The first time I saw her, she was dozing off at the end of a meditation class in a course that I had recently begun to attend. The way she was sleeping was kind of endearing. It seemed like she hadn’t had a good sleep in weeks. I hoped someone would notice and wake her up. Nobody cared. I was hesitant at first, but I thought if I did not wake her up, she might slip off the edge of her seat and fall on the floor.
I walked up to her, and tapped gently on her shoulder, hoping not to offend her. She woke up with a start, and looked up at me embarrassed. “I am sorry I had to alert you before you fell off the seat and hurt yourself,” I said, nervously. She smiled, “No, no, it’s ok … It’s so bad … I did not realise when I fell asleep.” She spoke in a singsong manner, drawing out her vowels. I comforted her, “Don’t worry. Lots of people do.” And to put her at ease, I added, “One day, a man sitting right behind me was even snoring.” She began to laugh.
As we walked down the steps of the meditation area which was on a round elevated platform, she asked, “When did you join this class?”
I said, “Well, very recently. Is this your first day here?”
She said, “Yes.”
On reaching the bottom of the staircase, we paused to wear our shoes, and then ambled across the lawn to the car park. She took her phone out, and began looking for cabs. “Where do you live?” I asked, unsure whether it would be odd to ask her whether I could give her a lift.
She said, “I live near Ultodanga”.
“Oh! I live in the south. I will be going in the opposite direction.”
“It’s alright,” she smiled. “Cabs are very easily available at this time.”
We had the meditation class every Sunday, at 6 in the morning, before the city fully woke up, and began its rowdy day.
I waited with her, as her cab arrived, when she suddenly asked, “Does meditation work?”
I was startled by the question for I had been asking myself the same thing for the last few weeks that I had been attending the class.
I said, “I don’t know. I would love to believe it does.”
She looked away, her face showing clear signs of disappointment.
I added quickly, “You know, once you get used to meditating every day, it begins to work.”
“How can you be so confident?” she asked.
I responded that meditation had been recommended to me by a good friend who swore by it. She smiled. What I said did not sound too convincing to my own ears let alone to hers. Her cab arrived.
As she got in, she turned around, and said, “Nice meeting you. See you next week.”
I smiled, raising my hand a bit, gesticulating good-bye.
As her cab disappeared beyond the main gate of the ashram, I suddenly felt the sheer joy of connecting with someone who had also asked, “Does meditation work?” However, when I thought about it later, I realised this was not the question which actually connected us; the fact that both of us were trying to make something ‘work’ by resorting to meditation was the point of our connection.
For a moment, I watched the departing mass of people who were slowly walking or driving out of the ashram. Was everyone trying to make something which had gone out of order work again? I did not know. But we two certainly were.
The next Sunday, as I drove into the ashram, I saw her sitting on the lawn. It was 15 minutes to 6. We had time for some small talk. Silently walking up behind her I greeted her, “Hello, there!” She was startled, but broke into a broad smile as she turned around and saw me. “Oh … it’s you … I was just sitting here, feeling the cool grass,” she said, rising to greet me. I said, “No, remain seated. Let me feel the cool grass too. We still have a good 15 minutes.” I sat down on the grass. She was right. It was after a long time that I was in physical contact with grass bathed in morning dew. It was a strange feeling. She said, “It feels good, na?” I smiled in agreement and asked, “So, is meditation working for you?” The smile disappeared. “Well, I tried to meditate. But, my mind keeps wandering …”
I said, “Tell me all about it. The most scandalous things surface on my mind every time I close my eyes.” She smiled impishly, relieved that she was not the only one who was sinning.
Soon the bell rang, signalling the beginning of that day’s class. “Don’t fall asleep,” I said, as I took my seat. She smiled, embarrassed at being reminded of that.
After class, as we came down the stairs, I asked her, “So, what do you do, erm … what’s your name, by the way?”
“Pranami … Chatterjee…and yours?”
