The Shattered Painting

The Shattered Painting

Anupama was numb when she saw shattered pieces of colourful glasses on the tiled floor. Her craft project destroyed totally, the vibrant tiny pieces gleaming under the white lights. Tears welled up in her eyes as bouts of anxiety and fear started engulfing her heart. What was she supposed to present to the teacher tomorrow? Anupama was worried about the embarrassment she will have to face in front of the whole class. Her teacher would not be accepting any lame excuses, she thought. The glass painting wasn’t an easy art to complete in a day. Whereas, she saw her mother briskly walking past the broken pieces and protecting her brother, immense love flooding towards him. He was the culprit for the loss. But her mother was behaving the exact opposite, unlike any parent, who would ground their kid for tossing someone’s days of effort so carelessly.  She rushed into her bedroom and thumped on the bed, crying into the pillow. Her brother was autistic, and it wasn’t her fault. Piles of anguish and rage was building up in her heart, making it difficult for her to breath. She muffled, a cry, as she dug her nails deep into the printed cotton sheets, hatred bottled up inside her against her brother and parents. Her painting had broken just once, but her heart did every day. She felt lonely in a family, where no one cared for her but her brother. Howsoever she tried relentlessly to love and accept him, she failed. Her share of affection was showered on Anshu, while her pot remained empty.

Born in a conservative, middle class, Bengali family, in Kolkata, Anupama was the youngest daughter of Mr. Ashutosh Bagchi and Mrs. Priyanka Bagchi. Their son Anshu was the eldest, diagnosed with autism at the age of two. Since then, they concentrated more of their attention towards him, especially Priyanka, who was fond of her son. Since childhood, Anupama was taught by her parents to take care of her brother and be more understanding of his state. She saw her mother appreciating the silliest of things her brother did, but never acknowledge her art. As time passed, she grew more distant from her, as she found her annoying. It was not Priyanka’s fault, but life tested her in every single way with Anshu as she had to bring up two kids and juggle between them single-handedly. Their father would be out for work, most of the time. She was more worried about Anshu while Anupama would do well on her own, she surmised. But her daughter was just an idol, that put up a happy facade, instead she was broken from inside. Anupama found solace in her father. He cheered her up and encouraged and supported her choices. He was her shield of protection. But being an estate broker, he had a very hectic and busy profession, which included constant travelling. Hence, she couldn’t find him at home most of the time. He was the sole breadwinner of the family, and his work was crucial. His meager income drained in his son’s treatment and medicines. They could barely make for Anupama’s school expenses. The financial crisis was intense, but they were slowly learning to dive into normalcy. Anupama felt deprived of love and tried hard to earn it from her mother, but the lady would always prioritize her brother over Anupama, which disappointed her.

As she stood up in the front of the whole class, the whispers rang in her ears.

“Look at her. Her mad brother broke her painting, she says.”

“Just like her brother, she is dumb.”

“She might have not even completed the project, and now she gives a lame excuse.”

People continued jibing at her, but she stood firm, prepared to take the smacking of the wooden ruler. As it struck her palm, waves of pain rippled through her skin. Filled with rancour, she vowed to avenge for the agony. Maudlin about her life, she fixed her misty eyes at the blackboard.

 

Priyanka put Anshu to sleep and sauntered to Anupama’s room. She quickly collected the glass colours. Glinting shades of blue, crimson, yellow, and green in the tiny plastic bottles. Placing the glass slab diligently on the study table, she started outlining the figure. As she carved out a beautiful intricate design on the surface with a black gelatinous liquid tube, she felt pity and compassion brimming, within her heart, for her daughter. The young girl had cried herself to sleep last night. Before she could go and console her for the loss, Anu was asleep, her pillow drenched in tears. She pitied her for tolerating her brother throughout her life and not even utter a single word. As she filled each portion with hues, pride encompassed her, for the armor of perseverance her daughter exhibited. It was her chance to validate her affection and love for her darling daughter, she believed.

