“O Mitul! What a mistake I have done leaving your grandpa!” – I heard grandma crying again.
By then I had spent three days in her home. That gave me ample time to get myself accustomed with her usual lamentation about leaving her husband years back. It was the last day of my stay with her. I already began questioning myself whether my visiting her place was at all necessary. I gathered an experience which I could not have unless I was so curious to know my distant relatives. But did I at all need to collect these kinds of stories where I would not have any way to help the characters in distress? I was angry with myself for my inquisitive nature which dragged me to discover the unknown.
Yes, I was responsible for creating the bitter taste in my mouth early in the morning. My father had transferable job and that was one reason I was brought up outside the realm of our extended family members. Being a grown up modern Indian woman, I assumed searching for my root a sacred responsibility. My mother always discouraged me to take much trouble to find them and reconnect. But I have young blood in veins – discouraging parents seem monstrous enemies sometimes. I began making a list of relatives I have never seen with a determination to meet them one by one. I came to know many already left the country, some stay in North Carolina, some in Netherlands and some could be traced in Nigeria; rest of them are living scattered in the lanes and by lanes of Calcutta as well as in the humble suburb homes around the city. I started meeting them one by one. I was not much interested in people staying abroad. Life abroad is not diverse, I think. I was more interested to explore Indian diversities. And I did!
I met an uncle in a north Calcutta bylane who left his job of a linguistics professor with a reputed government college to open an umbrella repairing shop near the college. He mesmerized me with his knowledge of socio-linguistics which had helped him to discover the relationship between broken umbrella and broken human language families. He realised the absurdity of repairing language families, hence decided to start repairing umbrellas. The aunt seemed eager to find a good psychiatrist. And I left his home wondering how could his wife consider a man with such a divine smile a madman?
My quest encouraged me to take a local train journey on a winter morning – against my screaming parents – in search of an aunt who stays in a village named Kamardanga. This aunt is my father’s cousin married to a paint dealer. I knew nothing else about them except the fact they have two daughters of my age who got married as soon as they turned eighteen. But I felt an irresistible urge to explore the village which literarily means ‘the land of blacksmiths.” Being a student of social science, I assumed some association between the name of the place and its inhabitants. My father told me their home would be beside a mosquito-filled marshland. As I began searching for the home following his instructions, I realized how our previous generation continues misguiding us throughout our lives. Thank Evil I don’t listen to them! None of tea-stall owners in the jam-packed station could tell where exactly a marshland was located there. Outside the station it was a concrete road crowded with pedestrians, auto-rickshaws, cycle-rickshaws, and roadside vendors instead of brick-built narrow road with large trees on both sides. There was no chance of locating a pond there as per my father’s direction. Moreover people felt humiliated as I asked them the direction to a marshland. “Neither have we mosquitoes here, nor marshland. How dare you humiliate our developed city?” A middle-aged pan-seller scolded me. Still I could not deny my father’s direction completely; took up walking towards right and then first right and second left – yes I spotted the third house in my left but it was blue and white two storied one instead of red one storied. Fortunately the big brass nameplate of Mr. Gangadhar Guin in front door helped me to identify the owner to be my uncle. My half day’s stay with them turned exciting with loads of sweets for lunch and stories of my father’s thinness during his childhood. Unfortunately my aunt and uncle could not help me trace any large tribe of blacksmith there.
Those two meetings were the stimulating factors behind my visiting this lady’s place. She is a distant cousin of my grandma, only ten years older than my mother. I wanted to see this grandma while I have seen none of my grandmas. Another reason was her story. My mother told that she was the first lady in family who left her husband and started staying with another lady some years back – and that information rejoiced my revolutionary soul. During my work with a reputed NGO, I have seen a survey report predicting lesbianism as most preferable and highly fashionable relationship mantra for Indian women. They should have told me that we already have such a trendsetting couple in our family too! I set out to visit her next morning.
She seemed nice and open. She was running a women’s garments boutique in front of her home – a rented old-fashioned one-storied building. My mother told me she was an excellent designer. The crowd that I could see from outside showed me the popularity of the boutique in that area. I entered the courtyard though a small side gate; the maid informed her about me and she came running from her shop to see me. I felt her warmth in her embrace, saw her watery eyes, and felt fortunate. She took me to the boutique. Her creative genius stitched in the skirts and blouse and cholis and sararas on display amazed me – she was an expert in dressing up women it seemed.
