Sunday 10 June 2012

Short Story 2012 Longlist, Ankita Banerjee

Frozen Frame

Like the enchanting swirl of spring green, Love too circles around the myth of eternity. The fragrance stays the same but existing connotation connected with the idea changes its course as seasons pass by.

It was on an early winter evening when Sneha arrived on her new home in Golf Green with husband Ranjan. Maintaining the tradition of Bagchi family, Sneha was made to agree for an arranged marriage. Despite of her disapproval, the groom selection procedure started when she was still in the second year of her college.

“I don’t want marriage right now. Why can’t I choose what I wish for?” Sneha said in a grouchy tone one day during a heated argument with her mother when she was shown Ranjan’s photograph. It was a postcard sized picture of Ranjan from his graduation night party, Sneha remembered. Dusky texture with clean shaved look, a thin framed eyeglass, a light purple colored tee – the photo had nothing to get her parent’s disapproval. What worked in favor of Ranjan for the Bagchi family was that, he had a University of Glasgow return degree in his profile, a highly paid and respectable job at a multinational firm and an established family business. After a prolonged tussle with her parents when Sneha was finally sent to meet Ranjan, she realized he had nothing which can be termed as ‘incorrect’. His gestures and well measured words – everything was tailored perfectly. The whole time they spent in the restaurant couldn’t be any better to say ‘yes’ to the marriage. He asked about Sneha’s college and her future plans followed by a wholesome narration on his exciting UK days and what plans he was working on to carry forward the family business. On the way of returning home, Sneha realized she would have to tie the knot with this man. It was a bubble of ambiguity she entrapped in where things seemed too perfect to raise disapproval but hell, it was not the drab perfection she wanted.

The hardest part was to get used to the smell of South Calcutta. Being born and raised up in the midst of medley of pulled rickshaw and tedious hum of tramline enveloped with a strong and somewhat nauseating smell of old grumpy lanes with leftover rice spattered around the drains for cats and dogs, she realized it would not be easy to adjust with the new sophistication. The noontime was the toughest. Ranjan gone for office and the maid done with the day’s work, Sneha left with not much to do. She would wipe rag over the almost clean book shelf or aimlessly browse through television channels or unnecessarily changes the pillow covers. Sometimes she would spend hours to mix grounded almonds and sandalwood paste after reading carefully the women’s magazine for homemade recipe for face pack. Ranjan would call religiously every day after lunch time to ask whether Sneha had any plan for the evening to go out for shopping or whether she would want to wait for him to come home and go out together instead. He was a dutiful man, everyone would agree. Sneha got a life her cousins were envy of, she knew. But, much to their despair, she would always come up with the colorless routine replies to their curious questions about spicy details.
If her mother asked “Tell me sona, is there anything wrong? Don’t hide from me” with moist eyes, Sneha would sigh and change the topic. A feeling of absolute crumping incompleteness grew inside her through the sleepless nights when her husband sleeps off undisturbed.

It was one of those gloomy early monsoon mornings when he arrived at their house. Shamik was a batch mate of Ranjan from his Glasgow days. In the beginning Sneha felt uneasy when Ranjan declared that his friend would stay for a month at their place, sharing the same space with an outsider was not something she was accustomed with. But Ranjan said, “It is only for a month and moreover, you spend the whole day alone, at least Shamik could give you some company” and she agreed.
For first one week Shamik spent almost the entire day in their guest room, coming out only for lunch and dinner and sometimes if woke up early made tea for himself. One day coming out of the kitchen he encountered with Sneha and said “Ummm, Good Morning. Sorry, did I wake you up”? with an inept expression.

“Don’t worry; I woke up because of a bad dream and your friend is still sleeping” she answered with a smile “But why did you bother yourself? I would have made it for you”. “Not a problem, I’m used to do my things on my own anyway” he said “But wait, I made one more cup anyway, so why don’t you just seat here and lets have the morning cups together, okay?”
And that was the first time they shared their moment of silence with the early morning breeze.

After two days of nonstop rain that day finally a ray of sunlight beamed through the balcony window and Sneha sat at the dining table, chopping beans for lunch when Shamik hurriedly came out of his room with all dressed up and said “Boudi, I will have lunch outside today”. Sneha looked in surprise and said “But the weather is still not good, where are you going out now”? Shamik sat down on the stool to tie his shoe when he said, “Accha Boudi, are you busy today”? “Why”? Sneha asked clumsily. “No I was just thinking why don’t you go out with me? I have few works to do and a company would do wonder. And in any case, I haven’t seen you going out of the house since I came, so it will be a change for you” he said.
“I don’t know…the weather is not good…”
“Oh, come on…monsoon has its distinctive charm. Forget about the mud and rain, let’s go out”. Sneha still sat uncertain and perhaps reading her mind Shamik said “And don’t worry, I’m calling Ranjan right now. He will never say no”.

