Sex was never on my mind when I first saw Nilanjana. I must admit, I was dumbstruck by her physical charm that was a bit unsettling in its impact. But it was not lust that drove me, at least to begin with.The professor was always at his nonchalant best, raising his head only for the one-off nod of a lop-sided conversation. He taught me taxation with great fervour every evening, invariably when the weather called for something more romantic than the slabs of income tax and the blocks of wealth tax. My mind never followed the professor’s incessant downpour of moneyed gospels but what I savoured was no less taxing. Every time Nilanjana stepped in from the kitchen with generous helpings of homemade snacks and tea, she flashed a smile that seemed to leave a clue or two for me. She had an inviting figure, perhaps what I was naturally inclined to fall for. Plump but not heavy, filled at the right places in the right proportion. And did she look divine in a saree. I loved the way she played with her pallu, every time she stole a glance at me. It was only after a month that I solved the puzzle. What was a naked truth was a puzzle for beginners like me.
The sudden discovery made me jubilant and rightly so. Here was a ravishing female, married at that, making a pass at me. For some days, I just reeled in the spell of this impossible feat. I was too numb to react. All this while, she waited patiently for me to take charge of our unnamed relationship, I learnt much later. She was willing to wait. It was her long-term investment and she seemed sure of the rich dividends. Maybe, this she learnt from the professor’s innocent sermons on calculated risk. For me, this was a lifetime opportunity. To learn from a real lady…. the secret of sex… the nectar of love. She was my master, much like the ferocious heroine of an X-rated film pouncing on young boys half her age. Nilanjana of course, was only five years elder to me and far from ferocious, was grace personified.
I wondered what made her choose the ageing professor, bespectacled and dry, a white ant lost in the pages of his giant manuals and tax recokners. But was it her choice in the first place?I still remember our first kiss.
She was in the kitchen, roasting papads on the gas stove, looking very pretty in her pink salwar kameez. The kameez rode much higher on the backside, than what socially acceptable limits would recommend, as she stood almost lackadaisical, one leg resting on the calf of the other, leaning on the kitchen platform.... offering a glorious view of her shapely buttocks from the flimsy salwar, garlanded by jutting panty lines.
The sight was just too much for me. The professor had excused him out for a while; to fetch his cigarettes maybe…I paced the lobby in nervous steps, caught in the deafening waves of lust and panic. It was hard to stay afloat in the high tide of excitement. But I did dare, as I moved towards the kitchen that more seemed like her bedroom to me now.
Befitting the jittery emotion of my age, I hugged her from behind. The gesture was comic, not at all appropriate for the occasion but she was considerate as ever. Sensing my panic, she caressed my forehead to harbour my childish advances with her assured movements. I placed my lips on the tip of her nose in another blunder. She raised her head at an angle where our lips met in a frenzied lock.
After that memorable evening, our escapades grew in number and variety as time passed by. Every time the professor was away for a conference or symposium, I played her man by proxy. Snuggled together in the warm blanket, we contemplated the future of our relationship, invariably after a volcanic love session in bed. Both of us were aware of the futility of the discourse, but we did indulge in it with religious zeal. As if it was our tonic after the grueling carnal meet. I never knew what was on her mind but I was pretty sure of the ensuing chain of events in my life. Her warmth was only an oasis in my dry academic life, one that would be left parched by the time I was ready to launch a promising career back in my native land. But I lived for the moment while I could.
I bunked college often to take her out …to nearby hill stations on my speeding bike. Yes, it sure was risky but we were too drugged to weigh the perils on our way. I am not sure when the new bond brought us closer than before. Invisible but fulfilling in its warmth. It was not long before we shared a rapport only a nuptial knot is supposed to bring about.
We were part and parcel of each other. I chose the colour of her lingerie, my admonished look cautioned her every time the strap of her bra peeked out of her blouse, I knew the emotional intricacies of her monthly periods, it was my telephone call that became her bedtime pill...she cooked my favorite dishes, ate from my plate in unsuspecting moments, was panicky whenever I caught the slightest chill and of course, she knitted sweaters for me with the customary delight of a housewife.
