Saturday, 19 November 2011

Delonix Regia

Trying to overcome the writer's block for many days and complete a short story. But it seems so difficult. Decided now to carry on with the story on FB . Will try to write small portions everyday . Let's see how it works. Otherwise, I will remain stuck. I thank the person who wanted me to write a story and hope it will be liked.

I have tentatively named my story - Delonix Regia . May change it later. Needless to say, it is a total fiction and should be taken only as such . So, here I go --

The morning was cloudy and looked dull as the sun tried its best to diffuse its rays down below through the cloud cover. There were a few spells of sporadic rainfall and then again the equilibrium settled between the sun and the clouds. A hushed sense of expectation prevailed all around even as a lazy and langurous Sunday morning progressed to its place as an insignificant footnote to history.

But not everybody were enjoying the morning .Standing on the balcony of my flat, I watched down to find people gathered around the tree in front of the old house,a block away on the opposite side of the road just in front of our house. This road meandered along its way to the railway station , about 2 kms away. Like all old small towns , the road was not straight and turned , twisted and narrowed down at places. Cycle rickshaws were still the major mode of conveyance around this place. I was born here and this house was built by my grandfather. Long back it echoed with the stentorian voice of my grandfather issuing orders to all and sundry, be it my uncles,mother,servants or us , the unfortunate young ones who would dare to be in his vicinity.

But then those were the days of joint families and shared existence. Gradually the undercurrents of reality and the urge to live a better life weakened the adhesive force of kinship and the family disintegrated , in the physical sense. Well, the bonding still remained and manifested in family functions like marriage and other occassions but time had really taken its toll.

I was thinking all this with the empty cup of tea in my hand watching the activity around the tree. It seemed they were making arrangements to cut it down. That meant I will never be able to see the tree again when I visit this place next .I sighed deeply with a whiff of cynical smile playing on my lips. I made it a point to visit this house once in a couple of months,just to keep in touch . My children rarely accompanied me and my wife had also reduced her frequency of - tagging along-as she sarcastically referred to her company during these visits.

But this time it was different. A buyer was located and all other members of my family, rather claimants to the property uninamously zeroed in on me to hold the negotiations . Whether this was due to my current status as a retired man with lots of time on hand or my previous avatar as a General Manager of a Bank,it was hard to say.I found it funny , as I had never considered myself to be a very worldly person and this was reinforced by the low opinion expresed by my wife, children on my ability to attend the practical problems of life. But still , I found myself saddled with these onerous tasks time and again , in my family affairs, most probably due to my senior position as the eldest son of the eldest and so forth.

Yesterday, I had a round of fruitful preliminary discussion with the prospective buyer of the plot,accompanied by my two cousins who were still staying here and acted as the caretakers. Though one of them was a successful businessman and the other an influential smalltime politician,they considered themselves very unlucky to be forced to stay here . But they were very respectful of me and used to hero worship me in their younger days. I had applied all my negotiating skills learned in the course of my career and tried to be as suave and urbane as possible to make an impact on the pot bellied , bald , roundfaced developer trying to strike a deal on the property. I had gone to sleep with a relaxed mind but a heavy stomach filled up by the excellent culinary skills of my sister-in-law.

But I never expected the morning to start this way. Off course , I knew that the two storied house with the small lawn and the old Gulmohur tree was already sold and soon a highrise building would come up on that plot. But never thought that the tree would be cut down . I always took it for granted. Like the time we played under it . Me,my sister, friends and off course Renu. It was their house and naturally she was a permanent fixture of the small group of children playing around the tree. Renu was about my age , three months younger.The tree was planted by her father a year after her birth. We have always seen the tree in our childhood.
But I never expected the morning to start this way. Off course , I knew that the two storied house with the small lawn and the old Gulmohur tree was already sold and soon a highrise building would come up on that plot. But never thought that the tree would be cut down . i always took it for granted. Like the time we played under it . Me,my sister, friends and off course Renu. It was their house and naturally she was a permanent fixture of the small group of children playing around the tree. Renu was about my age , three months younger.The tree was planted by her father a year after her birth. We have always seen the tree in our childhood.

