My dear Madhobi, 15th September, 2013
Tarani just left some time ago. My heart is breaking even when I am writing this. Even the Oshthomongola ceremony is over and she had finally left. With a very heavy heart, I have sat down to write this letter. Don’t know for how long I will be able to sit, since nowadays the back pain is just killing me. I cannot sit somewhere at a stretch. Even my knees have been troubling me. old age, Madhobi…old age. Earlier, Tarani used to take me to the doctors. Now, if she doesn’t have the time, I might have to drag myself upto the clinics. But you don’t worry. I will be fine. You tell me about yourself, how are you? Are you okay? Are you fine? Are you happy? I hope you are.
The songs have stopped, the lights have been taken down, the last few relatives have gone and the wedding ceremony is over. Tarani has been given the farewell. Our daughter now belongs to someone else. She will have a new home now. She will have a new family. I will miss her Madhobi, I will miss her. During the entire ceremony I was just trying to calm the pain that was rising in my heart. A pain that indicated, that a major portion of my heart was about to get empty. How I wanted to hold someone and cry. I wanted a shoulder..I wanted your shoulder.
When she had emerged out of her room in that red saree, gold adorning every part of her body, I had instantly seen a glimpse of you…Just exactly how you had looked the day of our marriage; the first time I had seen you. You resembled a fairy. You looked beautiful. So did she. All eyes were on her. I could hear her in-laws whispering praises. A tear of joy almost escaped my eyes. My son-in-law is a very lucky man. Very few children turn out to be so obedient, so well mannered. Our daughter has just turned out to be like you. And I say that so proudly.
When I said, she has turned out to be like you, I just didn’t mean her appearance. I meant how you were. The person you were. The soul you were. I had never seen you do a couple of things; those six years that I had got to spend with you. Firstly I had never heard you shout; whatever may be the reason. I used to marvel at your skill of handling every matter so calmly. And secondly I had never seen you complain; you had the ability to adjust and to smile through any problem. I could never understand how you used to do it. There were also a couple of things that I had seen you do always…Tell me Madhobi, how could anybody be so unselfish? How could you always think of everyone else before yourself? And how could you pretend to be happy even when you were upset, so that we wouldn’t understand anything. Were you human, Madhobi?
Talking about this wedding, I have done this just as how you had wanted. I have tried to do it exactly the same. I hope you are happy to see that. Yes, I have faced a lot of problems. Managing a wedding is not an easy job. But still I did manage because I have felt your presence by my side throughout…not just for during the wedding, but for forever. Bringing up Tarani would have not been possible if you wouldn’t have been there beside me Madhobi…
You remember, the once when Tarani was seven and had fallen sick? She had not been keeping too well after your demise as it had been quite a blow for her. She was suffering from fever and the doctors were suspecting pneumonia? I had a very busy day at the office. The maid had called me to inform, Tarani was delirious and calling for me. I had tried to come home as fast as I could, since the maid had to leave early, but it hadn’t been before night fall. Yet, what do I see? I see her sleeping peacefully. Next day, when she had woken up, told me “Baba, who was it? Who lulled me to sleep last night?” I couldn’t answer her. But I knew…
What about the time when I was caught up in the storm, Madhobi? I couldn’t see anything at all. The roads were clogged with knee height water. After having waited for more than an hour for it to stop, I had just got into the street. I just kept praying I don’t fall into any open man hole or step on any stray electric wire, as I had waded through the water. I couldn’t see anything, not any building, not a tree, not even a vehicle; nothing but a blur in front of me. However, there was something that I had seen. A shadow. A faint shadow, of a woman, gliding ahead of me. A shadow which had almost pulled me towards it. And I had just followed it. I don’t know why. I had just followed it blindly. I was in a trance when I had reached home. Yes, I had reached home. It was you, wasn’t it Madhobi?
And what about the day, when you have suddenly left me and Tarani on our own and stepped into the other realm? We had been shattered. It had been very hard for me to take in the reality. I had sat by your side of the bed and cried… I had cried and cried till I had realised that a strong scent of roses had filled the room. The similar scent that used to enchant the room when you used to sprinkle the rose ittar on the bed and on yourself every night. And I knew you hadn’t gone anywhere. Yes, you were still there with me. But then, I don’t think even now I have gotten over your demise, and I don’t think I ever will…
The next day when I had woken up, I had seen the side of your bed empty. For a moment I had wondered whether you were taking your morning bath or you were in the kitchen making tea for me. And then it had hit me, that it was neither…
I had longed to see you, see you so badly. I had wanted you beside me. I had wanted you to fuss around me to get me out of bed. I had wanted you bribe me with a special dinner so that I would hurry up and get ready.
Yes, little Tarani was not the only one who got such motherly treatment. That is why I had felt, it was really unfair of you to have left us like that so suddenly. Left me all alone to take care of Tarani. It was so hard, Madhobi. Managing work and bringing up a child alone wasn’t easy. I had to grow up, overnight… I had been advised by many to get married again, if not for myself, but for Tarani’s sake. But I could just never bring myself to place someone in your place. If i would have remarried I would have cheated you, cheated our marriage in some way. Fate took us apart, but love kept us together. Sometimes, I would get so depressed thinking about all this that I would want to leave it all and join you, where ever you were. I know that was very selfish of me but then I would just think I already had you, constantly looking over me. And suddenly I would be fine.
It just seems a few days back when we had her in our arms as a baby, carrying her into the house and today, I when she stepped out of the threshold I knew she was not ours any longer. Just before leaving, she had hugged me tight and whispered to me through her tears “I miss ma so much, baba. I wish she was here today.”
