In front of the mirror

I continued to look in disbelief, to the bag placed in front of us on the table: A simple leather bag – bags that people like you and me, who goes to office, usually carry strapped to their shoulder, worn hung. A fat bag, yellow coloured, dust gathered on every part, every wrinkle of it. It hadn’t been used for a long time, I presume..
How many years the bag hadn’t been used? Five years, ten years or more?
“I was then posted as sub divisional judicial magistrate in a sub division of Bengal. For the time being, I’m not disclosing the name. A small sub division surrounded by jungle and all around a curious mix of the wild and civilization together. A peaceful co operation exists between man and animal for centuries. Experience had taught us that the wild not to come into the path of the human and the human usually should not infringe into animal territory. The human nature of the local residents are usually quite peaceful, with a touch of wildness and uncertainty-probably the gift of the nature that has been bestowed upon them for generation after generation, century after century! Anyways, after getting posted here, I was getting the desired rest that was so much needed. Life was getting a bit monotonous, a bit boring –but who cares?
It seemed to me, Radha fell in love with the lush, vibrant greenery of the place. Pardon me, Radha was my wife, my romantic, mystic wife. Anyways, our bungalow too was situated just at the outskirt of the muffosol sub divisional, a town-away from the hustling of the city. A brick red building with large pillars, specious rooms with large glass windows that casts an elusive shadow over the floor, perhaps the memory of colonial rule. The compound of our bungalow was well submerged into the wilderness, surrounded by a majestic belt of glorious Shal, Shagun and Eucalyptus trees- this was our ‘nest’, at least for the time being.
Wives of Higher Officers of the Administration and judiciary in our country usually lead very isolated lives, when their husbands are posted in remote areas away from the city. This is probably direct consequence of society where your prestige vanishes if you mix with the subordinates. Uprooted from their tradition, culture and near and dear ones, they usually feel miserable. An invisible wall of hierarchy and protocol also prevents them from mixing well with wives and subordinates – a colonial legacy that still haunts India. This problem is manifested prominently in sub divisional towns and not so much in a district town, where comparatively a larger number of officers are posted.
But I felt after getting posted here, Radha was not at all feeling unhappy. When in autumn, and the blooming Palash flower was setting the forest on fire, her mind too gets ignited. She simply turns into a tigress. When the Mahua petals piled around the trees made the whole forest boozy-mystic through its aroma, she gets tipsy. And after so many days, I‘d heard her sing again.
Pardon me! I’m a little carried away.”
Here he had to take a pause, because tea was served. We all take our cups. Fine Darjeeling tea-what an aroma- aroma of life compelled us to forget that we are miles away from the sub divisional town he’s talking about.
Here Susanta interrupted him, “Quite natural for you to be nostalgic!’
Tea and snacks were exhausted. Taking a deep breathe he again continued,”So our days were passing in joy and in sorrow, until Niloy came to pay a visit to us. Niloy was my college friend, we’re in a group. He was a bit extrovert from the very beginning. More than studies, he was interested in outer world-in debating, sports and politics and especially in painting and sculpturing. You’ll hold your breathe if you see him craving a statue of you or painting your portrait or landscaping the scenic beauty of outside. With unshaven bread in his chin, hand-loom bag in his shoulder, tall and rough, typical intellectual and bohemian lad – a perfect recipe for the girls to be attracted towards him –as flies to fire. We all envied that modern Leonardo da Vinci.
We were all dead assured that his guy is going to be the second Ramkinkar – and after the first year of the college is over he went to the Government Art’s College to learn fine arts. His guardians are dead against this decision-they wanted him to complete his degree course in mainstream. But Niloy was strong enough to defend himself.

