THE UNFINISHED STORY
This story originally written in Odia by Dr. Dipty Patnaik has been translated by me ( Priya Bharati )
Even before the glare of the setting sun had lessened, the three men had occupied their seats on the bench in the quiet and deserted riverbank as per their routine habit. Though by the general perception they would be considered old, yet the y did not think that they belonged to this category. Sunil had retired from lectureship almost ten years ago and Shyamabandhu and Birendra had retired from service more than five years ago. Sunil as the head of an institute had to handle the unruly students and sometimes some of his defiant colleagues in his career and was enjoying his retired life. Post-retirement, he had refused the offers to join private institutions and spent his retired life doing what he loved that is reading and writing. He lived in the new colony near river Mahanadi with his wife, doctor son and daughter in law and one grandson. He says, “I have no unfulfilled wishes and I would spend the rest of my life the way I always wanted.” Similarly, Shyamabandhu had retired around six years back from a senior post of a nationalized bank. Both his sons were engineers working abroad. He too was enjoying a free retired life without any family obligations. Birendra, the third in line too had retired as a Chief Engineer. He too had built a double storied building in the same colony. He had rented the ground floor and lived on the first floor with his wife. His only daughter was married and living outside Odisha. Thus he too had a good retired life without much hassle. All three had built houses in the same colony and are living there for the last ten years. Birendra and Shyamabandhu were friends and neighbours. They became acquainted with Sunil three years back through a common friend in a vegetable shop. This new friendship with Sunil too was limited to sharing basic pleasantries and salutation with folded hands whenever they met.
After almost two months of formal acquaintance, one day, while sitting and enjoying the sunset on a bench by the riverside, met Shyamabandhu. Shymabandhu seeing him cried out, “Aree Sunil Babu, I too come to the riverside in the evening for a stroll but I rarely come to this end because it is close to the graveyard and is known to be an ideal place for anti-social. But you seem to be at ease here enjoying the riverside view. Of course, you are a famous poet and writer. You can write at ease on any topic. I just remembered my childhood friend who was a budding poet who tried to write on any and every topic but had to face many reverse consequences. Just thinking of him I cannot help laughing.” Saying all this in one go, he sat down near Sunil Babu on the bench.
Sunil smiled and replied, “I love to sit on this bench every evening. I can say for sure that if you become a regular visitor here, you too will fall in love with this place. You seem to be a humorous person, I would like to hear about your poet friend.”
Shyamabandhu replied, “What to say about him. He troubled us with his unending poems when we were in class nine. He would write poems in a copy, on the wall, on a blackboard, and even on the white shirt of a guy sitting on the front bench for which our Maths teacher boxed his ears. Once he wrote a poem on the most beautiful girl in our class and was hackled by her elder brother. He did not stop there but also penned a poem on the Sanskrit Sir’s belly and how he stroked it and for this got some good thrashing. His friends were fed up hearing his poems. Even a chocolate and namkeen pouch offered by him to listeners could not help. Everybody avoided his company and no magazine wanted to publish them. Finally desperate, he was advised by a fortune-teller to gulp three live fish. He did that and was hospitalized for three days. Now he is living a normal married life with his wife far removed from his poetic madness. It seems a good scolding from his wife cured him of this madness.
Sunil immediately got interested in Shyambandhu. His sense of humor and his way of talking made them close friends instantly.
After that day, Sunil and Shyamabandhu reached there without fail and spent their time discussing literature and family matters. After about a fortnight, Birendra too joined them. Going there and spending time became such a regular habit that they felt uneasy if they missed even one single day. All of them were happy go lucky, friendly, and romantic by nature and wanted to enjoy their retired life fully. So they enjoyed their friendship. They talked loudly and laughed openly without any inhibition.
It was a deserted spot near the graveyard and few came this way. There were two to three cement benches slightly away from the river. Sometimes lovers preferred to come here but none had developed an irresistible craving for this place like these three friends. They would sit looking at the river, discussing various topics without any interference till sunset, and then went back home. Sometimes they discussed their love affairs and passed mischievous comments, behaving like teenagers beyond any control.