Maybe, the professor was not altogether oblivious, we could sense. But inch-by-inch, we had reached a stage where it mattered no more. In any case, he showed no signs of disapproval either. Or may be, he had come to terms with the new reality, as often one does with the changed tax structures of a fresh budget. One night, as I lay in bed, alone for a change, I pondered over the blizzard in my life. Yes, I sure did bask in the cold wave, but it was a blizzard all right. The flakes of snow would soon melt to show me the approaching dead-end. Why then, was I scripting a certain disaster in the making? I had no answer.
Exams were round the corner. I was just not geared for the grind. The more I tried to concentrate on the arid syllabus wrapped in the bulky books and manuals before me, the more my mind came back circled in the triangle around my life. And how entertaining those love stories seem in movies. To be enjoyed reel-by-reel, munching popcorn and wafers now and then. Real life drama came with no respite. Maybe I should reinforce the obvious before she weaves a dream for us, my mind told me. But how can she? She was mature enough to concede to reality. That was certain. It was a matter of time, may be. Then why was I brooding over the issue? I was thoroughly confused. The result was obvious. I flunked. The professor was disheartened, after all my failure was a blotch in his pristine record as an outstanding tutor. Of course, that was just part of the disappointment. Somewhere, I had trespassed on his private property and that would have been more painful.
It was around eight in the evening when I knocked on his door. This was the first time after the results that I had been to his place. He was in his study sipping coffee, poring over his books as usual. I was absolutely sure he was in love with them. The way he sifted through the pages of the book held lovingly to his chest, it seemed just like a caress to me. Much like the way I stroked his wife’s beautiful hair whenever she was on my lap. But today, she was not to be seen around. I could hear her movements amidst the clatter of utensils in the kitchen. Had he ordered her away? I was inclined to believe.
He first mourned over my failure but only as an aggrieved parent would. That was the first time I really felt dejected. I had gone several paces behind in the rat race of academics and I could sense his genuine concern for me. Precisely why the dejection soon made way for guilt when I thought of his wife. Why did I do this to him? I asked myself. But had I done anything? It all seemed to happen on its own, did it not? Well, something inside me told me I could not blame it on destiny alone. I could opt out of it while I could. I made an instant resolve on the spot. I would have to be out of this. Yes. That was it. Make a fresh attempt in December and if I still flunked, get back to the modest family garment business. My dad would only be glad to see me back.
To supervise the making of colourful briefs, vests and panties we manufactured for the big brands. Better to clothe the world intimately than to disrobe family honour.
My instant resolution dissolved with the very sight of Nilanjana, dressed in a teasing nightgown draped with enticing lace, ravishing than before. Or was it the heightened emotion following the separation. It seemed ages since I last met her and I was suddenly overpowered by a strong urge to kiss her. It was tough to betray my instinct, rooted to the ground that I was. She wore a half-smile; wonder what was going through her mind? The professor asked whether I would make a fresh attempt at my exam. I nodded my approval but he could sense the shallow purpose beneath my perfunctory affirmation. He rose from his chair and moved towards his balcony facing the street below.
Before we knew, we engaged in the most passionate of kisses, those that fuel earsplitting catcalls in packed theaters as the lewd public finally begin to see some value for money. It was indeed vulgar, our act, with the professor still around, if not in the room with us. Could we not have waited for a better opportunity? Probably not, the feel of Nilanjana was so comforting, so assuring, was there anything else on earth I sought? Whom was I fooling? I don’t know what happened to me after that. It was a sudden outburst of suppressed emotion maybe. All of a sudden, I held her soft hand in mine and led her to the balcony. Fuck the professor, fuck the world, this lady is mine. I told myself, not even bothering to confirm her acceptance in her eyes. I took it for granted. An earthy assumption that flowered like wild shrub. You don’t have to water it to see it grow. I didn’t leave anything for doubt. Here I was, telling him I loved his wife and ridiculous it was that I sought his consent. If he was my guru, I was to offer him dakshina. I was doing just the opposite, and what was that I asked for? Yet, the professor was unmoved. Perhaps, he was waiting for it all this while.
