Short Story ©advbimal
Ammi was from a Muslim family. Dad was from a communist family. Though no religion was practised at home, our parents taught us to respect the opinion of others. Whenever I asked them about their view on their religions, they said each religion is an opinion of the people who follow it. We celebrated almost all the festivities at our home along with Labour day, Russian victory day, Halloween day etc etc. In addition to the Georgian calendar, we also celebrated Russian Christmas which fell on January 7th and Russian New Year on January 14th. When I grew up, I sometimes wondered why my parents did not include Chinese New Year in our celebrations.
According to my Dad, celebrations are to celebrate without looking into their politics, religion, colours or boundaries. Don’t be misunderstood by the word ‘celebration’ or do not think that our childhood was filled with glitter, champagne or with mouth-watering special recipes. During lunch time or at dinner while serving the very normal food, Ammi would announce why that day was special, whether it was Gandhi Jayanthi or some God’s birthday or the revolution day in Cuba or whatever day which meant something to our parents. Then my parents would start to discuss that particular day while me and my young brother had our meal pretending it was special. During such discussions we were more eager to learn about the events or memories or opinions that were associated with our parents. In fact, the discussions between our parents during dinner time gave us abundant information about almost all the matters under the sky. In other words, they moulded us as good human beings through such conversations over the dining table.
One day it was the anniversary of the man’s first landing on the Moon when my Dad cracked his joke. I clearly remember that evening. I returned from college a couple of days back. It was a long holiday after the sixth semester. My mind was full of Kalyani and the moments that we spent together while Dad was talking in full swing about Apollo 11.
When I first talked to Kalyani, I was sure this was the person I was going to sail my gondola with. I have never seen such beautiful eyes in any other person in my life. When she looked at me, I saw deer and swallow swiftly moving through the corners of her eyes. Like Ammi’s, her smile had no clouds. When she smiled, lotuses blossomed. She was a Bengali like Ammi and she had most fascinating dark skin like my Ammi. Her hair is straight while Ammi’s was curly and she is tall but Ammi was average height. They were different in some other things too.
“Hello, are you listening?”, Dad called out. He was still on the Apollo 11. Winding up the long talk about the moon expeditions and space technology, my Dad said that during that time the USA and the then USSR were neck and neck in sending their man to the moon and were ready to launch their spaceflights. Laughingly he added that the US was first to send the spaceflight only because the USSR was searching for the key of their spaceflight which they couldn’t find on that day. Dad laughed out at his own joke, paused for a second and smiled at Ammi, then bent back. That was the last discussion over the dining table between the four of us. Dad was lucky. He had gone laughing and it was a cardiac arrest. His soul might have reached the moon or beyond or wherever he wished. During that month of July four souls had lost their life and the first one for sure was not my Dad.
Ammi and Dad met at the Visva – Bharati University, Shanti Niketan. Dad was a core leader of students’ federation. Ammi’s family was too religious and though they loved their daughter they couldn’t approve of her boyfriend. Though Dad’s family was so called progressive and modern, they too were obdurate. As their families were against the relationship, my parents had plan B. In fact, according to my Dad, it was plan A. One fine morning they got married in front of their favourite bookshop near the Shanti Niketan. Shop owner and his wife stood as witnesses to their young friends’ marriage. No religious rituals or any marriage act played any role in their marriage. They just married to each other by exchanging a book they both chose for the other.
Then they escaped to a faraway city in another state where Dad had political connections. We grew up hearing their stories of love for each other. So, when I met Kalyani on the first day of college, all the stories told and untold flashed in my head. I sensed a small part of Ammi in her.
But Dad’s sudden vanishing from our lives left Ammi a different person. A very talkative person, she hardly talked later. Our food was never as tasty as it was before. Her world was newspapers, books and kitchen when Dad was with us. But after Dad left us, she was taking care of our family business, that too only for the sake of me and my brother, the only positive change.
She tried or pretended to smile but it was not as before. Many times I felt that Ammi had locked herself within. Whenever I tried to cheer her up, she would half smile at me with her left cheek and then gesture me to leave.
More than Dad’s absence, it was Ammi’s sudden surrender that affected us badly and me and my brother were so lost and confused. Once I asked her if she was scared of living without Dad and she looked at us and then replied that she was not alone. In those days I thought it would have been better if Ammi too had died because I thought it was better to die than lead a life like a dead person.
