DE­PAR­TURE

Why?

Woman's Era - - Contents - Saikat Baksi

The men­tion of the books and paint­ing crushed his spirit. Af­ter the heart of his wife stopped beat­ing one morn­ing with­out warn­ing, life in the house had never been the same. Though it is sev­eral months now, and his mother had been liv­ing in the house to take care of the child, he could never go back to his usual rou­tine. Rishi shakes his head. “No you don’t. Mum­bai is never that cold. You will put on this jacket when you come back some time later. Nila, take that out.” He stands up and gath­ers his ci­gar. “I am go­ing out to have a smoke.”

Nila is seated be­fore the suit­case laid open on the floor. Small piles of clothes, half a dozen books and a few pack­ets of cigars bought from the lo­cal store, lie neatly ar­ranged around it.

In dis­quiet he watches his daugh­ter-in-law, “Leave it. I shall do it my­self. You don’t bother about that.”

Nila does not re­spond but smiles ab­sently. “Dad, in­deed you travel light. Of course, you had been a sea­soned trav­eller all through your life. You know how to man­age your­self on the go.” She goes on ar­rang­ing the things in­side the suit­case.

He watches and thinks of an­other day, an­other life, left be­hind decades ago.

He was stand­ing at the foyer of his newly pur­chased bun­ga­low. His mother was wa­ter­ing the ar­ray of plants in the ad­ja­cent patch of gar­den. Rishi, a boy of nine, burst­ing with spirit yet hold­ing tears in­side his lit­tle chest, was all set to sprint away on his rac­ing cy­cle. He was look­ing at his

Af­ter be­ing tossed about by a whirl­wind of er­ratic thoughts, he de­cided to go back and check the stuff he would have to carry the next morn­ing. Ear­lier, his wife took care of this er­rand. He never packed his lug­gage on his own.

cute boy. With hel­met and guards put on over track­suit, Rishi looked like a won­drous spark of life. He knew that the spark was flick­er­ing in the reck­less wind of fate.

Rishi flashed a heroic smile with one of his legs rest­ing on the pedal and the other on the ground, hands clutch­ing the han­dles of the rac­ing cy­cle. He re­turned a ner­vous chuckle, “Be care­ful. Don’t pedal too fast. You make me wor­ried. There are peo­ple driv­ing in and out of the com­plex. At the bends, you will not see the on­com­ing ve­hi­cles.”

Rishi smiled. “Don’t worry. I know how to cy­cle. Dad, you go back to your books or fin­ish that paint­ing you left half-done for sev­eral months now.” He drove away like a gust of wind.

The men­tion of the books and paint­ing crushed his spirit. Af­ter the heart of his wife stopped beat­ing one morn­ing with­out warn­ing, life in the house had never been the same. Though it is sev­eral months now, and his mother had been liv­ing in the house to take care of the child, he could never go back to his usual rou­tine. Once a vo­ra­cious reader, he could not read beyond a few para­graphs at a stretch. Af­ter a short while he re­alised that he was sim­ply gloss­ing over the act of read­ing. Ini­tially, he thought that his fre­quent of­fi­cial tours would let him es­cape the trap of agony. But he felt even lone­lier and ab­sent while trav­el­ling. More­over, he had to re­strict his trav­el­ling too be­cause Rishi was at home. The un­fin­ished can­vas gaped at him, still mounted on the stand. The last stroke of a brush hap­pened the night be­fore his wife de­parted.

“Have you taken a de­ci­sion?” his mother, a woman of 75, frag­ile enough to walk steadily, asked.

He did not re­spond but stared at the dim­ming glow of the sink­ing sun. His mother stood next to him and looked in the di­rec­tion where Rishi had just driven away. “See, I am too old. And Rishi is not an­other boy. He is ex­tremely sharp and hy­per-ac­tive. He lis­tened to his mother and he lis­tens to you. But I can­not keep such a close watch on him all the time. I have grown too old. And then this rheumatic pain makes me im­mo­bile much too of­ten.”

He nod­ded ab­sently. “I know. Even I can­not re­strict my trav­els for long. My job doesn’t per­mit me work­ing from the head­quar­ters all the time. I re­ally don’t know what to do.”

