Serendipity and After/26

a novel about publishing of a novel

Toward the end of my tenth class, my grandmother fell ill. She had all along been in good health and I’ve never seen him taking any medicine despite her advanced age. She still walked straight in her chemise. Her fair skin glowed. She took a few Tulsi leaves every morning.

It was fever, not any serious illness. My father attended to her and gave medicine. But it was taking time to recover. Every afternoon, after returning from school, I went straight to her room and asked, “How are you, Thakuma?”

She recovered at last, but she looked so morose and different. I began to miss her energy, her ebullience.

“What has happened to you, Thakuma? You don’t talk much these days.”

She drew me closer as ever and said, “Sona, there comes a time in life when you think about some other things than this daily life.”

“Like death?”

“Yes.”

“Do you have any specific thoughts?”

“Sona, I want to die in my birth country. I want my body to be cremated on the bank of Ganga. Ganga is calling me after all these years.”

“How can the Ganga call you? Is it a rhetoric?”

“No, sona. I’m seeing her in my dream every night. She’s a living goddess.”

So she ordered my father to get arrangements for her departure. She would leave for Calcutta. Her eldest daughter, Nirmala, lived in Khardaha. She would go live there until her death. Her son-in-law was dead. But the Ganga was very near to her house.

Since she was leaving permanently, there was no question of crossing the border the legitimate way. My father knew a middleman who took Hindus across the border to India. Against a hefty amount of money, he agreed to take the responsibility of depositing her with her daughter right at her house. He would take her secretly in a loaded lorry, sitting her just by the side of a driver’s seat.

The last few days she was busy distributing all of her things. She divided her jewellery between her two daughters-in-law before handing them. She gave away all of her saris and other clothes to the poor and the needy. And then she called in everybody and said, “I’m giving all of my books to Sona who knows the value of books,” She handed me the key to the big almirah which contained all of her books.

On the appointed day, she got herself ready and seemed buoyant with new energy. I bunked the school against my father’s wish, and was watching her closely from a corner. Would not she have a little talk with me? The lorry was waiting. The middle-man was pacing impatiently before our house.

Then she closed the door and came up to me. I was weeping.

“Don’t weep, sona,” she wiped my tears with her handkerchief. “Why do you weep?”

“I’ll never see you. I can’t go to see you. It’s another country, and there’s a border.”

“But you’re coming to Kolkata anyway.”

“How?”

“Just complete your Higher Secondary here and come to Kolkata. You’ll study in Presidency College.”

“Do you think my father will allow?”

“I’ve had talk with him. I’ve told him I’ll bear all your educational expenses.”

“Have you enough money, Thakuma?”

“We have an acre of land over there at Khardaha. I had bought it long ago through my son-in-law. Do you know the price of that land today? So, sona, don’t weep. It’s going to be better for you. I want you to study in the best college.”

She kissed me in my forehead. I saw tears in her eyes.

“Sona, could you give me just one book from your library?”

“Oh sure. It’s actually your personal library.”

“Look at the top shelf left corner. There are four versions of the Bhagavad Gita. Give me the fattest one — my favorite. I’ll take it away with me.”

She touched it on her forehead and pushed it in her chest.

In minutes, the lorry spluttered to a start and was going away.

It was early autumn.

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