We even worked out a plan for remarrying Ammi. Our search finally ended up with an unmarried professor teaching in my brother’s college. We were totally helpless and we wanted to save our Ammi, the remaining pedestal in our life. But instead, it created more issues at home and Ammi had withdrawn more into herself.
I felt that my life plunged more into misery after the 6th semester in college. Ammi slowly became an unhealthy person and her breathing troubles gave her sleepless nights. At the same time Kalyani started behaving mysteriously making my nights also sleepless. She turned away from me and she started avoiding me and all our friends in college. I never saw her smile after the fateful 6th semester holidays. At the same time Ammi was hospitalised twice because of her poor health and I had to go home each time to be with her.
Unexpectedly some of the relatives from her family tried to get in touch with her visiting her in the hospital. After her discharge, a day before starting back for the college, I asked Ammi why she was not interested in reconnecting with her own family. First she didn’t respond. When I repeated the question, she took me to the cage of the pigeons which was installed at the back of our house. We had two pigeons and both came one day to our house and established proximity with us. Dad made a big cage for them and they became a part of our home. Initially the cage didn’t have doors. But one night the male bird was attacked and killed by the neighbour’s cat. So then we fixed a door for the cage.
Ammi opened the cage and asked me ‘why do you think she comes back every time?’ I said, because we treat her like our family. Right, she said, if we didn’t treat her well, she would have flown away. She released the bird. But contrary to the fact that she was our pet bird and came back whenever we released her earlier, she never returned except once.
I used that incident to argue that Ammi was wrong about her relatives. I hoped that if she changed her mind, we could get our Ammi back.
After waiting for some more time for the bird to come back, she quoted her famous philosophy about love and life as if justifying herself: “If you love something, set it free, if it comes back, it is yours, if it doesn’t, it never was”. I heard it from her many times so I didn’t feel any excitement when she said it once again.
Not long before my brother’s graduation Ammi went to join Dad. She had fever and her usual breathing trouble. I was sitting at her bedside when she took my hands in her hands and held them for some time and then looking at me, she slowly and clearly whispered “khuda hafiz”. Before I could respond, her eyes calmly set down. Finally she smiled. When her body was being prepared for cremation the pigeon, once Ammi waited for, returned to our house and roamed around as if it was still living with us. Ammi must have felt happy. She was right.
Whenever I think about Ammi, I could see her smile. Sometimes I see her in my dreams and at times when Ammi turns around, she becomes Kalyani and their smiles are inseparable.
On a dark, rainy, windy night I was running through a long stretching road without pausing. I was running and running endlessly. A fear slowly crept into my mind then spread all over the body but I was unable to halt. I could feel the pain in my feet, a kind of numbness started affecting my body and I slowly understood that things were getting out of my control. After a very long time I was forced to stop to prevent myself from falling into a deepest hole at the end of the road. Then suddenly I slipped into the darkness of the hole. I screamed loudly. My whole body was shivering when I suddenly woke up from sleep. My sweat spread on the bed. When I regained my strength, I sent an email to Kalyani once again though she never replied. I wrote to her that Ammi’s death had chopped away my remaining wing. I felt darkness was spreading everywhere and the oxygen was slowly draining out. I was unable to move, unable to live.
I couldn’t sleep for the rest of the night and I was thinking about Ammi and Kalyani. I saw Kalyani in the orientation meeting on the first day of college. While delivering the long and boring welcome address to the new students, the Vice Principal paused and said, I am sure you all know Bengali, right? Unfortunately, I raised my hand and told him ‘Sir I don’t understand Bengali’. He didn’t expect my interference and took it in a wrong way. He furiously scolded me in Bengali and then after giving a panoramic look at those who gathered there, 300 students and some of their parents, he said that Bengali was a centuries old language. How could he say he didn’t know his mother’s mother tongue? I cursed my decision to join a college in West Bengal.
In humiliation I looked around and everyone, except one girl, was laughing as if they wanted to impress the VP. I noticed that the girl who was sitting on the opposite side of mine was trying to say something. She tried to smile at me and then slowly waved down both of her hands as if she was telling me to calm down. Though a small breeze passed through the bottom of my humiliated heart I kept down my head during the rest of the session and I really wished to go back home that day itself.
After the meeting while everyone was exchanging greetings with each other, the very same girl who tried to console me hurriedly came to my side and told me that languages were to communicate and there was nothing to get embarrassed about if you don’t know a particular language as long as you are able to communicate in any manner. I looked at her eyes and they were communicating with me and then we hugged each other tightly. It was the beginning of an inseparable bond between two simple souls.
