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That House That Age – Chapter 3
They just settled, the three of them together, for the first time in their life like this. Sitting on the floor their attention was caught by a big-bodied Babu. Dhoti and kurta clad, big mustached, big body of babu Sumatha Nath Roy Chowdhury was moving towards them in a leisurely gait from a remote corner of the open hall surrounded by verandah. As he came closer Upendranath recognized him as his college friend; in an institution they sat together for some time during some of their carefree jovial days of life. He could not remember the exact place and time of their camaraderie immediately as the new comer slowly approached them without a word. Though veteran Upendra wasn’t that astonished, his wife and son were astounded beyond measure.
“But don’t disclose my presence here,” Sumatha said. “Oh, who knows you here? If they knew that a rich man’s
son from Kolkata has come to hear us and lunch with us, they
would gather round you, even leaving me! But the most wonderful part of it is, how could you hide your body and where? When did you come? How did you know my home and hearth?”
“But that’s impossible. Who would go to a rich man leaving such a speaker? And most people are revolutionaries here! Do the patriots care for riches?”
“Yes, they do when question of resources arise. Who else would help us with needed money?” Upendranath quipped.
“I’ll give you donations as sometimes my father used to give to your group, even when you were younger.” Sumatha assured.
“Yes, your father has the heart to earn for himself and give to others. How is he now?”
“Oh, he’s no more. He left us forever while you too left but remained beyond the Kalapani. Really, wonderful tales to hear! as if the world of horrific fairy tales from demonic wonderlands were revealed as you were telling. I was agape with rapt attention. A kind of feeling was overwhelming me. What a heaven and earth difference between your world and ours! Kind of repentance was gnawing at my heart. But you know the kind of world I was born in. We are struggling with Sahibs to earn doing business in our own country while they are trying to loot us and interfere in all our affairs, trying to sort of blackmailing us for their benefits, as if we don’t understand how in the name of business they have entered our lives to slave us. As for me, I don’t care them to the extent possible while trying to worship the Goddess or wealth, as it’s our ken.”
“I understand, but please answer our curiosity, how could you hide in our house without our knowledge?”
“To tell you frankly, I have come here two, three times so far guided by Chandramukhi, I have seen the famous Mother deity, Jagaddhatri, and enjoyed the strand on the Ganga. I have heard the orchestra in the evening. But I never knew of your house here. This morning I was woken up by her to tell
me the wonderful news of a revolutionary’s coming back live in his home from Andamans, the place he was exiled, telling me more of you. I was intrigued hearing your name for I heard of your going to jail. The anecdotes of your lives in Alipur are often talked about in some circles not far away from us though we usually avoid any association with such jail going Swadeshis, you know why. She knows some people here and specially arranged my entering through the back door and taking a seat behind the pillar of the hall, in the verandah. I have eagerly heard your excellent talks and stories.”
“Chandramukhi!” Upendra looked askance at his wife. She announced her ignorance about the girl by gesture. Sumatha showed his respect to his wife by doing namaskar with folded hands, addressing her Boudi, as his friend’s wife. He felt happy in this circle unusual though for him, but felt shy of telling anything about Chandramukhi.
Upendra, finding no clue asked, “One of your relatives who lives here for long? Or, could she be, in a remote fancy, Debdas’s lover!”
“No, not exactly, she’s a dancer who performs sometimes at my house too. I’ll tell you later,” Sumatha made a short cut reply and Upendra, guessing something from his knowledge about such people said, “Good that you have come, even unasked for and on such a day when I have come back after more than a decade! Now please come down for a lunch they have arranged specially for their guests. As you are, I am very glad to be with you on this auspicious day of my homecoming from jail.”
All the three were almost rising up on their feet, postponing their meeting for the next time. But Sumatha came closer to Upendranath and whispered the urgency of his going back then and there to keep some prefixed urgent appointment.
Someone called them loudly, telling that it was already very late for the community lunch and that the children were very hungry. At this Upendranath felt kind of agitation to get ready for the lunch and said,
“So, Sumatha please accept my invitation for another day suitable to you. Please come with your wife for I was really glad with the prospect of taking lunch with such a guest like you. Just send the news of your coming through any messenger to our temporary office as you must know, at Harrison road.”
“Yes, that’s quite possible. I’ll do. One of these days I tried to contact someone in your adda for some information but found none there.”
“That’s usual. Our adda cannot be at a fixed place for long!” Upendra said, as if to mean that he could not break the vow of secrecy and continued, “Just tell the house ladies you know, that on such and such day you would come here. I’ll arrange.”
While coming back Sumatha drew Upendra closer and gave him a cover full of treasury notes. “I’ll give more next time for your difficult and important work,” he promised.
There were none other than the four of them. Curious, Upendra asked, “But how do you propose to go? Come down with us.”
“Oh, never mind, don't bother, that’s been arranged.”
To their astonishment they saw that a boy came hurriedly through the same verandah and took the hands of Sumatha who bade good bye and vanished through his secret path. Upendra looked very curious, as if, ‘Isn’t it too a spying!’
But his experiences nullified doubts.
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