Arupa Patangia Kalita
Translated by Dr. Mukuta Borah and Rajarshi Kalita
(Arupa Patangia Kalita is an eminent novelist and a short-story writer. She received several awards including the Sahitya Akademi Award (2014) Sailesh Chandra Dasgupta Sahitya Setu Award (1993), Bharatiya Bhasa Parishad Literary Award ( 1995) Katha Award ( 1998), and Eka Ebong Koyekjon Sahitya Sansktri Samman (2009). Her collections of short stories include Moruyatra Aru Anyanya Morubhumit Menoka Aru Anyanya , Deopaharor Bhagna Stoopat, Pas Sotalor Kathakata, Millenniumar Sapon, Alekjan Banur Jan, Kurosowar Sapon, Mor Sapon, Sihotor Sapon, Sonali Eagle Koni Parile, Belie Umoni Dile. She has also authored four novels – Mriganabhi, Ayananta, Felani and Tokora Bahar Sonar Beji . Arunimar Swadesh forms part of a three novellas. )
Arunima felt drowsy. She was not exactly sleepy, rather something akin fatigue shrouded over her. The world outside is gradually turning perceptible in the light of the rising crimson sun. A gentle breeze is blowing, softly. Abinash has lowered the car window. Arunima could constantly sense a heady scent emanating from her body. The ladies who decorated her as a bride had sprinkled perfume with a liberal hand and the fragrance has wedged on to her now crumpled, heavily ornate dress. The garland of jasmine and rajanigandha tied to her bun seems to have freshened up again in the morning breeze and their fragrance continually wafted onto her mouth. The smells of Turmeric-sandal, new jewellery, oil applied on her hair before putting vermillion on the day of jurun, mango-wood and ghee that burned as she sat by all night together stuck to her body. But overcoming all these fragrances, a different scent swam up to her nostrils repeatedly.
Milder than the smell of rajanigandha and jasmine, yet sharper than the smell of chandan, oil-beson-haldi, vermillion, mango-wood and ghee is this smell. She sinks and swims in the smell like a kanduli fish that swims in a zigzag manner spreading its white back in the pond reflecting the scarlet sun. She dips into the pond, then rises up, then yet again swims this way and that way. Lots of rings and bangles get drawn on the pond as she sinks and rises in the smell. Her brain gets somnolent but the heart stays animated. Her man, sitting almost touching her body, carries a soft scent of basil leaves and withering marigold flowers. The breeze shakes the chadar of the striking young man wearing a silk Punjabi and dhoti; a basil leaf and a couple of withered marigold petals slip down from the garland of his head. The smell soaks her like the rain of bohag, she gets drenched in the rain several times. Though she keeps her head down, she feels that the man is looking at her. From the moment she left her own home sobbing and shedding tears, throwing back three handfuls of rice towards her home and got into the car late in the night, she could sense the large black eyes of the man constantly fall on her like a black bee that falls on the ridge-gourd flowers that bloom at dusk. She could sense it. The aunt who came with her is sleeping comfortably in the front seat. The driver is driving attentively. The man comes a little closer. A mixer of basil and marigold, mingled with a male body odour of a robust man drizzles upon her. Trying to adjust the veil on her head, her bangles jingle, and without looking at him she sensed his smile. She slowly raises her head. The smiling eyes of the man told her that he is also drenched completely in the smell of vermilion, sandal, turmeric and new clothes just like the black bee turns yellow after repeatedly humming over yellow-ridge flowers.
The couple is drenched...from head to toe. A few grains of rice fall from the thick hair of the man on the lap of the woman. She picks up the rice from the lap with her mehandi-decorated hand. She smiles for a moment. Last night all her nephews and nieces collected several handfuls of rice from the duni near the morol, ready to throw at the groom. Even his friend’s umbrella was unable to protect the groom from their onslaught. Looking at the rice, the man laughs loudly, “See, the rice thrown in front of your gate is still there in my hair”. The man comes closer, leaning his head. Mesmerized by the male smell mixed with the aroma of basil leaves and marigold flowers, she turns into a fair kanduli fish; she started to swim in curves, she plunged and rose, she turned into a mermaid amidst the resplendence of rings, bangles and seven-stringed necklaces in the water. She goes into a trance once again. All that she could sense was the humming of the black bee that has turned yellow by jumping from one ridge-gourd flower to another in the evening, a smell that stirred up the heart. Withered basil and marigold, ghee and mango-wood stuck to the pat-silk punjabi, a few Aroi rice stuck in a wedge of thick hair, a bit of turmeric-besan glued to the man’s gold chain lying on a hairy chest seen through the couple of open Punjabi buttons…. and nothing else.
