Uncles Who Lived

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That House That Age – Chapter 11

Of the uncles of Ranadeb who lived longer were four besides the three died or lost earlier including the one who died as a child. Of the four one died quite early though he married and had three children born in his lifetime and his last son was born posthumously. Rano remembers pretty little of him for he died when Rano was hardly seven years old. He was in Government service and considered to be very intelligent and very faithful son to his mother. He was loyal to his Saheb, an European. Rano remembers once this uncle had managed to bring a very big fish, received from some source as gift or bribe. It was there lying dead in the open courtyard to be consumed by the whole family. Children and some adults were moving round the big dead guest. They might have been more wonderstruck than greedy.

By the way, his wife, Rano’s second eldest aunt, who lived for quite long years, was the third wife in the house. He suddenly remembers that once he visited her son’s house when he came for some work from outstation for he lived then out of Kolkata. He saw her in a ground floor room looked after by a maid-help. In a small space before the gate she would sit, he was told, when the helping maid would come. She was sitting then on her bed. It was long years that she had not seen Rano. When the two met suddenly she

recognized him as if she had seen someone very close yet very far, unexpectedly, when she was in a vulnerable position. All her emotions welled up. It was as if she was in a very forlorn place, seldom visited by anyone close to her. Perhaps she was lying but seeing the visitors entering her room she sat up and was expressing her feeling for quite long time without a word and of course, without any effort to control. That expression is still etched in Rano’s heart. He could not make out whether she was laughing or crying. There was no sound though the mouth was open, and teeth were shown. It surely was the bursting forth of some pent up feeling of desolation on suddenly meeting a once-very-close friend or well-wisher. Even when she controlled herself after a good gap Rano was not sure what it was; but hearing her he distinctly understood that she was passing her days in untold mental agony and misery. That was the last. Rano never met her again while she was living. She didn’t live long after that.

There was not much difference of age between the two; Rano’s father and his next brother, who was his eldest uncle, Bodo Kaka. Both had the same business of selling office stationeries like brass made paper weights, manual calling bells, pin cushions and the like. Both, Rano remembers, were seen sharpening their permanent razor, big enough like a knife usually handled by the barber for shaving, on a broken piece of slate. But Rano’s father was bulky whereas Bodo Kaka was lean and thin. He used to become very greedy after suffering from dietary control and culinary restrictions due to ulcer in his stomach and colic pain sometimes. When strictly under restriction, his aunt would not give him oily and rich foods, he would suddenly leave for his sister’s house at a long distance and going there would order for luchi or puffed fried bread and other savories. Without knowledge about the

recent restrictions she would satisfy his hunger and thirst with satisfaction. The result would be very bad and his elder cousin who was a Doctor and their family physician, who usually treated him would be very annoyed. All sorts of undesirable squabbles and bitterness would follow to complicate his colic pain further and he would be prescribed fasting. He never checked his greed and died of the stomach disease. When fit he used to visit the market daily to fetch vegetables and meat or fishes for the whole family. Sometimes he was seen sitting beside a fish vendor and singing to please him. Some others too halted for some time to hear him. This was his process of bargaining for good and fresh fish at lower price.

Of the other two uncles one became an employee of the Provincial Government’s Revenue Department at the beginning and continued till his retirement. He lived by bombastic talks and fantastic show of pride insulting those who sought his help as the real son of a Zaminder. Though not behaving the same way, all his brothers shared the same feelings. He was mocked at his old age by the juniors who were once ridiculed by him. By the same pride they behaved with some as their honourable father Sumatha Nath had once done. Rano remembers that his father was beating a poor milk supplier by the knuckles of his heavy hand and he was reeling with pain, crying for his fault of having mixed water with milk and his uncles, standing on the upper floor verandah were enjoying and encouraging their elder brother. Leaving the exceptions, mixing water with milk by milkman and mixing alloy in golden ornaments by the goldsmith are axiomatic truths; who could deny, who could change them? Every professional, businessman in particular, who cares for money does it, differing in degrees, at the cost of honesty.

The last brother of Rano’s father who too was born posthumously, was studious. He passed B.Com and successfully completed the Civil Service Examination of the province and became a Gazetted Officer. He was duly promoted to higher grades. After retirement he studied further and passed the examination for Company Secretary. He was honest officer and had an inclination to help the needy relatives for he believed in the dictum that charity begins at home. He helped some nephews and others in their studies or in securing services or other opportunities. But he could not go more with his limited income when his family grew up in the course of time. Being an honest man, he could never accumulate unearned moneys.

But he was quite prejudiced and superstitious. It was good and bad that he was very obstinate. When tenacious in certain higher aims and objects in life it was good, but he was often irrational. His irrational beating of his own child crying and not stopping at his, a semi-police officer’s command, in a closed room became unbearable to all who heard the punishment to the innocent from outside the room. But then in his youth he was all powerful. His elder brothers did not bother about what the juniors, the novices could say! It was an experience to be forgotten but memory is often obstinate. Similar was his punishment to a cat or dog he commanded to fight with its rival. Animals are to be treated with proper humane understanding. Rano remembers that once the uncle killed a snake shooting at point blank range by revolver in his rented room at Srirampur. Such incidents apart, he wished and helped for the welfare of all in the house and was loved by all, revered by the juniors.

Sometimes one or both of his last two uncles were Rano’s companions in flying kites and keeping colored fishes. But none was his companion in spinning a top or playing marbles. For playing marbles Rano used to visit a very big building full of printing presses owned by various people including his friends’ father. Not only he played marbles there but played other games like hide and seek. He played football with his school companions and sometimes crickets on the roads with his companions in or near his locality. Though not a very good player, he played volleyball with many winning teams even in the State Federation ground during the time he was engaged in service.

None noticed or took interest in what the younger members of the house played or what they did beyond studies. His uncles, older and married or young and planning marriage were unmindful of the children moving around. Ladies of the house usually looked after them. His father lay in bed most of the time but rarely sleeping. He heard everything but replied none.

Rano still remembers how one of his younger cousins used to enquire about the possibility of getting cooked rice served to him. He appealed monotonously to his mother for it from the upper floor verandah since evening till is was served. Sitting there hanging his legs through the balustrade he would sort of whimper till his meal was ready to serve..He would beg consoling words from his mother, “Ma is the rice pot ready?” Only his mother paid attention to his cries or appeals and sometimes replied. None else noticed. His father, Rano’s uncle, was indifferent to such things.

Rano remembers the marriage of his last two uncles. After prolonged negotiations, both were married one after the other. The rooms assigned to them were distempered and on the reception date the throne of the bride was decorated with colored bulbs placed between leaves of crotons. It was an occasion when all the sisters, brothers, cousins, nephews and nieces would come from distant places like Muzaffarpur, Patna and others places far and near; from nearby towns besides the city dwelling relatives; all would gather in the roofs under awnings and would sing and talk up to late night while some were cutting vegetables or helping and supervising the works of servants and cooks for making the grand feast. A marriage in the house would be a big festival extending to several days. Children were the happiest lots besides those who were going to be married.

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More by :  Aju Mukhopadhyay

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