“I must sit down now. You see, I can’t even stand for long these days. By the way, what time is your flight to­mor­row?” His mother was about to go back from the foyer to the liv­ing room.

“Six in the morn­ing. I shall leave home by fourthirty,” he replied. The thought of leav­ing early in the morn­ing de­pressed him fur­ther. The last cou­ple of times, when he left, Rishi in­evitably woke up and blocked his way. He clung to him in tears in­sist­ing that he took him along. He had to as­sure him with promises of a quick re­turn along with toys. Only then could he some­how man­age to step out. Once, he al­most missed the flight due to this rea­son.

Af­ter be­ing tossed about by a whirl­wind of er­ratic thoughts, he de­cided to go back and check the stuff he would have to carry the next morn­ing. Ear­lier, his wife took care of this er­rand. He never packed his lug­gage on his own.

As he was about to leave, Rishi came back and braked with a squeal of the tyres against the con­crete road. The boy was gig­gling in mis­chief.

He spun around, “I told you to drive slowly! You don’t lis­ten.”

Rishi was park­ing the cy­cle with a naughty grin stuck to his face.

He was cu­ri­ous. “What hap­pened? You came back so quickly? You can still cy­cle for an­other half hour.”

Rishi shook his head but said noth­ing. Set­ting the cy­cle on the stand, Rishi en­tered the house.

Sud­denly, the sound of the engine out­doors makes him con­scious. He shrugs off the reverie and looks at the door. So does Nila. Rishi barges in with a large box in hand.

He finds him­self laugh­ing. How big a man Rishi has grown into; tall, hand­some and con­fi­dent about the ways of this world. Rishi is no more a lit­tle boy on the cy­cle.

Rishi sets the box care­fully on the floor and be­gins to open the lid care­fully. “You are tak­ing this with you.”

He frowns, “What is that? I shall not take any­thing bulky.”

Rishi ig­nores his de­nial and cau­tiously pulls out the con­tent try­ing not to dis­turb the pack­ing. Plenty of foam is jammed in­side the box to avoid dam­age. “It is a cof­fee ma­chine of the kind you rarely get in In­dia. I got a good stock of cap­sules too. Once you run out of them in In­dia, let me know. I shall send an­other lot.”

Nila starts laugh­ing. “But, Rishi, this box will not go in the suit­case.”

“No. Dad will take this ma­chine as a hand­bag. There is no hand­bag right? This will be the hand­bag.” Rishi de­clares.

“But I have a ma­chine at home in In­dia. You re­mem­ber?” He makes a vague protest.

Rishi stares at him with a half-smile, “Hm. I know that. That ma­chine is al­most as old as you are, dad. Take this. You will get real espresso out of this.”

He sits by the win­dow watch­ing the park lined with trees and slips into the past again. Nila and Rishi pore over the suit­case.

That af­ter­noon decades ago, Rishi had re­fused to go

Rishi re­fused to add any sugar or milk. “I want to drink it like you do.” He watched his lit­tle boy sip­ping the thick dark and bit­ter liq­uid ex­actly in a style he drank cof­fee seated by the win­dow on the re­clin­ing chair.

ci­gar. Again his mind shifts back to the long lost evening.

Rishi was busy mak­ing a toy wind­mill in his room. Half a dozen mo­tors and bat­ter­ies were ly­ing on the floor. A plier and a cou­ple of switches were bunched to­gether with a jum­ble of wires.

He was hav­ing tea with his mother in the din­ing room. “It is go­ing to be dif­fi­cult to go on like this.” He spoke in a low voice. His mother placed her frail hand on his and said, “I know how shat­tered you are at the hint of this. But do we have any other op­tion?”

He sipped the tea and vaguely nod­ded star­ing blankly at the wall. “Then that’s the only way. But do you think, he will be fine there?”

“He is not go­ing to be any bet­ter in this con­di­tion.” His mother’s voice choked in tears.

Sud­denly Rishi en­tered the room. He was hold­ing the comb with a vic­to­ri­ous smile.

He looked quizzi­cally. Rishi said in tri­umphant glee, “Look…we missed the comb it­self. This hap­pened last time too! Keep it in the bag.”