“Munu”, Arunima wakes up with a start. Her veil has slipped down, her ornate dress is disarranged, and a piece from the flower garland on her bun lay on the seat of the car. The man, who was fiddling with the garland piece, looks at her and smiled. “Did you fall asleep? We have almost reached. See, this is the high school I attended, it was just last year they celebrated its centenary.” She looks outside. The small town was waking up in all directions. One or two persons were coming out to the empty roads. On the verandas of hotels with half-opened shutters, some were having tea being brewed on the coal stoves. There was a slight nip in the air in the clear October morning. She wrapped her anchal around herself. The bus that went with the groom passed by them, some of the cars had already arrived. Many faces smiled at her from the bus. Happy hands waving from the bus-windows, loud shouts- “bou, mami, khuri…” She laughs out aloud. She felt as if the bus has strewn a lot of holi-colours, as if the colours have stuck to her face and mouth, got sprinkled all over her clothes. The man also laughs, loudly.
“Munu! Do you want some tea?” She did not answer. The man again calls her, “Munu”. It’s such a simple, meaningless name. She is quite used to hearing it from her parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles back home. But in the lips of her man, the name sounds so meaningful, so special! So many loops seemed to be there in this two-lettered word! The woman in her gets lost in those curves, where would she go, where would she come out, she becomes like a person haunted by a porua.
“Munu!” Her whole body shivered, slightly jolted. “We need to travel some more to reach home and I really want to have a cup of tea. Munu, are you not completely awake?” The smell of basil and marigold comes extremely close. “Yeah, I can.” She removes her veil. Her whole body has become warm, just like somebody who has moved round and round under the control of the porua.
“A few yards on there is a tea stall. They prepare very tasty samosas and the tea is also good there. But they do not have any sitting provisions, we take the tea standing. For you, however, I will bring you tea inside the car.”
“Where is the tea?” The aunt, yawning and stretching herself in the front seat asked in a drowsy voice.
“Here it is.” he directs the man to stop the car. Her aunt gets down from the car and immediately looked over the bride, “Are you all right? Get down for a moment, the hands and legs are tingling all over”. Her aunt goes behind the shop.
“Munu, will you get down?’’ She came out. The morning is no more half awake then--it is bright enough. The soft sheet of mist has turned into pearls all over the grass and plants. The man is talking to the shopkeeper for tea. She goes ahead to that point. The shopkeeper became engaged immediately. The big clay stove is splendidly in flames already; Milk is boiling in one of the gas stoves. She has a sip of the tea prepared with cardamoms and bay leaves from a clay tea mug, and exclaimed “Splendid tea”. The shopkeeper gives her some pieces of hot jalebis in a bowl made of sal tree leaves. Though she did not want to have it, she still took two. “Isn’t it good, Munu?” In reply she nodded her head. She feels like saying “Eesh, as if you have yourself made it!” She chose not to, smiled silently and sat in the car. Her aunt shaped her rumpled vermillion bindi with the handkerchief and also managed the unruly hair of the bun.
The world outside is completely awake now. “We will reach home shortly, just a little way after this curve.” Now he looks at her aunt “After she steps on the groom’s house, won’t she stay at your place tonight?”
“We will keep her tonight and early tomorrow morning will take her there. Now this morning, we will finish the formalities of introducing the bride to the relatives.” Her aunt fixes the veil by putting a clip in it. “Munu, here everybody knows his house as the house of flowers. Their garden is always full with flowers. Who does all the gardening?” The man laughs “Do you know, Munu, ours is a very simple Assam-type house built by my father. We have just renovated it by colouring it and adding a few tit bits.”
“Aunty had actually asked you about the flowers”, her ears are cocked up to listen to the story of the house of flowers. “Oh, flowers! It’s our father’s old obsession. If he hears about a new plant, he will still ride his bicycle to get it, even when he is down in his health.” the man laughs vociferously. While talking he raises his face upwards and laughs with his eyes closed. What a way to laugh, she presses her mouth with her handkerchief. “Both my sisters have inherited this lunacy from my father. Both are nuts about plants. Early winter, every year, even by taking leave from work, they make me collect twigs of dahlias, black marigold, golden yellow marigold; I have to gather them all somehow. They would rather have a dress less”. Remembering something, the man again laughed the same laugh. She was both moved and in smiles listening to the story when a glib vendor had sold them a jungle creeper and which they had bought by paying one hundred fifty rupees saved as coins in a clay pumpkin. This time the man tries to arrange his dress, his dhoti and Punjabi, “You know aunty, to welcome their sister-in-law, they have planted some stuff in advance, some of them have already bloomed, I guess!”
