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The Homecoming...

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The short story is a form that is now enjoying a revival but has always been a part of mainstream literature. The stories in this column are not based on a particular event or person but on a conglomeration of both fact and fiction, to entertain, to bring a smile to your lips and most importantly perhaps, to make you wonder- "what happened next?

 

THE HOMECOMING

Samiran was really tired; his body was saying to him to go home, take his medication and get into the large bed. By himself. Rini was long gone, gone to a new life somewhere, where he did not care, perhaps living with his son Krishanu in leafy New Jersey and his new wife and baby. He did see them when he lectured in Washington but that was becoming less frequent these days. He had paid for Krishanu’s house; it was the least he could do, at least Rini was out of his horizon and Krish, devoted to his mother could keep her happy. End of bitter bickering and silent hate battles that could last months. End of a chapter.

 

Smiling to his fellow members of the Royal College of Surgeons, he got up. It was the end of the gala dinner celebrating some event or other. He went because he had to. Everett Garner-Jones was walking towards him now, shaking his hand and saying something about the tests being ready for tomorrow at the hospital. He smiled in affirmation and waved at the President before walking to the car park. He missed the slightly puzzled and pitying glance in the grey eyes that that followed him out.

 

The drive home to Chiswick did not take long; parking his car in the driveway, he let himself in and put his keys in the glass bowl that stood on the corner table. A faint trace of the smell of lilies lingered in the long corridor; shaking his head he decided he would put all the slightly dried up flowers in the green recycling bin the first thing tomorrow. Now he needed the headache tablets that would bring blessed sleep. He would deal with tomorrow when his pain had lessened.

 

Pain - he thought about it a lot these days. The early morning sun was watery and did not look promising, but the headache that had come crashing through last night was nearly gone , just a dull nagging ache and he could live with that. The room was decorated in muted oyster pearl gray picked up by the occasional faint counterpoint of pink. He had had the bedroom redecorated after the divorce with Rini. Perhaps it had been a knee jerk reaction to her obsession for the gold, mauve and maroon theme for the master bedroom borne out of a trip to Morocco a few years ago, but he had loathed it silently. Samiran went down stairs, picked up the Sunday papers from the parquet floor near the main door, switched on the coffee machine and returned to brush his teeth and shower. The toothbrush drew more blood than usual and he just shrugged it off making a mental note to make another appointment with Owen Hughes, his dentist.

 

The smell of coffee crept insidiously upstairs overpowering even the fragrant sandal wood incense stick he lit in front of the small alter. It was bereft now of all the benign deities that had peopled its richly decorated interior, gone with Rini, apart from the small pink jade Ganapati he had bought in Indonesia. He had insisted he keep the portly, rotund figurine which fitted into the palm of his hand. Silently chanting the last verse of the Ganesha Atharvashirsha he folded his palms in obeisance and bowed his head; Ganesha and Samiran went back a long way he thought wryly, but now warm roasted Arabica beckoned.

 

The conservatory was flooded with sunlight and he sat there just enjoying the quiet. Samiran made a mental note of the chores that needed to be done and began to prioritise them. He knew what had to be done; something he did not like but was essential. The trip to pick up coriander, cumin, kalonji, heeng, tej patta and other spices meant he would have to drive down to Southall. Once this had been a bi weekly outing but this had changed. However, the jars in the kitchen were all empty and unless he was planned to eat out every night, this would have to be remedied. The slightly shrivelled lilies were put out and he rinsed out the crystal vase in the kitchen before setting it to dry on the draining board. Rini had deemed lilies to be too funereal and did not like the pollen that hung on heavy, turgid anthers. Come on, he argued once, even Rabindranath could not resist their allure in his songs, but to no avail. Despite the years at Dakshini and her M. Mus, from Vishwabharati it was a firm no.

 

As he drove his white Audi out of the garage he hummed a random few lines from a Tagore song celebrating those same offending pollen grains: "Esho bajaye byakul benu/ mekhey pial phooler renu" (Come, playing your melancholy flute/ your body adorned with the pollen of pial flowers.)

