Friday, June 8, 2012

                         A MEET WITH MY WOULD-BE

                              PRADIP KUMAR BISWAS

 The narrator of this story is a property agent. She short listed a suitable house for a NRI artist client and went for due diligence and site study. During site visit, she found a sketch of a young girl looking similar to her. The current owner of this house drew this sketch. Later, while examining the deeds of the house she found another startling fact. The owner Shantanu was the same man with whom her marriage was finalized but the marriage did not take place. Shortly after this, Shantanu was absconding. In the afternoon, at the time of her leaving Shantanu explained why he avoided the marriage and ran away.  Read on for the full story.

It was late morning when I came to your house. Now it is late afternoon. The weak and tired sunrays from the western hill are, as if slowly jumping out of the grills of window.

Keeping back the deeds of the house in the table, I came out of the guest room and called the housekeeper. Only an hour is left for the train to Kolkata. I shall better wait in the garden. The housekeeper maid said that she already placed a table and if I would like my tea over there.

I run a small property agency. Besides the receptionist, we are a two-member team, Bratin, and I. Bratin, a civil engineer, understands the technical side and moves to sites. Out of compulsion, I also gathered a little bit technical words during years of struggle for existence and the rest from Bratin.

We have a reputed NRI artist client. He wants to settle in a proper house. The location must meet his temperament and suitable for his further creations. Although difficult, we short-listed a few suitable houses. This house at Galudih, near Tatanagar, is one of them.

Bratin has suddenly caught chicken pox and it may take time to come round. Galudih is not far off from Calcutta, only a few hours train journey. I felt not to delay the site visit and due diligence of the property otherwise, this good house may go out of hand.

As the train left the platform of Galudih I found only few local tribals, some were my co-passengers. As per the house owner's description, "Tagore house" is at a walking distance from the station.

But, it appeared that none has ever heard such a house here. Railway personnel, with red and green flags in his hand, while going towards stationmaster’s house, came to my rescue.

He heard the name, reacted like others but unlike other's he was able to show me the house.

"You are from Calcutta and you are looking for... Oh! few people know it by that name, people call here as Tiger House."

Rolling his both green and red flags, he pointed with one of them

“You see that house on the small Hillock. We reach there by short cut within minutes. There is a spiral drive way also."

Looking once again at me he said, "That house belongs to Thekedar Sahab (Civil construction Contractor). His pick-up Jeep shall arrive just now to pick up those materials. If you are his guest, you better go by that Jeep.”

The driver clicked a button on a remote panel and the gates opened automatically and closed after we are on the 'S' shaped red soil driveway road cutting across the gardens and lawns on both side.
A cool flower scented breeze from the lotus pond beside the Portico welcomed me. While few gardeners were unloading the containers, one of them ushered me to the drawing room.

