"Chaitali's Father" by Nirendra Dev : An English Short Story (WBRi Online Magazine)
By Nirendra Dev
A Short Story
Note: Nirendra Narayan Dev (nirendev1 [at] gmail [dot] com), an
acclaimed political journalist, is a special correspondent of The
Statesman, New Delhi and author of the books Modi to Moditva, Ayodhya : Battle For Peace, The Talking Guns North East India and Godhra A Journey To Mayhem. Nirendra
was born and brought up in India's northeast and his father served with
paramilitary force Assam Rifles. His blog is at bestofindiarestofindia.blogspot.com.
We have previously had an opportunity of talking to the author and have posted the audio recording of the interview.
WBRi has the pleasure of publishing a series of short stories
by Nirendra. Search with keywords "Nirendra Dev" to read his prior
stories and articles on Washington Bangla Radio.
At the end of five years and more they were married; my mother was surprised into it. Not the one to believe in feminism of the kind that had come to stay, she always thought a woman is a puppet whose strings are held in one man’s hands or the other. For the present and probably her future she was blaming my father. She blamed her fate, but if she had the little courage to protest; well her life as well as mine would have been different.
For my father on the other hand, Contempt for women was a symbol of true manhood – Purushwata. It had come to stay as a minimum virtue in my father’s family to underestimate woman or to find fault with them. Well, feminine traits were like a disease they would be more careful than any other malady in the society. Actually, my father had inherited that. Four of them, my father, my grand father and two of my uncles were more than convinced that only in ‘vinash kaley’--- when your end is imminent- men would listen to women, especially the wives. The better half was a misnomer; as a consolation they could call it – bitter half.
On this backdrop came in my life – first the birth and then my upbringing.
I was born in Chait month and thus named Chaitali.
Right from childhood, I could understand that my father had acquired the reputation of being a difficult man to stay with. My mom would consider him an ambitious intriguer, who never gave my mother his confidence.
Sitting in my 2-tier Rajdhani Mail berth on way to New Delhi, I was thinking about all these. My life of 25 years and my parents.
Just then the engine hooted as if to signal that it is catching up the speed and so should I; may be.
The train was fast in motion and as I craned by neck trying to peep through unclean glasses of the compartment, I saw we were passing across the platform of a tiny railway station in onetime governance-starved Bihar.
But the platform was crowded. The people pouring into these stations to move on to concrete jungles of Mumbai or Delhi always intrigued me. So many of them. Every time where do they go in these cities to get lost in the sea of humanity, where elementary humanly values hardly existed.
Lost in myself and as the train moved on; memories of early childhood spun before my eyes. My father changing my clothes, giving me bath once in a while during weekend. Sometime patting my head and calling me his ‘special daughter’. As I grew up, my mother would recall some of these tales even angrily often screaming, “it is your father who spoiled you”.
Then, how my father rejoiced my piggy bag collection of coins. How I used to count 50 paisa and one rupee coins -- after the other – one- one – one and one. Time had flown by. But slowly those days of family laughter – small family of me, my mother and my father also had passed by.
Neither my childhood remained nor those innocuous days.
The train hooted once again. I was wondering how the relation between my father and my mother was getting complicated because it was becoming more and more difficult to keep secret.
They probably started quarreling over everything. My mom refused to get snapped with my dad. My father discussed literature and good old values – often impractical and backdated ones – something probably only to tease my mother. My mom – pretending to be a worldly-wise lady egged by her sister – once questioned my father about the very wisdom and utility in writing short stories. “What do you get out of these sheets of paper and what’s our gain?”
My father perhaps guessed that my mom would not have dared to ask such a ‘pragmatic’ question unless egged by her sister, otherwise a too clever worldly-wise person at least I knew.
“For me living and breathing and eating is to write. Once a collection of short stories is out, I know the dream is a reality. What next came became a subsequent point of focus. Whether or not my work will move the readers or fetch me few thousands rupees did not really matter much,” my father replied.
As expected, my mom was angry at such reply. She also thought – my father had tried to insult her sister and her parents.
She gave an angry look – her face turning angrier at the sight of graying hairs along my father’s temples.
My mom always thought her marriage was a true case of miscarried justice. She deserved a much better paying husband and also someone with more sober outlook as her sister’s husband. More dutiful towards his in-laws. Someone devoid of that 3-letter tag: MCP (male chauvinist….