Today too they had reached their favorite spot before five in the evening. It had been hot for the past few days. The Professor was wearing dhoti & Kurta, holding a sophisticated walking stick. The cigarette packet in his transparent kurta was visible. Shuamabandhu was wearing a loose pajama and a brick coloured kurta. He too had paan in a silver box. Birendra was wearing a pant and shirt and holding a cigarette packet and a small and beautiful lighter. Today he had taken extra care to dress up. He was wearing a dark coloured floral printed branded shirt, a belt, and was holding a plastic box in his hand.
Birendra was softly singing an old popular song of Akshay Mohanty. The moment he came near, Sunil cried out, “What is the special occasion for this special attire of yours and what are you holding in that box?”
Biren replied shyly, “Today on my birthday, my wife made me wear this shirt sent by my daughter. She had made a cake and made me eat a large portion. She has also sent some for both of you.”
Shyama Babu took the box from him, gave a piece to Sunil, and also ate a large piece. The aroma of the chocolate cake spread around them.
Sunil, in a grave voice, teased Birendra saying, “You two oldies are having a romantic time and your children are not there to interrupt. Has your wife spoilt you by feeding you an only cake or with something more? OK. As long as you bring sweets for us, we will pardon you.
Birendra retorted back, “Who said I am old? Do you know at which age Onassis married Mrs. Kennedy? I am not old and never shall be. I will always remain evergreen. I may be called a middle-aged person. Besides who says that old people cannot enjoy life?”
Shyamabandhu replied, “You may be evergreen but too afraid to do anything without your wife’s permission. Among all the three of us, I am a romantic person. I have fallen in love as many times as the number of hair on my body. If I could write like Sunil Babu, I would have written endless love stories,” needless to sayShymabandhu was completely bald and hairless.”
Birendra replied, “When did you find the time to have so many love affairs from your busy bank schedule?”
Shyambandhu replied,”You must have heard this statement, ‘Where there is a will, there is a way’.”
Sunil, taking a deep breath replied, “I have written several love stories but I am neither evergreen nor romantic. I am only a devoted husband.”
Both Shyambandhu and Birendra cried out together, “Your entire life has been spent amid beautiful college girls and colleagues. You are so good looking. You must have had several love affairs before and after marriage. Your stories reveal that your knowledge of love is very deep and mature and this would not have been possible without personal experience. Tell us about a few of your affairs. We will not tell your wife, we assure you.”
Suddenly this loud talk and laughter stopped abruptly when out of nowhere a boy and a girl appeared and sat in the adjoining bench very close and an intimate posture not bothering to restrain themselves very well knowing that three old people were sitting close by.
The three friends had been so engrossed in their conversation that they had failed to see the lovers coming and occupying the adjoining bench. Sunil broke the silence and said, “We were talking and laughing so loud. These lovebirds disturbed us with their arrival.” He seemed much restrained while saying this.
Shyamabandhu in a hushed tone said, “See how close they are sitting and talking. They must have come here in that two-wheeler. These youngsters have no regards for elders.”
Birendra joined in, “These youngsters have no shame. They have not bothered to restrain themselves very well knowing that we are sitting so close to them. During our days, hardly one or two girls were studying and they sat on the front bench. We boys sat crowded in the backbench but never shared the same bench with them. He had forgotten completely that just a few minutes back he was referring to himself as evergreen and middle-aged.”
Sunil replied, ‘We are looking at them so intently but see the girl, she is not bothered Such a shameless girl.”
Shyamabandhu replied, “What to say. Nowadays all the girls are behaving this way. That day in the crowded bus I saw a girl put chocolate in a boy’s mouth.”
The conversation between the three friends took a complete turn. They believed that the youth of their times were much more dignified and cautious in their manners. The girls were especially very modest and well behaved. “
Every day, after this it was seen that the girl and the boy came and sat intimately and became busy with their love talk. The three friends thought that the lovers would be fed up seeing them sitting in the adjoining bench and leave the place.
Nothing of that sort happened. The three old men could have easily moved to another bench placed farther away but they did not do so. Surprisingly they came and sat on their bench and liked to see the boy and the girl and their intimate ways.
The three friends had become more cautious in their way of talking and laughing. While talking softly, they would cautiously glance at the girl.
