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Rajani and the twins moved from their gigantic ancestral home to a modest apartment,
He continued working, but had lost interest. Only two clients remained with him, the rest hired his son who now also usurped his office. So with a very modest salary he began to educate and care for his granddaughters. He became father and mother, friend and teacher; he became their anchor in the stormy sea of life.
It would be time for weekly nail cutting, ear cleaning, hair oiling sessions; amidst squeals and protests, he would pacify them singing, shohe na, shohe na, kande poranooo with dramatic eye movements and wild gestures, especially when they tried to tell him to stop, that had them rolling on the floor laughing.
Slowly but surely, the trio began to put the past behind them and move on. The girls taught him to laugh again, to live again; life had given him a second chance to bring up his two girls again, he just wished Sita could experience this life with him.
He took them to Benaras, BodhGaya, Hrishikesh and Haridwar; they went to so many places in their country, even remote ones where tourists don’t usually set foot.
They’d be lost in the world of Hanuman as he destroyed Lanka, they’d be crying as Ravana abducted Sita, they’d be deeply moved when Karna would be going to battle against Arjuna knowing he’d lose, they’d be fuming with anger when Duryodhana insulted Panchali and time would fly as dadu would read to them the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Bhagvadgita and other sacred texts. The way he could tell the story, the simplicity, yet, the profundity in them, deeply touched the girls. Even while imparting knowledge from the Upanishads, he tried to make it as palatable as possible for the children, tell me how do you explain Tat Tvam Asi to seven year olds, yet not only did he try, it’d be fair to say, he succeeded too.
He could see his daughter Mita in the girls, different attributes of her visible in each girl.
He loved Nina’s poetry, she had rawness to her emotions, something primordial to the way she described reality even in that young age; surely poetry was to be her meditation and so it was.
The chotto ektakar shingara and the radhaballi,
Inhabiting my Sundays, my frenemies.
She’d written this haiku, barely aged seven and it made him laugh. She’d captured something of Kolkata in those lines; she’d grabbed a slice of their times together as they strolled down Sarat Bose Road on sultry lazy Sundays.
It’s absolutely true that nowhere except Kolkata do you get that tiny shingara or samosa for one rupee, it has peas in it and the Bongs cannot have enough of it. And what of the Radhabollobi? Try it, you’ll see. You may get acidity, but it’ll be worth it, vouches every Bengali.
Rajani loved these girls like he had loved their mother, but being a very enlightened soul he treated them all alike, even Arunava, but at times he was left wondering as to where he went wrong with that one. But Mita was his pet; he had a special soft corner in his heart for his eldest.
None had his spiritual depth except Mita and this bonded them immensely, every time he saw her, his heart wanted to embrace her. Khuku, he called her, his little girl and she was so much like him.
“Aye khuku aye…” he would play this song in the gramophone and Hemanta’s voice would flood the house.
She had his striking peaches and cream skin and almond shaped eyes like the goddess Durga, with abundant tresses swimming down to her knees and an hour-glass body which was as ageless as Time itself and looked like some Kumartuli’s sculptor was sculpting Maa Durga from clay. Shakkhat Maa Durga, people would comment.
Yes, she was breathtaking! Her intellect was sharp; she was thoughtful, critically questioning and deeply analytical. Many an afternoon was spent in discussing literature, philosophy, poetry and the scriptures of all religions. Her father enjoyed immensely the display of perspicacity while she explained some particular issue, idea or philosophy, her face shining red with passion and emotion. What radiance! Then she fell in love with Shubho at Scottish Church English honours class.
It was an exam. John Osborne’s play, “Look Back in Anger”, was the monster in question and 100 marks were at stake. Mita had not studied this play and her paper sat blank. She spotted Shubho in front scribbling away with immense concentration. She poked him a few times. He looked back and couldn’t take his eyes off her. In a state of suspended bliss, he handed her the paper. She took it with a squeal of laughter which thrilled him to the bone, and began to rewrite it in her words.
