An intriguing tale of love, jealousy and revenge, by Atrayee. The plot thickens as the wheel moves full circle for Kadambari. A Different Truths exclusive.
Bhalobeshe sokhi nibhrite jotone
Aamar naam-ti likho…Tomar Monero Mondire…
Under the blue sky, amiably marbled with amorphic clouds, Kadambari’s mellifluous voice mingled with the soft breeze. A celebrated song on immortal love by Tagore. Withering walls of this ancient palace seldom got a chance to lap up a melody; might be a century ago when three generations of the Choudhury dynasty resided there altogether.
Winter was ebbing out and its frail chillness played around in the sun. In the wide-open field that lay before her eyes, Kadambari noticed a bustle around the small school.
“Didibhai, continue…Why did you stop?” Bishu kaka uttered from the courtyard. “I wish Robi-Thakur was alive to hear your voice.”
Kadambari laughed out loud. “What all you say Bishu kaka… You’re probably my sole admirer.” She paused and looked at Dhiren. Sigh! He hardly had the time to even look at her. Down, in the courtyard, Bishu kaka was busy watering the saplings of roses he had planted the other day.
Aamar poraane je gaan baajhiche, taahar taal ti shikho… Tomar chorono monjire…
Kadambari heard Bishu kaka humming the next line of the same Rabindrasangeet. Dhiren was cooped up with his laptop. The constant clickety-clack of the keys was certainly annoying. However, Kadambari was wrestling over something else, something more painful; Dhiren’s growing apathy towards her. And, that was nettling her patience with each passing day.
Crumpling her pangs under those furled eyebrows, Kadambari watched the enthusiasm near the school. “Bishu kaka, what’s happening in the school today? Any function?”
“Arey! Saraswati Puja no Didibhai…” Bishu kaka replied and was willing to detail out something else too when Dhiren interrupted him. “Bishu… Always talking…Asked for a cup of tea no…”
“When did you ask?” Kadambari muttered as she heard Bishu Kaka apologising and running towards the kitchen.
Dhiren glowered at her for a second and clogged back to his work. His arrogance was fattening these days. Bishu kaka and Meena didi, both the servants, honestly caretakers, of this humungous ancestral palace of Dhiren’s family, were quite old. Calling them out by their names, chiding them over trivial things, Kadambari did not like that. Many a time, she intentionally indulged into casual chats with them to ease out the discomforting air in the house.
“Why can’t you show some respect to their age, Dhiren?”
“Why can’t you stop investing your emotions in them?” Dhiren retorted promptly.
His work was done perhaps, for he closed his laptop. He got up from his armchair, came and stood next to Kadambari. Suddenly, from nowhere, a bright ray of sunshine filtered through their balcony railings. Hot it was, and prickly too. Kadambari pondered; as if the ray had travelled a million miles only to puncture that balloon of Dhiren’s quasi-hauteur, which according to her had hollowed even his basic sense of humanity.
“Stop mingling so much with these villagers…They are illiterates, good for nothing.” Dhiren declared.
Leaning on the rosewood railing, Kadambari looked at Dhiren. Fair and tall, a hairline which had been receding over the past few years, a smallish nose but sharp and well placed between two divinely beautiful eyes; big black boat shaped eyes. And those rimless glasses; Dhiren was handsome, beyond a doubt. They said he looked exactly like his great grandfather who apparently carried the same name. In fact, in that era of Zamindari preponderance, the name had a prelude too; Raibahadur Dhirendranath Choudhary. However, in the case of 1984 born Kadambari’s husband, the name was clipped down to just Dhiren.
“Chotobabu! Your tea.” Bishu kaka waited at the edge of the staircase with two cups of tea on a tray. Dhiren posed a serious mien, needless it was, and signalled him to keep it on the table. Poor man; Bishu kaka placed the tray on the table and limped back to the stairway, without even earning a simple smile of thanks from Dhiren. Kadambari eyeballed him till her eyes reached the wooden balustrades of the stairs. Bishu kaka had acquired the limp while saving Dhiren from falling down the terrace. Was that also a thankless job, Kadambari wondered.
Dhiren stood sipping on his cup of tea. For the scrim, there stood a row of towering pillars, plastered with magnificent jaali work, rounded arches, and long wooden windows; and there, Kadambari visualized the true blue blood of a royal in Dhiren. Churlish, ruthless and imperious, who knew nothing beyond paving his own primrose path. And, Kadambari hated all of that.
