Saturday, 10 February 2018

9th February

9th February
पचास  बार आ चुका है  9th February
तो फिर,
एक बार फिर से आ गया तो क्या हुआ ?

इस दिन में
वही रौनक है ?
वही भीनी हवा की खुशबू ,
वही फूलों की बहार ?

भई किसी और को लगे या न लगे,
मुझे तो बहुत भाता है यह दिन |

आज भी,
 “colour dress”  पहनने का जी करता है ,
सखियों को चॉकलेट देने का और
उनके हांथों से बने कार्ड पाने को मन तरसता है |
शाम को बलून से सजा हुवा ड्राइंग रूम में केक काटना और
happy birthday का वही पुरानी धुन सुनने की बेताबी है |

भई किसी और को लगे या न लगे,
मुझे तो बहुत भाता है यह दिन |

अभी तो,
दो चोटी की जगह कुछ सफ़ेद बाल,
आलमारी में फ्रॉक नहीँ पर साडी तो है,
कुछ प्यारे चेहेरे पास नहीं , फिर भी,
उनकी यादें और कुछ नए मुखड़े समीप है |

मेरे कुछ नाम विस्मृत हो गए
तो कुछ नए नाम भी तो आमद हैं ,
कुछ बीती बातें रुलाती हैं तो
नई बातें हंसाती भी तो है |

अगर कल,
झुर्रियों से भर जाये चेहरा ,
धीमी हो जाये आँखों की रौशनी,
कुछ पराये से हो जाएँ अपने लोग ,
किसी की आवाज़ सुनने को, उन्हें जी भर देखने को जी तरसे और
ऐसे ही,  कई बार 9th February की सुबह
आये और बस वैसे ही चली जाये  ??

इसलिए ,
सारे 9th Feb,
मैं संजो के रखती हूँ,
यह हवा की भीनी खुशबू,
यह सुबह की नर्म धूप ,
मेरे नज़दीक मुस्कुराते चेहेरे,
गिफ्ट के लिए नोंक-झोंक,
कुछ मान, कुछ अभिमान,
यह सारे पल,
दिल के इक कोने में,
संवार के,
संभाल के रखती हूँ |

हो सकता है,
इनकी यादें,
fixed deposit के  interest की तरह ,
बाद में काम आये !!

पता नहीं,
मेरे लिए
और कितनी बार आएगी 9th February .......

किसी और को लगे या न लगे,
मुझे तो बहुत भाता है यह दिन |

9th February 2018 ,  Belvedere, Alipore, Kolkata

Friday, 1 December 2017



No one was surprised when Pishi died the same day as Suma.

It was a rainy July afternoon when Suma breathed her last in her big wooden four poster bed, surrounded by her  twenty odd pillows.  She had been brought back from the hospital one day back. The doctors wanted to put her on ventilator, but Kaku was adamant to bring her back home. When Dadai, Suma’s husband had died, he was kept in the ventilator for 4 days.

“Look at his eyes Babu ! He wants to go home !”   Suma had wept and pleaded. But the doctors did not budge.  During the Shraddha ceremony of Dadai, Suma wore a milky white sari with a thin green border.  As usual, I sat beside her holding her hands and Buro sat on the other side.  I was all of 11 years old then. But still I could sense the calm determination in her voice when she told her son, Kaku - she clled him Babu,  about her last wish.

“Babu, promise me that come what may, you will bring me home before I breathe my last. I want to die on my own bed”.  Pishi, sitting on a low stool beside Suma , nodded and wiped her eyes.  She stroked Suma’s feet to console her.

Suma, Kaku, Kakima  were more than mere neighbours.Till quite some time , I knew  Suma to be Buro’s as well as my grandmother .  Ma, Baba and I were closer to them than our relatives. For me, it was like my second home.  I had open access to the house, on Suma’s bed,  Kaku and Kakima’s things and of course everything that belonged to Buro.  When in class 6th , I almost failed in mathametics, I went and hid myself in Suma’s bed, between her pillows. Suma was very possessive about her pillows. Everyday she and Pishi fluffed and dusted the pillows and kept them on top of the wooden trunk kept near Suma’s bed. When any guests came to their house, Suma would pick and choose a pillow and offer it to them and again when they were gone, the pillow would be kept in place.  

Suma did not let anyone touch her pillows. Not even Buro. I was the only exception.  “You are my Laxmi ! “  Suma would look at me adoringly before plucking my plump cheeks.

Everybody called her Pishi.  

In Bangla Pishi means your father’s sister.  Only Suma called her by her name – Bani.  Suma was married to Dadai when she was 15 years old.  Pishi, the daughter of the gardener in Suma’s maternal home, was of the same age as Suma. Two months before Suma got married,  Pishi was married to a farmer in the neighboring village.  One idle summer afternoon, when Suma was dozing and I had sauntered into Pishi’s room to ask about Buro’s whereabouts, she was busy rummaging her rusted tin suitcase where she kept her possessions.

“Tumpi, come , come … see this “ she was giggling like a schoolgirl.

“Tell me … who is this ? “ She held a yellowing black and white photograph in her hands. I tried to snatch it from her which she deftly avoided and pulled me close to her and both of us peered into the photograph. There was a bride and beside her there were three girls in sari and one man with a hat on his head.  Pishi pointed her finger on the girl standing beside the man and asked me again “Tumpi … can you recognize her ? “ .  When I nodded my head side by side , she then pointed at the bride . “Ok . This one you will be able to tell …” and she looked at me expectantly. 

