The Beloved

The wind was silently whispering. Its subtleness sounded as sweet as Chandor’s wife’s melodious voice. But she was yet to return from her mother’s house. The only mode which would ferry her across the Hooghly to Calcutta was stopped from operating – harsh, ferocious winds and persistent rain had already wiped away dwellings on the western banks of the great river. Cyclone and heavier rain was forecast. Boats and water carriers were snapped; boatmen feared they could never resume their duties and provide bread to their families.

Chandor sat alone under his cracked roof and wondered if he would ever see her again. Many miles separated him from his wife, and the constant pouring from Heaven only multiplied his trepidation. And amidst the relentless rain, a youthful lady walked barefooted towards his tiny hut, making a squeezing sound each time her nimble feet touched the drenched clay on the surface.

“Babu?” she softly knocked on his door. “Chandor babu?” she again called out when there was no response. She did not mind waiting outside in the rain despite not having an umbrella to protect her head from the thin, puny rain drops. But the winds had again picked up after giving way to rain, and Rama’s wet black, freely flowing hair was reminiscent of Calcutta’s state over the last few days.

“Rama, why don’t you get an umbrella? The monsoon has long arrived and the rains don’t seem like stopping anytime soon,” retorted Chandor the moment he saw it was his doting neighbour on the door, and rushed her in. Rama was yet a maiden despite being in her early twenties and her father had been long looking for an ideal man for her. But being a lady who lost her mother early, she always adored the company of an old, caring parent than a young, loving husband.

“I have got food for you Chandor babu. Baba told me Rani has been away for a while, and looking at the present weather, we shouldn’t expect her back soon. Who knows when Kali maa will bring back peace to Calcutta?” she mourned.

“Kali maa will not let us suffer anymore, she is our Protector,” Chandor said, reassuring his belief in the Goddess whom Bengalis believed to be most powerful. Rama sat down with Chandor on the hard, cold floor and patiently ensured he had the food she claimed her aging father sent for him.

Rama had always held warm regards for Chandor ever since knowing him as a neighbour after he had settled in Calcutta with Rani. She had always prayed to have a husband as considerate as him; there were days when Rani used to tell her stories of Chandor’s benevolence and idle afternoons sailed by smoothly. In turn, what Rama merely had to share with her would be how she spent the day with baba; how she wished she had a companion like Chandor to herself show Rani that she was a woman blessed with similar fortunes. Goddess Kali must have planned something else for her, she always thought.

“Chandor babu, I will bring food for the night once it is dark,” Rama said, and walked back towards her home with both disappointment as well as anticipation in her small, eloquent eyes. “Take my umbrella Rama, the rain has still not receded,” Chandor said and handed over a long, black umbrella to his departing neighbour. He would remain indoors, but knew Rama would return with food and she had nothing to prevent herself from getting drenched in the unseasonal Calcutta rain.

Alone and unwillingly hoping, Chandor lied down after his meal. With his eyes half-open and gazing at the old, scratched roof of his hut, he recalled what Rani had once told him. “Don’t be concerned lest I am not around you. Maa Kali will take care of you on days I don’t,” he remembered her words like man remembers the worst to have happened to him. Indeed, it was like a nightmare for the troubled Chandor to have endured such a long time away from his nursing wife. Rama was present to watch for his needs, but his heart craved for Rani.

“Chandor babu? Chandor babu?” It was a loud shout that awoke him. “Who?”, was Chandor’s response as he lazily rose to a familiar voice. While in thought, Chandor had fallen to Mother sleep, who had softly caressed him with tranquility while Rama was away; her constant cries from across the halfbroken, brown door startled him in his sleep.

Calcutta had slowly soaked in darkness when Chandor was awake again. The skies wore a black hue, and inhabitants of the city only expected it to grow darker with every passing minute. Perhaps the sky was the same ever since storm and cyclone began their rule over the vast city. But they saw a rare sight once Rama was outside Chandor’s hut. It was breezy and invisibly drizzling while she was on her way, but rain had relented once Rama had completed those few, short steps towards Chandor’s hut.

“I have brought food for the night, and also your umbrella. Baba scolded me for taking it home. But he calmed down when I informed him of the truth,” smiled Rama while handing over Chandor’s precious possession back to him. Rain continued to remain away after the meal and Rama’s return home on a dry night.

The next morning was cool. It was not windy unlike most mornings and afternoons gone by. But the sky had retained its habitual gloom. It was heard that Calcutta’s sufferings had ended with the previous night; Bengalis wondered why Goddess Kali punished them for that long. But across the Hooghly, nature was still stern. Rama visited Chandor to ask him of any difficulty in having food at her home since baba had taken ill and she did not want him to be alone. The thought of inviting Chandor for a meal always made her look pleased.

But Chandor was absent from the place that gave him shelter from the rain and the storm which had destroyed Calcutta and its suburbs, and the place where he worried – and at times wept – for Rani.

Rama scurried towards the Hooghly from Chandor’s house, which was a handful of miles away, leaving an unhealthy baba home. Her heart knew that with calmness restored to the city, Chandor must have set about towards the river in search of his wife hoping a boatman would help him cross it.

“Babu? Chandor babu, where are you going?” yelled a frightened Rama from afar when she saw him convince a boatman for a journey. But Chandor was occupied in striking a deal. He could do it as quickly as the master of his carrier would agree. “Don’t go there, Chandor babu,” shouted a worried Rama again while running towards him. She feared Chandor would never return once he sat on the boat to go across as heavy rain and rigid winds would take him away.

An understanding had been reached between a boyish boatman and his only desperate customer. Rama had only to pray Chandor would step out and return to the city. She wished she could stop him, but Chandor had commenced his journey. The handful grey clouds hung high above his head from the clear, white morning sky of Calcutta. The menacing winds had long quietened themselves. The voyage across the Hooghly would take a while. Calcutta was freed of the storm, but its neighbour was not.

After days of trouble, the Hooghly’s waters were seen to be still. The river flowed in peace with nothing to perturb it save for the baby-faced ferryman’s oar, which faintly kissed the calm waters every passing moment. And on his narrow boat sat a hopeful Chandor, with his round, red couch safely cuddled. There was no storm threatening Calcutta, but the storm was in Chandor’s heart. Yet, it was full of faith for locating his missing wife despite knowing he might get trapped in the cruelty of nature, which the Hooghly still endured on its eastern banks.

Oh Almighty, the human heart! Only Goddess Kali could come to the rescue of a human heart which craved for the beloved though love came knocking its way. The heart is comforted only in the shadows of its most desired companion, whom it loves irreversibly; it is attracted only to its beloved and not its lover. It attempts finding peace in the company of a familiar friend rather than alongside a new companion. Chandor, like the ferryman, was travelling with the hope of reaching his destination and returning soundly. They never knew if they would successfully ferry across the Hooghly against the harmful natural calamities; Chandor never knew if he would ever find Rani again. But he was moving, and moving with Maa Kali in his heart.

Himanshu Agarwal | PGDM 18-20

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