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In Front of the Mirror

Short Story - By Jharna Banerjee

I continued to look in disbelief, to the bag placed in front of us on the table.

A simple leather bag, bags that people like you and me, -who goes to office, usually carry in their shoulder,straps worn in continuous use. A fat bag, yellow coloured, dust gathered on every part, every wrinkle of it. It hadn’t been used for a long time, I presume..

How many years the bag hadn’t been used?  Five years, ten years or more?

I was then posted as sub divisional judicial magistrate in a sub division of Bengal. For the time being, I’m not disclosing the name. A small sub division surrounded by jungle all around, a curious mix of wild and civilization. Peaceful co operation exists between man and animal for centuries. Experience had taught the wild not to come into the path of human and human usually doesn’t infringe into the animal territory. The human nature of the local residents are usually quite peaceful- with a touch of wildness and uncertainty-probably the gift of the nature that has been bestowed upon them for generation after generation, century after century! Anyway I was getting the desired rest that was so much needed by me, after getting posted here. Life was getting a bit monotonous, a bit boring, but who cares?

It seemed to me – Radha felt in love with the lush, vibrant greenery of the place. Pardon me - Radha was my wife-my romantic, mystic wife. Anyway, our bungalow too was situated just at the outskirt of the muffosol sub divisional town, away from the hustling of the city. A brick red building with large pillars, specious rooms with large glass windows casting an illusive shadow over the floor, perhaps the memory of colonial rule. Compound of our bungalow was well submerged into the wilderness, surrounded by majestic belt of glorious Sal ,shagun and eucalyptus trees was our ‘nest’-at least for the time being.

Wives of higher officers of administration and judiciary in our country usually lead a very isolated life when their husbands are posted in remote areas, away from the city. This is probably the direct consequence of society, where your prestige is vanished if you mix with the subordinates. Uprooted from their tradition, culture and near and dear ones, they usually feel miserable. An invisible wall of hierarchy and protocol also prevents them from mixing well with wives and subordinates, a colonial legacy that still haunts India. This problem is manifested prominently in sub divisional towns, not so much in district towns, where comparatively a larger number of officers are posted.

But I felt after getting posted here, Radha is not at all feeling unhappy. When in autumn, blooming Palash flower was setting the forest on fire, her mind too was ignited. She simply turned into a tigress. When the Mahua petals piled around the trees made the whole forest boozy, mystic through its aroma, she went tipsy.  After so many days, I‘d heard her again to sing.

Pardon me - I’m a little carried away.’

Here, he had to take a pause, because tea was served. We all take our cups. Fine Darjeeling tea, what an aroma- aroma of life compelled us to forget that we are miles away from the sub divisional town he’s talking about.

Here, Susanta interrupted him-‘ Quite natural for you to be nostalgic.’

Tea and snacks were exhausted. Taking a deep breathe he again continued-‘so our days were passing in joy and in sorrow, until Niloy came to pay a visit to us.  Niloy was my college friend, we’re in a group. He  was a bit extrovert from the very beginning. More than studies, he was interested in outer world - in debating, sports and politics and especially in painting and sculpturing. You’ll hold your breathe if you see him craving a statue of you or painting your portrait or landscaping the scenic beauty of outside. With unshaved bread in his chin, handloom bag in his shoulder, tall and rough, typical intellectual and bohemian lad – a perfect recipe for the girls to be attracted towards him – as flies to fire. We all envied that modern Leonardo da Vinci.

We were all dead assured that this guy is going to be the second Ramkinkar – and after the first year of the college is over he went to the Government Art’s College to learn Fine Arts. His guardians were dead against this decision; they wanted him to complete his degree course in mainstream. But Niloy was strong enough to defend himself.

Actually I am still not sure the exact purpose of his visit. It might be the scenic beauty of the place had attracted him and after reaching there he had heard of him or something other.

He checked in to a nearby lodge, but when Radha heard it she continued to insist Niloy to stay with us in the bungalow.  I must confess that a feeble wave of envy crossed my mind, but at the same time I felt ashamed for that. Even at this age……

Radha never told me anything, but from the deep of my heart I knew every minute how terribly lonely she is. When I was in court, and silent shadow of the sun looms large, silence of the environment is broken by occasional chirpings of the birds – I realised how alone she is, inside those pillars, high rooms, large windows, like a jail–without a child, away from known dear and near ones. So I thought that presence of Niloy will help her in forgetting her misery, at least for the instants he’ll stay with us.’

Here, I cleared my throat and said- 'Was she  known to him?’

‘Oh yes I forgot to mention-she was a fan of him from the college days. After our marriage I used to jokingly remark about her interest in Niloy- and continued to do so, at least until our romance was alive. I enjoyed watching her blushed. Nobody discloses these very personal matters, but when she is no more now and  my days are numbered there is no holding back for me.

Short story continued here....