“Pishi, I don’t know  !” I was impatient.  I had to find that brat Buro.  He had hidden my favourite guti – the black flat stone – my lucky charm for ekhat dukkhat (hopscotch).

“This is your Suma … and … this is me .. and this … “ she giggled .. “is my khasham … my husband”…

“You have a husband ? “ I stared at her in awe. Somehow I could never imagine Pishi having a husband !

“Baniiiii …!” Suma called.  Pishi hurriedly put the photograph inside the trunk and said  “Ashi….” and hastened out to check on Suma.  

When I was old enough to understand, I learnt that within a year of her marriage, Pishi was thrown out of her in-law’s place with the accusation that she was a baanjh and would not be able to bear children. She had come back to her father’s place and after six months she was sent to Calcutta to look after Suma , who was expecting her first child.  And she has been with her ever since.

It was Kaku who had first called her Pishi and then she became Pishi for everybody.  And it was Buro who named Suma.   Like Kaku, he started calling his grandmother  as  ” Ma “, when   he was corrected by Kakima.

“Buro, I am your Ma and this is your beautiful Ma… Sundor Ma “.  “Sundor Ma was a bit too complicated for Buro and he called her Suma .   And I too called her Suma.   Just like Buro.

Buro’s place and my house is separated by a boundary wall.  There is a window in my parent’s bedroom which is right opposite to the window of Suma’s room.  Since childhood, Buro and I would stand on the respective window sills , holding the vertical iron rods of the window and  spend hours talking to each other.   Sometimes I  would stand on the sill and call  “Buro … Buro … “ ! He would come running and take his position and on other occasions he would call “Tumpi … Tumpi … “  and I would leave whatever I was doing and run towards the window sill.

“Ahh Tumpi … go to his place and talk or call him here ! What is this ? Standing like this and talking!”  Ma would scold.  But who cared !  It was only when we outgrew the size of the window that we stopped standing on the window sill.  Later I found it embarrassing when Ma asked me why I did not talk to Buro through the window.  By that time, both of us preferred to chat either on the terrace or in his small study room.

Suma could not do without Pishi. 

Theirs was a strange love hate relationship.  Suma was fair, plump  and soft, with long strands of grey hair.  Her face was round and she her wide  toothless smile lit up her deep intelligent eyes.  She wore gold rimmed glasses  and though wrinkled, her smooth skin was an envy for Kakima and Ma.  During summer, she just wrapped her sari around herself and did not wear a blouse.   I would cosy up to her and touch her soft ,  sagging breasts and tickle her.   She looked at me lovingly and smiled .   “Dushtu meye !” (naughty girl !). 

Pishi was dark and thin. She was about 2 inches shorter than Suma.  She walked with an awkward gait with a frown on her longish face.  Her hands were rough and uneven. All her frontal teeth were gone and she just had one or two molars left in her mouth.  When she talked, a peculiar breezy sound emanated from the space in her mouth.  She had thin strands of grey hair. Every evening at 3.30 pm, after finishing the kitchen chores and giving crushed Paan (betel leaves) to Suma, she would  go to the terrace, spread out her legs infront of her and comb her hair.  She would close her eyes and mutter to herself and go on combing her hair.  Then she would tie a small knot and look at herself in the small hand mirror.  During the winter  holidays ,  when Buro and I played badminton on the terrace ,  we would quietly go behind Pishi and quickly untie the knot and run away.  Pishi  shrieked and come running after us and Buro and I  hid ourselves.  Several times she complained to Suma .

“They are kids Bani !! Let it be … !”

I don’t know the reason but Suma had a strange fetish.  She would never let Pishi be at the same level as hers.  If Suma sat on a chair, Pishi sat on the floor near her.  When Suma sat on her bed, Pishi sat on a small stool , a little lower than the bed.  After Dadai’s death,  Suma asked Pishi to shift in her room.  Pishis’s bed was moved into Suma’s room .  When Suma saw that the bed was of the same height as her  four poster bed, she asked Kaku to call Hari, the carpenter.  Hari was instructed to cut the legs of Pishi’s bed so that it was lower than Suma’s bed.  During occasions like Durga Puja or visits to relatives places, Suma would call for a rickshaw. She sat on the seat and Pishi invariably sat near her feet, holding the seat of the rickshaw puller tightly.  Kaku did not like it. 

“Ma ! There is enough space beside you and Pishi can sit there !”

“Babu, we are comfortable this way .  Do not worry !  Richsha walla … chalo !” and Suma would ride away with a queer smile on her face.

Sometime it really went to the extreme.  

It was showing Ramayana in the nearby movie hall and Suma wanted to watch the movie. Kaku got the tickets. Ma and I were also invited for the show. There were 10 of us, including Pishi. There were eight tickets in row M and two tickets in row N – the row in front of M.  Buro, I and ran and took the two seats in N. But when Suma saw that Pishi was also sitting in the same row as hers, she created a scene.

“Bani will sit behind me.”

Kaku tried to make her understand that the seat on M was better but Suma would not listen to him. Finally, Suma and I sat together and watched the movie.  Buro sat next to Pishi behind us.  Buro was so furious that he bit Pishi during the interval and got a good thrashing from Kakima.

After the show, Buro was still livid. 