As Anupama exited from the school gate, she walked across the road. The Imli vendor was calling out with his cart displaying spicy red cherries, chilli raw mango slices, salted tamarinds, and sundry other savouries that excited the taste buds. The school girls slowly gathered around to enhance his profits. She was least interested, to mingle in such amusements. From a distance, she could spot him. Wearing a light blue shirt and grey trousers, thick black oiled hair, neatly combed, and putting on a pair of worn-out rubber slippers. He was lean and lacked a well-built physique. He was her only companion in the dark times. The person in whom she had found love and had promised her a beautiful life. The 23-year-old Pradeep was an idli seller in her locality. They shared an age gap of eight years. Deeply fallen for him, he was her shack of peace in tough times. She made her way towards their usual meeting spot. The roads were lonely, green trees lining the edges. The fresh whiff of damp herbs and bushes, and the wet mud stung the nostrils, injecting new life into her. She halted under the huge banyan tree and saw him following her trail. He came closer and slowly stroked her head, her hair tied in neat pigtails.

She smiled, but it did not long last as tears trickled down her soft dusky cheeks. She turned back and hugged tightly.

“Anu, what happened? Why are you crying?” He asked surprisingly. He was startled at her sudden outburst.

But she could not stop and continued sobbing bitterly.  She finally gathered the strength to narrate her problems, when the sobbing turned into sniffles. They sat on the deeply buried roots of the Banyan tree, her head resting on his bony clavicle.

“I want to get rid of them. I cannot stay there anymore. Please take me away from here, Pradeep. Just take me somewhere far away from here! I will die otherwise.”

As soon as she spoke about death, he gently kept his finger on her pink chapped lips.

“Please do not speak like that, Anu. I would not let anything happen to you.” He said, staring deep into her eyes.

She rummaged inside her bag. Taking out a dark blue velvet pouch, she gave it to Pradeep.

“What is this?” Pradeep asked.

“Baba had made this jewellery for my marriage. Ma was thinking of selling these for Anshu’s treatment. I cannot let her take away my happiness. Let’s elope, Pradeep. We shall go somewhere far and never come back. We will craft our world.” She said with faith dripping from her words as she spoke.

Pradeep was stunned to see the gold necklace and the Kaan balas gleaming brightly inside the pouch. He took them out and could feel the weight of the gold. They were sufficient to incur enough money to travel to a new place and begin a new life.

“Hmm, we will move to Chennai by train today and will get away from here. Just know there is no looking back after that, Anu. Are you sure you want to leave your family?” He sternly asked her.

She was more determined than earlier. A fire of fury burning within her heart, she blindly believed in her lover. It was him or nothing, she thought. Her parents would never agree to their love, she knew, and she could not withstand living in the house any longer, she thought. As Pradeep rose on his feet, he extended his hand towards her. She took it instantly and got up, and they both left towards their destination. She was happy and content. Her belief was shooting high in the sky, as she envisioned freedom leaving behind her past.

She had almost lost touch of time getting occupied with the painting. Having a glance at the wall clock, she realized it was Anshu’s medication time. It was 6 pm, and Anupama had still not reached home. She felt a bit worried but brushed it away, thinking she might have got stuck with friends or some school assignment. She quickly went to finish her chores and look after her son, and time passed by, but there were no whereabouts of her daughter. Consternation spread on her face, as the needles struck 8 pm on the clock. Reaching for the telephone, she tried calling her husband. Haphazardly getting hold of the receiver, she called, but the device denied from placing a call. She noticed that the cable cord was disconnected. Anshu was getting too unstable lately that no artifact nor a device was left untouched to function normally. Irritatingly she connected it and tried calling him again, but Mr.Bagchi’s phone was unreachable. She was worried to death, and feared of a mishap. She was pacing from left to right in the verandah, staring at the entrance gate, but there were no signs of anyone coming. She realized that she could call Anupama’s classmate, Sandhya, and inquire. To her surprise, Sandhya revealed that Anupama had left the school premises as usual. Priyanka sat on the marble flooring, puzzled and helpless. Tears brimming through her eyes, she stared at Anshu, who was unaware of his surroundings and busy playing. Her glass painting, resting on the table, the wet shades drying under the fan, but only her daughter was absent to witness it. Suddenly the iron gates cranked, and Priyanka ran towards the porch expectantly, but what she saw in front of her shook her. Her heart throbbed against her chest and breath caught in her throat at the sight of the lifeless body lying on the wooden stretcher.