“Really?” she asked, not altogether surprised that our surnames matched, “Chatterjee” being one of the commonest surnames in Kolkata.
“Yes… So, what do you do, Pranami?”
“Nothing really, except for looking after the household, and occasionally my husband, whenever he deigns to be at home.”
“Well, he has a lot of friends, a lot of social contacts. He is always busy.”
“Hmm … and you are not included in his social life?”
“Yes. He is very guarded about his social life. I don’t know his whereabouts.”
She sighed. I noticed a shadow of gloom passing over her face.
To clear the air, I said, “Symptoms of a commonplace marital ailment. Nothing to worry about!”
Pranami looked the other way, clearly indicating that the ailment could be more rare than commonplace. I did not probe further. I was also amused by how she referred to her husband without taking his name and occasionally speaking of him as amar bor – my husband – exactly the way that my dida used to speak of my dadu.
“What about you? Do you tell your wife where you go, whom you meet, or do you keep everything a secret?” she asked.
I laughed out loud. Pranami stared at me questioningly. “Pranami, first tell me, why do you assume that every man would have a wife?”
Pranami looked blank for a second; then, she asked, “So, are you single?”
“So, if a man does not have a wife, does he have to be single?”
“No … not that … so, you have a girlfriend?”
“If a man is single, why do you assume that he has to have a girlfriend?”
Pranami was perplexed. “What do you mean?”
“Can’t a man have a boyfriend too?”
“Well … oh … achha … yes … oh?” she said, flabbergasted.
I smiled. “Sorry for teasing you with so many questions. All I wanted to show you is that it’s wrong to assume everyone is straight.”
Pranami was so stunned by the exchange that she had forgotten to book a cab.
I was usually impatient with people if they unthinkingly imagined the whole world was straight. But, Pranami’s ignorance did not anger me; rather, I wanted to her to see the world in a non-straight way as well.
I said, “Do you have a lot to look after today at home?”
She said, “No … why?”
“Then, would you get into the car, and let me dispel your confusion? There is a lovely breakfast joint only 15 minutes away. Come on, come on,” I said, as I got into the car, giving her no time to turn down the invitation.
Pranami relented, and four mugs of coffee later, seemed to have recovered from the shock of meeting a ‘real’ gay man. It wasn’t that she had never heard of homosexuality; but, in her imagination, gay men and women were an exotic species, not real people who could, perchance, be fellow passengers on a bus, fellow shoppers at a mall, or a fellow beginner in a meditation class. “What did you expect of gay men? See, I do not have wings or horns …” I joked. And, by the time we left the breakfast joint, she was more ‘woke’ than before.
As I drove Pranami to Ultodanga despite her protests, I learned that she had grown up in Dhaka. That explained to me her accent, which constantly reminded me of my deceased grandmother, who was from Bikrampur. Maybe I was drawn to her for the same reason.
She was not speaking Bangal, as it is famously called, but her Kolkatan Bengali carried in it the residue of the language she was used to speaking at home.
I told her, “You know I miss speaking Bangal.”
Her eyes lit up. “Oh! You speak Bangal? You too are from Bangladesh?”
I said, “Well, of course. Only that I have not been to that part of Bengal ever. My dida taught me Bangal … or not exactly … You can say I picked it up as a child. Actually, baba enjoyed it a lot … hearing me speak Bangal … as if he felt connected to his roots, despite never having seen his homeland.”
She said, “I can understand perfectly. I have seen how my mama, breaks into Bangal the moment we arrive at his house. As if he was holding back something till then … He migrated to Kolkata in 1971, studied at Presidency, found a job here, married, and then never went back.”
“Hmm … my grandparents, both maternal and paternal, came to Kolkata in 1947-48 … they too never went back … So, deal?”
“Shall we speak in Bangal henceforth?”
