Malini had died a terrible death. A couple of years before her death, she was diagnosed with leukemia in addition to which she was directly informed by the doctors, she would just live for another one and a half years. The doctors actually saw no point in keeping her hope that she might survive, for, there wasn’t anyone else who could take the shock of knowing the truth on her behalf.
Malini had her final examinations to graduate from her college left but decided not to appear in them since graduating from her college would most likely take her nowhere unlike her friends who found it a great deal to first graduate from college with proper grades and then apply for a job with decent remuneration leading to their settling successfully in life afterward.
Her last few days were spent simply in negligence; none of her near relatives seemed to be bothered; alone in the mansion that her parents left her before they succumbed to death owing to a mysterious death quite a few years back since her own death.
Aditya, a rich man, was well acquainted with Malini since the time they started working as junior journalists for some local media houses, exposing themselves to the outer world. Initially, they shared a great bond of friendship but later, when both of them started attending colleges, they were drifted apart, the distance basing upon the different political thoughts they were influenced by. Both Malini and Aditya tried that their friendship out of their workplace was not affected, but somehow, life had other games to play, and they could not escape the consequences they brought about. Malini continued her works for the media, but Aditya withdrew himself completely from the public. The irony must have shocked many people who followed their works quite religiously and blindly accepted, Aditya was much better in approach than Malini was. After the breach in the friendship, Aditya and Malini would not really be completely separated. They would keep in touch exchanging letters Aditya delivering a proper criticism of any of her works he had just gone through, and Malini successfully defending herself against any methodical argument he would raise against anything that defied his own ideas. Both of them decided not to meet, for, being out of sight would help them to continue to fight keeping the spirit of their friendship alive. Their correspondence would let someone know about a true friendship that faded away, the sparks remaining as radiant as before. If one would someday come to read the letters, one would surely be enriched by an insightful discussion on Malini’s writing skills; the political thoughts influencing her; the tinge of psychological mysticism generating within her discourses; and a particular kind of pathos and frustration unnecessary self-judgment and limitless despair and hopelessness that gradually set into her delivery towards the end of her life.
Aditya received a letter from Malini two days after she was cremated by the people of her locality, in the city of Mumbai. It was surely one of her last works where she expressed, she wanted Aditya to write back to her. None knew, by the time the letter would reach Kolkata, Malini would die.
The last part of the letter read –
“…you being my dearest friend and my worst critic must write back to me. Your letter would something I want to take with me when I depart from this beautiful earth and be lost into the hearts of the unknown! Jhinook and Sangkha are doing well, I presume. You must write to me if they have got back together and planning to settle. They are a good match, I should say.”
Aditya was unable to keep the last request Malini made to him. He was informed of her death by one of their common friends who ran a news channel on Kolkata TV.
One must be confused as to who could Jhinook and Sangkha be and how they could even in the least possible be connected to both Aditya and Malini so much so that they would be a topic to be talked over about in the correspondence Aditya and Malini shared even in the final hours of Malini’s life.
Sangha, Jhinook, and Aditya were neighbors living at Russa Road in Tollygunge, in southern Kolkata. Jhinook and Sangkha were friends from the time they were at playschool, while Aditya, previously settled there, was advanced from them in age. Having taken exile from his work, he would often be found sunk into his own thoughts; brooding over them and hopelessly trying to preach upon people, how much the present-time government was incapable of controlling the state; how much he would be involved in the democratic government that preceded them and would admire the ideologies, guessed to have had some concrete dialectical angle; how his workplace would turn to give in to monoculturalism and hegemony that would be practiced lately; and, how much he missed writing on newspapers, arranging arguments against existing popular political ideas. The only other thing that he did was that he wrote letters to his friend, Malini. Not being into work didn’t trouble Aditya much. He didn’t fall short of money in any way – his father had left him enough of wealth to live by. His elegant failure would help him to absorb music, not much getting at its bottom while listening. The other people living around there would practically take it as he's showing off his remarkable taste of music, mostly defined by Western classical.