Anupama and Pradeep reached the jewellery shop to sell the ornaments. The jeweller eyed them from head to toe through his thin glasses resting across the bridge of his nose. He weighed the gold and returned to them. “I can give you twenty-two thousand rupees.” He said.

“What? It has so much mass, Dada, please check again, this is not a fair price.” Pradeep negotiated.

“Firstly, you tell me. Whose jewellery are these? Have you both stolen it from home?” The jeweller inquired.

They were alarmed by his remarks.

Pradeep anxiously replied, “No. These belong to our mother. She died yesterday, and we are in dire need of money.”

Anupama agreed as well. Both of them succeeded in concealing the truth. They quickly grabbed the amount and scurried out of the shop. Crossing the busy streets, they headed towards the railway station. Just then, she heard a familiar voice calling her name out. Anupama looked back, and it was her father. He was sprinting through the traffic to catch hold of them. They got scared and tried to flee far away from him.

“Let us go, Pradeep. Baba will not spare me if he finds out the truth. Run!” For the last time, she had a final glance at her father, and disappeared in the crowds.

Anupama had caught a glance of him, but she ran away without even recognizing him. Who was the young guy? He wondered. Suddenly she disappeared, and he struggled to reach them through the vehicles across the streets. He wandered from places to places but in vain. Suddenly he saw the familiar figure again, and he tried to trace it. It was her, in the pale blue salwar kameez uniform. But before he could reach them, a huge tempo hit him, and his vision went blurry and black.

Priyanka could not sync in the sight of her dead husband. She touched his bandaged temple. The shock of his sudden demise left her in trauma. The ladies tried to make her cry, but not a single tear escaped through her eyes. The Indian traditions were performed by the ladies, wiping off her vermilion and breaking her maroon glass bangles, but she was stiff like a stone. When the men came forward to lift the corpse, she couldn’t let it go. Reality dawned on her, and when the truth hit her, she screamed out her lungs and wailed. Anshu felt no emotions while Anupama had left her family shattered away in pain with no inkling of her father’s death. He stared at his wailing mother while the ladies held her as she wept bitterly, losing control.    

It was a cold winter morning. She wrapped herself with her thin shawl around her arms, stepping out of the train coach. They had reached their destination. The announcements played on the speakers welcoming the passengers to the Chennai Central station, the platform sparsely crowded. She could hear people murmuring in Tamil. Pradeep caught her by the arm and guided her out of the station. He was distant and quiet throughout their journey. They reached the auto stand while Pradeep explained the address to the driver. Both got seated inside it.

“Where are we going, Pradeep?” She questioned.

“We are going to my friend. I had a word with him. He shall rent a place, and we can stay for a few days there.”

“Ok.” She nodded.

They reached the address, and as she got out, she saw a large building resembling a factory. A hoarding at the top, bearing some scribbling in the native language. Pradeep gave the driver his fare and looked at her. A man emerged out from the front gate of the factory and shook hands with Pradeep. He was lean just like Pradeep, with a mustache and dark skin. He wore a Bermuda and a mottled white vest. They exchanged a few words which she could not decipher. When they finished, he turned to her.

“Anupama, this is Pratik. He will take you inside the flat.” He informed her.

“But Pradeep, where are you going? I cannot stay here alone without you.”

For the first time, she even noticed that he had taken her full name.

“Oh ho Anupama, I will be back. Just do not throw tantrums. I will visit you later.”

She could sense his changed demeanor and knew something was fishy, so she opposed it.

“No. I am not going anywhere. You promised me! You would look after me.”

Unable to bear her rantings, he smacked her face and threatened her.

“Look, girl. Go and do as I say.” She fought back to snatch her money from him, but he pushed her away and left. She realized she had been cheated and saw her world crumbling down into pieces again.

The room was dark, with a concrete flooring. A Kolhapuri bedsheet unfurled in a corner. An earthen pot on an iron stool with a steel glass placed inverted over it. He switched on the yellow bulb, and the room lit. She crouched in a corner on the cold floor.

“Be ready in an hour. You are supposed to work here in the cotton factory. Remember?”

She did not respond. Pratik left, slamming the wooden door behind his back and locking it from outside.

