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Devdas

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    ( Chapter 2 )

    Woe betide Paro and their village, Talshonapur. Sometimes the odd memory of his childhood drifted into this mind all right, but the excitement of the other things soon drove thoughts from his head.
    Yet another summer vacation came along. The previous year Devdas had gone abroad for his vacation. This year both parents wrote to him, asking him to come home. Quite unwillingly he packed his bags and headed for his village. The day he arrived, he wasn’t feeling too well. So he couldn’t go out. The next day he went to Parvati’s house and called out, “Aunty.”
    Parvati’s mother welcomed him in and said “Come in, son.”
    He spent some time talking to her and then asked, “Aunty, where is Paro?”
    “Probably upstairs.”
    Devdas went upstairs and found Parvati lighting the evening lamp, he called, “Paro.”
    She was startled at first. Then she touched his feet respectfully and stood aside.
    “What’s all this, Paro?”
    There was no need for words. So she was silent Devdas felt shy too. He said, “I’ll be off then; its nearly dark outside. I’m not to well either.” He walked away.
    According to Grandma, Parvati had just turned thirteen. It was the age when the teenaged body suddenly bloomed and came to life. The family suddenly woke up one day to the fact that their little girl was all grown up. Now there was a rush to get her married. This had been the topic of discussion in the Chakravarty household for the last few days. Mother was very sad; she kept telling her husband, “True, we can’t hold on to Paro any longer.”
    They were not wealthy. But fortunately the girl was very attractive. If beauty was worth anything in this world, Parvati wouldn’t cause them a day’s concern. Another fact needs to be mentioned. Till that time, in their household, only sons’weddings were a cause for worry, not that of daughter. The custom was to take a bride-price for a girl’s marriage and to give it for a boy’s marriage. Even Nilkantha-babu’s father had taken a bride-price for his daughter’s marriage. But Nilkantha-babu abhorred this practice. He had no intention of selling Parvati and making money on the transaction.
    Parvati’s mother was aware of this. So she often rushed her husband about their daughter’s marriage. Until then, Parvati’s mother had indulged in a distant fantasy she could somehow marry her daughter off to Devdas. It didn’t seem like such an impossible idea after all. She had hoped that a broad hint dropped gently might help. Perhaps that was why Parvati’s grandma tried to broach the subject to Devdas’s mother saying, “Your Devdas and my Paro—they are so close to each other; it’s a rare sight, really.”
    Devdas’s mother said, “And why not, Aunty? They’ve grown up together like brother and sister.”
    Yes, yes, that’s why I feel—just look at the way she cried and cried when Devdas went off to Calcutta. And she was barely eight years old. One letter from Devdas and her day would be made. We have known all along, you see.”
    Devdas’s mother understood all the veiled hints. She smiled to herself. There was more pathos than derision in that smile. She had seen it all too, and she also loved Parvati. But the Chakravartys’ was a trading household. And they lived right next door. Oh shame.
    She said, “You know Aunty, Devdas’s father is very definite about not getting him married at this age, when he is still studying. He has always said to me, it was a big mistake getting my eldest son, Dwijodas, married at an early age. He didn’t get to complete his education.”
    Parvati’s grandmother was very embarrassed. But she still went on, “That may be so, my child. But you know, Paro—Gold bless her –has shot up and she’s really filling out and so, if Narayan has no objection..”
    Devdas’s mother stopped her and said, “No aunty. I can’t bring myself to say this to him. If I proposed a marriage for Devdas at this time, he’d be very upset.”
    The matter seemed to end there. But women can never keep secrets. At dinnertime Devdas’s mother brought up the subject before her husband. “Today Paro’s grandma was talking about getting her married.”
    Mukherjee-babu looked up”Yes, she seems to have grown a lot. It would be sensible to get her married quickly.”
    “That’s why she broached it today. She said if Devdas—”
    He frowned and asked, “What did you say?”
    “What could I say? The two of them are very close. But I can’t bring home a bride from a trading family like theirs. And they are our neighbours too. Shame.”
    Mukherjee-babu was happy. He said,”Exactly. We can’t become a laughing stock. Don’t pay any attention to all this talk.”
    His wife smiled wryly, “No, I won’t. But you don’t forget about it either.”