Actually I am still not sure the exact purpose of his visit. It might be the scenic beauty of the place had attracted him and after reaching there he had heard of him or something other.
He checked in to a nearby lodge, but when Radha heard it she continued to insist Niloy to stay with us in the bungalow. I must confess that a feeble wave of envy crossed my mind, but at the same time I felt ashamed for that. Even at this age……
Radha never told me anything, but from the deep of my heart I knew every minute how terribly lonely she is. When I was in court, and silent shadow of the sun looms large, silence of the environment is broken by occasional chirpings of the birds – I realised how alone she is, inside those pillars, high rooms, large windows, like a jail, without a child, away from known dear and near ones. So I thought that presence of Niloy will help her in forgetting her misery –at least for the moment he’ll stay with us.’
Here I cleared my throat and said, ‘Was she was known to him?’
‘Oh yes I forgot to mention, she was a fan of him from college days. After our marriage I used to jokingly remark about her interest in Niloy and continued to do so, at least until our romance was alive. I enjoyed watching her blush. Nobody discloses these very personal matters, but when she is no more and now my days are numbered there is no holding back for me.
On the second day of his stay I managed to take time out and we went on an outing. Radha also accompanied her. It‘s a day of outing for me under the open sky. They talked and talked about their college days, recollecting memories. Radha looked as though like through a time machine she had reached her youth. Radha insisted to stay him with us for the week. He excused himself saying that his clients will kill him, but Radha showed no mercy. Please imagine that this was the good old days, when in our wildest dreams mobile phones couldn’t be imagined. So helpless Niloy had to gobble down the experimental cooking dishes by Radha, and Radha continued her exploration into the jungle with Niloy. Then just before the day of his scheduled departure, that eventful day came to our life.
As usual I went to the court. Still I can remember that was Wednesday. During lunch break at the court Radha rang me to inform that Niloy went out to the forest and had not come back yet.
‘Don’t forget Radha, he’s a born artist. Probably some scenic beauty has attracted him and he’s now busy painting’, I commented.
‘But he went out empty handed.’- her voice was a curious mix of concern and worry.
It’s a matter of concern. Around this season wild elephants of the hill wander to the paddy fields of the village. If Niloy encounters one of such herds, then the matter will not be palatable.
‘Don’t worry. Wait a little. He’ll soon return.’
‘Without taking a single meal, he is out for such a long time – impossible for Niloy. Why don’t you try to look for him?’
Her concern for Niloy was making me a little jealous.
‘Let me see what I can do.’
I told my law clerk to contact the sub divisional office and arrange for the lookout. When I returned back to home I saw that Niloy still hadn’t returned. Now this is a matter of serious concern.
This time I rang up the Sub Divisional Officer. He is an energetic and enthusiastic young lad. He informed me he’d already taken elaborate arrangement to search for Niloy and added that I need not worry. That night passed and the morning after that. But neither Niloy returned to our bungalow nor the Sub Divisional Officer was able to trace his whereabouts. That was good old days, not the modern days blessed with inventions like cell phone when even a switched off phone can tell you its location. Leaving with no alternative I started cross-questioning my attendants. It might happen that they had done something to Niloy in pursuit of money, albeit I knew it’s a fruitless exercise. They had worked here for years, served many a officer like me and their trustworthiness is beyond doubt.
Niloy came to our house like an unexpected comet, even we did not know his residential address. I dropped a letter to his address that was known to me in our college days, in hope that I’ll get some response. But no response ever reached me.
Days went by and then months and then years. But the sudden disappearance of Niloy remained like a mystery. And from the day onward I never have seen Radha’s natural laugh. Till she had died last year – every single second, every single minute, every single hour I had realised that an invincible wall was separating us both. We started living merely under the same roof but as two separate creatures in soul and in mind.
Niloy had created a barricade in between us. Later I realised that our relation wasn’t that deep rooted so as to give me strength enough to cross the barricade. Maybe those five days that he lived with us gave her something that I’d been able to give her in our entire married life.
Or it might happen that Niloy rekindled the memory of her college days – her boundless, free days.
The real problem started after my retirement. Now I’m alone – no duty, no office work. Always at home – leisure, leisure and leisure – started to make my life really monotonous. Then one night, a dream awakened me. The dream had started quite naturally. I was reading a judgment – a judgment of life penalty. But soon the face of the convict turned into a likeness of my face, smiling at me. Night after night – the same nightmare started haunting me. I just failed to find a reason. Why me?
I found that I was going to be insane soon. The doctors checked everything – from blood pressure, sodium content, and sugar to E.E.G, E.C.G, and M.R.I of brain – all possible test that can confirm I’m not normal and all this yielded no result. Everything is more than normal, they said. Then, taking the consultation of our family physician, I contacted Dr.Basu. Basu is relatively young in physcriarty – but already had earned fame for himself. His specialisation is to take out the words that are deeply hidden inside the mind of people – through treatments. He heard my case with patience – a long period of question and answer followed.
Then he chuckled – I’ll treat you with a mixture of truth telling drugs and hypnosis. It seems that your dream is somehow related to your past experience. Truth serum drugs will make your painful memory more tolerable when you reveal through emotional attachment. It was three consecutive long sessions. Those sessions of hypnosis were followed by intense question answers. What I revealed is like a faded picture – calling Niloy, meeting him at the edge of the jungle, we were standing near a hill top, a shrill cry and it all went blank.
At last I heard Dr. Basu speaking – his voice seemed to be coming from distant stars-‘You are ill Mr. Roy, terribly ill. In our terms we call it psychogenic amnesia. It’s a form of self-punishment in Freudian sense, with the obliteration of personal identity as an alternative to suicide.’
He made it all clear to me. The fragmented pictures, some snapshots – that used to cross my mind over periods are now crystal clear to me. The mystery of Niloy’s disappearance is no more a mystery. All broken threads were now patched up. Even I told myself and Radha that I had written letter to their family but in reality never gave that letter to anybody for posting.
Dr. Basu concluded –‘More than medicine – will power is necessary more than medicine for you to recover. You have already suffered a lot- the most important thing is that you are repentant for what you had done.’
So this is my story. Now my days are getting numbered. If there is any place after death –I’ll soon meet Radha and Niloy. May be they‘ll be able to forgive me – maybe they will not.’
His conclusion seemed like wailing of the wind.
He concluded his confession.
His voice is continued to be echoed inside the room.
We all remained silent-nothing was there we can comment.
I looked to the bag again. What a co-incidence. This bag is known to me, very much known to me. From my childhood, I used to hate my father for his sudden disappearance. He never cared for my mother, never gave her the position she richly deserved. And my simple mother she did not fit to be the life partner of a talented ‘genius’ of a man like my father. He used to go out for days without saying anything to my mother. That was like a routine. Nothing he said, never. I was never able to forgive him. Now I can portray a picture of the reason that prevented him from disclosing anything when he visited their house. I can well imagine what may be inside the bag that might have prompted the person sitting in front of me to murder my genius father.
Whom to take revenge of? That dying person who is dying every moment repenting what he had done? Or the person who had paid up with the ultimate price for his intention?
Who?
The Clock continued ticking.
The two continued to look at each other – both of their lives threaded by an invincible thread.

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