Tuesday, Jul 05, 2022
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Short Story: Music To Their Years

The melodious whirlwind romance of a couple, who fell in love over strains of Rabindrasangeet, got married and lived happily ever after.

Short story: Music to their years.
Short story: Music to their years. Shutterstock

‘Emono din-e tare bola jay
Emono ghono-ghor borishay
Emono din-e mon khola jay
Emono meghosh wore badala-jhor jhore
Tapanhino ghono tomoshay…’

‘On such a day I can say it to her —
On such a day, overcast with clouds and dark rain.
On such a day I can open up
On such a day, of rumbling clouds and incessant rain,
In a sunless dense darkness…’

The strains of the classic Rabindranath Tagore song, sung by the legendary Pankaj Kumar Mullick, wafted across from the window opposite to Netra’s room. She looked up, startled.

The evening sky was dense and congested with dark rainclouds. It had been raining heavily, the incessant rain of Calcutta’s monsoon, since four o’clock that afternoon. The little street outside their apartment was beginning to get waterlogged.

The college girl absent-mindedly brushed aside a wisp of stray hair from her face. She listened intently as the Tagore song, played on a cassette player, came to an end. The silence congealed into a bittersweet pain in her heart, into a breathless hush syncopated by the falling raindrops.

What would the youth play next? She waited on tenterhooks, the suspense constricting her chest, her college textbooks forgotten on her study table.

Once again came that lilting melody in Pankaj Mullick’s baritone — but this time it was just the last strophe:

‘Byakul bege aji bohe baay
Bijuli theke theke chomokay
Je kotha e-jibone
Rohiya gelo mone
Shey kotha aji jeno bola jay —
Emono ghono-ghor borishay.’

‘The wind blows today with anxious velocity;
Lightning flashes now and then;
All that which was left unsaid in this life
And remained in my mind:
Perhaps I can say those words today—
On such a day, of rumbling clouds and incessant rain…’

The girl could bear it no longer and rushed to her own cassette player. She scrabbled in her own cache of cassettes — compact discs were still more than a decade away — and extracted the one containing songs by Kanika Bandyopadhyay. Another lilting Tagore song, now in the dulcet tones of the renowned exponent, echoed in the narrow gap between the two apartment blocks.

The young man next door had played the Pankaj Mullick melody three times and was now in a pensive mood, wondering what else he could do. Prasun was sitting in his own study-cum-bedroom, right opposite Netra’s window, when the Kanika Bandyopadhyay song wafted across through the palisade of rain.

‘Ami tomaro shonge bendhechhi amar pran
surero bandhone  —
Tumi jano na, ami tomare peyechhi
ajana sadhone…’

‘I have bound my heart to you
in ties of melody —
You do not know this, but I have won you
With my unknown, arduous endeavours…’

A brilliant smile slowly lit up Prasun’s dark, ruggedly handsome face. He ran to the window and tugged the curtains open. Opposite to him, there was Netra at her own window. Her face, too, was luminous with joy. 

It was as if the sunshine had suddenly broken upon a twilight of dense dark rain.

#

Their love affair had started just around three months ago. Netra’s father had retired and returned to Calcutta, to the apartment he had bought on one of the narrow streets near Rhododendron Park. Rhododendron Avenue, that upscale suburb with its mansions and massive four- and five-storeyed edifices, was way beyond the means of the middle-class Bengali. So was the nearby Laburnum Avenue. But at the junction where Laburnum Avenue intersected Rhododendron Avenue, there were three narrow streets that branched off in different directions into the main city from this posh locality. One of these was Eucalyptus Road, where Mr Satyaki Dhar’s new flat was located, which had eaten up most of his life’s savings. Here he had settled down with his wife and only child.

Prasun, too, was an only child. ‘Do you know,’ Prasun’s mother had said to no-one in particular at the breakfast table one day, ‘a new family has moved in into the flat parallel to ours. Flat C3, right opposite ours.’

Prasun had already noticed the girl, so he kept mum. Hers was a delicate, ethereal beauty: extremely fair, with a rose-pink complexion, a sharp-pointed nose, a svelte tall figure, and thick dark luxuriant tresses.

Mr Gautam Kar looked up from his newspaper. ‘Yes, I heard about them from the caretaker of our building. The flat had been lying vacant. The gentleman was abroad for many years, I’ve heard.’

‘Yes, that’s right,’ Mrs Kar nodded. ‘Our maidservant Chandana said they had been living in Africa.’

A few days later Prasun saw the girl on the street. She was with her father, so Prasun dared not speak to her. But their eyes suddenly met —and he at once saw the smouldering fires hidden within the depths of those limpid brown eyes.