    Gravely her husband brought the morsel to his mouth and said, “If I were to do that, this huge zaminadari would have vanished into thin air long ago.”
    God would keep his zaminadari intact for many years to come. But let us take a look at Parvati’s misery. When talk about this proposal and its rejection reached Nilkhantha-babu he called his mother and scolded her, “Mother, why did you have to go and do this?”
    Grandma was silent.
    Nilkanta-babu continued, “We don’t have to beg people to get our daughter married. In fact it’s the other way round. My daughter isn’t bad looking. I tell you—within this week I shall fix up her marriage. It’s not a problem at all.”
    But it was the end of the world for Parvati. From her childhood she was sure that she had some claims on her Dev-da. No one had handed those rights to her on a platter. At first it wasn’t even very clear to her that she thought of Devdas in this way. But over the years her mind had staked its claim so gently and so surely, that thought she may not have felt its presence tangibly until then, at all this talk of losing him, a storm broke loose in her heart.
    But the same couldn’t be said of Devdas. He had enjoyed all his rights over Parvati as a child. But once he went to Calcutta and discovered other interests and pleasures, he had sort of let go of her. He had no idea that Parvati, in her mundane, rustic existence, bore his face in her heart day in and day out.
    Parvati felt that the one person who had always seemed to be hers and hers alone, who had always indulged her every wish, was hardly likely to slip away the minute her childhood ended and youth arrived. At the time who gave marriage a thought? Who knew that the ties of childhood could never be permanent unless they were renewed by marriage vows? The news that marriage between them was impossible crashed within her heart and seemed to tear away at every wish, every desire she had ever nurtured there.
    But Devdas had his homework in the mornings and the afternoons were too hot; he could only stroll around in the evenings. So he often dressed up, took his walking stick and walked out to the meadows. Parvati wiped her eyes and gazed on him from her window. Thoughts clamoured in her head. She knew they had both grown up and after the prolonged separation, they both felt shy of each other. The other day Devdas had just walked of, too shy to even speak to her properly.
    Devdas had similar thoughts. Sometimes he wanted to talk to Parvati to take a god look at her. But immediately he’d think, “How would that look?”
    Here, in the village, the hustle-bustle of Calcutta, the excitement, the entertainment were all missing and so he was often beset by thoughts of his childhood. That Paro who had been his playmate now looked like this—a grown woman. Parvati too often thought of the fact that Dev-da was now Devdas-babu. These days he seldom went to their house, Sometimes, after dusk, he’d stand in the courtyard and call out, “Aunty, what’s up?”
    Aunty would say, “Come in, son” Immediately he would say, “Oh no Aunty, not now. I’m going for a walk.” Sometimes Parvati would be upstairs and some days she’d be right before him. As he talked to Aunty, she would slowly move away.
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    Parvati was a proud girl. She didn’t want anyone to get wind of the kind of hell she was going through. Besides, what was the point? She wouldn’t be able to take their pity and as for the criticism—she was better off without it.
    Manorama had got married the previous year. But she still hadn’t gone to her husband’s home. So she came round sometimes. Earlier the two friends often discussed marriage and the like. The topics still came up sometimes, but Parvati never joined in. She kept silent or changed the subject.

    One whole year passed in this manner. But things couldn’t stay the same forever. Devdas’s mother was getting very upset. She called her husband and said, “Deva is growing into an unlettered bumpkin----please do something.”
    Mukherjee-babu pondered over it and said, “Let him go to Calcutta. He can stay in Nagen’s house and finish his studies.” Nagen babu was Devda’s mother’s brother.
    Soon everyone had come to know of this decision. Parvati was shocked to hear the news. When she got him alone, she hung onto to Devdas’s arms and said, “Dev-da, you are going to Calcutta?”
    “Who says that?”
    “Uncle said so.”
    “Rubbish… I’ll never go.”
    “And if he forces you to go?”
    “Force?” Devdas made a face at that; it was obvious to Parvati that there wasn’t a soul who could force him to do anything. That was exactly what she had wanted to know. Delighted at this turn of events, she hung on his arm again, turned this way and that, gazed on his face and said with a little laugh. “Just see that you don’t go away, Dev-da.”
