"Happy Birthday" by Nirendra Dev : An English Short Story (WBRi Online Magazine)

Happy Birthday

By Nirendra Dev

A Short Story


Nirendra Narayan DevEditor's 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 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.


The 6th of May would unknowingly haunt him. Initially it was once in a while phenomenon ….. something not regular but lately – in last six years or so – it has become the regular feature of his life. May 6th: birthday of Kakoli Sen, someone Dhruv always admired and believed there was the similar appreciation in reciprocation. It was on this day, he had spoken to her first. It was on this day …. after a year – they had parted ways – never to talk about each other nor to talk to each other – ever. Memories have been always like floodgates to Dhruv – easier to open and tough to close. He remembered the first tele talk. She sounded sweet and sexy ….. There was an air of precipitous urgency about her. She wanted him to get into the business of ‘affair’ and ‘dating’ as early as possible. But Dhruv was in no hurry. The idea of marriage never excited him in the first place. Thus, he had thought; there is time. Let me not hurry it up, slow and steady he wanted to win the race. Thus the talk would range from movies to holiday spots and as she was already into a part-time job writing for a mofusil newspaper; they did talk about working atmosphere in a news room. How senior scribes would simply stammer in front of the bosses or how the jobs for the young gals were often certain but punctuated with certain subtle riders? He was little amused. But then he agreed for a meeting. Then, a few more. Interactions soon resulted in mutual admiration for each other.

Dhruv thought, he appreciated her looks, the physique and a promising career in media for her as his notion was that the media was just opening up and there lay a bright future.

Dhruv was not sure of what Kakoli actually admired in him. But she would smile all the way in his presence. Importantly, she felt relaxed. The rays of the sun would cast some magical aura around the Coffee Corner and he would gauge that her mood would be turning festive. Today they could reap a rich harvest!

Dhruv knew his own strengths and perhaps also his weaknesses. He started enjoying the manner the girl was turning towards him. It was not a love affair per se as the parents in both sides had tried to broker the business of ‘knot’ and had allowed them time and rope to go around together for a while. Dhruv was confident of himself. He perhaps could understand it pretty well that Kakoli hardly saw the other side of him. Dhruv could be mean spirited and extremely self-seeking at times. But Kakoli had fallen for the man. A charming and elegant personality – were perhaps only thing that interested her. A small town girl pursuing a modest ambition of an ordinary working journalist, she thought Dhruv would be the best person to anchor her life and career --- in a big city or probably also abroad.

But on the other hand, it was not sheer career ambition that fascinated Kakoli about Dhruv. It was her genuine love that became the most motivating factor leading her towards Dhruv. One evening, she held Dhruv’s hand and invited him for dinner in her place. Dhruv was from a well to do family in a big city. He had undergone several good technical training and was planning a huge investment – assisted by his father, friends and well wishers – to set up a showroom of IT accessories. This would fetch good money, he was confident about the prospective venture.

The shadows were lengthening in the fading light of the twilight hours and the tastefully designed flower garden was almost deserted except for a few married couples or odd pairs like them.

The invite was followed by a good shower. It rained modestly for over an hour making the temperature more soothing. The sky was slowly overcast and black rain-laden clouds drifted across. As if washed clean by the rain, the trees in the house compound had acquired a pristine freshness. Dhruv felt the excitement more.

The house was decorated tastefully. The string of mango leaves hung across the upper doorjamb, almost like a bridal ornament on the forehead! He knew this was meant as a good omen. He liked the ambience of the inner courtyard too. It had a homely touch of a small town average income household. The sky appeared bathed in white moonlight. The clouds have disappeared – as he discovered staring above – almost unmindfully. There were few chairs, a tiny sofa was added to the row of beds. The centre table had a good cover too. All these were probably trying to impress Dhruv that his girl-to-be, Kakoli, excelled in arranging chairs and beds for guests.

There were several family members standing scattered to welcome him --- and importantly to get a glance of Dhruv, a talented young budding business entrepreneur, at least Dhruv thought so. Will all them start questioning him about the probable dates for engagement and marriage? But I would not commit anything in hurry, he tried to reassure himself once again.

Taking his place in the designated sofa, Dhruv thought of a ‘war’ – but his apprehension was based on a rather erroneous prospectus. Any marriage will be as healthy as the man – he thought. The latent male chauvinism too came into play. But that’s the self-pride of a man!

However, after customary exchange of pleasantries – it was again left as a bilateral meeting. This baffled Dhruv for a while. But it was Kakoli on the other side yet again playing a good hostess – taking care of his coffee, sweet lassi and then a grand dinner followed by ‘Gurer Ice-Cream’. “This last item is not home made…..,” Kakoli voluntarily clarified.

§

More intense meetings took place since then. Kakoli was more than convinced that Dhruv would ultimately confirm their marriage. She was so confident that she did never bother to ask: “henn go amader biye hobe toh (Oh dear, we will definitely get married na?)”. Days passed by…. Days became weeks, weeks turned months. As expected Kakoli was feeling the pressure. The midnight tele-talk that she used to have with Dhruv, now that he has moved to the large city, having launched his company was no more a secret affair. Almost the entire township knew about the love-on-phone tale.

So, now Kakoli wanted Dhruv to act fast, confirm their relationship and agree for the marital knot at an early suitable date. The wish was not unreasonable by any standard but never so from the point of view of Kakoli, who has grown fond of Dhruv and wanted to settle down with him.

The plea more in the tone of a demand left Dhruv thinking.

It was dark and hot outside though raining. A sharp wind blowing across gave the trees no peace.