I closed my eyes and remembered those days . How vivid were they,even after so many years.Me and Renu sitting side by side under the tree after everyone else went home. Our sweaty bodies covered with the the mud and dirt after playing a vigorous game of hide and seek or king-king with a tennis ball. As dusk fell, her mother would call for her from inside and then she would jump up and run towards the door leaving me with a hurried -Come again tomorrow -smile. I used to bring my tired small body home for a wash and then a gruelling time with the home works .

For primary education we went to the same school and class. The school was about 15 minutes away and we used to walk.Everyday , in the morning , I found her , waiting for me at her gate . Both of us used to walk side by side and shared the same bench in school. Very soon, all of us,including the teachers found Renu to be a very intelligent girl and a great student. She was the darling of the Headmistress. Every school function had her as the main attraction ,whether singing,eloction ior academics.

But today was different.They were cutting the tree down. As I watched from the balcony of my bedroom with the cup of my morning tea in hand. they had brought some fancy machinery with them. Nowadays , they don't use the old method to cut trees down. I stood speechless, cup in hand as I continued to watch them cut down the tree.

How long was the tree there? I need not ask the question, as I knew the answer too well . the tree was 62 years old , planted on the first birthday of Renu by her father. How time flied. In a way , it was good that she was not here to see the tree being cut down.

Was it a coincidence that I had to be the witness to this execution. In a way , this was destined as probably I was the only one around to have had any bonding with tree . nobody remained as time had swept each and everyone off their places to new shores or to eternity. I felt like running down and stop those people around from the murderthey were committing, but still I stood ,transfixed watching the first branch come down , to the perverse joy of the small crowd of urchins, vaggabonds and passers by already gathered to witness the destruction.

The tree was planted by Renu's father on her first birthday. I was about three months older to her . Our families were friendly neighbours and her father was a very good friend of my uncle. While we were living in a joint family setup in our older three storied structure, built by my grandfather, they stayed in a relatively newer and smalller two floored house. Her father was a Doctor . So he was an important person of the area and was a social fixture. Particularly her mother was the talk of the hhouseholds around. Envy of ordinary women around , like my aunt, she was a very attractive lady who had a a beautiful voice and never refused to sing a song when requested for , in social gatherings. This made her a hit with the men folks , like my uncle who were always in awe of her.
Though we were not exactly poor, but the middleclass joint family setup in which we lived meant there were a lot of regulations in the lifestyle led by us. And also a lot of sniggering refusal of many good things in life couched by an artificial philosophical non chalance. From this cloistered existence , Renu and her family brought a freshness unknown to us. Her father was a bit of do gooder and therefore his income was not really too much as compared to todays filthy rich doctors . But nevertheless, he had a decent income and a small family helped them to maintain a lifestyle a few notches above the peers in the area.

There's was the only second house known to us to have a telephone, the other and the first off course belonged to Kaalu's whose grandfather had the largest grocery shop in the town. All our relatives were given the telephone number of Renu's house to call us in emergency and generally all the news of deaths and births in our clan were communicated to us by this phone. Also the first refrigerator that I saw was in their house. I still remember the day when Mohini au nty,that's Renu's mother served me a small plate of ice cream and said " Taste it and say . Is it sweet enough ?''
I liked to spend time at her house , more because of the liberal atmosphere and also due to her company. She was totally infatuated to me during childhood and I was always a bone of contention between her and my own sister for getting attention. Being the eldest child and son of the family, I was always pampered by everybody in the family in my childhood as everyone wanted to mould me into someone they always wanted to be. So I had to bear the burden of being a budding and potentially great engineer,singer, swimmer,philosopherand a body builder too. The last one was courtesy my younger uncle who nursed the dashed hopes of becoming Mr. India which were sacrificed at the altar of a three shift duty in a nearby factory and the arms of a very sweet and lovely wife. So my hands were really full.

But I never really wanted to be any of these. I just liked to read. I could read on and on and then fantasise about what I read. And Renu's house was a veritable treasure trove for me. Her parents were both educated and encouraged arts and literature . So they had a collection of books at their house almost like a library. Strangely , Renu did not like to read . She was more interested in playing a housewife and getting dolled up with her mother's old makeup. So it often happened during our play we always played the household game , where I used to be the head of the family, Renu, my wife and my sister our child. I used to read books while the two girls would prepare food for me . This gave me the time to read my books without getting too much involved in family matters. The same habit has persisted with me in the real life too , till this age.

