I love you as certain dark things are to be loved, in secret, between the shadow and the soul - Pablo Neruda
The sky was overcast since morning. It must have rained sometimes late in the night thought Brishti. She had slept like a log; it was a lazy Sunday morning but she was not in the habit of sleeping late, even on Sundays she always woke up at her usual time. In fact, she loved waking up before anyone else did as this gave her the opportunity to enjoy some languid moments in quiet solitude. After six days of frenzied, exhausting, cacophonous activities each week, she loved the calmness, the stillness of the Sunday mornings, especially because these were the only moments which were her own, which belonged to no one but her. She stood by the window with her steaming cup of tea.
Rahul was still sleeping and Keya, their daughter, was away on a college trip. The Gulmohar trees, outside her window, had begun to flower and though the trees were yet to fully bloom, the few flowers already there, added their signature flamboyance to the surroundings and were a sight to feast. Here, in Bengal, they called it Krishnachura; she loved both the names, there was a beautiful romantic ring to the names.
There were a couple of Kadamba trees too very near her window, which were also in full bloom giving off their heady fragrance at nights. At times, the fragrance would get quite intoxicating—no sensuous should be the word for it, for the fragrance had the power to arouse the sleeping carnal desires. Legend has it that the Kadamba was the favourite tree of Lord Krishna; it was under the Kadamba tree that he had spent some of the most passionate moments of his life with Radha. And if God can be afflicted, then what powers could she, a mere mortal expected to possess against the elements. Those nights before that fateful rainy afternoon, she was certain that the fragrance of the Kadamba flowers had ceaselessly intoxicated her mind and had numbed her senses.
Even though it was morning, it was quite dark, the darkness seemed like dusk. The somber clouds seemed to have grasped the mighty sun, the way he had grasped her on that rainy afternoon. The memory made her pensive, sad. It had begun to rain now; Brishti loved rains; a love she had nurtured since childhood. Afteral she was named after rains; she wasn’t sure if the name had been given to her by some design of destiny because she would grow up loving the rains or because she was named so. But ever since that afternoon, every time the rains came, especially at this time of the year, they filled her with sadness, with a longing or perhaps there was guilt too? The sadness was for Rahul, for herself or for Palash, she couldn’t figure; she wasn’t sure if the longing was for Palash or for Rahul; but she did know the guilt was for deviating from her loyalties. Since that afternoon, the rains made her extremely melancholic, sometimes the melancholy would get so compelling, it would make her weep in solitude. The memories of that afternoon returned to haunt her again; sometimes she had this feeling that Rahul knew, did he? It could be a figment of her imagination, perhaps a guilty mind had a way of cooking up things.
Rahul had never approved of her working; after the honeymoon phase was over, which in their case was over in a couple of years when Keya was born, Rahul had started objecting to her working but she hadn’t wanted to give in to this unfair demand of his, but, after few years of bitter arguments, in order to avoid any conflicts especially because that distressed Keya, she had given up her job as an interior designer to be a full-time homemaker; she consoled herself by looking at the positive side of things; that she was able to devote more time to their little daughter and see to her all round growth; able to pursue her hobbies of painting, photography and music. She was a brilliant violinist and pianist.
After that afternoon though, everything had taken a backseat; she had become listless. She did everything that was required of her but like an automated machine, needless to say, her relationship with Rahul became distant and mechanised. Although they shared the bedroom, they slept on the two edges of their double bed, as if there existed a huge chasm in the space between them. Not that Rahul was a bad husband, he may not have allowed her to work but he didn’t keep her lacking in anything including his time and company.
However, the years of stereotyped monotony had exhausted her. The weekends were as monotonous as the weekdays. To Brishti, everything seemed monotonous – the weekday activities were as routine to her as were the weekend entertainments and socialisation— the same people, the same parties. The weekend outings were no different, it was always the movies and dinner; even lovemaking seemed monotonous and arduous, mechanised at times. She felt like a living dead but all that changed when Palash, Rahul’s childhood friend and soul-mate, had come to stay with them for a few days after years.
Yes, friends can be soul-mates too and that’s what Rahul and Palash were during their growing up years. The last she had seen Palash was at their wedding but it was a brief meeting and in the frenzy and chaos so typical of Indian weddings, they couldn’t interact. After decades, Palash was in their city, Kolkata, for three months on an assignment and obviously, with Rahul having this sprawling apartment with a terrace, there was absolutely no question of Palash staying in any hotel.
Everything about Palash was different; he wasn’t handsome in the sense most people define it but he was ruggedly attractive with a head full of salt and pepper hair, which he never bothered to dye, he said it added to his charm and it did. He had all the Urdu Shayaris and Rubais of the famous poets at his fingertips. He would regale Brishti with the most beautiful lines, he even sang for her; the way he would recite and sing, felt to Brishti as if the lines had been specifically written for her.
Unlike Rahul, who was disciplined, organised and meticulous about everything, Palash was reckless and free-spirited. Around him, she felt alive, unchained; he had no fixed routine and would do everything on impulse against Rahul’s pragmatism, Palash’s bohemianism thrilled and mesmerised her. Years of routine life had led to an intense boredom and perhaps he had sensed this insipidity. Unknowingly, she had started comparing the two friends and maybe, the promise of adventure, was what had attracted her to Palash.