Now let’s fast forward, SHUBHO and MITA are married in Kartik purnima, the full moon beckoned a life of abundance and plenitude for them.
As Mita adorns Shubho’s neck with the baramala and the shubhodristi happens where they gaze into each other’s eyes, it’s like a dejavu. The breeze outside caresses his hair while he stands there looking at her, she’s carried on a piri by her brothers, uncles and cousins and her eyes are between two paan leaves and in that moment they both knew that no matter what life would bring it would be worth nothing without the other.
Mita gets pregnant which turns out to be pretty complicated with twins sharing the same amniotic sac and placenta, throughout the seven and a half months, she’s under strict supervision and spends much of her time reading, writing and talking to her daughters. During the course of her seven month pregnancy she almost dies twice and the lives of the twins are threatened, but she manages to trick fate into submission.
These girls, they had to see the sky wearing the bright blue cloak of a spring day, they had to experience the rain on their faces, caressing sometimes or slapping away, soft some days and as pokey as thorns on others. They had to see the cheetah run, they had to eat tangra macher jhol, oh, life in its complexity and multitudes had to be experienced by them, she thought.
Karma my dear friends had other plans. Mita and Shubho die tragically young, leaving behind only Rajani to take care of the twins. Their disappearance happened in Kedarnath temple during an annual pilgrimage they always undertook.
Rajani had to don the parent costume once again, this time for Nina and Zeenia and he was determined to play the role to perfection this time. As perfect as it could be! So now to get back to the story. Dadu is what Nina calls Rajani, the Bengali appellation for grandfather.
As she sits in front of this dead body, she thinks of her dadu. He would know what to do; he always knew what to do. Such were Nina’s thoughts. Delusion arises from anger, Dadu told her one day as she was furious with Joida, the Oriya driver who had not given her a minute to stand and chat with her friends after her Rabindra-sangeet class at Dakshini, to top it off he had the gall to speak rudely in front of them.
The dominoes fell,
The words like torrents
It was inevitable.
She’d written this haiku she remembered for the occasion.
Joida loved her as his own daughter and that was the excuse for the harsh treatment. She had almost wanted to slap Joida. But Dadu intervened. “Little one your mind is bewildered by delusion. You think that Joi is being pushy, but actually he is just trying to protect you. See, you lost your reasoning as your mind was bewildered…and one falls down, when reasoning is destroyed.” Dadu fell on the floor dramatically.
That made Nina smile even in her malaise as she sat in limbo, with dried blood on her hands. She deliberated with the thought of saying, “Out, damned spot,” but then decided against it. The dead body just lay there. Her hallucinations where he wakes up as some terrible ZOMBIE in a B-Grade film and chews her down bone by bone is funny, she observes. I can have funny thoughts, even in this scenario.
Then she notices that there were many parts of her, or no, there are many Nina’s inside of her, ambiguous and confused, each thinking that random thought while observing the others and then she notices that there is a Nina who’s also observing, but she has no thought as the others did, no opinion. She just watches. Not for the first time Nina could distinctly hear the separate voices- how diverge, how contradictory, how ironic were they, but this time there was a force to them that was lacking in the past. She tries to swallow, but her tongue sticks to her insides, parched and dry, it desperately needs some water.
The young housekeeping attendant is right outside Nina’s room and would have turned away, but a trickle of blood manages to seep outside. The attendant examines it carefully, and then thinks of what to do. Should he go and inform his supervisor? No he decides against it and taking a master key from his supply trolley, he puts it in the key hole and turns it.
The scene which greets his eyes chills him to the bone and a blood curdling scream escapes his lips shattering the quiet of the early morn. He looks ridiculous, scared out of his wits, barely coherent in his thoughts, he looked like a two year old who had seen a ghost in a Paranormal series on telly.
It’s Nina who surprises me. She didn’t even bat an eyelid at the shrill shriek. She just sits there, stares at her abyss. What did she see?? The abyss staring back??
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