‘I have a bad news for you Stitodhi. Your sister Raka passed away, Anup has rushed to the spot, he has asked me to inform you about this; I am very sorry…your aunt’s daughter, wasn’t she?…So she must be your cousin, but Anup was telling me your sister passed away…I was a little confused…because as far as my knowledge goes….'
Stitodhi stopped listening to his colleague 2000 hours ago. Just Raka no more was enough and that she referred to in the past tense was more than enough! How must be the baby, did she deliver? He knew she was extremely scared…she told him 'Unto (his pet name…Bongs have two names you must know) what if I never return? Tomo (her husband, Tomonash) will not be able to take it.' 'O shut up', he yapped…'gone are those days Raka!'
From the office to the hearse, he kept on meandering from one folder to the other, of past memories;
hide and seek of childhood days,
reading stories together in the lazy winter afternoons,
having oranges and squeezing the skin onto each other’s eyes,
a routine monthly visit from his school to their place,
Pishibhai’s (maternal aunt’s) mouth-watering dishes,
a festival after deepawali where sisters put a bindi of chandan
(paste of sandalwood) on the forehead of their brothers wishing them long lives,
her grand wedding.
Memories flashed like steps with huge blanks on either side, wide hollow spaces he could climb up and down. In the mind it also patterned like a prosaic poem, a brain bank where the death is soon to be refreshed for good.
His first encounter of Raka’s hearse was when he saw her eyes closed, white smiling horrid face, (he wondered why) being taken by four men on খাটিয়া khatia, the death bed; back in those days, in 1995 this was still the norm of the extreme poor and the extreme rich, to take the body on the shoulders to the cremation ghat). He looked at the body (Raka, a marvelous name that meant full-moon, chosen with great care, after searching thousands we were told when we grew up, has been replaced as ‘body’), and in a moment her laughter ran into him, much faster than the smells of those incense sticks which, to him, didn’t seem to make any sense.
When she laughed, her belly also laughed with her, in fact her whole body chortled, it was infectious and made everybody around laugh, it enlightened the whole atmosphere, could make anyone laugh for no reason at all, her brother Rahul (sorry cousin again…form her father’s side!) came upto him and said, 'Unto it seems like হাস্যকৌতুক (hassokoutuk, stand-up comedy) that we are carrying Raka at the wrong place at the wrong time, isn’t it?'
She was laughing at him..ha ha ha!!! Unto….আমি আসি (ami asi, Unto, I am leaving… expecting him, as it were, to hide her flip flops… uff Unto, where did you hide them, I am getting late…please for God's sake), there she was now, above everyone, beyond everything, writing in thin air her own departure.
Raka went away leaving her daughter, her Tomo and all her dreams behind.
Stitodhi was thinking of her husband Tomonash, a professor of philology, a very nice and kind-hearted gentleman. After marriage, an arranged one, they were madly in love with each other; we are রাজজোটক দাদা, (rajjotok, we are made for each other, dada meant Stitodhi); he was obsessed with ঠিকুজি-কুষ্টি, (thikuji-kusti, everything is about horoscope, he would say). Stitodhi was determined to be by his side, but before that he should meet his Pishibhai, he thought.
