“The winter will not be the same again..” She sighed. “ever !”
It was a cold winter afternoon. We were on our regular stroll through the bylanes that crisscross Park Street here and then. I kept looking down the brick and cement matrix overlaying upon the Anglo-Indian neighborhood of my pretty old city, Kolkata, eagerly waiting to be clad in all its bright hues and Christmas ornaments nowadays. Years have passed. Once the framework of a society that was aptly crafted by the British empire is still breathing firmly, adjusting with all its new melted tones that have mixed with its natural rawness. I admit it to be a good sign to cherish all along, but the swiftness with which the dark bruised hollowness and emptiness is slowly over pouring through the entirety of this area, I doubt the upcoming generations of this exceptional community can ever thrive and adjust themselves accordingly. We remember these partly colonial establishments near the bow Barracks only on these winters only. Probably during the summer, this community goes for hibernation!
The pre independence British inspired generation is actually giving way to their “Americano” filled new brew. I guess, it’s a far more complicated generation gap than that actually hits us..the typical Bengalis. But I have never seen the old fellows here complaining. Never.
Jennifer lit up a cigarette. The tip of the volcano fumed all of a sudden. I reframed my words within this wintry afternoon laziness with great effort. “So, what are your future thoughts Jennie?”
She must just be in her forties, but her skin had already crumpled showing its first lines of wrinkles; just like the city in which she dwelled all along. Kolkata may not be as old as Delhi, yet it looks refined and aged with all its magnitude of maturity.
” I am yet so deeply hurt and wounded , I don’t know whether I can ever recover from it. Last winter he was alive..Oh! How much those moments haunt me still now! We always used to plan our Christmas cakes pretty early. It was such a delight always! He used to go for shopping, we used to cut and dry all the dry fruits, how much we used to wait for his yearly fifteen days’ leave which he always capitalized to give a makeover to our otherwise filthy damped old house. Last time, I sew and stitched new dresses for Ronald and Mathew with my own hands. On the day of Christmas, he wore a bright red tie. Surely, he was looking such a darling!You remember, no? I forgot! You must be still having those house party photographs! Can you do me a favour? Can you please drop them to my place once you print the same?I will compensate accordingly. ”
” Are you nuts Jennie? Of course I will print them for you.. Anytime.. Please don’t be so formal! Yes I know, I couldn’t make it to Sam’s funeral.. Though I should have been there.. But, it was just like.. How should I put it in words.. I couldn’t face him. I couldn’t face you either.”
We walked a few yards silently. Some of the shops were still busy in these odd hours. There might not be a single customer, but that could not ever stop the regular hustle, bustle and the giggles out there. That’s how it is.. We Kolkatans may not be rich in our pockets, but are gems in our hearts. Here, casual socializing while visiting the markets, is such an integral part of our daily ritual as playing Cricket in every little lanes! Probably, these tidbits are popularly known to the world as life! Pretty life!
And here, right before this usual business of the city, we two souls were interconnected currently through a death. There’s the irony.. Well, I suppose, we always have been through the same at one point or the other in our lifetime.
Jennifer stood still before an open dilapidated church gate. Her eyes were fixed on a statue of Mother Mary that stood discarded within the bushy ground court of the church. Probably, she could sense the helplessness of Our Lady whose stature has fallen apart in this deserted solitary confinement: yet the eternal blessing and smile is hard to be wiped along!
“Well, I didn’t mind. I knew how difficult it would had been for you. Perhaps, I felt a breeze of relaxation that you were not there on that particular day of Sam’s demise.Probably I wouldn’t have been able to control my emotions then. ”
At this particular juncture, I could smell, my sense of self-worth was somehow falling apart, like the light winter air which gently brushes the tips of the long grasses at Victoria Memorial after a busy footfall of people holidaying all day round. I chose to stand still, to make myself steady before the last final blow of shower. I was pretty sure though; a few splashes of rain would ensure a perfect chilling Christmas for Kolkata this time.
Jennifer was not looking into my eyes, as if, I was nonexistent. Well, I was not very new to this. I had been seeing Sam for last couple of years. He was the most fascinating soul I had met ever in my whole arena of life. He was jovial, he was handsome, he was easygoing. He was indeed one of the best person in bed as well. We never had any commitments attached to our relationship; probably this light unconditional aspect made it even so special.
We always had the notion that Jennifer never had any hint of all this. The way she accepted me in her family, it never even crossed our mind that she could even have any idea what was going on behind her. Well, we had been wrong throughout. After such a long journey, just before Mother Mary’s torn but graceful silhouette, I was made to realize, Jennifer was well aware of this affair throughout. How could have I missed the account of an woman’s instinct? It is always like your old city streets and lanes – the more you hide something from them, the more it interprets the same aptly.
But she never complained. Even when we went for afternoon graveyard visit just before the day Sam hurried to occupy his specified zone there to lie down – I was probably completely indifferent to her. That’s how she somewhat managed to tolerate me. As if I was nowhere, not in her thoughts, her feelings, her emotions – in totality. She was acknowledging the chirping of the birds, Sam’s irrational jokes, Mathew Ronald’s nuances, everything..except me. These week long afternoon strolls after Sam departed had nothing to add upon this blunt rawness that we actually share in our relationships. It was too late.. in Kolkata, winter evenings always hurry up to embrace you even before you are prepared for the same.
I was expecting a sudden breakdown, a reaction that would have blown away my identity. But Jennifer again mesmerized me with her calmness. Instead, she started walking confidently ahead. I stood there for a moment, then hurried to catch her pace. ” Jennie, I mean, why? I, rather we, never really thought about you ever, how could have you managed..”
Jennifer smiled. “I don’t know anything.. Well, it was just that whenever I saw you, I could make out Sam’s presence. That was enough for me. That is the reason I still meet you: go out for a walk through these Central Calcutta’s old bylanes. Mathew and Ronald are hurrying to leave this city, like thousand other youngsters. They often grumble, ‘What is left in this city? It’s old! It has no life!’ But does the city ever complain? No. She knows the inevitable, yet she keeps on moving with the flow. Do you know something, this city can never fade away.. No high-rise can ever sweep away her charm. Just like Sam.. who still breathes through Mathew, Ronald, me and of course, you! Well, even I have a question for you. Why do you still want to meet me? Uh! It is supposed to be very cold this time! ” She embraced her pullover in anticipation.
I winked, “I don’t know. Probably, I want to see my dearest Kolkata all over..this time, through your eyes. The unconditional journey that I had started with Sam to explore her grandeur, her sophistication,even her slums; needs a companion. The city has always given me a reason to revive – even after all these setbacks through ages, the way she carries herself beside the banks of Hooghly river awestrucks me..I just wish to flow with her; with you; with life! ”
For the first time, Jennifer’s eyes sparkled affirmatively. She halted just to hold my hand.
Meanwhile, we left the narrow dark passages to be greeted by the vastness and Christmas lights at Park Street Chowringhee Road crossing.
We waited for the signal to turn green.