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Rtr. Shalini Chakraborty



Rtr. Shalini Chakraborty




8 mins 311 8 mins 311

Mrs Banerjee takes the tray and fills the two cups with tea from the teapot. As she lifts the tray her wrinkled hands begins to shake under the weight. She walks slowly and stoops a little with each step. Her cascade of black and grey hair is tied into a loose bun dangling near her neck. The bangles in her hand makes clinking sound as she moves the curtain and enters the verandah. A small tea table is placed there, in between two armchairs. Mr Banerjee is seated in one of the armchairs, his face buried in a newspaper. As Mrs Banerjee puts the tray on the tea table and seats herself in the other armchair, he looks up at her. With a satisfied smile, he exclaims, " Aah! Just the thing I needed. "

"I know" replies Mrs Banerjee.

He puts away the paper and takes the cup of tea in his hand. The sound of dhak, coming from somewhere near, is suppressed by the loud music blaring from the speakers. The sky looks bright and shiny, white fluffy clouds floating seamlessly across the blue sky. The air smells of 'kadamful' and 'shiuli ful'. Just Autumn things for a Bangali.

"What day is it today?" he inquires.

"Friday, I think. You've the newspaper. Check it"

"Not that. I meant what day of pujo?

Just then appears a procession of people. A man at the start is carrying a banana tree draped in a saree. Some women are making the auspicious sound of 'ulu' while one is blowing the conch shell. A band of two dhakis follows them. They move towards the nearest pandal, at the end of the street and slowly fade from view. Silence prevails as both of them stares at them as far as their eyes can go. Smiling, Mrs Banerjee looks at her husband.

"Shoshti", they say in unison.

There is silence again. Mrs Banerjee looks pleased, gazing at the enthusiastic young kids playing on the road with their toy guns. However, Mr Banerjee looks withdrawn. A look of gloom passes across his face. Trying to compose himself he drinks the entire tea at once. Finally, he breaks the silence.

"Did Rohit call? Won't they be coming this year as well?" The pain in his voice is evident.

"He called last night. He has a conference in Mumbai. Also Disha has school. How can they come?", replies Mrs Banerjee in a matter-of-fact way. Though she sounds logical, she doesn't seem much convinced. 

"Pujo without children doesn't seem like Pujo at all."

Mrs Banerjee restrains herself from replying though it clearly seems that she feels the same. Mr Banerjee stares at her but she doesn't utter a word. Desperate to change the subject, he comments

"Don't you think Durga puja has changed quite a lot now? Well, it certainly wasn't like this in our time, was it?", he inquired taking a sip from his cup of tea. 

"Of course things have changed. But that's how it goes.."

"The charm is quite lost. The excitement has worn off."

"I don't think so. Tinni has been ranting about Puja since God knows when. She has made plans for all days of Puja. North, south, east, west-- she's going to roam all around Kolkata it seems." 

"Tinni? Who's Tinni?"

"Mr Dutta's grand daughter. She stays here half the time and you don't remember her." She seems quite displeased with his memory.

"Oh I understand. That's true. That's true. She has been all excited about pandal hopping with her friends. Look, now people start pandal hopping from panchami itself." They shared a quick laugh as a bunch of excited teenagers passed by.

"I never finished my shopping by Panchami. In fact, Baba got his bonus on Panchami or shoshti and then we went to buy clothes for puja", She added.

"And we never really bothered about pandal hopping, did we? I was too much engrossed in my own para. Hardly had time. "

"We hardly had any good pandals to go hopping about. This theme and all! They never existed in our time. Puja was an auspicious occasion of reverence, not an arts competition. "

"You seem quite opposed to this theme-puja thing! Naturally! Naturally! Our time was lot simpler. We valued rituals and fun more than prizes and awards. Though I can't deny, I really would like to go pandal hopping. I quite like these theme-based pandals. Such creativity! "

"But in our time there was a lot more involvement. Our entire family used to work for the puja. I've, in fact, collected donations for our para. Now children hardly bother about...." 

"Wait! Are you serious? You collected donations from your neighbours? That's something boys do."

"Well! I was a boy in my childhood. And not just from neighbours. We used to threaten strangers to pay too." She giggles and he joins her.

"And all these years this side of you has been kept hidden from me. What else do I don't know about you?"

