Thursday, July 4, 2013

Headless Torso (Chapter 3)

Introduction and Chapter 1 : Inner Chamber, here.
Chapter 2 : Pollen in the air , here.

                     Headless Torso (translation of a novel by Shaibal Mitra)

                          Chapter 3 : I want to become a communist
The reason as to why student unions of all kinds of ideologies, whether leftist , rightist or centrist, avoided Kalpalata wasn’t unknown to me. She seemed as familiar as she appeared to be a stranger. It was my good fortune that I wasn’t drawn into any kind of discussion with her on matters concerning students’ politics. In spite of her being in the close circle of Pranabesh Sen; who was a student leader of  Students’ Block, the student union of Forward Block; nobody was aware  as to why Kalpalata had one afternoon slapped   Pranabesh. Either of Pranabesh or Kalpalata had refused to speak on the subject. Once  Kalpalata had downright insulted Surjo , leader of our students’ unions, in front of a host of students, both male and female. She had said, “ Surjo’da, you have taken eight years to complete a four year degree course. It’s been a year since you have passed the B.A undergraduate course. Why have you not been able to get over your fascination with the college life? Why do you come to the college, daily? What attracts you here? Have you not been able to get admitted to the university?”

Before Kalpalata could restart her tirade, Surjo had turned around and  hastily walked away. Kalpalata’s girlfriends had almost rolled on the floor, laughing hysterically. The sound of their laughter had even caught the surprised attention of the students spread out in small groups farther away inside  the college premises.  The closing bells of the college had just then rung aloud. Students had started thronging out of the college. That departure of Surjo had been his last as he never again returned to college. Kalpalata hadn’t been wrong. During those times, student leaders were reluctant to leave the college. Their classmates, who were younger  to them by many years, would address them as “uncle” behind their backs & speculated  when they’d get a chance to address them as “grandpa.” Of course, the leaders, whenever  they heard such remarks, didn’t pay any attention. Surjo hadn’t taken his “expulsion” from college  very sportingly. He suspected that I was behind the move to instigate Kalpalata and her friends. Obviously, his suspicion was unfounded. I didn’t have enough influence on Kalpalata to use her for my selfish motivations. On the contrary, just the opposite had happened. Kalapalata had actually used me to drive away Surjo from the college and also to fetch Arindam to a predetermined address. Had I not read Kalpalata’s letter to Arindam, I wouldn’t have understood her plan. Sitting at my study-table  in the silence of the midnight;  I realized that even though Kalpalata hadn’t been able to read Arindam’s intentions , Arindam had been successful in  reaching the depths of  her psyche. How did an unnoticeable, quiet guy like Arindam manage to tame Kalpalata was beyond my understanding. I was of the impression that only Kalpalata could throw some light on that matter. I didn’t have any other option but to visit Kalpalata if I wanted to find out about Arindam’s present whereabouts or his wellbeing. The ghost of Arindam at last  settled on me, permanently.   
For three to four days, I wasn’t able to get hold of Kalpalata at the college in spite of looking out for her everywhere. Multiple people had multiple opinions on the number of days Kalpalata had attended college after the food movement.  I wasn’t able to get any clear information. I didn’t want to delay matters further. That same week on a saturday evening, I nervously arrived at  Kalpalata’s house in Sovabazar. Her house was a traditionally-styled  double-storied one surrounded by high walls with iron gates. The main door was a huge double-flanked wooden one with chiseled decorative figures. On the right side, there was a well-polished bronze name plate inscribed with her lawyer father’s name. Her father was among the top lawyers in the criminal court. Accosted by the durwan I reached her drawing room , that seemingly belonged to the era of Lord Clive, and got almost drowned as I sat on the soft cushions of the sofa. The floor was adorned with triangular shaped black and white marble tiles. Huge paintings hung  from bronze chains on the wall and the air in the room smelt of a bygone era. Just when I was sweating away on the sofa; Kalpalata,  with her long hair arranged in a bun that rested just over her shoulder, entered the room.  She was wearing a white cotton sari adorned  with blue dots .Her fair skinned face looked oily and tiny drops of sweats rested on her sharp, conical nostrils. Although it seemed that Kalpalata had almost run in a hurry  down the stairs, she didn’t let her expressions betray that. Kalpalata came near the sofa and asked, “You! So suddenly?”

