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Thursday, 19 April 2012

What a day it was…!

‘Why did you take our responsibility when you cannot fulfill it?’ yelled Rabi’s wife. ‘Fine…just leave and go to your father’s home… I am unable to take care of any of you….’ yelled back Rabi. He was tired of the incessant fighting and the ever increasing demand for money. This fight was going on for the past 2 days and every time his wife accused him of the same things and finally of marrying her and spoiling her life.

What could he do? He was a mere auto-rickshaw driver; he tried his best to earn a living in a respectful way. He was honest and had not learned the nasty tricks like that of his fellow auto-rickshaw drivers. He always charged the exact fare; never did he try to cheat his customers. Was that his fault? It is not that he did not try; he tried many times but failed each time. Every time his conscience came in the way and he could never do any such thing. Mala, his wife now, had eloped with him some years back, because she felt that he had a heart of gold. She fell in love with his honesty; and now after a marriage of 4 years and two children, she accused that same honesty for being the reason of their poverty and want. There were fights every day because he could not earn extra money like the other drivers did. He was tired and frustrated. Every day he thought that he would leave one day and never return, but then the faces of his children cropped up in front of him and he came back home each time. 

‘When will you ever try to give us a better life?’ shouted Mala at the top of her voice. Although an auto rickshaw driver, Rabi was different from others. He did not like shouting and haggling with customers, nor did he like the fact that his wife shouted while fighting with him. He felt very embarrassed when other people could hear their personal issues. He was furious but he did not say anything. He took his shirt from the clothes hook on one side of the wall and stormed out of the house. He started his auto rickshaw and went looking for passengers.

Mala got a little frightened with the silent response. She stopped abruptly in her anger and started to fear whether she had gone too far this time. She ran out of the house to see the end of Rabi’s speeding auto rickshaw disappear round the corner. She could not even ask where he was headed to. In her confusion, she slapped the toddler tugging at the end of her sari. The child shrieked loudly and started crying. Mala busied herself then, in consoling the child and went inside the house.
Rabi parked his auto rickshaw in the auto-stand and started waiting for his turn to take passengers to the station. Suddenly another auto-driver approached him shouting: ‘Today, you are not supposed to take passengers from this stand. Yesterday you fought with me over a petty passenger. I will not allow you to take any passenger from here!’ Rabi was bewildered for a moment, and then he remembered his brawl with this guy the last night. He was demanding extra money from a passenger when Rabi had stepped in to take the side of the passenger and rebuke him. Then had ensued a bad quarrel and his behavior now was the aftermath of that event. Rabi tried to smile and reason with him but it was no use. He was adamant to make Rabi leave. Finding no way out, Rabi started the engine of his auto and drove to the auto-stand close to the bus stand, hoping that his day would improve a little.

There were a lot of people at the bus stand. The Diwali holidays were coming in a few days and everyone seemed to travel everywhere, either they were returning to their homes or traveling to visit some place. Rabi noticed a couple standing near the Inter-City bus stand. They seemed quite well dressed and a little misfit in the usual crowd of bus-stands. The wife was talking over a cell-phone and motioned to her husband to take the luggage and cross the road. They crossed the road and were now standing next to Rabi’s auto-rickshaw. She went off the phone and kept checking her watch repeatedly, talking to her husband about the Bus that they were supposed to catch; which seemed to be late by some minutes. She then inquired at the ticket booth about the whereabouts of the bus.
The guy at the booth looked at her, heard her inquiry and informed her in a nonchalant tone, ‘That bus has left on time and is already half way….’ The woman could not believe what she heard and that too delivered by this inquiry-boy in such a non-alarming fashion!

‘What? Give me the number of the Bus coordinator now…I want to talk to him…How can they leave the bus without us? I had called yesterday to confirm our boarding from this point…give me the number now…’ she burst out on him. The guy at the counter replied with equal calm, ‘They must have felt that they don’t want to go this way…. so they left….here…you can talk to the bus coordinator if you want’. She was furious by the time he gave her the number but decided to talk to the bus coordinator first and then deal with this guy.

Rabi was admiring the woman’s skills in negotiating and shouting at other people to get her work done. She was again on the phone and with sound logic convinced the bus coordinator to stop the bus at the next stop, where they would reach by any means. Rabi was thinking what Mala would have done in such a situation. She would have either started crying or started a quarrel with Rabi saying it’s-all-because-of-you. It was true that education does change people and make them more reasonable. Amongst all these musings, a thought suddenly crossed Rabi’s mind.