You arrived within seconds and greeted me. After initial exchanges, we settled quickly.
Ten years from now, you came here and seeing the site, you had an idea to set up a resort. The property belonged to an Anglo-Indian lady, who sold it a throw away price before going to settle in Australia.
The whole set up was in a dying state. The hill house, the old artesian aquifer, the garden, and the pond were gradually revived one by one.
Meanwhile the proposal for World Bank funded dam came up and you won the bid to build a part of the dam. The idea of resort business was kept aside. This house became occasional rest house for few selected friends and few movie outdoor shooting locations. The garden, poultry in the adjoining area, is yielding some revenue.
While all this talking was going on, I felt as if you were trying to relocate something in your memory, some thing out from this topic.
Looking at your watch, you got to your feet and said, "Unfortunately today is the final measurement day of the part of dam area built by us. The engineer-in-charge may arrive at any time in time at the site. I am compelled to go there."
Handing me a big file cover you said,” This file contains the original papers of this property, Tax receipts, recent searching results by other parties. Please go through all these. You are at liberty to visit all the part of this property and every rooms of this house. Meanwhile the only train going back to Calcutta is in the evening. You declined breakfast here but have lunch here please. We have every thing fresh here, starting from the kitchen garden to poultry at the back yard and Pond at the front. Please excuse me for few hours."
I walked almost about one kilometer in length and about half a kilometer in breadth. Seeing all these, I could not resist myself for taking a rest in the palm tree shaded pond surrounding the gardens.
One of the gardeners arrived with pairs of green coconut. Sipping the coconut water drink I felt relaxed.
Sitting from here, I took another look at the house. At the roof top there is a single big circular room with glass windows. I must see this room before settling down in the guest room and checking the papers of the house.
From this roof, in the background of the hills on either side of the river and the partly constructed dam, the moving dumpers, and people working there, all appeared like small battery powered toys.
On all sides of this terrace, the distant series of hills are visible and appears to be straight out of a landscape painting. The single room at the central part of this floor has a slanting roof and number of glass windows on all sides.
The mounted slanting drawing board occupies the central part of the room. At another corner, there is an artist’s drawing board along with a blank canvass.
On opening cross-windows on both side of the wall, the wet breeze from the lotus pond filled the room with flower scents from the gardens.
I was sure my client would certainly love this house. The outside terrace contains unending series of nature made landscapes, which may inspire his mood.
A strong gust of wind suddenly entered the room. Before I could close one of the windows, some paper bunches fell of from the self at the corner.
Closing the window, I was collecting the bunch of papers to put back to the self. Few sketches of the side view of a young woman came in my hand. There were some landscape paintings, all marked as 'Shantanu'-the owner of this house.  
That pencil sketch was marked as 'my would be' and the subject is some face as if known to me. I stopped my spilt second's glimpse and kept back the folder in its own place.
Accidentally and unintentionally, I intruded into some one's personal life and I felt sorry for it. In quick but careful steps, I came down to the ground floor and decided to concentrate into the legal papers of the house.
The first Para of the title page of the deed described the legal identification of the previous owner. This was followed by the Identity of the present owner, the then buyer of the House Shantanu Ghosh, son of late.... and residing at....
Sipping a part of water from the glass, I calmed my thumping heart and read once again the title page, and stopped reading the deed. The sketches I saw in the terrace room could be mine.
My mind was reeling back.
While we were talking, you were trying and possibly successful in placing me.  I could not recognize you. It was not possible for me.  Ten years from now, I just saw a glimpse of you.
 That was an evening of winter and an important part of the 'arranged marriage system'. You came to meet me.
 I just passed my law exams and my name is Soma. That was all I replied. No other questions were asked either by you or by your companions. I had the feedback that you are a civil engineer in P.W.D.
I left the drawing room and half an hour later the whole family was celebrating the news with my relatives that the "boy liked".
My aunt, the only elderly lady in my house after my mother expired, asked whether I agree to this proposal with a saying, "We the women here are like water and take the shape of the water pot."
A month later, colder than the last meet, I was waiting for you with a traditional bridal dress and make up. Your arrival at our house was getting delayed.
Your house was not far-off but no one was answering the telephones. Some one rushed to your house and brought sad news at midnight.
Shortly after the groom's party left, your mother had an heart attack and she expired. The groom’s party came back; marriage for religious custom was postponed.
After the rituals were over there was another bad news. You suddenly disappeared and there was no trace of you. There were attempts to locate you by your relatives and from my family but it was in vain.
My father was once again looking for a suitable match but it was difficult to get married a girl whose proposed marriage broke up following a sad event.
My father with his broken heart expired after a year and I took over the responsibility to bring up my brother and sister. In all these years, I had nothing but struggles after struggles and now achieved a feeble glimpse of success.
The housemaid called me for lunch and she apologized on behalf of you that you were held up at site and your return is indefinite. I did not want to expose my present mental state and despite unwillingness from the stomach, I tried to take something.
I could not take the lunch but took a few spoons of curd and rice and went back to my room. This time I concentrated on reading the legal papers and was on a responsible duty for my client.
Looking at my watch, I was about to leave. Just at that time, your vehicle centered and halted with screeches on tyres.
Hopping down quickly and with usual words of apology, you said, “Train would be late by an hour. May we spend a little time in just having Tea? If you decline I shall understand that you did not forgive me at least this time."
While you excused for a quick wash and change I settled in the same location at the garden controlling and extinguishing the fumes and pain inside me from your last words of "forgive me at least this time".
I forgot the old scar inside me long back. A sudden death had stopped you to marry me. You ran away and began something else and I was compelled to do something else.
I preferred to take care of my responsibilities than marrying. But, what stopped you to marry someone else? Why you limited yourself in just drawing few half-face sketch of a girl having some similarity with me? What stopped you in coming back to me? Like many others, did you take me as inauspicious?

Through corners of my eye, I saw you coming. I vainly tried to become a professional real estate agent and said

"I was satisfied with this complex and checked the papers also. I shall let you know the final deal in a few days time."

The housemaid placed big sandwiches and teapots. After she left, you said slowly,
"That is O.K with me. I shall be at Calcutta soon to complete certain formalities with my dam building client, you may call me then."
Munching a part of the grilled sandwich, a few words certainly slipped off my tongue," Why do you want to sell off this nice property? Are you planning to run away somewhere else this time also?”

Wrong! Wrong! I bit my lips and cursed myself but by that time, the arrow has left the bow and hit the target. A swarm of sadness came to your eyes and it flushed your face for a while.

Before I apologized, you quipped
“Ten year's back this place was almost dead. Now it is back to it's own pace. It may stagnate if I continue here. Time has come to hand it over to some one, who is also creative. He may add another stream of growth. I shall go to some place else to start something new or revive the dormant existing.
Previously, this place stagnated and then it stated decaying and I saw it in a dying state. I learnt this lesson from this place.
You paused for a moment.
“The same thing happened in my family. It was a stagnated environment from my childhood days and then death started in a row. The old Banyan tree died first, and then in a row my grandfather, father, brother, and sister died within a year. I was about to start a new life with you but my mother died when the marriage party just left for your house. I tried to counsel myself that my new life may change everything. But I was scared of death, mentally ill and unfit to become your life partner. Something inside told me to run and run and I came to this place. When I learnt this lesson of life and cured myself it was too late to return to you."

I was silently hearing the words of a person who was my 'would be...' and stagnated as "would-be'.

The first bell of my return train and announcements of the arrival were clearly heard from here. I took my bag and rose to my feet. It is five minutes walk, possibly more quicker while walking down the slope and I politely declined the 'vehicle drop' offer.

Just near the gate, I stumbled onto something and was about to fall. Walking behind me, you extended your hand and saved me to fall. Like this, we could have walked in our life but it did not happen. Tears now rolled out from my eyes, no dam could prevent that, not even this Dam engineer.

Before entering the Galudih outer signal post, the train was crossing the Bridge on Subarnarekha River and the whistle started blowing loudly.

As if after ten years, the postponed Sehanai of my marriage is now playing the much-awaited tune at this station platform.


Lazyani said...


Rajesh said...

Very nice story.

Abhyudaya Shrivastava said...

Very gripping.

Saru Singhal said...

I felt as if I was strolling in the compound of the house. Lovely narration of how she was moving, observing the house. Narration in first person is very difficult but you did it with ease. Loved the ending, specially when you said the sound was like the awaited Shennai.