Now our encounters became perfect simulations of married life, she accompanied me just about everywhere. Soon, we were the talk of the town. Whether it was vigour of youth or the queer faith of offbeat love, we took pride in the ripples we caused in the otherwise still waters of societal sanction. We had our road map clear by now. Our wedding would wait until my second attempt. Meanwhile, I would inform my parents of my decision. Nilajana had nobody except for the professor. Bereaved of parents early in life, she only had an aunt counting her days somewhere in Benaras.
We had just been back from Matheran. Atop the cozy hill, we tried every improvisation under the sun to write a bulky sex manual for the novice. And unlike the professor’s junk of white papers, they would surely sell like hot cakes. She was adventurous than before; probably happy with the unlikely twist in our tale. It was just like our honeymoon and enterprising waiters left no stone unturned to make us feel like newly weds. We would spend hours in bed coiled in each other till our tummies grumbled for some food.
Ignoring every single point of the delightful terrain around, much famed in tourist parlance, we chose to find our way through the secret passages of human anatomy.
I dropped her home, kissing her good night before speeding my bike home. I saw the professor watching us from above much like a nocturnal animal. I just could not fathom his mind. How could one be so calm and poised in such threatening circumstances? If this was not encroachment, what else was? To hell with him. Impotent fool.
As I opened my door, I saw two envelopes lying at my feet, begging for attention. One bore the address of my native place; the other was a handwriting I recognized in a jiffy. Why should the professor write to me? Or did this letter make up for his odd silence. I tore the other envelope open. Wrapped in crumpled paper was a smiling face, innocent and radiant. The photograph was gaudy, clicked probably in some shady photo studio, the girl seated in a fake shikara straight out of a Kashmir of the artist’s imagination. The paper carried my parents’ plea to consider this “perfect” match. The last line confirmed the much-needed divine approval to the alliance. From the stars above.
I turned my eyes to the second envelope. What was so paramount that the professor should trust his pen for?
My dear Dipankar,“You are headed for certain disaster. You are free to take your own course but I do not want you to blame me later, that’s my only wish”
I rushed to the kitchen for a glass of water. Now what was this? I was about to call home to convey my decision. My first reaction was to confront him at home, probably throw an obscenity or two at him, how dare he predict my life? Impotent bastard. But the next moment, I was shaken. What if he was right? He had not made any explicit mention but the message was evident. And by the way, why was she so keen to spoil her marriage? What for? Was the love so overpowering? Was it love at all? No, there’s something more. There has to be. And how often had I dismissed the fear, every time it bothered me, long before the professor’s advice. I had to see her.
The roads were slippery, it had drizzled moments ago. My bike sped along the turns and stopped a block ahead of the professor’s bungalow. The lights were off. The watchman told me the professor had left for Bombay. For a conference. “Fuck the oldie. Where’s my love” I wished to ask him.
“Madam gone to Benaras” he uttered, surprise still ripe in his voice. This was a real shocker. I drop her home hours ago, and there’s no mention of Benaras. And before I know, she is gone. And that phantom husband of hers. Professor Arindam De. Kiss and fondle his wife, he won’t bat an eyelid but pray he would, for your well being through worthless letters. Robinhood with a limp manhood…. asshole. Strange, very strange.
It seems they was made for each other. I don’t know why but I felt like calling up my mom. The STD booth was deserted, as was expected at that hour. Mom was jubilant, I rarely called up on my own, unless I needed money. It was not long before she asked me about the smiling girl in the snap. I am still not sure whether I said yes, but I must have, going by the events that followed in quick succession.