We began immediately, and we laughed all the way to Ultodanga, as she constantly corrected my verbs. I mixed up the two dialects of the language liberally, unused to speaking Bangal since dida’s demise 16 years ago.
Once a linguistic connection was established, Pranami opened up more than I had expected. She had come to Kolkata only after her marriage that had been arranged by her mama the sole blood relative she had in the city. She had a maternal aunt too, somewhere in Bengal. She remembered her fondly, but was not sure where she was.
“She loved me a lot, you know … but, one day, when I was about seven or eight, she left the house with a distant relative. Nobody has mentioned her since then …”
She broke off midway, as if she was giving out too much information. “You did not tell me why you come to the meditation class,” she asked, suddenly changing the subject.
“Well, long story …”
“What is it?”
“Well … some other day, maybe …”
Every Sunday thereafter, we drove to the same breakfast joint. Our friendship grew. We exchanged phone numbers. On days her husband would be at home, Pranami left early. On other days, we chatted endlessly. We began meeting on other days of the week too, as I slowly inducted her into the little philanthropic works I did around the city with an NGO.
I could see Pranami change; she was far less miserable than when I had first met her. As for me, while I was playing her cheerleader, I was sinking deeper into gloom. I had deactivated all my social media accounts; I did not feel like socialising with any of my close friends. I was more relaxed with Pranami because she did not know me too well.
Meditation was not working for me, for sure. Thousands of questions crisscrossed in my mind round the clock, as if multiple voices were speaking against each other. A piercing pain shot through my chest every morning as I opened my eyes. The pain gradually subsided as the day progressed and I got through various engagements. But, I dreaded the night.
The nights were unending. I lay awake till very late, and even when I dozed off, I heard voices inside my head.
Didn’t he tell me I was his emotional anchor?
What did he mean by that?
Didn’t he tell me he had not found anyone like me before?
What was he thinking?
You are a drama queen … a disgusting drama queen … I don’t know what I was thinking then…I don’t want it anymore…is that clear?
The incessant noise never allowed me to sleep. It seemed like I was lying at the intersection of several roads jam-packed with clamorous traffic.
However, I was more functional during the day. I was preoccupied with assignments; I had deadlines to meet. Work saved me from becoming pathologically morose, although, there were times I felt I was dragging a hefty load behind me as I walked.
I was at my performative best whenever I met Pranami. I talked, I joked, but I could not tell her about my dreadful nights. But, she understood. Perhaps, my eyes gave away more than I could actually articulate. Sometimes, she would lay her hand on mine, without saying a word.
Pranami called me up late one night, after having tried to reach her husband numerous times. “He has not returned home. I tried calling him several times. He is not taking my calls.”
“Do you want to inform the police? I can come with you,” I said.
Just then, the doorbell rang. Pranami ran to answer the bell. She returned to the phone, “He is back. I will call you later.” I hung up, relieved.
Next morning, Pranami called me. “He never tells me where he goes, whom he meets. In the last one year that we have been married, he has never bothered to tell me if he will be coming home late. Today, he crossed all limits … who comes home at 4 in the morning?”
“Didn’t you confront him?” I asked.
“I did. But it’s of no use … he never tells me anything … he casually said that he forgot to inform me there was a party, and fell asleep as soon as he entered the bedroom without even bothering to change.”
The following Sunday when we met after class, Pranami was relatively quieter. I tried cheering her up by cracking poor jokes. Usually, she responded to these jokes, chiding me lightly for being cheesy, laughing all the way, her cheeks reddening. That day she could only manage a forced smile.
“Well … out with it … what is it?” I asked, sensing her need to talk to someone.
She did not answer my question. Instead, she asked, “Do you think I am ugly?”
“What’s the point in asking a gay man that?” I laughed.
“I am not proposing to you … just tell me if I am ugly.”
I looked around, lowered my voice and spoke as if I was sharing a deep secret: “Trust you me … I would not have made friends with you had you been ugly … I have that reputation in Kolkata. Ask anyone. No ugly men are allowed through my front gate … well, at the most the living room, if they are extremely persuasive.”
