by Saheli Mitra
13/1/A Hindustan Road. The Madhabilata vine twined and twisted round the barbed wire, fencing the old walls. Unkempt, lost in the dust and neglect. None to take care of its growing branches proliferating in every direction. It came as a sapling to this house, as a monsoon gift from Manjira to Meghnad.
That evening, Meghnad had passionately kissed her after locking the office room door and made her sit till late evening, a self-written song humming in her ears. Once upon a time he was quite a popular singer.
The storm raged in all its fury outside the dark windows. It found its way within too. For unknowing to all, the seeds of Meghnad had been sown within her womb. His juices trickled down as she lay naked on the office table-top embracing the man she loved. As they often did in Manjira’s home where they worked together as her family stayed elsewhere. In between discussions and meetings, Meghnad would smile at her, an infectious, inviting smile that Manjira could never avoid. He was almost fifteen years senior to her and despite both being married, they did not mind enjoying their new-found love.
At least for Manjira, her Megh was all that she had ever dreamt of, suave, smart, self-made man, who could sing and had a high libido, often speaking raw and pushing her to new heights. While driving her back home one day, Meghnad had assured her: ‘Mann we are consenting adults, and every time I am within you and look into the desire in your eyes, I tell myself I have sold my soul to you.’ Manjira believed what he said. Manjira, though, was still disturbed as she loved her husband who was her childhood buddy. Yet she trusted Meghnad and his every action, she wanted to learn from him, and allow him into their small shared mental space all her life.
Today, on a scorching summer afternoon in Kolkata, Manjira stood outside the closed iron gates which had rusted over the years, the one that had always remained half open, she could see the swaying flowers of the creeping Madhabilata blooming free even without anyone to view the pink beauty. This year nor westers had almost vanished and the temperature was soaring. But Manjira had to be in front of that house.
17th April. The date she would never forget. Even if it meant driving all the way from Alipore, crossing the traffic snarls, she had to have a glimpse of that house that had given her the best moments, yet extracted the best gift forever. Within its four walls, on the top floor, lay in obscurity her child, the baby she had named Yudhajit in anticipation of giving birth to a boy who would win all battles.
Meghnad had called her a couple of months back from Australia. He had shifted back again, the continent where he had spent several years of his youth. Kolkata had embraced Meghnad’s post-40 phenomenal journey as an entrepreneur. It was the love of his soil, that had dragged him back to his hometown. He had called Manjira and described what a difficult Aussie summer they were going through that year and how his wife and grown up children wished to hit some trek route in the European Alps.
Manjira still loved the sound of his voice, that deep baritone which had once upon a time woken her up on many mornings, wishing her a great day. And had spoken to her night after night in hushed tones when they worked late, away from their spouses. That voice had an element of thunder, which had never frightened her, rather promised the coolness of oncoming rains.
She still waited for his calls, that had drastically reduced over the years, even when he was in Kolkata. Yet, when they came, she listened intently. Meghnad never realised that every time she feigned happiness, his voice was bringing tears to her eyes. And every time he called, a song would play as a backdrop: ‘Tumi kon bhangoner pathey ele, supto raat e’ (which broken path had you chosen to tread and come to me on this silent night)… the very Rabindrasangeet that Megh used to sing only to her.
He had abandoned any public appearance long since and other than his few childhood friends and family, none knew that Meghnad was once a popular singer. But after decades, Manjira would again evoke songs in him that had died long ago in the battle of family and sustenance.
And every time he spoke from faraway Melbourne, Manjira heard the voice of Yudhajit, who was that part of him that she so loved and harboured within the depths of her bruised heart. Deep down. Memories did not die.
Meghnad spoke of the Australian landscape whenever he called these days, instead of any personal talk. He would discuss their children, their work. He even invited Manjira to come over and stay with them and travel across the wilderness of the continent.
‘This year there has been a massive bush fire. The global warming is wreaking havoc Mann, and you won’t believe so many animals lost their lives. Acres were devastated.’
Meghnad knew Manjira was a nature lover and the Australian wilderness with all its marsupials would be a haven for her. But Manjira would never leave her hometown, not even when her husband and son travelled the world over. She still stayed in that house of hers, surrounded by giant trees, where the rooms still held the tale of her love and loss, of Meghnad’s cries of passion, of his touch, of his fragrance and of his anger that tore her apart. That last evening when he pushed her away after his return from a trip to the hills.
He had pushed her so hard, that for weeks her upper arm had shown signs of bruises. When Manjira’s teenaged son Rahul saw it one day, he asked: ‘Mom, look you have hurt yourself. Did you fall down somewhere?’
Manjira reassured him and said: ‘Oh yeh, I must have hit the garden gate while wriggling out. You know how plump your mom has become!’