The leave application, the ride to the station, the journey back home, the “visit” to the girl’s place down to the brief sojourn in the sole air conditioned restaurant of my tiny hometown –sipping lassi and savouring samosas. There was nothing about Charulata that one would not find enchanting. Beautiful, bubbly, innocent and dreamy. Her world knew no bounds and just nothing was impossible for her. She was studying commerce at the local college but her real love was music. She wished to take up singing as her profession. This secret, she shared with me during my second visit and added that she trusted me enough.
“Where from did this trust emerge?” I asked her with a chuckle and she sped away blushing to glory, just like they show in films. I must say I was swept away by her charm, if only for a while.
It was when my father sought my consent for the engagement that my mind came back to Nilanjana. I had not met her since that fateful day, where the hell was she? Probably still in Benaras. Just then, my mind had another somersault. Was she really at fault? Was it the professor’s trick? Did I have any right to jump to conclusion? Or what this the escape route that I was waiting for? To shun the past and plan a conventional, hassle-free life with Charu – a life blessed with parental sanction and marital excitement. Probably it all began the moment I saw the snap in the letter? No, I can’t be so mean. I was suddenly desperate to convince myself of my own morality…No No, I can’t be a hypocrite. After all, why did I go so far with Nilu? Was it all about sharing beds alone?
“I would let you know as soon as I reach there,” I told my dad, who seemed visibly irritated with my vague, delayed response. He shrugged off the annoyance, the way dads often do, and my mom took over. “C’mon, he’s shy to tell it on your face, give him some time” How I wished mom was right.
As soon as I got back, I made the customary round to the professor’s bungalow. She was indoors but I was not my usual self when I walked in. The professor was still away and her smile flashed back the golden moments from my past. I saw my moods lifting up.It’s not often that you wish to laugh and cry at the same time. It happened to me that night. I lashed out at her sparing no effort. She was calm, never once giving me back. It was only when I was drained of the last bit of force that she rose to speak. And her story could only bring tears to my eyes. Big drops that rolled down my cheeks all right, but not before washing my heart clean of all qualms and fears. Well, almost all.
Her ailing aunt was no more. It was her demise that had her rush to Benaras. She was desperate to let him know but the professor advised her to hurry up. Now I knew why. Only if the watchman had told me. I was about to tell her about the professor’s letter as also the proposal brewing home just when she hugged me with fiery passion and broke down. The warmth was back in my life and I forgot all about the professor.
We made passionate love all night. It was five in the morning when I woke up from my slumber. She was fast asleep, head on my chest, hair spread all over in an enticing sight. How assured she seemed, locked in my arms, in gay abandon. In celebration of the reunion. But did I deserve this faith? Buying time, minute by minute. Playing with two lives at the same time? The tender Charulata on one hand, and a pickled Nilanjana on the other. I cursed myself for my untimely home visit that now added another dimension to my thorny love story but deep down in my heart, there seemed to be just a little more room for Charulata and her blank slate of innocence. A proposition that seemed more secure and inviting before the trials and tribulations of a life with Nilanjana.
The clock struck four as it broke my trance. I still had more than an hour with me. How I hated those goddamed wedding receptions – the customary hellos, painful plastic smiles, rapid exchange of business cards, the mechanical blessings showered on the couple…and all that with an eye on the food counter. And the poor couple, flashing teeth all day, dreaming of the approaching mythical night… and the hunky-dory waves of honeymoon. Unaware of the impending reality of marital life - family chores and social responsibilities that would banish the flowery euphoria of initial years in the cupboard, locked with the wedding blazer and the saree in the overpowering scent of mothballs.
I picked up the envelope – Mr. And Mrs. Dipankar Sen - it affirmed right at the center. Aha! What epic history behind that matrimony but now reduced to an anecdote for smiles? All’s well that ends well…I have grown up to believe, and I still do. Except that it’s sweeter in hindsight. To look back and relish the golden moments and mourn the horrifying time. With the entire past packaged in a feature film of sorts, it’ s so easy to sift through frames, focus on the chosen few, and form a balanced critique at the end.