“Can’t you ever be serious?” she laughed for the first time that morning.
“No … I cannot be serious about beauty or the lack of it. Why on earth are you bothered about something so literally skin-deep?” I said, feigning annoyance.
Did he dump me because I am well past my youth?
Or, was it because I did not have the libido of a twenty-year-old?
But, didn’t he always behave as if we were partners?
Didn’t he do all those little things for me to please me?
If I behaved like a partner, I did so without thinking much … certainly I was not anticipating this drama … Leave me alone …
Pranami’s eyes welled up. She could not reply. I could well foresee where all this was leading. I tried to change the topic, “Have you considered a change of scene for a while? Like visiting your parents in Dhaka …”
“My parents are no good.” She uttered those words with such nonchalance that I was a bit taken aback. I was at a loss for words, as I desperately searched my mind for a subject I could bring up next.
Pranami broke the silence, “Neither does my husband love me nor I love him.”
The suddenness of this statement, which she uttered as if she were inside a confessional, bewildered me. However, I tried not to show it, waggled my eyebrows, and made a funny face.
“So?” I asked.
Pranami was stumped by my response. Perhaps, her best-kept secret suddenly appeared trivial. That I was unfazed by this huge confession, I could tell, confused as well as comforted her. She fumbled for words. “So? So… I will forever be waiting for him, and he will keep coming home late, without informing me …”
“I am not impressed. Too clichéd! Too clichéd! I was expecting something more original! You disappoint me,” I said, as if I was interviewing her for a researcher’s post.
Pranami burst into laughter. “How can you be so casual about these things?”
“Okay, I will be serious,” I said, immediately wearing a grumpy face.
“I can’t even tell my parents …”
“Why? You should … didn’t they arrange this man for you?” I said, stressing on the word arrange, sarcastically.
“Hmm … they did … but, all they will ask me to do is ‘adjust’.”
I was about to say something in response, when she said, “You know he never even quarrels … he is just indifferent … he comes and goes … the house is just a night shelter for him … he behaves as if I do not exist …”
It was so easy for him to let me go, as if I never existed for him …
It did not make any difference to him … or, did it?
Perhaps not … for, I had already been conquered.
Was I just another pawn in this conquest game he was used to playing?
What game? What pawn? Shut up … even if I played a game with you, I am no longer interested …
Pranami kept on talking. She sounded almost apologetic as she went on citing reasons why she could never love her husband.
I told her, “Listen, you do not need to justify it. Even if he was a wonderful husband, you still might not have fallen in love with him … it’s perfectly fine.”
She looked at me as if I had said something awfully scandalous. It took her a few minutes to come to terms with it. ‘Thanks” was all she could say after some time. But, I could see that the shadow of gloom that covered her face in the morning had become fainter.
I was suddenly envious of her. The way she could articulate her misgivings, I could not. I needed the security of the counsellor’s chamber, and the safety of talking to an absolute stranger. I wished I too could lower my guard and speak to my friends. But it was too late already. I had lost Pranami’s ingenuousness, having seen too many betrayals.
It was mid-December, three months since we met each other. Newspaper headlines, primetime slots on all news channels, and social media platforms – all fumed with rage. A 23-year-old woman had been brutally gang-raped, and fatally assaulted inside a running bus in South Delhi. The incident shook the entire country, as gruesome details of the rape were broadcast every other day.
A friend who I met through an NGO called me up. “Tomorrow, there is a protest march starting from College Square in the afternoon. Please join.”
While theories of why rape was perpetrated filled print and digital media, I wondered how many little rapes were committed every day, not tantamount to this one to merit protest marches. These violations, real or metaphorical, involved a total loss of faith, trust, and also one’s capacity to love again. Because they left no marks on the body, the perpetrators could never be brought to trial.
I feel violated. Emotionally violated.
