This story is selected as Editor’s Choice
To my adore,
Your eyes are like the skies; when you laugh lightning strikes in them with swift flashes of elation, when you cry it creates a cloudburst. Every time I look at your eyes, my heart flips as if I am falling into an eternal abyss.
You can laugh at me for being stupid to write a letter to express my feelings for you, but I had to do it to dissolve the impeding lump of void in my heart that grows larger day by day.
I feel your presence cosseting me every minute of my existence, even though I know you are not around.
Every morning I open my eyes, I feel as if you are greeting me with that dazzling smile of yours; your warm breath whisks my sleepiness. My morning tea is never complete without our daily imaginary chitchats. My tiring daily routine enlivens up with the slightest thought of your comforting presence.
Every stroll I take down the street, I feel the presence of your cuddling fingers entwined with mine. When I come home every evening, tired and anguished, I fancy the warmth of your greeting arms around me washing down all the wary and bitterness.
Every sunset brings the thought of what a lovely golden glow it would cast on your face. A voice deep inside me assures me every day that the violet sky is still waiting for us, some day we would see the sunset together hand in hand standing by the blue horizon.
Every night I kiss the moon goodnight thinking it’s your face. The starry sky rekindles the memory of your twinkling eyes. I can breathe the sweet scent oozing out of you when the nippy night breeze caresses my shoulders. Sometimes a lazy southern wind wakes me up in the middle of the night and I feel your husky whisper teasing my earlobes. The tree beside my window doodles on my feet on a moonlit night and I shiver with the thought of your caressing fingertips.
When I fall sick, I dream of your caring hands on my forehead. When I feel sad, I recollect your laughter and my lips quiver with smile. When I feel jubilant, I imagine a tight hug from you to share the joy.
I know we are not meant to be together so soon. I know God is testing us to see how poised we are withstanding the trial of time and distance. But I know we will succeed one day.
I do not expect you to write a reply, but I will read it in your eyes the next time we look at each other.
With the hope, promise and longing to be together some day, ending the letter with lots of …
Truthfully and delightfully yours.
The writer finished the letter and handed it over to the man.
It’s not an easy task to parcel someone else’s feelings and intimate thoughts blabbered in a foreign language (funny how ‘literate’ Indians consider Hindi a ‘foreign language’ while writing!) in a lovey-dovey letter and translate it back to Bengali (to make it easier for the reader) in a simplified-cum-non-erotic format yet keeping the feelings intact.
The writer is not a professional interpreter, nor does he make a living out of other people’s love letters. But this man was pondering him for long and he wanted to write a letter for his Special One too. This single letter would suffice both; the man will get his Bengali letter while the writer can preserve the English version for the next Valentine’s Day or Her Birthday whichever comes earlier (does he know when is her birthday, by the way?).
Love, Letter, Lost
“Is this called tea, you idiot? This is worse than Quinine (a bitter drug prescribed for Malaria). Where’s that box of Makaibari Chinmay brought from Darjeeling last month? Has your revered Mademoiselle already finished the whole box?”
Shouted Sudhir Sen, the patriarchal head of the family. His day starts with the usual yelling at Hari, the age-old servant-cum-masseuse-cum-cook-cum-et all. Hari’s family has been serving the Sens for fourth generation running.
Nirmala, Sudhir’s wife, snapped instantly from the kitchen, “Hari, ask your Saheb (Sir) if he keeps a track of all his hangers-on consuming piles of chanachur and namkeen (fried evening snacks) every evening in the name of playing Tas (game of cards). How long can a small box of Makaibari tea survive in front of five ravenous dogs?”
“What? You called my yaars (friends) dogs? Nirmala, you’re crossing the limit.”
…And they went on.
‘Sen’s are a one-off clan in the neighbourhood. Their archetypal three-storied house in North Kolkata’s erstwhile posh locality has seen many ups and downs of the family in tandem with the change of history since the British era. But now the house as well as the clan stand as a reminiscent of the past glory, where no plaster-work can cover up the abysmal cracks waiting to be split wide open with the slightest fracas.