But what an agonizing experience it was then. There were moments, I still remember, when I was close to being a nervous wreck. And the rush of blood of that night, when I contemplated suicide for the first time. “Shall we?” She asked, covered all over in pure kanjivaram silk, looking delightful. A spicy housewife, plump, round, not curvaceous definitely, but inviting all the same. I kissed her forehead and she blushed like a schoolgirl.
“Okay. Enough of your romance. We are getting late” she warned me.
I was in no mood to listen. It was an afternoon quickie, not expected of a middle-aged couple, certainly not in such bouncy style. Her denial made way for mute surrender and soon enough, she cared a damn for the reception and the Kanjeevaram saree, taking charge on the new front. And what a cavalry, she still was. We relished every moment as we locked for the umpteenth time. The fervour was still the same. After all these years. And time stood still. Like it did during our first meet. But what about the storms we braved, interspersed between all these encounters at regular intervals. And we lost count how many?
My mom’s reticent stance was the biggest quandary in my way. She had made it a life-and-death issue without the expected verbiage. Nilu had left it to me, urging me at times to shun the past and embrace Charu. In less than a year of our marriage, my mom passed away in sleep. She had forgiven me, Dad told me later but to this day I regret not being by her side during the last moments. That regret will follow me to my grave for sure.
The professor was reduced to his shadow – haggard and dejected, he would not leave home, shunning even his books and manuals. To this day, we laugh over that letter. It was only when I confronted him later, grabbing him by his collar, that I learnt the real story –his feeble attempt was more akin to “Naro va Kunjaro va” stratagem of Mahabharata. The certain disaster in my life that he saw concerned my neglect of studies, he confessed on interrogation, but just seemed to hint at Nilanjana. The professor and his impotent tricks.
After shaking the wits out of him, I even shared a drink with him and showed him the futility of his ludicrous desire. That how he had no qualms over her unauthorized use but wished the social façade intact. If he did not see reason in my argument, he certainly could not dare to oppose me any further.
I could never really understand the professor. He expired only last year, a lonely man. I was instrumental in initiating a scholarship in his name at the institute. That was the only tribute I could pay him.
Charu, I often think of her smile, her innocent chatter, the lassi and the samosas –mute witnesses of our sole encounter… probably she has taken up music, the way she desired. How I wish she had. I must admit I still fantasize about her and my memory tickles me enough to yearn for her. But my mind still swears by my choice, my heart may not at times. I did post a letter in her name; I am not sure whether she read it in the first place, and if she did, could she sympathize with me? How could she? When I could not convince my mother, how could Charu see the storm in my life?
I got up first. The radium glowed in my watch – the time was 7 pm… the party would have long begun, would we be missed? Probably not, how many of them get noticed in attendance. It’s all a farce anyway, all for a day. I could see lights flooding the neighbourhood through the window. I suddenly realized we were still groping in the dark. The blazing light filled the room to offer a great view of her glistening body. In all its nude splendour.
For many years, I was sure sex drove us together. The way we relished carnal encounters in the same spirit. The way I came to terms with the fact that she could never become a mom. Although she was candid in letting me know the professor was not at fault, at least on this issue.
But if physical charm was the binding force, we are no longer our former selves – much like the toothpaste on the basin, losing its shape with every squeeze, slowly on its way to the bin. We have put on weight, my hairline and waistline engaged in an embarrassing exchange of character. She is not what she used to be – the shapely curves are now only a shape, her skin has lost much of its glow and she is definitely more irritable with the advent of menopause.
It’s strange but I am still not sure what’s on her mind. Maybe, she feels the same about me. Yes, we know much more about each other yet I have only just begun to comprehend our love…. and each passing day teaches me more.Then what was it that brought us together in wedlock?
I have no idea of any elusive force that did the needful. Was it a force in the first place? How does marriage bring two souls together? Does the rapport come coupled in the nuptial knot? I know one thing for sure - the chemistry between us is nothing short of celestial. Precisely why I would like to believe marriages are made in heaven.