When the rickshaw took the turn and the waving hands of the people so familiar disappeared, he felt a heart-wrenching pain.
For what he is going? Where is he heading to?
He could hear the murmur of the roots getting pulled out from the assuring piece of dirt that was its home for twenty-four years.
The familiar background, where he was born and grew up -- his friends, the dangling aerial roots of the banyan tree where he spent at least a thousand hours hanging and pretending to be a monkey with his gang, the pond where he learnt swimming -- everything was slowly moving out of the sight.
How he wished the rickshaw to have a jet engine, everything would have zoomed past and would look like a thin hazy string. But the rickshaw puller is not even at his normal speed. As if, he is also under the spell of this gloom.
The earth has a gravity and the particles in it have their own share of the force. They don't exercise their power, thank God! But whenever you pluck something out of the system, they do their best to undo the damage.
Now they were exerting their power to pull him back, he was determined not to listen to them. He had turned his face from them. He was searching intently for something in his handbag, but was not sure what the object might be.
Everybody was there at his home to see him off, in fact all his friends and the neighbours, except his sister and father. She had gone to the court where she is interning under a senior lawyer. Father left in the morning for the office. Rain, storm, earthquake, nothing can stop this man from going to the office at the right time.
But he was half expecting that she would be there for him to pack his bags. He thought his sister loves him. His believes were now a little shaken. Anyway, she is the most selfish woman he has ever seen. She even didn’t let him take his favourite books with him. They both had pooled their fund that they received time to time from the guests at the house, to buy some books, mainly of Satyajit Ray and Shibram Chakrabarty, their favourite authors. But she did not let him take those, citing that the property of the house should be left where they are. Selfish woman!
But he has to admit too that in his twenty-four years of life, he hasn’t come across many women.
He tried his best to forget everything. But it's like pouring a drop of lemon juice on the milk when you have gone to the extremes as raising a cow to get the milk. He could feel his blood pressure rising.
No he doesn't care about his family. Nobody is there for him. Nobody was there ever. Of course, mother will always be concerned. Moms are afterall moms! They are borne to worry about their children. She was crying all day long, careful not to show her tears to him. He was crying too. Sometimes taking extra care to show his tears to her. He doesn't want his mother to know he cares little. Which is not true also.
But the sister was missing in action. He tried his best to turn his attention to the now slowly fading football field. The bad roads made the rickshaw shake violently. He passed the sweetmeat shop that refused to grow in size. It still looks shady and uncouth compared with the other sprawling sweet shops where they serve wearing uniforms. You don’t get to see their kitchen from outside. But this shop is still what it was twenty years ago with an indication that it might remain the same twenty years from now.
But it still is the best sellers. You can challenge the presentation, but you cannot challenge the quality and test of the so familiar rosogolla.
When he was a kid, he used to come here with his grandpa. The shop has the same old bench at the same old place where he used to sit with his grandpa. He was always suspicious whether the giant cauldron where they make the famous tasty rosogolla were also in use at dark to cook pesky babies like him.
Whenever that man with a tanned, ghostly skin colour and huge protruding belly used to pass him, he would shrink to his grandpa. he was always afraid that this might be his turn now to turn into a giant rosogolla.
No matter how much he liked the sweets, he never could appreciate them at the site of these giant cauldron the man with a fat belly cooking them and the black noisy greasy fan moving lazily above the head. It was a massive conspiracy against the kids of the world.
His grandpa was a part of the cruel scheme, which was not a very nice thing. For whenever he used to urge his grandpa to leave the shop taking the sweets home instead of having them there, for he was afraid, the old man would smile, flashing his remaining three-four teeth.
“You think they would let me have these rosogollas at home. all these bloody son-of-bitches doctors and that daughter-of a bitch your grandma think I have diabetes. I know for sure, I am perfectly ok. Bear with me boy. Let me have one more gilebi. Would you like to have one more sondesh dear?”
Thus, his entire heart-felt plea would yield nothing.
He would continue to come with his grandpa for two years more before the old man one day lies down at his bed and would refuse to move from there. He would join the stars after about six months of soiling the bed several times a day.
He remembers now that the ailing old man was denied access to his grandchildren. He was told that grandpa had an itch, which, if once contacted, would live with the victim forever. And he would keep on scratching till he dies. He was scared.
But his sister, two years older and smarter than him, would still smuggle sweets to the old man. From the crack of the door he would see the old man sucking the gilebi like a lozenze, now that he had only his gums left. One day the man was discovered sleeping for more than twelve hours. Fleets of ants were there around and inside the mouth. They were after the half-finished gilebi that was lying in his mouth.
Of late, he was also assisting his sister in smuggling grandpas favourite sweetmeat.
The suspicion fell upon the poor sister. After getting two-three slaps she easily spelt out the other culprit’s name. Both of them were flagged quite mercilessly for going against the dictate. Obviously, everybody was crying at home. The reasons varied.
Now the sweet shop is gone behind their path. It is also bidding its loyal customer farewell, swaying with the rhythm of the rickshaw. He refused to buy sweets from other posh shops and always headed towards this one whenever a guest came home.
Father was there till last night, giving him worldly wisdom of how to avoid being cheated and fend for himself in an unknown world.