She was Kalyani Bishwas and we both were in the same stream and we gelled quickly.
Kalyani’s father was a postmaster general in the city who died on an unforgettable evening when she was getting ready for her 16th birthday celebrations at home. He was her best friend and his loss brought the first permanent scar in her life. Her mom was a housewife who suddenly turned very religious, stressed out and very strict after the death of her father.
Though the medium of language of the course was in English some of our faculty members preferred Bengali. Until sixth semester Kalyani took care of my notes by translating them for me whenever it was necessary. As a non-Bengali I faced a lot of issues in the beginning but each time she stood there as my protector. She brought lunch for me and we ate together until she changed her mind after 6th semester.
We roamed around almost everywhere, always together, and she introduced some of the best Bengali sweet shops around to me. We watched the famous classical movies and plays in Bengali and she filled my playlist with beautiful songs. In those three years the most I enjoyed was the reading sessions. She read and translated the famous Bengali novels and poems for me. I enjoyed her interpretations and explanations.
Though from the very first day itself I was so sure that I was going to share my life with her, I didn’t express that to her. Instead I waited for Kalyani to open up. When her grandfather was hospitalised due to his old age issues, I was with him and taking care of him because Kalyani was at home with her mother who slipped down in the bathroom and was bedridden with plaster on her leg. One day we were sitting in the hospital canteen and all of a sudden without any indication she asked me, can you take care of my life. I grabbed her hands and pressed them against my face with all my strength, a forceful wave of my feelings lashed out on the shore heavily. She only demanded a promise from me to take care of her mother after our marriage. I promised that there wouldn’t be any difference from my Ammi. After that moment I felt my life had more value and meaning and I focused on my studies.
But everything turned upside down hardheartedly. When I went back to the college after the death of my Dad, she was a totally changed person. She never paid attention to me. Never smiled. Seemed that she preferred to be alone. Kalyani was indifferent not only towards me but to all her friends. She didn’t say even a single word about the loss of my Dad. I was holding back my tears waiting to shed them on her shoulder. My calls, messages and mails were unanswered and later we also noticed that she had stopped using mobile, at least in the college.
No one really understood the reason(s) for the changes in her behaviour. I tried my best for a patch up with her and my friends tried their best too. I even sought the help of a faculty member but that too was futile.
I feared she was withdrawing into a shell. Her dressing pattern, her attitude, her interests, everything had changed. She seemed as if she had lost trust in life. I saw same changes in Ammi too later.
From 7th semester onwards she had spent more time in the library and thus kept a far more distance from me and her other friends. Several reasons and theories about her were gossiped at the campus but nothing affected Kalyani or her attitude towards me or others.
My friends as well as the faculty members advised me to stay away from her and to move on but I couldn’t. After some time, they too started ignoring me. To make things the worse, my backlogs increased.
She started coming to college with her driver. He would drop her in the mornings and then come in the evenings which gave me no room for approaching her alone after classes. The driver was not a friendly person and always behaved as if he was the owner of the car. I went to her house more than once to talk to her or to her mother but I could not meet Kalyani as her mother would not let me in.
There was a pathway with hand rails which connected the two compounds in the college. Every evening after the classes I would wait there to see Kalyani coming from the main building or from the library and walking towards her car and sitting at the back seat. She never looked at me, as if I was not existing. It was painful and unbearable especially when the moments that we spent together, the words that we had exchanged or the promises that we shared haunted me.
Every day, every night while I was waiting for sleep, I would hope for a miracle to happen the next day. But nothing turned out in my favour. When you are a looser, time will not wait for you.
The final day came. After the final exams everyone was busy with the farewell ceremonies. I felt left out and went to my favourite spot where I waited in the evenings to see her. So many beautiful moments flashed in my mind. My first meeting with Kalyani, our walks through the lover’s path, her surprise move in the hospital canteen, our first kiss behind the dressing room of the swimming pool, the moments I fell asleep on her lap, the beautiful twilights that we shared together.