By now, the phone call was over and she and her husband started looking for a mode of transport to reach the next bus stop. Rabi jumped into action. The usual fare to reach the next stop would be a mere 30 rupees but he thought he would demand 150. He waved at them to come and sit in his auto rickshaw. They came and started getting in when the woman inquired about the fare. Rabi’s reply of 150 rupees infuriated her further. ‘Are you crazy?’ she replied and instantly got off his auto rickshaw and started looking for another. Rabi got a little scared, she seemed tough and maybe he had stretched the fare a bit too much. He shouted back, ‘Okay…120 rupees…not a penny less than that….’

‘Just because you heard the problem that we are in, doesn’t mean you that you will take advantage of the situation! Look at how you are charging so much more…!’ haggled the woman. Rabi also did not want to charge more but he had to take some more money home, because he wanted to give Mala and their children a better life. He had to start earning more sometime or the other, and this was a golden opportunity, so why not! Rabi saw that they had no other mode of transport, so he tried his luck and replied,

‘If you don’t want to go then don’t go…I don’t want to haggle with the price’. The lady was adamant too, ‘Fine! We will give you what you are asking for, only if we catch the bus, but nothing if we miss it…’ Rabi was certain that he could reach the next bus stop on time, and the fare was quite a bit more than he usually got, he agreed. The couple was also in a fix, although he was charging more than the usual fare, they had no other way out, so they got back into the auto rickshaw and asked Rabi to speed up as much as he could.

The woman constantly kept track of the bus’s movement by talking to the coordinator over phone. Rabi started to like the woman’s crisis-handling abilities. He caught a glimpse of the woman talking to her husband now, from the rear view mirror. She was pretty, confident and certainly educated enough to control and mold the workings of this male dominated world as per her requirement. Nevertheless, he sped his auto-rickshaw as much as he could and was quite near his destination. He jived and juggled between several cars, buses, pedestrians and people on bicycles to reach the bus stand on time!

The couple sighed in relief as they saw the bus waiting for them at the bus stop. Finally they reached the bus stop, took their luggage out and paid Rabi the fare. They boarded and the bus sped by, leaving Rabi content. ‘Oh… What a day it was…isn’t it?’ mouthed the woman to her husband!
Rabi was happy, not only because he had earned a little extra money but also because this money would make Mala forget her worries for some time. He was also feeling good because he could help the couple catch the bus on time. He also made a mental note of taking his daughter’s schooling seriously, for the simple reason that he saw today an example how education made a person confident and independent. The biggest reason for their poverty, he felt, was a lack of education.

He kept thinking about all these while faring other passengers to and from their destinations. Finally, at the end of the evening and the break of the night he decided to return home. He had stormed out of the house in the morning without saying anything, Mala must be worried, he thought to himself.

He reached home and called out to wife in a happy voice, ‘Mala… come and see what I have got for you!’ Hearing her name, Mala almost ran out with a glass of water in her hand, already ashamed at her behavior in the morning. He put the day’s income in Mala’s hand. She smiled gripping the money in her fist, and replied with a smile still on her lips, ‘Oh… what a day it was…isn’t it?’
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(To be continued......)

Tuesday, 3 April 2012


[ Please Note: This post was originally published in
But I’m reposting it here on request of some of my blog friends. Enjoy! ]

A little girl was jumping with joy, holding her father’s hand in one hand and a chocolate in the other. She was not too small almost in her teens but her innocence made her appear smaller than she actually was. Her family along with her mother, grand parents and brother had gone to visit a famous Kali Temple in the district of Bhirbhum. They were on a weekend trip and had plans of going for a little sightseeing once they finished offering the prayers. She was very happy, firstly, because it was her post-exam break. She had been cramped at home all this time and was enjoying every moment of the trip. Secondly, it was a family outing; she could do all that she wanted and her granny would save her from her mother’s scolding!

