Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Mango Pickle -- A short story

(By Nirendra Dev)

Having the television set switched off Pinaki Shekhar was blinking awkwardly at the roof. He gazed at the wall for a while rather accidentally. 
A framed photo of his and his wife on the Kochi seashore holding hands looked quite touching. “It speaks a thousand words, frame it,” his mother-in-law had advised Pinaki when she saw it on the mail box. 

He got distracted for a while. There are times, he thought in the life of man solitude and loneliness of nature excites more. He walked towards the balcony. It was raining outside.

He liked the rains. But he was gazing above towards the sky in the dark dense clouds. This was by habit ----- unless he is fixing his gaze upon some object Pinaki particularly wishes to examine he generally stares upwards. It was quite a stormy evening with the whimsical wind making the night more mysterious.
Pinaki always thought he was a realist. No much pretension about life. He knew his biography would not read any fairy tale; it had its share of tension and some human misery. 

Some weakness and some success.

But the situation he was in perhaps was beyond his comprehension, he thought.
And it all started with a bottle of mango pickle. He sounded so much cynical to himself.

Every family quarrels. All couples quarrel. All mothers-in-law have tiff with their bahus. So was in his family. But what has this turned out to be?

His mobile buzzed inside…. Actually it had a receiving tone of a famous song. Pinaki liked the lyrics.

The Bengali lines…. jibon khatar proti pataae
jotoi likho hishab nikash 
kichui robenaa 

Whatever you could write in your life memoirs; nothing is permanent print in that diary….

His Bengali wife Malavika had translated it for him and also taught him the meaning of the powerful lyrics and he loved it.

He picked up the cell. No, it was not from his wife. He threw himself into the sofa looking for a comfort zone in that room.
There was a gloom and some kind of suffocating heaviness in the room. Sadness seemed to be lurking in every corner.

He looked at his wrist watch trying to figure out the time and subsequently lowered his wrist. Pinaki walked towards the life size dressing table, it had a big mirror. He glanced for a while. 

He found his eyes expressionless or dried up a bit displaying only the determination to get through the time he is in.


Why did Malavika leave his home in such anguish, and with such an announcement?
“I am going Pinaki…your mother does not want me to be with you; in this house….under one roof. Let her be happy. Once I am gone, she can marry yon once again and get a daughter-in-law of her choice”.

Pinaki tried his best to reason. “This is not the way, one should react..Be matured Malu…”.

“I was immatured so long, but no longer. I know now what’s right and what’s wrong. I know what is right at least for your mother”, Malavika shot back.

The argument went on for about 10 minutes but the inconclusive meeting had one conclusion drawn by Malavika that she should call it quit from the house and the marriage.

“It is tough to make such a decision, but once I have made it, this shall  remain,” were the last words from Malavika as she walked away holding that faded brinjal coloured new tourist bag.

Pinaki did not quite know how to react. His anguish and even trying to reason did not convince Malavika. Their 7-year love tale was coming to an end.

But they did not deserve such a fate. 

It was a good love story and despite the linguistic differences between two families, everything was accepted quite easily brushing aside his mom’s objection.

Things also had begun on sound footing notwithstanding usual pinpricks in any family. But the last episode has snowballed into a hot potato – like a political scandal, thought Pinaki.

He felt dozing off. The last days or rather nights of October month. Diwali was not far off. The winter was limping back to this city of extreme cold and heat.

As he returned to his room now trying to retire on his bed, strange thoughts got into his mind. That he should indulge in some gambling during this Diwali. All his life he had tried to lead a disciplined life; avoided heavy drinking and ‘never played’ gambling. 

But another strange thinking stuck him now. Even his wife used to be surprised on Pinaki avoiding gambling with cards or drinking during pre-Diwali parties.
“Why don’t you gamble at times… at least you can lose me in such a gamble and tell your mom back home that you got rid of me?” she used to tease him.

Pinaki would generally react by hearty laugh.
Once, however he remembers asking Malavika, “but can you tell me why you don’t gamble. Some women do these days but generally women are less into it?”

Malavika had rather given an interesting reply with her infectious laughter:
“ha ha ha, you don’t know; in our case women's total inclination for gambling is satisfied by marriage and once someone gets a mother-in-law like your mom; she knows what the hell is too”.


Pinaki had no answer. He knew his mom could go nagging all along. Despite his father and his grand mother’s approval; she had hardly approved of Malavika as the daughter-in-law.