I don’t remember how much time had passed. I got back to my senses only when someone touched my shoulder. When I turned, I couldn’t believe that it was Kalyani. She asked me if I could walk her up to the parking lot. Because of my tension and palpitation, I didn’t understand what she was saying. She repeated it again. When I said ok and tried to walk, I found out I couldn’t move. I stood there for some more time and then tried to walk with her. We both didn’t talk. I lost all my energy. She too was searching for words. Finally, by gathering the strength she asked me, you got a lot of backlogs, when are you going to clear all that? I didn’t have a reply. Then she said, take your own time. You should clear all and achieve your dreams. Don’t forget your responsibilities towards your Ammi. When I heard the word Ammi, I lost my control and I said, so you know that my Dad had died. She stood in the mid-way for a while and then turned to me and said that the very same day your Kalyani also died. An electric shock of trembling passed all over my body. Why do you say so? What happened? Probably that’s what I intended to say but I doubt whether my voice came out of my throat or not. She gestured to me to walk along with her and then she untied the knot of her long silence.
‘That day when we left that beach hotel you went to the railway station and I went back home. But on the way back my mom was keeping on calling and urging me to reach home fast. Only when I reached home, I understood that she was arranging my engagement with the son of her old friend and that caused a big fight between me and my mom. Finally I told her about our relationship and I even told her that the previous night I was not staying with my friends in the girl’s hostel as I had informed her but was with you in the hotel room. She was cold and adamant and simply told me to forget everything. When I tried to call you, she snatched my phone and destroyed it. For the first time in my life she pulled my hair and slapped me on my face and hit almost all over my body mercilessly. I saw the evil face of my mom. She threatened me by saying that she will end her life if I didn’t accept whatever she said. I told her I preferred her to kill herself rather than me marrying someone she forced. After a few moments I saw her in a pool of blood and she was in the hospital for a few days hanging between life and death. Though finally she returned home there was no change in her attitude and then it was evident that either me or mom would have to die and I chose my death. Your Dad died in the evening, on the same day I died in the morning. The person who is dropping me here every day is claiming to be my husband. But till date I haven’t uttered a word to him because he married me without my consent. Just before the marriage ceremony, which was hurriedly arranged at my house, I put up a condition that I wanted to complete my studies which they were compelled to agree to. Every day I came to college to tell you this but I couldn’t bring myself to see you shattered’.
Even though I was speechless, somehow I asked her to come back to my life. When I again pleaded with her to move in with me, she said ‘I am a dead corpus, you deserve a better person. My life is my revenge to mom for what she did to me’. Even though she tried to stop her tears they burst out of her eyes like the water would erupt from a tunnel.
She insisted that I would clear all the backlogs and find a suitable girl in my life. I begged her to change her mind. A scary silence crept between us.
When you understand that you are going to lose something then you can’t predict how you react in such a situation. I was dying for her. So I cried out, Kalyani, maybe you are done with your life because of the unfortunate things that happened to you, but I need you, l can’t think of a life without you. You are surrendering to the negativity. Life is to succeed, fight against its currents. If you are thinking that you are punishing others then you are mistaken, but in reality you are losing everything in life. Stop it. Stop, please, living like this. After a pause I said firmly, you either come with me or stop punishing yourself and lead a normal life with that person. Don’t give up the hopes please. Once it was you who told me to fight for whatever I want in life but you gave up everything so easily instead of fighting for what you want. Kalyani you have to fight for what you believe is right. Now more than my life I want you to be happy, don’t let yourself down please.
She turned her head and tried to walk. The headwind blew and she was determined. Her car entered the gate and drove towards us. She turned and stood in front of me face to face and said, please forgive me, and stared into my eyes for a while and then turned towards the car parked near us. While opening the back door of the car she looked at me and gave a smile. I watched the car going out of the gate and entering it into the main street motionlessly. I closed my eyes then faded into the dark.
After the story reading session a big sigh came out from the people gathered there and it echoed in the hall.
On our way back while waiting for the black coffee at a roadside stall, Paru asked what happened to him then? She insisted.
He went to the hotel where they both had spent a day and night together but since that room was occupied on that day, he left for the railway station.
Any idea how are both of them coping up now? Paru was anxious.
As told by Kalyani he cleared all his backlogs and after Ammi’s death one day he disappeared. Police is still searching amongst unidentified bodies. After seven days Kalyani too followed him. She called her “husband” at his workplace for the first time and informed him that she could not live like that anymore; and that evening while he and her mother were helplessly watching, Kalyani walked out of their house.
Paru stared at me. Where are they then?
Really don’t know, they may have found peace somewhere.
Some souls are inseparable, Paru said.
Paru’s eyes were like a sea on a high tide. It shined when the rays of the parting sun reflected over it. Once again, I saw the beautiful glittering eyes.