Nirmala Devi, dressed in a simple saree and a pashmeena shawl sat at the little knoll behind her sprawling bungalow waiting eagerly for sunrise. Today is the day she would like to welcome unlike all other days. Today is the day she finally made peace with herself and decided to reach out of the self imposed shell that has been her existence since.

The eastern sky lightened and a dull orange hue heralded the first rays. The early morning mist slowly evaporated as the cold winds blew and the dew drops on the blades of grass glistened like precious gems. The distant temple bells mixed with the early morning bird songs casta spell of peacefulness on the verdantsurroundings.

Nirmala sighed – Oh!well another day has begun. How many days? She lost count. Years later, early this morning she can still feel the pain, relive the day, more vividly as years go by. Nature has dealt the most unkindest cut and her happiness was forever lost. She still vividly remembers the confusion and horror; and the bewilderment at the loss of her dear Anand due to an insane act of a deranged shooter. A loss of life at the prime of youth that made no sense. The hapless wife was left in a state of shock, with a young child in hand and too numb to even cry out for help. A pall of gloom settled and Nirmala spent days in a haze. The tragic event forever seared into her memory. But heal she must and nature has a way of coaxing life out of dying embers.

……as she was about to rise and enter her house she heard gentle footsteps behind her and a caring, loving voice calling out “good morning amma, are you feeling refreshed? Shall we have our morning coffee? I made it just the way you like.”  Kavya, her bubbly eighteen-year-old daughter sometimes acts as if she is the mother. Care and concern come naturally to her. Mothering me, Nirmala smiled.

“Mom,”  called out Kavya, “we are all waiting eagerly for your performance in the evening. Even the chief minister has sent message that he would definitely come. Oh by the way, Suvarna aunty called a little while back. She wants to invite us for dinner in honour of Roy Chowdary sir. He won the prestigious Jnanpeeth award you know.”

“Yes we shall go. When is the get together?”  asked Nirmala as she rose to prepare for her morning sadhana.

“It is on Friday night”, replied Kavya.

Nirmala remembered her first meeting with Suvarna on the occasion of her felicitation by the Deepa Sikha Mahila club which has many feminist writers, singers, artists and other creative people as its members. The lady sitting next to her pointed to Suvarna and said she comes from the famous Roy Chowdary household. She also writes occasionally. Her stories are earthy and brilliant. However, she is overshadowed by her illustrious father-in-law and equally famous husband Sujoy Roy Chowdary. As fate would have it she is in the shade of Banayan tree.

Later when Nirmala and Suvarna came to know each other a little more informally, Suvarna opened up to her and said, “Nirmala ji, you are indeed very lucky. You attained such fame and recognition, yet you are so unassuming and humble. I am sorry to hear about your personal tragedy. I admire you for rising above tragedy and enthralling thousands of spell bound audiences. I wish I had the ability to rise above hurdles and …. Oh!  never mind,”Suvarna sighed and changed the topic.

Lucky? How easy it is for people to conclude that what she is today is just a matter of luck or providence. But it is her Anand, her guarding angel who brought her back from the abyss of despair just in time.

Slowly, Nirmala slipped into a habit of reliving the past again and again. The kaleidoscope of her mind sought the companionship of Anand; Anand as her first love, Anand as her groom at her wedding and Anand as the doting father of their lovely child. How she now craved for his companionship in her sunset years. The present and future lost all relevance for Nirmala. She knew not how to fill the void in her life nor how to wait for the inevitable end as each day rolled into the next and years passed. When life is at the lowest ebb the tide must turn and it did. That is when music reentered the tortured soul of Nirmala.

Early in the honeymoon days itself Anand recognized the latent talent in Nirmala and encouraged her to find a niche for herself in classical music. Though not a music lover, he realized the true potential of his wife and made every effort to encourage her and in time Nirmala became a much sought after musicianto grace music festivals until the tragic loss of her husband. Years passed in emptiness and Niramala became a social recluse and shunned the glamour and adulation showered on her. The very thought of singing became an anathema to her. The loneliness was so all consuming that in a moment of weakness her frustration made her think of the extreme tragic step.Then suddenly out of the void she felt her anand’s presence and his soothing voice imploring her not to give up as she had a mission to fulfill in this world. In a true moment of epiphany she realized that anand is her very soul and existence and that he lived in her music all along. It was the turning point in her life and then there was no looking back. She transformed herself into a Meerabai singing of love and devotion that transcends time and age and conquers death.

…                ….                    ….        ….                           ….  ….

As  Nirmala along with her daughter Kavya entered the tastefully decorated rich heritage bungalow, Suvarna, the young and beautiful bahu of the Roy Chowdary household was busy overseeing last minute preparations for the dinner party to begin shortly. Everything was perfect as always. Her home management skills were excellent. She was indeed the favourite of the patriarch of the household,the great literally giant Anoop Roy Chowdary in whose honour the party was being given. However, Suvarna craved for recognition of a different sort from her father-in-law whom she idolizes.

She warmly welcomed Nirmala Devi and her daughter and expressed happiness at Nirmala Devi sparing time to come. She introduced Nirmala to her father-in-law and her husband Sujoy, who too was a writer in his own right. He has to his credit a couple of well read literary works. He welcomed Nirmala Devi gracefully expressing his desire to listen to her concert soon. Suvarna as the hostess of the evening was elegant dressed in a traditional Bengali saree. Her disposition was warm and courteous.

Sujoy met Suvarna at one of the book reading sessions of a well known literary club where young aspiring would be writers, promising first published authors and senior professional writers interacted and exchanged ideas.