The girl was attractive to look at. She had not cut her hair short like other teenagers but kept long hair tied into double or single plait the breeze blew the stray hair and made her face more lovely and her large beautiful eyes with thick lashes enhanced her beauty. Her skin was glowing, she was tall thin and had a beautiful figure. On the whole, she was very beautiful. Though none of them openly gave their opinion, all three of them felt that the tall and dark boy was no match for her.
One day an incident occurred which made the two groups sitting on two adjoining benches develop a bond of acquaintance and within no time brought them nearer. A ruffian boy and his two friends from their colony got a whiff about these two lovebirds spending time together in this deserted place. They arrived there and started harassing them. In the first two days, they sang cheap songs, passed vulgar comments which made the two feel very uncomfortable. On the third day, one of the teasers came closer and pulled the girl’s dupatta. The boy tried to prevent that. He caught the teaser’s hand and said, “Do you know that eve-teasing is punishable? For the last two days, you are intruding on our privacy and teasing us with vulgar songs and comments. We had not reacted then, but today you are crossing all limits.”
The next moment the three ruffians surrounded them. The ruffian pulled his hand from the boy’s clutches and said, “What did you say? Your privacy is being disturbed? Do you know that this place is ours? Who has permitted you to sit here with your girlfriend?”
The three old men saw that the situation was going out of control. The girl was looking desperate and the boy was looking frightened.
The three friends were known and were respected in their society. Shyamabandhu was the advisor of the youth club of their colony. Sunil’s son being a doctor in their colony was a great help to the colony residents. Though they did not know the three ruffians in person, they were familiar with their faces.
All three of them immediately felt the urge to protect the girl at this juncture. They almost shouted together, “Hey boys, why are you troubling the two? They are not causing an inconvenience to anyone. Please leave them alone.”
The three ruffians looked at the three old men and apologetically said, “Uncle, this was just innocent ragging. If you do not like it, we will leave them alone and this place”. Then patting the boy, one of them said, “OK. Sorry brother” and they immediately left the place. The girl looked at the three old men and gave a lovely smile. The boy too looked at them with gratitude. After this incident, familiarity developed between the old men and the girl. The three old men liked the days when the girl came a bit earlier than the boy in her scooter. After this incident, on her next visit, the girl came earlier than usual and in a bashful manner gave three packets of paan to the old men. Looking at Shyamabandhu she said, “I have brought special paan for you as I see you taking them regularly. My father too takes paan. For the other two uncles also I have brought paan. I have learned to make paan from my mother.
The three friends eagerly accepted the paan and asked, “What is your name, and what is the profession of your father?” The girl replied, “My father is a Banker and my mother a Teacher. I have two younger brothers and I am in my final year in plus three Science. My name is Pushpita.”
Birendra in a mischievous tone asked, “What is your friend’s name and what does he do?
The girl became very conscious and blushing replied that his name was Sugat and he worked for a private company. While talking to her, the three friends could get to know that their families did not approve of their relationship. The girl said that they had decided to marry after her graduation even if their families did not give their consent.
Just then the boy arrived. Sunil told the girl in a soft tone, “He is waiting for you.”
The girl went and sat in her place on the bench. Birendra commented, “See how bashful are her manners. Just like the freshly washed Madhavilata (flower plant belonging to the climber family).
Silently, the other two friends acknowledged his saying.
Sunil said loudly,” I did not know that Birendra is a poet.”
Birendra replied, “I am an evergreen person. I would like to bring all the poems bursting out from within me but my lack of command on the language prevents me from doing it.
Shyamabandhu and Sunil laughed out loudly hearing his answer which made the boy and girl look at them. They immediately became conscious and restrained themselves.
Of late, the three friends became more careful about their dressing. Sunil started wearing ironed dhoti and kameez every day. He no more used his walking stick and both Sunil and Biren realized that smoking cigarettes was no more considered fashionable and reduced the number of their cigarette intake. Of course, they had not let their wives know about this habit of theirs. Of late, both Biren and Shyamabandhu wore a coloured shirt with matching pants with more care. Shyamabandhu too reduced his intake of paan and one day cut off his beard and mustache which he had kept for long. Their conversation too had become less but their ears and eyes had become more alert. Whenever they got an opportunity, they would silently look at the girl.
