Monday, October 6, 2014

Heart Alone - A short story


  An attempted short story, I would not have possibly written this had not my 12-year-old niece Akanksha Singh (Anku) encouraged me to emulate her favourite author Roald Dahl….In fact, 'niece' is a key protagonist in this work; though I admit, this story is still not a children fiction.........
my niece: Anku

Heart Alone

As the darkness deepened, the clock in the hotel room started ticking louder. His brother signaled all others in the room with his eyes, let us go. All went out leaving Parthapratim alone, feeling embarrassed. A verdict was passed about couple of hours back and as a dutiful eldest son, Parthapratim agreed to abide by it. The verdict was from his father. Parthapratim’s marriage with Arati has been cancelled.
Staring at the roof above, Parthapratim thought wildly. The difference between being a good son and what is important for a ‘good son’ is often blurry, he thought occasionally. The wooden cot unlike last two nights creaked every time he tried to sleep. He would wake up at times and strode up and down the room, pursing his lips – more by habit and then come back to the bed.


The reading light was still on. He tried to leaf through a few pages from a book he was carrying. It was a history book. Parthapratim is a student of literature but like one of his teachers had advised, he had developed liking for history too.

In one of the pages, he came across a line that read “The soldier must conquer the pain and the melancholy of the passions.” – Napoleon.
This again left him bewildered. He was not entirely clueless about what was happening to him.
Parthapratim would try to piece together his argument but every time he tried something like this, he felt hit by emotions, fear. What would others say? How would his parents respond? Is he right? Will he be right, if he takes a stand otherwise?

The memories would only pile up to distract him from his present thought.

‘Go to sleep’, his inner voice would echo too. ‘You are wasting time, a coward cannot be rebel’, the inner voice virtually chuckled once again.
Parthapratim found himself handicapped by the inability to debate the moral questions. He was closing the discussion.

 Human habits too can often enslave people. So as he changed sides turned the pillow upside down, suddenly - post mid-night he felt asleep, fast asleep.
What a wonderful feeling to fall asleep in a fit of tears.
Master story teller: Roald Dahl
Sleep, as they say is a true engine of mental and spiritual dispersal. There was an uneasy calm in his room.
 Dawn often comes reluctantly.
Next morning he found himself walking along the riverside. The temple too was nearby. But did God have a solution to a problem where he had to take a call?

The river as in this part of the year generally looked an endless stretch of sand. There were, however, stagnant pools of muddy water where the water flow has been disturbed. Parthapratim thought life is also like this, may be. Some stagnant pools in everyman’s life would stop the water flow.
But why such thoughts should crop up in his mind?

Sitting on the verandah of the temple, he was unmindful, staring mostly towards the ceiling decorated with good paintings. The question of right and wrong, duties, responsibility and also perhaps something called inner call of a man have always been part of reality people have to live with.

Gradually the sun broke through the clouds. He was least startled. But suddenly he remembered his niece too was with him. For the 6-year-old something, it was a morning walk along the riverside. A brief stopover at the temple. A momentary bowing down! Blessings, as her mom had taught her.

“Mamu,” the innocent Kajal screamed mildly. The softness of the innocuous call touched Parthapratim. Barefoot, other worshippers like Kajal knelt; some dutifully touched their forehead on the floor and the untidy jute carpet in front of the sanctum sanctorum. It was not a crowded place yet but slowly devotees’ numbers were growing. The town had temples everywhere, virtually everywhere despite the township having a history of political commitment to Marxism, the supposed theory of agnostic people.
 To Pathapratim, God was hardly the subject of a debate nor solution. He was debating perhaps more about right and wrong and he knew; the answer to the puzzle lay within him. He walked slowly towards Kajal, on his left a few pigeons grazed on the plaza outside the temple. A big smile flickered across his niece Kajal’s face.

“What’s new aunt doing now Mamu; is she in hospital? Why you cancelled your marriage? You know, I prayed for her. Mummy says prayers always help who are in pain,” Kajal chuckled her sentences rapidly.

Parthapratim only blinked, perhaps looking for an answer. Kajal again spoke. This time putting a much sharper question, “Mamu did you pray for my new aunt?” Kajal elbowed her way to reach her Mamu --- as if eliciting an answer from him was her foremost priority now.

As Pathapratim stood clueless to many questions put by 6-year-old Kajal, on her part Kajal suddenly told him, “Mamu let’s go home” – as if by now she knew her questions were unusual and her Mamu had no answer.

They rushed down the temple stairs and started walking along the riverside to return to the hotel.
 
Parthapratim realized that as they were returning, Kajal had grown silent. She was least bothered that her questions were never answered. She appeared no longer interested whether her Mamu prayed for her new aunt. On the roadside, suddenly he saw a cat staring at him. The cat perhaps looked at him with contempt, at least Parthapratim thought so.

He was walking even slower than six-year-old niece. Was it possible that everything that was happening around was the result of some conspiracy? Did everyone around, all living and non-living creatures knew that he has abandoned the marriage once the news reached him and his family that the would-be-bride, Kajal’s supposed ‘new aunt’, had burned her face when hot water fell on her face.
 He was walking even slower than six-year-old niece. Was it possible that everything that was happening around was the result of some conspiracy? Did everyone around, all living and non-living creatures knew that he has abandoned the marriage once the news reached him and his family that the would-be-bride, Kajal’s supposed ‘new aunt’, had burned her face when hot water fell on her face.