While ground floor was bustling with Sudhir-Nirmala’s daily squabble, first floor was having its own share of dirt spilling out of Subrata-Mita’s bedroom. Subrata, Sudhir’s son, again returned late last night with mouthful of Vodka in the name of office get-together.
Soon as he complained of morning hangover, Mita growled,
“Don’t dare open your mouth. Do you think I am stupid not to guess what’s going on between you and Mrs. Khanna?”
“What? Mrs. Khanna is my Boss’ wife and three years older. How could you even think of such disgusting allegations Mita? That’s the reason I told you to resume working, at least you’d not have time for these dirty thoughts and some money will be helpful to the family as well.”
“Oh, now you want me to resume working? Where were your financial senses and puritan wisdom when you asked me to leave the job in the name of raising your daughter and taking care of your old parents? Had I stuck on my school-teacher job, I would’ve reached the position of a headmistress by now. It’s you who destroyed my life and my career, too.”
…And the words continued to be filthier.
Third floor had a different story altogether. Sheila was getting ready for college with headphones on, probably to ward of both the grandpa-granny argument and parents’ blame-game. In between, she gave quick glances to the neighbouring window across the narrow by-lane; romance is in the air with the arrival of a new tenant last month. Nowadays, Sheila’s loiters in the roof and hours in the attic have increased manifold. The other side seems equally attracted, too.
Sudhir was first to discover the letter, glued to the roll of morning Newspaper with bird-crap; no envelope, no addressee or writer’s name either.
Just a plain and simple letter, A Love Letter!
Sudhir read it, re-read it, re-re-read it. And started shouting instantaneously,
“Nirmala, Nirmala. Finally I got something to nail you, baby. Today I will create a Kurukshetra in the Sen Residence, there will be bloodbath.”
Nirmala came running from the kitchen as the daily maid was already there smelling a scandal and gossip, therefore.
“What happened? What’s the new topic today to start a fight with me? Did you spend a single day in our forty-year’s marriage without fighting with me?”
“No lady, I didn’t. And I won’t till I die. If you could have an affair on my back after forty years of marriage and still stand in front of me completely unabashed, I have every right to shout. Your lies are caught, lady. See what I got hold of – a love letter from your secret admirer! Now? Tell me what excuse do you have for this, huh?”
Nirmala looked stunned, her head was spinning. Has Chinmay written it?
But that night during their Darjeeling trip took place thirty-nine years ago and Nirmala made him vow never to utter a word to the world about it. Chinmay kept his promise; maintained distance and courteous relationship with his best friend’s wife ever since. And remained a bachelor.
Nirmala always felt responsible for Chinmay’s bachelorhood.
After all, it was Chinmay’s family who first sent the marriage proposal to her parents. But the England-returned barrister Sudhir Sen from the renowned Sen clan was a more suitable boy in her parent’s eyes compared to the yet-to-start-a-career aspiring writer Chinmay. So what now Chinmay has earned fame through his books, maintains a much more lavish lifestyle in Darjeeling than his dwindling feudal counterpart who doesn’t do anything but bragging about the ancestral glory; Nirmala’s parents had the typical shortsightedness of affectionate Indian parents who think they can arrange the best life partner for their child through newspaper advertisements.
Nirmala jolted back to reality with the next set of eruption from her volcanic husband. With the letter dangling in his hand like a missile waiting to be launched and the entire household including few street urchins and stray dogs now tailing him, Sudhir was still waiting for an answer.
Nirmala started crying; herself not sure whether for being reminded of an endearing event buried so deeply inside the heart for four decades or suddenly apprehending the truth of a loveless marriage that could prove otherwise with a romantic person like Chinmay.
While Nirmala was still baffled with the thought why Chinmay would write a love letter at this age and whether to construe this letter as his death wish or something in case he has been diagnosed with a life-threatening disease or met with a fatal accident; Subrata turned a savior,
“Baba (father), I know who this letter has come for. You are unnecessarily accusing Maa (mother). This is definitely for someone else.”
