1985: Mid November: North Kolkata
Happiness has a very mystique aura & a very peculiar nature. When & how it will come nobody knows. But definitely when it will come; it will leave its mark prominently in your surroundings. Suddenly it mesmerised you by its aura and every normal thing around you will become magical. You would love to be watching them.
Ranjan Raychaudhuri, the bright, young IAS officer, was just thinking about those above lines when he was waiting in a traffic signal. A sharp nasty sound of a defective electric horn, originated from similarly dirty looking old Austin car, just beside him, broke the thread of his thoughts.
If it was like any other days, Ranjan did not know how he would react to it, but that day he just smiled and shifted the gear from neutral to one. He was happy in the genuine sense that day. Every day’s irritating traffic, unbearable cacophony, those half naked beggars, that lost kite which was hanging through an electric pole. He likes all these; all of them. Happiness actually never exits outside, it is always inside, unfortunately we spent our entire life desperately looking for the same all the places except inside.
Ranjan smiled in his own thoughts. One joyous news turned him in to a philosopher from a diplomatic bureaucrat.
Few Hours before in writer’s building, Ranjan just came out from Chief secretaries’ room, office boy come and said,
“Sir, you have a phone call from your home.”
Ranjan came to his cabin and pick the phone receiver and said,
“Is it my dear husband?” Nirmala asked from the other end.
“Yes, my dear wife, suddenly in working hour your phone, a pleasant surprise. Is everything all right at home?”
“Yes, yes, everything is ok. Why can’t I call you just like that?”
“Yes, you definitely can, but I am not used to it. That’s it.”
“Basically, I just want to discuss one serious matter with you urgently.”
“I think we are not doing Justice to Rajat. We are not taking care of him properly.”
It perplexed Ranjan what she was talking about. His son was only two years old. They surrounded all love and care for him only. He didn’t express his feelings and said normally,
“What do you actually mean by that?”
“I mean, he is growing up, and he is felling very lonely. Nobody is with him all the time to play together.”
Rajat was about to say that, “we all are there for him” but suddenly one thought came to his mind, he said,
“Nirmala, is this the thing what I am thinking of?”
Nirmala giggled and said,
“Mr. Raychaudhuri, do you know? That you are a smart bureaucrat. Bye for now.”
Nirmal did not wait for Ranjan’s next word and hanged the phone.
Even after call was disconnected, Ranjan was holding the receiver. He thought that; then he was correct. Nirmal got pregnant again. The Aura of happiness started mixing slowly in his consciousness. He was smiling silently. Sound of the dial tone of phone brought him back to the reality. Ranjan put the receiver on the cradle and pushed his chair’s head rest back. He was looking at an old rusty, noisy & ugly celling fan of his office but his eyes were full of happy future moments.
Ranjan lost his father in a very early stage of life. He could not remember him properly, even. His mother, Damayanti, brought him up alone, after his father’s demise. She was a bearer of a true noble royal bloodline. Her dignity, personality and graceful presence reinforce the same every moment. Nirmala was not his mother’s first choice, even was not a choice at all. But he understood his son very well & he knew that Ranjan’s choice was Nirmala. She knew that time was changing and to keep the control in hand she needed to adopt certain things. There was nothing wrong with Nirmala. She belongs to rich & aristocrat family, studied in convent school, except she did not carry any nobility of royal blood line. One thing probably all royal blood line carries with their genes & that is finest level of diplomacy. Damayanti was also not an exception. She never made Nirmala feel she did not like her, but she never allowed her to come closer to two things, one was her heart & another was their pooja’s room. Nirmala’s first day in this house, she tactically conveyed this message through their family priest that without a royal blood nobody allowed to enter this pooja room.
Even it was a arrange marriage for them, but Ranjan started liking her when he first saw her. Eventually, after marriage, that turned into a strong feeling of love for her. Ranjan just parked the car and entered house. Damayanti was reading a book with full concentration, when relaxing in her favourite easy chair. Ranjan sat in front of her mother. Damayanti folded the page and closed the book. Then she put her spectacle down & looked at Ranjan with a smiling face. Ranjan just placed her head in mother’s lap. Damayanti knew whenever Ranjan was thrilled or extremely sad, he looked for this place, his own place of comfort. Damayanti placed her hand over Ranjan’s head and started brushing his hair with fingers. After some silent moment, she asked,
“What happen? Everything is all right at the office?”