“Everyman has his own destiny to follow boy. Nobody should stay with his or her parents forever. Look at me, I could have been a big executive by now. But I decided to stay with my parents and never left my ancestral home. I am a clerk now. If you want to grow, you have to sacrifice the surety of your home,” he said before handing over the list of dos and don’ts. He could sense that his father, who grew old so quickly from an upright man in front of his very eyes, pretending to be busy, with brows tightly squeezed, lips pressed hard. As if he was trying to subdue some brute force within himself.
Mother, who cries while even watching a TV serial, was at her best. Sobbing while laughing at his joke. Crying while cooking, shaking while serving food.
He and his sister slept the past night with their mother just as they used to do when as kids. Hugging her tightly. She used to shoo them away when they were kids. She used to complain of breathlessness. But last night she was not complaining at all. She was moving her hands on his hair and sobbing silently. A word or two from him would bring the tears with force. He was careful not to speak. As usual, the long lost smell of a mother’s bosom, put the baby to a deep sleep. It was long after he woke up he realised that today was his last day at home. He was going to a far off unknown land, for search of a greener pasture. To make his future ‘secured’, an opportunity that his place of birth cannot offer.
The rickshaw took a turn to the right. Lo … his locality is no more their. It’s the familiar busy street of the town with lots of rickshaws, cycles, cars, trucks jostling for space in the narrow broken street. Chaos as usual.
Actually, he was also half-expecting his father to accompany him and see him off. But the man always encouraged his kids to be self-sufficient. Given his fierce love for independence, that he so successfully rubbed on to his daughter, he should not have come with him. That would be too much of asking.
But he was amazed to know that father would be coming from his office at the Howrah station to see him off. It’s more than saying I care. He just cannot expect more than that from the man. But he was feeling cheated nevertheless. He thought that he and his sister were best of friends. So many sleepless nights were spent discussing the heightened failure in their efforts to get a perfect love interest. It’s not that she doesn’t get proposal. It’s not that she is not interested either. It’s just that however she wants to get attention from the other sex, she always, always rejects any amorous advance from the opposite sex.
She might pine for the man to propose her, but she treats him like a dirt once he falls for the trap so meticulously netted by her. Of course, she is beautiful.
As for he is concerned, he also fell for the traps laid by other fairer sex and had his fair share of experience in being treated as a dirt. He hates those girls. But loves to see his sister’s eyes twinkling once she refuses an offer.
He got down at the local station. Now he has to catch the train to the Howrah junction, where another express train will take him to his new destination.
Damn! If she was here, she could have at least taken care of the luggage when he would stand at the queue for the ticket.
Just when he was thinking where to keep the suitcase while he stands in the queue with the handbag, a hand pulled the suitcase. It was his sister!
“So late? Mom was not letting you come or what?”
“Yeah, for the last two hours, waiting for his highness to come. Meanwhile giving the passers by enough scope to lech at a beautiful girl.”
“But I thought you went for the court.”
“Bull! Why should I.”
“Then why did you leave so early?”
“Well, I went to Calcutta. See what I bought for you.”
She reaches for a big bag, full of books. “…you now have the entire collection of Satyajit. All the books of Feluda and oh yes, Kakababu. I know you cannot live without them. Here is the entire body of work by Shibram and here are those brilliant ghanadas. When you feel sad, become nostalgic and homesick, take refuse to your favourite authors. You know they have a healing effect.”
He couldn’t speak.
“Well, you must be wondering these books cost so much. Well, ever since I learnt that you have got the job and they will post you somewhere far from Calcutta, I was saving my stipend and cutting down my useless luxuries like foolish lipsticks and shoes and sarees. You see, I can live without them perfectly well.”
He was again speechless. He suspected he was going to cry. The lines on his face were softening. His didi suspected the same.
“No, don’t Piklu. Don’t my dear brother. You see, if you cry, I cannot control my tears too. You see, that would be embarrassing. You see, that foolish boy is still after me. I refused his proposal three times, still. He is standing like an idiot these two hours, jobless. Never daring to come and tell me his feelings for the last time. You see, I don’t want to cry in front of that stupid boy. If he comes to console me, I don’t know, I might hug him and confess my love.”
“Now that you are going Piklu, I need a friend. You see, that stupid boy can be a perfect friend. He is a stupid, foolish boy with a heart of a gold, Piklu. I suspect he is as simple as you to whom I can wield my sword as I wish. Don’t cry Piklu, don’t embarrass me.”
“Don’t worry Piklu, mom and dad will be fine. I will take good care of them. Don’t worry about mom, she will cry for someday and then eventually will come in terms with it. Anyway, you will be coming home at a six months interval, won’t you? Don’t worry Piklu, everything will be fine. You take care of yourself. Here’s your ticket to Howrah. I am not coming with you. I don’t have the strength to see you go.”
“Oh yes, if you earn enough, buy me a scooter, won’t you? I am tired of riding a cycle and foolish boys chasing me on a cycle too. I need somebody who can chase me on a posh motorcycle at least, if not a car. You see, that’s what we call growing up. I know you will be a great man one day Piklu. Make me proud.”
“And don’t forget me,” she smiled and sped her way on her cycle before giving Piklu any chance to speak.
Piklu, looking like a fool, couldn’t control the tears. He stood their motionless risking missing the train.
Amidst the stream of uncontrollable tears and subdued sobs, he could just utter a few words.
“I am sorry didi.”