    “Never.”
    But he wasn’t able to honour this promise. His father, after much scolding and cajoling, managed to send him off to Calcutta accompanied by Dharmadas. On the day he left, Devdas felt very sad. He didn’t feel an ounce of curiosity or excitement about the new place he was to see.
    Parvati refused to leave him alone for a second that day. She wept and wept, but no one took any notice. She then refused to speak to Devdas. But he called her and said, “Listen Paro, I’ll be back soon. If they don’t let me come, I’ll run away.”
    A little mollified, Parvati unburdened her tiny heart to him. Then he picked up his portmanteau with his mother’s blessings and her tears glowing fresh on his brow he mounted the buggy and drove way.
    Parvati was heartbroken. The tears streamed down her cheeks and her heart was fit to burst from grief. That’s how the first few days went by. Then one morning, she woke up to find that she had nothing to do all day. Until then, since the day she had quit school, the entire day used to be spent in getting up to all kinds of mischief with Devdas; she had felt there was so much to do and so little time. But now she had a lot of time and hardly anything to do. Some days she’d woke up and sit down to write a letter. Ten o’clock would roll around and Mother would get irritated. Grandma would say “Poor thing, let her write. It’s better to do some reading-writing in the morning than to run around all over the place.”
    On the days that letter from Devdas arrived, Parvati would look like she had grasped the moon in her hands. She would sit on the threshold of the staircase and read the letter over and over, all day long. Finally, when a couple of months passed, the frequency of the letters grew less and less; interest seemed to have waned a little on both sides.
    One day Parvati went up to her mother and said, “Mother, I want to go to school again.”
    Mother was quite surprised, “Why child?”
    Parvati nodded and said, “Yes. I most certainly want to go.”
    “Fine then.When have I ever stopped you from going to school?”
    That afternoon Parvati dug out the old and tattered books and the long-forsaken slate and, holding onto the maid’s hand, she walked to school. She went up to her old place and took her seat, calmly and patiently. The maid said, “Master, don’t beat her up again. She has come back of her own free will. Let her study when she wants to and let her go when she wants to go.”
    The teacher said to himself, “As you wish.” He said aloud, “Fine by me.” It was on the tip of his tongue to ask her why they didn’t send Parvati to Calcutta as well. But he pulled himself up Parvati saw that the class monitor, Bhulo sat in his old place on the bench. For a moment she nearly giggled. But then her eyes filled with tears. She felt very angry with Bhulo. He seemed to be the sole culprit behind Devdas’s leaving home.
    Several months passed. Devdas came back home after a long spell. Parvati ran out excitedly to meet him. They talked a lot. She didn’t have much to say, or even if she did, she couldn’t say much. But Devdas talked a great deal. Most of it was about Calcutta. Then the summer holidays came to an end. Devdas went back to Calcutta. This time the tears streamed, but their flow seemed weaker than before.
    In this manner four years went by. In those few years Devdas had changed so much that it made Parvati shed a few tears in private. The rustic traits in Devdas had vanished completely with his sojourn in Calcutta. Now he sported foreign shoes, bright clothes, walking stick, gold buttons, a watch—without these accessories he felt bereft. He never felt taking a walk by the river anymore; instead he would rather take his gun and go hunting. Instead of the tiny minnows, he now wanted to hook the big fish. That wasn’t all. He talked of politics, meetings, organizations, cricket, football and so much more.

    Woe betide Paro and their village, Talshonapur. Sometimes the odd memory of his childhood drifted into this mind all right, but the excitement of the other things soon drove thoughts from his head.

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    Yet another summer vacation came along. The previous year Devdas had gone abroad for his vacation. This year both parents wrote to him, asking him to come home. Quite unwillingly he packed his bags and headed for his village. The day he arrived, he wasn’t feeling too well. So he couldn’t go out. The next day he went to Parvati’s house and called out, “Aunty.”
    Parvati’s mother welcomed him in and said “Come in, son.”
    He spent some time talking to her and then asked, “Aunty, where is Paro?”
    “Probably upstairs.”
    Devdas went upstairs and found Parvati lighting the evening lamp, he called, “Paro.”
    She was startled at first. Then she touched his feet respectfully and stood aside.