Kadambari eyed him and intentionally called out Bishu kaka. With all the might her throat could gather, Kaambari knotted a chain of praises for the wonderful tea.
Jaw constricted, eyes widened and an audible exhale; Dhiren’s disquiet flew bare in the air. Kadambari cracked up laughing on her husband’s bogus pretence.
Dhiren lit a cigarette and muttered. “Why did I come here?” He puffed out hurriedly a couple of times and spoke. “See, you wanted to spend the weekend here, I brought you… Just don’t…”
“Huh! Weekend?” Kadambari interrupted. Chuckled. “It’s our wedding anniversary tomorrow… My dear husband!”
Taken aback, Dhiren gulped a minute of silence. He had forgotten. “Ohh! Ha ha…” He giggled. “Surprise eh? I am sooo busy with this new project that nothing else I could remember darling.”
Kadambari watched him acutely. A dollop of panic had already blotched his face. Arrant liar, he was leaving for Delhi in the evening to give a Valentine’s Day surprise to his recently found love there.
“Kaadiii.” Dhiren kneeled down before her.
That had been his sugar-coated gesture since their marriage. Kadambari became Kaadiii for all his otherwise unacceptable ambush. She lent her ears to every word Dhiren uttered. His apologies, his reasoning; everything pierced through her ears, only to strengthen her desire to punch his face harder.
With the spring sun waning out, Dhiren too bade adieu to Kadambari with moist eyes; crafting a false promise to be back by next day night. Morphed emotions. How could he play this cheating game so well? Dhiren was going for a 4-day trip to Maldives and Kadambari knew all that. She was already groomed; for his fables of missed flights, hectic schedules and hard-nosed client. Everything would be served to her as his chosen delicacy a week later.
A restoration architect, young, beautiful, independent; Kadambari needn’t chomp on his adultery. Yet, she waited the truth to come out of the horse’s mouth.
In the name of our love, etch my name with care
Within the temple of your heart.
The melody that is swirling my own heart
Have that imbibed in your anklet’s bell.
Tears lined up her eyes as Kadambari purred the meaning. Years back, the same song had carved the niche of their love. And today, as she watched Dhiren’s car lashing against the gravelled road, she also witnessed their love vanishing with that brume of sailing dust.
“Don’t know why you are so adamant for that corner room…” Meena di muttered as she sat next to Kadambari serving her dinner. “Anyway, I’ve cleaned the room. You can sleep there.”
“Yes yes… Fan is working. Blankets are all clean.” Bishu kaka added.
Plucking out a bone from the fish, Kadambari replied, “I am not going to that room for sleeping…There are so many things to read in that bookshelf… They are all priceless treasures.”
Kadambari eyeballed the faces gazing at her and mulled over. Dhiren was correct in that aspect; they were illiterates to value the treasure of that room.
After dinner, Bishu kaka accompanied Kadambari till that corner bedroom. He kept a jar of water, an emergency light on the table and showed her the big bell that was coiled against the bedpost. Any emergency Kadambari could ring the bell. It seemed the laird of this room, Raibahadhur Dhirendranath, had arranged this bell for his wife when she was pregnant and he had to rush to the Kolkata of yore.
Kadambari touched the bell and shrieked back. Pure brass, as big as a chapel’s bell, it clanged loud even with a mild tickle.
“Who was this lucky wife Bishu Kaka?” Kadambari poked the bell one more time and ogled at the other possessions in the room.
Bishu Kaka was busy checking the latched windows. And, there Kadambari was enthralled by a big portrait hanging on the wall. She walked towards it, eyes agape. The yellowing paint had chipped out at a few places and some of the grinning foundation rods were recently plastered up as well. A bookshelf rested on the left and an impeccably crafted closet of Burmese teak was put up at the other corner. Nevertheless, it was the painting that dominated the wall, interring all its flaws.
Bold, dazzling in a mosaic of crimson red, each stroke of the painter had puffed life into that mute piece of art. A young woman, obviously married judging by her outfit and accessories, was settled on the canvas, pouring out all her joy through a pristine smile. Kadambari ran her fingers on it. Time had left its imprints; stretched inside a majestic wooden frame, the threads had failed in its futile resistance with Father Time. The canvas had loosened, leading to fraying of the fabric at certain places.