I had little say in my family affairs as my wife, Sandhya is a very focussed and strong willed person. immediately after marriage, she had sized me up and came to the conclusion that I was a real misfit in this trecherous and dangerous world and should not be allowed to have any control over things outside my office . So within three months of my marriage, I found myself totally submersed in her love as well as her control over the family. In a way I was relieved to get a wife like her as I never had to worry ever in my life of anything other than her health. I have spent my best years with her and now feel uncomfortable without her at my side. To my surprise, I realised, this was one of those rare days when I was not really missing her. I was so full of memories today.

We went to the same primary school, rather upto the fifth standard or class five as we called it. I had done well in the examinations and also won a yearly scholarship of Rupees two hundred per year. This was a great achievement in my family and neighbourhood and suddenly I found myself to be the centre of attraction everywhere. Though shy and introvert by nature, I liked all the attention and was secretly thrilled with the adulation.
I got admitted to the Zilla school and Renu to R T Institution,the only girl's school of the town. Our timings were different. So we met only in the late afternoons to play with other children . But we remained close and were I continued to be a fixture in their house on holidays and school vacations. Her parents liked me very much and particularly her father who always tried to chat with me and encouraged me to read more books.

A couple of years passed this way. Then slowly there was less of those playful evenings. Somehow I found Renu to be on the sidelines under the tree and watch us play. The tree had now grown big and flowered with bright red flowers during early summer. With it we were also growing and so were our study loads.When we reached class VIII, both of us enrolled for private tuition with Chatterjee Sir, known to be a magician with maths and science subjects. Three evenings every week, we used to go together for our studies to him.

By this time the effects of growing up was fully evident on Renu while though taller,I was still without a trace of hair on my lips. I often found Renu and my sister giggling together and trying to hide things from me. They seemed to become mysterious and more homebound than before. They were now always together. I had no other close friends and was jealous of my sister dislodging me from the position of best friend to Renu. One day I tiptoed behind two of them chatting in close whispers and tried to listen to their conversation. Before my sister noticed me, and raised an alarm, some part of the conversation reached my ears. They were discussing about a movie called " Conquerors of the golden city" which had some bold scenes and was discussed in the adult circles. The movie never played in our town. But Renu had got the details from her senior cousin from Calcutta who in turn was given the gyan by a neighbourhood bhabhi who actually saw the movie with her husband. I was a bit shocked by their conversation as I never believed that they could discuss all this between them. And they seemed to be much ahead of me in growing up. I felt very sad for myself and let down as my innocence took its first beating.

The feeling of alienation from the two girls now drove me more to the boys of my age and soon I was experiencing the new found confusion of adolescence,in the company of my friends, as I learnt so much new about so many things. By the time,I was completing class VIII, I had a light shade of blue as hair growth below my nose and had a fair, but later proved naïve, idea about adulthood. These were mostly gathered from tiffin time and after school chats with friends. Particularly Kaalu was a repository of information. He seemed to know everything about adult life and the forbidden fruit. Sometimes, he would bring a small thin shoddy booklet with faded photos of mostly foreign ladies in various stages of undress and share with us the fantastic stories,jokes and swear words.In return we ensured that during exams and tests,he had full access to our answer sheets for copying. But even then the guy used to score marks below 20 in maths and science. The excitement of the new revelations kept me hooked to the gang of friends and I now spent less time with the girls. Renu was also continuing her vocal trainings in classical music. So our meetings were less frequent. Both of us , however were attending the tuition group together.