Pathapratim again found his inner self pinching him or even mocking at him, like that roadside cat staring at him with contempt. He was walking holding the tiny innocuous hand of niece Kajal. But he felt the urge to cry out loudly. Perhaps this realization dawned him for the first time in last 12-13 hours, since his marriage was cancelled. He thought, he should sit down under the bushes and shut his eyes, sobbing.

The sun was rising fast. Walking towards eastern side, he realized that the sunlight dazzled him on his eyes. There was a burning sensation, may be. He knew the limits of a human skin; how much heat and burns it could bear. Familiar and wild birds were chirping. Some could be seen as they walked along others hiding in the thickness of leaves. Even they were singing in contempt towards Parthapratim, he again thought.

As the day progressed, the road was slowly turning busy with mayhem of pedestrians, traders and three-wheeler autos and cycle rickshaws. At last they reached the hotel.
Kajal too broke her silence. “Mamu, we are in the hotel….will you talk to new aunt, there is a phone in my room…..Dadu won’t catch you”.

Parthapratim turned towards his niece again helplessly blinking. But probably he was drawing some inspiration from her, some strength.

But unknowingly, he was still scared. Can his father take in his stride his rebellion? Will he suffer another heart attack?

“Don’t you care for your father,?” --- the entire room seems to be asking Parthapratim.
“I love my brother…I love my parents. I’m hopelessly in love with my family,” he seemed to have tried to answer on his own puzzle.

He paused for a while in his mind and tried to change the course of his mind. The heart must speak. But that heart belongs to my mother, my father and my family. That heart belongs to myself.

Why should I worry about a woman who has not yet become part of me or my family? He tried to reason.

His entire family had gathered in the room. Parents, brother, sister and her husband! The family or near and dear ones had almost surrounded him and would immediately strike up a conversation. Kajal too was there. But Parthapratim tried to avoid seeing eye to eye to Kajal. Was he scared of a six-year-old girl?

But everyone was looking towards him, he knew. Eliciting an answer from him than giving their opinion to Parthapratim seems to be on the agenda. A brief smile descended on his brother-in-law’s face. “Whatever God does, he does it for good na?,” he muttered almost hesitatingly but the words seemed to have been parroted to him. He could have possibly rehearsed half the sentence too.
On the other side, Kajal stood in silence…..as if keeping an eye on her Mamu’s movement and words. God, she knew is very powerful. But in her childlike simplicity, she was perhaps wondering, so thought Parthapratim,  why should God pour in hot water on ‘new aunt’s face’. Is God like that? What’s His shape? Does He enjoy doing such things to beautiful people ?

Parthapratim thought of answering Kajal’s father that even Kajal did not believe that whatever has happened has happened for good. But he stood silently trying to think…. Perhaps think something different. Different from all rational beings. His niece Kajal, Parthapratim knew, was not thinking rational either….but was it completely illogical?

Suddenly he felt a rush of anger on his failure to think like that six-year-old kid.
Just then the silence broke as Kajal ran out of the room. Kajal’s mother dutifully followed her. The family gathering had broken and the puzzle remained unresolved. Parthapratim too gradually walked out of the room. The silence in the room was killing. But before he could step out of the room, Kajal was swiftly back with a pen in her hand; and a blank sheet of paper.

It was a Parker pen. These pens have now become affordable unlike some decades ago when such a pen was a costly indulgence. As a journalist, Parthapratim in many a press conference got a Parker pen-set. He got lost enchanted in the power of the pen, at least for a while! Still he walked out.
Kajal ran to her grand ma and demanded that they should play some memory game or words puzzle.
In his room, Parthapratim picked up a book. Day’s morning papers did not evoke much interest to read about. Bertrand Russel’s ‘The Conquest of Happiness’ seemed to excite him. Russell wrote decades back that ‘unhappiness’ is largely due to a mistaken view of the world. Russell’s intellect always fascinated Parthapratim. 

He found him to be an epitome of uncommon wisdom. But Russell wrote things so plainly and simple. Just then he could read an ever baffling line: “Imagine how unhappy the life of a peacock would be if he had been taught that it is wicked to have a good opinion of oneself”.
He could not read further. No good was done to anybody just by remaining silence, Parthapratim thought.


Dictated by his inner call, Parthapratim walked into the room of brother-in-law. His sister was alone there. Parthapratim picked up the phone and dialed a number. Gradually he got connected to the person, he wanted to speak.

And he was least surprised to realize that he was in love with that woman.

He consoled her almost in a commanding tone, something that comes as a matter of own’s right and sense of belonging. Standing behind him, Kajal’s mother was stunned. Little did she know that her six-year-old Kajal had given her Mamu the idea to make use of the telephone from her room. 

Stunned, she asked Parthapratim, “Dada, what are you doing?”

Parthapratim grinned rather helplessly as he turned towards his sister; perhaps thanking her for giving birth to a noble soul like Kajal or was not thanking her at all. But one thing was certain; he was just not prepared to vouch for the exact truth of the story that brought a turn around in his mind and heart.  

Ends 

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