Kadambari removed the portrait from the wall. Small round eyes, slightly downturned and bordered by arched eyebrows and there propped a big round red bindi in the centre of her forehead. Nothing ethereal in her looks, yet her simplicity bore a splendorous mien. Curly black hair was parted from the middle, highlighting the thick line of sindoor. The canvas carried a vignette of red. Every stroke bore a different shade, and they swirled like the waves in an ocean of red. The prowess of the artist was peeled through the innocence that reflected in her eyes.
Kadambari ran her fingers on that face and stirred up. Did she feel a bare human skin? Baffled, she touched it again. No; nothing unusual. Her imaginations might have taken a toll on her.
“Didibhai?” Bishu kaka took back the portrait and hanged it on the wall. Kadambari was kind of ensorcelled by those eyes. There was something stringing her soul to that woman in the portrait.
“You know her name?” Bishu kaka laughed. Kadambari was speechless, still engrossed in those eyes to unleash the tale untold.
“Big people call it sheer coincidence… But I know it is more than that… Her name was also Kadambari.” Bishu kaka smiled and repeated. “It cannot be a coincidence.”
Bishu kaka left for his room, leaving Kadambari alone with the complete collection of handwritten books of Raibahadur.
Bound by thick leather, cracked and drying with age, they were irreplaceable treasures, decaying inside the quilt of time. Kadambari peered through the books. Pages were brittle, threads were hardly able to hold them tight. She flitted through the pages; poems, sonnets, and short stories as well. And inside that faded blue bound book, he had worded a prologue for everything he had scribed. Drenched in emotions, his narration was a close watch of his time. The brittle love and its pangs was a privileged entity in his poems. However, the more she read, the more she realised that the poet was madly in love with HIS Kadambari. Every scroll had a smattering of her beauty, her innocence, her obstinacy; Dhirendranath had sewed Kadambari in every aspect of life.
Plunging through the bookshelf, the present day Kadambari had lost count of time. Her eyelids began to droop and she realized the time was 2 a.m. She kept a paperweight on the pile of papers and retired to her bed.
Hardly an hour passed when Kadambari woke up to a peculiar stench emanating from the room. What a foul smell! Nauseating, putrid like burning flesh. Holding back her gagging reflex, she looked around and her eyes could not move away from the portrait. She was benumbed as she watched streams of red blood slowly smudging the face and the red vignette metamorphosing into a black tarry mass. Kadambari could sense her blood rushing to her face and neck. She felt something sharp stabbing her back repeatedly. The pristine smile of the woman was now replaced by a diabolical laughter. She shut her eyes tight, clasped her ears. She could sense the prickling of those raised hair follicles. Her heart thudded in the ears. She wished to ring the bell but all her limbs went limp. She felt as if she was tied to the bed to witness something.
An inaudible pantomime, a fragment of the long lost past staged in the room, and Kadambari failed to do anything except being its sole audience.
The scene sprouted from the day when Dhirendranath Choudhury was married to Kadambari Devi. She was wooed by his charm and he, on the other hand, draped all his emotions through poems. An unread woman, benighted towards his art of poetry, she hardly understood any of his lyrical terms. Their desires strolled on parallel paths. They were together but utterly ignorant towards each other. And soon came the inevitable night, when Kadambari Devi brazenly complained. Poems could not fetch her the pleasures of conjugal life. Besides all the luxuries of life, her desires were more inclined towards physical pleasures, which Dhirendranath failed to understand. He was always in his own world of literature. Nevertheless, grievances took a pause and their weakening bond mended a little when Kadambari Devi bore a child.
Days passed by and Dhirendranath Chaudhury became more engrossed in his work. From poetry to theatrics, he was now spending more time in Kolkata, leaving Kadambari Devi alone with the bunch of irascible relatives. The situation worsened when Kadambari Devi lost her child during the delivery. She flagrantly put the blame on Dhirendranath for his ignorance towards her. Years curtailed, building an immutable gap between them. And, his constant association with various theatre groups somehow brought him closer to a singer cum prostitute, Janaki Devi, whom he married as well.
A second wife was not an issue for Kadambari Devi. However, the close bond they shared pricked her sharply. Sewing a raga into his poems, appreciating his thoughts, sharing the same frequency; that dug up Kadambari’s wounds. Kadambari Devi was not offended by Janaki. Still, she could not bear to see Dhirendranath giving more importance to Janaki.