And he turned 180 degree to face his usual suspect.
Mita has just entered the scene straightaway from the bathroom with a saree hastily clad on her chubby body, dripping water all over from wet hair; oblivious to the street rogues’ ogling eyes devouring her wet and under-dressed form.
Disregarding the gossip-mongers, Mita screamed,
“Yes, isn’t that obvious? Now that I caught all your wrong-doings with Mrs. Khanna, you want to take revenge by falsely accusing me, isn’t it? How will I know if you have not written the letter by yourself to frame me in front of the family? I know your intentions; you want to get rid of me so that you can remarry that Mrs. Khanna. But make yourself clear, I won’t divorce you so easily.”
Momentarily forgetting her decades-old duplicity, Nirmala’s over-protective-Bengali-mother’s soul got curious,
“Who’s Mrs. Khanna? What’s going on Subrata? Why didn’t you tell me that everything’s not okay between Mita and you?”
‘As if the morning combats weren’t enough to reach her affectionate ear’, snorted Sheila who is the latest entry.
Her grandfather’s yell has outsmarted Bose Corporation’s latest noise cancelling technology and outmaneuvered the thirty-six feet altitude of the old Victorian mansion amidst a clamouring Kolkata morning.
“Why are you silent now? Tell her who is Mrs. Khanna and why am I accusing you? I have solid proof that my suspicions aren’t baseless”, Mita was still defending herself while wondering privately if it has come from Anup by any chance.
Anup was an ideologist two years senior to her.
Mita fell in love with that kurta-pajama clad skinny guy with light bearded face and dreamy eyes during their fresher’s welcome. They dreamed together – of a socialist country, of a house by the side of a river, of a middle-class happily married life filled with kids and many more.
But their romance was abruptly usurped by the fierce red seventies in Kolkata when the entire city turned into a political battlefield. Anup got sucked into the political whirlwind and went undercover.
Mita’s father, having a different political faith, came to now of her affair and hurriedly married her off to the Sen inheritor to save grace.
Mita entered the Sen household with a secretly guarded broken heart craving for marital warmth but suffered yet again when Subrata turned out to be abusive and alcoholic.
Twenty long years have passed ever since with the sophisticated school-teacher Mita transforming into a grumpy, complaining housewife and Subrata constantly seeking love outside marriage blaming Mita’s loveless attitude. One good thing was, Anup’s memory had wriggled free of Mita’s mind during the mundane marital life.
It’s only a month back when Mita spotted Anup in a shopping mall and the cocooned emotion erupted again. Since then they have had a few candid outings which may have resulted into this love letter.
A woman can never be another woman’s well-wisher. The maid spilled the beans though completely unwarranted,
“Bhabhi (sister-in-law), why are you shouting at Bhaiya (Brother)? I saw you sneaking out of the house a number of times in the past month when everyone is sleeping post lunch. You go out with a stranger holding his hand.”
A stunned silent briefly halted all arguments and Mita wished if the mother earth could engulf her like Sita in Ramayana.
As a last resort to steer the accusation drama away from her, Mita turned hostile towards her own daughter,
“Sheila, I believe you’ve got some explanation to give too, right? Swear that it hasn’t come from that new boy next door, would you? I know something is cooking between the two of you, but don’t forget you are the daughter of The Sen household. You dare blemish the name of the family and I’ll punish you so hard, you’ll remember forever.”
Sudhir was somewhat sidelined after setting off the stage; but the words like ‘blemish’ and ‘Sen household’ brought him back to the foray. He started giving a long lecture to Sheila on how an eloping couple were killed for honour in the past by his ancestors and that he has inherited the same blood and vigour for vengeance and honour.