From Class IX, Renu started wearing saris to school as this was the uniform for the senior girls. She looked so grown up and lovely even in that drab blue bordered drab cotton sari that it made her an instant hit with the boys around. By now my feelings towards her had undergone a radical change due to wrong inputs and instigations from my friends, particularly Kaalu who made nasty jokes about me and Renu which turned my ears red. Secretly, I was now greatly attracted towards her as an admirer of her beauty and felt excited everytime I was near her. Our contacts had again become close because of joint studies as both of us were now preparing hard for the class X board exams. Renu may have sensed my changed attitude as see often caught me staring at her but never gave me any indications whether she liked or disliked it. I was helpless with the dual agonies of her proximity and the ribbings from my friends.
But the biggest problem for me was that I still wore half-pants, as shorts were called then. I was promised and knew that full pants or trousers would be only provided to me when I reach college. Almost all of our class mates wore half pants except a few like Kaalu who could manage full pants and smart shirts. Being the son of a businessman and shop owner, he always had some money in his pocket by appropriation from the cash in the till. But he was a very friendly and large hearted person and always shared goodies with us. I felt awkward in my half pants and in the evenings while going for tuition with Renu made it a point to wear pyjamas to look more grown up.

Days were passing rapidly and soon we were just four months away from the dreaded board exam. It was a winter evening when we had gone to Chatterjee Sir for tuition. Solution of some trigonometry questions took time and we were late in getting back. There were almost nobody on the roads and the lamps were also dim due to the low voltage and surrounding fog . At the turn of the lane , the road was totally empty and deserted. All of a sudden we found three shadows approaching us. Two of them pounced on Renu and held her. Dropping my bag, I ran madly towards them . But the third person stopped me and I felt a blow on my face. I managed to kick the person and in spite of the pain ran to free Renu. I bit the hands of a person like a dog and was being hit now by two persons simultaneously. Renu was shouting at the top of her voice and everything was happening fast. All of a sudden, there was a cycle rickshaw stopping by our side and we saw my uncle's friend Bishoo Ka getting down . Seeing both Bishoo Ka and the rickshaw puller chasing them, the three persons fled.I was wavering uncertainly on my feet and Renu was holding me. Before blacking out totally, I was only aware of her kisses on my blood stained face and the sharp sensation of her tears mingling into my wounds. She was just sobbing and saying - Oh Deepu , my sweet Deepu, my brave Deepu..........

I was aware of my exact position, only the next morning as I found my mother anxiously bending over me with her hand on my right arm. There were bandages on my forehead on me but the left side of my face was a mess. and my head was also badly bruised and swollen. My legs were also stiff. But surprisingly my hands were free and without any damage. I slowly tried to raise myself and saw others in the room. Everyone were relieved to see me awake. After about an hour, Renu and her father came to visit me. Her father inspected the damage and asked my mother to continue with the medicines and keep me on a light diet with lots of water. After he was gone only Renu was in the room.
"Didn't you go to school today ?" I asked her.
"No , I was not feeling well. I couldn't sleep the whole night " she answered, coming near and sitting near me on the bed .
Both of us were silent. Then in an involuntary gesture she held the index finger of my right hand and slowly playing with it said " Thank you Deepu " . I said nothing . Though my whole body was paining, the whole of my blood seemed to have collected on my face. After a while she was gone, leaving me in the most painful state of my life, both physically and emotionally.

I needed only a couple of days to get back on my legs and I resumed studies, in earnest, as the exam was now approaching near. Meanwhile, while a few people like my parents and aunts were unhappy with my foolhardiness in facing up the hooligans, others like my sister, uncle and my friends declared me a hero and my uncle was already detecting the potential of a great army commander or police officer in me , much to the chagrin of my mother.After two days , I rejoined school and the tuition classes. Now there was an escort for Renu , usually her father, while returning back.

The first day I went to school after that fateful night, I was given a welcome befitting Caesar or Alexander by my friends. Everybody were talking about my courage and wanted to know again and again the details of the incident. After a few narrations, I had a sneaking suspicion that people were more interested in hearing about the beating which I received. I decided to clam up and just made meaningful gestures to increase the effects.I realised how an unforced action of a few minutes could change the public perception and catapult one to the center stage. In my close circles, I found girls, particularly my sister's friends and juniors looking at me with renewed interest. In a sense, my salad years of youth had just started, with a bang, literally. And yes, I now had a scar mark on my forehead just above the eyebrows.This scar still remains to this day and is officially noted as an identifying feature on all my official documents like Passport etc.
I was rubbing my fingers on the scar now as I became aware of my niece by my side . She took away the empty cup from my hands and I followed her inside. Picking up the fresh newspaper , I tried to read it. But could not concentrate. After a while , I stopped trying. Placing the newspaper back on the table, I took a deep stretch on the easychair and closed my eyes.
I could see her, vividly , as if... it all happened only yesterday.