One afternoon as Jhinook was returning with her mother from her school, she ran into her not-so-known friend, Sangkha, who too was returning from school, a bar of chocolate in his hands. Not knowing where Jhinook and her mother were headed to, Sangkha, an intelligent, adventurous little kid, followed them. The walk ultimately led all three of them to Russa Road, where they lived. Once entering the local alley, Sangkha found himself less comfortable than before, for, his expectations did not get him a proper plotline to compare with the detective stories he read. The next day onwards, Jhinook and Sangkha went to school together with either of their mothers accompanying them.
Sometime later, grown up a bit, Jhinook and Sangkha would play together in the evenings on the local streets with a strict order from their houses, they must be back before the streetlights were switched on.
It’s important to discuss a little about the place they lived in. Kolkata with its two distinct divisions, the northern and the southern, often exchanged some special characteristic features that arose from the two different cultural backgrounds the two groups of people of the two parts of the city carried. Apart from the improper and distorted knowledge of the socio-economic connotations of several existing ideologies, the people of the north would be much skeptical towards the liberty of the teens; the exposure of kids to the Western culture; and, would particularly look into the fact that there is an added conservatism imposed upon the women of the families there, thus suffocating them to dishonor and finally, death. The ‘culture’ that the grey-haired intellectuals around there boasted about never got an outlet other than the different local rooms they occupied to ‘talk of Michelangelo.’ On the contrary, the men of the south were properly educated and well aware of the word ‘struggle’ not putting an extravagant shade on it to make it look more significant; appropriately equipped to justify their perceptions on life; and, could embrace whatever came before them as a true opportunity for them to elevate themselves to one step further. The most interesting thing that the south had imbibed from the north was a ‘para-culture’ where there were people interconnected to one another, chatting away and not discussing anyone in his absence, united, cooperative to one another, and searching for tremendous pleasure in whatever they did together as a team.
Russa Road would always bloom with color whenever the kids would unite in the evenings to play, or all the men retired from their jobs, meeting at the library room at late evening, discussing proper literature and films, or the middle-aged people met to decide the events to take place during the four days of the Durga Puja, the festivals, the residents there enjoyed the most, fully involving themselves into all the procedures of arranging it, right from going from place to place for subscription to bring in the idol and establish it in the pandal to distributing the Ashtami Bhog to going for the immersion of the idol into the Ganges.
Things were moving smoothly and quite easily. With the passage of time, Jhinook and Sangkha, reaching their age of maturity, met in the evenings even more frequently than before. This was a time when they really didn’t need to literally profess their love to one another. They found certain things to be better left unsaid and filled with music, preferably Chopin’s nocturnes playing in the background to their unspoken dialogues though how much the mood of the music suited the time they would meet should never be prioritized over whether that could accord to the depth of their exchanges.
Aditya was aware of what went on between them. Along with the other things that he wrote to Malini, he would add Jhinook and Sangkha as a substantial topic; much likely of a once successful journalist; and discuss them with Malini, not in an ungracious way that one may have thought.
The letters that Aditya would send Malini would be a powerful account of his perceptions on the possibilities for the future of the love relationship Jhinook and Sangkha shared; and, that was the way, they gradually became an important part of the wealthy but otherwise limited worlds of both Aditya and Malini.
A time came when Sangkha had to move abroad in pursuit of his career, leaving Jhinook behind. In the letter Aditya wrote to Malini talking about Sangkha’s leaving Russa Road, leaving the old para, leaving Jhinook, all behind, and moving to the West, he had lamented on the fact, he had seen a future in the relationship between Jhinook and Sangkha and that their separation would not be good for either of them.
Aditya expressed himself in quite a different manner; and, his expression for the first time in the last two decades, he has been maintaining his intellect while writing, reflected his insecurity and fear for a future; when he wrote –
“…you know I would see them meet behind my house just at four in the evening, every day. Some of their conversations would be audible, but, neither eavesdropping nor taking any kind of voyeuristic pleasure has ever been a part of my job; so, I would be reluctant to whatever emotions they exchanged and played the records of music. Most often they would visit me at my house on their way to theirs and spend some time with me discussing literature and for sure, politics. The other day, Sangkha came to me and bade me farewell. My intuitions reminded me tough time would slowly infect him and Jhinook as well. However, I could not turn Sangkha hopeless at the onset of a new life he was dreaming of and blessed him. That day almost everyone who loved him accompanied him up to the airport to see him off. Jhinook utilized this little time spent in absolute seclusion, to strengthen herself to combat the loneliness that would not slowly get into her nerves and make her irritable. I am afraid, Jhinook does not choose exile too.”
