My Favourite Stories From Contemporary Bengali Literature : The Lone Tree

28317470829_8e99126b55_nI moved to this new accommodation in January this year. The design and construction of this residential complex is quite strange. None of the residents seems to have any clue about what came to the architect’s mind to have designed such a stupid tower. No ventilation, no windows, no outside view. Everything is closed with glass panes, shutters, walls. We don’t even know what colour the sky is at any time of the day or whether it is raining outside or is it sunny.

Given such a strange design of the flats, we have to keep the lights on during daytime also. This reminds me of an interesting feature of the rooms. Just above the main door of every room, there is a glass pane. I have absolutely no idea what is the purpose of that glass pane. Some people have covered that window pane by pasting paper sheets or even newspaper, however elegant or ugly it might look. Perhaps they fear that somebody may climb up and peep inside their rooms while they are sleeping naked. But why would anyone take so much trouble and risk? Another and more plausible reason could be that the lights from the corridor enter their rooms and cause annoyance while they are trying to sleep. Personally, I don’t have any problem with that glass pane. I haven’t covered it. If anyone wants to watch, let them do. Who cares! Afterall I am not Hritik Roshan that anyone would be dying to catch a glimpse of my natural self. And moreover, most of the time I move around in my flat dressed like Salman Khan (you know what I mean), so nobody actually has to make so much effort.

There is a specific reason for my not closing that glass pane off. After switching off the lights, the room becomes very dark. If the glass pane is left uncovered, the light from  the corridor brings some faint light inside the room. That makes movement easier in case I have to get up in the middle of the night. Every night while lying in my bed with lights off, I look at the beam of light coming through that glass pane. It looks so collimated, so disciplined, so beautiful. And in what a great way it is helping me, with absolutely no effort on its part! Without it, of course, things would have been enormously difficult.

Life is like that only. Sometimes we find ourselves in difficult circumstances, and have absolutely no energy to face them. In fact, it is not that we are not capable or lack strength. Actually, the problems are so many in number that they completely overwhelm us. When you anticipate some problem, you can prepare yourself for the struggle ahead. However, when the problems catch you off guard, you are completely lost and this is when troubles multiply. In such moments, we need someone to be with us, just anybody. No, we are not seeking help or support, which anyhow is nearly impossible to find these days. We just want someone to be with us. Moral support, you see. Just their presence is enough; it shows us that we are not alone. They don’t even have to pass any words of wisdom or of concern. Or perhaps they have to. Sometimes, we do not necessarily require any person, instead just words, kind words, words of concern, care and of love. How are you? Are you OK? Words like these. But not perfunctory, superficial words, which we anyhow do recognize as such. We may not understand Greek or Swahili, but we can separate genuine love from fake emotions. But I think it is not necessary even to go that far. People do not seem to have any time for others. Even if they find time, they would approach you with complaints, nagging, scolding, or teaching and giving sermons.

Yet, just in case you are able to find that small support, however trivial it might appear, your life become so much easier and beautiful from that moment onwards. I do not think that I am painting an abstract picture. Have you ever travelled in a bus or a train and seen people climbing into the bus? A man would be carrying several bags and would stretch hand to anyone inside to help him come in. Or a woman holding a child. Or a person who doesn’t know swimming or is afraid of water. There are several occasions when we stretch our hand, hoping that somebody would hold it. Unfortunately, most of the time there is nobody.

Every night I look at that light beam and think along these thoughts. It also reminds me of a story that appeared couple of years back in the Bengali literary magazine Desh. I do not remember the title of the story or its writer. Even the narrative is very hazy and faint in my mind. Yet, I pray that some day that writer stumbles upon this article and knows that her story was successful and that at least one person was able to relate with it completely. If anyone of you is able to recall this story, please point out the mistakes and lapses in the narrative. I would incorporate the changes.

This young lady was approaching forty. If I remember correctly, she had taken divorce on account of domestic violence. She was living with her father. Her mother was already dead, and her brothers and sisters were married and settled in their own lives. All of them lived elsewhere. She was living alone with her father. But then her father also passed away. The whole story is set on the time when all the family members had assembled for the obsequies. Funeral, rites and rituals were over and guests had started departing one by one. It was night and the lady was standing alone by the window in her room,  looking at a lone tree in the backyard. She could hear the whispers and conversation of family members in the other room. The subject of conversation was this lady — most of them thought her to be on the wrong for having taken divorce. See, now she has nowhere to go. There is no one to look after her. And so on. I cannot give you all the conversation here, but would mention that it was all so real, so convincing. Nobody, absolutely nobody was concerned about the lady, what was she going through, what she thought, what she wanted. Everybody took her to be an ‘issue’, a ‘subject’ or a problem. Nobody even approached her. Even though I have completely forgotten other parts of the story, I still remember how deeply moved I was when I first read that story. I could relate so well with all the conversation. People around are so callous, so superficial, so rude. The lady kept calm and listened to that conversation very quietly, without losing her composure even for a moment. It was so difficult for her. Deep inside she was so much agitated — her world breaking down, she was feeling lost and completely clueless on what to do next. She didn’t have any idea what to do, where to go, who to turn to. Yet, she maintained a calm expression and kept looking at the tree outside her window.

After couple of hours, the conversations died out, people went to sleep and there was complete silence. The discussions came to no conclusion. As the lady was slowly turning away from the window, preparing to go to bed to spend another sleepless night, the door opened and her sister-in-law entered the room. She stood next to her and said in a normal tone —

— Listen, everyone has gone to sleep. Their packing is over. Younger sister is leaving tomorrow morning, and the elder one in the evening. We have also booked tickets for the day after tomorrow.
— OK. Fine. – replied the lady.
Then the sister-in-law took her hands into hers and asked softly —

— What will you do? Will you come with me? Will you be able to live with me?

Hearing these words, the lady broke down. She could not hold any more. She cried, cried, cried whole night with her head in her sister-in-law’s lap. Here was her angel, the narrow beam of light. These were the kind, loving words — words of  care and concern — that her heart was so much yearning for. The story ended there, with a description of the lone tree in the backyard.

photo credit: davidseibold Score (p) via photopin (license)

5 thoughts on “My Favourite Stories From Contemporary Bengali Literature : The Lone Tree

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