It seems someone has plucked all the flowers from my garden. Yesterday, before going to sleep I left the garden full with beautiful buds of Jasmine, Hibiscus red, blue and white, Lilies with their hues, Roses, Chrysanthemums, Lotuses, Daffodils, Dahlia, but now they are all taken away! There are no signs on the ground, is it possible for any one person to tonsure the garden in this way I wondered.
With gates wide open, a shiver ran down my chest imagining silent footfalls of unwanted visitors inside my house. The house that was built by my husband years ago, the one that saw my children grow up.
Strangely, from yesterday, a familiar melody, a Tagore song, was ringing in my ears, I wasn’t able to get the lyrics, only the tune floated in my head, came and went away; my barren garden as I see now helps me recall a sense of oneness with the lyrics but no, I am fooled by it.
Home alone, I never felt so insecure. Is this a premonition? Then why is the tune acting like a burglar. I have been suffering from excruciating pain in my right knee for a long time, like an unwanted guest. I overlooked the two baskets of flowers disappear from their place; when I noticed, trying to touch my knee, I broke down into tears, O God today is a Thursday, Lakshmi Puja*, (uff, I can’t write footnotes for you all the time, it is a puja offered to Goddess Lakshmi on Thursdays by every woman, mostly married, well I am a widow, but I am doing this on behalf of my daughter-in-law, who is not with me at the moment… did you understand?) how will I do without the flowers and the leaves, can somebody help! Who would have come, wait a minute… have they also taken other things from the house; how many times have I asked Papon to surround the garden with a wall, I had this image of a beautiful green ivy falling from the boundaries, but no, my healer of a son says thieves will come if you build walls, if you leave the garden open, no one will come, same reason why he asks me not to buy medicines for my knee, he says if your medicine box is full, diseases will come and refuse to go; and it so happened, years ago when Papon was in his teens, the day I bought Dettol, a household name for antispetic, Papon had a fall and bruised both his knees…but does that establish anything…for my knees, he came the other day after his office and whispered a mantra in my ears, ‘My knees are pain-free now and forever’, ‘I have zero pain’, and asks me to chant the mantra and use my hands as healers, as visiting, patient doctors on my knees slowly touching them and chanting the mantra… I was really angry at this, but couldn’t say anything because within a week’s time I felt my knees were healing…he told me that all our mental pains could be resolved like this, even the bigger pains like tension between neighboring countries…O shut up!
He and his silly thoughts! Now what… why did the thieves come and plunder my garden on a Thursday, have the walls been made…uff… the tune again…it came and sat on my mouth like a fly and went away! Where! To Darjeeling?! Oh my God, PAPON! Are you all right? My darling TIKLI…I hope nothing has happened to my grand-daughter! Oh no! Something bad must have happened to them, why did they go to Darjeeling! Fourteen thousand times I asked them not to!! With all these thoughts running up and down, I somehow saw myself walking upto to my Pujor ghor (room of worship) like a somnambulist, I screeched O MA GO (O God), nearly swooned to see the axe lying on the ground and some muddy footsteps! No utensils, those expensive ones and no…all my idols made of pure gold… missing… all stolen… on a Thursday! PAPON!! TIKLI!!! There must have been some landslide or a terrorist attack in Darjeeling, I ran to my room to call Papon, surprised to see him calling as his name flashed on my mobile he gifted to me on my last birthday, but listen, I really don’t have the heart to talk about my birthday now… PAPON TIKLI are you guys okay?!
‘Thammi (granny), it’s me don’t worry, we are all right here…Baba has booked a very nice hotel, how are you? I am so happy Tikli was made to say Baba and Ma and not Mom and Dad, I was very strict on that and so was Papon and Purnima. Hearing her tender voice, I got my body and soul together and said, ‘Give to your father.’ And no sooner he held the phone, I recited the panchali to him (panchali means the book one reads on every Thursday to Goddess Lakshmi for wealth, here it means all that happened). With his usual calm he said, ‘Wait a minute, you are telling me you came running to call me from the Puja room…bravo Ma… you knee-pain is gone it means’ Papon, will you never be serious, is this the right time for all this, I snapped, he hanged up telling me not to worry. He has nothing of me in him, his Baba was exactly like this, I didn’t talk to him for months when he told not to brood over my lost diamond wedding ring; it was stolen, my pretentious sadhubaba of a husband thought that the burglars needed it more. I remember he apologized on my birthday and gifted me another ring, but never asked me where I lost the ring, and how! The call from the Police Station woke me up from my sleeping past. ‘Mrs Dasgupta, we will be there in five minutes, do not move, there is a terrorist on the loose in the neighborhood and we had been alarmed, we will be there.’ I kept the phone with an O MA GO…terrorist! My overwhelming fear did not acknowledge Papon’s prompt action at all. He may talk silly, always with his usual quacks, but he is efficient too… my strain and stress overlooked that at the moment. Oh there comes and goes the tune. Again?
