“Hello Shravan, how are you?”
Shravan, who was sitting in a minibus and browsing the headlines of a daily newspaper, raised his head and saw his school mate Aseem standing in the bus, few seats away from where he was sitting.
This bus starts from a place called Parnasreepally in Behala and goes up to Howrah railway station.
Shravan and Aseem both studied science in the same school. Since passing out from the high school they never met each other. However, in between, Shravan met Aseem’s father only once. Both recognized each other. His father told Shravan that his friend was studying commerce in Goenka College of Commerce. When Shravan told him that he was studying science he said few encouraging words and left.
Shravan generally avoids this route while going to his office. But today he had some work in the post office and since the post office is adjacent to this bus terminus, he decided to take the bus from this bus terminus.
“So, what are you doing now?” Aseem asked.
Shravan told him about his work and asked Aseem about his work.
“I am an accountant”, said Aseem.
Even though they were meeting more than a decade after they graduated from the high school, Shravan found Aseem to be as cordial and friendly as he was during the high school days.
The bus was heavily packed with passengers; there was uninterrupted noise coming from the road; Aseem was speaking in a rather loud voice so that Shravan could hear what he was saying.
“Are you married?” suddenly Aseem asked.
“Why are you keeping this ‘task’ pending”, Aseem suggested in his usual friendly manner.
Shravan could not help but notice that Aseem was wearing a ring which generally people wear soon after their marriage and some people continue wearing them for the rest of their lives. He also noticed that Aseem has put on some extra weight which appeared unusual for his age.
In his office he has a colleague named Mr. Saroj Mukherjee who sits next to him. He is a bachelor in his late-thirties.
Every day other colleagues will come and sit on the chair in front of Mr. Mukherjee and broach the same subject.
Shravan can hear every word of their conversation. In fact Shravan noticed that Saroj Mukherjee only listens and the other person only talks.
Some of them will explain to him with their invincible logic why he should marry without any further delay, because he is “not going to get any younger”.
Some of them have unmarried women among their close relatives and they feel he could still be a good match.
Few among them will explain that the best thing that can happen to a person’s life is the marriage and how marriage can bring divine happiness into a person’s life.
Some of them even ask if he is having any medical problem and if he has what kind of medical help he should take.
Shravan also noticed that Saroj Mukherjee always maintains his smile during the discussion and he always gives a standard answer saying that he will marry next year.
“You have been telling this for the last 10 years, Saroj”, Shravan heard one gentleman charging him after hearing the standard reply.
Shravan thought Saroj Mukherjee will give some befitting reply to this gentleman but found that Mr. Mukherjee only smiled.
One day Saroj Mukherjee asked Shravan if he could join him for lunch. Shravan agreed.
After ordering food Saroj Mukherjee brought the subject.
“Shravan, you must have been hearing about what people talk to me all the time” Saroj Mukherjee asked.
“Sarojda”, Shravan said, “even though I like you but I have no interest to know when you will get married, or whether you will get married or with whom you will get married. If this is what you would like to discuss with me then I must say that I am sorry. I do not have any interest in your personal life.”
Sarojda kept his hand on Shravan’s shoulder, “this is the reason I thought I should talk to you. Some of my colleagues even ask me if I follow some kind of alternate lifestyle. You know what they mean by that, do you?”
“Sarojda, I can hear everything what they say; I also know what does that mean”.
“Shravan, I have been playing Tabla since I was 10, when my father took me to a guru and I never stopped learning since then. Music opens a new world in front of me. I also have a hobby of reading history. These two hobbies take all of my free time and I will not be able to live without these two hobbies. It will be unfair on my part to bring somebody in my life but keeping myself occupied with my hobbies. That will also be too selfish.”
“Marriage is considered as a duty” Shravan thought. He remembers very clearly one particular section from the epic story where Narada approached a female ascetic who was practicing deep penance.
“Young lady what are you up to?” Narada asked.
“O Holy Saint, I am living the life of an ascetic” she replied, “through the fruit of my penance I want to become one with the Omnipresent, Omnipotent and Omniscient Consciousness or Brahman. Please bless me O Holy One.”