The evening passed slowly. Rishi stuck to him all the time wher­ever he set­tled in the house. He made his cof­fee and Rishi in­sisted on try­ing the same. “Add sugar and milk. It will be nice,” he said.

Rishi re­fused to add any sugar or milk. “I want to drink it like you do.” He watched his lit­tle boy sip­ping the thick dark and bit­ter liq­uid ex­actly in a style he drank cof­fee seated by the win­dow on the re­clin­ing chair.

The din­ner was served early. They ate mostly in si­lence ex­cept the oc­ca­sional bab­bles of his son. “I want to sleep in your room tonight,” Rishi said abruptly.

He was alarmed. He knew his son would be cling­ing to him in the morn­ing and his leav­ing the house would be ex­tremely dif­fi­cult. Yet, he could not say any­thing. He nod­ded qui­etly. Once Rishi went to bed, he closed the door of his bed­room softly and sat with his mother in the liv­ing room.

“I made up my mind…but…” he mum­bled.

“Bet­ter. You see…i am my­self in­se­cure liv­ing alone in this house. Even if I try to man­age things here for the time be­ing, who knows how many to­mor­rows I shall see? And then?” said his mother pen­sively.

“Hm. Let’s not think too much about such things. I have more or less de­cided to go for it. Only I don’t know how to talk to him about it.”

Nei­ther of them had any an­swer. They re­mained silent avoid­ing each other’s stares. The clock ticked eleven. He pushed the door of his bed­room ten­ta­tively to avoid wak­ing Rishi up. Ly­ing on his bed as he was set­ting the alarm, Rishi’s whis­per startled him. “Dad…”

“Hey…you haven’t slept yet!” he said with con­cern.

Rishi turned to­wards him. “No. I am stay­ing awake late so that I re­main asleep when you go to­mor­row morn­ing. And, dad…”

He could not find a word. Rishi spoke, “Dad…why don’t you send me to some hos­tel? You see… amma can­not tackle me. I am too naughty…”

His eyes welled up in tears. With­out any word he went near his son and kissed him on the flabby cheeks.

The fol­low­ing morn­ing he left a quiet house. Rishi was asleep.

His mel­low spirit cheers up a bit as he watches the lit­tle boy of decades ago driv­ing a big car along the high­ways of the United States with a beau­ti­ful and nice wife next to him. They speak lit­tle on the way. The car fi­nally drives into the air­port ter­mi­nal.

Rishi parks the car and opens the dickey. The suit­case is pulled out and the cof­fee ma­chine too.

He checks the watch. “It’s time to go!” he says with a tone of fi­nal­ity.

Rishi holds the suit­case and stays un­moved, un­blink­ing. Mo­ments pass. He grows a bit con­fused, “Rishi, let go of the suit­case. I think I am get­ting late now.”

Sud­denly Rishi drops the suit­case and blurts out. “You are al­ways in a hurry to leave, since that morn­ing you left me. That morn­ing I was not asleep. I was wide awake all night and sim­ply let you go with­out any fuss. I knew when your car left the porch. Qui­etly I headed for the hos­tel a few weeks later. Since then I only saw you once in a while and then again you left me be­hind. I al­ways let you go. Now what? What is pulling you away from me? What is there in Mum­bai? You are re­tired. You don’t go on of­fi­cial trips any more. Why can’t you not leave me any­more? Why can’t you stay with me for a change? Why not?”

He stood rooted speech­less. Nila looked at him with plead­ing eyes, “Dad…please…”

He looked away at the de­par­ture gate. Pas­sen­gers were fil­ing in. The flight num­ber was blink­ing at the elec­tronic dis­play. He lifted the suit­case and be­gan to walk.

Rishi yelled, “Dad…where are you go­ing?”

He turned, “Where else? I saw a cafe over there. Let’s have a cup of cof­fee there. Espresso, you know. And then on the way back home, let’s pick up some beers. Af­ter all, I am an old man. Noth­ing much to do. I want to have a party this evening…come on!”

A suc­cess­ful man is one who makes more money than his wife can spend. A suc­cess­ful woman is one who can find such a man.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.