Will he ever realise that?
Will he ever be found guilty?
What will you tell the world? I betrayed you? I violated you? How so? What evidence do you have?
I thought of asking Pranami to come along for the protest. She had seen the news and was scared. “Can anyone feel safe anywhere anymore?” she sighed on the phone. “When does the protest start?”
“4 pm. Come to College Square directly. I will be there with other friends.”
The next day, Pranami arrived on time. She was somewhat overwhelmed by the gathering. I could tell she was not expecting a march of this scale.
“Thank you,” she said, as we waited for the march to begin.
“Why are you thanking me?” I smiled.
“I have never done anything like this before … like, coming to a protest march.”
I hugged her lightly, and we began walking. As I watched the people walking with us, the bystanders, and the residents who gathered on their balconies with mugs of tea and coffee to watch us walk past, I wondered why we all had come. Was it only to protest against that one rape? I didn’t think so. I was there for a selfish reason, as well. Many were, without seeing it as such. The anger we all felt for having been wronged at some point in our lives and never receiving justice inflamed the collective rage the protest was ablaze with.
Did I not protest enough?
Was there any use?
Would he ever admit to his fault?
What fault? I am not at fault … I did not do anything wrong … you are the one who was making up stories in your head.
I was lost in my thoughts, when I noticed Pranami was silently weeping as she walked by my side. It became more intense by the second, and putting my arm around her I took her away from the march and sat her down on a bench of a roadside tea-stall.
“Want some water?” I asked.
She shook her head. I waited for her to calm down. I did not want to immediately ask what was troubling her.
She wiped her eyes, and looked up. “Is everything ok?” I asked.
“I lied to you”, she said.
“I know what happened to her … why she disappeared.”
I could not make out what she meant.
“Ma told me”.
She sobbed as she spoke. “You know none of us protested for her!”
I said, “Have some water, please … you are choking…” I gave her some water.
“I have to tell you … or I will never be able to forgive myself … my coming to this protest will have no meaning …”
I lightly lay my hand on her shoulder. “Go on …”
“My mashi, Meena …you know why she left the house? Why nobody ever spoke about her? Because she was raped … yes … raped by her own uncle … my mother’s uncle … everyone knew about it … the uncle’s wife knew it … nobody said a word … when she became pregnant she was sent away with a distant relative to some ashram here … I never saw her … but, I did not give up on her … I never forgot her … it was only after my marriage that my mother told me …”
I listened to her, stupefied. I did not know how to react.
I did not realise I had no value at all … Was I wrong to want our relationship to be out in the open?
Don’t you ever speak about us to anyone … I am warning you … Keep your mouth shut … It was a fling … a long-drawn fling maybe … get that drilled into your stupid head …
I was at my wits’ end; I could not think of a comforting word for Pranami. I could no longer make a funny face, and pretend nothing serious had happened. I quietly sat by her side, allowing her to speak for as long as she wanted to.
The tea-stall owner offered us milk tea, although we hadn’t ordered any. He must have been observing us all this while. He took one look at Pranami, and another look in the direction of the march which had left us behind. “Kiser michhil chhilo dada?” (What was this march for, brother?), he asked, trying to make the connection between the march and a sobbing Pranami.
Two days later, Pranami insisted I meet her. I agreed. “Why such an urgent summons?” I asked, as I drew out a chair to sit across from her at a café the next day. “Listen, I am determined. I am going to pull out all stops to trace Meena mashi.” I was amused at how Pranami had laid out a plan of action as if finding Meena mashi was such a difficult mission to accomplish. “All this is brilliant,” I said. “But, honestly, Pranami, I don’t think you need to launch an investigation.” She was surprised, “Why?”
I thought this might not be such a challenging puzzle to solve after all – perhaps, the pieces were already in order and lying so close to each other that Pranami was missing the pattern.
“It is impossible that no family member knows where she was deported, post that incident,” I said. “You need not look any further than your mother. I have a gut feeling she knows.”
