EXCERPTS FROM BIBHUTIBHUSHAN BANDYOPADHYAY STORIES

The color of mist

It was winter evening. The banamouri shrubs in the woods surrounding Kana’s little house had started to flower. A strong aroma had filled the air of the winter afternoon. The red rays of the declining sun falling on Kana’s dilapidated ancestral lodging intensified the antiquity of the building. Kana looked up at Protul with eager eyes. ‘What is it, Protul da?’

‘I have to tell you something—you mustn’t take it amiss—I have been thinking it over for the last several days but couldn’t bring myself to talk to you. Will you marry me, Kana? I would consider myself very fortunate if you…’

Kana was silent. No one spoke for some moments. Then in a subdued voice Kana slowly said, ‘That’s not possible, Protul da!’ Protul was struck by surprise. He little expected her reply.

‘Why not?’ he asked.

Fixing her gaze on the floor, Kana faintly continued. ‘No, no, that can never be, Protul da. There’s a reason, of course, but I can’t talk about it now. We can’t get married, that’s all.’

Why couldn’t they marry? Was she in love with someone else? But he hadn’t seen any young man visiting the family. What could be the reason then?

‘Is the obstacle in the way of our marriage hard to overcome? I want to know why you can’t marry me.

‘It’s difficult.’

‘Won’t you tell me why it’s difficult?’

‘But don’t you know…Hasn’t Dada told you anything?’

Protul’s astonishment increased by volumes. What was it that he was obliged to know? What was it that Sashadhar hadn’t divulged?

‘No, Kana, I don’t understand a thing about what you’re saying. What could have Sashadhar told me?’

‘I’m a widow.’

‘You…?’

‘Yes! I was married when I was eight years old. I became a widow when I was thirteen years of age. It’s five years to date.’

Kana…a widow? Protul’s head was spinning madly. He felt faint. What an irony of fate! He had been weaving such incredibly romantic dreams around the girl, had wrongly accused her family, in his thoughts, of having designs on him. His heart was suffused with feelings of guilt and shame.

‘But, Kana, I didn’t know anything about this. No one had told me!’

‘But I thought you knew…that Dada had told you about me. I’m struck by your ignorance.’

‘Can I say something…a lot of widows remarry in our society these days.’

‘Leave such thoughts…what cannot be, won’t be—what’s the use of raising the issue?’

‘But I won’t give in. Why won’t you marry me, Kana, answer me to my face…I am interested in seeing you happy, I can rebuff society and all its norms for that.’

Tears welled up in Kana’s eyes, they streamed down her cheeks. Wiping the tears with the free end of her saree, she said, ‘I beg of you, Protul da…’

Protul didn’t add another word. The next day he handed his resignation letter to his office, giving them a month’s notice. He decided there wasn’t any point in his staying on; he wouldn’t stay in Nathpur any longer.

Bangle from Tirol

Hearing no sound coming from the room even at 9 o’clock, I knocked at their door. It seemed as if there wasn’t a soul within. I was compelled to peep in through the tiny window to the west. I noticed the girl lying. I felt awkward about prying like that but what else could I have done? I simply had to find out what the matter was.

I must have cried out loudly at the sight from the window—I say I must have, because I have no clear recollection of the moment. I was so greatly befuddled that I was hardly mindful of the scene I had witnessed. There was blood just about everywhere. My curiosity aroused, I wondered if my eyes were not deceiving me—but that lasted only a second. I saw Purnima’s dada sprawled on the wooden bed, lying in a peculiar position on his stomach. The bedding was soaked in blood. Blood was streaming all over the place, also on the floor. Purnima was seated plonked against a wall. I couldn’t tell, from that distance, whether she was alive or dead. A cushion, detached from the bedding, had fallen on her body. It was red with blood.

My cries must have pierced the air; neighborhood people came rushing in. In the meanwhile I had lapsed

into unconsciousness. It took them a while to bring me round. They had to break open the door and enter the room. Purnima’s dada had deep gashes on his neck, arms and shoulders, produced by the sharp knife Purnima had borrowed to cut vegetables with the night before. The knife, covered with blood, was lying abandoned at the edge of the bed. Purnima’s clothes, her sari or her blouse, were not stained; they bore only a sprinkling of blood shots. I realised that the woebegone girl had committed a dastardly crime.

She had killed her brother with her own hands and was now lying on the floor, lost to the world. But I couldn’t find a trace of anxiety on her face when I entered the room. She looked so beautiful in her slumber, so innocent—the picture of an unblemished beauty. All of a sudden the terrifying image of

Kali, the Goddess of destruction, floated in my mind’s eye. I recalled how Kali had the power both to destroy and create. She carried the sacrificial dagger in one of her hands while with the other she bestowed love!

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