[ This short story first appeared in the blog Aainanagar (aainanagar.com) in November 2013. Translation by HUG.]
Indulging Bhanu was the sole impetus behind my story telling spree. But every story cannot be told to a six year old. So here it is. –Subrota Dasgupta
Morning. Diya was using bits of newspaper to scour her ear. It’s Diya’s habit of cleaning and scrubbing her face and teeth, at times poking her ear with such stuff. Especially when she is thinking. Today, she is thinking about Baba. About Baba means about Baba’s twenty-third girlfriend. Shefali-di. Shefali-di is one of the earliest of Baba’s students. Used to be a regular at their place. After her college days, she worked as a proof-reader in a local press. Baba was instrumental in getting her this job. She stays at a rented place near Barasat with her mother. Shefali-di’s father is no more.
This, baba’s prem-rog, his obsession with falling in love, is an old condition. He has fallen in love with a lot of women at various points in his life. Sometimes when people felt that he was in love, actually he was not. There used to be a lot of unrest at home, Diya recalls. But Diya was more or less at peace with herself. The reason: Baba’s confessional diary, where every detail of Baba’s love life got jotted down. For instance, during the time when Ma was raising hell about Moushumi-di’s falling for Baba, Diya came to know from the diary that Baba was not at all interested in Moushumi-di. He had merely offered a ride to her one day—that was all. Shushovan-kaku had spied that one odd incident and had promptly sneaked in a word to Ma and to Santosh-kaku. Now Santosh-kaku is the younger sibling of Akashvani Radio and then, naturally, the gossip mills worked overtime. But then again when Baba was head over heels with Trina Bose, things were quite sedate at home since only Diya knew about it. It is a mystery how this fateful diary would unfailingly reach Diya during such times. But in this manner, Diya could solve twenty-two love-stories. The places Baba would go with his dates, the kinds of gifts he bought, the reasons for his falling in love and also how and why each affair would come to an end—Diya knew all. But this time, the mystery about Shefali-di is getting curiouser and curiouser. The pages of the diary are clean!
The very idea that such a love affair can bloom between the two is such a fabulous notion; leads to a greater mystery actually. At this point let the many attributes of Shafali-di be quickly described. Shefali Ghosh is in her early thirties. Height: 4 feet 2 inches. Weight 80 kgs. Pale dark in complexion. A bizarre, uneven set of teeth. A fast receding hairline leading to a short-cropped style. One may easily be confused about her gender because of her ambiguous, uneven voice. Middling in studies, she was. It was thanks to Baba’s notes that she had passed with honours in her BA exam. There is no doubt that she is extremely hardworking. Can carry books in gunny bags from Barasat to Behala to Sodepur to Baruipur with complete nonchalance. Suppose the household maid makes herself scarce for a month without any prior notice, no issues: Shefali-di to the rescue. About five thousand books in fifteen huge almirahs can be dusted in two hours flat. And most importantly: Shefali-di is a terrific cook. She is especially good with patients, those who might need some special attention. When Baba was bedridden with jaundice, Shefali-di would make sure to send all kinds of yummy food almost every other day. Certainly Baba can fall in love with someone with such stellar qualities. No harm there—it is his prerogative after all! But why the heck is the diary staring blankly at Diya this time?
Diya is restless. She just got to hear that Baba has actually booked an apartment for Shefali-di near Barasat. Strange tidings. Until now, Baba would buy books, pens, key rings, photo frames, cheap perfumes, soft toys and suchlike for his girls. But a whole new apartment! Every morning with Minoti-di, Ma is going hysterical about Baba. And Minoti-di, as she kneads maida, moulding the dough into those perfectly round luchis, consoles Ma, “What can one do Boudi. Steel yourself; things will get better.” And as Baba sits at the table, Ma, in her divine snivelling avatar, would pack his tiffin with fruits and sweets and luchi-tarkari. Just can’t take this any-more—inane and pathetic! Such a scene used to be pretty common earlier too but Diya took no heed of these things then. She would know exactly what the situation was. This time it is different. And to top it all, Jayanta-kaku, who is an accountant himself, casually informs them that Baba had transferred half the money that he had recently acquired by selling off Dadu’s property to Shefali Ghosh’s account. Jayanta-kaku is a man of integrity—so there is no question of distrusting him.
