Society. This is our new experience but sure it is that we shall be happy building a new castle over our past relationship even after so many years of venturing into others’ lives.”
Sreyashi had some knowledge of their life. Stella also wrote to her in the past but for some time she did not give any letter. Shreya loved her sis-in-law at some point but now she took her brother’s side mentally. Victims of unexpected relationships, as they both were. She took the initiative to invite her brother herself over the phone asking him to settle everything before coming but was told that there was little to be settled besides the divorce which was a matter of days. By the way she asked if he still had any idea of romancing in life again, and if so, she smilingly promised to help her brother. As expected, she was told that enough was enough. No more of such things but then, he would continue his practices as a Nephrologist and attend in all other events of life. He expected his sister to be partner in life as the ideal brother and sister in the second phase of their life after their middle age. 
Phone calls came twice in between and she was told that arrangements were made towards completion. Even Dolly, her niece who opted to remain with her father, talked very cordially to her. This side of the new arrangements brought an unknown satisfaction to her.
When after about a month Nabagopal, being insisted by his mother rang her up, she said straight away that she had no desire to take a back step, that after all pastures both brother and sister would like to live and rejuvenate old relationship. And when he is helpless, who other than her would help him? She would have her added work to look after her niece. She openly expressed her happiness at the prospect of her brother’s return and said, “After all, it is my house too. We have plenty of rooms here to live well the remaining part of our lives,” she said, expressing formal sorrow that her mother-in-law was unwell which is quite normal in old age. She advised him to arrange for nursing of her by professional nurses, of whom she knew a few.


© Aju Mukhopadhyay, 2011