Is it infidelity?
Tara Shankar was resting in his armchair with his morning tea while Protima was preparing her breakfast. It has been his daily routine since Madhura left a year ago. A year has passed but still, her memories are fresh. Tara Shankar never thought of a life without Madhura. It’s not that he loved her so much that he could not leave without her but because he was so much dependent on her for everything that life was not easy without her especially at this age.
In their 35 years of married life, the only thing that Tara Shankar has done was a government service. Besides that, he has never ever drunk a glass of water by himself. Yes, it was Madhura who has never let a stone unturned to make her family a happy nest. Apart from her household duties, she even handled Subham’s growing up and his studies single-handedly.
It was after Madhura’s death that Aditi asked Protima to take care of her father in law. Protima has been a household help of Madhura since Subham went to do his engineering. She is deeply attached to the family and loved Madhura dearly. Protima and her husband Ganesh did all the household chores since Subham and Aditi were settled in Bangalore for professional reasons.
Protima was too busy these days as Subham and Aditi were going to come the following Sunday for Madhura’s first death anniversary rituals to be held next week. Subham and Aditi have planned that this time they will donate all his mother’s belongings to some NGO, and Protima was given the responsibility to collect and keep aside those things.
Protima called out, Dadababu, “I have served your breakfast.” Tara Shankar silently came to the table. He was always a very calm and quiet person, and also a peace-loving person who has never indulged in any argument. After all, there was not a point of doing that when Madhura took all the pain.
While he finishes his breakfast, Protima sums him about all the things Aditi has asked her to do. To this Tara Shankar added, “I think some of your Boudi’s (Sister-in-law as told by Bengali maids) things are kept in the attic, bring them also.”
The three-bedroom house was not so much lavishly made but each and every corner of the house depicts Madhura’s simple yet elegant taste. The furniture, wall decoration, the photographs of Subham’s growing up and the family suggested how dearly Madhura held the family.
Tara Shankar was about to leave the table when Protima calls Ganesh to help her bring down an age-old trunk. She says loudly, “Dadababu, there is a big dusty trunk in the attic with many old things.” Tara Shankar was trying to recollect the trunk while Ganesh comes with an age-old camera having dust all over it and he gives it to Tara Shankar.
“Dadababu, Protima got this camera from inside the Trunk.” Ganesh further adds, “I think there is a film in it. And he continues further, “when I used to drive Mr. Sengupta’s car, I have handled this type of camera once or twice when Mr. Sengupta and his family went to outings.” But all these words were not reaching Tara Shankar who was lost in old memories.
This model of Yashica was a craze at that time when Sriniket bought it for him. Sriniket Roy was Tara Shankar’s dearest friend since his college days and has been by his side till last year when he shifted to Agartala to spend the rest of his life in his ancestral home. Even, the always quiet person got very agitated that evening, when Sriniket came to visit him before leaving for Agartala. Tara Shankar could not accept the fact that a friend like Sriniket would leave him when he wanted him the most after Madhura’s death. Sriniket was a Professor of literature and an avid book lover who spent most of the time in books only and never married. He was a regular visitor to their house. Being a bachelor and having an earlier acquaintance with Madhura, as he belonged to her maternal town, she never let him go without dinner.
Tara Shankar came back from the good old days as the phone rang. Ganesh picked up the phone and called for Tara Shankar. Subham was on the phone, “Baba, on Sunday we will reach by 12 noon. Aditi has told Protima masi to make all the arrangements. Baba, if possible please call the Pandit and ask him to come on Sunday evening. Tara Shankar agitatedly replied, “Babai, you know, I have never talked with that Pandit before. I don’t have his number even. You know it was your mother who dealt with all these things.” To this Subham argued, “but baba it’s a small thing to give him a call and confirm the date, the rest me and Aditi will manage. Ok, leave it. I will talk to him.” He banged the phone.
It was Sunday morning, the household was busy to receive Subham and Aditi. Tara Shankar was also seen a bit moved perhaps because that day Subham put down the phone in that way. Ganesh went to receive them at the airport. Though the absence of Madhura was very much felt in the household, still Protima tried to prepare Subham’s favourite dishes. Subham and Aditi arrived a quarter to 12.
At the lunch table, some colloquy was heard compared to other days when Tara Shankar ate quietly with Protima standing by the table to ask if anything he wants. In the evening, the Pandit came, and Subham and Aditi discussed all the things needed to be done for the Puja to be held the following Wednesday.
The following days, Aditi and Protima along with Ganesh made all the arrangements as Subham was busy with some bank works with Tara Shankar.
On Wednesday morning, all the things were done and it was done with great care. The Pandit came at nine in the morning and the rituals were carried out delicately. It took almost four hours as the household paid a tribute to its mistress.
