“How are you, my friend?” I merrily asked basking in the morning sun.
Amzad dryly laughed, “Going on somehow.” His words were lifeless. I was hurt and gaped, “What a change!” My cheerfulness got a severe jolt.
Amzad was my classmate at Patikabari High School. We spent days playing football and kabadi, flying kites in afternoons, sharing tiffin at tiffin breaks, visiting each other’s home at festivals. Later I moved to Kolkata and he graduated from our local Amtala College. He had an elder brother, a school headmaster, who shifted with his family to Berhampore, our district town. Meantime Amzad’s father died of heart arrest and his mother out of shock lost her mind. Dr Hassan, a famed psychiatrist expressed his helplessness about her recovery.
With ill mother at home and no suitable job in hand Amzad has set up his own shoe store at Patkabari market. He follows a strict schedule—with fajr (early morning) azan he leaves bed, tidies rooms, makes breakfast, cooks dishes, changes his mother, combs her hair, feeds her, makes her cozily sit at her chair, washes dishes and clothes, locks her up and runs towards his store. At noon he closes his shop, runs to his home and spends afternoons with her. In the evening he opens his store for two hours or so. Nights often keep him stand at her bedside. Buyers were unhappy. Many stopped visiting his store. His business was badly hit for irregularity.
“He can keep an aaya.” You’re fair. But it is a village. Hired aayas or nurses or maids are not available. And neighbourhood women are nowhere. They all have gone to Delhi, Mumbai and other big cities to make their days better.
So he decided not to marry and pass his days serving his mother.
“How is your maa?” casually he asked while taking out a box from one of the upper racks.
Amzad in our school days often visited our home and maa liked him as her son. We dined together, played together. Sometime he passed night at our home.
“Well,” I said, “going somehow. There is no chronic ailment, no specific disease, only old age infirmity and weakness.”
“Who takes care of her?”
I was not happy with his query, but I didn’t lose my way. He could ask me about my children, their upbringing and passions. He could ask me about my salary as the old faces and friends usually did whenever I visited my ancestral home. But…
“Why! My brothers! We are five. They are quite well off. Moreover, they live at village. They have free time. What the villagers do? Eat and sleep. So to my brother my maa is not a burden, and she is also happy with known people and known surrounding.”
“You take no care of your mother? O.K. I understand. Have you taken her to your Berhampore flat?” Bluntly Amzad put.
“No. I send money for her. Why will I keep her caged in my six hundred square feet box? I don’t want to uproot an old tree. She will, I fear, lose her liveliness at my place. Her roots will dry and branches will be leafless, I think. We live at fifth floor. There are four neighbours—a deeply engaged aged couple who routinely visit hospitals; an aged widower, egoistic-babbler and a howler, a Marwari who counts coins seven days a week and a loveless widow who has lost her mind. Doors are opened, doors closed, sounds, and hollow, empty, too tiresome! It’s so calculative, mechanical, and artificial. We have jobs and we live in hurry. We have no time to read the lines of their faces. My maa is firmly rooted in dust and soil. How could she live on glossy marble with no work in hand? T.V she hates. People she seeks for her pastime. Where can I find men or women who will talk of milking cows, parrots and sparrows, wheat fields, acacia trees, swirling Jalangi in evening?”
Amzad looked confused and scratched his head. He put on a queer face.
I read a line from a poem to assuage my pain. It was like this—ami thaki choto ghore boro mon loye, nijer dukkher anno khai sukhi hoye (I live at a hut with an oceanic mind, happily I eat food of my sorrow). I bend the line —ami thaki boro ghore choto mon loye, nijer sukher anno khai dukhi hoye (I live in a palace with little mind, sadly I eat the food of my happiness.”
Amzad was not a poet. He was a shoe-seller. It dawned in me and I swallowed bitter pills of my misdeed. This was not the first time. I did it often. I could not check the temptation of reading out a poem. That time I forgot about the audience. I had read poetry before lawyers, doctors, govt. officers, educationists, college principals, school masters and text book writers, academicians, social reformers and I had now mastered the art of silence. But old habits hardly die. So…
“Good! My learned friend! You haven’t mortgaged your maa at old home. I am so happy for you. I know your pain. You are a city-dweller; you have to maintain standards of city-life. Your wife, you, your children—all are busy, rushing round the clock. Where is the time for an old, useless scrap at your furnished 2 BH-K?”
Amzad offered a bottle from a cobwebbed corner. I drank and wiped forehead with my arms.
“How much?” Hurriedly I asked taking the box of slippers from his colourless hand.
“One hundred fifty.”
“Come in one afternoon. Take a look at my mother. She will not figure out your face. But she needs your prayer. Come and take tea with us. Maa will be happy to see you,” earnestly Amzad asked.
“Of course I’ll come. After all your maa is my maa too. Bye, friend. See you in the afternoon.”
I could not keep my promise. A week passed. One evening Daku, another friend, called me and informed me of Amzad’s orphanage.
I sent my condolence from the over-crowded waiting chamber of a pediatrician.