“Ma… Pishi did not let the see the movie in peace. When Ram and Ravana were fighting each other, she kept on asking me  Buro , Buro, who will win ? Will Ravana defeat Ram ? Tell me Buro ! She knows the Ramayana by heart but still she asks me this !!!  I am telling you , I will never ever go to a movie with Pishi ! “

For Pishi, Suma was the role model.  

She tried to talk like Suma, imitating her expressions, pronunciations and gestures.  She wore her sari just like Suma , with all her hand-me-downs.  After Dadai died, Suma started wearing white sarees and gave up eating fish , meat and eggs,  Pishi too did the same. As the years passed, Suma and Pishi looked like sisters – one beautiful and the other one ugly.  They were always seen together.  They chatted .  They quarreled. They listened to the same radio programmes.  They ate the same food.  They sat together. They slept in the same room.  Suma could not do without Pishi and was very fond of her but Suma saw to it that Pishi was always a “level” lower than her !

And Pishi,  always looked for opportunities to be at the same level as Suma !  One day, when Suma had gone for her bath , Buro and I crawled below Suma’s bed where jars of mango and lime pickle were kept.  It was one of our favourite haunts where we sat there and ate pickles from the jars.  Pishi came , looked here and there and sat on Suma’s chair. She closed her eyes and put on Suma’s specs and smiled to herself.    Buro and I came out and suddenly stood before Pishi and shouted “Pishi !!”

She was startled and the glasses fell on the floor and broke.  Her face was pale. She got up from the chair swiftly and  started stammering .. “I … I …”.  Buro pranced around her singing “I will tell Suma.. I will tell her that you were sitting on the chair and wearing her glasses …will tell her … tell her …”.  I will never be able to forget the petrified look on Pishi’s face. 

As Buro and I  came into our teens ,  our pranks became less and conversations became more.  We would talk about our friends in high school , how one boy proposed to me and Buro would laugh and  give me an odd glance as if he did not care  which somehow infuriated me.  When Buro described about one of his class mate who  was very beautiful and how she always wanted to sit beside Buro and be with him, I would make a face and say “Ok ! Then you go and talk to her, I am leaving … !” Buro would laugh and obstruct my path and make faces at me and then say “Tumpi !!! I was just teasing you … let me hold your hand … !”  and extend his palm towards me.  We started liking each others’ touch .  We would now make excuses to go to the terrace where we could sit closer and hold hands and occasionally kiss each other.

One  sultry afternoon, when both of us sneaked on the terrace and were sitting closely on the other side of the water tank, where no one could see us, we saw Pishi. She had come up to collect Suma’s zari sari which she had put there for sun drying.  She then looked around her and  tied the sari. She loosened her hair knot and fluffed her hair on both sides of the middle parting, just like Suma.  And then she started walking around the terrace, imitating Suma’s gait.   We sat rock still, holding our breath, so that Pishi does not see us together at this odd hour.   But we all know Murphy’s law . Anything that can go wrong , will go wrong , Pishi meandered in front of us and stood stock still looking at us.  All of us did not utter a word for a few seconds.  That terrified, petrified look again surfaced on Pishi’s face. But this time we too were sort of guilty.   

Buro , suddenly came to his senses and started staring and smiling at Pishi .

“Wha..ha ..t ?”  She stammered.

“Well , we did  not see you and neither did you see us, right Pishi ?”

It took a while for her to comprehend the meaning.  So mean of Buro. Terrifying Pishi.  Poor thing. But it worked.  Pishi did not utter a word and went away. 

Somehow , I always felt bad for Pishi.  Suma was all she had and that too Suma always had the “upper” hand.  Pishi had only one nephew who kept in touch with her and visited once in a while . He worked in a Jute mill near Howrah and whenever he visited Pishi, he got a pot of rasgullas for her, which she proudly showed and shared the sweets with all of us.

Ma and Kakima too talked about Suma’s “high-handedness”.

“I really don’t know why Ma behaves like that with Pishi” , Kakima once complained to my mother. “What harm will it do if both of them sit on the same seat in the rickshaw? Pishi looks so awkward sitting on the footrest of the rickshaw and I really feel ashamed … all these meanness … and see … that day when Pishi had fever, Ma was so upset that she started crying … I don’t understand these acts at all ! “.

The day Suma was diagnosed with pneumonia,  it was raining very heavily.  

When she was taken to the hospital, Pishi started wailing. “Didi … Didi … “ she cried .  Suma’s condition deteriorated.  The next day Suma’s lungs were infected and she was put on life support system.  Pishi did not leave Suma’s side. She was almost forced by the doctors to leave the ICU.  The next day Pishi contacted high fever.  Kaku was busy with Suma , so Baba brought Pishi to our house and gave her medicines. Later that night, when her temperature reached 105 degrees, Pishi was admitted in the same hospital.  The next day, when the doctors wanted to put Suma on the ventilator, Kaku refused to do so and brought Suma home and made her lie down on her four poster bed , surrounded by her twenty odd pillows.  

That July afternoon,  when all of us were standing near her bed, weeping, sobbing, Suma opened her eyes. There was a blank look in her glance. She looked at our faces as if searching for someone …  Kaku held her hands. Buro and I sat near her feet, stroking her, Ma consoled Kakima … Suma opened her mouth to say something but words did not flow … and after a few minutes she was gone for ever!

An hour later, Kaku got a call from the hospital that Pishi has breathed her last a few minutes ago.  Kaku asked Buro to inform her nephew and made arrangements to bring Pishi home.

