A New Chapter in Radharani's Life
Nakib Firoze is a short story writer, and the Assistant Principal of the Bengali Department in Daniya University College.
Radharani's life had taken a sudden turn, as if being in the squeezing grasp of the fist of a giant, ever since her husband Nishi Halder had passed away. The forty-two year old mother of two was suddenly transformed into a widow. The primary school teacher and husband had fought the rogue ailment with so much effort and went through so much pain for two years that after his death Radharani immediately had started to feel the earth move away from under her feet. Even though the ugly face of life showed itself to her and had shocked her within a span of just three to four months, the first real shock came when her seventeen year old son Badol got up and ran away from Radharani and her eight year old son Biplob behind. She had mentally collapsed more with her son's departure than her husband's death.
Radharani was filled with angst towards her son. But then again her thoughts would race, 'No, he had left only so that he could start to make a decent living to be able to take away his mother and brother away. Was he really mature enough to realise the complexities of life? People from the Muslim community on the other bank of the lake would come and raid them every now and then. They always had wolfish looks about them; was such a young boy actually able to decipher those looks?
Exactly fifteen days before Badol had left, he had arranged for the daughter, a widow, of Dinu Kharati from the house in the north to come and stay the nights with Radharani, and would also thus have dinner with her. But she never showed herself after the two-three times she visited. She was asked as to why, to which she had said she could not sleep at the house for being scared at night.
There were no others reliable enough available amongst the relatives who would be able to come and look after Radharani. Chills would run down one's spine when entering this huge house surrounded by the woods by the Beel (wetlands), detached from the main village during the day. Many say that the house is haunted! Even Radharani was scared those days! Somehow she constantly thought someone was walking behind her like a shadow.
Somehow the house had also started to become deserted. There used to be a total of three housemaids. The second and third brothers-in-law, Shashi and Samir Halder, used to live in the cottage across the lawn. There were many people there. Nobody ever had any fear. But somehow everything just fell apart over a span of just a couple of years!
The Halders were five brothers in total. Due to lack of living space, the eldest three of the five left the old house to the youngest two and had built a new home for themselves on the huge eight bigha inherited garden adjacent to the Beel near the Muslim community. Nishi Halder was the eldest. The decision was taken on account of his proposal. Badol, Radharani's eldest son, was just a newborn then. She could vividly remember the days when the three brothers had built the house.
Shashi Halder had built a small primary school in front of the house, so that poor Muslim and Hindu children alike could come and take lessons. Nishi Halder was not much educated himself. But even then, education was very valuable to him. He used to run the school efficiently with around a score of students, from which he used to earn a little as well. Besides that he used to gather quite a lot of coconuts and betel nuts from around the house. His year would somehow financially be stretched and attained from the income generated from the bit of farm land that he had inherited. Nishi Halder used to always think this is enough! Who needs any more than this?
Even though Radharani's father was a bit better off, she made do with Nishi Halder's limited income. Her days were not that bad with her two sons, and her simpleton husband.
It was during this time that the youngest brother-in-law Samir Halder had without any notification eloped to India with his wife. His two brothers-in-law along with other in-laws used to live there. He had sold off his house and all his property to the Muslim Matbor Mokbul Fakir from across the lake. And ever since then, people from the Muslim Community would come over, enter the house, and cause much hassle. The second brother-in-law Shashi Halder hence used to be always vigilant with the duo of his of age daughters. Finally, in fear of losing face, he shifted to the house he had erected on the small piece of land he owned within the Hindu Community along with his family within just a year.
There were no evident problems for Radharani even then, as every one, both Hindus and Muslims, would revere Nishi Halder. She was living hassle free with an empty heart for a lost husband with her two sons. Fear settled in as soon as the eldest son stupidly left, leaving them behind, driven by stubbornness to fare into India.
The sun had risen over the tree-canopies in the month of Ashshin. The fog had cleared over the village on the other side of the field while the sun radiated its rays over the green paddy fields across the Beel.
Radharani was alone at home. The house on the eight bigha area of the premises was absolutely empty. The small boy had Pantha (soaked rice) for breakfast and had left for school. Radharani had a fist full of puffed-rice and some tea and had taken to her daily chores: attending to the cow, watering the pumpkin patch on the front lawn, and other small errands around the house. She then had lit the stove after taking her afternoon bath.
Radharani was heartbroken ever since her husband passed away. She could not forget her son's face for even a moment, who had left everything behind to elope to India. Then again she felt pangs of pain remembering how cruel he was; it felt like as if her heart had been put through a grinder.
She used to be mostly alone in that big house. Could she rely on her ten-eleven year old son? The house gave an aura of death the night Dinu Kharati's daughter did not show. How would she spend the night with her adolescent child all alone in such a big house surrounded by the jungle?
People used to say the house was haunted. Many sorts of sounds rose from the garden during the dark nights. The wind used to blow making ruffling noises. These things were there from the beginning. But fear never settled in the mind ever before. Nishi Halder never believed in ghosts or spirits. Even her eldest son Badol had no fear of these things. She was not afraid either. But somehow it seemed as if the winds blew through this absolutely empty house only; her soul would shiver in fear at those times. Even then her fear of people was far more than the fear of such things. She knew, even if there were any invisible spirits around, they would never enter a dwelling and harm the people residing there. There are scarier people than these spirits; she used to fear them.
There were no such incidents that Kanchan Shikder from the south neighbourhood could not instigate. He could come along with a meat cleaver and leave a person to pieces without anyone even making a peep. She would quiver from the inside in fear of him coming and standing in front of her.
After spending a night alone, she was compelled to ask Makbul Fakir's nephew Kala Siddique; he had come and spent the night lying on the bench in the outer veranda. Radharani had slept with the small boy in her arms with the doors tightly shut that night. This had gone on for a few more days.
Radharani was assured that there was no one other than this Siddique boy to have come and stood beside them. She had not even seen the resemblance of one single person from the Hindu Community to have come and stood beside them in their time of need. One of the reasons was because of the fact that Nishi Halder could never be included in the good books of the Hindu Community. He was one that was always a little distant from the society. He would never follow the rituals of the Hindu Community. He had chosen more acquaintances from the Muslim Community. He would never listen to the heads of the society and what rules and regulations were put forward. That was the only reason why while he was alive people from the Hindu Community would not even cross his threshold. Radharani was thus absolutely sure that no one would have come to her aid in days of hardship.
Even though Siddique was the same age as her son Badol, he posed a blackened body oily: hard, and with strong muscles that belonged to a full grown man. The boy was an orphan. He grew up under his uncle Makbul Fakir's shadow and had attended Nishi Halder's school for a while. By that time, he used to look after Makbul Fakir's properties and supervise the labourers there on a daily basis. Nishi Halder's younger brother Samir had sold off all his belongings, house, and property to Makbul Fakir before escaping to India. Siddique used to visit the house on a regular basis to look after the garden-property. As he was the same age as the eldest son Badol, they used to be friends. Nishi Halder used to refer to the aged Makbul Fakir as Chacha (uncle), and thus Siddique used to call Nishi Halder Dada (big brother) and Radharani by Boudi (wife of elder brother). Even though the boy was arrogant, he would still always go and ask of their well being and run small errands after the husband's death. Even then he would have an air of arrogance with his piercing observant gaze.
To be continued…
Translated by Hasan Ameen Salahuddin
Illustrated by Ujjal Ghose
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