2 + 1 = Zero

'Dhoor! Tor bau naaki? Is he your wife that you treat him with such affection?' Deepak had chided Dilip. This was only a few months ago.

Dilip lived by himself in his small rented flat at Santoshpur. It was part of a larger bungalow where the owner had let out the lower rooms. Deepak was the owner's eldest son. He had a younger brother as well, Arko. Together, they would often visit Dilip for that evening tryst with the 'daughter of the vines', as they preferred to call the bottle of Royal Challenge whiskey.

Dilip lived alone ever since he moved from his ancestral house at Barrakpore, to be closer to his working place at Jadavpur in south Kolkata. On the insistence of his sisters he had finally employed a manservant to look after the house and his requirements. ' Afterall, there will be someone in the house to look after you' they had argued. Girish had been employed but left within two months due to his master's strange behavior with him.

Poor Dilip. Having never known the presence of a human soul in close proximity for most of his life, his concern over Girish had been over the top; he would not allowing Girish to cook two times a day, feel guilty if Girish cleaned and swabbed the rooms twice a day, serve him first at the table, then fill his own plate ' in fact Dilip had gone overboard calling for such remarks from Deepak as well - Is he your wife that you treat him with such affection? Girish had naturally fled.

' Then, get married. We are all getting older day by day. Who will look after you? ', his sisters insisted. Dilip was forty-five years. Clean shaven with a well kept moustache. His friends were in Barrakpur so he seemed to be friendless over here. Santoshpur was really like 'videsh' for him. Some said he was suffering from an inferiority complex since he was not married yet. Social stigma hounded him.

' You mean, in all these years he could not find even a single girl ready to marry him? Something must be missing, somewhere'!

The rumors were rife. Actually, Dilip did suffer from a complex ' the bald complex, a complex specially inflicted on Bengali men whose head deflect sunlight in a manner that can render an onlooker blind. Cantharidine Hair Oil from Bengal Chemicals was what Dilip used, on his naked head, to cause the same deathly effect. But it was unavoidable as there was still a fine line of hair which he maintained like a flowerbed. It started from behind his left ear and took a circular route through the back of his head to the limits of the back of his right ear. This crop of hair had to be cared for, oiled and combed. He gave it his unerring attention.

The constant nagging from his sisters persisted until Dilip relented. No harm in looking he thought'..I may not marry' this age, which woman would'no harm in looking though. Thus, when Sunday came, he got busy looking at the matrimonial columns. Eldest daughter of a government servant, first among six unmarried daughters; widow with two children; innocent divorcee; spinster in her early fifties ' No! Nothing seemed to appeal. Dilip ran his hand over his head, turned his lips downward and threw the newspaper on the floor. All rubbish! He was better off this way. Yet, no sooner had the next Sunday arrived, than he got busy with the matrimonial column again. Sunday after Sunday, it became in fact something to look forward to, something of an addiction too. Until one Sunday an ad caught his eye. One Lillimilly in her early forties was desirous to marry. She had a job in a PSU and lived in Lake Town. Originally from Digha, she was on deputation for two years. Dilip's eyes lit up to think that this probably would be a good 'catch'. It was worth trying! He might in fact get lucky.

Letters passed between them. Even photographs. Dilip had worn a pea-cap to cover his bald head in the photograph. Last but not the least, when telephone numbers were exchanged, the meeting was fixed for the following Saturday. Dilip had sleepless nights. It was all hush-hush. Nobody in the family knew of his pursuits. He had been able to even keep those two from upstairs, Arko and Deepak, away from his story. However, what gave him the sleepless nights the most was the thought of how he was going to appear before the lady without a single hair on his head! A thought crossed his anxious mind and he dashed to Jimmy's Wigs at New Market. Jet-black crop of hair, darker than ever his eyebrows or his moustache fitted on his head. In fact, it even made him look younger than his age. However, there was a problem - everytime he wore his wig, his head boiled underneath. But there was no other solution. The best was to practice, practice, practice. Practice makes perfect, his father used to say.

On the appointed morning, Dilip arrived at Lillimilly's house. After the initial small talk, the topic went to family.

' I have two sisters, both married with children and no brothers' Dilip began. 'In fact I am the only son of my parents. My father was the then Head Master of Barrakpore Boy's School. A strict disciplinarian.'

' Oh!' Said Lillimilly, ' My grandfather was the then Principal of Bidhan Chandra College in Digha and in those days, he was known across Bengal as a great Academician. Even today, we are known as so-and-so's grand children'.'

' Really? My father was also very well known. In fact, Bidhan Ray, had many time invited him to'.'

' Oh, are you speaking of Dr Bidhan Ray?' Lilly interrupted, ' He used to frequent our house in Digha as well. He studied under my grandfather, you see'

Dilip wiped the sweat from his face. The conversation had not moved from the parents and grandparents level. At that very moment, a lady entered the room with a tray of water, sweetmeat and tea. The flavour of the tea filled the room.

' Meet Milly. We put the advertisement together '.

Dilip had just picked up his cup of tea. The words he heard pushed a question out of his lips.

' What exactly do you mean'?

' Milly and I wish to marry the same man. We therefore advertised together'.

Dilip choked over his tea. The cup shook in his hand and was precariously balancing between his fingers, when Milly came forward and took it away from Dilip's hands. ' Is something wrong?'

Dilip begun to cough. ' But the advertisement did not say that'.'

' It was a typing error. Instead of writing Lilly and Milly, they wrote Lillimilly'..'

Dilip was now close to fainting. He forgot where he was. He was sweating profusely. In fact so much so that the ladies thought he might be in the first stage of a heart attack. They turned the Usha fan at full speed thereby causing Dilip's wig to fly off his head and fall on the floor. The ladies stared in astonishment while Dilip rose and rushed out of the drawing room and out of the house. He was just about to board a waiting autorickshaw, when Lilly appeared at the gate '.

' You have forgotten something. ' she said

Dilip turned to see the wig in her hands'.

' Aamar matha!' He said slapping his forehead with his hand, ' My head!' 


More by :  Julia Dutta

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