The culmination of school life came in the form of the much awaited board exams . As expected , I did well in the exams and waited for the results through the best summer I had in my life. There was nothing to do and I spent the days reading,playing and spending time with friends. With my mother and sister, I went to my mother's village for a fortnight. Renu was also away for a few days to her relative's place. Coming back , I found her to be lovelier and she and my sister were now always together. My visits to her house continued and we had a great time. We were allowed to watch two movies , Dosti and Haqeeqat during the vacation. The first was a story of friendship between two young boys, one blind and the other lame . The second was on the war we had three years back with China.

Though, we enjoyed our vacation , the situation around was not very good. I was now opening up to the world through newspapers and discussions with my friends. Trouble brewed up with Pakistan on the Kashmir issue and General Ayub Khan was a name much discussed by the elders in their discussion. A war was imminent. Some said it was already on. The whole country had still not recovered from the Chinese war and food rationing along with rising prices meant hardship for the middle class as well as the poor. We were now having Rotis for dinner as the price of rice increased sharply. My father often commented upon the test of the rotis and said the wheat being supplied was from America under some scheme to help Indians . It seemed they were dumping on us the surplus wheat of low quality. We were now witnessing lot of beggars on the streets and rallies by political parties in support of bandhs and hartals. A number of parties had sprung up and there was instability in the air.

The results of our board exams or Matriculation, as we called it then came out on 15th June 1965 . I still remember that day. We went to the school to see the results. I topped the school and stood first in the district. The Headmaster called me in his room and as I toched his feet, he embraced me smiling,saying -" We are proud of you" . It brought tears to my eyes. Coming out, i found Kaalu beaming with a wide smile. He had passed the exams too and managed to get the magic 30 marks in maths and science. He was really happy and promised to take me to the latest movie in town - Kashmir ki kali. I ran back home filled with joy. On the way , I stopped at Renu's house . She had also got a first division and her mother was distributing sweets. As I reached home, my mother and sister hugged me with joy. I was touching the feet of all the elders and everybody were so happy.

My cup of joy brimmed to the full when my uncle unstrapped his watch and gave it to me announcing that he would take me to the tailor in the evening to get two trousers - full pants- stitched as I would now be going to college. He was always very affectionate to me. But two trousers in those hard times was almost like a dream and actually made me feel like a prince. The celebration continued over mutton curry and rice in the afternoon and sweets in the evening . I was allowed to watch Kashmir ki kali with my friends the next day and my sister was more excited than me about this as I promised to tell her the story immediately after coming back from the show.

Next day, Kaalu took a group of seven friends at his expense to Amar talkies for the matinne show. He was whistling fluently as we seated ourselves at the front stalls , the price for which was 12 annas or 75 paise . We enjoyed the movie immensely as the antics of Shammi kapoor and the beauty of Sharmila Tagore kept us totally enthralled. When I returned, I found Renu and my sister waiting for me , both eager to get the report. I narrated the story to them and mentioned the beauty of Sharmila Tagore with such glowing terms that both the girls roared with laughter and teased me incessantly for the next ten days. To them I was a fool to have believed that the heroine was so beautiful as it was all tricks of the camera. I had later seen Sharmila Tagore at a function and found her to be more beautiful. To this day, she remains the most beautiful lady I have ever seen.

The marks I scored in my board exams ensured me a seat in the prestigious Presidency college Calcutta for the intermediate course. I went in for the combination for Physics , Chemistry and mathematics with Economics as an additional subject. Though I could get hostel accomodation, I put up with the family of one of our relatives, a cousin of my father near Baranagar, North Kolkata. Everyday, I used to take the bus to college. Renu joined the local college for the Biology course with maths as an additional subject. Girls studying science was still not very common those days and there were only three girls in her class of 58 students.

After getting over the initial emotional problems of adjusting to the city culture of Kolkata, I started liking the city and particularly the college. It had a collection of very talented persons as teachers and students and very soon I found that I was no longer the best student in my group of peers , unlike the feeling I always had since my childhood. But I studied hard. on the personal front, I was lucky to have a cousin Rana da , two years senior to me whose room I shared and with whom I bonded very soon to build a great friendship . He acted as my mentor and introduced me to the unknown facets of the city life. As I got over my initial bout of homesickness, I made many new friends and explored the city with them.

