Bamboo Flower, a novel – Part 23
By Akendra Sana
“Bamboo Flower”, serialized here, is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to any actual person, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
continued from last Sunday
Rajen, Priyo and Johnny had decided that certain changes were to be made and that the artistic Priyo would work on the layout. Although, ‘The VOICE’ would always belong to Rajen, Thoibi reasoned that it was important that the family members start referring to the publication as one belonging to the three cousins. Thoibi, after years of hearing and seeing Rajen work, had picked up such expressions as editorials, layouts, photo story, captions, news items, features and certainly, cover stories.
The younger Johnny was into computers, photography and nature. He was assigned to introduce fresh essays on the subjects he considered contemporary and a monthly photo story.
To Rajen, the enthusiasm his cousins exuded were because they considered themselves talented. He began wondering if the talents were of some use during their days as “underground” soldiers. He knew there were talents in them. But how far they were applicable in the context of the present enterprise, he was not sure. He decided to carry on as usual. To Priyo and Johnny, none of the discussed changes were visible even long after the decisions.
Rajen always gave a reason for the magazine to remain as it was. To him it was important that the reports always were to remain tight, features lucid and photo stories thought provoking.
The magazine had already carried two good photo stories by Johnny. The first one was on the different moods of the placid Loktak Lake. The other was on the undulating hill range of the mighty Koubru. Therefore, Johnny did not have as much of a grievance as Priyo. Priyo had worked on various possibilities to make the magazine more visually attractive but the changes were never made.
It was again yet on a meeting the cousins had on the possible changes the magazine could have when Priyo spoke out. ‘Are we not going to carry more political message?’ He corrected to, ‘I mean articles and essays wherein the political messages are evident to the reader.’
‘Why, isn’t the entire magazine conveying messages issues after issues?’ replied Rajen. Rajen told himself that under no circumstances was he going to change the image and character of the magazine, cousin or no cousin. He knew that in no way was the publication going to appear to be pamphleteering.
It was obvious that Priyo wanted to make his presence felt for Rajen noted that Priyo had not spoken about the work he was to perform but on a matter, which was not discussed earlier. Layout changes were not again referred. Political message came up often.
When Priyo and Johnny joined the publication, it was to help Rajen without any formal position. Rajen soon realized that it would be more practical if some kind of formal positions were given to them. So Priyo was now Assistant Editor (Co-ordination) and Johnny Assistant Editor (Photo). Both of them appeared happy to be assigned with some formal positions. Rajen, of course, was only doing this to overcome the creases and to retain all that he had worked for.
After that week, Kiran again came. This time also there was nobody at home except again, of course, Thembi.
This time the conversation was more friendly and longer. Thoibi, alert as ever, gathered that Kiran was from a well to do family, with impressive academic records. She was also told that she had now completed a research project on urban life. She, in fact, told Thoibi that since teaching jobs were scarce and she had enjoyed her fieldwork she had started a counseling centre for victims of drug abuse. She told Thoibi that her clients were mostly young widows. She, then, reasoned that since she interacted with women all the time, many issues that concerned women had begun to interest her.
Her respect for this young woman grew. The guilt of not telling Priyo about her earlier visit was growing in her proportionately.
She was dumbfounded for a while.
Then she said, ‘I do not know how to confess. I am sorry I could not tell Priyo about your earlier visit. You know he has been busy and I have not made sufficient effort to talk to him alone. You know that it would not be nice to talk to him about a girl in front of others.’
Kiran reacted by saying, ‘I did not want you to go out of your way for me. In fact, I was equally interested in knowing you apart from expressing my feelings of hurt.’
This was too clear-headed a conversation to be true, thought Thoibi pinching herself that she was going to tell Priyo at the earliest opportunity to be nice to this girl.
Since Kiran appeared sincere and clever, Thoibi decided to take the conversation to a different plane and took upon herself to express her feelings on matters of concern relating to women in general. She told herself, this must possibly be a bond she was waiting for.
She said, ‘Young women probably face more difficulties because women are expected to conform to social norms and beliefs more rigidly.’ And as she said this, she began to wonder if all the protests and agitations she had joined in the last few years was beginning to be more meaningful.
What with “sit-in-protest” for any number of causes just like that, was beginning to mean a lot more to her. She was now enjoying the conversation with Kiran. As Kiran gave backgrounds and the course of movements of women in other parts of the world, she was trying to remember the occasions she had joined in protests and in extending solidarity.
When there was a break in between, Kiran looked up and smiled. Before she was asked what it was about, she read aloud, ‘Rats on Sale’ and since she could not resist, she let out a half laugh.
Thoibi joined her to laugh out and said, ‘There you are. You have contributed your bit. I hope these guests leave us soon.’ It appeared as if she was referring to some overstayed guests. Kiran soon remembered that rats were not to be cursed for it was believed that cursing them only increased the nuisance.
Thoibi could not help speaking out, ‘For a long time rats had been a private problem. Now, after this writing is put up on the wall we are sharing our difficulties with others. I only hope some relief comes.’
‘Rats on Sale. Rats on Sale. Rats on Sale. If these words help, I am sure I can say some more’, Kiran smiled.
Thoibi wiped out an imaginary tear and closed her eyes. Kiran only hoped that it was a tear of joy and solace.
Then Thoibi spoke out, ‘Of course, this is not an issue which can usher in a full-scale agitation.’
‘You know, Eebemma, agitations for us have been andolan, strikes against food scarcity, demand for statehood, for recognition of the language and nupi lans in the past. Rats are different. They are private.’
‘Yes. Yes. Women have been the torch bearers. Because women suffer more during hardships’ Kiran added
After this, it was not easy for Kiran to think that she was there to know Thoibi and learn about Priyo. She was quiet for a while when Thoibi called out Thembi for some biscuits.
Thoibi had by then gathered that that Priyo and Kiran had known each other since their school days. She knew that Kiran could be wishing that she broached the subject of some permanent relationship between Priyo and her. And she knew that the onus was on her to bring up the subject of a possible marriage. Otherwise, why would she muster up the courage to seek her out? And, of course, she was the only elder relative Priyo had who was expected to be responsible for such matters. And approaching the aunt was perhaps easier, Thoibi mused.
She had not spoken to Priyo even about the girl’s visit and she did not of course want to say anything.
Kiran left knowing that Thoibi was interesting company and that she would be able to influence her if needed.
Thoibi, by now had made up her mind that she would tell Priyo even if it meant prodding the relationship her nephew was nurturing. But, these rats! She thought. Even if everything went smoothly and there was to be a wedding, it had to wait until the rats go, she thought.
She knew that her nephew could not be preparing to hear anything like she was planning to tell. Then, she was the only guardian. So there was responsibility. She could not help remembering her younger days. Only she knew that here was a more fortunate couple. And now she wanted Priyo and Kiran to have a stable future without the past catching up for Priyo.
(To be contd...)
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