|Red Road (http://members.virtualtourist.com)|
The Red Road in the heart of Kolkata, India, is one of those thoroughfares that restore some confidence in a home sick visitor from the western hemisphere. The wide six lane two-way road with a respectable divider in the middle affords motorists an opportunity to heave a sigh of relief after negotiating nerve shattering traffic snarls elsewhere in the vicinity.
The dimly lit concrete pavement on one side of the road wears a mesmerizing look in semi darkness after dusk. All kinds objects spring out and jump back with the lights thrown by speeding cars. The other side has a foot walk created by constant trampling of pedestrians.
The concrete pavement is a veritable lovers' lane. Across the road the side walk is a center for mobile facilities like prohibited drugs and damsels of dubious distinction. The car on the foot walk side slowed down ignoring the blaring honking behind him.
The man at the wheels looked intently at the figure picked up by the car headlight. She seemed to be just the type; lips sporting cautious inviting smile, eyes casting furtive glances. But one always had to make sure. There were often traps laid down behind delectable baits; lurking dangers could spring nasty surprises.
He kept the car rolling slowly ready to speed away as he unrolled the window. “You need a lift?” he asked, his eyes quickly scanning the area for any undesirable movement. “Yes, yes,” she said, suddenly anxious to get away from the area. She boarded, and the car picked up speed. “What's your name?” he asked. “Meera,” she said. “I am Bharat,” he added. Meera smiled.
Away from the din and bustle of Kolkata city deep in its northern suburb lived old Nimai in a dilapidated house. With an ailing wife, two daughters of marriageable age, and a teenager son, and with a paltry income, he was having the toughest time of his life.
There was no prospect for his son in that God forsaken village. The elder daughter, Sumitra, was a 'leave vacancy teacher' in a primary school. If any of the permanent teachers remained absent, she would fill in for the day. His younger daughter, Aparna, undertook private tuitions before and after the college hours to support her educational expenses. The son was still studying in the local school. Any extra expense including buying medicines was a worrying factor.
A letter that his wife, Moyna, received this morning made him irritable. Her childhood friend who was based in London after a fairy tale marriage had arrived in India, and desired to meet them. What seemed to be aeons ago the two kids once hid themselves in the backyard with a blade. They incised their fingers to exchange blood to become blood sisters, and vowed to get their children married to each other. Somehow both believed that one would bear a son, and the other a daughter. The irony in the memory left Moyna rattled for a while. She shook her head to clear it.
The next day her friend, Rekha, arrived without notice. An embrace and pleasantries later the two friends sat down to exchange information. Rekha lost no time to remind her about the blood sisters' vows. Money was no problem, she could stand for the expenses on both the sides.
Nimai was informed and received the news with head bowed in shame and relief. Sumitra was called for. But she refused to marry; somebody had to stand by the family at this dour hour. Nobody gave any importance to Aparna's objections. She would have to remain ready when Rekha's son arrived to look up the bride-to-be that evening.
Hectic preparations for the honored guest was greatly hampered by repeated power cuts. The moon above and oil and gas lamps below made it possible to usher in the young man. Before long he was led into a room where the bride-to-be waited, all decked up.
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He tried to make out the face on which flickering oil lamps were playing havoc. She seemed to be beautiful, more beautiful than her elder sister sitting behind her. Power restored, the room was suddenly flooded by a fluorescent silver, almost startling everyone. Both jerked up their heads to steal a look but his look got locked behind her.
Meera! What was he that day on Red Road? Bharat, he remembered.
“Well?” demanded his mother. “I can't marry this girl,” he almost shouted, “she is too young for me. Could I meet her elder sister, please?”
They met in the backyard under the 'kool' berry tree. “What's your name?” he began; “Sumitra,” she replied, her voice betraying both desperation and defiance. “I am Bikash,” he said, and came down to brass tacks.
“Look at it this way; one day you needed a lift and I offered you one. Today I need a lift, a lift to a life of honor and dignity. If you give me this lift today, there will be no occasion to take or give lifts in future. Will you marry me?”
“Yes, yes,” she said, and grabbed a 'kool' branch to steady her trembling feet. She looked up at Bikash, suddenly afraid that she would wake up, and her dream would turn into a nightmare. She smiled.