In the evening, as all were having tea, Tara Shankar told Subham about the camera. Ganesh handed it over to Subham, as he discovered a film inside it. A bit confused Subham asked, “Baba, what I remember about the camera was, it was Mom’s favourite but it got lost when she went to Siliguri at her aunt’s house to stay for a week. That was the first time when Mom left you alone after I joined the Engineering College as her aunt was very sick.”
Tara Shankar unable to remember said, “I don’t remember all these things Babai, get the film developed tomorrow. At least we can have some photographs of Madhura and her aunt.” Ganesh was given the task to develop the film.
It was Friday morning, Subham and Aditi were packing their bags. They had an early morning flight the next day. Ganesh with a glee in his face came in with the photographs and excitedly handed it over to Tara Shankar, waiting for him to open the envelope. Subham and Aditi also rushed in as Tara Shankar opened the envelope. All were excited to see the photos, but to everyone’s surprise, the photographs revealed the beautiful images of Kanchanjunga and the river Teesta rather than images of Madhura’s aunt; until the last photograph that threw the whole room into utter silence. The image was of Madhura standing beside Sriniket with snow clad mountains in the background. For the next few minutes, a pin drop silence persisted as Tara Shankar sat with his face down and Subham looking through the window unable to accept the fact. However, Aditi was looking at the photo again and again just to cherish Madhura’s magnificent beauty wearing a red shawl with an orchid attached to the side of her bun enhancing her beauty.
Tara Shankar was speechless as he remembered it was Madhura who was very interested in those days to buy a camera. But he never understood then that Sriniket bought the camera for her though he gifted it to him. Now, he was able to understand why Sriniket left after Madhura’s death. Tara Shankar, the irrefutable person, became fierce as he snatched the photo from Aditi’s hand. Even Shubham was also surprised to see this as he came closer to Tara Shankar and tried to console him, as he waved to Ganesh and Protima to leave the room. With utter frustration, he said, “calm down baba, I can understand what you are going through.” His voice choked, as he continued, “Mom has cheated a genuine person like you who devoted his everything for her. It’s very shameful. We never expected this from her.” Aditi felt that both the men were hurt and felt being cheated, but it was more of a male ego. Though she did not say a word and left the room silently.
That night, in spite of Aditi’s request, Shubham, and his dad did not turn up for dinner. Aditi finished her dinner and while on the way to her room, she saw Shubham and his dad sitting in the study. Both were enraged as she heard Shubham saying, “Sriniket uncle did not pick the phone. “ To that Tara Shankar retorted, “he will not. That scoundrel used to come for her only and that is the reason why he left last year.” “That ingrate, had so many meals here, in this house, and I never doubted.” He added resentfully.
Aditi was quite surprised to hear all this. She remembered Sriniket uncle and how he helped the family once when Tara Shankar was seriously ill and Shubham was too small, and how he guided Shubham about his career. She has never seen this version of Tara Shankar earlier.
The next morning, Shubham and Aditi woke up quite early. They were ready to leave for the airport. Tara Shankar usually wakes up early, but that day his door was shut from inside. Shubham asked Aditi not to disturb him. But Aditi had to follow her intuition. She held Shubham by his hand and took him to Tara Shankar’s room. Tara Shankar opened the door as Aditi called out for him. She said, “Baba I have something to say to both of you. Please give a patient hearing. All I have known about mom is from you two. I have known how she has managed this house beautifully. Baba, you have spent your entire life doing what you loved and cherished, and she has handled all the hurdles without even letting you know. You have stayed unscratched from all the hardships.” She turned to Shubham as she said, “it’s you Shubham who has told me that all your demands were met solely by your mom.” “She compromised so many things while you were doing engineering.” Aditi asserted. “Today, just a single photo of her changed both of your gratitude to the lady. Is this all she deserved?”
Tara Shankar could not take anymore as he shouted, “Listen Aditi, don’t interfere in our matters. You are an outsider. How can you know our household matters, our pain? Shubham take your wife out from here. I don’t want to talk to her.”
But Aditi did not pay a heed to what Tara Shankar said, as she continued, “Baba, I know I am not your daughter, but a daughter-in-law only. But please listen to me, think honestly, have you ever felt for a single moment that Mom did not love you. Ask your inner being Baba, did you ever feel ignored, disrespected? Yes, Shubham tells me, did you ever feel that she would have done something more for you than what she did. Was she anyway less than your friends’ mothers. Is it not your ego that is letting you ignore all those things that she has done for you. And lastly, if she has done so many things for you two, can’t she get a week for herself from her whole life.” Tara Shankar and Shubham could not say a single word. Aditi left the room with tears rolling down her eyes.