“Khokhi, tomi shwoshur bari jabish?”: Rehmat (Kabuliwala) to Mini.
Kabuliwala is one short story written by Rabindranath Tagore that almost every Kolkatan knows by heart. The story was later adapted into two major celluloid productions ( 1957 and 1961) to enact virtually the rare human emotions crafted to immaculate literary portrayal, this classic unfurls through three very simple relationships. Needless to mention the national (4th national film award) and international (Silver Bear Extraordinary Prize of the Jury – 7th Berlin International Film Festival) acclaims the Bengali version received .
Now, most of you are wondering again, how is this story relevant to Kolkata Graphics’2014 ?? (the blogpost I’m about to publish). Something so unarguably a passe with respect to the zeitgeist of Kolkata today.
The Kolkata Graphics series was conceived by us only to present you a few impersonal, off-the-road stories or frames rather, which you think about while looking out of the bus window into the street. Which are picked up by those fleeting glances off the street, albeit the frames are lost after a well 2-3 blinks while you ponder. Either you pick up a new one or reach your destination in the meantime! Some still remain.
Check Kolkata Graphics 1 and 2 if you need more introduction to the concept.
Let’s start with today’s story.
We have all seen a familiar version of Mini in our lives. Among relatives, neighbors or may be in a long train journey as a fellow traveler. Let’s call this little one- ‘khuki‘. She is like the Kabuliwala’s khokhi! Like Mini, she thinks she’s ahead of her age and laughs at the silliness of someone mispronouncing “crow” (storybook reference). Laugh to her heart’s content and you can only keep mum and watch those speckless teeth out for the longest moment it stays. She thinks she’s smart when she could skirt her mother’s study routine and run to her corner at the house to play with her pet duck. Although she hasn’t many friends in her class but that doesn’t stop her from pretending to be gregarious when elders ask her :
” How many friends do you have? “
She would count all the boys and girls who sit in/adjacent to her row in school, the maid servant , her grandparents and some of the local kids her parents allow her to play with.
She yearns to linger her thought trails out of the window, concentrating on the tallest tree her clear inquisitive eyes could follow, especially when she is to complete her homework. Absently chewing the butt of a wooden Nataraj pencil and lost in her dream version of fairy tales until brought into senses by her mum.
She secretly wants to grow her hair long to the length her mom ties hers into a bun. She spends her leisure moments in the verandah mostly, when her Mum goes to complete the chores of the day at once and she has nothing to do but to wait for her to come back and read her a story to sleep. Down from the 2nd floor balcony she would follow each pedestrian, ferriwallah ( commuting knick-knack sellers) to the farthest of her vision and imagine stories about them. She would sometimes outdo the cries of those ferriwallahs and then quickly run inside the room for cover.
Quite a shy and innocent kid our khuki is. She has but only one friend her age who comes over to play with her in the evening or vice-versa. They are obviously of the same neighborhood. Khuki isn’t allowed to walk to the main road frequented by cars and public transport, by herself. But when she does that in tow with her friend, she takes pride in being such a grown up! She isn’t aware of marriage, in-laws and stuff much in details. She doesn’t like the hullabaloo surrounding Bengali ceremonies either, but she does like reading invisibly from a distance the behavior of different people who gather during one such occasion. My khuki isn’t a precocious kid. She is able to laugh at the silliest of things, she is able to love and befriend with even the dirtiest of housemaids. My khuki never knew the material, educational or racial divide. Always wide-eyed, keen-eared, intent more into listening than wondering how she’d look wearing a bridal do.
In a blink or two, it was like a decade that passed. The Rehmat (doting Kabuliwala) in me is aware of the awful lot life has by now exposed me to , prisoned by obligations, duties and other social protocols. There is a common frustration that I suffer from, like may be most others -To preserve desperately the idea of what’s held in our mind as pristine, innocuous and childlike. I have come to know that things change, change is what is constant. But when are we in truce with the idea of loosening our comfortable grip on our precious? In context, the Rehmat in me finds his release occasionally when given the opportunity to think in stolen leisure and write to the end of say a blog-post! More so, when I can Blah-talk with Khuki about absolutely anything till long hours, oblivious of the worries of life. I wanted to be as protective, affectionate and caring about Khuki as I was the first time I saw her in her fledgling days. I could never fathom Khuki to be the grown up she’s now.
The khuki I saw immensely proud of the 1 rupee coin she once owned now knows of satisfaction on a higher currency level! Blah-talks are now replaced by Brand-talks, modern text jargon in vogue, uber-conscious about the political correctness of what’s shot from the mouth. Afterall, Rehmat is a stranger to Mini. Talking to a village idiot cannot feature in her list of priorities right now. Gah! She’s way too busy FB’ying, whatsapping or skyping with cool peeps, some she had only known from the internet. She’d rather invest her time in listening something fruitful than what’s actually inside kabuliwala’s jhola (outmoded bag!). The khuki I saw hurryingly wearing any of the odd-sized chappals (flip-flops) left before the front door when she would hear my voice in distance, now spends considerable time chosing her pair among different styles of shoes before going out. On some occasions she’s almost as tall as me! With the changing sound of her stride at a metro platform I can tell which one’s she wearing without a look at the heels. She knows better to utilize the ways of white lies to shirk parents troubles, relationship woes or other easy issues, avoidable showdowns propping every now and then. You need to attain a certain intellectual and social level to be her friend now.
Natural of course.
Adoration cannot be contaminated by anything and I know for sure those emotions will forever be as sacrosanct as the memory per se. But the distanced look in her eyes that couldn’t quite acknowledge the past camaraderie disappointed me. Time I lost the stubbornly held idea of my ‘Khuki’. With a smile and a last look at her, like Rehmat I carefully folded the paper which bears the palm-prints of little Khuki and moved on with my nomadic thoughts, life.
The idea extant still; may be some day the prints at the now crumpled and torned at folds, paper will be matched.
A sudden thud, followed by a loud continuous laughter brought me back alert to the scene inside the bus. The 6/7 year old school girl seated beside her Mom at the front row ahead of mine, was laughing her guts out at the tripping down of a young guy before the front door when the bus abruptly started seconds after he had board it.
That day seems far ahead to Rehmat now, it’s perhaps too big a palmprint to match…sigh!
Kabuliwala and Mini, their unconditional friendship, Mini’s father’s humanity- are they really a thing of past now?
The last time I checked, my fellow Kolkatans were more interested in the front page Anandabazar scoop that read ” Kabuliwalar Bangali Bou”( Kabuliwala’s Bengali wife): the mysterious murder of Sushmita Banerjee, plot thickens.