|| The Postscript ||
Subject: “Tutoring a Trucker’s Daughter”
I would like to inform you that बाबूजी breathed his last peacefully in his armchair two weeks back.
If you did not know बाबूजी, please stop here. You are not the person to whom I meant to write this mail. Kindly delete it!
But, just in case you are reading on, I am दमयंती. I hope you can recall me, as much as I hope you are who I think you are.
Sorry! It is difficult to write after a lapse of all these years. Actually, I had not wanted to begin the letter with that melodramatic first line.
(‘But, you have!’ You must be saying to yourself, ‘Why could you not just begin by introducing yourself?’ Then, do you remember, Sir, how you – the person who I think you are – used to say that every action of mine was so अचानक, meaning dramatic?)
Well, that is because our बाबूजी (to whom you were his बब्बुजी) died in his armchair, gripping a newspaper he had been reading. Taking it out of his grip, I was surprised that it was open in its editorial page. बाबूजी never read anything, or paused, on that page. He always read the business pages only. So, I took away the newspaper, and saved it along with his other effects.
They are all there. Only, I could not save his last words to me the previous night, “I wish I had not forced your marriage.” I do not know what made him say that. Manish (my husband) was standing by. By the way, he is a share broker. He just frowned, but did not say anything. I expected him to question me later. But, overwhelmed by the death, thirteen days of mourning, and the never ending rites and rituals – Manish must have forgotten. Anyway, he does not know I did not want to marry at eighteen – him or anyone else. He has been happy with me. He has tried to keep me happy in his own way too. He could only be faulted for never asking me if I have been happy. (Wouldn’t you like to know, Sir?)
Anyway, yesterday I took out the newspaper, and opened it at the editorial page. There was nothing there that बाबूजी would be interested to read. The editorial piece was on India China bilateral trade. There was an article on the right to education. There were those silly snippets and tidbits of politics. There was a weekly piece explaining the scriptures, and the usual vehement letters to the editor. But, just below them at the bottom right, I saw the small, about two-thirds of a column deep, feature: “Tutoring a Trucker’s Daughter”. I was surprised to see that it was as told by one Samiron. That makes you who I think you are, am I right, Sir? I know there could be many persons with that very common Bengali name. But, would there be more than one who … who tutored a ‘Trucker’s daughter’?
What agitated me, Sir, is that the tutor’s pupil was not a Trucker’s daughter! बाबूजी was not a trucker! He ran a transportation business, true. Of course, you saw those trucks parked in front of our house. बाबूजी had inherited the business from his father. बाबूजी was really into shares – buying and selling. He made his money in that, and ploughed it back into his business, taking bank loan to buy trucks to hide his income from shares. Unfortunately, he relied on his gut feeling, which did not always benefit him. It had become difficult for him to repay his bank loans. That is when he decided I should study commerce to learn to read the share indexes in the business page of newspapers, and guide him. I hope you can recall that बाबूजी used to get ‘The Economic Standard’, which you would pick up to pass time, when I was late in coming downstairs with my books.
Sir, I can still remember coming down the stairs, drawn by that aroma of nicotine from your chain smoking. Manish too smokes, but he does not smell like you did. Do you still smoke?
Sorry, I digress. So … I saw this article, and went through it. I read one particular line more than once: “For all her girlish immaturity, she had some touches of a self-conscious woman – like, in the way she would check once in a while if her scarf (चुनरी?) was in place, while locking my eyes with her unwavering gaze. I did not know whether to look into her eyes, or away from them to know if her scarf had indeed strayed.”
Sir, I did not like that line! What about you being so self-conscious – with your hair smelling of pomade, and your suede shoes so carefully brushed? I remember you telling me that with your fee you had just enough for your daily packet of cigarettes, four weekly movie in Sunday morning show ‘if you went all by yourself’, and one month’s jar of Brylcreem. Why would you tell me such personal details? Wouldn’t that make any girl of sixteen सचेती, and even संकोची?