 

He smiled as he drove into Southall, still humming the song. He was surprised that he remembered the words at all. It was still quite early and the usual din of Little Punjab did not assail his senses. Shutters were being pulled up, crates of obscenely red tomatoes and emerald green watermelons were being put out. Keeping them company were the almost artificial, purple Dutch aubergines and baskets of greeny black okra or ladies fingers. Punjabi women in salwar kameez began to arrive in small groups and he could hear faintly the sat sri akals as they greeted each other. He contemplated buying the small oval green vegetable so beloved to the Bengali palate, potol; parwal to others and hesitated before picking up a plastic packet to put a few in. The thin, opaque, white packet stuck to his fingers and he wrestled momentarily before picking up a few and bagging them with a firm knot. Green chillies he thought, I’ve run out of those as well, better get some. He turned around to get another plastic bag and was aware of two things simultaneously; he was beginning to feel very warm so that he was perspiring quite heavily and that he had been joined by another shopper in the same rather cramped aisle. She had her back to him and was wearing a saree in some dark blackish colour. He leant forward to get a handful of the shiny, green chillies and his hand made contact with their smooth, hard surface. He was aware of a whooshing sound coming from a distance and tried to turn towards the source of the sound; he felt himself falling.

 

Samiran opened his eyes; he was in an unknown room and was stretched out on a large cream leather sofa. It was a really huge piece of furniture and dominated the whole room. There was very little else by way of furniture; large floor cushions in various shades of cream and terracotta offered a place to rest or there was the floor. He noticed idly that there was a cut on his right cheek and his head was pounding. He tried to get up and gave it up. Lying back on the sofa he tried to gather his thought and piece back what had happened. He saw the packets of green chillies and potol on a small side table. The rotund brass Ganesha on that same table looked back at him with a quizzical expression on its cherubic face. His cheek throbbed in an exquisite concordance of pain to his heartbeat and he noticed that his blue shirt had small brown bloodstains on it. Putting up a hand to touch his cheek he found that the hand too was bandaged heavily. Dear God, what had happened?

 

The woman stood at the half open door observing him; adjusting her glasses she came near him and held out a steaming mug; his nostrils savoured the aroma of ginger, black pepper and cardamom that perfumed the air. He struggled to sit up and a firm arm came out to support him; he took it gratefully and managed to lean back against the cushions. He was breathing heavily and took the mug of tea. It was offensively sweet, made with real sugar not Splenda he thought, but I need this now. This was the boiled tea brewed in kettles at the road side stalls and served in terracotta “kullars”, the little handle less cups used in India. He swallowed a few gulps before looking at the woman; she was seated opposite him on a large reddish floor cushion. She leaned forward and said, “Arundhati Sinha; we met last month at the conference in Singapore on sexual transmission of…….” Her voice faded as memory flooded back to Samiran. She had been one of the speakers, vociferously outspoken on how the Indian government was doing little to halt the spread of HIV amongst the married women of the Punjab, a large number of whom were from the eastern part of India due to the high rate of female foeticide in the Punjab; there were fewer Punjabi girls than before, so if you wanted a wife you got one from elsewhere. These were the wives of the long distance lorry drivers who contracted the infection from brothels and then passed it on. She had been virulently critical of what the local government was doing regarding what was being done to inform, educate and support these women and had attracted the criticism of some of the delegates from that state.

 

He came back to the present; what was she doing in Southall? He asked her and the reply was, “I live here”.

 

She waited for him to say something and when he did not, she said briskly “Are you up to date with your tetanus jabs? The floor at the Apna Watan super market is let’s say, less than clean. If you’re not, then I can probably sort something or the other”. She paused and after a while said “If you want me to take you to Casualty now, I can do; it’s not far from here”.

 

It was nearly nine p. m. when Samiran got out rather gingerly from Arundhati’s small car. She was there to take his hand and guide his key into the Chubb lock, was there to switch on the hall lights and put his keys in the glass bowl. She looked at him noting his grey pallor; it had been a long wait in the hospital and although the staff there knew him, it still took time for the assessment. Samiran had insisted he was well enough to come home; he would personally make sure that he had some blood and other tests done on Monday. Now he stood in the in the hall leaning against a door jamb. The light drew attention to the sharp shadows below the cheekbones and the eyes, now sunk deep into their sockets. His breathing was normal if slightly laboured but that was to be expected; for a man of six feet plus to fall headlong was more than enough to cause a shock to the system. He would have a few more bruises tomorrow.

 

Looking at him Arundhati found herself making a decision; years later she would think what made her do what she did; she still would not have any answers.