A few days later, Prasun’s mother was talking with his father. Prasun had just returned from his new job at Praxis Bank, where he had recently  joined as a probationary officer. They were discussing the Dhars.

‘Yes, he’s a decent sort.’ Prasun heard his father saying as he passed by, 
and stopped behind the door, eavesdropping.

‘But they keep themselves to themselves,’ said Mrs Shiuli Kar.

‘Well, yes. But I did hear they’re very polite and helpful, and easy to get along with.’

‘Yes, that’s quite true,’ said Mrs Kar. ‘Mrs Dhar is a simple, uncomplicated woman. Their daughter, too, is sober and shy, and very modest. She hardly speaks to anyone outside their home. And even in their flat, she never raises her voice.’ 

Mr Kar nodded. ‘Mr Dhar is a retired geologist. He has worked in Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda. So I’ve heard. Now that he has retired, he has come back to his old city to settle down and spend his retired life.’

Then their discussion moved on to other topics. Prasun went off surreptitiously to his own room.

Over the next few days he would hear the girl playing Tagore songs on her own cassettes. Apart from Kanika Bandyopadhyay, her favourites were Suchitra Mitra, Lata Mangeshkar, Sandhya Mukhopadhyay, Ritu Guha, Asha Bhosle, Malati Ghoshal and Rajeshwari Dutta.

The next day Prasun heard his mother say in passing, ‘That new girl in our neighbourhood has excellent taste. She plays such lovely Rabindrasangeet — you can hear the songs in the evenings when she comes back from college. Despite living abroad for so many years —Nairobi, Lagos, Kampala and Cape Town — she hasn’t forgotten her Bengali culture.’

So she has taken admission in a college, thought Prasun. ‘Where is she studying?’ he said, quite casually.

‘At Oriental College. The women’s college under Calcutta University, not far from here.’

‘Any idea what her subject is?’

‘Yes, I’ve heard she’s doing a B.A. with honours in Sociology.’

That night, after dinner, Prasun was lying on his bed when a song of Tagore started playing in Netra’s flat. 

‘Elem notun deshe —
Tolay gelo bhogno tori
Kule elem bheshe…’

‘I have come to a new land—
My broken boat has gone under
And I have drifted to the shore.’

A thought suddenly struck Prasun. He leapt up from his bed and quickly rummaged among his own cassettes. Ah, there it was! The Kishore Kumar collection.

From a Satyajit Ray film —

‘Ami chini go chini tomare
ogo bideshini
Tumi thako sindhu-pare
ogo bideshini
Tomay dekhechhi sharada-prate
tomay dekhechhi madhabi raate
tomay dekhechhi hridi-majhare  
ogo bideshini.
Ami akashe patiya kaan
shunechhi shunechhi tomar gaan
ami tomare shonpechhi pran
ogo bideshini.
Bhuban bhromiya sheshe
Ami eshechhi nuton deshe
Ami atithi tomar daare
ogo bideshini.’

‘I know, I know you,
you’re the girl from a foreign land!
You live on the seashore,
you’re a foreign girl!
I’ve seen you on autumn mornings
I’ve seen you in flower-scented nights,
I’ve seen you within my heart
even though you’re a foreigner! 
I’ve heard your song
when I’ve listened to the sky;
I’ve given you my heart,
foreign girl!
After travelling the world.
I’ve come to a new land—
I’m a guest at your door—
foreign girl!’

He looked out of his window. Netra’s own cassette player had fallen silent. He thought he noticed a flash of brown doe eyes from behind a curtain — but he might have been mistaken.

The next few days Prasun heard no song from Netra’s flat. Not only that, he didn’t even set eyes on her. Then one Sunday evening, he saw her walking home with a couple of her college classmates — at least, that is what he deduced. She gave him a furtive glance and quickly ran up the steps with them to her flat, their lyrical laughter tinkling down the staircase.

Prasun then played the same Kishore Kumar song many times over the next few days. But Netra’s cassette player had fallen silent.
Then one morning he saw her on the rooftop of their apartment block, hanging out their washing. He ran up the stairs, two at a time. She noticed him at once as he came on to the roof but before he could say anything to 
her, she had disappeared.

But not before flashing an impish smile at him.

That evening he thought and thought, then at last hit upon Chinmoy Chattopadhyay’s Bidhi dagor ankhi.

‘Bidhi dagor ankhi jodi diyechhilo
shey ki amar paane bhoole poribe na?’

‘If God has given you such big, wide eyes,
Wouldn’t they look at me,
Even by mistake?’

The next afternoon, a Saturday, he could hear her humming the tune off and on.

Emboldened, he played Amar praner majhe sudha achche by Dwijen Mukhopadhyay next.

