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Atanu Bhattacharya
Date of Publish: 2017-09-16

SPOT

 

‘You know, flowers had been Mariam’s favourite’, Illias said.

Then he picked up a piece from the ones he was holding and put on my hand, saying, - ‘Be it the flower vase in the drawing room, the table by the side of the basin, even the little spot near the bath-tub to keep the soap, and also in between the pages of book she read - everywhere she kept flowers and petals.

I told him some people are born as the connoisseur of flowers, some only roses –

No, no, not only s, Ilias said firmly, every flower – rose, siuli whatever it be, Mariam said a flower is a flower, no racism, there is no preference as regards its smell –

These flowers are perhaps from the garden she raised – I said and tried to inhale a lungful of fragrance from the one I was handed over.

One should not smell a flower from the grave – Ilias cautioned me caressing the bunch he was holding and said,- I’d preserve them in her memory, in a proper place, in the cupboard, inside Quran Sharief –

I asked Ilias – When are you going to join?

Ilias did not respond. Rather he placed the bunch on the sand, scratched meaninglessly on the sand, at one point his groping hand picked out a stone chip, he threw out to the expanse of water in the sitting posture, it disappeared with a small sound, a few concentric circles were created from the source of the sound, the circles turned lifeless as they grew, and it appeared as if he, too, had entered into those circles.

But till a couple of days ago I strongly disapproved the practice of putting the flower petals between the pages of book – Ilias said in a tone of self-cofession – it stains the book, sometimes the print of a flower covers the letters rendering it illegible, I didn’t like it at all, and during college days, you might remember, my shirts and trousers even my shoes were always spotless.

But now you can no more be accepted like that – I said expressing disapproval, there are spots in the clothes you wear, some amount of disarray, so to say, you are a changed man.

Time – Ilias expressed an explanation – the job has taken away all the time from me, I could not give time anywhere, this house, the paints on its walls, the furniture getting old, even to Mariam –

Leave it – I tried to switch the topic – you said you’d be transferred!

He hardly bothered about my question – there were some spots created by rain on the kitchen walls, the spots bothered me –

Why? – I interrupted midway.

Maybe a mania, maybe fascination for cleanliness – he said.

I could not find any response to his word. Perhaps there is some philosophy behind it, I thought, but I did not wish to hear any philosophical explanation to it. So just to ease the situation, I smiled, and said – now that you threw the stone in water, no mark remains, if you observe from that angle, water is safe, of course there is no such problem, water is safe, of course water leaves some mark after floodwater enters the homes, even after it dries up –

Ilias ignored my words, said – I was restless about the wall of the kitchen, asked Mariam, Can you get a painter tomorrow?

What was Mariam’s response? – such a question came to my mind, but I cancelled it and in an effort to draw the curtain over the situation, said – let us go home, it is late.

No eagerness was observed in Ilias’s body language. He said in a tone of explanation – when do we get the chance to sit like this – he looked at me as he finished the sentence as if asking for support. I said as a compassionate person – you are right, how do you get the chance to sit like these now-a-days enjoying the company of a friend, on the bank of a river, consider todays’ case – had it been a Sunday today –

We cannot manage to come even on Sundays – Ilias said – I don’t have any personal Sunday, it is all lost, the Sundays have been lost from my life.

Sometimes managing a day’s leave – I wanted to tell Ilias - sometimes one needs to go somewhere far away on a long leave, leaving all this - the office, target, March-ending, sometimes you need to count waves in the sea, sometimes watching the full moon sitting in the woods –

But I could not tell him, because he himself said – because he himself had said – sometimes Mariam this place – maybe she spoke of visiting exactly this place, sometimes her conversations appeared like verse, about tragedy of love, about moonlit night –

I tried to speak in a lighter vein – of course there are some horrible poems about moonlight, a few objectionable lines, as for example –

I don’t like – Ilias stomped on my excitement – I don’t like poems at all, and even if I feel otherwise, I could never give a thought to it.

Why? Why couldn’t you give it a thought? – I asked.

No time to spare, no respite to think - he said – he expressed remorselessly. But the next moment he changed the tune, made a smiling face and said- – I didn’t like the black spots on the moon when I was a little boy, perhaps I felt like rubbing it off with an eraser -

Some spots cannot be erased – I said. But I realized immediately that some words make more than one sense. In order to avoid an uncomfortable situation for Ilias over such a dual meaning thing – I tried to somewhat repair my words and said – I too did not know then that each of the spots on the moon are actually a huge crater.

Mariam once – Ilias maintained his effort to keep alive the issue of Mariam, but the cell phone ringing in his pocket interrupted him and he responded to the person at the other end making the call with an irritated voice – no, I can’t say, I am on leave, just can’t say –

You wanted to say something – I tried to bring him back.

I forgot – I made an effort to delve out the issue.

You wanted to say that Maria m once –

No, lost it, I have lost it completely – he said in an expression of helplessness.

***

A nice wind is blowing. Two naked children are jumping down to the water below, got up, jumped down, and got up again. A jakoi is creating ripples repeatedly in a serene waterbody a little farther way. The lukewarm sunshine is spreading everywhere with the immense possibility of transforming the scenery into a fascinating one. Of course the slanting rays of the sun has put Ilias to some amount of discomfort. The thought of reminding him once more to return home struck me. But it was seen that he has asked in an attempt to prop up a new issue – Did she ever say anything to you?

What? I mean related to what? – I expressed sort of concern.

Anything. Anything related to her life, related to our relation. About her wishes, about her decisions, something substantial, something important –

No – I asked him back – why did you say like that?