The night Janaki yelled out in labour pain, Kadambari Devi surreptitiously watched the rearing tension on Dhirendranath’s face. How could he be there by Janaki’s side? She was just given a bell to seek help and now, for Janaki, the man himself rambled here and there for all the necessary help. A bitter resentment fostered within. While Janaki gave birth to an heir, somewhere on the other mezzanine, Kadambari Devi plotted treason.
The very same night, Dhirendranath was stabbed to death in the same room where the garish scene was being replayed. Seeing his body in the pool of blood, Kadambari Devi lost her sanity and set herself on fire.
Kadambari woke up with a jolt as Bishu kaka banged the door. She touched her face, hands, and feet aimlessly. What happened last night? There was fire everywhere and she heard the cries and that man, clad in silk dhoti-punjabi, lounging in the pool of his own blood, what had happened to him? Kadambari shuddered in pain. Was that a dream? How horrid it was!
Kadambari assembled her scattered thoughts and got up to open the door. Her eyes batted at the adjacent wall. Silhouettes of flames lingered there. How? She touched the wall and it was seemingly hot. Kadambari eyeballed the room. Did the past really recap itself? One more bang on the door and she opened it to a piece of unanticipated news. Dhiren was coming back in the night.
Kadambari couldn’t believe her ears. Was everything she thought a manifestation of her loneliness? Dhiren might not be dating anyone; might not be ignoring her intentionally. As a working woman, she should have understood the plight of corporate deals. Kadambari happily slayed all her doubts, baked a cake for their anniversary, decorated the corner bedroom with flowers; she was elated and eagerly waited for her love.
Dhiren really came that evening. But, cheerless, lost in his thoughts, face dripping with anger. He did not even talk to Kadambari, let alone wish her. He went straight in his room to freshen up while Kadambari followed to enquire. All his belongings lay scattered on the bed. Kadambari moved them to a side and waited for Dhiren to come out of the bathroom. In the meantime, his mobile rang thrice. Kadambari did not wish to see, but then, it beeped with a message and that coerced her to check.
‘You know surprises do not work in our world darling. Couldn’t cancel the Paris Meet. Please postpone the Maldives to next weekend.’
Letters seemed blurred on the mobile screen as tears piled up in her eyes. Kadambari trembled in pain. She was too quick to believe Dhiren. One more message popped up.
‘I love you, baby. Next weekend would be under the star gazed sky of Maldives. Promise.’
Kadambari ran out of the room. Embittered, there lay a lump stuck to her throat which she could neither spit out nor swallow. She was that coin in Dhiren’s wallet which he would throw anytime in the water to make a wish. The hollow stars shone in the sky mocking at her misery. With a small message beep, she was robbed of her emotions. She was scarred with a venomous sting and the gale within was destroying the vibrant bouquets of her dreams and desires. She was desperate to ask Dhiren and then, suddenly she was hugged by him. Dhiren whispered his wishes into her ears, snuggled in the nape of her neck and kissed her there.
Kadambari looked into those eyes. All the blue had vanished from his face. He was a happy man, delighted to spend time with his wife. He loved the cake, loved the food, couldn’t stop admiring the flowers and strangely did not even mind sleeping with Kadambari in that corner bedroom.
Bishu Kaka left a jug of water and also a plate of apples, for Dhiren was fond of eating apples in the night.
Kadambari sat on the bed in a red chiffon saree. Amber eyes, with a smudge of kohl, a hint of red lipstick and her turned up the nose with a silver nose stud, Kadambari could easily seduce even the Gods; Dhiren, a man of mere flesh and blood, stood no chance. Ravaged by lust, he marooned everything and embraced Kadambari.
Tears of anger rolled down her cheeks as his passion groped her tight. Her eyes saw nothing; apart from the queen in the red vignette, deriding her from the portrait. She heard nothing apart from a fiendish laughter mangling her sapience. Dhiren made love, fiercely as if there was no tomorrow. And there, beneath his aroused body, Kadambari made out the monster inside her man.
Kadambari stretched her hands towards the apple tray, clutched the knife and stabbed Dhiren. Spurning out all her love and kindness, she kept stabbing. Once, twice, not known; but she stabbed until he breathed last in the puddle of his own blood.
Painting sourced by the author and from the Internet