Sheila remained mostly unperturbed by the long speech. She has heard them so many times since childhood that they lost the sheen. Besides the romance between her and the new boy is still very nascent, mostly confined to a few glances and smiles here and there. They didn’t even have a proper conversation so far, therefore eloping is completely out-of-question as of now. But the question is has it really come from him? If so, he may be a bit more serious than Sheila construed. Or, is he just taking a casual chance? Well, she has to find the truth, but how? She can meet him only if these crazy people disband first.
Sheila started getting impatient; her youthful curiosity was overtaking the family’s concern for reputation.
No one noticed, in the meantime in a fit of rage, Subrata has hauled the young lover from next door.
He was enjoying the drama from his dress-circle seat aka window-ledge of a typical Victorian house of North-Kolkata. With a glass of morning tea and crunchy biscuits accompanying the pleasure, he was so engrossed in the slowly unfolding family scandal-drama that he even forgot being late for the college. Only when Sudhir began the descriptive speech of blood-thirsty honour killing, he became conscious of his own safety and decided to leave the deadly theater, but alas; Subrata was already standing behind him.
Barely eighteen, the boy was so frightened with the visual imagery of being murdered with an axe and his severed head being offered to the Goddess Kali, he acknowledged committing the crime without any coercion.
But Sudhir’s barrister mind wasn’t satisfied without a proof. So he ordered demonstration and it proved negative. The boy’s handwriting was different from that of the letter. Now he was given another set of lengthy lecture on how not to lie to the elders and how all neighbourhood girls should be treated as ‘sisters’, not ‘girlfriends’. Sheila was even instructed to tie a Rakhi (sisterly bond) to him next season.
He sprinted like a slaughterhouse animal freed off cage with the earliest opportunity.
Sheila felt depressed for losing the prospect of a window romance. The earlier tenant in that house was a big fat lady living with a cat and the one prior to her was a long bearded saint. She couldn’t remember the ones prior to them; she was too young to fall for a neighbour back then. Now she can only hope for another handsome hunk to check into the house, hopefully well before she too is married off to a stranger, once this poor frightened soul checks out (which may not be too far after today’s panic attack).
It was well past the morning and all household chores remained undone; but no one bothered. As if everyone was in a trance, lost in his or her own memories, misdeeds and misfortunes.
The urchins got bored and left the theater without waiting for the climax. Even the stray dogs decided to respond to nature’s calls than wasting time in a lifeless drama.
The vital question still remained unanswered. Who has written the letter and most importantly for whom?
Nirmala even made the maid swear in the name of her children and all available Gods and Goddesses they could recollect, that it didn’t come for her. Sudhir repeated it with the Nepalese guard and family driver, both of who secretly desires the maid despite her being married with two children.
Even poor old Hari was not spared from swearing, to make sure he doesn’t have a grand-daughterly love interest.
Mita thought of calling Anup and checking with him, but couldn’t manage to go near a phone in this crowded site.
Nirmala prayed silently for the well-being of Chinmay and that he isn’t in a dying bed writing his last (love) letter.
Sudhir meanwhile read the letter aloud three more times.
Though the letter was pretty enticing to be read out loud in front of the son or daughter-in-law, let alone grand-daughter, but nobody stopped Sudhir. Various shades of emotions – jealousy, suspicion, guilt and curiosity overtook everyone`s better senses.
Each time, the interpretation pointed towards a different someone and someone in the room blushed secretly.
No one noticed the arrival of Chinmay. He pays casual monthly visits while meeting the publisher of his books. But today he was totally uncalled for in this already crumbled household and proved to be the final nail in the coffin.
Nothing would have happened if Nirmala, out of her own guilt, had not jumped to her feet and ran straight towards him demanding an answer.
The safeguard of thirty-nine years fell apart in split second.
By the time Chinmay could fathom the gravity of the situation and get a grasp on it, Sudhir and Subrata pounced on him like hungry tigers. They needed to vent the daylong tension on an easy channel.
Thankfully the guard and driver were still enjoying the drama from a safe distance and reached well-in time to stop the father-son duo, violence could be avoided. It would have been a greater tamaasha (circus) if ambulance was to be called for two elderly men in their sixties dueling over an equally senior lady.