“Yes, maa. Do I need a reason for this?”
“Have I said you that.”
Damayanti said & then both laughed.
Winter was sending the message that she is coming by shortening the daytime. Slowly a smoky shadow of darkness covered the veranda, including the mother & son. Damayanti asked politely,
“Ranjan, you need to get up. My evening worship time is near.”
“Maa, five minutes more.”
Damayanti knew Ranjan’s love and care for her so genuinely since his childhood that she couldn’t refuse any of his request on his face. She loved her son very much but some time she needed to tweak between mother’s love and her royal duty.
Nirmala was standing alone in front of a window. The lights of Kolkata city started sparkling one by one. From far, the sound of blowing conch was coming. One street hawker was still canvassing his product while walking through the lane. Nirmala always liked this specific time of the day and loved to watch this metamorphosis of the city. But today yet she was watching the same, but not able to relish. It agitated her inside. Some unknown fear was eating her mind like an invisible termite. Suddenly she felt a warm breath on her neck. She knew it was Ranjan. very well-known smell of perfume already declared that this was her very own man. Nirmala turned back and put her arms around Ranjan’s neck and said,
“Now you get the time to meet your wife. For so long, I was waiting for you.”
“I am so happy for you. You made my life so joyful that I never imagine. Thank you.”
Ranjan Observed that his happiness was not spreading to his wife’s face. He thought for a while and then asked,
“What is the issue, Nirmala? Is that the same fear you are facing again?”
Nirmala just nodded that somehow she was not making eye contact with him.
Ranjan walked towards her and then held her tightly with his powerful arms and then said,
“I told you last time that I will not obey those stupid rules of our family. If needed, I will talk to maa and she will not deny my request. I told you that before too, then why you are so scared.”
“Have you told maa about this?”
“No, lets visit the Dr. Bakshi first and then I shall tell her in right time. You don’t need to worry about it.”
Next day morning Ranjan dropped Nirmala to Dr. Bakshi’s clinic and left for office.
“Call me up once you reached the house after test.” Ranjan Said.
“Yes, I will.”
That day Chief minister had called an urgent meeting with all concern bureaucrats. So Ranjan was not in his cabin for quite a long time. Once he had returned to his cabin, the office boy came and said,
“Sir, in last two hours, ten phone calls came from your home. Requested you to call back.”
Ranjan made a sign with a hand to bring some tea for him, then he dialled home telephone number. After two rings, Nirmala picked up the Phone.
“You called me many times; sorry I was in a meeting with CM. Have you done with your test today? Is result come out?”
“Yes.” Nirmala said it in a very serious tone.
“So, what is it?”
“Ranjan, this time Lord Narayan does not bless us.” Nirmala was sobbing.
Ranjan took a brief pause and concealed his own worry. He said it calmly,
“Why are you so tensed and crying? Even it’s a girl, she is our own child. I will talk to maa tonight and make her understand that those centuries old customs do not have any value in these modern days. I am confident she will not refuse my request.”
Ranjan said those words calmly to comfort Nirmala. Inside he knew it was not an effortless task, he was going to change a rule of Raychaudhuri family’s which was there for more than centuries and not a single man abled to change it, till date.
After dinner Ranjan knocked on the door of Damayanti and said,
“Maa, may I come in?”
Damayanti was just going to sit for her night prayer, she knew if it was not absolute emergency no one dare to disturb. She just tried to calculate the possible urgent scenario quickly, but not able to come to any conclusion. Then she said,
“Yes, Ranjan, please come inside. What happened? Is everything all right?”
“Yes maa, all is good.”
Damayanti understood that there was no emergency right now. Her intelligence also made her understand maybe it was an expected future emergency or might be bigger than that. She sat in crossed leg on the bed and wrapped herself with pashmina. Damayanti could foresee that he would not finish this discussion in a brief span of time. She looked straight to Ranjan and kept waiting till the time Ranjan opened up.
Ranjan thought of three or four options, that how he would present this entire thing to Damayanti, but at that moment he did not find any of them effective. Then he decided he would make it straight and simple.