    “What’s all this, Paro?”
    There was no need for words. So she was silent Devdas felt shy too. He said, “I’ll be off then; its nearly dark outside. I’m not to well either.” He walked away.
    According to Grandma, Parvati had just turned thirteen. It was the age when the teenaged body suddenly bloomed and came to life. The family suddenly woke up one day to the fact that their little girl was all grown up. Now there was a rush to get her married. This had been the topic of discussion in the Chakravarty household for the last few days. Mother was very sad; she kept telling her husband, “True, we can’t hold on to Paro any longer.”
    They were not wealthy. But fortunately the girl was very attractive. If beauty was worth anything in this world, Parvati wouldn’t cause them a day’s concern. Another fact needs to be mentioned. Till that time, in their household, only sons’weddings were a cause for worry, not that of daughter. The custom was to take a bride-price for a girl’s marriage and to give it for a boy’s marriage. Even Nilkantha-babu’s father had taken a bride-price for his daughter’s marriage. But Nilkantha-babu abhorred this practice. He had no intention of selling Parvati and making money on the transaction.
    Parvati’s mother was aware of this. So she often rushed her husband about their daughter’s marriage. Until then, Parvati’s mother had indulged in a distant fantasy she could somehow marry her daughter off to Devdas. It didn’t seem like such an impossible idea after all. She had hoped that a broad hint dropped gently might help. Perhaps that was why Parvati’s grandma tried to broach the subject to Devdas’s mother saying, “Your Devdas and my Paro—they are so close to each other; it’s a rare sight, really.”
    Devdas’s mother said, “And why not, Aunty? They’ve grown up together like brother and sister.”
    Yes, yes, that’s why I feel—just look at the way she cried and cried when Devdas went off to Calcutta. And she was barely eight years old. One letter from Devdas and her day would be made. We have known all along, you see.”
    Devdas’s mother understood all the veiled hints. She smiled to herself. There was more pathos than derision in that smile. She had seen it all too, and she also loved Parvati. But the Chakravartys’ was a trading household. And they lived right next door. Oh shame.
    She said, “You know Aunty, Devdas’s father is very definite about not getting him married at this age, when he is still studying. He has always said to me, it was a big mistake getting my eldest son, Dwijodas, married at an early age. He didn’t get to complete his education.”
    Parvati’s grandmother was very embarrassed. But she still went on, “That may be so, my child. But you know, Paro—Gold bless her –has shot up and she’s really filling out and so, if Narayan has no objection..”
    Devdas’s mother stopped her and said, “No aunty. I can’t bring myself to say this to him. If I proposed a marriage for Devdas at this time, he’d be very upset.”
    The matter seemed to end there. But women can never keep secrets. At dinnertime Devdas’s mother brought up the subject before her husband. “Today Paro’s grandma was talking about getting her married.”
    Mukherjee-babu looked up”Yes, she seems to have grown a lot. It would be sensible to get her married quickly.”
    “That’s why she broached it today. She said if Devdas—”
    He frowned and asked, “What did you say?”
    “What could I say? The two of them are very close. But I can’t bring home a bride from a trading family like theirs. And they are our neighbours too. Shame.”
    Mukherjee-babu was happy. He said,”Exactly. We can’t become a laughing stock. Don’t pay any attention to all this talk.”
    His wife smiled wryly, “No, I won’t. But you don’t forget about it either.”
    Gravely her husband brought the morsel to his mouth and said, “If I were to do that, this huge zaminadari would have vanished into thin air long ago.”
    God would keep his zaminadari intact for many years to come. But let us take a look at Parvati’s misery. When talk about this proposal and its rejection reached Nilkhantha-babu he called his mother and scolded her, “Mother, why did you have to go and do this?”
    Grandma was silent.

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    Nilkanta-babu continued, “We don’t have to beg people to get our daughter married. In fact it’s the other way round. My daughter isn’t bad looking. I tell you—within this week I shall fix up her marriage. It’s not a problem at all.”
    But it was the end of the world for Parvati. From her childhood she was sure that she had some claims on her Dev-da. No one had handed those rights to her on a platter. At first it wasn’t even very clear to her that she thought of Devdas in this way. But over the years her mind had staked its claim so gently and so surely, that thought she may not have felt its presence tangibly until then, at all this talk of losing him, a storm broke loose in her heart.
