White Mansion's Tale
The White Mansion stood proudly on a busy street in Patna. The broad round 5 columns on which the porch rested gave it a majestic look. The front lawn was big but unkempt, with bushes growing randomly. Few rows of little white flowers planted by someone years ago were still lingering on, desperately trying to deny the gloomy state of the garden. The right wing of the mansion was a bit longer than the left one, as one more block was added to it after the house was constructed. Between the right wing and the boundary wall there was a row of single rooms – servant’s quarters, used by the servants of the house. The space between the two buildings was used to park two wheelers and as playground for the kids of servants. On the left side was the outhouse, sometimes used by the master of the mansion. The outhouse was covered by a thick row of Ashok trees, which provided privacy. The back side of the mansion had a courtyard, which was partially covered with a tin roof. The courtyard also had a pump and a single room, which was used as a store room, constructed along the far corner. From outside, the mansion looked very quiet and somber. It stoically endured everything, including its occupants. Having been constructed just 8 years back White Mansion was still young, after all houses of this type are constructed for decades if not for centuries, but it has had its share of tales to reflect upon.
When Pintu first arrived at this place he had no idea how important part of his life would be spent here. Jayanti, his mother decided to park herself here for few days, after her husband, an Indian Army Private, came back to house after several months in a coffin. She continued to remain with her in-laws at Jehanabad till the last rites were over but the decision to send her back where she came from was conveyed to her. She had supposedly brought upon the death to the son of the household. Jayanti, faced with some resistance when she decided to take her son Pintu with her, but finally succeeded. After all he was all she was left with; she couldn’t have lost him. Even the gods would be fearful of being so cruel. Her village, an hour by road from Jehanabad, offered a brief refuge. As the rising dust from the summer windstorms engulfed the village, villagers’ pungent opinion on her stay engulfed Jayanti’s existence. It became unsustainable for her to stay with her parents. She was a widow with a fourteen year old offspring and her father had four more daughters to marry. She lost to mathematics. It was then she decided she would come to Patna to stay with Hemlata, her third or fourth cousin - the mistress of White Mansion. The main bond between them was their friendship - coming from the same village and having spent their childhood together playing in the dust, herding sheep and swimming in the stream. Hemlata, who had always been lucky, was married off to Prakash, now a sitting MLA. Though both of them had met only once after marriage, Jayanti knew she would find refuge in Hemlata’s house.
The White Mansion was a single building but not a single household. Or rather it would be fit to say that the idea of a household in its case was amorphous. MLA Prakash Chand who was busy attending his political and social duties never used to stay long in the house. He used to travel a lot; even when in town he used to come to the house only for few hours a day. There was no certain time for his visit to his own house; he used to come and go at any time of the day. Loud conversation of his cronies signaled his arrival. But Prakash expected household to be run properly, his bed to be made at time for the day, his room ready to receive him and a wholesome meal ready whenever he wanted. This house was his sanctuary; whether he wanted to spend time with his wife or say ‘hi’ to his children or plan his political strategy, he would pop in. After few hours he would leave the mansion without informing anyone. When he wanted to spend some time in solitude or entertain himself, he would ask servants to make the outhouse ready. With his position, money was not a concern. Hemalata used to receive a generous emolument for running the house. When money finished she would ask for more. She also almost always knew how to track her husband. Prakash always made himself available at his wife’s summons, though sometimes he protested but never contested or disobeyed being called in. He had given this right to his wife to keep him on a leash.
When Jayanti came to White Mansion, she told Hemlata of her situation and that she wanted to stay there for few months. Jayanti was waiting for the compensation from army for her husband’s death on duty. Jayanti told Hemlata, “Meanwhile I will also try for a job. Once I get the compensation, I will purchase a small house of my own and live with my son. My intention is not to bother you.” Though Jayanti received some money but she never got the full compensation nor did she leave the White Mansion. She and her boy became part of the house. Though in lieu of this generosity, Jayanti did provide her services to the household. Her position was higher than that of the servants. She supervised them and carried orders of the mistress of the house without asking any question or raising any doubts. In fact she hardly spoke. Perhaps this was the best way to survive in that setup and bring up Pintu. Pintu also helped. He was called for more ‘manly’ chores such as putting things in the loft, bringing house supplies form the nearby ‘Kirana’ shop and carrying messages around the massive house.