The other day she informed me about something important to share, she asked me when I’d return home, there was something she did not wish to say over phone –

What is your guess?

Nothing. Can’t guess. Perhaps she said just on the spur, or maybe she thought of some extreme decision like divorce, perhaps she entered into some new relation, a new complex situation created suddenly by the relation, a sort of life threat from somewhere, hesitation - anxiety – worry – and finally she wanted to end up –

She said nothing – I cleared the air firmly – no communication with her for a long time –

Oh – he said in a panicky tone – I couldn’t know, I couldn’t.

I put my hand on Ilias’s back.

That day it had not only been Mariam who was there under the fly-over – I said – so many people, so many minds, who thought what just the moment before the bomb blast, who had been waiting for whom –

Yes, the same question strikes me too – Ilias spoke in soliloquy - why did Mariam go there, did she buy anything, did she carry a bouquet, a bottle of perfume someone dear, a best seller book or a prescription from a doctor –

She spoke this much in a single breathe, then turned silent. Once he pulled out the handkerchief from the pocket and wiped his damp eyes. Then he etched on the sand with his index finger – finished.

Not finished – I wanted to say that life can be started anew, but did not, rather asked him – the body, I mean, where was Mariam found?

Eight hours – I searched for her for more than eight hours among the smoke and ashes – Ilias instinctively touched his cell and continued – phone lines were jammed and was not reachable, I repeatedly tried to ring up Mariam hoping that she’d be returning from somewhere else, but she was not to be found anywhere, she could not be traced –

Yes, you said that some Mrs. Kalita met Mariam on the way out, she told Mrs. Kalita like any other day – to the market - and the market was adjacent to the flyover.

I did not find Mariam anywhere – he said – and then someone mentioned about City Hospital, someone offered me a lift to City Hospital on a scooter.

I wanted to remind Ilias that the reciprocal memory of those happenings would render him weary. But he tried to explain that these things must be vented. These feelings must be told to the sands on the bank of the river, to the plaque in memory of Mariam that we had left a while ago, to a bunch of flower, to some reliable friend.

In the next forty minutes it appeared so that I became a witness of the heart-rending scenes of the chaos through Ilias’s eyes, saw the verandah of City Hospital teeming with people, saw the ministers and opposition leaders standing near the injured bodies, saw the reporters of print and electronic media and, at one point I could not stop asking – Finally where did you find Mariam?

Nowhere – Ilias said in a faltering voice – I pleaded repeatedly to the hospital superintendant outside the entrance of the morgue, but he did not want to disclose, he did not wish to tell the name of the deceased.

Yes, you said the other day that the Bipul’s name posted at Dispur Police Station flashed in your mind – I said – you ran to the police station and Bipul showed you that inquest report, where the details of the dead are recorded –

But I could not make out anything from there – he said – but there was a mark on the belly, an elliptical spot like that of a basal leaf, and I immediately recognized, Mariam, I said to Bipul, that must certainly be the dead body of Mariam. I also told that below the navel just at this point a stitch mark –

I stopped Ilias for a moment and said – and it did not take a moment for you to be certain.

And I convinced them, I claimed the body – Ilias said.

And Bipul completed the mandatory formalities? – I asked.

Almost he did – he said – and just at that moment Bipul asked me pointing to two other dead bodies that lay covered beside it, want to have a look - just to be sure – I looked at them reluctantly, and would you believe, those two were also like Mariam’s body, the basal leaf shaped spot, a stitch just under the navel, maybe a little above, maybe a little below –

But any other Identification Mark? – I asked him with deep concern.

No – Ilias said helplessly – Mariam did not have any passport, no Driving Licence, a mark of identification was never ever required.

Ilias stopped at this point. It appeared as if he lost sense of direction in the midst of a strange woods. It appeared as if he lost himself in the turn of an unknown road covered with smoke.

But was your wife – I stressed – in the same house, may be on the same bed, on many a day, many a night, you –

But I had no way out, I just could not find the difference – I tried to make me understand that he could get the sense I wanted to convey, I has deciphered the gesture carried by my look, and he appeared to say – these tensions perhaps did not give me that much time, maybe Mariam to me, or myself to Mariam –

I could not identify Mariam conclusively – he said – those mutilated faces – burnt out clothes, size of the body, texture – nothing I could remember, just it appeared to me that Mariam is standing very near somewhere holding a bunch of flowers in her hand, and from these bunch of fragrant flowers comprising of rose-siuli etc. her voice is trying to tell me that there should not be any differentiation with flower, and, I too, wanted to tell Bipul that all the flowers are indeed similar in some sense, the same basal leaf-like mark, a similar stitch under the navel, anyone of it – of course I could not say, my dilemma was not allowed to be exposed to him, and I said suddenly – no, no, not those two, the first one, first one was Mariam.

Atanu Bhattacharya

Translation : Bibekananda Choudhury

About the author -

Atanu Bhattacharya(1968) is a leading Assamese poet and short story writer. His collection of short stories include - Obhotoni Jatra, Neelar Karone Olop Bhalpowa, Boroxunor Setar and Sekoor. He is currently working as the Executive Editor of Satsori, a literary monthly in Assamese. He received Antarlipi Sahitya Sanman in 2013. Since 2007 he has been organising the Galpakatha, a programme to popularise story reading in and outside Assam. He availed Travel Grant of Sahitya Akademi to visit Kerela. He has also participated in a number of literary meet held at Delhi, Kolkata, Goa, Dalhousie, Cochin, Mumbai, Bhubneswar. His shortstories have been published into English and almost all major Indian Languages.

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