On her part, Brishti had started taking extra care dressing up, not that she wasn’t generally well turned out but with Palash around she just took that little extra care to try newer looks every day. She had taken to her piano and violin with renewed interest; quite often both would be at the piano singing or she on her violin, regaling him with her music and in return, he would come up with beautiful lines in praise of her. Though they had an excellent cook, while Palash was with them, she had taken to creating culinary delights that drew magnanimous appreciations from both Palash and Rahul. The change in her demeanour had amused and pleased Rahul. Initially, Rahul was apprehensive of how Brishti would react to having a guest imposing on her time 24x7 for three full months, therefore, he was pleased to find Brishti on as friendly terms as he was with Palash. His faith in both his friend and wife was unshakeable—unbreakable.
That rainy afternoon, Brishti ran up to the terrace to soak in the rain unafraid of the thunders and lightening; and that’s when Palash came from behind and grasped her. She should have pushed him away but she couldn’t or perhaps she didn’t want to. The rains, the heady scent of the Kadamba flowers from the night before still lingering in the air did something to her mind. The turbulent elements of nature instilled in her an inexplicable sense of adventure, of recklessness and she didn’t care or didn’t want to care about moralities, about the rights and wrongs. That rainy afternoon, they made love; crazy, mad love amidst the deafening sounds of the elements – the thunder, the lightening and the sounds of the conches going off in the neighborhood to ward off the ominousness of the destructive Kalboishakhi; or did the conch sound that afternoon to ward off the amoral spirits which had possessed her?
The next day, Palash had left and surprisingly Rahul had not insisted upon him to stay on. He didn’t even inquire why Palash was leaving before his scheduled date and this had made Brishti very wary, did Rahul know or feel anything?
Rahul, although awake, felt too lazy to get out of bed. From the position he was in, he could see through the window facing his bed that it was raining heavily. Like Brishti, he too loved rains but since that afternoon, the rains always made him sad. When Palash had come to stay with them, Rahul had given his set of house keys to him. That afternoon, he had returned home from work early because of the rains. The night before, they were out for dinner and Palash had forgotten the keys in the car. Rahul let himself in with the keys; he wanted to surprise them. Looking for them, he had gone up to the terrace and…he doesn’t remember the initial moments anymore. The shock must have erased them from his memory—all he remembered was that he was filled with a rage as turbulent and ominous as the storm raging outside and was about to barge in on them, when he saw through the huge bay window of their staircase, Keya’s school bus turning the corner. He hadn’t wanted any unpleasant situation in front of Keya so against his will, he had tiptoed back and had rung the door-bell.
Next day, Palash had left and Rahul didn't insist for him to stay. He wasn’t sure if Palash had noticed him watching them or perhaps it was his guilt of betraying his soul friend; whatever was the reason, he had left the next day and Rahul had made no attempt at any kind of courtesy. Because Brishti had said nothing, hadn’t asked any questions, not even for pretension's sake, he was sure she had understood he knew. Her subsequent silence and listlessness left no room for any doubts in this regard. Actually, recalled Rahul, she looked relieved at Palash’s departure. The time lapse between that afternoon and an appropriate moment to bring up the issue had dissipated his anger and replaced it with disgust and detestation but for Keya’s sake, he had kept quiet. Not that he never thought of broaching the topic but then, by nature, he was the kind of person who preferred to avoid conflicts and when he saw, other than this nagging issue, everything around him was in a perfect harmony as before, he had decided to let the sleeping dog lie. In all honesty, he had to admit to himself, as a wife, Brishti might have failed in her loyalty but as a homemaker and mother, she was still flawless. Since that afternoon, he had distanced himself from Brishti subtly.
It has been about three years and all these years, he had been reflecting on that one incident. Quite often he had felt he was being too harsh in his judgment of her. She was not promiscuous by nature except for that one instance, she had never given him an opportunity to doubt her integrity. He knew she loved him deeply and his aloofness disturbed her, he could feel her sense of remorse. A few nights back, he was watching that movie with a storyline similar to theirs and it had made him reflective since then.
“In realistic existence, everything cannot be idealistic. And who decides what is moral or immoral. We are all humans and prone to weaknesses.” Lately, quite often he would ask himself, “should one act, one wrong-doing, decide a person’s integrity? Seal the fate of years of relationship?” Perhaps he too had failed her in some way; just because she had stumbled once during the twenty-two years of their journey together, should he hold her up for judgment and retribution? Perhaps he was responsible too. He knew it was up to him to let bygones be bygones or go on with this mental chastisement of her. Palash had never contacted him and neither did he and he also knew Palash was not in touch with Brishti either because he knew the likes of him. Palash will never be in their lives anymore; he was gone forever.
He got up resolutely and went looking for her. She was up on the terrace soaking in the rains. He went up to her silently from behind and grasped her, he could feel her going stiff but he held her and she didn’t try to resist. He held her in silence, very tightly to himself, so tightly that their two bodies seemed welded into one, both soaking in the rains and then he felt the stiffness leaving her. He couldn’t tell for how long he held her like that but he felt her warming up to him. He recollected a line from Neruda, which seemed so right at this moment and whispered to her, “Tie your heart to mine, and the two together in their sleep will defeat the darkness.”
And together they wept and tasted the rain mixed saltiness of the each other’s tears. Kalboishakhi, for all its ominousness, is also known for washing away the grime of the past.