Kaku’s younger brother , Ajay Kaku , who lived in  Delhi was informed about Suma’s death.  The cremation could only happen when Ajay Kaku reached Calcutta the next morning.  Suma was decorated with flowers .  Kakima and Ma wrapped a white sari around her.  They put chandan on her forehead. Through misty eyes, I looked at her. Suma was looking so beautiful and serene !  Ma and Kakima also decorated Pishi and wrapped her with one of her saris.  Suma was lying on the bed and Pishi on the floor below her . 

When the hearse came, Suma was put inside the glass box with Rajanigandha flowers all over her. The scent of the incense sticks filled up the hearse . She was taken to the Peace Haven mortuary where the body would be preserved till the next day. I had insisted to be with Suma till the mortuary. I felt strange when I saw Suma’s body put in the refrigerator box . Suma … I will never be able to see you again … Buro held me tightly … my eyes were dry … tears did not flow from my eyes … an inexplicable feeling shot through my body … the temporariness of our existence !

When the hearse carrying Suma had departed , Pishi’s nephew called up. He said that  due to the heavy rains, the train lines of Howrah station were submerged and all the local trains were halted.  He would only be able to come the next day, so could we please keep Pishi in the mortuary till that time ?  So , Pishi was also taken to the Peace Haven mortuary.  

But when Pishi’s body reached Peace Haven , there was a problem.

The only other refrigerator box which was free had been suddenly taken up by the Christian trustees as the mother of the Bishop of St. John’s Church had a heart attack and died.

“So, what do we do ? “  Kaku was distraught.  “Are there any other mortuary nearby ? “

Buro and Baba tried to contact the other mortuary, but there too it was the same condition. The torrential rain had brought the city to a stand still.

“Well , as of now , I think there can be only one solution “ , the manager of the mortuary said.

“What ?”

“The refrigerator where your mother has been put , is one of the original ones from the British era. The length and height of the box is almost double the size of the newer boxes … “

“So ? “

“Well, we can put the other body in the same box … if you permit .. “

Kaku looked at Baba. He nodded.

“Okay … “ Kaku whispered. 

It was almost 11 pm and he was tired – both mentally and physically. Buro placed a chair for Kaku to sit .  Kaku slumped on it.

As all of us stood there, Pishi’s body was carefully lifted on the stretcher and put inside the refrigerator box….  on top of Suma …..

Both of them rested there waiting to be cremated .

Just that during this wait time,  Pishi  was  at a “higher” position than Suma .

30 November, 2017, Belvedere, Alipore

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Balance Sheet

Balance Sheet

As she jostled to get inside the bus, one strap of her bag gave away.

Instinctively Rina clutched the other strap tightly with her left hand but due to the weight, the bag  collided with the side of the seat near her and there was a “thud” sound.  The “thud” inside her heart was even louder.

Rina quickly led her way towards the last row of the bus where only two seats were vacant. Even before settling down on her seat, Rina anxiously opened her bag and groped for her treasure. She felt the smooth, cold texture of her cell phone and with a beating heart slowly took it out.

The phone shone in the evening light coming through the last window of the bus.

“Thank God !” . Rina heaved a sigh of relief. 

She checked the time on her phone. Nowadays she found it more convenient to check time on her cell than on her wrist watch. It was 5.50 pm. She till had 10 minutes to go. Rina took out her  hands-free from the money zipper of her bag and plugged it with her cell phone.

Mita, her sister has gifted her the cell phone four months back on her birthday.  Rina had made a face and with pretentious anger admonished her sister. “Mita, you should not have given such an expensive gift !” said Rina, looking and caressing the phone lovingly.

 It was beautiful. The latest model of Samsung.

“Didi ! I had no choice. I have been after you to buy a smart phone for almost 6 months. I cannot send you whatsapp messages , send photographs to you.  Now you better start using this from today !”

It was not that Rina did not want to buy a smart phone. But somehow or the other she had not been able to get around buying one.  There was always some extra expense every month. Last month, Alok’s sister along with her husband and her 5 year old son, Munti, had visited them for a week. It was Munti’s first time in Delhi. Rina had taken a day off on a Friday and all of them had gone to Agra, Mathura and Vrindavan. It was a lovely trip and Rina had enjoyed every moment of it. 

Babi , her 8 year old daughter was awestruck when she saw the Taj Mahal.

“Ma,  it is Shwet Pathar [i]?”  Though they stayed in Delhi, it was Babi’s first time too in Agra.

Babi had a strange fascination for marble stones. Whenever and wherever she found any white pebble , she would run to Rina with her treasure and a big smile on her face.

“Ma, ma.. See what I found ! Swet Pathar !”

When Rina  looked at her daughter’s glowing face, she did not have the heart to say that it was just an ordinary pebble. It was not ordinary to Babi. Ah ! Childhood and it’s bliss !

“Yes ! It is so very beautiful Babi ! “

And Babi would run to secure the stone in the small cotton pouch along with  her other “Swet Pathar”s.

Sunday night, after returning home, just before she went to sleep Rina asked Alok “How much did we spend ?”

Alok was changing into his pajamas.

“Around 7 thousand “

“Oh ! So much ?? “

“Well, petrol, food, two night stay.  It was good that  Samar paid for the gifts. Otherwise, it would have been even more.”