She could see the temple from the moment they entered the narrow alley leading to it. Both sides of the alley were littered with shops selling all kinds of articles with the picture or name of the Goddess Tara inscribed on them; starting from pens to key chains to photo frames and large posters…. You could get them all here. There were some modern things of utility too, like torches, costume jewelry, hand bags and a number of edible items like sweat meats of all kinds, and shops selling hot kachoris and jalebis too were aplenty. She was making a mental note of all the things she wanted to buy and have once they finish offering the prayers. The day being a Saturday, which was supposed to be the best day of the week to offer prayers to the Goddess Kali, the temple was thronged by millions of devotees. There were people everywhere!

Sounds of ‘Joy Ma Tara! Joy Ma Tara!’ resounded all over the temple. Thousands of devotees had thronged the Holy Kali Temple to offer their prayers to the Goddess. The prayer hall, which offered a clear view of the Goddess’s idol, was covered with a human carpet. The crowd was so huge it seemed like an entangled mass of human hands and feet, all trying to get a glimpse of the goddess in the process of being worshiped during Aarti.

Among all this noise, the pleas of a girl barely in her teens, was getting lost. She was small in height and was trying desperately to break free from the crowd, the smell of human bodies and the disgusting touch of the man who was freely roaming his hand all over her. She shouted for her mother ‘Maaa….!’ But there was no one listening. She tried to break free, meanwhile the noises around her increased and the rants of ‘Joy Ma Tara! Joy Ma Tara!’ was getting louder and louder. With the increase in the decibel of the noise, the man was getting emboldened in his vile act. In the crowd she had somehow lost grip of her father's hand and got plastered in front of this man. With all her strength she tried to move out of the crowd. After a lot of struggle somehow, she broke loose and sat down on the floor. From among the web of human legs she managed to crawl to the side of the prayer hall, which was a little empty. She leaned on the wall and started sobbing! All her innocence was shattered in one blow!

What was her fault? Like all devotees even she had gone to the temple and had plans of having a good time with her family? Is this what her family had prayed for? How can human beings be so cruel?


Monday, 2 April 2012

Falling Out of Love…..

Kalpana was reading the email with all due attention with the help of her newly made reading-glasses, perched on her nose. At 55, for the first time, the family doctor had advised her to use reading-glasses as a precautionary measure lest her eyes got damaged with too much reading. The email was from Riya, her daughter settled in California for the past four years. Because of the geographical distance emails and the Internet were the best way of communicating regularly with her. A mail a day was Riya’s schedule. Any break in the schedule meant something serious. The mail that Kalpana was reading had arrived after a full four days interval. Kalpana had planned to call her in the night, if the day passed without receiving an email. But the content of the mail was more perplexing than the fact that it had arrived after four days. Kalpana started reading it one more time to comprehend the meaning fully.

I was extremely busy in the past few days so could not take time out to send you a mail. Actually I was trying for a long time to tell you something…. Pranay and I have drifted apart in the past few months. At first we used to have regular fights but then things got sorted out, but now whenever we fight…. Neither of us feels like making up. From yesterday we are staying in separate rooms. And… I think… soon we have to think about separate homes. I am unable to find the reason that has triggered this distance. Maybe it is my fault…. Or maybe it is his….it is just that I have fallen out of love with him and I think….. same is the case with him. Pranay’s parents are supposed to visit next month…. So as of now, we are not moving into separate homes…. This one month we will try to give our relationship one last try….. if it doesn’t work out…. I will have to move out.

For now, please don’t tell anything to Baba*. If anything is finalized I will call him up myself. Tell me something….. did you ever feel such a thing for Baba? I mean did you ever feel that life would have been better without him? Please don’t call today itself…. I’m in no state to reason. I need some time. I will call you tomorrow. Missing you more than ever! Take care.

Kalpana felt very tensed after understanding the implication of the whole thing. Her daughter’s marriage was breaking up and that too thousands of miles away from her. Riya must be huddled somewhere crying or sitting alone with her own sadness. Although she had asked her not to call, Kalpana reached for the phone. In a very unlikely coincidence, she couldn’t get through and talk to her. But like a fresher doctor just out of college, Kalpana could see the symptoms but could not identify the disease. What was the phenomenon of ‘falling out of love’ exactly? The last questions that Riya posed were outside her realm too. She was married to her husband for life. For good or for bad they were always together. Never for once did she think that life could be better without him.