 

Taking Samiran’s arm again, she led him to the stairs to the upper floor. He leant quite heavily against her as they made the slow journey upstairs; she vaguely registered the knock from the wooden banister to her right hip as they negotiated the wide curve of the stairs to the upper landing. One of the doors was open and they went towards that one. It was decorated in grey and a quick glance told Arundhati that this was probably his room; there were slippers, rather large ones near the foot of the bed. The codeine was taking effect now she thought grimly as she momentarily wrestled to get the dead weight of his arm from around her. He felt feverish and his eyes were closed. Nearly twenty five minutes later he was dressed in a white kurta and pyjama she had found on the ottoman. She struggled to get him into the bed and managed to pull the duvet over him. Arundhati folded his other clothes and put them neatly on a chair. As she passed his side, a hand came out and caught hers; she stopped. His voice was nearly inaudible as he spoke in Bengali to her; “Please ektu bosho ekhaaney. Please sit here for a while." It was a request and Arundhati thought, does he know what he is saying. She sat down on the bed without saying anything, their hands still together. He did not say anything else but in a while she noticed his breathing deepened slightly. She looked round the room; there were no family pictures or anything to indicate a female presence in the room. The pearly grey décor was very austere despite its obvious luxury. Some books kept each other company on the bedside table and she smelt the very faint fragrance of incense that hung about the room.

 

It was nearly midnight when she came downstairs. Her long hair had come completely undone and she tidied it as she looked in the hall mirror. On a small shelf below the mirror was a framed photo of a baby about a year old. The baby was laughing in the picture and looked utterly adorable as he proudly displayed four little teeth in bare pink gums. She smiled involuntarily.

 

Letting herself out she started the car and began to the drive home. It started to rain as she drove towards Southall.

About three months later on a Sunday afternoon there was a knock on the door.

 

Arundhati had been cooking in the kitchen at the back of the house and took a couple of minutes to answer the door. A young man stood there, looking slightly bemused. The sounds of Southall in full spate were more muted here. He turned around as he opened the door; “Dr. Sinha?” he asked. When she nodded in acquiescence, he explained further. He was Krishanu Gupta, Samiran’s son. He waited and hastily Arundhati gathered her thought and invited him in. Seated opposite him in the lounge, she listened as he gave her a small tightly wrapped package. Holding the rather heavy object in her hands, she heard him say, “Dad died two weeks ago today. He called me a couple of days after his accident and said that when he was gone I needed to deliver this in person to you. He had it included in his will. There’s also this”. A long narrow envelope was also put into her hand. He waited for a minute and then looked at his watch; “I’m sorry but I’ve got to leave now; I am getting a flight back home to Boston tonight”.

 

Closing the door after him, she came back to the lounge and opened the package; the pink jade Ganapati felt cool in her palms. She smiled faintly and still holding it, opened the envelope. A single sheet of thick vellum fell out. It was written in the Bengali script with an odd few words in English:

 

Dear Arundhati,

Tomake aar ki likhbo; ekhon shob kichu lekhaar bairey. Indonesia thekey Ganeshta kiney chhhilam bohu bochor aagey. Aamar shomosto sthabor osthabor shompottir modhye eta shob cheye praaner kaachey. Tai shesh ichhey tomakey eta debo.

Aaro ekta kotha, thank you.

Bhalobashaantey, Samiran

 

(Dear Arundhati,

What else is there to write to you; everything is now beyond writing. I bought this Ganesha from Indonesia many years ago. Amongst all the things that I posses, this is the closest to my heart. My last wish is that you should have this.

One more thing, thank you.

With my love, Samiran)

 

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 About the Author : Gopali Chakraborti Ghosh was born and educated in Calcutta (India), the city that inspires much of what she writes. She studied English Literature and currently works as an English teacher in a secondary school in the North West of the UK. which has been her home for the last 20 years. She enjoys films, music, reading and ‘people watching’ because often a stray incident sparks off a new story.Apart from short stories, she writes poetry and anything else that may take her fancy.

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Image Source : http://pritziipazzion.blogspot.com/

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Just fabulous!! Surabhi

Just fabulous!!
Surabhi

Many thanks Surabhi

Many thanks Surabhi

Beautiful story. Thanks for

Beautiful story. Thanks for this column.
Saloni

Saloni thank you for the

Saloni thank you for the lovely comment :)

Omg am speechless with tears

Ki aar likhbo bolo.?

Pritha

Pritha

Pritha - the intention was not to reduce you to tears but thank you so much for reading and commenting - am glad, very glad you liked it .

Chomotkar, Gopali. Your

Chomotkar, Gopali. Your unhurried, lucid style is exquisite.
Achyut

Achyut

Thank you so much - a much treasured compliment :) thank you once again

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