Shamik was a travel photographer and came to the city to make a photo series on Calcutta monsoon. The smell of first rain drop on the searing soil always worked as magic for Sneha. On the first season of rain after their marriage she asked Ranjan many times to take her to the ice-cream parlor at Babughat and watch the clouds pouring over the river from glass window. But his weekends were always assigned to the uninterrupted sleeps and occasional relative visits.

 As a child, she used to spend her classes aimlessly watching at the drenched Krishnachura tree and the teeming overcast sky through the window. But with Shamik she experienced a Calcutta, never seen before. For five days they stroll through the waterlogged streets, to the soggy roads of Race Course and drenched Victoria Memorial, to the enthralling Outram Ghat. When Shamik would get busy in clicking the chirpy street kids Sneha would wander across the road humming a half-forgotten tune. Free and serene, with the drizzle of that season, she felt her wings for the first time.

That morning started with a heavy downpour. Ranjan had to go to office to attend an urgent meeting. Sneha was busy making lunch when Shamik stormed into the kitchen. “Boudi, I need a favor and you can’t say no” he said in a demanding tone.
“Now what”? Sneha asked in a false fury. “Leave the cooking stunts for sometime no, and come with me. I will shoot a few pictures of yours”.
“Have you gone total mad or what!” Sneha said in a stunned tone.

With an unimaginable amiability he convinced her for the photo shoot. In her bedroom, balcony, on the terrace. He followed her everywhere with his camera. When the first time he stroked her tresses from the forehead, she felt a fireball moving across her body. Shuddered with an overriding fear she asked him to stop shooting. That night lying in the bed she asked for love but Ranjan said he was too tired and slept off.

Ranjan would have never noticed a change in her bindi like Shamik did. He said she has a one of its kind scent in her body that could be felt even after her bath. At an evening on the terrace in front of the setting sun, he kissed her for the first time.
That was the time when her built-in notion of right and wrong evaporated with a snap and all she left with was a blurred ring of desire.

The two weeks they spent in a whirlwind, before Shamik left for Jaipur as a next destination of his India tour. When Ranjan went to call a taxi to airport, he held Sneha close to his chest and planted a Good Bye on her lips.
 “When will you come again”? She asked in a tender tone.
“I will write to you” he said with a smile.

Every day she would frantically open the letter box, but the letter never came. For months she would wander through the rooms to grope for his existence. On lonely afternoons her body felt aroused when she dreamt of Shamik painting raindrops on her bare breasts. But at occasional nights when Ranjan came to her with desire, she couldn’t respond and turned to bitter cold. She felt the ogre of fear crawling to her throat with a silent scream of destruction.

It was after Bijoya Dashomi when the first letter came from Shamik. But that was not for her. Sneha was busy in making Payesh in desert for few guests who were about to come for a post Pujo get together when Ranjan called her. “Listen, Shamik sent a letter” he said.

She almost ran to the drawing room and asked, “To you”?
 “Of course! Who else he would”? he said quickly “Anyway, now he has a good news to share. The letter says, Shamik is finally going to marry Zenny this November, can you imagine!”
Areh he is getting married” Ranjan said
“To whom”? she asked again
“To Zenny! Didn’t he tell you about her?” Ranjan said, “She was also our class mate. They had what like some eight years long relationship. They were living together at Boston and at last decided to get married!”

He continued while Sneha stood motionless, “You won’t believe what a stud Shamik was in our college days. He had this knack for photography since that time and used to nag Zenny with it all the time. None of us imagined they would go so far but see they did!”
“But I’m surprised why didn’t he tell you about this? You guys became a sort of good friends” he murmured to himself.

It was then the door bell rang and the guests arrived. Sneha went back to her desert and stood silently staring at the boiling milk and rice. A ball of anger tried to sprout out from the stomach and she felt like to throw up. Falling in love after a marriage is not socially considered to be a purest bliss, she was aware. But the hymns uttered to the wedding flames of lifelong commitments didn’t prove to be strong enough to have a control on her rush of desire. When she saw the smallness of the man she loved and the blot of infidelity he imprinted on her, the heart was broken with no sign of regret and finally and it was time to gather up the strewn pieces.

 Ranjan asked from the drawing room, “Sneha, everybody is asking about you. How long will it take”?
She stirred the milk carefully and sprinkled pinch of cashew nuts and raisin and said, “Coming…”

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