Wonderful! My knee is much at ease now; maybe because of the running around it had done coupled with other scary thoughts! Then is the pain in my mind real? Does everything stem from thoughts… no…can’t be; I am much too occupied with the loss, my idols, my utensils and also the flowers… flowers… I am shattered…but what would a terrorist do with flowers… you never know what these misguided minds are up to.
Somehow, with the assurance from the Police, and hearing about the well-being of Papon and Tikli, I wasn’t feeling alone and helpless. I walked up to the Pujor Ghor again and what I saw now was completely different from what I apprehended; saw with my clear unafraid eyes, the most beautifully decorated Pujor Ghor I have not seen for a long time. In such a short span of time! How long was I with the phone… God what is happening…have you come to me; I haven’t seen this type of shaaj (Oh I know you don’t know what shaaj means, it means dressing of idols with flowers and leaves) for years on! No one other than Shanti can do this, has she come, it must be Shanti…Shanti, Shanti I called… but they are in Hyderabad… after their marriage in 2007, she has never ever come. We do get to see her family, with two loving children on whatsapp and Skype… (I also have two more grandchildren, I was only thinking of Tikli all this while, a feeling of shame and guilt overwhelmed me…why…is it because Shanti is not my biological daughter… because we adopted her when she was violated and thrown in our neighborhood and left to die, until we found her… and my remarkable husband readily accepted to adopt her, but was she ever our own…then why did I forget my own grandchildren…what a shame, at least once I seek your forgiveness, please do not mind my irritation explaining you things, else how would you know).
Hers is really a story we tell everyone. So telling it one more time will not hurt for sure. She went to Hyderabad with her college friends to do a research on the Golconda Fort, in August 2007; and on one fateful day when they all went to Gokul Chaat shop to have chat (an Indian dish with lots of spicy things with potatoes and vegetables) there was this bomb blast on 25 August when Shanti was enjoying chaat with her fellow research associates. In an instant, out of nowhere, the horrendous storm of terror and yowling spread blue horrors in the eatery first and then in the entire neighborhood, trotted around the world through various medias as breaking news; but while she would have died that moment, she found herself shielded in the lap of Shahid, now my son-in-law (or my brother-in-law who cares), who rolled over the ground with her, protecting her and taking on the blow; bleeding profusely; he was senseless but never left Shanti, then a complete stranger to him.
We immediately flew off to Hyderabad, found them and several others wailing for life at the hospital; it took months for them to be out of danger and trauma of rubbing shoulders with death; but even in this disgusting whirlwind of hatred and mindless killing, there was also this magical merry-go-round of Shanti in the hands of Shahid, and love triumphed; they experienced near-death and love at the same time. While the spirited Hyderabad came back to life in a couple of days, it took time for them to heal; but these souls were determined to marry each other. No one, literally no one from either families objected to it; feels strange how situations change our visions; in any normal circumstance, this would have raised conservative eye-brows, but their folks (we and all of us) were overjoyed at the victory of love, no one could imagine love to be born out of such a shameful act. Such is the power of love. Magic and miracle…all at the same time! Ah! At last! The words ran into me, I got the lyrics!! ‘Pushpo bone pushpo nahi, ache ontore’ (Okay…I know you don’t know…I will explain… it means ‘flowers may not merely be found in the flower-forest, but in the heart they bloom and rest’).
I turned and saw Shanti coming with heaps of washed utensils from the Koltola (uff it’s the place where utensils are washed… you firangis and lesser Indian readers, you don’t even know that, don’t mind my words, I am only kidding, don’t I know I exist because of you!), I looked down and saw Raushan, her five-year old son and Ruma, her four-year old daughter, my loving grandchildren coming with their mother, I thought of calling Papon..in my mind…’Papon, next time please take me to Puri (a holy place for the Hindus)… the knee-pain has disappeared’ to her ‘I have to tell you a thousand stories and get to know a thousand from you, something that whatsapps cannot do…a slight push… Why didn’t Shahid come, huh? After all these years, he let you come… okay let me see (I touched her tummy)…she smiled ‘O didi, no not again’. (right from the day we adopted Shanti, when she was nine years old, she never called me ma, always didi, which means elder sister; I conceived two months after she came into our family…now how’d you define these things, everything doesn’t really fit in, life is full of questions and doubts, fears and worries, but it is also full of magic and miracle, of faiths and trusts, it is more of love..life exists because of love, isn’t it?)