I visited my family once in a fortnight or during vacations and invariably visited Renu. By now , I was head over heels in love with her but her easy behaviour with me never let me express my feeling towards her. She used to jokingly tell me the atttention she got from the seniors and also showed me two love letters that she had already received. I tried to keep a straight face while she read them but seeting inside with rage. How dare they write to her in this way? And why was she so callously reading them to me ? My face must have given me away as Renu asked me sweetly "Are you feeling jealous Deepu? " I kept mum and and did not answer her.

Renu had a great voice and practiced singing regularly. But after participating in the college function she became widely popular and was now called at many cultural events. Naturally,the number of her admirers also grew exponentially. The only persons who resented this was me , as I was jealous and her mother who though liberal was not happy with the outside influence on her daughter's academics. She often complained to me on this. But Renu seemed to be taking all the adulation in her stride.

Renu seemed to like Botany very much and often showed off her new found knowledge on me and my sister. She insisted on telling us the names of all the trees and plants around and this became a common joke between us . One day as we were standing under the gulmohur tree, I pointed to the tree and asked her the botanical name . Renu looked at me with a contemptuous smile and said - " you silly goat, never ask me such easy questions again, Gulmohur tree is called Delonix Regia ". All of us had a good laugh but I liked the name very much. It was not as difficult as other botanical names and sounded sweet on the ears.
My eyes became moist with the happpy memories of those funfilled days. But those days never stayed long with me. Very soon life brought me face to face with the harsh realities , fate had in store for me. But then when I look back, it was not only me. At least, I could steer my life to a certain direction and salvaged my life from the brink of disasster. But so many of my contemporaries, friends , a whole generation had to pay for the follies of misguided adventures fuelled by a senseless orgy of hate and fatricide under the garb of politics. I myself lost so much in those troubled times that I wish nobody ever have to go through it again.

The year was 1967. The air was thick with promises of a revolution. Naxalbari happened and an avalanche of unfettered energy unleashed itself . It carried away the youth along with it. Kolkata and particularly Presidency was the hotbed of activities as a number of students got underground. Murders,bandhs and processions became a daily part of our lives .Trams and buses were set to fire. Tear gas and bullets were no longer novelties. Human life had no meaning . I had passed the Intermediate classes and got admission to the Physics honours course . But the classes were regularly boycotted. One day I was approached by four seniors near the chemistry lab. I knew them,very well. One of them, Sujan was a topper from the Arts stream. He was already a name mentioned in the newspapers . Rumour had it that he took part in the action which accounted for the death of a prominent Congress leader and two policemen.

Without any prelude, Sujan looked directly in my eyes and said - "Deepu , I find you always away from all union activities. Are you one of those petit bourgeios scums " Before I could answer , he said " Come to the common room today after five. I will introduce you to Ashimda . " And then they walked away. i was left with a strange feeling. On one hand , I was offended that they tried to browbeat me. On the other hand I was afraid. A cold feeling of doom swept through me. i knew very well the consequences of refusing. I will be branded as a counter revolutionary and hounded , may be eliminated. As I walked along the tramlines of college street, i found a huge poster of Mao Tse Tung with the slogan China's chairman, our Chairman. I decided to return home.

when I returned to my uncle's place, I found the house in total disarray. My uncle was not at home and my aunt was crying as some ladies from the neighbourhood were trying to console her. A sense of premonition engulfed me. I rushed towards her . From her incoherent sentences I could gather that the police had raided the house and took away Ranada with them on the charge of being a Naxalite member. I was stunned . Uncle was at the police station. I went there. I found him in a state of shock inside the lockup with some other boys. I recognised two of them as active political activists of the area. Uncle was not at the police station. Half an hour later he came in with the local MLA. On his intervention and after signing a bond, Ranada was released, very late at night.