'খুনি!খুনি!খুনি!আমার মাইয়াটারে গলা টিইপ্পা মারসে..শয়তান…আমি অরে ফাসিকাঠে ঝুলামুKhuni! Khuni! Khuni! Amar mayatare gola tiippa marse…shoitaan…ami ore phasikathe jhula, these were the very words of the mother yelling about her son-in-law meaning Murderer! Murderer! Murderer! He has strangled my daughter to death… culprit… I will hang him…and it continued…
...আমার মা-বাপরা সাধ কইরা কিনা আমার নাম রাকসিলো অশ্রু, কী যাতা রুসি…বসর বসর কুকুর-বিালের মত বাস্সা বিয়ানো, আর মাইয়া হইলে নাম দেওন অশ্রু, কৈ অরা কৈ, ডাক অগো…অরে আন্টু…এক্কেরে মাইরা ফালাইল আমার মাইয়াটারে…এক্কেরে মাইরা ফালাইল…সব আমার মায়ের দোষ…সে
আপত্তি করতে পারল না…কেমন মা…মেয়েরে অশ্রু বইলা ডাকে…অরে আন্টু..অরা অশ্রুরে মাইরা Amar ma bap shadh koira kina amar naam rakhsillo OSRU, ki jata rusi…bochor bochor kukurbiraler moto bachha biyano…r me hoile naam deon OSRU… koi ora koi… dako ogo…ore Unto…ekkere maira phalailo amar mayatare…ekkere maira phalailo…shob amar maier dosh…she apotti korte parlo na…kemon ma…meyere OSRU boila dake… ore Unto..ora OSRU re maira phalailo! My parents, with great hopes, named me OSRU, what bad taste…… naming me OSRU, huh… breeding every year like cats and dogs…and when a girl is born, you name her OSRU?...where are they…summon them …. O Unto… they killed my daughter completely…they killed her completely, everything is my mother’s fault…she could have protested… what kind of a mother was she…to be calling her own daughter OSRU…O Unto… they killed OSRU!'
OSRU means tears.
All he could make out from the incoherent speech was that she was shocked, for he was unable to understand if it was the mother crying for her daughter, or the daughter complaining against her mother…'what is happening to the motherless daughter that is born of Raka', a thought burnt in him for a moment, like those incense sticks and those garlands clinging on to the dead mother, some hours old by then.
His Pishibhai was howling for the untimely loss of her daughter, she was also imagining her own death, with her. Needless to say she was put on sedation. In between her clinically governed sleep, she would scream saying,
‘আমার মেয়ে ‘যা তা, যা তা’ বইলা মরসে, খুনিটা অরে যাতা করসিল Amar meye ‘jata’ ‘jata’ sesh kotha boila morse…khunita ore jata korsi…
My daughter’s last words were ‘jata’ jata’ (means disgusting, horrible), the murderer must have tortured my daughter.’
'Why is she talking about her son-in-law like this, he was the best of the best, Raka herself was scared, she may not have wanted to die…maybe that was the reason she said disgusting', he thought, it made perfect sense to him to understand why she had that horrid look on her face! But at the same time he did not have the heart to judge Raka’s mom at the moment. Who would!
Five years passed by. Pishibhai never met Tomonash, neither his daughter, which also meant her grand-daughter…nobody dared to judge her. ‘খুনি, খুনি, খুনি (Khuni! Khuni! Khuni!...Murderer! Murderer! Murderer!’ - this was her refrain until she died in 2005.
Yes, Stitodhi knew it was an overdose of anesthesia… which happens in very rare circumstances. Some relatives suggested suing the nursing home for their negligence for a second or a third degree murder he wouldn’t know, but Stitodhi said there was no point, already Tomonash was shattered, wounded and broken, with a daughter to take care of; he doesn’t deserve all this he reckoned. When he went to the nursing home, he met the unfortunate anesthetist Sujata, also the matron, Dr Jibon, the owner of the nursing home and a whole lot of them willing to go to bear all the consequences for their inattention that cost Raka’s life. They were all good people, contrite and shocked; per their records, this was the first case ever, so what was the point… besides Raka, his wife, to whom he was devoted, will not come back. Therefore Stitodhi, together with Rahul, Anup da, Shampa di (Raka’s cousin) and others decided to call it off.
After Pishibhai’s death, on one late evening, he thought of visiting his brother-in-law. Strangely a flabbergasted Dr Jibon opened the door, Stitodhi also heard a female voice from inside…’দাদা, কে এসেছে গো, ও এল? (Dada ke esechhe go…O elo?) Brother, who has come? Is it him?’
