Some Other Day.
The flight was more than an hour late. He comes out of the airport, reserves a cab and reaches his lodging near Kamla Nehru Park. Calling bell buzzes. The usual high-pitched sound. No answer. He presses the button again. And then again. Nothing. The landlady doesn’t respond. That is unusual. He had talked with her last evening. Informed that he was returning today. She was supposed to keep his lunch prepared. Why isn’t she responding? He starts pounding the door. There are some curious faces jutted out across the neighbouring windows.
After an hour, she is found lying unconscious in front of her bathroom. Dead or alive? Not certain. But evidently dead. She has not surely prepared his lunch. He feels betrayed. She could have chosen some other day.
Beginning of a weekend always bring in a kind of anticipation. Even at this age. His fingers dial a number. No response. Undeterred he tries to contact a different bird. Busy tone. He waits but none calls him back. What should he do? There is a seedy bar in Meherauli. But it is too far. He has lost the interest. He starts walking aimlessly. His favourite hobby. After an hour, he sees the girl in the corner of the lane. She must be in her early twenties. Not alone though. She is surrounded by a group of boys. Not friends. They are evidently heckling her. She needs help. He assesses the situation. There are few other onlookers also. They would help. His phone rings. He looks at his mobile, the name flashes, smile breaks in. He jumps in an auto to begin his weekend journey. There would be time to help a heckled girl. Not now. Not yet.
The city is flooded. Nothing unusual in the rainy season here. He has just come down from the metro. He is supposed to walk from here. He then notices the old woman. Walking unsteadily along the footpath with her fashionable but useless umbrella and a bagful of groceries. She is almost totally drenched. And then the expected happens. She slips. A thud. The umbrella and the bag flies in opposite directions. He rushes to help her and recognizes her. That old hag — his high school science teacher. A very rude, mean woman. He remembers the crude words hurled, the way she dismissed his assignments, the poor marks in the practical exams. He stands in front of her, undecided. He is not sure what to do next.
He arrives at his favourite Park Street restaurant a little late. She was there, waiting. He sits, asks her to select the menu as before and waits. After all, it is she who has asked him to come. She hesitates a bit and then informs that she is going to marry, again. Moving to the States with her husband thereafter. He listens, impassive. The waiter brings the food. A sudden epiphany. He would not pay the bills today. She should. It is her marriage. She must give the advance treat to her ex-husband. There is a sudden elation. He pounces on the plate of chelo kebab.
At Any Cost
He noticed her during his presentation in the famous South Delhi college. Very attractive. She asked him a question, very puerile to be honest, in the Q&A session. During the lunch, she approached him. He was expecting that. She was planning to do her Ph. D in his university. Could he help her? Would he agree to become her research supervisor? He must, he should, he decided there and then. He must have her at any cost.
He has come to visit chhoto maasi. She had suffered a mild stroke last month. As soon as he enters her Behala flat, he notices the middle-aged ayah. She looks strangely familiar. But of course he couldn’t place her then. He talks some polite non-sense with his cousin. He has never been comfortable among ailing relatives. Same today. Maasi calls in the ayah by her name. The name! It is the trigger. He remembers her. She used to be her classmate in the school. Quite a brilliant student, if he remembers correctly. He feels uneasy. Decides to leave the place. The ayah follows him. While closing the door, she looks directly into his eyes for a moment. The door is closed with a finality.
Samrat Laskar is an Associate Professor of English in the West Bengal Education Service. After
teaching in different colleges across the state, he is presently serving as a Deputy Director of
Public Instruction, Education Directorate, Govt of West Bengal and is now posted at GTA,
Darjeeling. A Ph. D. from the University of Calcutta, he has several academic papers to his
credit. He is engaged in creative writing both in English and Bengali. For the last four years, he
is co-editing a Bengali bi-annual literary magazine ‘Souti’.