Rahul laughed at her. Mother and son were best of friends and they often shared jokes about Meghnad uncle. Rahul would imitate his songs and even pick up a lyric or so. To her husband Rudra, his Meghnad da was a man who had visibly made his wife happy. Busy with his corporate life, he hardly had time to even follow who his wife’s friends or professional clients were. He always wanted his college mate and best friend to be happy. They had been love-birds since school and were more friends than lovers.
‘Why don’t you come over and stay with us. You love the sea and there are many wonderful beaches we can show you around,’ Meghnad said in his ever-jovial tone from Australia.
‘No, stay where you are Megh. Let me live with you in my own way and with Yudhajit,’ Manjira would reply. She loved calling him Megh. The name gave her a feeling of floating clouds taking her to a land she had designed for her and Meghnad. Their fairyland that would never turn real.
The very mention of Yudhajit would turn Meghnad off. He would immediately reply in an irritated tone: ‘Why are you still so obsessed Manjira? It has been years now, you and I live in two different continents, you run a successful company of your own. Can’t you control your emotions a bit?’
Emotions — that strong word, the weapon Megh had used to throw out Manjira from his life one fine day. He had said: ‘I cannot handle your emotions’… after almost three years of intimacy. And that too within months after news of Yudhajit. Manjira had never felt so defeated in life, not even when she had lost her only brother to a virus, her playmate, who in his adulthood would have been her only solace.
That day Megh had kept saying he had taken utmost care, he always took, yet it happened. He apologised, he visited her at her in-law’s house, wanted to support her, to go through the abortion that he said was inevitable. Yet he had blamed the whole thing on Manjira’s uncontrollable emotions. And she was mad at him when he said: ‘Come on Mann, you and I are already parents to lovely children. What do you want? To mess up our lives? And yes, I have a high libido. I had one-night stands with many women, you know that. Even my wife knows. She never behaves like you do! And didn’t you enjoy our sessions? Was I the only one who enjoyed?’
Manjira was dumbfounded just as she was when Meghnad suddenly called her one night after returning from his fun and work trip in the Hills, saying he no longer needed her service at work. He had formed his own team and very soon he would leave for Australia and work remotely from there.
Manjira felt like screaming the whole town down, and she did. Out on her terrace she hysterically cried at the abandonment. But Meghnad was calm, his words sliced like a sword. ‘I have kept three months’ salary for you with the accountant. Take it. My company no more needs your service.’
At one point, Manjira even pleaded with him to let her stay back — at least for the work front that she had so diligently and meticulously handled. She had built Meghnad’s media empire with all her hard work. For her it was his Megh’s future, his life, his work. She knew she had never had Megh in her life, it was an illusion. Rather those strings of moments and memories they had made over the past few years were all her imagination! Or her misinterpretation! Megh had already made plans to leave with his family for a different continent and to delete her from his work team, in much the same way as he deleted words with a click on the keypad.
As she went silent, Meghnad shouted a bit: ‘Manjira can you hear me? If you rake up such things again, I shall stop calling you ever. Grow up. What’s wrong? I am in distant Australia. How can I help and heal you? It has been many years now.’
But by then Manjira had been sucked into the vortex of her memories. She kept speaking in a trance: ‘Why? You wanted to see the USG reports, didn’t you? You wanted proof that I was not lying. While all along I was just harbouring a wish to see Yudhajit’s smile, I knew it was a boy. He would have smiled like you, like you Megh, and would have sung like you. Rudra wouldn’t have known and he would have loved to care for another boy. But you wanted it killed. For you, I was just another woman with whom you enjoyed satisfying your libido! For me you were the father of my unborn child.’
But before Manjira could finish relating her feelings, Megh had hung up the other end of the phone. Manjira knew he would not call again for months or even reply to her WA messages. She put down her cell phone, the expensive one which Rudra had got her for their twentieth marriage anniversary.
Rudra was relieved when Meghnad da left, he knew somewhere Manjira was slipping away and that his best friend was terribly hurt due to something which he could anticipate but never wished to delve deeply into. This was a girl he had known since his school days, who had suffered the loss of near ones, yet stood her ground. But Rudra sensed his wife was madly in love with Meghnad da. He never stopped her. He was ok with anything that made Manjira happy — just about anything.
A decade had passed. Meghnad left Kolkata with his family and settled in Australia where he produced and directed TV shows. On business trips he came to India on and off, but even if he landed in Kolkata, he hardly contacted Manjira or even informed her that he would be around. For him Manjira was only trouble. Trouble that would beat his conscience. Trouble that would break his internal calm. He wanted to run away from her. Australia was a good hideout for him. Far far away from the known streets of Kolkata through which they had driven together, Meghnad holding Manjira’s soft hands on the gear shift and the audio on in full blare.
‘I love your songs Megh. Why don’t you again sing on stage?’