"Haha. It's nothing like that. I was really quite a tomboy. But as I grew up, I started helping my mother and aunts in arranging for the rituals, cutting up the fruits, arranging the flowers and those girly stuff."

"And suddenly you became quite a lady, is it? he smirked. She smiled and looked away.

"You know what the best part of puja is? Shopping! "

"I knew you'd say this. Women and shopping go hand in hand. Eternal connection!"

" As if men don't like shopping. You like shopping too. Sometimes I feel you love shopping more than even I do."

"I certainly like shopping but not like it is today.. I used to like the way we'd move from shop to shop and buy dresses for all relatives. I liked the bargaining, the walking away, the calling back. There was a flavour in it."

"Now people either go to an air-conditioned shopping mall or buy things online. The charm is certainly lost. You know, when we were kids, our uncle would give us similar looking suit pieces to all three of us. And we sisters spent days figuring how we're going to look different in same dresses."

Mr Banerjee laughs aloud. Mrs Banerjee joins him. 

"You know", Mr Banerjee says, still laughing, " Dadabhai would take all of us to buy shoes on shoshti. We all bought same pair of shoes"

"I know. Dadabhai once told me. He also told me that you were the most fussy of all. And that you were always so busy with the para that you hardly joined them.."

"Yeah. I was always the cashier, ever since I was 15. They thought I was trustworthy", he says with an air of pride. He waits for her to say something but she remains mute, silently giggling at his boasting. So he continues, "When I was 18, I was made the secretary. It was a very responsible job. Collecting donation, getting permission, dividing duties, I could hardly breathe. But I liked it that way. You know, I remained the secretary for the next two years. They still say I was the best..... " He paused midway as he caught her bursting into silent laughter. "Why are you laughing?" His voice suddenly grew angry.

"Nothing, nothing. Please continue", she said almost gasping for breath after laughing so hard.

"Now you're laughing. But if you remember clearly, it was this trait of mine that made you fall for me."

"You think so?" Her cheeks turn a shade of pink.

"I know so."

They both look at each other, their chemistry still enlivening. Mr Banerjee's face glows with a smile as Mrs Banerjee turns away her head, blushing hard. 

"It was Ashtami, wasn't it? The day we first met!" he asked, looking outside.

"Yes. I came to visit my sister who stayed in your para. It was my first Pujo in Kolkata."

"I still remember how you looked that day, clad in that yellow saree; hair left open, swiped across to one side. I never knew simplicity could be this stunning..."

"And you were wearing an old, torn Punjabi, toiling around here and there and trying to mind everything."

"I was the secretary.. I didn't have time to change."

"I know. I wonder how you managed time when you took me out on Nabami!" her lips twitched into a smile.

"You know how. I pretended to have fever so that I don't get stuck in work again."

"But why?"

"Well, after 32 years of marriage, you ought to know why!"

She turns red at these words. Mr Banerjee smiles and said nothing more. Both of them enjoys the silence that increased the gravity of the moment. Mr Banerjee looks at his wife, she was already looking at him.

"The connection between 'prem' and 'pujo' go long way down. Look at them" He pointed his finger to a young boy trying to fix a flower on a girl's hair. The girl remained still as the boy softly removes the chunk of hair and tries to pin the rose to her hair. After he's done, the girl looks at him inquisitively and boy nods, both blushing hard. They start walking away hand in hand, their soft murmur slowly fading from the small verandah of this 2bedroom apartment. Mrs Banerjee looks at her husband, her eyes slightly glistened,

"This connection between 'prem' and 'pujo' is still there and will, perhaps, remain forever. Truly, Durga pujo has changed immensely in the last few decades, but this one thing remains unchanged."

She puts her hand carelessly on the tea table. Mr Banerjee slowly keeps his hand on her. She looks at him and smiles.

"So Mrs Banerjee, will you go out with me tonight?"

Mrs Banerjee is taken aback by this sudden proposal. Finally, considering it a joke, she only laughs.

"I'm serious" he said again. "Will you?" 

Her face turns completely red. She is so overwhelmed by the suddenness of the situation that she can hardly speak. She only nodded. Hands still clutched, both turn their gaze to the street buzzing with energy and happiness, all that Durga Puja stands for!

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