After Chinmay somewhat got settled on a chair, blood trickling down the lips and a blue eye from Subrata`s punch, Sudhir made him confess.
Nirmala was crying and apologizing profusely. But Sudhir’s male ego was not yet gratified. So the melodrama continued with sleazy dialogues like “I wonder if Subrata is my child” or “You are even worse than Brutus”. Taking a cue from his father, Subrata grumbled too, “Who knows if Sheila is mine or not.”
For the first time in life, Nirmala empathized with her daughter-in-law in the face of shamelessness of the wounded male ego.
For some time everyone forgot about the letter. But when the shocks of legitimacy and strained relationships subsided, elasticity of human mind brought back the same question – who’s the letter addressed to?
Now that Chinmay has denied the responsibility, only Anup could have committed the crime.
Mita couldn’t wait any longer and called him to verify, fully aware that everybody is listening to her.
But Anup dismissed her too,
“Don’t you think it would be funny to write a love letter to you at this age? Come on Mita, we’re well past that age of silly romanticism. Grow up.”
He hung up but Mita was silently weeping. Nobody knows why a woman of her age with all that grumpy gloomy facade still craved for a silly romantic love letter from her secret lover, even if subconsciously.
Finally the situation has come back to square one. All anger and jealousy have given way to a timid bereavement for the loss of love. Every relationship is now split wide open and no one is able to look at other’s eyes in sheer disgrace.
The small pink letter, now lying on the floor, laughs at the mockery of human relationships and the so-called multitude of emotions, especially the societal norms of marriage and fidelity.
Sheila couldn’t stand it any longer. The damage has to be stopped before it further endangers the fragile foundation of this household. All that was built for so long cannot be destroyed in a day by an anonymous love letter. The family have to stand in unison to face the society, given that gossip and scandal have already done enough damage by now.
She sprang to her feet, picked the letter and threw it out of the window.
Though still curious, everyone in the room sighed with relief.
Sometimes certain things are better left unanswered, especially when the truth cannot be handled easily.
Human mind has an awesome power called forgetfulness. No one will remember the incident tomorrow and life will go on as usual; even the most disturbing truths will again get buried in the name of custom and responsibility, till another missile like the pink letter strikes the household yet again.
Kanai was begging on the footpath as usual. Nowadays, it has become extremely difficult to manage a living out of street begging.
Suddenly a ball made of pink paper flew out of the Sen residence and landed on the street in front of Kanai.
He picked it up out of curiosity.
In the evening, Kanai went to the tea stall and bartered the letter for half glass of tea and a piece of bread. The stall owner was ecstatic to acquire the very evidence of the scandalizing gossip that is scorching the neighbourhood like wildfire.
The new tenant who resides across the Sen Residence was drinking tea at the stall, when Kanai walked in. He saw the bartering episode, smiled at himself and later obtained the letter from the stall owner for hundred bucks.
It felt like a prized possession, after all the havoc it has been creating throughout the day!
In morning, Nathu, the newspaper guy did come to him,
“Babu, you have to help me. I lost the letter. I was carrying it along with the daily newspapers; thought would go to the post-office after work. But don’t know how it got missing. Will you please write another one for me, Babu? I promise, won’t lose it again.”
He turned the letter and smelled bird-crap. So that’s the real culprit! Everything made sense now; how the letter meant for Nathu’s pregnant wife in his ancestral village went missing and landed into the Sen Household.
He will give it to Nathu tomorrow morning.
He felt relieved; thank God he was able to tweak his Bengali handwriting just in time, or else his severed head would be lying on the feet of Goddess Kali by now.
The English version is still safe in his drawer, waiting to be delivered to Miss Sheila Sen on the next Valentine’s Day (or Her Birthday, whichever comes earlier – he has to find that out as soon as possible).
May the English version wreak equally havoc; thankfully North Kolkata rooftops are only a stone throw away!