Something must be done. Shall Diya make an effort to confront Shefali-di herself? Shefali-di works in the College Street area, she knows. Every day at 2 o’clock Shefali-di comes out of her press to have toast and ghugni. Diya sure can accost her at that time. But the funny thing is that when Diya did actually encounter her, Shefali-di herself made some queries, like: How is Baba doing? How is Ma’s health these days? Are Diya’s classes going on well? Said that there was a lot of pressure in her work-place as the book-fair was round the corner, and regretted that she had not come to their place of late. All this means that she had not met Baba recently. What kind of love-story is this?
Thanks to the dairy, Diya never ever had any urge to get one on one with Baba about their personal lives. With Baba it is more about getting pocket money, or some cash for spending during Durga puja or for birthday bashes, seeking permission for nights out and outstation trips and so on. And anyway he hardly has any time, what with his classes and teaching, his grading and writing books. One cannot talk with Ma about this because she has no clue about the diary. Actually, Diya has never mentioned the diary to her. She could not bring herself to do it. Every single time Baba fell in love, the diary miraculously would get to Diya. And it disappeared as things again become stale and boring. But not this time. This time, in spite of the strong gossip about Baba and Shefali-di, they were never seen together at Nandan, the book fair, the Nalban boating complex, coffee house, city centre or at the river front. No sir, certainly they were not to be seen in the usual hideouts.
A couple of years passed by. Meanwhile, Diya’s done with her BA and is sitting pretty at home. The gossip mills have gone somewhat sedate about the twosome. No sign of any entry in the diary. Today is Sunday and Baba is not at home. Ma too is getting dressed and will soon be gone to a gathering. In a way, that is good. Diya needs to rummage. She is unable to trace a favourite book of hers. Minoti-di is of no help—she can’t read for nuts. Wish there was Shefali-di to help her find the book.
Diya is in Baba’s room after many months. It is more of a veritable library. About fifteen almirahs and an old six-drawer table stashed with books and notes and papers and exam sheets. A couple of chairs lying around lazily. Where should Diya begin her hunt? Till 4 o’clock Diya could manage eleven of the almirahs and then she turned her attention to the drawers.
The book remained elusive. But Diya was not exactly prepared for what she hit upon serendipitously. Another diary—this time Dadu’s. She knows this handwriting. The same hand that scribbled rhymes for Diya, solved riddles for her. After a few pages of daily accounts, the diary turned alive. Another set of confessions, is that it?
Now, who is this Maya Ghosh. Oh yes, Maya Ghosh was Thamma’s—ayah—her nurse. Diya had heard about her from Thamma. She came to their place when Thamma was ailing and bedridden. Baba was still a bachelor. Maya Ghosh was competent, used to look after Thamma quite well. She also stitched some kanthas for her. But why would she figure in Dadu’s dairy?
Right. One day Maya Ghosh left the household. She was expecting. But she was never married.
More accounting details in the next few pages. All expenses for Maya Ghosh’s daughter was Dadu’s. The rent for their Barasat place—Dadu’s. And the daughter’s schooling expenses too.
Maya Ghosh never came back. But her daughter did. Shefali Ghosh. To study under Baba. And she could not recognize Dadu. But sensing his imminent death Dadu felt that Shefali ought to know the truth and get her dues as well. Hence these entries here. So that both his kids could read the dairy. He left it lying on Baba’s desk. Shefali-di may have spotted it while wiping the desk and handed it to Baba. Baba never ever handed it down to Diya.
Accounting details again. This time it is Baba. Explaining all monetary transfers and transactions in Shefali Ghosh’s name. But why did Baba not jot down all this in his own diary? Perhaps someone can tell all about oneself but not about one’s father.
A few days ago Diya had gone to visit Shefali-di. Well, Shefali-pishi—Shefali-aunty, to get the right nomenclature. Diya has divulged this secret to Ma. And how Ma beams after a long time! She was all praise for Baba this morning to Minoti-di. Is it so simple to bequeath one’s property unless you have it in you? Could Shefali-di ever force Baba into being so magnanimous? And Minoti-di, ever dispassionate: “See Boudi, did I not tell you? Steel yourself. Things will be all right.”