The car stopped. Aunty holds her by the hand and takes her upon the saalpira. Amidst lots of marriage songs, laughter, teasing, kisses from her mother-in-law, the earthen lamp on the dunari, throwing of rice-powder laddus to the four corners, Arunima is taken inside a house through a narrow, trimmed grass lane divided by dwarf-sized brindaban plants. Without looking up she can guess that the whole yard is covered with flowers. As she walks with her head bowed, she could see the black marigolds amidst the Brindaban rows; when she bends her head slightly, she sees the ground strewn with sewali flowers. Whiffs of jasmine and kaminikanchan caress her nose repeatedly, a stem of madhai malati flower, folded up now in the morning, falls down on her sador. A group of married women and young girls encircle her. A few of them sing a marriage song:
“Xewali phul phulibo tole bhari xoribo’
Xomoye aideue gosain sewa koribo.
sewaliphul phulibo tole bhori xoribo
Xompoiye aideue xohur xewa koribo
Xewali phul soribo tole bhori xoribo”
(Xewali blooms, falls and fills up the ground
Entering, the bride first prays to the Almighty,
Xewali blooms, falls and fills up the ground
Entering, the bride will attend her father-in-law.
Xewali blooms, falls and fills up the ground …)
She is taken to a temple which is a located on a side of the frontyard. Trampling the ground strewn with xewali flowers, she goes inside and kneels on the floor wiped with red clay in the prayer-room made of wood and bamboo.
A streak of sorrow slips into the wedding song.
“O, Sita Xanti ‘
tezilu moromar bhai
O Sita Xanti
(Oh goddess Sita,
Give me peace.
I have left my mother, my father,
My beloved brother
And even my home where I was born.)
She is taken inside. And when she enters the verandah, she notices a red coloured flower blooming and hanging all over the verandah. The tune of the marriage-song follows her…
“O Sita santi …janamghar tejilu…”
(Oh Goddess Sita,
I left my home)
Arunima’s eyes brim up with tears. The face of her mother who almost fainted during her departure floated before her eyes. The home which she has been decorating for a long time, which bears the stamp of her hand-made embroideries, the flowers which she used to collect from others, even by persuading her brothers - all these memories make her feel like running back to her own home. But she is unable to do so; she is stopped every time by a knot tied to a man. Her heart turns turbulent. Then it is true that she has left her own home!
She starts sobbing. Immediately she is cosseted by some unknown voices, by completely unknown touches, "Khuri, don’t cry; Bau, we are always with you, mami, we will feel bad if you cry.”
After a short while the weddings songs resume humming, “I rested at your home...”
She has completed three months as a daughter-in-law. That day marked the end of the third month of her conjugal life. Early in the morning, the youngest sister-in-law started off a commotion. Every morning she cuts off the withered flowers with a scissor. The people in the house came out hearing her cries. Everybody in the household wakes up at the crack of dawn. When they all came out they saw a hive full of bees on the fork of the elephant apple tree. Baby, the youngest daughter in the family was jumping in sheer joy, “Ma, father, come and see, the bees have come back”. Her mother-in-law smiles –“The jironiya bees will build their home this time.” Her father-in-law also smiles “Bees have built their hive here. It’s a very auspicious omen.” He looks at her “Laxmi has come home; good days are anyways here”.
The neighbours too wake up in the din. There is a small river, more so a stream, flowing behind their house. To the front is the road, to the east side of their house is the dazzling, modern house of government officer Jayanta Barman, and on the west side is the bamboo and thatch house. She noticed right at the beginning that her home does not share cordial relations with both their neighbours. Nobody is in good terms with the house to the west. She heard from her sisters-in-law that the man is a notorious thief. These days he works for a large gang of dacoits. His father was supposedly a good man. Her youngest sister-in-law had told her that their grandfather had helped that man, who used to work in their paddy fields, to set him up there by giving him that plot of land. When he went for work the man used to take care of the house. Both of them, the grandfather and the man died, one after another. Circumstances turned his son into a dacoit. The dacoit lived a pretty decent life financially, he is said to have reduced robbery and has started working the black-market. Arunima sometimes looks at the man. The fair frail man has supposedly killed many a person.
The household however hates the government officer’s family more than this dacoit’s. Especially her father-in-law does not like them to interact with them. According to her father-in-law, who also is a school headmaster, the real dacoit is the government officer. Arunima still remembers the sentence of the officer’s wife when she came to see her as a bride, “Oh, did you have to welcome the new bride in such a room? Could you not make a single full wall room?” In reply, her middle sister-in-law, who is doing her graduation, said something. She cannot remember exactly, the wedding-home was in a state of pandemonium. What can you remember in such a state?