‘I shall never sing before public again Mann. I will sing only for you.’
Ironically, before leaving for Australia, Meghnad did sing on stage in front of a packed audience quite a number of times. He had invited all his friends and family and his working team members. Mann was never asked to be there, to hear him sing. She had chanced upon his videos and photographs on a friend’s social media handle. Yet, she had sent a message praising him. And the whole night she had cried alone in her room, as Rudra and Rahul slept in the other room, thinking their mother was working on some edit project. Didn’t Megh say he would sing for her someday and never sing on stage? But she was happy he did, only that she could not witness that moment in his life. Dreams of which she had shared with him many moons ago, as Megh caressed her long tresses flowing down her nude breasts. They had turned into islands, almost like the coral reefs down under the blue ocean of Australia. Living dead … with their beauty harbouring the past.
But every 17th April, like a ritual, Manjira would make it a point to reach 13/1/A Hindustan Road. It was the death anniversary of Yudhajit. She knew none in this world remembered the day when she went alone to the hospital her doctor friend had referred her to. She had met the doctor before and he had shown her the USG, he urged her to keep the baby, it was perfectly growing in her womb. In fact Manjira herself was quite surprised as after Rahul, she had never been pregnant again and had never wished to have another baby with Rudra. Both being busy professionals, she had known it would be very difficult to raise another child.
Tests she underwent a day before, then a half-day stint at the hospital alone left Manjira exhausted. That day in April, Megh had been again to the hills of North Bengal on a photo shoot for an upcoming TV show. He was enjoying this with his team and posting photos. Rudra had been on a trip abroad and Rahul was at his granny’s house. Manjira was fighting her lone battle. She was so tired that for once she did not even feel like talking to Meghnad to tell him she had aborted Yudhajit, finally, setting him free from all bonds they shared. Rather, she asked her driver to take her to the house where she would forever put Yudhajit to rest. As the car pulled up in front of the iron gates where she stood today, she saw Ramu sitting on a stool outside. He lived with his family downstairs and served as both the gate-keeper as well as the man-servant for Meghnad’s office. He came running. Probably Ramu was the only one who knew she had frequently come over to his master’s office and stayed back till late evening, working…. Or that’s what he knew.
He held out the car door and asked: ‘Will you go up didi? Sir is not in Kolkata now. His team is upstairs. He left with Nilanjana di and the camera crew last week and will return this Sunday.’
‘I know Ramu. Just give this sealed packet to him when he returns. And give it only to him.’ On the envelope was written 17th April. Saying so, Manjira had left. Next Sunday she had received a call from Meghnad. ‘Who asked you to give me the USG reports? Why are you disturbing me!’
‘You wanted proof, Meghnad, of our love. And hence let them be in your drawers forever.’ Saying so she had disconnected. Within a few months Meghnad was off to Australia.
But before he left, he had messaged Manjira one last time, wanting to meet her before leaving. She did not go. Instead she had sent him a poem ….
THE UNSUNG BUD
Nature had held back for years
and years its fertile plains.
I got arid deserts instead.
She never sent her wild tempest,
Never cooled the dry river bed that stopped its course
On a barren rock one day.
She never made her stars
Stare down at me,
Her moon hid behind a veil
Every time my heart gave a skip.
Green tree tops came as dark shadows
To my eyes that searched for new leaves.
But then she came with a roaring thunder,
an angry storm, a blinding rain.
My arid deserts turned fertile again.
Startling the silent heat, burning the fire,
Of despair and desire.
The rain-washed bud brought
me fertile plains,
That nature held back for years.
But I knew not how
to flower it off,
For I always knew of desert storms,
And arid queens who turned
blind eyes to new leaves.
I never helped the bud to bloom.
I never tilled the fertile lands
That nature had
sent me as a last chance!
And then she signed off: ‘Stay well Megh. Let my Yudhajit be buried in that envelope in your office and forever be my evergreen dream in my heart.’
Manjira got into the car. She would wait for the day when 13/1/A Hindustan Road would be pulled down and some plush apartment would come up in its place. Yet every 17th April she would stand before that Madhabilata vine that she cared and nurtured once upon a time.
Saheli Mitra is a journalist, poet and internationally published author of books like Lost Words, People Called Kolkata, Meri Kahani among others. Her latest book for children The Dog that Never Was and other Bedtime Stories has just been released on Amazon Kindle. She runs her own content company Tales, Talks and Walks, with clients across India and world. She is also Consulting Editor of GetBengal, a features portal celebrating the Positive Essence of Bengal. As an ex-chief sub editor of The Telegraph she has more than 200 published articles on law and consumer issues to her credit. Saheli is also a rank holder from Calcutta University in Zoology and Environmental Biology and can often be found leading Tree Walks for her nature group group ‘To Trees with Love.”