Starting with this post, I intend to start writing a series of letters. I have often felt that writing letters is a lost art, which I wanted to revive. Maybe the medium might change, but the emotion, the ethos, the excitement should not. However, the only time I have gotten around to writing any letter to anyone is an inland letter card back home from Kanpur that took 3 months to reach and got my mother all worried because the Bengali was too flowery, emotional and philosophical. So here is an attempt to address my Calcutta. I hope her history, her beauty, her feelings and my own views and ideology come through. I am simultaneously writing this in Bengali as well, if anyone wishes to read it. Hence, it will have Bengali motifs and words scattered throughout with explanations if and when necessary.
This might even not reach you, ever, for I am shy and too sentimental. You might know that I have been too sentimental since childhood,
as many have said, but sorry, please ignore me as I blabber too much about myself. This letter is to you; for you. You, whom I have observed from afar, from close, in silence and in reverence. But alas, I have rarely given too much, if any, importance to you when you were close by. At the bottom of my heart, I guess I always knew you were special, but it is only when I went far from you, physically, that I realized what you meant. Old Tagore rhetoric; you remember, our Rabi Babu had said – you travel far to see the Himalayas, and ignore the drop of dew on a paddy blade two steps from your front door? Huh! True that, wasn’t it said that you only realize the worth of something when you lose it. Oh! Please don’t read that, why should such words even come out of my pen – I cannot ever imagine losing you. I cannot, I cannot, I cannot.
You smile, I guess, at my insecure sentimentality – if so, that is reward enough for me, to be the cause of a smile on your face. For too many days have I seen you melancholic, helpless to do anything for it. I feel guilty to not have been able to do anything of substance. What could I have done? I watched in silence with tears streaming down my face and sighs escaping from my mouth, as you were neglected, maimed, looked down upon. My innards were shattered as I longed to be close to you, listen to your whispers and your tales of banchana (neglect), but I could not. I know not why, fear of society or fear, not fear, but fierce admiration, I guess, of you. I could hear your silent sobs, feel those streaks on your cheeks, but do nothing. But, might I confess something? Even your silent sobs sound melodious to me. Even with the painful lump crunching my heart at the sight of you unhappy, my subconscious cannot help but admire your innate beauty even when you are standing at the corner, elokeshi, your dark tresses – the envy of the night, and your eyes, moist and drooping down, having all the purety of the Ganga flowing past you.
I was shell-shocked when your sisters looked down upon you at these times with high-nosed contempt. They say you have not grown up, not modernized. They ridicule your complexion; your rough hands, worn from bearing the brunt of the family for so long; your love of the classical music; your embrace of all that seek solace in your bosom; your love of truth, honesty and justice. I cannot understand, my dark lady, how your complexion can be ridiculed! My kalo meye, forget not the solace we find in Goddess Shyama, the trust and affection our shyamla baron Bangla Ma gets, how our Bard has sung in praise of the kalo-horin-chokh (dark doe-eyes) of our Krishnakali! People who have not gazed into your dark iris, or had a chance to admire your tresses (peace be upon them) know not what they are missing out on, forgive them! They know not the beauties of nishi (the night) that I worship aharnishi! (day and night)
See, I have digressed again from the point I wanted to mention way back at the beginning of my letter. I wonder if you have noticed my absence, for I have moved elsewhere, upstream from the Ganga that flows by you. I hope you are not envious or jealous (it would be my supreme luck and honour if you even for a fleeting moment feel even something for this insignificant soul over here) – the lady I find here is, too, a sad and neglected one, she too is beautiful in her own way. I can almost feel your mischievous smile as you plan on ways to pester me, but let me reiterate, as always, the depth of knowledge, the ideology, the natural beauty that you have been bestowed upon have made me feel almost all other creations to be hollow; you are the closest to perfection one can get, you are Poetry herself! *sigh*
Being away from you has made me realize what you mean to me. I realize I had taken you for granted. So many times have I sniffed to expect that fragrance of flowers near the Mallick Ghat, called to expect the loving voice of Ma calling back, searched in vain for the streams near Dakshineswar to cafune, strolled, expecting to catch a glimpse of playful you in your breathtaking sari. But it was not to be. How do I describe how I feel now? As usual, Gurudeb comes in to feed words to my empty soul, at a loss for sound -যার লাগি ফিরি একা একা– আঁখি পিপাসিত, নাহি দেখা,…এই হিয়াভরা বেদনাতে, বারি-ছলোছলো আঁখিপাতে! (For whom I wonder alone – my eyes pine in thirst, but I find not you to satiate it,…My life is filled with pain, teardrops glistening on the borders of my eyes!) But don’t you worry, I shall keep talking to you, may be onesided, maybe an example of la doleur exquise, but speak I will.
Itihin (that which has no end)
*Tilottama – one whose smallest particle is the finest – Calcutta has often been called this by popular media.