As if the wind would hit again and again against the window pane and roof. Somewhere, he thought the breeze was singing a song mournfully. Did he stand undecided? Or it was a case of no second thought? Or Dhruv was still in two minds and not sure of whether he really liked Kakoli or not? The man in love or not in live: men have to be men, Dhruv seemed telling his inner self. Slowly, he saw a flicker of light! Hmm …… He could probably guess his own intentions, plans, ambitions and expectations from life, love and life partner to be!

The business acumen ought to be tested. Life, he knew is a journey – but it could not be traversed only with emotional baggage called love. It had to be oiled by money, prosperity and prospect of further property. But Kakoli could offer very little of that. That’s what his mind was telling. Heart had no place. It was the man in love’s understandings of the reality.

Only a few days back, Kakoli had told Dhruv in advance that she would continue to work even after marriage. Well, that was no issue to Dhruv. He was like any progressive man; an educated young damsel should work if she intended to. But how could as her husband, he allow her to forego all her salary and other perks to the gal’s house. The poor in-laws had problems; they needed his wife’s income to support their family and more importantly ensuring education of her two younger brothers as also footing the medical bills of her father and an aging uncle. “This is not the way a son-in-law should be handled,” he told his own shadow reflecting on the sidewall wondered staring up at the sky.

Dhruv finished his food and walked up to the balcony. The heat of the day was gone. There was a softer breeze even as the yellowish light flickered on the street from behind the bush of coconut and the large banyan tree. He was angry no doubt; but he was too tired to feel irritated over what Kakoli told him. The night was passing slowly; he returned to the bed room and thought it was time to go for a sleep, rather sound sleep. “Woi meye ta --- That girl Kakoli” is not worth spending the entire night, he told himself.

Next day, he picked up the phone and informed Kakoli of his decision. “Look here, the kind of things we were expecting from our marriage is probably not happening. So I have decided not to move ahead,” he sounded very candid. There was a momentary pause on the other hand. Bengal is famous for the bold women, Kakoli thought for a while. She knew she has to bear this out. Coming so far ….. and then pushed to the wall and shunned. Well, the pride was hurt. But that’s not all. She was thanking her stars that she could know of the man, Dhruv, before the marriage. After marriage, probably things could have been more difficult to handle. Kakoli had to handle things for herself and her family. She tried to conceal her emotions. Staring outside – she saw a tiny sparrow like bird hiding in the thickness of leaves. The sun ray was gradually peeping inside. But she was not sure what she was really waiting for.

§

Time flew faster. Months became year and years slowly made about a decade. Kakoli got married; on the other hand, Dhruv found for himself a girl from a well to do family. She brought in largesse, as he was sophisticated enough not to call them dowry. His life has turned into a routine and money minting system. Things poured in lavishly. There was enough bank balance and property in his name. His wife Nishta could not ever complain that her husband has not given her enough ornaments and saris. Everything was in plenty. Obviously, Dhruv too could not complain. He had everything coming his way. Everything lay on his table and bank accounts. Things lay is his cupboard too, but mostly untouched and perhaps also unappreciated. His accessories, clothes and money and diamond set often lay neglected.

Human life often changes very fast. It was the same Dhruv who had shunned Kakoli and her emotions today realized life cannot be run by property, a booming business and bank balance. Walking up to the spacious balcony, he was holding his glass of wine. This is his every evening companion now. Nishta has turned too busy over the years. She had cocktails and social obligations. Occasionally, she also threw in party herself. But all these revolved around more for exhibition than ‘enjoying the occasion’ or every moment as Kakoli used to say.

Nishta has her priorities of life and so there was no time for her husband. Staring towards starry night, Dhruv wondered about two birds moving around. Where do these birds go every night? More, importantly where do birds really go to die, mused Dhruv. Returning to his spacious room, he stared at the moon outside – trying to brave the darkness alone. Does moon too get scared when left alone in darkness, he unwittingly asked himself. He again turned towards his room and predictably was overwhelmed by the presence of costly decorative pieces, an aesthetic piece of painting on the wall brought from an exhibition in Paris and a few wrist watches and of course the bar in the corner. So much that he almost wanted to crush them. But man cannot do everything, he wanted to.

“What have I done?,” he again asked unwittingly. He was remembering his morning meeting with a big entrepreneur from overseas. The businessman wanted to pump in some money in India. The project report was prepared about two months back and they had met during the day earlier only to give it final touches. To Dhruv’s surprise, the businessman invited me to lunch at his hotel and surprised him saying: “I will introduce you to my wife. She has been in this part of the city about 10 years back”. Dhruv was stunned as he knew the lady he was being introduced. Yes, that was Kakoli…. same yet again. Looked gorgeous and full of life. Kakoli’s husband intervened in their silence, “Let me introduce you both to each other …..”. Kakoli looked full of life, smiling and folding hands courteously. Her husband said, “You know, I was a pauper till I met this woman. She has changed my life. But the best part is she has remained how she used to be calm, composed and humane. I am the happiest husband, I swear dude”. “You know”, the businessman continued, “why I decided to sign the deal today. It is her birthday today… 6th May”. Kakoli looked that sheepishly shy, introvert and yet in control of things. "Happy Bbbbirthday !" Dhruv merely fumbled. Dhruv knew that’s how happy couples are made. He also realized how unhappy couples are made, like he and Nishta. Kakoli smiled graciously screwing her eyes up towards her husband – Dhruv realized for once none can beat that! Nishta has not even once given her that look. Kakoli sat on the nearby chair like an empress sitting at a distance --- evidently not knowing, how unhappy Dhruv has become since parting ways with her. She had no reason to bother about him.