But in the midst of getting angry and disturbed, she also hoped one day she can rearrange my father’s outlook on life, and probably also change him as an individual. But that was not used to be. Far from getting himself as a good son-in-law; my father would scream at the peak of his voice: “For me father-in-law is not father, he can’t be……a man has only one father in this life”.
What more prescription one required to push the marriage to a brink?
Resting my head on a thin pillow as provided by Indian Railways in Rajdhani Mail, I was trying to sleep.
The engine of the locomotive was too often breaking the sweet monotony of silence. As the train halted outside a platform waiting for the green signal: I could hear a few night birds chirping. Staring outside the glass, I could feel the movement of a calm moon moving silently up in the sky – oblivion of my pains and the story of my parents.
The silent nights know a lot, I had read somewhere in a folktale of tribesmen from the northeast; yet the nights are always silent, they say.
I then opened my Facebook account on the laptop.
Dried and fallen leaves --- can be little autobiographical, one of the postings read. It also reproduced a few touching Hindi lines:
- Woh has kar pucchthi he humse, Tum kucch badal badal se gaye ho…aur Hum muskara key jawab deten haen ..tutey hue patte ka aksar rang badal jata hae
(She/He asks me whether I have changed a bit: but I reply with a smile on my face, a fallen leaf always loses its original colour)
I felt disturbed further. Out of anguish I tried to take a glance at my mother’s berth and found her virtually snoring. I was happy, at least she was sleeping. Any sleeping disorder could harm her health.
But I knew, my mother also had her role in ensuring her long separation from my father.
Tears welled up in my eyes threatening to spill, but to my utter astonishment, I could keep my head cool and ultimately withdraw my anger against mother. I felt sorry for her too. She too had her share of the tragedy, may be.
My mother’s married life was not on sound footing.
My father’s flirting with writing stories was unable to make impact both commercially and for namesake. Critics dismissed his writings rather easily and regularly. He was unable to sustain the interest of readers beyond few pages, they said. One publisher in fact also wrote a brief letter that landed on my mother’s hands. It was too simplistic and ruthless. The publisher said my father was unable to sustain the interest of the readers especially in the second half of the novels.
Thus in the meantime, in the midst of his soul searching my father’s life made leapfrog from light comedy to sentimental melodrama to grim tragedy. And in no case he had any strength nor my mother could get any satisfaction of a married life. The drift between them was telling. Even my presence could not sustain them as one unit.
The term ‘we’ had vanished long back and both of them started living with ‘I’ and ‘you’. Sadly, I, their only offspring did not figure much. Thus when the time came the separation was easy.
The train halted again adjoining a paddy field. I could see a cut down tree under the focus of full moon night. How did it matter to me whether the tree used to have delicious fruits or it was a towering large banyan tree hanging from the branches? In the ultimate it was a cut down tree in an abandoned corner. By now my mom too was awoke. She was sitting leaning on her left arm. Disturbed sleep was not good for her. Moreover, for last one week my father had begun to come to her in dream. Actually we were rushing to Delhi to meet my ailing father. This was my first trip to Delhi in last 15 years. During this period I have traveled from Bangkok to Mumbai; but my mother ensured that ‘unsafe’ Delhi was not in itinerary.
The dream would burn my mother’s heart. She would complain too. But the disobedient husband in my father often came – rather frequently these days.
I knew this was one such occasion. The bad dreams had again disturbed her. I could make out from her face in the dim light in the compartment my mother felt a kind of inflamed passion – something that had always been there. The passion and pains were as if coved by a huge pile of blankets. “Will you need the tablet?,” I asked mom. She nodded – that only meant the trouble was serious. She was thinking hard about the ‘man’ in her life and how both of them had handled things. The youth hood in life and initial years in marriage do not last long. My mother had lived the past – mishandled it as well. But now she thought about the future with trepidation.
The locomotive had started moving again. Gradually, both of us slept.
Next day, we reached Delhi on time. The East Delhi locality where in my father stayed was not very far off. We were still late. As we entered the flat and my mom saw the photograph hanging, I saw her moving around with a vacant look in her eyes. She almost looked lost and forlorn. She recalled that about 15 years back, my father had once asked her over phone whether she felt ‘lonely’. Not surprisingly I was with my mother, so she had shot back, “I am not alone”.
But I knew today was different. The loneliness had enveloped my mother. Suddenly I also could realize her pain. I also realized that no one was now left who would address me ‘special daughter’ or provoke my mother into a quarrel. No one will cheer me over phone and email in particular – to scale higher peaks.