A short story by Banaphul translated from the Bengali
It seemed the day was in no hurry to go away.
I was immersed in the hope of seeing her for one more time. I never imagined I could see her once again, she whom I let go forever. There was no possibility that she would come this way again. But the impossible would be a reality. She was coming and I was impatient to see her. My life that was full of dreams in the past was again filled with a dream. Even if it was for five minutes, even if she would have her husband with her, even then this seemed the biggest event of my life. For however little time, in whatever way, at least I would see her once again. Isn’t that a supreme gift for me? I opened the letter and read again.
He has been transferred to Lucknow. Our train will reach Patna at half past eight at night. It will stop there only for five minutes. I’ll be happy if you come to the station. I have not seen you for long. I want to see you. I hope you have not forgotten me altogether.
I forgot nothing.
The dream-filled days of my past rose slowly with all their colours. I specially remembered that day when I declared my love for her with a lot of hesitation and holding in my heart a world of hopes and fears and exuberance. I was scared of her misunderstanding me — getting upset with me. But she didn’t show any such negative emotions. She listened to me with a blooming smile on her face. Her forehead coloured up, her lower lip quivered, her eyes smiled in joy — the entire narrative of hers that day was painted over the layers of my mind in bright colours. That would never be erased. In the life of a man complete happiness doesn’t come so often. In my life it came only once. I knew it wouldn’t come again. I’d have to live the rest of my life with my memories. How would I forget those memories? I didn’t forget, I won’t forget you even for a moment, it is impossible for me. It is true I have not found you before the wide world in this life, but the throne that you adorned in my soul, has remained unmoved and will remain so forever. You wanted me — you wanted me with all of you, but it was I who couldn’t make you mine. I had to leave you because I love you. I could never insult you with my misfortune. It is my fate that I’ll have to bear it alone. Why shall I make you endure this with me? I gave you up because I love you.
Perhaps there is a god. It is his infallible decree that this wide universe and its various activities are controlled by him — this thought gave me some semblance of peace amidst this torment. Without this belief it is not possible for the helpless humanity to bear the burden of sorrow. Isn’t it some great men who said that if there is no god we would have to create one of our own? For man a life without god is disquieting. In fact I considered that my misfortune was due to that infallible decree. I accepted that he who focussed the terrible thunder on the crest of my memorial of dreams, who broke into pieces the vessel of nectar when it was near the thirsty lips, was the merciful supreme lord. Whatever he has done was done because it was just. With our limited intelligence we can’t decipher the underlying meanings of his rules. Hence we are not only incapable of criticizing his activities, we have no right to do so. The helpless mind accepted this logic. Amita’s parents had no objections. On my side my parents were no more. But the marriage didn’t take place. When everything was settled between us, suddenly one day I coughed blood. The microbiologist tested me and remarked that he had found the infection of tuberculosis. Amita knew everything and yet she wanted me. But I failed.
My conscience resisted me.
Amita married elsewhere.
Prospective brides like Amita don’t have to wait for marriage. Her manners, health and education were excellent. There are not many girls in Bengal like Amita. I have seen no one else. There may be many beautiful and educated girls but I have never seen such calm and sweet manners. The man whom Amita’s parents chose for her belonged to a noble family like hers and he was in a responsible job. The man was healthy and handsome. There was no flaw anywhere. It was logical for Amita to be happy. Perhaps she is happy. But I don’t know why the unreasonable man that lives inside me is of the belief that Amita is not happy. I think Amita would have been happier with me. Although I am inferior to Amita’s husband in every way, even then I feel Amita is still waiting for me in her mind. I am clinging to this extremely illogical dream that in spite of her husband’s noble family, plush job, handsome bearing and excellent health she is not as happy as she would have been if I had married her. Perhaps it is my vanity. But please believe me, I am alive because I hold onto this vanity. The all-devouring flood waters have submerged everything, only this small island of self-conceit still raises its head over the water. I am living terribly alone standing on that island.
I read her letter again.
What should I say if I meet her?
I’d see her after such a long time — for five minutes. What should I tell her in the middle of a crowd in the station in five minutes? Yet how many words have I saved in my mind for her! But how to arrange those words in five minutes and tell her? Perhaps I wouldn’t be able to say anything. Perhaps those precious five minutes would be spent in exchanging mere greetings with her. Perhaps I wouldn’t see her again in life. Perhaps…and suddenly I remembered this, her husband will be with her. I read the letter again.
I roamed about the market all day.
The spicy, fried grams from Calcutta’s Municipal Market was Amita’s favourite. I went to many places but couldn’t find such fried grams. Perhaps she wouldn’t like anything from here. I had ordered fried grams from someone. He had assured me delivery around the evening. I couldn’t decide what else I’d take for Amita.
My clothes got soiled.
The servant at the mess I lived in had taken leave. I began to wash on my own a shirt and dhoti with soap. I couldn’t see her wearing dirty clothes.
It was well past evening.
When I came out of Naren’s house, it was dark all around. The big white roses blossomed splendidly. These would certainly make Amita happy. It was late when I got the flowers. Naren was not at home, the gardener was out. When I came on to the street, I had to check the time in my watch to be assured.
It was still an hour for the train to reach. Is was only half past seven. The man with whom I placed the order for fried grams lived in a lane at some distance away from here. I went there.
At the station.
There was a crowd of passengers waiting for the train with their variety of luggages. I paced the platform unmindfully with the fried grams and the roses in my hand. The whole of my heart was slowly beating with a feeling of pain. When would the train arrive? A railway staff stood not far from me. I asked him how long would it take for the Lucknow-bound train to reach the station.
Unmoved, he said, “That train has left the station at half past eight! This is another train coming. It is now half past nine!”
I checked the time in my wristwatch.
It was still half past seven!
Suddenly I remembered I failed to wind my watch in the morning. I was so lost in my mind after receiving Amita’s letter that I didn’t remember I had to wind the watch.
I stood bewildered.