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That House That Age – Chapter 6
Suddenly “Sushila soreja,” the well-known bass voice asking Sushila to move away, alerted specially the women folk in the house who work there at that time. It was a young afternoon, the usual busy hour of the day when they prepare food for lunch for a large number of family members. Rano heard it distinctly as he was on the roof passing from one room belonging to one of his uncles to the other. It was from the adjacent house connected to theirs in every floor by doors and windows which could be opened to allow entry and exit between the two houses which was one at one time. It was the house of their blood cousins. It belonged to Dwijendra Nath, the elder brother of Sumatha Nath. He too had his expanded family consisting of children and their children, daughters-in- law and some grandsons and their wives living there, which was visited by guests; nephews and nieces, friends and those who were given shelter to live and study, as it happened in their house too.
Some young girls and daughters-in-law looked up with smiling faces as the two legs were extended through the balustrade of the verandah in the second floor. Sushila immediately jumped to a side as the girls too moved. The warning was given to the maid servant but intended for all who moved or remained in the open courtyard. Other than children and working women including maid servants and male cooks none remained there at that time. While some looked up in shame, some out of unending curiosity as it happened any time of the day and night and some, particularly the elderly ones and servants, looked with kind of disgust. Most of them including Sushila had no interest other than feeling temporarily disturbed in their movements causing a break in their workflow. It stopped moving across the courtyard to this and that room or places like kitchen, bath and toilets.
Soon the sound of urine cascading to the ground was heard by all including Rano in their house for quite some time. Even when it ended none ventured to come out as the urine falling from the second floor to the ground had its flow intermittent; reduced and slowed but not ended. A deliberate look upwards to the source could assure if the scrotum was withdrawn. Then only an all-clearance signal could be given. However, for Sushila it was no problem. She mentally counted the time accurately. Fact is, Dwijendra Nath suffered from hydrocele and could not pass urine normally in the Indian toilet without a commode but an usual commode would not be suitable for him. He being the head of the family could easily make suitable alternative arrangements for passing urine but this was the way he decided to urinate which required no hardship for him. But all others had trouble. They had to accept. Plea for disease and whim of the Karta of the house placed all others in difficult position. Urine spattered throughout the place. Immediately as it ended Sushila, without a word, took a bucket and broom and washed the whole area. Then all others could come out to resume the work-in-hand.
It was during Rano’s childhood that it happened. After attending youth, long after his granduncle died of some disease leading to gangrene, whenever he thought of this
episode he felt kind of disgust and remorse, kind of unhealthy odor infected him, as if there still was a tactile invasion from the splattered urine on his body. He could not easily reconcile how such a thing could exist side by side with other pleasant happenings in healthy life of a gentle household. It is like placing side by side pure classical dance and khemta dance. It is like a mix of clumsy and filthy lifestyle of the slum with the ideal and dedicated lifestyle of the pious devotees. Both existed prominently in the city of his childhood. Why only at that time, it continued even then in other ways like someone half-clad taking bath in the open roadside tap on a footpath while ladies and other important passersby moved very carefully by its side as if under compulsion, thought Ranadeb. This was the area where uncouth people from the neighboring state settled forming a cluster of their community people living side by side with others who had settled there long back. Together they formed a cluster. People spitted on the roads and urinated at the walls in the lanes and streets. Haircutting was done on a roadside stool and they played cards sitting on the sidewalks. This core part of the big Calcutta city gradually became its older and half-forgotten part though considered the second most important part of the city fetching one of the highest house-tax to the local body.
He remembered that he had heard from his father that his great grandfather who was the real architect of this family, the founder of big business houses and industries, considered his first son to have lesser intelligence and active energy than his youngest son. He bequeathed large numbers of landed properties to his elder son but to his younger son he gave all his business houses and industries with lesser numbers of landed properties by a proper Will.
His granduncle was avaricious by nature with lesser ambition and lesser courage. He married his second son to a girl, looking rather ugly, at least compared to his elder son’s wife only because the father of the bride offered huge dowry. Wealth he enjoyed but lost all respect from his second son.
The most unfortunate part of this story was that the wife had been abandoned from the beginning. She was given to sleep on the floor while the husband slept in the bed on a decorated couch gifted to the couple by the family of the bride at the time of their marriage. He too had his family of two daughters through the same neglected wife but after couple of years he spent most of the nights in brothels. Rano remembered that he had seldom seen him in his life. Once in the early morning he found him returning from his other home, smelling wine all over his body. He smiled as Rano looked at him closely but spoke nothing. Everyone in the family knew of his affairs. He remained unsocial in the big family. Enjoying lavishly his father-in-law’s wealth given to him from time to time with hope to turn him towards a sane life, towards his wife with affection and sympathy but he never rectified himself. The disgust and ennui lingered with him. The rich daughter of a wealthy gentleman suffered; indirectly and directly tortured throughout her life from her teens as she was married to her debauched husband. She had nothing to do other than suffer; it was the prevalent system of marriage, it was under compulsion, especially applicable to the girls. She was married without her consent or choice. As a neglected wife she was neglected by the whole household. The root for such discordant marriages was the decision made by their guardians without any agreement between the actual parties. Even very logically the husband was not entirely responsible for he did not decide to marry. When married, he
wasn’t aged enough to decide about it. He had a carefree life as he had just been admitted to a college. But his study was arrested with his marriage. All his high-flown nuptial dreams were smashed. He became frustrated and his teenager wife did not know how to divert a man’s attraction towards her, an innocent virgin as she was. The man-woman relationship was thrown out of gear, thrown haywire.
When Rano grew up he had friendship with their elder daughter, Latika, who was elder to him by ten years. He called her Latika-di; one of his many elder cousins. After her marriage she lived in a locality nearby. He often met her as she too was somehow lonely. Her marriage was arranged by her uncle as her father was not interested nor took care of his children. As a consequence of his neglecting his wife he felt apathy towards family and home which he visited on alternate days and gradually his visits were few and far between. Latika was married to a quite elderly widower.
The stories got lengthened; how Latika was not satisfied in life how her younger sister was not properly educated or looked after, why there was no talk of her marriage. One day Latika confided to Rano that his father was deprived of his ancestral properties. Their uncle and his children never asked him not to over drink, rather they encouraged him to spend the nights out and drink; get drowned in drinking bout.
“I have seen Biruda bringing bottles of whisky and keeping them in the cupboard of my father’s room.” Latika said and continued that her father had perhaps understood their ultimate motive but never bothered to question or ask who brought the whisky bottles. He simply took them and carried to the quarters he lived to enjoy it in their company. Eventually, Latika whispered to Rano, that on a day when
their mother too was not home, they gave fried fish, meat and other foods aplenty with whisky to her father and encouraged him to drink. What they told him was not known but they got some papers signed by her drunk father, thus depriving him of all ancestral properties. Consequently, Latika and her sister too were deprived of all rights in their ancestral properties. She would manage her life, whatever it was, but her sister now stood helpless, at the mercy of her cousins, especially after the death of both her father and his elder brother, her uncle. Her mother had already left the house, living with her brothers, her parents having died, Latika confided with Rano with tears in her eyes. Rano heard them with sympathy, but he hardly had anything to do in it. They weren’t in close or good contact with their blood cousins then.
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