The same weird feeling churned her stomach. Absolutely annoying it had become; and since the past month, this had been an unwanted and unwarranted companion of Durga. She lay on that small ramshackle cot and looked at the shelves, hoping to find something to munch. There should be a chips packet no? Rudra da assured her something spicy and tangy would be kept. But no. There was nothing. Absolutely nothing, except for a few biscuits scraping the base of that glass jar. Rudra da’s grandma’s jar. He kept it as a sign of her legacy or love or whatever.
Durga stared at that, rather glowered almost and mused if she could hold her hunger for some more time. Second day of Durga Puja, Paromita Aunty might cook some mutton. And probably, like the other day, she would heed Durga’s plight and send a bowl of mutton through Rinku, her ten year old daughter.
A gush of air flew in through the window. And, along came the mellifluous drum beats. Durga got up and ran to the window. She glanced at the wall clock. Huh! It had also stopped last night at two. How come she didn’t realize? She was awake the whole night; gathering courage to ask Rudra da for a saree. And she could ask. After six months of marriage, she finally demanded something and even agreed to disown any hope for anything expensive. With tear soaked eyes, she was ready to reconcile even with a simple printed cotton saree if not a Tangail.
Bright sunlight and that azure blue sky stretched unendingly with loose white cottony patches of clouds. It looked beautiful; much like a polka dot saree. Like how Priyanka Chopra wore for that award function! Her eyes glittered with that mere thought passing through. At least for that feeble second Durga could knit a fairy tale for herself. Much rewarding actually, than the brutal truth of her present life. Somewhere, it stockpiled a tale of unblemished love, a sketch of that perfect life which Durga had always imagined.
She peeped out a little more. Did Maa Durga really live there in the sky? With her four kids and her husband? She pondered. The distant roads, however far her eyes could reach, were all bristling with life. Obviously. It was Kolkata. And it was Durga Puja. Nobody sat idle at home. However, Durga remained locked in her house. Not a single pandal she could visit yet.
So what? Even the old man of the opposite house, spending most of his time sitting on that mottled, half broken balcony wouldn’t have been to a pandal. Not only this year, but for many years. Durga sighed at her pitiable consolation. She glanced at that house. She wondered, how two old people could remain alive and agile in that anytime-crumbling building. That house was some 200 years old and could collapse anytime soon. She sighed and doubted if that was the lone one in such a pathetic situation. Absolutely not. Most of the houses around were equally ruined.
A string of chants reached Durga. Probably from that next lane pandal. Although faint, she could surmise the priest reciting the Pushpanjali Slokas. How couldn’t she? She was after all brought up amidst the grandeur of Roy Chaudhuri dynasty with a hundred year history of Durga Puja. Tears slid down her cheeks. Was she right in leaving her bloodline; rather everything behind for the sake of love? Durga never understood what Rudra thought of her decision. One fine morning, when she stood at his door carrying a small bag with few clothes, Rudra simply let her in. Neither he questioned nor did he advise. Neither was he angry nor looked happy. Not even a hint of disbelief he showed. He just let her in, closed the door and resumed with his painting.
God! Durga could no longer distract her hunger. She opened the jar and chomped down all the biscuits. At least a momentary respite; before Rudra got something for lunch from that adjacent mess. Ugh! She puked. That’s not lunch. A bowl of heavily starched rice, watery dal and some vegetable. Occasionally, a small piece of fish Rudra got, drowned inside a brownish gravy.
She scraped the crumbly bottom of the jar and licked her fingers. It was Saptami. Shikha kakima (aunt) and Asha didi (sister) might be busy making khichudi and laabda. Baba (father) might be instructing the cooks to take extra care while frying the fishes. Today he would have brought Rohu and Paabda. Pulav was always prepared for Ashtami bhog. Today, it would be plain rice, roasted moong dal and brinjal fried lengthwise. Durga felt the flush of saliva bickering inside her mouth. No holds barred, Durga was indeed missing her once-upon-a-time luxurious life.
She lay down again. Belly cramped a couple of times. She looked at the calendar which Paromita Aunty lent her. It should be her time of the month. However, three months had passed since her last one came. Durga was just nineteen. She had often missed her periods but it had never cramped so badly. Moreover, she had never been into such wicked hunger.
Her eyes stared the ceiling fan. Rotating out on a limb, it could stop or fall any day. She had asked Rudra da to replace it and as usual the request was put on hold. Even the slightest of the wind made the left window pane bang onto the grill rods. The stopper on the jamb had broken, what now felt like many eons ago. Many a night, that raucous noise had snatched sleep from her eyes. Strangely, it never disturbed Rudra da. He slept peacefully, lugging that immutable kind smile. Tear drenched, Durga sniffed as she strolled down her memory.