He was charmed by her confidence. She had a presence which was noticeable like a palpable aura of grace. Though she was by no means beautiful in the classical sense Suvarna’s features had a certain arresting quality. People noticed her wherever she went and with each interaction liked her more and more.

The guests streaming into the house were awed by the presence of the senior Chowdary saab. To escape the stifling feeling of being in the presence of an intellectual giant many sought relief in the company of the young couple Sujoyand Suvarna. Many of the guests complimented and congratulated Suvarna as her small collection of short stories was recently published. The humourous anecdotes though amateurish were down to earth and easily connective.The readers could identify with their real life feel.

As the party began, Suvarna felt instinctively drawn towards Nirmala Devi. She hesitantly walked towards her and tried to establish a rapport. “How do you feel to be among writers and authors? Is it a different experience? You normally would be surrounded by accomplished and aspiring musicians. I really admire your great music.” Nirmala Devi smiled and said “Artists of any genre are the same every where.  We experience the same euphoria when there are accolades; the same depression when there is a dry patch. The highs and lows are the same for any creative person. The value one attaches to their efforts is same.” “How true Nirmala ji.”Suvarna wanted to express herself further but felt it is not the appropriate time. Maybe some other time she thought. Her latent feminism was rankling within her.

As the party began, the core group of literary personalities gathered around Chowdary saab, and pretty soon the air heated up with literary discussions informal critiques and heated arguments. Suvarna taking care of the guests was also keenly listening to all the discussions. In an unguarded moment of exuberance she mistook the easy camaraderie of the senior writers as all inclusive and ventured to participate in the discussions on the topic of women writers and their contribution to the cultural renaissance. At first Roy Chowdary was amused and indulgent. However, as the discussions were going out of hand with one steely glance he silenced Suvarna. The gathering felt the unease and tactfully changed the topic to general issues.

Suvarna noticed Sujoy was moody and withdrawn throughout the dinner. He was clearly not happy with the earlier discussions and the unstated standoff between his father and wife. How can Suvarna be so childish. It was outrageous for her to contradict a man so learned as his father. Even he hesitates to talk in his presence.  Who does she think she is? An Arundhati Roy? Just because one small book of hers, that too an amateurish one was published and most probably because of her family background does she think she has a right to take up issues on par with Anoop Roy Chowdary, the Jnanpeeth award winner? His irritation was increasing.

Later in the night, the couple had a strained and uncomfortable sleep. Sujoy though well aware of the high spiritedness of his wife was unwilling to be supportive of her even if he felt that she had a genuine point. His concern for his father’s image in public not to be challenged by a novice in the field was making him angry with his wife.

Suvarna, on the other hand spent a sleepless night feeling let down by her husband. Her father-in-law’s unspoken remonstrance stung her, for until now he treated her like his own daughter. She was very excited and happy to be a member of such an illustrious family and hoped that in due course her talent would flourish under the guidance of her husband and father in law whom she adored. She dreamed of becoming a writer of repute with their encouragement.

A sudden image flashed through her troubled mind.  When she first showed her collection of poems written in her college days to her newly married husband she was very much excited that she would share the insight of a literary personality. He merely smiled, had a glance at the verses and said in a dry voice, “you call this poetry?” Suvarna was hurt at the lack of appreciation but did not take it to heart as their relationship was fresh and tinged with romance. Many such put me downs followed later. But now? will he ever realize her sensitivity? She entered this all male household of writers who think on paper but fail to perceive emotions with their heart. They write truly great poetry but emotions are only tools for them. If her mother-in-law was alive maybe things would have been different.  She was wondering if Sujoy would ever be supportive of her literary efforts. She felt like a lost child and lapsed into a troubled sleep.

….              ….        ….                              ….    ….   ….

Resplendent in her Kanjeevaram saree and aging gracefully, Nirmala Devi, the icon of classical music sat serenely on the dias. The concert was about to start. The packed audience waited with bated breath and the pin drop silence was gently coaxed with the Omkaara of Nirmala Devi’s invocation. The three and a half hour concert left the audience longing for more. Suvarna who was in the audience felt a faint stirring of resolve within her. The music had the power to shape her unknown future.

The special event was organized on the auspicious occasion of Nirmala Devi receiving the Gaayaka Siromani award. At the end of each concert, she silently thanked Anand for being with her all through. It was his memory that inspired and fulfilled a long felt need in her. She is now at peace with herself.

….    ……..    ….                               …..     …..   …..

Years later the two ladies met again and the now frail Nirmala Devi smiled and greeted Suvarna. “I heard about your achievements and awards. I am very much pleased and impressed.”  Suvarna smiled an enigmatic smile. She thanked her respectfully and said, “I am what I am because of you. You inspired me. However, there is one big difference.  Relationships played a vital role in both our careers. You received emotional support from the memory of your husband and I became more vocal to stand up against giants whose yardsticks were too stringent and meticulous to encourage a novice like me. From the dizzy heights of achievements it was impossible for them to nurture fresh talent. I had to outgrow the shadow of the proverbial Banyan tree. Nirmala Ji, eventually it became a painful choice between family and passion; between relationships and aspirations. My relationship with Sujoy was a loving one no doubt. And to this day I regret losing him. But he was indeed impervious and so absorbed in his own self that extending support did not come to him naturally. I am really sorry that I had to leave him in order to find myself. That is the irony of my destiny.”

Nirmala was thoughtful and sad. “We women, we lose some and then we gain.”

***

Photo by Bogomil Mihaylov

Thanks for reading.

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