The month before,  Alok’s scooter had to be serviced.  The other month, her mother-in-law was sick . The Doctor’s fees, medicines are so expensive. And almost every month there is some occasion of the other. Weddings, birthday parties and what not ! 

With all these expenses, the smart phone for herself was the last priority for Rina. But now she was glad that she possessed one. She was not very conversant with whatsapp yet and she found it a bit cumbersome typing messages.  But now she really enjoyed her hour long travel back home.

It was 6 pm. The chartered bus from Connaught Place to Janakpuri started moving and Rina plugged in her handsfree earpods into her ears and put on the FM channel. FM Gold was her favourite channel and she loved the songs of Mukesh, Rafi and Geeta Dutt.

She hummed softly along with the lilting tunes waiting for 6.30 pm.  

At 6.30 pm, the signature tune of “Mahila Mahal” filled her with an unusual trepidation.  Will her question be answered today ? Rina was hooked to this program for the last two months.  Mahila Mahal was a 15 minutes program, aired on the FM Gold channel, every Monday to Friday, from 6.30 to 6.45 pm.  Usually there was a 10 minute talk or a discussion varied topics related to women and  at the end of the program, one letter from the audience was read out and discussed.

“Today’s topic of discussion is about the health of  women in the age group of 35 to 45 and we have a panel consisting of Dr. Shikha Verma, a nutritionist and Dr. Renu Goyal, a leading gynecologist. “

Rina liked the bold and confident voice of the anchor Ms. Aditi Roy. She listened to the various tips given by the panelists about food and exercise, why milk and other dairy products was so important for women, how we should try to fit is  bit of stretching and cardio in our busy lives etc. but Rina actually waited for the last 5 minutes.  

Will her letter be selected to be read out ? She waited with bated breath.

Thank you Dr. Goyal and Dr. Verma for your valuable tips and advise. I am sure that our audience will benefit from them and put these thing in practice.

And now I will read out the letter from our audience.   

This is Mrs Dipti Mishra from Jhumri Tilaiya, she writes that she wants to pursue higher studies but her father-in-law is dead against it.  What should she do ?

Well Dipti, there is a saying that where there is a will there is a way. I understand that being a married woman , you have a lot of responsibilities and you have to understand the sensibilities of your in laws and your husband. 

But we women have to realize that we have a responsibility towards ourselves too. We are answerable to our dreams, our desires, albeit within the periphery of our relations and duties. 

So, go for it. Try cajoling, sweet talking to drama and anger if needed. I am sure that at the end you will win. We women will have to win ! 

Tune in to Mahila Mahal tomorrow, same time ! Till then , bye from Aditi  !”

Rina was disappointed.

She had written a letter almost a month back. When will it be read out ?  The answer was very important for her. Should she write another one , Rina wondered as she put the cell phone in her bag.  Her stop was just 10 minutes away.

Babi studied in std. 2.  She just abhorred mathematics and did quite poorly in her half yearly exams. Rina was a commerce graduate and she was very good in maths in school. But Babi was just not interested in studying maths! 

Everyday, from 8.30 to 9.30 pm, Rina taught Babi. She made her complete her homework and tried to keep her a bit ahead of the class. Alok usually came back from work at 7.30 pm was too tired to sit with Babi and her studies. 

Once or twice Rina had asked Alok to make Babi complete her maths homework, but when she made silly mistakes, Alok was impatient and shouted at the terrified Babi.

“Don’t ! She is just a kid !”  Babi’s tear stained face looked at her mother for support.

“You know how much tension there is at work ! And on top of that she makes these silly mistakes ! “

“Well ! You scold her even on Sundays !”  Rina would try to control her anger. She did not want Babi to see her parents quarreling over her.

“She has to improve in maths otherwise she will not be able to crack any competitive exams – be it medical or engineering !”

“Leave it ! I will take care ! “ Rina took away the teary eyed, sleepy Babi for dinner.

But she was worried. She did not know what to do .  Maybe she will get a maths tutor for Babi. But home tuitions were very expensive, not less than Rs 400 per hour !

So, her letter to Mahila Mahal went like this .

Dear Aditi,

My 8 year old daughter does not want to study maths. I have been trying to create interest in her for maths but as soon as she is given sums to solve, her face becomes glum and she does  not concentrate. In her exams, she has just got 70% in maths whereas the class highest is 100%. Just because of low marks in maths, her rank is 11th in the class.

Please help me and tell me ways to improve her marks in the subject.

Rina Biswas, Janak Puri, New Delhi

Today too, her letter was not read out in the program. As Rina pressed the calling bell, she thought of sending the letter again.

“Maa !” Babi came tripping . The part time maid opened the door.

Rina kissed Babi .

Bhabhi kya banega ? “ The maid looked at her expectantly.

“Take out the bringal and one tomato  from the fridge and cut it in small pieces. I will be there in 5 minutes” .

Rina quickly went inside the bedroom to change into a daily wear salwar kameez. Rina was always rushed for time and this was her busiest time of the day.  The part time maid helped with the cooking. 

She prepared roti for her mother-in-law, Alok and Rina and rice for Babi. Another vegetable dish was needed for tiffin for Alok and Rina’s office and breakfast for his mother. Rina preferred to cook the non vegetarian food  herself.  Babi could not eat without Mutton or Chicken or fish.  If none of these were available then they had to do with egg curry. 

Rina removed her sari , folded it and put it under the mattress.  Ironing the sari costed Rs 15. By putting it carefully folded beneath the mattress, she  could wear the sari at least three times more without getting it ironed. 