Ranjan finally said,
“Maa, there is news for you. Nirmala is pregnant.”
“That’s excellent news.” Damayanti said it in very flat but in inquisitive tome.
“Maa, there is a minor problem in it. This time it’s a girl child.”
Damayanti remains silent for a few seconds and then said,
“Then also you know the customs of Raychaudhuri family.”
Damayanti was still not clear why Ranjan came to discuss this thing in so late of night.
Ranjan said softly,
“Yes, I know that, but Maa, we want to have this girl this time. I need your blessings for the same.”
Damayanti suddenly became alert. Ranjan did not use the word ‘permission’, he used ‘blessings’. It meant Ranjan already took his decision. She still tried, she said,
“No, you can’t. You know that. We have no girl child in this blood line. That is the only strict rituals we are following for so long and no deviation at all. How could you think to break that?”
“Maa, this is utter nonsense you are asking. Please understand people will lough at us for our foolish rules. I can understand when this ritual started there was a purpose, but still it was a brutal process.”
“What you try to point?”
“Maa, they started this ritual when kings are used to rule. They don’t trust anybody, so they need an own blood line to protect their kingdom generation after generation. A son only can fulfil that purpose so entire social inclination to male child had been increase. But if you compare with today, it’s a useless rule, no purpose in today’s context. We, the so called Raychaudhuri’s, follow that ritual blindly and filling our hand with the innocent girl’s blood strain, generation after generation. Don’t you think we should stop this right here right now.”
“Ranjan, please control your harshness. You are talking about your own forefathers, not others. Second, what about our own family progression? If we don’t have a son and grandson who will take our blood line forward.”
“Maa, is this not a barbaric custom? How many generations will we keep on killing girl child in the name of family progression? Maa, I could even understand thought process of the people who are uneducated, poor and leaving bottom of the social pyramid. They think a son is a resource, he can add on earning. But a daughter is a liability and burden. Somehow, I feel we are more culprit than those people. You know why? Because we kill those girls in the name of ritual, pride, aristocracy, honour & family progression. Where we, who are so-called elite families, should encourage girls to grow so that rest part of society adopts the same. But look at today’s world, maa, a daughter is not less than a son in any virtue. Women are performing better than any men in their respective fields.”
“Ranjan, we have lost everything post-independence and keep on loosing day by day till now. We lost our land, our subjects, our honour, our dignity, everything we earn after hard work of generation after generation. We can’t lose our blood line too. That’s the only thing we can take forward.” Damayanti said rigidly.
Ranjan Shrugged her shoulders in utter frustration. He took some pause. Then get control over his emotions then he said,
“Maa, being a woman, how could you ask to kill another woman? Why a woman can’t stand with another woman when it is needed. Being a man, if I can understand this then why can’t you?”
Damayanti did not respond to that. Ranjan finally said,
“you deny none of my request since my childhood. I still believe in your intellect and judgment power. Please consider my request and bless our girl.”
Damayanti knew Ranjan was adamant. More discussion will lead to further argument. She understood she could not win this war in hand to hand combat. She concealed her bona fide emotions and said calmly,
“Ranjan, I can’t say that I am happily accepting your proposal, but to me, nothing comes first when it’s a matter of your happiness. So, I may not support you but will not stand against your way too.”
Ranjan feels relief inside. Finally, his mother had agreed. That would be glorious news for Nirmala. He smiles & said,
“I knew, Maa, you will never refuse my requests. It’s already too late. Please complete your prayer and go to sleep.”
Damayanti smiled and nodded as a loving mother. If his overjoyed mind did not blur his vision, he could see the sign of thunderstorm in his mother’s cold eyes.
Damayanti started rotating the prayer beads silently. Her mind was full of anger. She did not know what she would do, but she would not allow this girl to take birth in this mortal world for sure.
A week already passed after all those discussions. Life was moving as usual. The fear of Nirmala started fading away slowly. She knew Ranjan was excited about this girl child. He was so excited about her that last six days he was continuously talking about only her, so many plans he had already made for his lovely daughter. Ranjan was out of town since yesterday because of the official trip to Delhi. Nirmala was also started thinking about her daughter how long a mother can be away from her daughter. She was a little absentminded with all those thoughts. At then, an old servant of the house came and informed her that Damayanti was calling her in pooja’s house.
