Portrait of A Man

He was sitting cross-legged on a cot, which was covered with a pallid bed-sheet. Clearing his throat, he said, 'Miracles don't happen these days.' Muscularly built as he was, had a strong torso and above this was a large head. His gray hair was thin, and the sun-brunt scalp was noticeably visible. His long and droopy moustache covering his upper lip was snow white.

'Miracles don't happen these days.' He repeated.

'But I've an amulet,' said the man who was sitting on the ground. 'This can make you young once again'. He was a fakir, wearing a saffron kurta and white loongi. His hair was long, profusely oiled and well combed. His long beard was dark black.

'I can't believe.' Said the old man, looking enviously at his black beard.

'You must try,' the man on ground whispered, taking his mouth close to old man's left ear. 'Choudhry is wearing it, and enjoying his new marriage.' His long beard tickled him. The old man took out a two-rupee coin from the pocket of his khaddar kurta and put it on fakir's hand. The fakir, without seeing, placidly put the coin in his kamandal. He pulled out something from his bag and tied it on the old man's bicep of right hand, recited some verses in Sanskrit, pursing his lips blew out air on his face. The fakir spat on his face in doing so. Old man grimaced, but said nothing.

The fakir collected his bag, trishul and kamandal, and stood up.

'Jai Ram!' he bade goodbye.

'Jai Ram!' the old man waved his hand in return.

He looked around satisfied and discovering none, went inside. He saw his wife, sitting on a mat, made from date-tree leaves, picking out black rice, weevil and small pebbles from rice, which was to be cooked. She was an old lady wearing a bottle-green cotton sari, and a red cotton blouse. One end of sari was lying on the floor. The old man sat in front of her.

'What are you doing here?' he asked. The old lady, annoyed by his question, raised her head, and looked at him. He smiled. She engaged herself again in what she was doing. The old man took her hand in his and pressed.

'What is the matter?' she grumbled, again raising her head. When she spoke, the wrinkles around her mouth deepened.

'Dadi, maa is asking for the rice.' A child wearing only a pant entered the room. He was their grandson. He sat on the mat and nestled his head on her lap. The old lady stroked his hair. The old man stood up slouching and went outside.
The sun was setting. He furiously sat on the cot, folded up the sleeve of his kurta and saw the amulet, and smiled proudly.

'Damoder.' He bawled at a man on the street. The man looked at him and smiled.
'Come here.' The old man waved his hand.
'I'm coming.' He said. Damoder was a teacher in the local school. He came and sat on the cot.
'How're you?' The old man asked, looking at his black hair.
'Fine, tell about yourself.'
'I've heard Choudhry has brought a new wife.'
'Oh! I don't know.' He exclaimed.
'Have you seen his new wife?'
'I'm not aware about it, I've told you.' He said peevishly.
'Oh! I see.' the old man sighed.

Without saying anything Damoder briskly walked towards his home. The old man, little disappointed, lit a bidi and begun to smoke. He raised his head and saw towards the sun. It was comfortable. He threw a puff of smoke towards the sun and remarked, 'It will set within an hour.' Children were returning from the school. It was the only school in the village. Damoder was a senior teacher there and known in the village for his grotesque manners. The old man's grandson had yet not begun to go school. His son, Raghu, was a farmer, like him. In his prime, the old man had bought some land, which was the only source of their income.

Raghu went to the fields in the morning; and came back in the evening, after sunset. The old man got his son married seven years ago, in monsoon, to the daughter of his distant relative. Raghu's wife was a polite woman, in her twenties, spoke less and always engaged herself in cooking, sewing and sweeping with a broom in her hand. In these seven years, there had never occurred a single altercation between the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, which was a matter of discussion for the neighbours. The old lady used to proudly narrate this to her husband. Her daughter-in-law would cover her head with the free end of her sari whenever, she came across the old man.

'Raju.' The old man yelled at his grandson. The sun was almost set.

'Yes, Dada.' The boy came running, now wearing a khaddar shirt and a piece of same type of cloth was wrapped, around his neck. The old man asked him to hold one end of the cot, while he was holding the other end. They dragged the cot inside the house, and placed it in the old man's room. He moved towards kitchen. His daughter-in-law was blowing air through a small pipe into a mud-stove. There was a vessel on the fire. As she blew the mud-stove puffed out a cloud of dark and dense smoke. No sooner she saw him, than she covered her head with the free end of her sari. The old man cleared his throat, and asked about his wife, 'Where is Amma?' everybody, except the old man, called the old lady Amma.

'She is in her room.' She replied in thin voice.

He headed for his wife's room. She was sitting on her bed with a comb in right hand. There was a small mirror on the bed, which was supported by a wooden box to remain fairly vertical Although She had seen his image in the mirror, remained busy in doing her gray hair. The old man moved close to her back and put his hand around her nape. The rough skin of his hand felt the crease on her nape. The old lady not reacted, not even slightly.

'Dada, come!' his grandson shrieked. 'Baba has brought a new ox.' The old man removed his hand from her neck, and without saying any thing staggered out. The old lady saw her image in the mirror and smiled. The image smiled back. The lamp was about to burnout. She put some vermilion in the parting of her hair. She collected her comb, vermilion etc, put them in the wooden box and placing it in a niche she hurriedly moved out. The old man was counting the tooth of the new ox, his son was patting on its back; Raju, his grandson was pulling its tail. The old lady scolded him, 'don't tease him.' Raju ran to kitchen to deliver this news to her mother.

After a few moment of laughter, the male member of family sat on the mat to dine. Boiled rice, paste of boiled potato, chokha, they called it, and chutney, were the items. After they polished off, the old lady and her daughter-in-law started their meal.

The old man went to his wife's room, and lit a bidi. He started moving to and fro in the room. After finishing one, he lit another. The candle was flickering on the niche. He was just to finish third bidi, he heard some movement on the door; an expression of mirth began to dance on his face. The old lady entered in the room. Their gaze met. The old lady sat on her bed; the old man bolted the door. He came closer to her and removed the sari from her head and torso. She didn't resist. He took her hand in his and kissed it. The old lady smiled; he unbuttoned her blouse. Her un-circled and droopy breasts were dangling on her chest. He stopped his hands as somebody was knocking at the door.

'Dada came! Baba is beating maa.' His grandson hollered. The old man frowned and moved to open the door. The lady covered herself.

'What happened?' he asked; and rushed towards his son's room. His daughter-in-law was sobbing. 'You sold my jewelry to buy an ox.'

'It was mine. Who are you to question me?' He slapped her. The old man held his son's hand. In the mean while, the old lady came. She wiped her daughter-in-law's tears from the free end of her sari; and embraced her. She started crying more loudly.

It is being said that it was the first fight in the old man's family.   


More by :  Naiyer Mallick

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