Stitodhi and Dr Jibon for a moment gawked at each other, buried questions of the yore surfaced in their glances like furious mindless waters breaking through a dam, flooding the neighborhood; words seemed redundant; Stitodhi ran away hurriedly from the place without meeting anyone; it was pointless to inform the dead son-in-law about the dead mother-in-law, who was dead a decade ago, he could have easily informed him over telephone, but his number somehow got deleted in time, he also had this urge of meeting his niece who must be 10 years by then, he thought; but it was good he came; otherwise how could he witness that, nothing died, all the doubts were sleeping inside, perhaps waiting to come out at the nth time… he remembered why they actually backed out from the case… for it would also mean Tomonahs’s harassment, Sujata was Tomonash’s childhood friend; remembered him recounting once that they couldn’t get married because his parents never approved of it, Dr Jibon and his sister were very poor at the time and belonged to a lower caste; so this ‘jata’ may not have meant disgusting, it could have meant Sujata; but he still thought it was the right thing because of Raka’s daughter, did she deserve all that; the newborn child who would grow up linking her auspicious birthdays with her mom’s death, who would have the heart to put her father behind the bars too?
As he stepped down, he remembered the horrid face of Raka, angry tears refused to leave his eyes, clouded him, each stair, he counted twenty-two, his childhood fascination was to count stairs, now he could have skipped some, they were trying to tell him something bouncing the words of his Pishibhai, Osru, a name she so disliked.
Climbing down those stairs he also played the childhood staircase game holding the banisters, the house-garden game with Raka and others… does her child ever play these games… with whom does she play; with her step-siblings…how horribly they erred; instead of bringing his Pishibhai into confidence they were putting her in sedation, ashamed at the preconceived notion of a deranged mother shocked with her loss and naturally speaking non-sense, she was speaking sense, wasn’t she.
The last time he talked with Tomonash was six months after Raka’s death, on the child’s মুখেভাত (mukhebhat, also called অন্নপ্রাসণ, ‘Annaprashana’, a Hindu rite of passage ritual that marks an infant's first intake of food other than milk; the term annaprashan literally means "food feeding" or "eating of food" usually fed by Mamu or maternal uncle who also has the right to name the child) Stitodhi was invited, he declined because Pishibhai took an oath from him that he would never see Raka’s murderer; but while talking to Tomonash, he suggested that the child be named Sujata, (means birth) the name made so much sense to him at the time; he distinctly recollected Tomonash’s vehement disapproval, ‘No! Never!’ and his abruptly ending the call; they never spoke again. Those stairs that belonged to Tomonash, where his sister Raka also walked up and down for some time, seemed to have taken him back in time, appeared endless, took him almost a decade to climb down and have his feet on the ground.
He came out. Through the moonlit night, he felt Raka, could clearly see a closed chapter he has to reopen for the sake of his sister. He discussed the matter with Anup da, Rahul, Shampa di and others, but the grief it seemed had died an inevitable death in the hands of time.
The case was easily dismissed as a frustrated attempt by an irresponsible brother, a cousin so to speak, to malign a respectable family ten years later with a hidden agenda of extracting money besides a definitive motive of character assassination.
Thus Stitodhi came into writing, like a beginner in the beautiful arena of pages, his first lines emerged climbing down the steps of the world, his feet to be deeply rooted happily ever after in the ground of a beautiful garden, that of fiction
Laws have their claws
that break the jaws
of the innocent with guffaws
foolproof, without flaws.
Now, in 2018, twenty-three years later, Stitodhi’s lost case was brought in black and white from his archive of thoughts, like those skeletons in the cupboard despite his clumsy style of writing, thanks to the encouragement he received from some of his well-meaning, indulgent sibling-friends he made on the virtual space who said he could at least write, just like them, about the unfinished story of his Pishibhai Osru and his sister, Raka.
But how would he name the story… Making of an artist seemed so much eclipsed with self… he is not into all that anymore… with a narrow escape from the prison on grounds of defamation by his once-upon-a-time brother-in-law, who, with his ex-lover, now his second wife, would have been brought to book for the cold-blooded murder of Raka twenty-two years ago, Stitodhi has become bolder; he decides therefore to steal from the treasures of words that worth a re-telling of a sexist phrase, converting it into a feminine one as the most suitable name, have its birth in print, its final cremation being validated by a kindhearted editor in order to overcome the linguistic challenges and let the text see its day into some obscure bookshelves, to rest in peace.lফালা ((