I met her partner, a sewing teacher in a school, in the evening. Her sight shocked me – the dark, extremely thin, tall lady with an unfriendly face and rude penetrating eyes was opposite to my fat jolly grandma not only in looks but also in behavior. She gazed at me sharply as grandma introduced me, gave a curved smile with a corner of her lips and retired into the bedroom.
It was a two bedroom house. After a sumptuous dinner, as I tried to indulge in my usual night reading, I realized why a reader like me should never stay in the same house with a lover couple; a thin wall between two rooms is not enough to obstruct the sound of their lovemaking.
To Be Continued in part 2…
The lady’s behavior didn’t change. My grandma looked little lost in the morning. Anyway the daily routine followed after breakfast. Her friend left for school, she to her boutique, and I to a reclining chair with my book. During lunch she revealed, “I have done a mistake by leaving him!”
“What led you doing that – I mean, if you find that a mistake.” – I asked.
Her big round face looked pale. “He could not please me the way I wanted. You may not understand” – she whispered.
“I know you are in a relationship. Did you left him because you fell in love with her?
‘’No, she was not there that time. I left him when Sumati was five. She was born ten years after our marriage. With her I went back to my parent’s home first, later as they did not want to let me stay there, I left them too. I took a room in the locality, and started sewing cloths for neighbourhood ladies. I was stubborn.” – She was looking at her plate while talking.
“When did Saramadi join you then?” – I was curious to know everything.
“I met her around fifteen years back. My business was expanding. We decided to stay together. Staying in the same one room was not possible any longer. Shifted here and opened the boutique.”
“Why do you regret if you are happy now?”- I threw another question which she did not reply. I realized she needed silence.
I wanted to leave next day but she continued requesting me to stay another day. Three days passed.. She lamented same way during lunch, giving no further detail. We had the scope to sit together and talk for that half an hour only. She was too busy otherwise. Her friend was not in a mood to talk to me. Both of them needed time to talk about business in private in the evening. I did not want to penetrate as well.
Sarama di looked relieved the day I packed my rucksack. Before leaving home that day, she asked me where I worked giving me a nice smile. My grandma came back from boutique early before lunch and I heard that incomprehensible cry from the bottom of her heart once again as she was sitting on a stool before me. “O Mitul! What a mistake I have done leaving your grandpa!”
I could not resist asking her, “Why do you repeat that if you don’t want to go back to your husband’s place? How is he? Did he marry after you left?”
She sounded sad like never before, “He didn’t; he is there. It is I who left – my fault, at young age, I was too proud to go back. Then I lost courage to go back…and I love Sarama.”
“Fine, why do you cry then?” – I saw her tears welled up in her eyes.
“See this!” I did not realise she was not wearing a blouse as she covered her body with a shawl on the saree. She uncovered her back, and the sight was horrible! The entire space below her shoulder to the waist was bruised with black and blue marks, as if she was beaten with a scale of something like that. “Love marks.” – she whispered. I lost my voice out of terror; took several seconds to express my anger, “Why don’t you leave her right now? Can’t you come with me?”
“I won’t be able to do business without her support. I need another few years to stand on my own feet. Moreover I love her, cannot stay without her. She loves me too, I believe. This she does out of an emotion that probably you won’t understand.”
I really did not understand love that leads to this kind of torture and tolerance; especially her helpless mourning about living her husband made the story too complicated for me. I also knew that her daughter, Sumati masi, a schoolteacher stays in Durgapur alone. I did not understand why grandma was not asking for her help; kept my mouth shut understanding my limitations to comprehend complex relationship issues. I left that afternoon.
I heard another half of the story of hers from my mother and Sumati masi later. Saramadi was one of four siblings of her parents for whom they did not find a suitable groom. After they started staying together, she did not want Sumati masi becoming a hurdle between them; hence she was sent to hostel. Her father sponsored her higher education. Both of the ladies invested equal amount while opening the boutique. They also had a contract that grandma would get 10 percent of profit for first 20 years and then she would become the owner of the boutique. Sumati masi did not have idea why that kind of a contract was made, but she suspects involvement of Saramadi’s family members in making that kind of tricky clauses. Grandma was blinded by love – she said. Yes she knew her mother was getting beaten up sometimes, but all her efforts to convince her to leave Saramadi and boutique went in vein. Both lovers were inseparable.
I never felt like seeing my relatives after this. My logical mind prevented me to intervene or visit the lover couple again. After three years I got the news of grandma’s death. She was suffering from some uterine issue and needed a surgery. By the time Sumati masi received the news, it was already too late.
They say Love is blind. And I saw an example.