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.
Continued from last issue…
The house was eerily silent. No sounds could be heard besides the chirping of a couple of birds. The sounds of the leaves rustling in the rising wind on the tress, beside the Beel, could be heard seldom.
Radharani's eyes had taken to leak from blowing into the wet fire-wood burning in the stove. She had wiped her tears away with her Aachol, and had come out of the kitchen to stand outside. There was a damp smell of the drying bog in the sun lingering in the air.
The house was absolutely empty. Her heart skipped a beat every time she looked upon the remains of the two rooms across from the big courtyard. Ah! The number of people that used to live there at one time! The numerous moments surrounding songs and joy! All was gone by then!
Should Radharani have left the house as well and gone away? But where would she have gone? Even if she had left, it would have been straight into the fire from the frying pan this she had understood very well without any difficulty. She had thus refrained from thinking in those lines. Whatever would have happened, she would still not have left her husband's home.
The youngest brother-in-law Kunjo, the one who lived in the old house in the village, had offere, “Boudi, you can come and live in my house. How will you stay here all by yourself?”, after her boy had runaway to India. But Radharani did not comply. She knew that Kunjo definitely had some strings attached with him being so nice. It would have been different otherwise, as he had not visited even once while his elder brother was suffering for two years before passing away. He had never asked of their wellbeing when they were starving during those days, on top of which he had even refused to help out with any money or even rice when she had asked for some. Radharani was sure of some exterior motive behind Kunjo's offer at the time. It was nothing more than the greed to encroach upon the properties of the unfortunate young orphans - his nephews. He would have had taken them into his house with smiles all around, and a few days later when he would have achieved in taking away all their properties he would have called them thieves and kicked them out onto the streets. Radharani knew very well that Kunjo would not have given a second thought in doing such things; ten others from the village knew the same.
She had thusly told Kunjo, “No brother! Doesn't matter if I live or die, but I am in no way leaving my husband's homestead. I will die here with a lit lamp by my side if that is to be!”
She had that day seen the true colours of Kunjo. He screamed at her and had said, “Beware if you lose any of my ancestral properties! I will cut you into pieces if that comes to pass. You are not listening to me, and you will suffer for it!”
Radharani had not prolonged the conversation. She had thought - what is Kunjo trying to scare me of? All my life has passed in misery! May as well die while rotting from starvation! What else could possibly lie beyond death?
The rice was boiling over on the stove. The sun was beating down mercilessly as well. Radharani returned back into the kitchen after standing on the adjacent lawn lost in thought for a while. Her mind was racing. She was perplexed with the boy Siddique. Who knew what he would do next? Adolescent boys of such age were always unpredictable, and Radharani had deciphered that by then. The boy was very naughty and haughty from the very beginning. But that was tolerable till he had actually tugged at her violently while grabbing her hand the other night before going off to sleep. The young child Biplob was asleep in the room by then. She had noticed an animalistic image of lust portraying his face that night. She had felt a bolt of lightning surge through starting from the tip of her head to her toes. She started to tremble violently, with sweat beads forming on her forehead. She was absolutely stunned. She somehow had gathered herself in that very moment, jerked her hand away from him, jumped into the room and had bolted the door shut. She had stood by the door then and had said while panting, “Siddique, you are transgressing your limits. You will not be spared if others know of this. Be warned!”
Siddique's voice could be heard from the veranda, “Boudi, open the door. I will do anything for you. Don't turn me away.”
Radharani had then extinguished the lamp and had lain down by her son. She did not utter a single word further. She took the fish-cutting-cleaver and placed it above her head and had gone to sleep while listening to Siddique's far-sounding pleas.
Nanda was the only friend that she had who could have saved her from such a predicament - an aged self sufficient humorous man. He used to live in the neighbouring village. All his children had by then migrated to places all around the country having finished their studies. Some of them had even gone away to India. His wife had passed away a long time back. A prostitute - an escort in more courteous language - Ranjit's mother used to live in the house. As her son grew up she refused to stay with the old man just to protect Ranjit's honour from the society and shame people would instigate on him. The old man had thus erected a room for them to stay in just a stone throws away from the house. She used to stay there most of the time; this caused a lot of problems for the old timer.
