On a warm September evening they had gone for a movie. Shubhadip usually did not like to go out, but he said yes to her suggestion to go out for a movie. Rinita was taken aback for a while but then went about her work as usual. She was so used to hearing a ‘no’ to everything she said that the affirmative surprised her. A few years into marriage, she knew that things were different. Shubhadip had a world of his own, a world into which Rinita couldn’t enter, she was not allowed to. She started taking that into her stride. It did trouble her but then she realized that she could not allow it to disturb her. Rinita was of a temperate disposition and no matter how difficult things could get, she went ahead in the way she could. Yes, they would disturb her for a while but then she overcame them. She immersed herself in music and the tunes and lyrics would transport her for a while, to a distant land. She played the tanpura and made it a point to do riyaaz every day. It kept her going.
Rinita had met Shubadip in the conventional way, through a matrimonial website. The wedding was a quiet affair. Rinita did not want a big one either. She found it a bit strange though that he kept it under wraps from all his relatives too. No one in the neighbourhood knew about it. Rinita was a bit amused when a few neighbours, older women, made a beeline to meet her. They were friendly and courteous. Even the next door mashima told her one day, “I had no idea Shubadip had got married.” “I noticed you for a couple of days in the house and thought of talking to you,” she said. “It’s a good thing,” she continued. Mashima lived alone next door. Once in a while mashima and she exchanged pleasantries.
Work kept Rinita busy for most of the day. She liked her job as it gave her independence. It was a 9 to 5 job at a government agency. Rinita had joined 11 years ago. A long commute by local train, Rinita had learnt to dodge peak time traffic and board the crowded train that would take her to work. She found her way into the crowded compartment in a way only a regular commuter could. The discomfort of travelling was there but then she knew she wouldn’t fall or get dislodged from her position in that crowded train. Weekends were off for her. She liked going out on weekends, movies, eating out, catching up with friends. Shubadip did not like any of these. She stayed put at home for a few months, but then soon decided to take a break to do things she liked to do, things she enjoyed. When she stayed at home, domestic chores kept her busy. The house needed a lot of looking after. It was now in a much better state than it used to be. In the initial days of moving in she had loads on her hand, to make the house a home. She did not like the way it was still, paint peeling off, a crack in the ceiling that leaked when it rained, moss on the outer walls, the cement peeling off under the staircases, a few small concrete chunks had broken off too, pipes rusty, the bathroom door damaged and repaired in such a bad way that the tin grazed if one was not careful—she spoke about it to Shubadip. The house cried for maintenance. Shubadip just listened, he paid no attention. Rinita stopped talking about it soon after. She did not like nagging, it bothered her. As it is, when he got angry with her, he kept telling her that it was not her house. “This is my house,” he often said. Ma had taken a personal interest in building the house. She often used to speak about it. Had she been around, she would surely have taken good care of the house. She had tried telling her son about repairs, Rinita had heard her do so. They mostly fell on deaf ears. Age had caught up with her and she knew she could not do them on her own. Shubadip’s piercing look was enough to make her keep quiet.
The movie that Sunday was a beautiful one. It was a simple tale of two brothers living in utter poverty in a village, their small dreams and how they are belied at the end. In spite of the sadness in the tale, there was something that tugged at her heartstrings, it had made her feel nice. The movie hall was close by. As they walked down towards the main road, Shubadip asked her if she would go along to Anupam’s house. Anupam and his wife lived close by, he said. Rinita did not want to. She wanted to be alone with Shubadip and told him so. She said, “Let us go to the coffee shop at the corner and spend some time together”. He looked at her piercingly and started walking fast. Rinita had to almost run to keep pace with him.
Shubadip kept walking. She knew he was displeased as she had said no to his idea of going to his friend’s place. Rinita did not want to. As it is it would mean barging into their lives with no prior intimation, moreover she hoped to spend time with her husband for a while. The walk down to the main road was a long one and Rinita had a tough time keeping pace. Shubadip had stopped talking to her. This is something that he did often. Anything that displeased him made him detached from all. Initially she did not understand this. Slowly, she knew when such times would come. Once his mood would be alright or when he needed something he would start talking. It had always been the same with him.
Years into marriage, Rinita could understand the changes in his mood. As she tried keeping pace with his brisk strides that late Sunday evening it was clear to her that this was one of his ‘cold’ phases. The long way to the main road seemed longer. It crisscrossed several smaller lanes and streets and a larger intersection. Traffic whizzed by the streets and at one such intersection, Rinita had to pause to allow traffic to clear before she could move ahead. Shubadip had walked ahead. When traffic eased away, she walked up and looked in front of her. Shubadip was nowhere to be seen. He must be at the bus stop, she thought. She walked ahead as fast as she could. She looked all around at the bus stop. He was nowhere to be seen. Had he been waiting for her? Did she miss seeing him as she walked? She opened her bag and put her hand in. Her purse and a small bottle brushed her fingers. Now, where was her mobile. Her fingers found it. She took it out, unlocked the screen and called him. Ring after ring, maybe he could not hear it because of the noisy traffic around. A familiar voice answered. “Where are you?” Ranita asked with concern. “I am waiting at the bus stop looking for you all around,” she went on. “I caught a bus and am home,” the voice said. Rinita stood there.
Nishi Pulugurtha is an academic based in Kolkata, India, where she teaches English Literature. She has published academic essays, writes on Alzheimer's and also tries her hand at creative writing. Her travel essays, poems and short stories have been published in print and online. Image: A Lady Playing the Tanpura, ca. 1735, Rajasthan, Kishangarh. Ink, opaque and transparent watercolor, and gold on paper. Metropolitan Museum of Art (wikicommons).