‘Amar praner majhe sudha achche, chao ki
Hay bujhi tar khobor pele na
Parijat-er modhur gondho pao ki—
Hay bujhi tar nagal mele na...’

‘There is nectar in my heart,
Do you not want it?
Do you not get the fragrance of divine amaranths?
Alas, you could not reach it…’

To this, Netra at last responded with her own selection of Rabindrasangeet: a film duet, Tumi robe nirobe, by Hemanta Mukhopadhyay and Lata Mangeshkar.

‘Tumi robe nirobe hridoye momo
Nibiro nibhrito purnima —
nishithini shomo.’

‘You will remain silently in my heart
Like a deep secluded full moon night…’

Kishore Kumar and Ruma Guhathakurta’s Mayabono biharini harini, from another classic movie, was Prasun’s return:

‘Mayabono biharini harini
Gahana shopono sancharini
Keno tare dhoribare kori pon
okaron.
Thak thak nijo mone durete
Ami shudhu banshoriro shurete
Porosh koribo or pranomon
okaron.
Chomokibe phagunero pobone
Poshibe akashbani shrobone
Chitto akulo hobe onukhon
okaron.
Dur hote ami tare shadhibo
Gopone biroho dore bandhibo
Bandhon bihin shei je bandhon 
okaron.’

‘The doe that travels through the forest of illusion
And induces deep dreams in us;
Why do I vow, needlessly,
To capture her?
Let her remain, on her own, far away —
I shall merely play my flute
And touch her heart and senses
Without any cause.
In the spring wind it will sparkle
The voice of the sky will enter her ears —
Her mind will become ardent
Without any reason.
From afar I shall seek her
In secret I shall bind her to myself
With my pangs of separation
Those ties that will bind 
without any bond,
without any cause.’

This was on a Saturday evening. Prasun played this classic duet only once. Then, just after dawn, Netra responded to his entreaty with Amar porano jaha chay by Chinmoy Chattopadhyay:

‘Amar porano jaha chay
Tumi tai, tumi tai go
Toma chhara aar e jagate
Mor keho nai, kichhu nai go…’

‘What my heart seeks —
That’s you, that’s you alone.
Apart from you, in this world, 
There’s no-one else, nothing else.’

#

At dawn after that tumultuous rainy evening, they both went to the rooftop, as if by unspoken agreement.

‘Will you marry me?’ Prasun said at once.

‘Yes,’ she nodded, and blushed.

‘We should speak to our parents very soon.’

Netra looked up at his face across the narrow gap between the roofs with 
shining eyes. And  smiled.

If Mr Dhar was flabbergasted, Mr Kar was no less startled. The conversations in both families were more or less on the same lines.

Prasun’s mother said in consternation, ‘But we didn’t even know you had spoken to each other, far less met.’

‘And indeed we haven’t really met, or actually spoken to each other. Just a little,’ said Netra to her father demurely.

‘Then how the hell did he court you?’ Mr Dhar banged his fist on the table.

As Prasun said to his father, ‘Rabindrasangeet brought us together.’

‘Courtship with cassettes?’ said an exasperated Mr Kar. ‘What is the world coming to?’

Mr Dhar shook his head in wonder. ‘Children nowadays...’

There’s not much to relate to after that. After this story of their melodious whirlwind romance spread among their friends and relatives, the wedding date was quickly fixed. At the wedding venue, quite appropriately, strains of Rabindrasangeet played on the loudspeaker instead of the usual shehnai of Ustad Bismillah Khan.

When the celebrations were over and the bride and bridegroom were ensconced in their bedroom for their wedding night, the two sets of parents sat down for a round of tea. It was nearly midnight.

Suddenly, among their laughter and banter, Mr Dhar said, ‘Hark! What’s that?’

From the conjugal bedroom could be heard Prasun’s tenor voice, Tomay shajabo jotone.

‘Tomay shajabo jotone
kusume rotone
eure konkone
umkum chandane.’

The classic wedding song of Tagore goes:

‘I shall dress you up with care,
with flowers and gems,
with armlet and bracelet,
with kumkum and sandalwood paste.’

Their parents smiled at each other amusedly, but were startled into silence when Netra’s dulcet voice floated over from their bedroom with another Tagore song, a devotional one this time:

‘Tomay amay milon hobe bole
Aloy akash bhora
Tomay amay milon hobe bole
Fullo shyamal dhora…’

‘Because you and I will have our union
The sky is filled with light.
Because you and I will have our union
The green earth blooms with flowers today.’

#

And after that, what? Nothing much, except that they lived happily after! They had two children, a boy and a girl, and grew old together, in undiluted connubial bliss. And life — and love — were always music to their years.

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