Pintu’s childhood memories were made of this house. He used to play with the servants’ kids, run small errands and go to the nearby school. Hemlata mostly remained impassive towards him, never showed much of an interest in him. But she always remembered some work when she would her him. Pintu quickly learned that his days went happier when he did not cross her path. He liked Swati Di, Hemalata’s daughter. Though only a year older than Pintu, Swati was always affectionate towards him, sharing her chocolates and toys. But in all Pintu felt like a refugee in the White Mansion - someone displaced by a war waiting in a camp to be relocated to a permanent settlement.
Even though most of the days would pass in a gleeful bliss but every now and then the White Mansion suddenly reminded Pintu of his nonresident status. One evening when Pintu was playing with a wooden cart in the courtyard, he heard Hemlata shout his name. She asked Pintu to get a dozen ‘Samosaas’ from the neighborhood ‘halwai’. When Pintu returned with the delicious ‘Samosaas’, Jayanti was ready with the plates and served them to the guests. Pintu quickly calculated that the eight guests will not eat all twelve ‘Samosaas’. Even if few of them had two, at least one would still be left - his Samosa. Pintu stationed himself at the door to have the best chance of being called to eat the left over. But after forty minutes of wait when the guest dispersed, Hemlata called Santosh, another servant, to clear the table and the ‘Samosaas’ were consumed on the way to the kitchen. Pintu could do nothing but stare at the prize.
Jayanti wanted Pintu to join army like his father but he deferred partly because of the treatment meted to them by the army and partly because he did not want to agree with his mother. “Amma, I will do anything but go to army. They killed my father. I would join Prakash uncle’s party and become his confidant - protesting on his behalf, fighting with his opponents, planning his tours and advising him.” Jayanti smiled weakly and said “Why he will keep you?”
“Because he can be sure of my loyalty”, said Pintu, with surety.
All days are not same. Good days succeed bad days and vice versa. Weather, seasons everything changes; so changed the life, in its small moments, for Pintu. Pintu’s world turned upside down when Poonam arrived with her mother. Her mother was Hemtala’s sibling and lived in the US. Poonam was few years older to Pintu. From the moment he had seen her, Pintu wanted her. She used to raise her eyebrows while talking. Did she feel flabbergasted, outraged listening to the incredulous tales of this strange house? Pintu did not know but he also felt flabbergasted by the purity of her looks, outraged by the naughty twinkling eyes that revealed her heart before her lips could. Those long eye lashes of hers, perhaps if he dared to stand close to her, he could hear them flutter. He wanted to grab her and hold her. It thrilled him to imagine how the petite beauty would react finding herself in his tightly held arms. He would just remove the lock of hair that kept falling on the face and irritating her in that summer heat. Pintu could not help noticing the twin bulges on her chest that felt like two flower pods but was not sure if it was right for him to think of them.
Though people have different names for the feeling which Pintu had for Poonam, but does the name of the affliction make a difference to the sufferer; he just seeks relief from the agony. The softness of her speech, her delicate gait and softness of her gestures, everything about her had besieged Pintu’s heart. The trouble was he did not know what to do with his feelings. He couldn’t confide in anyone. He took Santosh’s cycle, on an early afternoon of June, when even the trees would be looking for some shade, and rode it with swagger going around the mansion in circles. The bicycle was drunk by the potion its rider had had, it went left and then right almost hitting everything in its way and dexterously avoiding hitting anything. Such was the confidence of his master. After a few listless days, Pintu got an indication that the feeling was not one sided. Though no message came forth, the way she looked at him was a clear indication to Pintu. After all one can’t expect girls to break their shyness and say such things directly. The initiative rests with men.