The hall appeared crowded with people of all age groups. She could spot the young children, the aged uncles and aunties, women and men chattering while they worked merrily. All of them, packing the units of cotton balls manufactured from the giant machine. She had changed into a blue-baggy kameez sagging through her shoulders and a pale blue salwar. Pratik called out a woman and instructed her to guide Anupama. The lady eyed her and then took her along. She taught her the job and later got busy with her gossips and giggles. As she packed the cotton inside the packet, tears flowed through her eyes as she realized what a grave mistake she had committed. The only man she blindly believed, had left her for money.

When evening dawned, all the workers lined up in a cue to collect their wages. Unlike others, Anupama was dismissed to her room by Pratik. He handed her wages to her so-called lover as per the deal. She missed her soft bed, back at home, as she laid on the sheets. Suddenly the wooden door creaked, and she saw a silhouette at the entrance. Pratik had brought her food, wrapped in a newspaper were two idlis and a few spoonfuls of coconut chutney inside. She took it and started hogging it as she was famished. As she ate it, she remembered how Pradeep used to save Idlis for her every day. She wished that it was just a silly nightmare or her imagination, but every time she opened her moist eyes, reality broke her heart, and nothing changed.

Three months had passed. Pradeep never came to meet her. He would secretly come to take his money and leave. She missed her family and wondered if they were even bothered to find her. She craved to go back to her home town, and was ready to go through the insults and abuse her mother would throw her way. Even prepared to face the derogatory taunts from the society. Unfortunately, she could not just run away from the trap as Pratik always invigilated her moves, and she had no money to travel. One day as she was helping out a lady with lifting some goods outside, she noticed a telephone booth across the street. Luckily Pratik was on leave, and no one kept an eye on her. She grabbed the opportunity and asked for a coin from the lady. She ran, and in no time, dialed the number to her home telephone. A few bells rang, but no-one picked up. She tried one more time, and this time it was answered, and it was her mother on the other end of the line. As she heard her, she felt her voice caught in her throat, and she could not speak. Suddenly she felt her heart burdened with grief, shame, and sorrow. She burst into tears as she muttered, “Ma…. Ma… It is Anupama. Ma, I am trapped here. I committed a huge mistake. Save me, Ma.” She pleaded desperately.

Priyanka was under immense shock and distraught when she heard her daughter. She could not tolerate hearing her child cry.

“Anu! Where are you? Tell me, beta. Where have you gone? We have been searching for you for so long, darling.” She shot her with questions. Anupama spared her location details to her mother, and before Priyanka could assure her that they will find her, the call got disconnected.

The time was up. Anupama had no more money to drop in the coin box, but left with the hope that her mother would find her. For the first time, she had faith that her mother would cross oceans to save her.

The next day the cops barged into the cotton factory, and they rescued her. Pratik fled away, seeing the police. Anupama was safely sent back home by them.  

As soon as she reached the gate, a tear trickled down her cheek as she saw the house. The gardens were parched and lifeless, the porch well lit, and the doors were closed. She went nearer and remembered her Baba, sitting on the wooden armchair reading a newspaper. But today it was vacant. She wondered where her father was. The red Swastika painted on the dark brown plank of the main door. She traced her fingers over it. The festoon was hanging at the archway, made of artificial flowers and ribbons. She knocked on the door. Her mother opened, and without wasting any time, pulled her in an embrace as soon as she saw her. She cried her heart out in her mother’s loving embrace as she held her tight. She had craved for her love all her life, but today she felt content in her arms.

The film concluded on a happy note as the character of mother and daughter duo reunited with melodious music at the end, and she travelled back to the present. Her train of thoughts had taken her into a distant world to plot her version of the movie. She rose, sad and nervous about facing her teacher’s anger the next day, while Anshu was busy munching the papad. Priyanka stopped her as she departed towards her room after finishing dinner. She gently patted on her head and assured that she would talk to her teacher. Relief crossed Anupama’s visage as she hugged her back tightly, the walls of hatred between them completely shattered, realizing that her family loved her in their unique way. The shattering of the correct thing was crucial for love to bloom again within their relationship.

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One thought on “The Shattered Painting

  1. The story is good but too many loose ends. It started as Anupama a young girl and suddenly jumped to her having a lover. A few typo errors, spellings and grammar too marred the fine narrative. Overall it was good reading.

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