After returning home, on the advice of the MLA , it was decided that Ranada would be sent out of Kolkata, for a few months, till the situation in Kolkata improved. As I also needed a break , me and Ranada left Kolkata after two days for our home. Reaching home I was relieved and looked forward to some peace with my family and the company of Renu. But fate had something else in store for me. Just five days after I landed home, my father suffered a massive stroke at midnight and was admitted to the hospital. He never recovered and passed away after three days . I was devastated. a bleak future was gaping at me. My uncle was the only earning member of the family now and my father had not left much of savings for us. Days passed and I became more depressed . Even the company of Ranada and Renu could not lift my spirits and the sight of my mother in white dress of a widow made me more desperate to do something for the family.

News from Calcutta was not encouraging as the Government had ordered a crackdown and the colleges were almost dysfunctional. Ranada left for Nagpur to look for a job. His relatives lived there. I went back to Calcutta and tried to pick the pieces of my life. I enrolled myself in a night college and looked for a job. I managed to float around with some odd jobs and also a couple of private tuitions to kids helped me to earn my living. My visits to my home town became less and irregular. Renu was now in the final year of College but she seemed unsure of her future. She wanted to be a singer but her parents were not very keen on this. During my visits, I could feel a certain aloofness from her side and gradually news about her relationship with Sanjay , a singer reached my ears. Whenever, I visited home , I had all the updates on the town from Kaalu , who now looked after their family business and had also married .

Renu never told me about her relationship with Sanjay but I noticed that Sanjay was now a regular visitor to their house. Both of them practiced together in her room. Her parents did not approve of this and tension was apparent in their household. Ours was a small town, so soon people around were also speaking about them. One day even my sister commented upon this saying - "Renu di has made a very bad choice. Sanjay will ditch her oneday." I never wanted to be a part of these discussions as I felt jealous and depressed even to think of Renu being in love with someone else.

My thoughts took a break as my cousins came to discuss with me the terms of the land deal which was now finalised. It was decided that our old house would be sold . The buyer had even proffered an advance of one lakh for this . There was a general feeling of relief and happiness around. I had my bath and sat for lunch with my cousins . The two sisters in law were constantly imploring me to taste this and that which they had prepared. After lunch and a short round of discussion, I was left alone, again with my thoughts.

I could still remember that afternoon . Just after lunch, I went to Renu's house to return a book which I had borrowed from her. The front door opened as I touched it.There was nobody downstairs . I remembered that Renu's parents were to attend some social function today. I wanted to surprise Renu and warn her on the risk of keeping the front door open , this way. I tiptoed upstairs and reached the passage by the side of her room . The biggest shock and surprise awaited me there.

The moaning sound should have warned me. But my eyes could not believe what I saw. Renu and Sanjay were lying on the bed together, their bodies intertwined, in a conjugal height of passion. My eyes burned like hot coal and found my senses going numb. Very slowly, I managed to tiptoe down the stairs without making a sound and came out of the house, silently. Coming back home, I packed my bag and left for Calcutta. My mind was in a rage. I could not think of anything else as the scene flashed in my senses making me angry, frustrated and helpless. On reaching my room, however, the whole mood changed within a second. A letter was waiting for me.

I had applied for a clerical job in banks and had appeared for a few written tests . This was a call for interview from United Bank . The gloom hanging over me lifted immediately. But that night was a difficult night for me to pass. I tossed and turned throughout the endless night in agony as I found, to my surprise that my hopeless love for Renu had not diminished, even a bit after the shock of my life.

It took a few days for me to overcome the mental effects of the incident. But preparation for the impending interview helped. Three months after the interview, I received a call for medical checkup and offered a job with posting at Bongaigaon, Assam. I was elated but at the same time a little unsure about leaving Calcutta and stay so far away from my family. Meanwhile, I had not visited them. So it was with a big box of Sandesh , that I reached home, much to the happiness of my mother and sister. I had already wrote to them about the distinct possibility of the job. But they were also sad about my posting, so far away from home.

Renu came to congratulate me. She had grown more beautiful and glowing. But there was a general air of tentativeness about her. As if she decided to say something but stopped herself. Strangely, I found myself tonguetied and unsure as she went on pulling my legs , in her old way. As she was leaving, she asked me - "Deepu when are you leaving for Bongaigaon ?"

" Next Monday. By Kamrup express , from Howrah." I replied.

