“Ei pagli, move away…you’ll ruin my puja thali,” Monibala pointedly raised her decibel as she gave a withering look to Chinnu hovering around. Chinnu slinked back, but not without a hint of rebellion in her eyes. The Ganguly household wore a festive look as they all got into a happy hustle to solemnise the marriage of Annapurna, the eldest grandchild of Monibala, the Ganguly matriarch. At 19, Annapurna was the epitome of beauty, learning and values which made her the cynosure of all eyes of Dacca in the 1920s. Having lost both her parents early, she became everybody’s pet within her paternal family.
Chinnu, or Chinmayee, was Annapurna’s 16-year old sister and her diametric opposite. Dusky, tomboyish, headstrong and upfront to the point of being brusque, Chinnu never studied beyond elementary school. She liked being outdoors, climbing trees, playing rough games with the neighbourhood boys. The Gangulys left no stone unturned to groom her but Chinnu remained nature’s child – untamed, guileless, freespirited.
“Good riddance…hope she stays away from the Satyanarayan puja!” Monibala muttered under her breath. She had no patience with Chinnu – for her, Chinnu was more like a project gone wrong and no amount of soft-pedalling by the family members would make her think otherwise. Annapurna and the others were mildly tolerant of Chinnu, in a detached way. On her part, Chinnu was big enough to understand that nothing she did would ever reverse their mindset.
The only place which offered her any solace was Parimal’s house. Parimal was a young, talented poet and painter who had failed to strike gold in the conventional art market. His profoundly metaphysical compositions did not resonate with most art connoisseurs who were looking for instant gratification in an age characterised by tumultuous socio-cultural and political upheavals. So he remained a social recluse – impoverished and battling end-stage pancreatitis. He was the calm to Chinnu’s chaos; the ice to her raging fire. They shared a strange bond, a soul connect, that defied all societal definitions.
Singed by Monibala’s words, Chinnu started walking away when Nemai, the neighbourhood imp, came running and whispered urgently into Chinnu’s ears. The latter paled visibly, went inside for a minute, and then rushed out.
It was late evening when a dishevelled, disconsolate Chinnu returned. The Ganguly elders immediately pounced on her, “Chinnu! Where had you been? There’s money missing from our wallet… have you taken to stealing now? Disgraceful!!”
The tirade continued till Chinnu finally spoke, albeit haltingly, “Yes Dida, ChotoKaka, I took Rs 20. Parimal was very ill…I wanted to buy medicine. But he didn’t make it. So I used the money for his funeral. You’ve spent thousands on clothes, food, lights, shehnai….can’t you spare Rs 20 for me? You had asked me what I wished to buy for Didi’s wedding. You offered me sarees, jewellery…I took nothing. Today I wished to save a dying man….was that such a big crime?”
Chinnu left in a dazed stupor as an awkward, uneasy silence gripped the others.
Ei pagli – Hey, mad girl
Dida – grandmother
ChotoKaka – youngest uncle
Disclaimer: The inspiration for this story comes partly from an old Bengali movie and partly, a real life incident witnessed a few years ago.
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