I didn’t like her question. It carried within itself a casual strain of indifference, of a disregard. Kalpalata wouldn’t be unaware of my fifteen days of imprisonment. She never mentioned a word of it. Even if the intention was to enquire about Arindam, a twenty-one year old boy could surely have some little expectations of being welcomed. I too had the same hopes. The memories of Dakshineswar , from fourteen months ago, were burning inside me. Just one casual question from Kalpalata brushed away all hopes into thin air. Rising from the sofa, I said to Kalpalata, “ I need to speak to you.”
-Speak to me ?

Lightly wiping away the droplets of sweat from her forehead & nose with her sari’s ornamented border, Kalpalata looked at me for a moment and said, “Take your seat.”
As I took my seat , Kalpalata  sat on a cushioned chair in a relaxed manner. She asked, “Would you like some tea?”

It’s not unusual to lose temper for those who are lifelong accustomed to hearing only “Yes,” when they hear a “No.” Even after noticing the re-emergence of droplets of sweat on Kalpalat’s strikingly fair face, I didn’t pay any heed. I wanted to leave the place as soon as I had fulfilled my purpose. I asked Kalpalata, “ Do you know anything about Arindam?”
-His whereabouts or his address?
-Address of his house in Bali?

Kalpalata was silent for a few moments before asking me, “ What gave you the idea that I’ll have information about Arindam?”

Brushing aside her question I said, “If I have Arindam’s address at Bali, I’d like to visit him.”
-Arindam isn’t there.
-Who all are there?
-His cousin sister, her husband and their children.
-Can I get that address?

Looking at me for a second, Kalpalata got up and went to the end of the room near a cupboard. She brought out a diary from the cupboard , leafed through its pages and stopped at a page. She copied the address on a small piece of paper, put the diary back in the cupboard and brought out an envelope . Handing  me the small piece of paper , she said, “This is Arindam’s address in Bali.”
Pausing for a moment, she said , “ I have enquired. Arindam is not present there.”

-His sister will surely have some news about Arindam.
Kalpalata resettled on her chair. She said, “ Along with Arindam's house address at Chandrakona, I’d got three more addresses at Bardhaman, Murshidabad, Nadia from his Bali address. All of them are his relatives’ homes. Two sisters stay in two addresses. They may not be his own sisters but they love him like their own brother and their kids too adore their uncle. Whenever Arindam gets any opportunity, he visits his sisters’ homes. But right now, he isn’t there in any of those places.”

Although Kalpalata’s tone was casual , I could feel that her marbled drawing-room was trembling. I enquired, “Has Arindam met with any accident?”
-How do you know?

She handed me the envelope she was brought out from the cupboard and said, “This is a letter from Arindam. Read it if you wish to.”
I read the letter. In reply to three long letters from Kalpalata, Arindam had penned a seven-line letter. I knew about the content of the letter. But I read it still. Arindam was seriously thinking about how to change the world and was reading a lot of material on the subject. My gaze was fixed for a long time at the last line that was highlighted by a red-coloured pencil . It read , “I want to become a communist.” I couldn’t tell her that irrespective of his desire to change the world, there is a always a possibility for Arindam to die in the process or to meet with an accident .  It wasn’t also proper to tell that. I too was a kid then. I hardly knew anything. I kept quite that I had in my possession Kalpalata’s four-page letter in reply to Arindam’s seven-line letter. Even Arindam wasn’t aware about the misplacement of that letter.

Inserting the letter back into the envelope, I returned it to Kalpalata.  She said, “Arindam has kept his tabla at his Bali address. His sister is of the opinion that Arindam will return for the tabla. “
After remaining silent for a second, Kalpalata again said, “ I am also of the same opinion.”

Why? I couldn’t ask her that although I had wished to. Although I wasn’t clear about what Kalpalata said, the last line of Arindam’s  letter started buzzing like a fly in my head. Taking leave from her drawing room as I got back on the road, a question was playing incessantly in my mind. Why does Arindam want to become a communist? Will he be able to become one? I was unable to figure out as to why he will  require his pair of  tabla in order to become a communist.

End of Chapter 3
To be continued.

Also Read
Introduction and Chapter 1 :Inner Chamber
                              Chapter 2 : Pollen in theair

Copyright of translation : JAS 2013

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