How I learnt of Sribilash and his hypothesis long before I read the Book
Long years back I came to know of Sribilash’s hypothesis of gullible girls falling for weird guys and ignoring normal dependable men; but had not read the Book Chaturanga. I read it just recently. How I learnt of Sribilash and his take on irrational loves is a rather a long story but a sad one; and it belongs to the period of my earlier years in Bombay. It might sound filmy, but it is factual (except that a few names are changed).
Vinu Haldankar was then a very bubbly, busy looking young man given to instant likes and dislikes. One cloudy Saturday afternoon just as the wind was picking up speed he was rushing to the safety of the Church Gate Station. Suddenly from nowhere a beautiful looking girl, working in an office in the Flora Fountain area, in her anxiety to catch the 3-45 train almost breezed past Haldankar, but didn’t quite make it. Both bumped into each other and nearly fell one upon the other. That bump somehow did strange things to Haldankar.
By next afternoon he had located her office and discovered she was indeed a Bengali girl – Manjusha Goswami. That sharply heightened Haldankar’s sense of romance, as those were the days of Satyajit Ray’s Black and White films and his bashful heroines with dark long lashes. He promptly started running round her in circles (chakkar lagane laga); but was not getting anywhere near her. Then, a wise guy offered him a sage like counsel; the shortest route to a Bengali girl’s heart is through her ears especially when filled with Bangla Gana and poetry. That was something Haldankar had not known or even thought about.
A quick and almost frantic search unearthed one Hem Gopal Sen working at a Bank in the Fort area. He appeared to be the right sort of quick help that Haldankar needed, as Hem (it was how he insisted to be called, it meant gold) was given to Bangla Gana, poetry and Dramas too. I was dragged in by Haldankar to recruit Hem’s help. That was done rather easily.
When Haldankar offered to pay tuition fee, Hem paused for a while and slowly said “Dekho Baba, poetry sikhane ke liye paisa lena mere ko teek nahi lagtha” (I am not comfortable with accepting fee for teaching poetry).Well, the next best alternative was quickly worked out. Each evening at the Bascos after downing a couple, Hem would break into Bangla songs of appropriate mood. Haldankar closely followed Hem every word, intonation, tune and the gestures to go with; practicing evening after evening.
One evening I was asked to join the sessions at the Bascos. And, I was quite impressed with what Hem had done with Haldankar. Since, singing was not one my talents, I asked Hem if he could teach me to read Bengali. Hem groaned almost in pain “Dekho Saheb, aap galath time par pooch rahe hain. Ab my aankh bhee nahi khol saktha” (Look here Sir, you are asking me at a wrong time, I can hardly keep my eyes open).
Yet, we both – Haldankar and I – did learn something from Hem. But, both of our learning was awfully incomplete. Haldankar could neither read, nor write nor speak Bengali; but, could only sing. I could neither write nor speak Bengali, and of course, singing was beyond my ken. I however learnt to read Bengali though haltingly. When in difficulty I was helped out by Hem. The greater difficulty was stopping Hem’s prolonged explanations and letting me read on. It took me about a fortnight to wade through Srikanto .But then, I was not good enough to get past Geetanjali or Nazrul Islam. Hem was sorely cut up with his pupil; but, could not afford to spit out his anger and disappointment. [I have , sadly, forgotten most of what Hem taught.]
In the meantime, Haldankar was making enviable progress with Manjusha . Many evenings he would lovingly coo into her ears Bangla Gana with matching gestures as she sat looking over the Chowpatti beach gulping down mistis, vada-pau and ice-cream that Haldankar bought her fondly. She would occasionally punctuate her eating-pleasure with ogling at Haldankar and brimming from ear to ear. This is what they call rapture, Haldankar would say to himself.
As all good things have to end, Haldankar’s romantic days too came to an abrupt halt. She was not seen for about a week. Haldankar’s feverish search at her office and with her friends revealed that Manjusha had just married. It was truest doomsday for Haldankar, the whole of Dalal Street looked so gloomy to him even the worst stock market crash could not have made it darker. That evening the Bascos reverberated with Hem’s soulful sad songs of love and betrayal.
But, the worse was to follow.
The news trickled in saying Manjusha had in fact married her Sitar teacher a Muslim from Mahim area. It appears their affair was long drawn as his slow meends on Sitar strings. Hem shrieked in pain with sad and angry songs with his heartbroken pupil joining in.
One evening Kathuja Begum (that was her name now) presented herself at the most unlikeliest of places, at the Boscos. She was looking pale, frightened and worn out. Her eyes were small, puffy with crying . Haldankar almost jumped out of his skin; and anxiously enquired: was anything wrong? Could he be of help? Etc. But, from what Kathuja sobbingly narrated it looked that she was beyond any help; at least far beyond Haldankar’s short reach.
After the bliss of the customary three wedding nights , when Kathuja stepped into her new home at Mahim she was greeted at the door by two other Bibis of her new found husband. Kathuja was now Bibi No.3 at the Mahim residence. And later, as the two senior Bibis learnt that Kathuja knew next to nothing about cooking beef or preparing Biryanis and such other stuff they promptly assigned to her the only tasks she could perform without much training. They put her to cleaning the cooking vessels, scrubbing floors and sweeping the backyard. When she raised voice that night “what have you done to me, you rascal’, her Lord and master stretched on the bed just yawned and turned to the other side lazily mumbling “As of now, I am allowed to take one more”.
By the way, she lost the name given by her parents as also the one by the Mullah who converted her; but acquired a new name. In the Mahim household she came to be known and shouted at by all, including the half dozen brats , as Teesri, the third one.
But the two senior Bibis (Badi and Choti) did not overlook to send Kathuja, the Teesri, back to her job, to keep strict vigil over all her movements and to take turns in standing sentry at her office gates on all paydays.
That evening, after the sudden entry and doleful exit of sobbing and chastened Kathuja the Teesri, Hem sang no songs but just stared out of the window with a blank face watching two stray dogs fight over the garbage dump.”Bolo, hum kis kis ke liye royen” (Tell me, for how many can we shed tears).
It must be said to the credit of Haldankar that he recovered from the shock, sooner than anyone expected. But the old fire had gone out of his eyes. One afternoon, he along with Hem came into my office (Hem was sober, this time) ; and while Haldankar was mostly sombre and silent, Hem went on philosophizing, in a rambling monologue, over irrational loves and their devious ways leading to pain , sorrow and humiliation ; and how ‘beauty and anguish walk hand in hand downward slope to death’ etc
Always by my side but then you betrayed me,
humiliated me in more ways than one,
Set adrift in a sea of night, my tears fall freely,
my face an open book showing all the pain
then deceive, then lie again, then cheat
again, then deceive again
When will this circle of pain end?
[For more about Sribilash please Check Chaturanga Part Two]
Continued in After-story of Teesri