Rina worked in the accounts department of Kapoor and Brothers Ltd. The company manufactured bond papers which are used in laser printers. Rina liked to wear saris to office. She had several Bengal cotton ones and her colleagues, most of them wore salwar suits, would swoon over the colours and the way she carried the sari.

Rina was slim, fair and petite and all the colours suited her. She wore her long hair either in a bun which fell on the nape of her neck or she braided it. Being a Bengali, her hair too was a matter of envy to many in her office. She was not beautiful in the classic sense but there was something about her which people found very soothing and serene.

Rina worked liked clockwork. 

After changing, Rina first cleared up her mother-in-law’s room. 

Alok’s mother was 82 years old and did not let Uma, the maid come inside her room. Rina quickly supervise the dinner and planned for the next day. 

She prepared dal pakora for Alok and gave it to him along with a cup of tea at 7.45 pm, just when he started reading the newspaper after coming home. 

By 8.30 pm, the maid left and Rina sat down with Babi with her studies. 

At 9.30 pm, all of them sat for dinner. As usual Babi was so sleepy that Rina had to feed her.  After putting her to bed, Rina had her dinner, cleared up the table, cleaned the kitchen , filled the fridge bottle with water from aquaguard, cleaned the table wipers, sprayed the cockroach repellent , kept the cups , saucers , spoons ready for tea in the morning, kept a bottle of water in her mother in law’s bedside table and finally when she went inside the bathroom for changing into a nightie, it was past 11 pm.

Ah ! What a bliss to be able to wear the soft cotton nightwear.

She came inside her bedroom. Babi was fast asleep beside Alok. 

Rina smiled as she looked at her innocent face. No amount of cajoling could persuade Babi to sleep with her granny. Her favourite place was between Alok and Rina. On weekdays Alok did not mind but he made a fuss on the weekends. By now Rina was a master of the balancing act and she knew how to please both her husband and her cute daughter.

Rina sat beside the bedside lamp, emptied the contents from her bag and put them inside the other one which she had. Can this one be repaired , she wondered. 

Nah ! She will have to get a new one … maybe next month. 

She sighed.

As she lay down, Rina embraced her daughter and heard the peaceful , rhythmic breathing of her husband.

The day ends today. 

Tomorrow again it will start at a breakneck speed at 6 am , when  her alarm clock rings, getting Babi ready for school ….

She started slipping into slumber.

Content.  Happy.

This was HER world. Her Own.


Rina was busy matching the entries in the ledger file in office, when her phone rang. It was an unknown number. 

She frowned. She did not give her cell number to many people.

“Rina … your phone is ringing … “ Nihar shouted from the table beside her.

“Oh Sorry !” She quipped. She should have kept it on the silent mode. Alok did show her how to do it.

“Hullo !”

“Is it Rina ? “  A sweet female voice … who ?

“Yes. But who are you ? “

“Guess, guess !”

“Hmm… I can’t ! Tell me !”

“Hey ! It is Mahua …” the person at the other end almost shrieked.

For a few seconds Rina was silent. Her brain was processing the information.

Suddenly it clicked. Mahua … Motu Mahua … her best friend in school !

“Oh My God ! Mahua ! How are you ? Where are you ? Motu , How did you get my number ?” Rina squealed. 

Everybody almost dropped their work and looked amazedly at Rina.

“Oh Sorry !”  Rina quickly walked out of the office room into the outer corridor which led to the elevator.

The squeals and whoops from the other end continued.

“Hey! I am not Motu anymore !” Mahua laughed. “You know what, I am in Delhi, came from New Jersey about 3 weeks back with my husband. By chance I met Indrani at a cinema hall yesterday and she gave me your number and here I am … talking to my best pal ever !”

Indrani was also their classmate and her son also studied in the same school as Babi. It was again a chance meeting with Indrani a few years back and they have visited each other’s place a couple of times. Pradeep, Indrani’s husband went along quite well with Alok.

“Rina, Where are you now ? Can we meet ? I am dying to meet you girl ! “

“Oh ! But I am in office , in CP “

“Please , please please… take half day leave today and let us go for lunch at Berco’s Garden. It is in CP , so you won’t have a problem. I have a vehicle which will drop me there in an hour’s time, that will be around 2.30 pm”

“Now ?? But … “

“No buts Rina… I am leaving for USA tomorrow night and I will return only after two years … “ . Mahua’s despondent tone made Rina’s decision easy.

She walked into the manager’s room and asked permission for leave. Rina was a sincere and diligent worker . Her Manager smiled and approved her leave.

Rina walked out of her office and went inside the ATM just beside her office building. She withdrew Rs 5000 cash from the ICICI bank account… should be more than enough for lunch . 

It will be her treat today. She remembered her school days, how she used to snatch Mahua’s lunch … “Motu … no need to eat … you will become fatter “ Then they would both run around each other and share their lunch.  

Mahua, dear dear Mahua, Rina felt so excited.

And how they laughed and shrieked. The people in the Berco’s Garden restaurant gave them dirty glances and then they pinched each other to talk softly.  They became giggly schoolgirls again.  

It was after ages that Rina laughed so much ! They had to catch up on twenty years of gossip and talks.  First crushes. School pranks, husbands, kids  … it was never ending. Time melted  away in seconds.

Their eyes were wet when they had to part … they promised to keep in touch.