All these despite Malavika’s sincere attempts in last 7 years to adjust to the family. Malu had even picked up Pinaki’s family traits, food habits and even cooking style.

Slowly he felt asleep.

Next morning he was surprised to know by his wrist watch that it was already 8 o’ clock. The rays of October sun were illuminating the wall. Usually Pinaki did not sleep so late.

The room looked untidy just in the passage of few hours since Malavika left although the floor was still shining clean. Pinaki knew already there was a difference in his life.

His mind again turned to the recent past; - the thumping of his own heart, Malavika’s angry oneliners and ultimately the heated argument and then Malavika walking out angrily. Pinaki walked outside the room in the balcony to pick up the newspaper. He was also trying to dust off the memories.

What made his mother make that nasty statement on receiving the 'mango pickle' prepared by Malavika, he tried to figure out a reason.
Poor Malavika never claimed that she had mastery in preparing the pickle. Even if she knew, she knew part of the Bengali style preparation. But his mother had insisted that she prepare it in their distinct style!

Malavika had given it a shot and upon preparing sent a small portion of it bottled up in a good glass container. Pinaki had himself carried it to his mom’s place in Chennai.

And it was this bottle of pickle that had sparked off a mini-war after his mother made those unkind remarks. This followed angry protests from Malavika and subsequently provoking her to stage that telling walkout.

Initially the real reasons for Malavika’s protest were still unclear to Pinaki.

But once Malavika showed Pinaki his mother’s letter to her, things started unfolding properly. This crisis has been actually constructed by his mom’s missive.
By now he knew – it is his mother who had constructed the plot of this ‘separation’ of her son and daughter-in-law --- betraying all the calculation and some miscalculation.

Unmindful though, Pinaki recalled the good times he shared with his wife.
Only a fortnight back or so as the temperature had come down to a soothing effect, Pinaki had grasped tight Malu’s thin shoulders - her breast did some signals and her head bent forward, Pinaki had tried to bury his face in her dense long hair.

They shared a genuine intimacy together. Then why this was to happen?

Almost absentmindedly he was looking outside again, at times towards the door perhaps expecting Malu’s return. But that was not to be. He had done with his hot cup of tea. Time was running fast. The sun cast a rosy hue over the sky.

He smiled for a while as he remembered his wife telling him once how the sunbeams can chase away the clouds. “These clouds resemble a helpless daughter-in-law and the sunbeam your mom,” she would say. Pinaki as usual used to only laugh these off little realizing that slowly but certainly things were perhaps reaching their limits for Malavika.

As he walked towards the feet of the bed and stared outside through balcony yet again, Pinaki realized that his house was not quite different from other houses in the locality. 

In most houses windows were thrown open for fresh air but the door curtains hung drawn properly. None could guess what was going on inside each house.
Unknowingly he thought perhaps others also in the society did not know about the crisis in his house. That his wife has left him.

But slowly the lanes resounded with the hullabaloo of morning walkers, parents taking school children towards the point to see off the off-springs for the school bus.

Pinaki’s thoughts would have gone wilder but just then the maid servant came in coughing. Pinaki then realized that the doors were kept open throughout the night. Why did he left it unlocked; knowing very well that Malavika, his wife Malu is not the kind of person to come back so easily.

The maid was young with a charming face and had a good physique. After all Pinaki is a man and used to eye her even earlier – even when Malavika was around. But today she looked better. 

The festive season and soothing whether added to the atmosphere.
Suddenly the gloom seemed to have vanished from his room. Suddenly there was a joyful look around.

The maid walked towards the wash basin in the kitchen and started making the usual noise with utensils and her colourful bangles. Pinaki started loving the noise. It was like some music. Is it a reality? Can man be real dog after bones? 

Could the purity of magic help maintain one's integrity?

The maid started humming a popular Bengali song more by habit. She had an okay kind of voice but not the one to do justice to the old classic. 

Still she was singing as her hands moved quickly washing off the utensils.

“…. amari porane aasi, tumi je bajabe banshi
sei to aamar sadhona chaina to kichhu aar
(When you come in my life, there would be love song always;
This is my only desire, I don’t want anything else)”.

Flames danced over the gas stove. The maid servant had put in the saucepan to boil milk. 
Pinaki’s eyes traveled quickly around the room, then the kitchen and slowly towards the maid’s bangles, her hand, her shoulder.


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