‘Let me go and quickly close the gate, Shanti…I am just coming’. I was as light as a feather.
‘Oho…so you have come’, I threw those unworried words gently at the two Policemen trying to enter the gate, I continued, ‘no nothing to worry anymore, it’s my sister-in-law who has come with her family; sorry to bother you.’ (now what would facts like she is actually my daughter but calls me didi do here I wonder, in a scripted world that sees one plus one leading as two, not as one, these facts rest in peace, I remembered my hero of a husband’s dialogues, never understood it then)
Wonderful! So for records, can we have their names please…
Okay, it’s Shanti; you want the children’s names too? (a nod), they are Ruma and Raushan.
What? Raushan…what is her husband’s name?
Shahid… the Policemen exchanged looks in a way to let me notice their astonishment, and just because of that, I ignored. (I am an expert at this, déjà-vu with many of my in-laws, the most notorious one I remember was when my mother-in-law tried instructing me with her stern eyes to touch the feet of a scoundrel of her uncle whose hands touched me in all the wrong places, like a potential terrorist, or a rapist…much later when I explained this to her, she never understood and threw me an Oh I see, but you should have been careful!) But I would let the Police do their work, how can I ignore that, in view of what the family witnessed in 2007?
Okay for now, this will do… but we may come back to you should we need any further information.
What information, I snapped…
No nothing, but as I told you Mrs Dasgupta, we have information… um…has your brother-in-law come?
Why! (again that expression and doubtlessly followed by my expert overlooking!)
I don’t know I will have to check, but why do you ask? Do you know how they came in together?!
How? (I narrated the whole story, but it didn’t seem to have any impact. All I could read from their faces was the same Oh I see)
How would you spell his name? Is it S H A H I D?
We will bother you only if it’s absolutely urgent Mrs Dasgupta. Bye… and off they went.
Disgusting… the names frighten them…the names… I thought once of the countries, God what have they done to each other…why they…what have we done to each other; fighting mindless battles 50 years ago, will do so 50 years later (yes I learnt all these dialogues from my husband in the unending and indolent morning tea we enjoyed for years). As I was closing the gate, I took another look at the garden, saw signs of buds in most every tree… preparing to groom the garden again as a loving bride for no reason at all; the phone rang…sure enough it is Papon. Yes it was him…narrated the whole story… I was on speaker, I feel so important when they put me on speaker; Purnima, Papon’s wife was happy to know about Shanti, said they’d return next Wednesday and celebrate the Lakshmi Puja in a grand way.
‘Where is Pishimoni (paternal aunt), Ma?’ She is in the Pujor ghor, I said. ‘Oh I will call again after some time.’
I kept the phone, and re-started singing the song that was troubling me for long and hurried to the Pujor ghor, hugged Shanti, kissed my grandchildren.
Didi do you remember you used to teach me this song… I nodded and continued to sing, the kids were also singing with me and Shanti (Gosh, when will Tikli sing like them, when my husband sang, time stopped; so that runs in her blood, she should also sing like this…look at me!!! O Mind! Look at what you are singing!! Unpardonable, I almost hanged myself at this pettiness, hugged the children, and said sorry myriad times, kept on singing with them). To Shanti I said, may be, and kissed my grandchildren again…it felt as if the whole house was responding to the song, a strain that was looking for me, with me since yesterday.
For us, it didn’t take one minute to get back into our lost comfort zone; it felt I never left them! (Strange….doesn’t it happen to you too? Oh I know I am in a perpetual monologue with you, but you know what, I like to step out of the script and talk to you… I have this enormous desire to know what exactly you think when you read the lines, strange, isn’t it… and every time I say strange, you can also do that… you say that in your mind and you will also feel ‘strain’ with it…why am I saying all this…does it have anything to do with the story I wonder)
‘The children are also learning the ‘Shahaj Path’ didi (book of rhymes for children, written by Tagore…shahaj means easy, path means study, I am paraphrasing all of this for you, so you understand me, not misunderstand because I speak another language and eat differently, ha ha ha!). You will be surprised when you see Shahid in a day or two, he has picked up Bengali so well, from books, TV, from Bengali friends; he can even cook ‘macher jhol’ (fish with spicy gravy, a signature dish of the Bongs)’.
‘What a loving boy, I thought. O I forgot to tell you, Purnima will call anytime. Just then the phone rang…
‘Calling from the Police Station, Mrs Dasgupta… um…’