Mahua dropped Rina at the chartered bus stop at 5.45 pm.

Mahua had pleaded to pay for the lunch. But Rina just would not have it.

She enjoyed spending the money on her bestest pal. Rs 2500 did not compare with the joy of meeting each other after twenty years !

Her bag and Babi’s tuition can wait another month, does not matter …

Rina was still in daze when the bus started at 6 pm. 

Mahua and all their talks were reverberating in her mind.  It was already 6.40 pm when she remembered about Mahila Mahal and quickly put on her earplugs and Aditi’s familiar voice played in her ears. The question being answered had already been  read out .

“… and we women should remember that we have to be assertive. If we do not stand up for ourselves, no one will. We do not want any special privileges. We just want to be treated as equals.  Madhavi, what might seem innocuous to you is just an age old system speaking. Our minds have been trained to think like that. We have to realize that ourselves and break away from it. We also have to help the people around us break away from stereotypes. The path is difficult. The tunnel is long and dark. But yes, there is light at the end of it …

“That was definitely not my letter being read out”, Rina muttered to herself.

But there was something about Aditi’s words….  Rina did not understand it fully, but somehow it echoed in her consciousness.

Maybe it was her instinct as to what would happen later in the evening.

Rina eagerly waited for Alok to return home. She wanted to describe her lunch date, their giggling, the undiluted happiness … everything.

“Ma , why are you smiling ? “ Babi pulled her dupatta.

“Babi” Rina smiled at her little daughter “Let Baba come back, I will tell you about my best friend !”

“Your best friend Ma? Tell me , tell me … “ Babi had this habit of jumping continuously whenever she was happy or excited.

When at 7.30 pm, the door bell rang, Rina ran to open the door.

She almost snatched Alok’s briefcase and put it in the corner of the room and with big smile turned towards him

“You know what happened today … what … is anything the matter ?” . Rina stopped short and looked at Alok. His face was grave. “Anything wrong at work ? “

“Rina, hope you have not misplaced the ATM of the ICICI Bank. There are so many fraudsters nowadays, so I am worried. See …” Alok showed her the message in his phone .. Rs 5000 withdrawn from the ATM. “I saw the message about an hour back and I did not call you in case you got worried.“

Rina heaved a sigh of relief. “Oh that ! Yes , I have withdrawn the money from the ATM near my office”.

It was natural for Alok to get worried.

Rina never withdrew cash. Six years back when Rina had started working, she had given this joint account number as her salary account. At the beginning of the month, Alok took out money from this account and gave it to Rina for running the household. Every month Alok transferred some amount from his salary account into this joint account.  Alok’s cell number was linked with this account for transaction texts. 

It suited Rina.

Alok stared at her incredulously.

“You took out Rs 5000 ?? Why ?”

“Well …” Rina’s eyes twinkled with mischief. She was dying to talk.

“What ?? You know that we have to get the refrigerator repaired and next month my boss’s daughter is getting married. We have to give some appropriate gift!  And this is just the beginning of the month and you go and spend Rs 5000 !” 

 Alok’s voice was terse.

Rina was stunned.

It seemed her senses were knocked down by something very heavy and  her bubbling happiness ebbed from her face. 

She could not utter a word. 

Alok did not look at her. He started changing and asked her casually, trying to hide his pique.

“Yes. Now tell me what happened ….”

Rina stood still. Her voice was choked.

She could barely whisper “Nothing important” and went inside the kitchen to complete her chores. 

It seemed as if her whole being was paralysed. She worked like a robot.

Just a few sentences.

But as the significance of the words seeped inside her psyche, the numbness slowly gave way to varied emotions. She felt a twitch, then a tingle and then a sharp sting of inequity swamped her senses.

Her world seemed to crumble.

Unlike other days, after dinner, Rina prepared a cup of coffee and went to the terrace. She sat there watching the clear starry sky. 

The cool breeze on her face, her body had a calming effect on her. She sat still for a long time. She closed her eyes and tried to visualize herself. 

She was an ordinary woman, with ordinary looks , ordinary needs and desires. She earned an ordinary salary and was happy in her own world. She did not want a luxurious lifestyle neither did she yearn for anything very exotic.

Simple things made her happy.  Her daughter’s smile, a word of praise from her teacher, her husband’s promotion, occasional movie, eating out and traveling with her family to ordinary destinations like Haridwar and Puri , about once in two to three years.

Rina could not recollect when she had bought anything for herself. 

The talks which she heard about some new trend in sarees or suits and how they plan to buy things did not excite Rina. 

She was satisfied with her yearly shopping during the Durga Puja and gifts from her parents and sister on her birthday and anniversary or any other special occasion. She never felt the need to go out with her friends and colleagues to movies or eateries.

Rina had never felt that “this is MY money” about her salary. But today she felt different. She could not name her emotion.

Snatches of conversations and incidents flitted across her mind.

Rina, sorry I am late. I have already had my dinner. These friends.. forced me to treat them with Biriyani for my promotion …”. 

It did not cross Rina’s mind to ask him how much he spent and what needed to be repaired that month which will get postponed.

Dada will visit us for 3 days . He is coming to Delhi on an official visit. He loves mutton and Ilish. I will get these from the market on Sunday”. Rina was very happy. 

The thought that she will not be able to buy her sandals never came in her mind.

-      Ma needs new specs..