One afternoon, Poonam herself came looking for Pintu and asked him to get a drawing board and gave him some money for the purchase. Though Pintu was listening to what she was saying but his heart was saying something else. He suddenly held her by her arm and pushed her into a corner of the room, and proclaimed “I love you and I can’t think about anything else but you. You have become my life.” After his sudden outburst he waited for the response. Poonam stood there for a moment trying to understand what she just witnessed. Her eyes filled with tears, she felt vitiated and ran from the room. Pintu stood there for some time trying to reflect on what had happened suddenly but his senses were too numb to think properly. He felt confused. He ran to the garden of the mansion and sat down under one of the Mango trees.
One can’t remember incidents immediately preceding or succeeding a severe accident. Apparently brain does this to reduce the trauma. Pintu also could not recall everything clearly of this period. But he did remember the broad emotions – shame, anger, guilt and fear. After some time Santosh came to fetch him. Pintu was confronted by Hemlata in the presence of his mother. Poonam was also present. During the entire interrogation he said nothing. His silence confessed everything. Hemlata made Pintu say to Pooman that he was sorry and she was like her sister. Pintu felt miserable for the ‘sister’ part. When done with Pintu, Hemlata turned to Jayanti and said, “You know I let you be here against everyone’s advice, even that of Prakash. But you have let me down. I took pity on you but you couldn’t repay my debt. You couldn’t teach your child good ‘Sansakar’. Jayanti you must get him a job tomorrow otherwise I will have to ask you to leave the mansion.”
In the evening Jayanti went to his son and said, “Pintu you have heard what was said. You are lucky; the recruitment of ‘jawans’ is happening in Police grounds tomorrow. You must go and try. You must also tell about your father. They will definitely recruit you. After all you are a Fauji’s son.”
Pintu cajoled her mother to take him to the MLA, Prakash. “I do not want to get into the wretched army. Talk to Prakash Ji about me. I will work with him. At least try once, then I will accept whatever you say.”
Jayanti replied in a defeated tone, “Then be ready tomorrow morning at eight. We much catch him before he leaves for the day.”
Next day Pintu was up early. He took a thorough bath and put on the best clothes he had. He selected the second hand shirt of Prakash that was donated to him by Hemlata. He reasoned that would evoke stronger emotions in Prakash.
When Pintu along with his mother reached the outhouse, Prakash was having breakfast meeting with his gang of supporters. Prakash nodded on seeing them. Jayanti had done the background work and the message had already been conveyed to Prakash through his wife. When others dispersed, Prakash asked him to come in.
He asked, “So what do you want to do, besides proposing to high-stature-out-of-your-reach girls”, without looking up from his plate.
Pintu just said, “I want to work for you”.
“But what can you do for me? Can you get beaten up for me when we will protest against the government?”
Pintu not knowing what to answer said nothing.
Prakash then called Dharam, his driver. Addressing Dharam, he said “Get this boy behind the wheels. If he learns well we will give them this jeep to carry people. You take the new car which will be delivered in a month’s time.”
Pintu wanted to be amidst the action, to grow and probably be a leader himself, he did not want to be his driver like the fifty year old Dharam for the rest of his life. He appealed “Can’t I do something else? In which I can learn and grow.”
“This is good for you”, pat came the reply.
“But Sir, what about my growth and future? What about my career? Give me something better”, Pintu’s request was quickly turning into a misadventure.
Prakash suddenly burst with anger on hearing the arguments of the young brash lad. He said in a bellicose tone “You are worse than a worm and good for nothing for me. I provided you shelter and food. Then you tried to seduce my niece and even then I am offering you a job. You are arguing with me in return. You must know young man; people like you who have grown on charities of others have no career. The shirt you are wearing is given by me. Consider yourself lucky even if you can earn for rest of your life and do not starve or beg. Now go. I have nothing to say.”
Pintu with tears in his eyes ran from the outhouse, out into the garden, grabbed Santosh’s bicycle and shouted to his mother, between sobs, “Do not wait for me now, I will come only when I have made into the army” and raced his cycle towards the Police grounds.
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||U are really good at capturing human emotions. I could so easily relate to so many incidents in the story. Well-conceived and beautifully written!||
||An emotionally intense story about life's ups and downs. A very gripping read, indeed. The author's insight into human psyche is accurate and appealing. ||