Also, what you have written about how you got the tuition job is wrong. What happened was this. बाबूजी used to go for his morning cup and newspaper to some café, where he had overheard you tell your friends something like, “If I could even get a job, you know guys, like giving tuition to someone who is not totally dull, I could have some money to buy gifts for her.” Sir, do you know I wanted to ask you who she was, and what gift you wanted to buy for her. Maybe I could have advised you what to buy.
When you told बाबूजी you were studying for Bachelor of Commerce, he was too happy – because, more than pass my school tests, he wanted me to be able to read the business pages, and explain to him the share prices and trends. He had been losing money in shares, and had no idea why.
Anyway, as I finished reading your article, I realized that your readers would never know finally what happened to the student. Sir, you may go ahead and write. Tell them that you got a real job, and I lost my tutor. Shortly, looking for a share trader, बाबूजी got introduced to Manish. Manish gave him a few useful tips. A year later, I got married off (to Manish), even though I was only eighteen. After finishing school I did not go for my Bachelor of Commerce, because with Manish to advise बाबूजी, there was no need to.
Sir, in case you are wondering at this coincidence – I mean, my coming across your piece in the newspaper just after बाबूजी’s death – please do not be surprised. Such things do happen. What goes up comes down, and cycles of events complete in queer ways. Sometimes it takes time (Oh that reminds me how I would go upstairs to get you a cup of tea, and waste time looking at the mirror, or sitting and crying my heart out). I just want you to know that ‘now’ I am fine, things are fine. And I hope you are fine too; this part did not come out that well in your narration.
दमयंती / पटना
PS: (I know postscript makes no sense in an e-mail. Nevertheless …)
Manish and I now live in Delhi. Couple of years ago I completed my Bachelor in Psychology, which was, of course, of no help.
I reread the mail, and then looked away from my laptop screen to think about the background of all that.
Last year during the autumn festivals, most of us schoolmates had come down to Jamshedpur by design. We had not met together for a long time. One day during our stay, recalling our boyhood capers and escapades, someone had wished that those stories could be penned. Everyone had looked at me with expectation. Last month I was able to sign up with Newstime to contribute a small 300 – 400 word Sunday feature based on real life stories.
The one above, my first piece, related to Samiron, who was not from our class, nor from our school. Couple of years older than us, he was just from our neighbourhood. After school, Samiron went to a technical school ‘down South’, as he used to say. Graduating after three years, he did a year long internship at Delhi. But, in those days jobs were scarce in his line – aviation. I had just completed my third year at college when Samiron returned to live with his parents, while looking for employment. When I came home during summer holidays, Samiron told me he had decided not to sit idle, and had joined the local college for studying commerce. He felt awkward to ask his parents for the fees and other expenses. So, he had requested the owner of the café we used to frequent, to see if any of his customers needed a tutor. That’s how he had got his job to tutor a girl in her last year at school.
Samiron was then passing through a bad patch. He wanted to marry the girl he was in love with. But, it was unlikely that she would stick it out till he got decent employment. Then this coy nymph, his pupil, enters his life making it even more complicated. At first, Samiron would not discuss her with us. He briefly told us just that her family was originally from Patna, and her father ran a fleet of trucks transporting construction materials within the city.
But, one day, in an expansive mood, Samiron began to speak about her over a cup of tea at the café. I remember him saying then, “You know, we Bengalis are so fascinated by our own girls; but some of the other girls, they too have something that is, well …” Samiron had drifted into silence, lost for words to describe what he had in mind. Then he had resumed, “This girl दमयंती, for instance. The way she looks down on the sly to check if her scarf is in place, and then immediately looks up to see if I had been observing her … and, when she comes down the stairs, the way her lithe legs in their ample salwar entwine themselves in the manner of a braid being woven …” He had gone on like that.
I had asked, “Do you find her attractive?”
Samiron had said, “Far from it. I mean, it is true that her charms are quite unfamiliar to me. But, what alarms me is that she probably thinks I am attracted to her, and that could be fatal for so young a girl.”
I had asked, “What are you going to do about it?”
“I don’t know. I really need to land a stable employment as soon as I can. Because … I now have this second, and far more pressing reason that I should escape this hellhole of a ‘situation’.” Samiron had replied.
© mikupa / 30 April 2015