One year ago, Rudra da was invited to Roy Chaudhury Nivas for drawing a portrait of Durga’s grandfather, along with the project of painting their years of heirloom. Durga’s eldest cousin, Dipankar had introduced Rudra da to the family. He stayed there for a couple of months to complete the project. Durga had hardly exchanged a word with Rudra apart from serving him his frequent cups of tea and of course food. However, every day, she observed him. Rudra was no great to look at.
Curly black hair tucked inside a small ponytail at the back, brown complexion, dark eyes behind a black square framed spectacles, dense arched eyebrows, always wearing some striped kurta with a pair of loose blue jeans; Durga noted every minute details of Rudra. Rather, behind the closed doors, Durga ate her heart out longing to have a glimpse of Rudra. She made many excuses to interact with him.
Rudra da, tea
Rudra da, shall I serve your lunch here or you would come to the dining?
Rudra would lend out some monosyllabic hmms; or a nod may be. Did he ever look at Durga? One paint brush always pursed between his teeth, another busy on the canvas, Rudra always replied keeping his eyes glued to his work.
The cot creaked awfully as Durga turned on her sides. This was also breaking! Why did she come here? Her eyes followed the piece of plaster that had fallen on the floor from the roof. The side wall had damp marks from one end to the other. Right corner of the roof was grinning with those iron rods. Huh, mortar was gone? The wooden chest of drawers was oozing with papers, paintings and many things that never made any sense to Durga. Whenever she had opted to throw them, Rudra just smiled with a no. After Durga came, he had lent his table to keep the basic amenities, like a small second hand induction heater, water bottles, arrangements for tea etc.
Nothing she knew about Rudra da apart from his profession when she fell in love with him. Amidst a pillow talk with her cousin, she could extract his address. That’s all she assembled before she raised her voice against her father’s wish and packed her bags in pursuit of her single sided love.
Did Rudra actually love Durga? She heard a whisper under her pillow. Or did the artist engrossed into his art just let in whomever knocked his door? What had he done for Durga? After a week’s stay, when neighbours raised curiosity over the new entrant in the colony, Rudra held Durga’s hand at the Marriage Registrar office and got a sealed certificate to shut the door on every surplus query.
Durga got up and opened the cupboard. Half of it was filled with Rudra’s paintings. One shelf at the top had six kurtas and a pair of jeans. God only knew how old they were. One shelf Durga had cleaned for keeping her stuffs. She glowered at her shelf and pulled out everything from there. Where did she keep her bag? Above this cupboard or behind Rudra’s old canvasses? She searched for her bag. Moved things from here to there, deliriously in search of her bag. She couldn’t stay there anymore.
Where would she go?
Why? Durga would go to her house, to her family. What’s wrong in that? Even Maa Durga leaves her husband and comes home every year. Didn’t grandma tell about how Maa Durga cries in the heaven for coming home and it rains on the earth? Durga would also leave her husband and go to her own house
And there, her eyes fell on a portrait of Kaali. Ferocious it looked. Blood thirsty eyes on the cerulean blue skin, scarlet red tongue outstretched, was it just a piece of art on a linen canvas? Or had someone secretly infused some life into the painting? Durga was mesmerized. She had never seen a mural so lifelike. A bag peeped out from behind; and it was Durga’s bag.
Her eyes pranced on every piece of Rudra’s art which brazenly spoke to her. They all looked similar, harbouring the naked truth of life, the illusion of contentment she had been feeding herself, the pain which had always outstripped her love, her desires and presumptions that haunted her every night and died with the first ray of dawn. Rudra da never uttered a word when Durga hinted at her rotten luck. He always smiled, left the house and later at night worked on his canvas. Did he speak to Durga through his strokes?
Durga broke down. She had none to complain to, for she was the one who erased her boon and brought upon this misfortune. Tears rolled down ceaselessly. She loved Rudra da but failed to accommodate this penury, this poverty. The dearth in life seemed eternal. The mirror attached to the cupboard often muttered to her about her thinned down body, droopy eyes and dark circles. Durga had to leave. She had to abandon this avatar and embrace the older one. She packed her bag and eagerly waited for Rudra to come. Durga decided to remove the seal of marriage from her life. It was time for a divorce. She couldn’t, rather must not survive in this marriage for another day.
A knock at the door. Durga gulped down some courage and opened it. Rudra stood there with a saree packet and a pot of Rosogolla in one hand and an envelope on the other. There was an unusual joy in Rudra’s eyes. Durga overlooked the saree, but the envelope was from the diagnostic centre. And before Durga could utter a word, Rudra finished. “You are pregnant Durga.”