Her new home is just as sweet and disciplined as the bee hive on the elephant apple tree. The people of this house, who always wake up at dawn and engage themselves in their own respective chores, seemed to her akin a group of humming honey bees. Her mother-in-law, who always enters the kitchen after bathing early in the morning, is an innocent and simple lady but ferociously strong and determined within. Her father-in-law, respected by all, actually knocks his cycle effortlessly three to four kilometres just for a flower or a stem of some good plant. Her sisters-in-law are like two flowers themselves, her younger brother-in-law is so strikingly jovial all the time, and her man…? The man who closes his eyes, turns his face upward and laughs heartily? She too has started gathering honey inside her heart. The combs inside her are perfect, without any fault, there are no blemishes in their measurement.
It is just when she sees the elder brother-in-law, she feels as if a chunk of the perfect hive has been scythed away by a raven. No one has to tell that he is intelligent; she has understood that from her few exchanges she has had with him. She feels that the boy just stays in the house, his mind rests elsewhere. He has not noticed the bee hive on the elephant apple tree, the trees and the blooming flowers in their yard are just like the stars of the sky for him. Their nature is to glimmer, so what’s new in it? No one in the house ate their meals the night when they found that one of the new-born kittens in their house is dead. He was the only one who cleaned up his plate, and even asked for more. He does not even know that the house cat had littered two milky white kittens. He doesn’t know anything, not even about the plans of the officer’s wife; she had engaged a labourer to dig a drain that would direct wastewater towards their garden. He also has no idea about that group of oldies and children from Shubaspally who are bent at rummaging their flower-garden with their hooked sticks every morning. He has no knowledge of the swelling veins of his mother’s left leg, that his father has only one year left before retirement, that they entirely would have to rely on his elder brother’s job, that they should be marrying off their older little sister within two years time. No, the boy does not bother. His stays in the house, yet he is not there. He did not sit for the final examination even after clearing his Masters Previous year with good grades. His father has hoped that he would be a college professor. He is very unhappy that he had to ask his eldest son to start working too early considering the future of the family. The boy sometimes disappears for three-four days, and when he does so, he would lock up his room before leaving. Everyone in the house stays mum if some topic regarding him surfaces. One day while cooking in the kitchen her mother-in-law had said –“Aijoni, I am very worried about my second son, you know…” She wiped her tears from her cheeks, keeping aside the fish, ashes and the knife from her hands. She was in turmoil, just like the salted and gutted, convulsing kawoi fishes on the sieve. “Aijoni”, she grips both her arms with her hands soiled by cleaning fishes. “He is running after dhonguloi flames; the beguiling fire burning over buried treasure guarded by a jyokh. This fire is sure to raze him”. Her voice trembled with an unknown fear, “You know, buwari, when he was born, a hudu bird was wailing over our roof. We had to leave our three-generation-old house. In his horoscope…” The boy marched in loudly through the verandah behind the kitchen. He has come home after a full week, both his mother and sister-in-law saw that his jacket is bulging on one side. This time the woman kept her hands over those kawoi fishes, now lying motionless after quivering for quite a long time, and said, shedding a few tears, “Buwari, his horoscope had bad tidings, that he would threaten the lives of his parents”. While frying the fishes, she kept on telling as if she was consoling herself. “I have done whatever I can do, I have offered gold flowers to the namghor, and also offered a trident in the temple. I always fast on his day of birth; I always light an earthen lamp in our Goxain-ghar in his name. What else can I do more, being a mere water-gourd under the leaf?” Handing the chopped mustard leaves to the mother-in-law, Arunima asked –“Ma, has anybody tried to convince him?”
“When a man is called by the hills, by water, by magical fires, people turn recalcitrant. Ai, who has the power to counsel him?”
“Ma, shall I try to talk to him once?”
“His elder brother, father, younger brother, sisters - no one was successful, what can you do?”
“Only once. I shall ask him what he wants actually”.
“What will you ask him, ai? He is running after fire burning over treasure buried by the Lord of death himself.” Tears rolled down over her cheeks again “I am really afraid, ai, that this fire might engulf you too. Our foreheads have doom written all over...”
“Don’t say that, ma”
The boy marched out again. This time it was not his jacket, but the airbag on his shoulder that was bulging.
She didn’t know why, but the hairs on her body stood on their ends. She grew cold under the influence of a mysterious fear.
Yes, sometimes hills beckon man, water beckons man. The enchanting fire of the moonless night also calls out to man. Like moths, man hurtles into the raging fire.
(To be continued....)
(Dr. Mukuta Borah has done her Ph.D on Assamese Women Writing from the University of Delhi. She teaches English literature and language to post graduate students of IGNOU. Her areas of interest include comparative literature, translation studies, ELLT, Indian literature in English, and American literature.
Rajarshi Kalita teaches English Literature at Shyamlal College, University of Delhi. His areas of interest include cultural studies, popular culture and popular fiction, colonial historiography, translation and North Eastern cultural history and politics.)
 Assamese marriage song.