    But the same couldn’t be said of Devdas. He had enjoyed all his rights over Parvati as a child. But once he went to Calcutta and discovered other interests and pleasures, he had sort of let go of her. He had no idea that Parvati, in her mundane, rustic existence, bore his face in her heart day in and day out.
    Parvati felt that the one person who had always seemed to be hers and hers alone, who had always indulged her every wish, was hardly likely to slip away the minute her childhood ended and youth arrived. At the time who gave marriage a thought? Who knew that the ties of childhood could never be permanent unless they were renewed by marriage vows? The news that marriage between them was impossible crashed within her heart and seemed to tear away at every wish, every desire she had ever nurtured there.
    But Devdas had his homework in the mornings and the afternoons were too hot; he could only stroll around in the evenings. So he often dressed up, took his walking stick and walked out to the meadows. Parvati wiped her eyes and gazed on him from her window. Thoughts clamoured in her head. She knew they had both grown up and after the prolonged separation, they both felt shy of each other. The other day Devdas had just walked of, too shy to even speak to her properly.
    Devdas had similar thoughts. Sometimes he wanted to talk to Parvati to take a god look at her. But immediately he’d think, “How would that look?”
    Here, in the village, the hustle-bustle of Calcutta, the excitement, the entertainment were all missing and so he was often beset by thoughts of his childhood. That Paro who had been his playmate now looked like this—a grown woman. Parvati too often thought of the fact that Dev-da was now Devdas-babu. These days he seldom went to their house, Sometimes, after dusk, he’d stand in the courtyard and call out, “Aunty, what’s up?”
    Aunty would say, “Come in, son” Immediately he would say, “Oh no Aunty, not now. I’m going for a walk.” Sometimes Parvati would be upstairs and some days she’d be right before him. As he talked to Aunty, she would slowly move away.
    Parvati was a proud girl. She didn’t want anyone to get wind of the kind of hell she was going through. Besides, what was the point? She wouldn’t be able to take their pity and as for the criticism—she was better off without it.
    Manorama had got married the previous year. But she still hadn’t gone to her husband’s home. So she came round sometimes. Earlier the two friends often discussed marriage and the like. The topics still came up sometimes, but Parvati never joined in. She kept silent or changed the subject.

    Parvati’s father has gone to fix a match for her. He came back one night, having done the deed. The groom was none other than Bhuvan Chowdhury, the zamindar of Hatipota village, some twenty miles away in the Burdwan district. Apparently he was very well off and below forty years in age. He had lost his wife the year before-hence he desire to marry again. The news wasn’t welcomed by everyone in the house. In fact most people were unhappy. But the fact remained that nearly two or three thousand rupees was to come from Bhuvan Chowdhury, one way or another, and so the women were silent.
    One afternoon as Devdas sat down to lunch, his mother came and sat beside him and said, “So, Paro is getting married.”
    Devdas looked up and asked, “When?”
    “This month.Yesterday they came and saw the bride. The groom came himself.”
    Devdas was a little surprised, “But I don’t even know anything, Mother.”
    “How would you know? The groom is a widower—quite old. But I believe he is well to do; Paro will live a good life.”
    Devdas looked down and continued with his meal. His mother went on, “They had wanted to fix her marriage in this household.”
    Devdas looked up, “And?”
    Mother laughed, “Oh no, that’s not possible. They are lower in status, a trading family and our immediate neighsbours to boot--- shame.” Mother wrinkled her nose. Devdas watched her in silence. After a few minutes’ pause, Mother spoke again, “I did speak about it to your father.”
    “What did he say?”
    “What could he say? He won’t be able to drag the family name in the mud—that’s what he told me.”
    Devdas didn’t say another word.
    That afternoon Manorama and Parvati were having a chat. Parvati’s eyes were full of tears and Manorama seemed to have just wiped them away. The latter asked, “So what are your options?”
    Parvati wiped her eyes again and said, “What options? Was your husband your choice?”
    “That was different. He may not have been my choice, but neither did I dislike him; so I didn’t suffer at all But you seem to have brought your misfortune upon yourself.”