Riya’s was a love marriage, it was four years back when they had proclaimed fearlessly that they were in love with each other and could not live apart…. And now the same Riya and Pranay had fallen out of love…. Was that at all possible? Kalpana was feeling a slight headache develop around the temples of her forehead. She figured it was mainly because in all the happenings of the morning she had forgotten to have breakfast. Riya’s father had not yet returned from his morning walk and she would wait up a little longer on breakfast for him. In the meanwhile she was thinking about Riya’s letter. She had asked if Kalpana had faced the same thing ever. What was love exactly? Wasn’t it the occasional fights and the realization of being-unable-stay with each other and them making up?

For her, love was when her husband bought her favorite fish or vegetable from the market instead of the regular ones. It was in waiting up for each other for lunch or dinner…. or feeling something-was-amiss when either was not present. Last year when they had visited Riya in California, she was so happy. Pranay was very caring and Kalpana felt that they were very much in love with each other. Then what could have happened in a year that made them ‘fall out of love’? Her daughter was facing an incomprehensible problem and Kalpana could do nothing to soothe or comfort her. The noise of the door bell announced the arrival of her husband, Somnath babu*. With the thought of Riya’s letter suspended in her mind for the moment, she opened the door and soon after starting preparing breakfast.

As was his routine, Somnath babu sat with the newspaper. He sensed something amiss with Kalpana and asked ‘Is everything alright… ? You look tensed.’ Kalpana smiled replying that it was nothing such. She wanted to call Riya and tell her that this concern was love. And this concern for one another was enough to spend your life together. Had education, jobs and money made life so complicated for Riya and Pranay that they were missing out on such simple things….. wondered Kalpana. Unable to control her tension over her daughter’s failing marriage, she confided in her husband. He was tensed nonetheless, but he tried to comfort Kalpana that they would plan to visit Riya soon…. if that could help her in any way.

The day’s routine followed with the maid, milkman, courier and some neighbors dropping by. A multitude of things happened and the day dawned to an end to give way to the night. But all through, Kalpana remained sad. She felt guilty and in some way responsible for Riya’s problem. She was waiting desperately for the night to come, when she could get a better connection and talk to Riya. She tried her number…. and got through in the first try itself…

Kalpana carried on anxiously, ‘Hello…Riya…. How are you?’ Riya replied with concern in her voice, ‘Ma…. I asked you not to call today…but still… actually I wanted to call you myself. Did you get my mail?

Kalpana was getting impatient and pleaded with her, ‘What is it? Lokkhi Sona*…. Don’t be impatient. Tell me ….what is the problem?’

‘Ma… actually I should have waited for some more time before writing the mail….’ responded Riya. Kalpana immediately jumped to a conclusion, ‘What? Have you already moved out?’

‘No… it’s not that… actually we were having a bad fight and I was very angry… I wanted to leave him and go…. And there was no one here to talk to me… so I wrote you that mail’ reasoned Riya. Kalpana was at a loss of words at what she should say. She was slightly angry at her daughter’s childishness, ‘Ufff…. You almost had me on the verge of nervous breakdown. Does anyone say such things to their mothers? I mean…I am so happy that nothing is wrong…. But when will you be mature enough to understand that you must be patient and not rush into things…. Tell me…how serious is the matter?’

‘It is nothing serious…. Sotti bolchi* everything is fine. Pranay and I had a long talk…. And it is absolutely fine now… I’m sorry to have given you undue tension!’ added Riya sheepishly. Kalpana heaved a sigh of relief and in the meanwhile Pranay snatched the phone from Riya to talk to her, ‘Ma, you have tied your crazy daughter in a life-long knot with me. How did you think that I would let go off her so easily….?’ he added in a light tone. His manner made Kalpana and Somnath babu break into laughter. When Kalpana was confirmed that there was no matter to worry about, she had put the phone on speaker to allow her husband to listen to Riya and Pranay too.

Pranay went on to say, ‘Why don’t you and baba plan to come here soon? I will look up the tickets over the Internet and confirm when it is available….’

*baba – father in Bengali
*babu- respectful way of mentioning a gentleman’s name in Bengali, somewhat like Mister in English
*Lokkhi Sona- affectionate rendering of a person in Bengali
* Sotti bolchi – I’m telling the truth (made popular by the song ‘Ami Sotti Bolchi’ in the Vidya Balan starrer movie Kahaani)

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