I had just patted her gently, not being able to speak because of the lump that had formed in my throat. Yes, I know she misses you and always will. It is not easy for a six year old girl to lose her mother at such an age. But I think she will be fine. Before she just had me. But now, she has a fine husband, caring in-laws and a lovely home. She will be very happy, I tell you Madhobi. I don’t think you or I will have to worry about her at all. She will make everyone her own. In a few days, she will get so busy with her new family, maybe she will not even have the time to call up her baba once a day. I am not complaining. I will be very happy, if she is happy. She has always longed for a complete family. And I am glad she has it now.
But Madhobi, what about me? Who do I have? Since the time I had retired I had not much to do expect for planning the wedding day and night. But now, even that is over. I am a fifty three year old man, with nothing to do, nowhere to go and nobody to even talk to. I am feeling very lonely, Madhobi. Maybe that is why, for the first in my life, I am writing a letter to you. It will be my only proper channel of communication now.
In those brief six years, I know, I had given you very little of my time. And look; now I am yearning for yours. You know, when I used to see our daughter and son-in-law, peek shyly at each other in a room full of people, pass each other knowing smiles between conversations, hold hands when they thought no one was looking, I would regret having not done any of it with you. I don’t remember even telling you how much I loved you. In those days, these things didn’t happen. But now they do. So today after all these years, I am going to finally tell you all that. Everything you deserved to know but I never said…
I love you, Madhobi… I always have. I have loved you more and more with each passing day. I have kept missing you and I have kept loving you. It was what had kept me this strong. Otherwise I would have somehow faltered long back. In our days, we were not even asked when our parents selected the bride or the groom for us. Our case was no different… I resented it but I could never disagree or argue with my father. It just did not happen. But the moment I had seen you, I had fallen in love.
I vividly remember that beautiful round face, the almond eyes, the lotus petal lips, the long nose, the dusky skin, the lustrous hair and I could continue all night…You looked like Sharmila Tagore. I remember how angry you used to get whenever I praised her. But I will tell you something today Madhobi, to me; you were and are the most beautiful woman. I used to say it to make you jealous. And I used to be successful. Nose flaring, cheeks red, a frown on that pretty face. One look at it and I would just want to keep staring. Actually I would keep staring until you couldn’t help but smile. Aah…! That smile. It would be enough to make my day… I would always try to find ways to make you laugh. That would be the most beautiful sound to me. Often I would feel like take up my finger to your eyes and wipe out a little kajal and dab it behind your ears to keep away the evil from you. I have done the same with Tarani, over these years. She had this similar habit of lining her eyes with the kajal. She looked almost as beautiful as you.
It was a Monday, when I was in my office, chatting away with my lazy colleagues, when I had got that phone call. “Come to Anubhuti Hospital as soon as you can.”
Your brother had said into the phone urgently and had disconnected before I could ask anything else. I had rushed out of my office wondering what had happened. What was the urgency. What was it that he couldn’t have told me over the phone. I had reached the hospital and the look of our relatives and our daughter there had shaken me. The grief stricken faces, told me something had happened. Something had happened to you. But before I could have been allowed to meet you, you had left. I few more minutes, Madhobi. Just a few more minutes and I would have pulled you in my arms and never let you go? You left even before seeing me for the one last time. I know you must have been in a lot of pain. The mangled sight of the taxi later had made me realise what you must have gone through.
When I had been finally allowed to see you, the nurse had very casually said “Body number 342 going out.” These words had struck me Madhobi. Just because a person is dead, he or she gets reduced to a mere body? Is this what happens? Even though that person is very much alive in our hearts?
That morning when I was leaving for work, I wish I would have held you and loved you, rather than rush out in a hurry. I wish I would have sat with you, your head on my shoulder, than read the morning news paper. I wish I would have told you ‘I love you’ for the one last time if nothing else.
I had cursed myself for it. And I had cursed HIM. I had cursed that person who sits up there and just watches. Couldn’t he have stopped the accident? Did he not think how will a six year old survive without her mother, how will a husband stay without the woman he loved? But see, he didn’t have all the fun. We managed. We struggled but we managed. We knew you wanted us to be strong. We knew you wanted us to carry on. We knew you wanted us to get up and give him good fight and let him know he can’t break us that easily. But you know what Madhobi? He did manage to break me. In a way he has lost, but in a way he has won too.
I have heard when someone dies, that person straight goes to heaven. But there are people who die but cannot leave. This happens when they have some unfinished work. It happens when they have something to hold them back. I know, you hadn’t left and it had been for Tarani. Being a mother, you could have never been at peace, could you? But now you are. Tarani is married now. There is nothing to hold you back. These fifteen years, you must have suffered a lot. But now you are free, free to go to your land. Or you must have already left. I hope where ever you are now, you are happy. If you will be happy, I will be happy. For the last time Madhobi, I will miss you. All my life. That is the only thing, which will keep me alive till I die.
He put the full stop and let out a sigh. He fitted the cap back into his fountain pen and sat rooted to his chair, staring at the letter. He picked it up to fold it and keep it away but the telephone ring from down the living room stopped him mid way. He placed the letter back on the table and kept a paper weight over it and got up, his back aching. he walked out of the room to answer the persistent rings. It was the New Books Store from College Street, informing him the arrival of a few books he had ordered for. The books would be his sole companion now. He limped back to his room and was about to pick up the letter when he saw something on it. It was half dried water drop, stained with something which suspiciously looked like kajal.