“Even if she knows, she will not tell me,” Pranami said.
I did not agree with her. “Pranami, do you really think your mother does not want to reconnect with her sister? I don’t think so. Perhaps, she has never admitted to that desire, even to herself, scared of going against the family. If she was so protective about this secret, why did she tell you about Meena mashi at all, after so many years?”
Pranami nodded her head, as if re-running every word I uttered in her mind. She finally looked convinced. “Your mother might find support in you, if you said you were determined to reconnect with Meena mashi,” I reassured her.
“Will you come with me if I find out where she is?” she asked.
“Of course, I will.”
That evening, as I drove her home, Pranami suddenly asked, “Do you remember that you had a long story to tell me?” It took me a few seconds to understand her question. “Oh yes … why I go to the meditation class? Hmm … why do you want to know?”
“Because, I can see something in your eyes … I do not know what it is … look, this is very unfair … I keep unloading my despair onto you…my dysfunctional marriage, my loneliness, my lost aunt … almost everything. And, you have not shared a word with me …”
I was about to say something in my defense when she protested, “Don’t you dare say, ‘Some other day’! I want to know now.”
I had no convincing excuse to escape the inquisition. Perhaps, ‘inquisition’ was not the right word. I could see genuine concern in Pranami’s eyes. It was not easy for me to open up. Nonetheless, I decided to tell her, or else I would be disrespecting our friendship.
I began my story, piecing together those scattered thoughts which still troubled me round the clock. I summarised a long story as briefly as I could, eliding details – names, locations, dates – for I thought it was not necessary. I wanted it to be over as soon as possible. As I narrated the story, I chose not to look at Pranami even once; for eye contact with her would not have allowed me to speak. By the time I finished, we had reached Pranami’s home.
I pulled over, but Pranami did not get out of the car. She pressed my arm as if trying to save me from an imminent fall. She said, “Where is he now?”
I said I had no clue. “Last I heard of him, he was probably married to a woman…I did not want to know anything about him, actually, after a point…. I erected a wall around me so much so that I never got any updates about him.”
“But this is wrong … this is utterly wrong … how could he blame you for falling in love with him when he actually chased you?” Pranami was choking.
“Well, he wanted me as long as I did not interfere with his social image of being a straight man, or as long as he did not have better options than me … I have no idea …”
“Did he ever tell you he was going to get married?”
“He should have. He didn’t. But, I am not sure if he is married…I said probably…”
Pranami had never heard a failed gay love story before. She had endless questions for me. I answered them with utmost patience. “My story, like yours, is such a cliché, that many gay men would have been bored to death long before I reached the end of it,” I laughed.
But, Pranami did not laugh. “Now, enough,” I leaned over to my left to hug her.
We remained silent for a while. Then, all of a sudden she said, “The night before last, I tried telling my husband about the protest march, about you, about Meena mashi … He said he was not interested in my life … I could do whatever I wanted to as long as I stopped asking him questions. How cruel was that?”
It began to rain outside. Winter rain was of no use, really. Still, I rolled down the car window, and stretched my hand out. “Feel the rain,” I told Pranami.
That night I slept peacefully for the first time in a long time.
Kolkata was decking up to welcome the New Year. The police had arrested all six men accused in the Delhi gang-rape case. The woman was struggling for life while protests continued across the country. The government had arranged to send her to Singapore in the hope of better medical intervention.
One morning as I watched the news while getting ready for office, Pranami called me. She had never sounded so excited before. “Are you free on the 29th or the 30th?”
“Well … I guess I am. Why?”
“Then, we are going to Jalpaiguri.”
“Yes. We are finally meeting Meena mashi.”
