(In Hindi- Matam-translation by Shri Oma Sharma)
I was worried about how should I behave upon reaching at his place.
This was the 20th day of his mother’s death. But a death in the family lingers longer. The scene at his home, I guessed, must be doused with grimness. A human cry is too common in such a disturbingly pathetic sight.
I could only guess the agony of Debu. Though his mother was quite an aged lady, a mother after all is a mother. These thoughts kept troubling me and I could not know when I reached his place.
Deeply as I was engrossed in my thoughts, I gave a gentle knock at his door. The door opened. I was Debu standing in front of me with a faint smile, about to fade under pain. My face was sullen. It became more so at the sight of his face. Without exchanging any words we walked into his drawing room. For quite some time the room remained filled with stoic silence.
“So, finally you got time”. He broke his silence. “Why should you come? You have become great now”. He uttered with some semblance of derision. I chose to ignore his out-pourings. “When did that happen?” I was straight forward. “Was she having some serious illness?”
“Why? You did not get my letter? I had written two ! One about her illness and another later. You did not bother replying to even one!”
“Don’t tell me so. I got only one. That too I came to know about it yesterday only. I had gone out of station on a tour.” I saw no harm in lying to his useless arguments. “Since when she was ill?” I continued.
For a moment he did not speak anything. Silently he took a step backward, leant against the wall and with a melancholic voice he began slowly, “Don’t ask yaar. These are real bad days. Mother was ill and here a son was born. Kusum is still keeping indifferent health”.
“Really! You could not write two lines even about a good news?” I took the signal of his son’s birth.
“Don’t talk non-sense. Till date how many letters you have replied to?” There was a tinge of anger in his voice.
I expected this. But I was determined to ask about mother first, then congratulate him for his son and ask about the health of Kusum bhabhi next.
“What was the illness? You must have been here only those days.” “No, not that I was here but was quite frequent. Schools were supposed to open on 8th July. I had left the same day. Those days mother was having fever, moderate of course. We were administering her medicines. Amit was not keeping good health also. The climate here in the village does not suit him at all.” “Amit ! Which Amit? Oh, I see his son’s name”. I recalled Vinay’s words.
There was a lining of happiness on his face. But he turned serious the next moment. “How many times did I ask her to take medicines regularly, in time, to take care and to inform me in case of any problem, but……..”. He showed signs of disgust. “I had thought to come after a week, but again there cropped up a new problem”.
I became anxious to know about that. “As soon as we reached, Amit’s condition turned very serious. Vomiting continued and temperature never down below 104 degrees. We had to sit one whole night at a doctor’s place. He is barely three months old, you know. In fact, he will be completing three on coming eighth”
I was wondering whom I was talking to. He did not appear the same Debabrata Banerjee to me. He had rather became Mr. D.B. Banerjee, Deputy Superintendent of Schools, House no.413, Khandari Crossing, and was talking like a father of four children and as nearing forty. Anyway, as a matter of courtesy I asked about his son’s health.
“It has not improved a bit. The climate does not suit him at all. We give him boiled water always. Yesterday also we took him to the doctor. Doctor said he has tape worms. He never stops crying. I don’t know what to do”.
I did not have slightest of eagerness to know about his children. I was anxious to know about that mother for whom once upon a time, Debabrata had promised not to marry lest the mother should suffer. Since his elder brother never cared to visit her, he even used to think in terms of taking his mother wherever his place of posting was. But the irony is that the same Debabrata was now speaking about his son when I was asking about his mother.
I asked, “when did you come to know about the seriousness of your mother’s illness?”
“I’ll tell you. Because of not taking sleep for days and nights together Kusum had developed typhoid. I could not leave her alone there. Doctor advised complete rest for fifteen days and not to go anywhere before that. Fifteen days passed like fifteen seconds. Then I came here with them”.
“When did you come?”
“27th evening” was his curt reply, but my silence prompted him to speak further. “Mother’s condition was serious. I called the doctor immediately. He is a very good doctor. Amit gets comfort only from his treatment. I also got treatment from him for my stomach trouble”.
“Elder brother was here?” I asked inquisitively.
“No, nobody was present there except Pitaji, he also remains ill all the time. You know about Bhaisahib. It has been two years since he visited this place. Long back he had written that he won’t be able to come in July. His eldest daughter’s exam was near. I haven’t received any news ever since.”
“What did the doctor say?” I continued my inquiry. “Doctor did a through checkup. Gave glucose and two injections also. She had almost recovered. But Amit became serious again after two days. I had to rust to Meerut with him. I didn’t tell this to mother. This would have given her a shock. I had to stay at Meerut for three days. On the 4th day when we returned back, I found mother’s lips had turned blue. She had stopped recognizing people ever. Hardly had I sat there for 15 minutes. She………..”. And he broke into tear. He took out his handkerchief upon his moisture eyes to wipe out the tears. For a moment we sat speechless looking at opposite directions.
Silently I kept my hand on his back. As a friend to bring back his confidence I said, “Everything is a matter of time. Who knows what will happen in these six months. On the one hand Amit came and on the other this catastrophe!”.
“Really, I did not anticipate this. I had thought to take Mataji with me this time. She could have got due care and attention. And I would have been saved of the trouble of doing up and down everyday. Mataji would have enjoyed playing with Amit and Kusum would have got a helping hand also. My plans did not materialize. It is so difficult to get a maid servant these days, you know.” And he again wiped out his tears. Seriousness again returned to the atmosphere.
“What have you through now?” I asked.
“I have to go tomorrow”. He looked at his watch taking a deep breath. “There everything would have been spoilt by now. There is some income in the months of July and August. This time that is gone also”.
“Why gone?” I was curious to know.
“Last time I was in the committee. We transfer teachers in July and earn something out of it. I had tried very hard to get into the committee. I had manipulated recommendations. I had to give one thousand rupees also. I lost this. Treatment expenses also came as a bold from the blue. I could have managed it well had I not come to this place. Really mother died at a very wrong time.”
“Can’t you manipulate now?”
“I can do something if I try. My boss has great respect for me. But I won’t go to tell him now. He would also be knowing all my problems”.
“But what is wrong in giving a try?”
“No, never. I won’t be able to do that. He expects me to grease his palm. You know this is a thing I haven’t learnt yet. By now someone else might have been kept in the committee.”
I consoled, “Doesn’t matter. This happens. Hope you can make good the loss next year. You would take your father with you. Won’t you?”
“This is another problem. I don’t know what to do. It is a problem both ways whether I take him or not. If in take him it would add to the problems of Kusum. He can’t give a helping hand you know. I am simply perplexed.”
Just then a girl brought a child to Debu’s lap. He was crying. Debu took him in his arms, stood up and tried to pacify him.
Debu started, “this is very lucky. He was born on 8th. I received my promotion orders on 12th/ his grandmother calls him lucky for this.” Showing me to the kid he said, “See who’s come. Don’t cry”. I extended my hand towards the child for a shake.
“this time we could not celebrate his birthday. Next year we will do it. You have to come.” His voice was apologetic, yet assertive. I assured him that I would come. He told Amit to say bye to me. His face was effulgent with happiness. It did not show any trace of sorrow of grandmother’s death.
I turned back. On the way I felt as if I had gone to attend a birthday party, not the mourning. No, I did not have any dual conflict in my mind now.