This is probably the bitterest truth that one has to move on leaving behind all the attachments if one wants to be successful. This leaving does lead to alienation at times and instills tremendous selfishness into the one who has to leave. The things and the people one was close to wait for one to come back someday, for, like the previously mentioned truth, there is an added aspect to it which leads to the emergence of another such truth. The second truth is that the success that one is after brings one nothing other than some temporary, short-lived pleasure and constantly hints at an insistence to go back. Finally when one gets grounded, one realizes the attachments that one thought useless at some point in time in one’s life remain unoccupied, hopefully waiting for one to come back, whereas the success one could boast of would share its heart with someone ‘more professional’ to say properly. Entanglement in the profession at some level makes people forget humanity. It’s at times needed for them to come down to the real world and know who they are and where they belong. Sangkha not being any exception too had a successful and secured life abroad. After a point when; unlike the ones who would forget their own identity and surrender to their non-productive colonial mindset and finally live as a ‘second class citizen’ abroad; earning became a daily work for him to do so much so that he went bored with it, he decided to head back to Russa Road. Jhinook would wait for the day, her man would arrive. There was a gap of nearly two decades which introduced some pain and some glory in both of their lives.
Sangkha expected a grand welcome that was to be arranged to greet him back to his para. Instead, he arrived back to a place where he never belonged, despite the place being the same Russa Road that brought so many lives together.
If the traditional theory work in this case, things would have been in a particular way where Sangkha, detached from the old people, would come back; hear of his parents’ lonely disrespectful deaths; find the old Aditya weakened for ageing; hear from people how Jhinook was forced into marriage with an ordinary person whom she wasn’t interested in; hear how Jhinook would be driven mad missing Sangkha; hear how the old men in the library would retire from life one by one; hear how the festival time would be occupied making outwardly designs for lavish pleasures; and, would finally immerse himself into alcohol; drinking heavily up to late-night; throwing tantrums to whoever visiting him, asking him about his days abroad; verbally abusing the local people who would try to get him admitted to a hospital or a rehabilitation; aimlessly roaming about the street like Mr. Dipro Sen, who would be found all day long in the streets, his mental health deteriorated due to some third-degree torture inflicted upon him by the police once he was a suspected convict involved in the tumultuous Naxalite movement in the 1970s; and, finally dying a pauper.
This has been a much-applied formula for stories to move in a most conventional way. But here, as Aditya would try to put them together while describing the facts to Malini, somewhere else other than the space he lived in, he would follow a most untrodden path to move along.
What actually happened and what didn’t happen is a debatable question altogether. But what Aditya wrote to Malini implied something like what it could never look like.
The letter read –
“…I never expected Sangkha would be able to bear with the shock of not seeing anyone else other than me in a devastated Russa Road. I informed him about the disappearance of men from there, and surprisingly he believed it without any doubt. His eyes asked for shelter and I took him to m residence, opened the guest room for him to stay. The nights were not half the vibrant ones that used to be there before the accident. The nights Sangkha experienced were dull, pale, and silent as a graveyard. One night, Sangkha screamed, and I was brought back to life. I did not bother myself to go and take a look. I knew what was to happen.
“Jhinook would appear in the room clothed in red. Once she would remove the cover from her face, she would look exactly the way she would when she was left by Sangkha, him setting off for a new life. Sangkha would turn frozen and die within his own self and exist as a completely helpless soul when Jhinook would advance towards him.”
That which is undefined always becomes difficult for one to decipher. However, when Malini would receive the letter, neither Malini, nor Aditya, nor Sangkha, nor Jhinook existed anymore. The time stopped making any significant move since the time Sangkha was strangled to death by Jhinook during one of her visits.
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