" So we won't meet soon . Isn't it ? " she said turning back. " I have a small gift for you. Collect it from your sister when you visit home next time."

" Why , where will you be going ?" I said.

She gave me a most mysterious smile and said " Life is so uncertain, Deepu." and then walked away.

I had to get up now and prepare for my journey back. I should catch the 5 p.m. train , else it would be very late. As I dressed and packed my small bag , I was feeling strange . I looked up and found the framed black and white photograph of my grandfather on the wall. I wanted to keep the photo with me. My cousin promised to pack it and send it to me. After a round of tea and farewell comments, I came out with my nephew carrying my bag . He would escort me to the station.We too a rickshaw .
They had cut down the tree fully.The branches were piled up on the side of the road. A sense of gloom covered me as I passed the old house with its faded moss covered walls . The setting sun was casting a sad glow on it. Perhaps this was the most sad evening for me. Here I was, leaving the town where I was born and brought up, perhaps never to return again. The cutting down of the Gulmohur tree was just the culmination of this rupture in my bonds with this place. a deep sense of emptyness filled me completely. I remained silent throughout the ride to the station.
I did not have to wait much. For once, the train was on time.My nephew found my seat and guided me to it. As he touched my feet before leaving me, I embraced him silently. Tears welled to my eyes and I embraced him as if he was the entire town itself. I controlled myself from the brink of an emotional breakdown and releasing him, took off my spectacles and cleaned them. With a croak in the voice , I tried to swallow the lump in my throat and asked him to get down off the train in an avuncular fashion.
As the train started, I waved to the receding figure of my nephew waving back to me still it faded away with the gathering speed of the train. The canvas outside was now in a whirl in the soft orange hue of the setting Sun. Darkness soon engulfed everything and as I stared into it I could only see the memories of some other days flickering along before my eyes in a random collage.
I never met Renu again after she left me that day, slightly intrigued with the promise of a gift. I left for Calcutta enroute to Bongaigaon early next morning. Twelve days after I reached Bongaigaon , I received a letter from my sister. The contents left me shattered. I sat, transfixed with the blue inland mail opened in my hand. Renu had left home. She had eloped with Sanjay two days after I left town. The evening before she had visited my sister and gave her a sweater which she had knit herself , for me and a small sealed envelope. She looked very disturbed and had hugged my sister , uncharacteristically , before leaving. my sister was surprised but events thereafter explained everything.
Renu's running away from home created a major scandal in our small town. It was something which was discussed for many days. But like all such events, the ripple had its natural death. Renu's father was devastated . He made no attempts to trace Renu, in a fit of anger though both he and his wife spent their nights,without a touch of sleep in their eyes waiting for their daughter to return.
After about six months, I got an opportunity to visit my home again as I was sent to Calcutta for a training. My sister was in tears as she handed me the red and blue coloured sweater and the envelope which Renu had left with her . As I touched the sweater, I felt her as I did from my childhood. I opened the envelope with trmbling hands. Inside was a small note scribbled in her own hand - "Best of luck, Deepu. Bongaigaon will be cold in the winters. Wear this sweater and impress the local girls. I hope you find a nice girl for yourself. You really deserve the best . Be a good boy and never leave hope. Remember me. "
Reading the note, I was beyond every possible boundaries of emotional barrier. Forgetting everything, the presence of my sister, the shame of breaking down,the futility of crying over someone who could never be mine, I wept.
All of a sudden something welled within me. It was more like a river in tide. Ravaging floods sweeping away everything to plunder the banks. I could just manage to see her fade out and dissolve in the crowd ,for one last time. She was gone now. As the full force of the floods now hit me , stronger than ever. Waves after waves of desperation engulfed me , in repeated succession, without any chance of respite. My legs were giving away.I was no more able to stand on them. In a slow motion, I heaped on the ground on my knees,bend and thrust my face within the two palms of my hand, seeking the elusive sanctuary. I could feel the warmth of my tears streaking down the cheeks and tasted its saltiness on my lips. My whole existence came to a naught in these few seconds. Nothing could hold me back. Not even the embarrassment of making a scene in public. I wept without any restraint. The walls were now coming down,with a heart wrenching sound and flowing away with the flood waters.

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