-      I have bought this frock for Babi …

-      See this wallet. I bought it for Dinu. I will give it to him tomorrow when we visit Bandel…

But when Rina’s cousin sister had planned to visit them with her family for 10 days, why did Rina feel a hesitation talking about it ? 

Er … Sagarika , my cousin sister , her husband and her 2 year old daughter want to visit us next month … is it OK …  “ . Alok had not said no.

Do you think I should buy a pair of silver anklets for Mita’s son’s annaprasan ? “.  In fact Alok had urged her to buy a gold ring instead.

It seemed ordinary conversations.

But there was a difference.

It was as if the balance sheet did not match.

At that moment, under the clear and starry sky, Rina could detangle the difference.

It was as if  the two wheels of the cart were at different heights. The one which was slightly at the bottom was always looking up to the one which was slightly tilted towards the top as if wanting acceptance, submitting to the pressure and trying to keep the cart moving. 

The full load of the cart sometimes fell on that and just to prevent itself from buckling, it made itself feel stronger and pulled and pushed ignoring the fact that  it was getting scarred, the spirit was getting weaker and the soul was slowly dying.

… Our minds have been trained to think like that … what might seem innocuous to you is just an age old system speaking …

Rina stood up and spread her arms towards the sky.  No. She will not let anybody crumble her world . 

Not even she herself.

An ordinary woman will deal with this in a very ordinary fashion.


Next Monday,  around 2 pm or so, Rina sent a text message to Alok and smiled to herself. 

“Have to discuss something important with you today evening, related to us”.

As expected, it had the desired effect. 

In the evening Alok came home 15 minutes early. As she was going inside the kitchen, Alok looked at her searchingly.

“What do you want to talk about ?”

Alok seemed tense.  Rina to hide to hide her smile. She knew Alok loved her. He was a good husband.

“Let me finish my work and after Babi goes to sleep, we will talk”.

Alok seemed distraught and fiddled with the newspaper. “Ok” he said in a low tone .  That night, the dinner table was unusually quiet, only the normal banter and tantrums of Babi.

After the daily routine, when Rina came into the bedroom at 11 pm, she saw Alok waiting for her. Anxiety was fraught on his face.  Rina had never sent him a message like this …

“Rina, I … tell me …”

“Oh, nothing very important . It is just that I have opened a new salary account for myself….”

“Oh … why ?” Alok was genuinely surprised.

“Well , I want to understand the new banking system … all these e-transactions , text messages and also, I should be able to manage my money , right ? And I think I will do a good job … I am a commerce graduate you see .. that too a topper of my batch “ Rina smiled.  

It felt good to give due appreciation to herself.  

“Oh… er … I suppose so ..”

“And I have decided that every month, just like you, I will transfer about 70% of my salary into the joint ICICI Bank account for our household and other expenses. By the way , how much of your salary do you transfer ? “

Alok was too astonished to answer the question. 

“And yes,  your sister , my sister Mita and a couple of other homemaker friends of mine get some pocket money from their husbands. I was thinking that I too do everything what they do and on top of that I work. So, you should give me some pocket money every month right ? What about Rs 1500 ? Hope that will be OK with you …”

Rina yawned and closed her eyes . “Feeling sleepy … very tired.. “ and she switched off the bedside lamp.

It was not about one-upmanship but just about equality. 

It was not about money, Rina will not do anything different from tomorrow , she will be the same person, but this was a starting point.  The first step.

A very confused Alok went to sleep.

And a smiling Rina could hear Aditi Roy’s voice in her ears … We also have to help the people around us break away from stereotypes…

The age old matching principle. The balance sheet should be matched.

Rina slept peacefully.


The next day Rina got up at 6 am.  She went to Babi’s table to check her school bag and fill up her water bottle. Suddenly she saw the formation at the corner beside her table. 

 She was rendered speechless. 

The small white pebbles … they were pasted meticulously , bigger ones at the bottom and the smaller one at the top … the four minarets and the central dome of the Taj Mahal !  

On top of the minarets, a small golden painted pin was pasted.  Small beads were pasted to form a ring at two well spaced intervals on the minarets. The big dome had a string of beads at the top and at the bottom.

Rina went towards the structure to take a closer look.  

The beads were actually small thermocol balls. Each one of them were painted in silver colour. The pebbles were sprayed with white and silver spray and they shone like real marble.

It was just exquisitely beautiful.  Rina could not tear her eyes away from it.

She ran and picked up her sleeping daughter and brought her near the table.

“Babi  … who made this ?  Babi … open your eyes … “

“I made it Ma … “ Babi was still groggy and put her head on Rina’s shoulder to sleep a few minutes more.

Rina was dumbfounded.

Her Babi was an artist !

Many people get 100% in maths,  but how may can create such an ethereal structure ? So what if her rank is not in the first 5 in the class , so what if she does not like maths ?

Rina caressed her daughter’s hair and kissed her soft cheeks lovingly.

She will not wait for her letter to be read in Mahila Mahal anymore. She has found the answer herself.

Babi , you will do what you like to do. No one will ever force things on you. You are free Babi. The world will not be as difficult for you. We will take our own decisions.  We will love ourselves.

Rina picked up her phone and replied to Mita’s invitation for the trip with her friends .  She knew Mita will be really surprised.

“Yes. I will  go to Nainital with you all. Babi will also come along with me ! ”   


31 October 2017, Belvedere, Alipore, Kolkata

[i] White Marble