The Clerk’s Wife (Keranir Bou) By Manik Bandopadhyay: Part 2

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She did not fail to eavesdrop on her elder sister-in-law’s conversation
She did not fail to eavesdrop on her elder sister-in-law’s conversation

Rashbehari was mediocre in size, mediocre in looks, mediocre in knowledge and mediocre in intelligence. A truly mediocre character in other words. Sarasi, too, he loved in a mediocre way, sometimes indulging her, sometimes embracing her, sometimes trampling her underfoot. He failed neither to slap her in fits of anger, nor to occasionally buy her nice clothes, and once, a nine-bhori gold necklace in the two years since their marriage.

The terrace was an open space—on all sides, there were temptations, wonders and mysteries
The terrace was an open space—on all sides, there were temptations, wonders and mysteries

Rashbehari used to share a house with Banbehari, his elder brother. Rashbehari had always unfailingly handed over three-fourths of his salary to his brother at the beginning of each month. Two years after his marriage, when he gradually brought this down to half of his salary, he was made to move out by Banbehari.

Rashbehari made arrangements to move to a rented space comprising a bedroom, a kitchen and a slice of a balcony on the first floor of a house in Pataldanga.

You’ll be able to run the household, won’t you? he asked Sarasi.

O ma! Why wouldn’t I? Sarasi retorted.

Then, for the first time since their marriage, she stepped forward with a smile on her face and of her own accord wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed her. Sarasi’s joy knew no bounds as she thought of satiating her desire for freedom—just a little freedom. Her husband would be at his office, wouldn’t he? She would be home, alone! All alone! Nobody to scold her if she bathed at the tap before the servant’s eyes, nobody to know if she visited her neighbours, nobody to complain if she stood at the open window and saw the people on the road outside and showed herself to the unfamiliar, terrifying and mysterious people walking outside.

Sarasi’s joy knew no bounds as she thought of satiating her desire for freedom—just a little freedom
Sarasi’s joy knew no bounds as she thought of satiating her desire for freedom—just a little freedom

Banbehari’s wife was shriveled up like a plank of wood after having given birth to four children and consumed loads of pan and tobacco. On the day of departure, she told her husband, What a relief!

At some point of time, she called Rashbehari to a corner and said: It’s for your own good that I’m saying this.

When Rashbehari expressed his curiosity, she looked furtively this way and that and whispered:  Make sure you keep your wife on a leash.

Why?

She is a bit too much! Rakhal had come to visit the other day, you know. I was preparing something for him downstairs. I said, O Chhotobou, we have a visitor; what are you doing all alone upstairs? Why don’t you come down and talk to him? And, do you know what Chhotobou said? She said, I can’t, didi. I feel embarrassed. My brother—he is not eighteen yet, as God is my witness—why would she embarrassed in front of my brother, tell me?

I don’t know, said Rashbehari.

But she’s not embarrassed to feast his eyes on him surreptitiously. What looks—as if she would gobble him up with her eyes!

What’s the problem if she looks at your brother? Rashbehari countered.

 

Banbehari’s wife smiled. Thanks to all the pan and tobacco, even her smile had assumed a ferocity.

 

Hear it to the end first, she said. You know, she refuses to go to the terrace to hang the clothes out to dry when I ask her to. People stare at me from all directions, didi, she says. I clamber up all those stairs; I think, Aha, the poor thing! Let her not go; the neighbours are quite awful, I know! But no sooner do I shut my eyes in the afternoon than she lands up on the terrace.

What does she do on the terrace? Rashbehari asked.

Who knows what she does! Who’s there to find out? I only saw her once, strutting around like a maharani, her head uncovered and her hair hanging loose.

Perhaps she was drying her hair.

Perhaps! But why would she need to do it so furtively? Why put on an act of shyness and refuse to go when I ask her?

Your limbs will fall off, rot and decompose—my brother-in-law will kick you out of the house in disgust!
Your limbs will fall off, rot and decompose—my brother-in-law will kick you out of the house in disgust!

Sarasi was an exceptionally curious person. Nothing could happen in the house without her being aware of it. How long Banbehari puffed on his hookah in the evening, what his wife said to him, what triggered off the occasional tiff between them—Sarasi was well aware of all such details. She did not fail to eavesdrop on her elder sister-in-law’s conversation. She stayed silent for the time being. When she offered to tie her hair, Sarasi readily acquiesced. After her sister-in-law had put sindoor on the parting of Sarasi’s hair, Sarasi touched her feet as was the norm. Most of their belongings had already been shifted to the new house in the morning itself. In the evening, when Rashbehari had called a carriage and loaded the other articles onto it and was waiting for her downstairs, Sarasi asked her sister-in-law, her face now grim, What were you telling him in the morning, didi?

Who? Thakurpo? Why, nothing!

May your mouth be deformed by leprosy

 

What did you say?

I said, may your mouth be deformed by leprosy! Don’t you know what leprosy is? The dreadful disease, leprosy!

 

God knows whose mouth will be deformed by leprosy—I am an elder and you dare…

And what an elder you are, huh! One can do without elders like you. You have no hesitation in cooking up tales and trying to turn my husband’s mind against me—what kind of an elder are you, anyway? I tell you, you’ll definitely pay for this! If those lips with which you have slandered me do not get infested with flies, the sun and the moon themselves will cease to rise and all of God’s creation will become extinct. If I am chaste—overcome by emotion, Sarasi began to sob, yet she did not fail to add—God will pay you back twice over the harm that you cause me. Your limbs will fall off, rot and decompose—my brother-in-law will kick you out of the house in disgust! The sister-in-law had had no idea that Sarasi could speak thus. Seeing a petty snake hiss like a cobra, she was so flummoxed that she could not even respond properly. Wiping her tears, Sarasi climbed into the carriage and left, reveling in her victory. Having been able to utter the torrent of abovementioned words, she had begun to think of herself as the paragon of wifely virtue.

Sarasi began setting up a home in the new house. The bedroom was right next to the road. Everything inside the room was visible from the house across the road. So, Sarasi put up curtains that covered the entire length of the window. Please, please do not open the curtains; everything can be seen from that house; she implored Rashbehari earnestly. The room’s become a little dark, but that can’t be helped, really!

Sister-in-law was not lying, Rashbehari thought. Sarasi was quite obsessed with such things.

When it was almost time for Rashbehari to leave for work, Sarasi told him, Please have something at the hotel before going to your office
When it was almost time for Rashbehari to leave for work, Sarasi told him, Please have something at the hotel before going to your office

They had got some rice from a hotel yesterday. Sarasi had not been able to cook this morning either, thanks to the pressure of tidying up the house and putting the curtains up. When it was almost time for Rashbehari to leave for work, Sarasi told him, Please have something at the hotel before going to your office. I’ll rustle up something for myself when I find the time.

Feeling upset, Rashbehari put on his clothes. It was difficult to put up perennially with the depth of this love which considered tackling the problem of a hole in the wall more of a priority than providing food for the husband.

Still, Rashbehari said before leaving for work, Don’t go to the terrace.

I won’t, said Sarasi.

But where should I dry the clothes? She asked almost immediately.

All right, do it on the terrace. But hang them out there to dry and come down as soon as you are done.

Okay.

Sarasi remained unaffected by such insults. She had got used to these. The terrace was an open space—on all sides, there were temptations, wonders and mysteries. It was only natural that her husband would forbid her. He did so not out of distrust but for her own good, she thought.

The third and concluding part of the translation will be published next Friday, 5.4.24.

All Images: Google

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