The same Nanda had come to visit Radharani a couple of times after her husbands passing away. He had even spent one night in the house. He had wanted to take Radharani along with him to his house as well. He was a humorous man. He had even used his sweet talk to have tried to make Radharani agree to it, but she had refused. There would be no joy to live to satisfy the wants of a washed up old man in return of food and shelter; there would have been no selfish needs to that end either. Even then if the hardship of ensuring square meals for the day had persisted, it was still better to have lived through the hassle. On top of which, if she really had to give up her sanctity, why would she have given it up to an old washed up man? Was there ever a deficit of men to satisfy? Besides which, if it had really meant that she had to make such a payment for someone else's help, how would have Siddique been wrong for the part? He was the best help she had.
She was sitting by the stove staring at the boiling rice in the pot and her thoughts seemed to be unwinding themselves. A strand of happiness like the rays of the sun seeping from in between clouds brought some peace to her.
She had taken the pot off the stove, and let the water drain from the pot. The sticky white froth drained out very quickly. Similarly, whenever her thoughts took fancy towards Siddique all her worries somehow seemed to drain away the same way and leave her mind fresh and crisp as the rice left behind in the pot.
Radharani's hunger had risen like a revolt within her as the aroma of the steam from the white froth had hit her nostrils. She had already prepared and stored away the fish curry. Her son would be back from school by the time she had finished sweeping the floors of the room and had taken a bath. The school was quite far away in the middle of the village. The path was not very good either. There were a few shabby bamboo-bridges along the path. She was thus always a bit worried about the boy.
She had heard Siddique's voice as soon she had taken the broom in her hands and had climbed the steps to the room by the kitchen, “Boudi, O Boudi!”
Radharani felt a kind of pang within her heart as soon as she heard his voice. She was not able to make any sound that would escape her mouth. Siddique's voice could be heard again, “Where are you? Boudi?”
“I am here in the room.”
Siddique had already come and stood by the room's door. He asked, “Why are you sitting inside the room? Where have you kept the paddy? I have come to take it to the mill. The boat's by the bank.” He had walked up, and was standing in the veranda by then.
Radharani had gathered a measly portion of paddy and had dried it to give to Siddique, so that he could take it to the mills and sheaf it into rice. Siddique had offered to help her out himself. The sack full of rice was kept in one corner of the room. Radharani in her white attire was standing steadfast in the dimly lit room. Seeing her, Siddique rushed her saying, “Why are you still standing? Give the paddy to me.”
Radharani was motionless. Siddique's bare, oily muscular frame was showing. His lungi (Bengali men's kilt like traditional attire) was folded up and worn like a thong. The muscles on his limbs were all bulging out like that of an animal - very fat and strong. She had not said one word, but had kept on staring at Siddique.
“Oh my! Why are you staring at me? Where is the paddy?”
It was as if she was jolted back to reality by his words. She said, “Come, come inside.”
Siddique was taken by surprise. He did not understand what was happening. He could not enter the threshold of a Hindu being a Muslim. No body would have allowed it. But despite that, Boudi was calling him to enter! He kept staring at her stiffly; she called him again, “Come inside. Can I lift the sack by myself? Come and take it yourself.”
Siddique was a bit shocked. He looked into Radharani's eyes. There was a veil of mischief in her gaze. Very hesitantly, not being able to understand what was about to happen he took two very small steps and had entered the room saying, “Wouldn't you lose face if a Muslim entered your house?”
“What face do I have left to lose? Let my honour die out, while I can save my life!”
“Why, who would kill you?”
“No one anymore.”
Radharani sported a very conniving smile on her face. Siddique kept staring at it with a very pleased demeanour. Radharani spoke up again, “Nobody can kill me while you are here. You will save me. Won't you?”
She had put one of her hands on his shoulder while clasping one of his hands with the other while saying all of that. Siddique was astonished; shocked; chilled. Suddenly he embraced Radharani acting upon his instincts and lust. Radharani had not stopped him.
Thus started the new chapter in Radharani's life.
Translated by Hasan Ameen Salahuddin.
Illustrated by Ujjal Ghose