Purabi Basu is a pharmacologist by profession. Apart from several articles in her own field, Dr. Basu is also an exceptionally fine short story writer, receiving the Anannya Shahitya Purashkar in 2005. Among her collections of short stories are Purabi Basur Galpa (1989), Ajanma Parabasi (1992), Se Nahi Nahi (1995), Anitya Ananda (2000) and Josna Karechhe Ari (2005). The following short fiction piece has been translated from her book, 'Dinratrir Chhayaghar'.
The middle aged gentleman was at home. The unshaven man with greying hair in his baggy white trousers and an almond coloured t-shirt opened the door and without wasting anytime asked, “What do you want?”
I was surprised. How could he have known that I was Bengali? “Pardon me, but I am here to inquire about the advertisement placed in the papers…”
The man was obviously very disturbed, “Were you not supposed to call before coming here?”
I started scanning the advert once again from top to bottom to find where I had gone wrong in reading it. If I was supposed to call before hand, why was the whole address provided then?
“Let it be… come… come inside.” Maybe the man took to compassion on seeing me. I entered the room. The lights were on, even in broad day light. The room towards the end of the place was dark. I was suddenly a bit scared. There were Goosebumps all over my body.
“Are you the one who's ill?”
“Why? Can't you tell just by looking? There has been a pretty big attack already. Besides… I am diabetic, suffer from high blood pressure, and I think I have some bowel troubles as well. It is not possible for me to look after myself on my own any more.”
“Do you have a green card?”
“Why a green card? I am a citizen of this country. And what about you?”
“I came to New York just yesterday. I want to live here, and so have responded to your advertisement.”
He started to laugh mockingly, “So you are a bridal candidate?”, he coughed a little and started to laugh that annoying teeth bearing laughter again. “Have you ever seen your self in the mirror? How could you even think for a moment that a American Bengali, one who possesses a valid citizenship, would consider marrying a woman who looks remotely like you?”
Even though he was not the first one to have made such lewd comments about me, and I was well aware about my square body structure and round beefy face, I could not help but instantly retaliate like a snake and say, “What do you really think of yourself? You're old, helpless, riddled with disease, diabetic, suffer from blood pressure — who would marry you other than someone who's insane?”
I had stormed out. He tried to stop me, and followed me out of the building. Instead of being offended by my words he had just laughed at them. He forced and dragged me into the coffee shop on the other side of the street. He told me his life story over coffee and doughnuts. I did not see any double standards to the man. I still could not bring myself to calm down; I kept on remembering the cruel things he had said about me. But I realised, the man was not so bad. He had on that very day referred and secured a job for me at one of the Laundromats he knew to fold laundered clothes for as a part-timer. And the next 23 years of my life has past me by ever since through joy, sorrow, illness, leisure, peace and laughter. Mita is 21 now, and Arnab 19. The relationship that had started from the greed of a green card had not been restricted to only that. The man was not absolutely ruthless, even though his speech was direct and hurtful all the time. Not only Harun Bhai and Bhabi, but two other families had shown up to our wedding. Biru was there as well.
He had never imagined to have lived for another 23 years being riddled with all the ailments he was suffering from. Yet he still was alive. He had not only given me documents to see the whole of the blue planet, but had also given me these two lives as a gift as well, ones that he thought would look after me in his absence. But that never happened in reality. Arnab is seen to reside in the Jamaican mosque having dropped out of college. He has no other interests other than his religion. Nobody will believe him being brought up for all of his 19 years of age in the west because of his attire and full grown beard. Observing him and how he interacted, one would come to think he is older than me. On the other hand, Mita is always busy with her friends. She is somehow just managing to squeeze her studies along with all the dancing, music, sports and movies she attends on a daily basis. Arnab cannot accept the western ideologies and lifestyle followed by his sister one bit. He was finally driven to runaway from home to go and live at the mosque seeing that his ideas were in no way the same as his mother's or sister's, to have dealt with his father's ever deteriorating health, and the straw that broke the camel's back — he was devastated in seeing the war on the TV and what it was doing to Iraq. He has even dropped his nick name now. He now introduces himself with the shortened version of his given proper names. My son finds it more appropriate and joy in introducing himself as Asif and not Arnab. He says he has finally found his roots. He finds it joyous to look back, and nowhere else. And Mita? It has somehow played a reverse psychological role on her to do the exact opposite to what her brother does. It has somehow played out that she has to take it upon herself as conviction to become one of the mainstream western women. She now lives together with a fasion designer in Brooklyn. She is now a chain smoker, and I wouldn't be surprised to know that she has even tried her share of drugs as well. She had come to visit on news of her father's death. She stayed the morning and left in the afternoon. But their father truly did believe that they would look after me after he passed away. I on the other hand had never expected anything from anyone, or that anyone would look after me.
I did not come here floating on the floods.
I had fared on a boat to have crossed the ocean to have come to America.
There used to be a home for me here in the country. There used to be a threshold with iron bar windows. My aged Maa and Baba used to live there; Dulal as well. There was something else there that I had carefully hidden away till now. Something, which even the closest of my relatives knew nothing about or even the closest neighbour for that matter. Our house was encapsulated within stagnant gripping poverty and hunger. As there always resided transparency within the home, and everyone around it knew of us, the poverty had actually crept up very silently and unannounced caught up on with us. Nobody from the outside laying eyes on the windows or doors or even the attire worn by us then could have even imagined in their wildest dreams that we were struggling to decide whether or not to save the rice for the next day or have it then at night. Everything went slowly though — Maa, Baba, all the property. Dulal had to elope from the country one day. There is no one there today; nothing.
Even then, I am still on my way back there — to the country where my husband had always wished to return there one day. He could never travel back only because of his ailments. He used to always hope to rid himself of the diseases through treatment and then return. His death wish remained to be buried there if he was never able to visit his motherland in living flesh. I am thus on my way back to keep his last wish.
I did not come here floating on the floods.
But, I had once crossed the ocean on a boat. I too had a home once; a house. It had windows grilled with iron bars. My aged Maa and Baba used to live there; Dulal as well. There is no one left anymore. Nothing is left. Even then, I am still on a journey back there.
Translated by Hasan Ameen Salahuddin
(R) thedailystar.net 2012