Nirmala looked at the old wall clock. That was Damayanti time to stay at pooja’s room. This time she met nobody, even it was an extreme urgency. That astonished her. She started walking towards that with a very slow footstep. She was feeling very uneasy inside, like something very uncanny was going to happen soon.
Damayanti was sorting and washing fresh flowers from a big plate for puja. She was wearing a milk white silk sari with no border. She knotted tightly her hair on top; silver hairs were complementing her dress. She sat crossed legs on a mat in the floor, kept her spinal absolutely straight, from far she was appearing as a royal yogini.
Nirmala always tried to avoid this part of the house. Every time she came in front of pooja’s room, it always made her realise she was not part of this family. She could not cross the doorway of pooja’s room. She had not earned that. This sense of feeling always pinched her ego & feelings. She knew she would be a second-class member in this great Raychaudhuri family for the rest of her life.
Nirmala slowly came to the doorway of puja’s room and mumbled,
“Maa, are you looking for me?”
Damayanti didn’t turn her head, but she said,
“Yes, Nirmala, I need to discuss certain things with you. Hope this will interrupt none of your urgent work.”
“Not at all, maa. Please order me. What can I do for you?”
From her first day in this house, she was trying to please her mother-in-law, but she knew very well she was unsuccessful each time. Damayanti never expressed her displeasure with her actions or words, but Nirmala felt it all the time.
Damayanti said in a very cosy tone,
“I understand your pain Nirmala, being a wife of this family, we did not allow you to serve our Kul Devta. Even you can’t enter this puja room. It’s really very unfortunate. Not only that, if you don’t earn the right to serve the Kul Devta then that right will be transferred to our distanced cousins. You already know very well that who has that right, she will dominate in all decision making of entire Raychaudhuri family.”
Nirmala could not understand why she was digging all these old wounds of her. Whatever she was saying, she heard those things lots of time. She was feeling disgusted, but she was not exposing her internal feelings. She was standing still in the doorway and looking at ground.
“I know you don’t want to listen to all this, again & again, but that was not my purpose of today. You know Ranjan has a very modern mentality & above this he also works for a leftist government. Nowadays his entire friend circle is full of leftist comrade and self-declared intellectuals. You know what leftist are? they don’t believe neither god nor devil.” Damayanti gave a very shocking expression through her body language after saying the last line.
Nirmala was patiently waiting. Where was this discussion leading to? Damayanti took a long breath and then continue,
“So, I don’t expect from him he will understand the sentiment of this family, rituals, legacy. But I do it a lot from you, Nirmala. I know you had given your best all the time to maintain this legacy. You know, Nirmala, it’s the misfortune for all daughters-in -law that whatever they have done, those were never enough. Today I want to change that misfortune. I made my mind this time. I shall announce you as a part of our royal blood stream & spoke to head priest too. A small yajna may be needed to perform, that’s all. However, my endorsement is good enough for you to continue this royal duty after me.”
Damayanti looked sharp & started observing the expressions of Nirmala.
Nirmala could not believe what she actually heard. How Lord Narayana & Mother Laxmi granted her so long wish in this unexpected way. It exhilarated her at that moment & it was coming out clearly from her body language.
Observing the same, Damayanti was smiling inside her mind by thinking that she hit the right place. Now she brought the last arrow from her quiver. She said with some hesitation.
“You know Nirmala, a slight problem we have in this entire process.”
“What is that, maa?” Nirmala asked the same anxiously.
“You know all these relatives of ours, they are always wanting to pull us down. They are just waiting for one mistake of ours so that they can snatch the power centre from our family. You can not deny that you don’t carry any royal blood line. Somehow, I manage that part even, but giving birth to a girl child now will be a devastating step. I may not manage both issues same time.”
A well-known fear suddenly wrapped around Nirmala. She asked in a very shaken voice.
“What you are asking me to do, maa?”
In an indifferent tone, Damayanti said,
“I am not forcing you, it’s still your own decision. I suggest you for abortion of the child. You know, you can conceive again a child in the future, once you became part of Royal clan.”
Nirmala can’t express her shock. Suddenly she felt that someone had thrown darkness into her vision; it was getting dark to darker each time.
Nirmala fell in ground. She was totally unconscious.