One day the girl was seen looking excited. She ran and sat near Sunil Babu Saying, “Uncle you are such a great and famous writer! I came to know about it when I saw your interview on TV. My mother has read a lot of your books. I have not read any as I do not know good Odia being from an English medium background. But I will learn the language to read it.
Sunil hearing this became elated and replied, “Tomorrow I will bring two of my books for you that have been translated into English.”
Birendra and Shyam gave a knowing smile to each other seeing their friend feel elated by her praise.
The life of the three friends was thus spent happily. They no more felt it odd to see Pushpita sit so closely with her lover, laugh, and talk in her lover's ears. Birendra one day said,” We were criticizing them but is it not natural? We could not enjoy this type of relationship during our time. What is the charm of life if one cannot experience such secret love affairs?”
The two friends agreed to this statement wholeheartedly.
The girl had of late become very close with the three uncles. She regularly brought paan and other titbits for them. The three friends while opening the packet felt happy and enjoyed them. While eating these titbits, Sunil would forget about his sugar problem and Shamabandhu about his high blood pressure.
The three friends decided that most of the days they got something from the girl. They too should give them something in return, but for this, they needed a special occasion to celebrate.
The next day Birendra came with a large packet of special sweets (Jaggary Sandesh) and declared that it was his marriage anniversary.
The girl ate the sweets, came and sat close to Birendra, clapped and smiled and wished him” “Many, many happy returns of the day Uncle and convey my wish to Aunty too.”
Birendra immediately could sense that his friends were a bit jealous, but ignored their knowing smile and hummed an old Hindi song as per habit.
This is how each of them brought something in the pretext of a special occasion and shared it with the girl.
The girl became closer and closer to them. These evening meetings became so very alluring that Shyamabandhu did not accompany his wife to his son’s place in Singapore. Sunil too did not go to receive a gift and citation being offered to him by a Literary Society at Rourkela. Similarly, Birendra did not go on a religious tour to Kedarnath along with his wife and her relatives.
All three now were more smartly dressed. They now had a confident gait. They no more had acidity problem eating namkeen and dahibada.
One day the girl brought gobi pakoda for the three uncles from home. Seeing all this, the boy became irritated and said “There is a limit to everything. It is not good to be so close to them.”
The girl, dancing her eyebrows replied, “Feeling jealous! Shame shame. They are my father’s age.”
The boy replied,” They are men after all.”
Though these words were uttered softly, the three friends could still hear it and enjoyed it with a knowing smile.
Once the boy and the girl were absent for three days. It was the rainy season and the rain was pouring day and night. Even then the three friends reached there holding their umbrella when the intensity of rain lessened. The river was rising and the water was whirling. The three friends were as agitated as the river. The girl had neither come nor had sent any message.
On the fourth day, she came along with the boy. Seeing their faces she smiled and said, “I had to go to Berhampur to attend the marriage of my cousin sister that is why I could not come.”
Sunil said in a reproachful tone, ‘You could not make a phone call and let us know?”
The girl caught her ears apologetically and said” I did not have your mobile number. Henceforth this will not happen. She took their mobile number and went back to her bench. There she saw her boyfriend sitting with a long face. She smiled sweetly and going closer to him and said sweetly, “Being jealous suits girls, not men.”
The boy smiled and the three old men too were smiling to themselves.
With the onset of winter, the evening became dark sooner than before. The lovers reached the place a bit late. The friends too returned late walking under the starry night and were not bothered about the cold wind.
That day the three friends sat for an hour. The boy reached alone and sat in a pensive mood with his head down.
Sunil asked him anxiously,” What happened to Pushpita? Is she not well?”
The boy looked at them gravely and said, “She will not come here again.”
The three of them shouted together,” What do you mean?”
With a depressed tone, he replied, “Her parents have finalized her marriage with an NRI Engineer. She will marry him and go to the States after twenty days.”
The three were shocked at hearing this news. They cried out together, “This is wrong. Don’t worry, give us her address. We will go and convince her parents. How can she marry someone else when she loves you? We will bring her back to you.”
The boy gave a sad smile and a drop of tear rolled down his cheek.
The three friends realized that their words had no meaning. The love story which was unfolding before their eager eyes remained unfinished. Each of them sighed heavily and their breath mingled with the cool air of the river bank.
N.B – The pictures have been taken from Google and the copyright is with the owner.