    Parvati didn’t answer. She just mused in silence.
    Manorama did some thinking of her own and then asked, Hey Paro, how old is your groom?”
    “Yours.”
    Parvati did some calculations and said, “Perhaps nineteen.”
    Manorama was quite taken aback. She said, “But… I heard he is almost forty.”
    This time Parvati laughed a little. She said, “Mano-didi, I really don’t know how many grooms are nearly forty. But I know that my groom is twenty years old.”
    Manorama gazed at her face and asked, “What’s his name?”
    Parvati laughed again, “Don’t you know?”
    “How would I know?”
    “You don’t? Fine, then, let me tell you,” with a slight smile she sobered up quickly, brought her lips to Manorama’s ears and whispered, “ Don’t you know—Sri Devdas—”
    At first Manorama was startled. Then she pushed her away and said, “Don’t make fun of me. Say it now, while you are not married to him and can still take your husband’s name—”
    “But I just said it.”
    Manorama was upset, “If he really is called Devdas, then why are you crying your heart out?”
    Suddenly the light went out of Parvati’s eyes. She thought for a while and said, “True. I shouldn’t cry anymore.”
    “Paro?”
    “What is it?”
    “Why don’t you tell me everything, little sister? I can’t understand anything.”
    Parvati said, “But I just told you everything.”
    “But I couldn’t understand a word of it.”
    “And you wouldn’t ever understand.” Parvati turned away.
    Manorama felt Parvati was hiding things, she had no intention of opening her heart to her. She felt very hurt and said, “Paro, if something makes you sad, let me share it with you. All I want is that you be happy. If you have some secrets that you don’t want to share with me, that’s okay. But please don’t make fun of me.”
    Parvati was also upset. She said, “I haven’t made fun of you, didi. I have told you all that I know. I know that my husband’s name is Devdas and he is nineteen or twenty years old—that’s what I have told you.”
    “But I just heard that your marriage has been fixed elsewhere?”
    “What is fixed? For whom? Obviously Grandma won’t be getting married now. If anyone does get married it’ll be me and I haven’t heard any such news.”
    So Manorama made as if to tell Parvati all that she had heard.
    Parvati stopped her and said, “Oh that—I have heard all that.
    So then? Has Devdas—”
    “Has he what?”
    Manorama hid a smile and asked, “So are you planning to elope? Have you made all the arrangements in secret?”
    “Nothing has been arranged so far.”
    Manorama was wounded, “I really don’t understand what you are saying, Paro.”
    Parvati said, “So, I’ll ask Dev-da and explain it all to you, will I?”
    “What will you ask him? Whether he’ll marry you or not?”
    Parvati nodded her head. “Yes.”
    Manorama could hardly speak, so bewildered was she. “What is this, Paro? You’ll be able to ask him this yourself?”
    “What’s wrong with that?”
    Manorama was still stunned. “I can’t believe it. You yourself?”
    “Of course, I, myself. Who else will put this question to him?”
    “Won’t you be ashamed?”
    “No, Did I feel ashamed saying it to you?”
    “I am a girl, your friend—but he is a man, Paro.”
    Parvati laughed, “You are a friend, you are my near one…and is he is so very distant? If I can say something to you, can’t I say it to him?”
    Manorama stared at her in stunned surprise.
    Parvati smiled at her, “Mano-didi you wear the sindoor in your hair, but you don’t know what a husband is. If he wasn’t my husband, beyond all my shame and embarrassment, I wouldn’t be in this state today. Besides, didi, when someone is ready to kill herself, does she consider if the poison is bitter or sweet? I am not ashamed of him.”
    Manorama looked at her face. A little later she said, “What will you say to him? Please let me be at your feet?”
    Parvati nodded her head and said, “That is exactly what I’ll say, didi.”
    “And if he refuses?”
    Parvati was quiet for a long time and then she said, “I don’t know what I’ll do then.”
    As she walked home, Manorama thought, “Amazing grit. That is some courage. I would rather die than speak like that.”
    This was the truth. Parvati was right—there were women like Manorama who wore their sindoor and their iron bangles, marks of a marriage, to no real purpose.

    srk-dream likes this.

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