“But you must know one thing young lady”, Narada replied, “unless you get married and enter into family life you will never be able to achieve what you have been longing for. You have to have a husband”, so saying Narada left.
“If a male ascetic can remain bachelor why a female ascetic cannot remain spinster” Shravan thought.
She then walked into the nearest forest where many male ascetics were practicing deep penance. She went in front of each and every one of them, with folded hands narrated what Narada said to her, and begged if anyone of them will be kind enough to accept her as his wife. No one even cared to open his eyes to take a look at her.
“Probably they were expecting Menka or Rambha”, Shravan thought, “They would not only have opened their eyes wide open but would have started Bollywood dance as well.”
The female ascetic realized that she has to change her strategy a bit.
“I have performed so much penance and accrued so much virtue that two people can attain moksha due to that. Whoever will marry me will receive half of the fruit of my penance”, she went and told to the very first ascetic she saw in the next forest.
“Is the fruit of penance can also be a commodity that can be traded?” Shravan thought.
Immediately the male ascetic opened his eyes and accepted her in marriage.
Next morning she sat in deep meditation and life left her body. She attained what she had been longing for. Her newly wedded husband felt so sad after her death that he committed suicide and joined her in the next world.
“I have a friend, his name is Angsuman”, Shravan’s thought was interrupted by Sarojda’s words, “we grew up together. He is an electronics engineer and has a hobby of designing electronics gadgets at his free time.”
“One day we went together at the electronics market in Esplanade east.” Sarojda continued. “We were having tea from a road side tea stall and discussing various things. Suddenly one gentleman came and said hello to Angsuman. Angsu introduced his friend to me. He was Angsu’s old colleague from one of the companies he worked in the past. They were meeting after a very long time. He asked Angsu about his family. Angsu told that his wife is a homemaker. He then asked Angsu how many children he has. When Angsu said none, he asked why he has no children. As Angsu was trying to avoid the subject his friend was getting more inquisitive to know what the problem was and was insisting Angsu to talk about it. Then Angsu said that problem lies with him. His friend asked him what the doctor says about his problem. When Angsu said that doctor thinks there is no cure to this problem, the man left.”
“After his friend left”, Sarojda continued, “I asked Angsu why did he tell a lie to his friend. I knew him from our school days. When his wife became pregnant after their marriage, doctor discovered during a routine examination that she also has a benign tumor and that need to be removed. Due to some negligence of the operating physician she not only had a miscarriage but also lost her ability to conceive forever. The couple felt devastated in the beginning but they recovered soon and this only strengthened their bond. This was known only to those who were very close to the couple.”
“It must be very hard for your friend”, suddenly Shravan realized that probably for the first time he is taking interest in a person’s personal life. “Personal life of some people can be so full of experiences that in every single page there is enough to learn”, Shravan thought.
“It was much harder, but probably that made Angsu and his wife wiser every single day”, Sarojda continued. “Angsu told me that his neighbors never wanted to see his and his wife’s face in the morning.
“Why”, Shravan got very curious.
“They believe”, Sarojda continued, “seeing the face of a childless couple in the morning could bring bad luck. Whenever there was any marriage or any other ceremony in the neighborhood they used to get invitation but there was no cordiality attached to the invitation. In some cases they were even asked to bless the occasion a day before or a day after but not on the auspicious day.”
“Their parents from both sides suggested them to adopt a child but the couple realized that more they are being neglected by the society more they are getting closer to each other. So they decided to continue that way. After all they have not done anything wrong.”
“I have to get down here”, suddenly Shravan came out of his thought and looked at Aseem.
“Nice meeting you after a long time, please stay in touch” two friends told these words almost exactly at the same time.
Aseem got down at Esplanade. Shravan also stood up. Next stoppage is Dalhousie Square where he has to get down. Most of the passengers get down here and the bus becomes almost empty. He saw an old man in his 80s travelling alone and still sitting there.
“Probably he will get down at the final stop” Shravan thought.
Suddenly it occurred into his mind, “probably no one will ask this old man about his last task. Probably this is where we can still draw a line”.
Author: Mintu Ghoshal.