“You were right. So very right! My mother told me everything … everything … I called you as soon as I finished talking to her … my mother has been sending Meena mashi money, clothes, whatever she needed all these years … nobody knows … Meena mashi was sent to an ashram in Jalpaiguri … she teaches there now …” Then, pausing a bit, she added, “Meena mashi has kept in touch with Ma through letters sent to a friend’s address. Ma collects her letters from there. Even now …”
I had never heard Pranami sound so happy. She kept saying, “How did you know that my mother knew? How did you know?” I did not know. I had simply taken a shot in the dark, hoping Meena mashi had not been completely abandoned by everyone. I was happy that I had not been proven wrong.
Pranami got two tickets to Jalpaiguri. We reached Howrah station on the scheduled day. We boarded the train and settled down. As soon as the train left the platform, a friend messaged me, “She has succumbed to her injuries in Singapore.” It was not unexpected; no doctors could have possibly revived her, given the fatal nature of her injuries. It was difficult for me to hold back my tears, and yet, I also smiled to myself. It was ironic how in her death, she had given a new lease of life to Meena mashi, and also a purpose for Pranami to live for.
I withheld the news from Pranami, hoping she would come to know of it on her own. I noticed earlier that Pranami was not as happy as I had expected her to be. After some time, she said, “You know my husband did not even ask why I was suddenly going to Jalpaiguri. He only asked when I was coming back. I wanted to say I never wanted to come back. But, honestly, I no longer feel like wasting even anger on him.”
“You should not … tell me, does Meena mashi know that we are coming to see her?” I wanted to change the topic.
“No … no … I have asked Ma not to tell her. It will be a nice surprise for her, no?”
As she spoke, she took out an old album, the spiral-binding of which had partly come off. She turned the pages, stopping at a sepia-toned picture. Three young women were standing in front of the main administrative building of Dhaka University. All three had books in their hands. “Meena mashi and her two close friends … the one on the right is Saira … it is to her that she has been writing all these years,” Pranami said.
“She is beautiful … let me see her …” I took the album from her.
“Yes … I brought this album to Kolkata with me, when I left Dhaka after my marriage.”
Old pictures always fascinated me. I began examining each picture with interest. After a while, Pranami said, “Thank God I joined the meditation class.”
“Yes? What?” I did not exactly follow what she meant, being absorbed in the album.
“I mean had I not been to the meditation class, I would not have met you … had I not met you, I would not have reunited with my Meena mashi …” she went on.
I acknowledged what she said with a slight nod of my head, without looking up from the album.
“But, you know what connected us, really?”
“Our failed love stories …”
“Haha … but, Pranami, you never loved, did you? At least not your husband …”
“I did not. But, I wanted to fall in love with him, right?”
“Yes … yes … absolutely … yes, our failed love stories then …” I smiled, closing the album.
She took the album from me, and opened it. “By the way, let’s see the people because of whom we actually got to meet.” I looked at the album, not understanding how those “people” were in it.
Pranami understood. She laughed. “No … no … I meant let me show you a picture of my husband …” As she spoke, she handed me her phone, “See”.
A glance at the picture, and it seemed to me that the ground beneath my feet was shifting. My head was bent over the mobile screen; Pranami could not see my face. She said, “Seen? Now, it’s your turn. Show me a picture of that idiot …”
I looked up at her. Pranami was surprised, “What happened?” Perhaps my face had changed colour. I was not able to respond. She asked again, “Are you alright? What happened?”
My throat had dried up. My tongue seemed to have melted in my mouth. I had to make an immense effort to speak. Pranami was visibly scared now. She said, “It’s alright … I think I have hurt you by bringing all this up. You do not have to show me any picture … It’s alright.”
I eventually found my voice. “What if I told you I would have to show you the same picture?”
Just then the train blew a long, screeching whistle, as it entered a tunnel. The compartment suddenly darkened. I could not see Pranami’s immediate reaction.
Dida – maternal grandmother
Dadu – maternal grandfather
Baba – father
Mama – maternal uncle
Mashi – maternal aunt
Cover Image: Wikimedia Commons