It must be a dream that motivates a foreigner to leave their country and…..
This is where she lives and will die. Born and brought up in Kolkata, Anasuya Chatterjee has made this Himalayan hamlet her home. She is almost a recluse, away from parents and near and dear ones.
“I like the place and the people here.”
“How come, you have chosen this forest village?”
“For its pristine character,” She was candid.
“Looks, it’s haunted”, I said and felt so in a winter afternoon.
She smiled and her triangular face shone as she asserted,” This is the place for me.”
She lives alone in a hamlet in the Assam Himalayas, far from her hometown Kolkata. She likes the tranquility of the shady haunt where she owns a sprawling bungalow, once a residence of a British national. Anu, short for Anasuya, from now an LIC officer, somewhere in the North-east. She drives to office in the town from the village she has made her own for it is under green cover and secluded. When asked she says: “I like seclusion, and simple people here. See, how beautiful the few people around. They have values which I have come to like. They are different from city people, and have love and devotion.” I understand she appreciates the pristine glory of the Assam Himalayas and its aborigines. An alumna of a central university in the national capital, Anu has, obviously, turned stoic and developed tremendous fortitude at this age. Last 10th September she turned 27.
Anu is lonely, always. In childhood she would spend hours alone in a corner of her own room, play with herself, draw pictures and look out to observe and count the ivy leaves on the wall across the street. Sometimes, she would go to her grandma’s room to listen to folktales. Thammi (grandma) would never say ‘no’ to the request for a tale or story of her days with grandpa. In fact, Thammi was the only friend and companion of Anu in the house. She could scarcely have the company of her doctor parents who were damn busy in profession. Only once did her papa take her to Babughat, Kolkata to show her the immersion of the idols of Devi Durga, which is a great event in Bengal enjoyed by millions of people.
“Don’t you visit your home town and parents from time to time?”
“No, and will never”, she said with accents on the negatives, over the cup of black coffee she arranged for me.
“Why”, I wanted to know, quite foolishly.
“Let the world know I will never go back to the plains”, she snapped, determined.
“Don’t you feel nostalgic”, I enquired to pacify her, as I understood she was disturbed at the mention of the hometown.
“I have forgotten my past, and would like to keep it buried”, she said as her face stooped a bit and the eyes glistening with tears she tried to hold back.
I decided I should revert to the topic of places of tourist interest in her area and beyond. I went to the area as a tourist and one late afternoon I stopped in front of her bungalow as I was told there resides a young Bengali officer of the LIC from Kolkata, also my hometown. I could not but have a desire to interact with someone in my mother tongue. Though unknown, I sent a message through the gardener. Within minutes she emerged from the bungalow smiling, and reached the gate to welcome me.
“I’m Amal Bose from Kolkata, a tourist,” I introduced myself with a namaskar. Greeting me, she said, “I’m Anusuya Chatterjee.”
She took me to the drawing room, furnished and well maintained. A Picasso spread on the front wall, two Da Vincis on side walls almost look like frescos, and suggests she is a connoisseur of art. A mandolin and a guitar are kept with care leaning against the back wall. The floor is covered with Kashmiri carpet rich with flower and folk motif.
Clad in casuals, she politely took leave of me and went inside. She reemerged, and her domestic help followed with snacks and coffee. She herself served the delicacies. I politely said it was not necessary. She said it was time for her to have coffee, and I must be exhausted after the trek. Her humility was inspiring. I said,” It appears your favourite pastime relates to involvement in cultural activities.” She smiled and said,” How do you know?” I pointed to the paintings on the walls and the two musical instruments. She said,” No, I have no taste for them now.” And her smile receded for a moment.” Once you might have the taste,” I said, hesitant. “How do you like the place?” she asked to divert. I told her of my experience in the hills and the lure of the idyllic beauty of her area. She was pleased and satisfied, perhaps, thinking that she had chosen the right place to live. Should I say she is romantic in her decision to return to Nature from urban civilization? Or she is just willing to live a quiet life in the tranquility that prevails here. I spent about an hour with her that afternoon. I found she was reticent and quite thoughtful. I understood her smile masks something which she could not share. I departed at sundown. She invited me to lunch the next Sunday and said we would have breakfast together at 9 in the morning.
As I mounted the rented car, she waved to me. The car rolled on and her words” No, I have no taste for them now” rang in my ears. What went wrong that she could no longer enjoy painting and music, I thought. I remembered the story of Sudha Chandran who came back to the stage through sheer determination with a Jaipur foot after her leg was amputated following an accident. Why then is this girl so apathetic to painting and music? She evaded my query regarding her taste for the arts. I began to ratiocinate.
“Does she lack determination?”
“No, that can’t be. She has enough determination not to go back to the plains.”
“What could be the cause?”
“This must also be a determination.”
“Was she rebuffed somehow, somewhere?”
“If so, she wouldn’t, possibly, demonstrate her liking in the drawing room.”
“One rebuff couldn’t be the cause of her losing interest in the two arts.”
“Well, why is she determined not to go back to the plains?”
“The answer may be there”, I decided.
Sometimes it happens, failed love leads to such kind of renunciation of sorts. A revolt against parental neglect also prompts decision to remain outside and away from family life. So, she may feel the sylvan glory of the place far away from Kolkata is her attraction. She finds the abode an ideal place for her to hide from the world she is fed up with.
At home, when abed, resting, Anu, I am told, listens to gazals. During my weeklong stay in the nearby town, I often interacted with her in the evening and found she was stoically nostalgic. She confided to me that she often listens to this gazal by Mohammed Rafi:
Yeh Na Thi Hamari Quismat,Ke Wisaal-e-yaar Hota,
Agar Aur Jeete Rehete,Yahi Intazaar Hota,
Tere Waade Par Jiye Ham,Tho Yeh Jaan Jhoot Jana,
Ke Kushi Se Mar Na Jaate,Agar Aithbaar Hota,
Yeh Na Thi Hamaari Quismat…
Koi Mer Dil Se,Puche,Tere Teer-e-niim Kashko,
Voh Khalish Kahan Se Hoti,Jo Jigar Ke Paar Hota,
Yeh Na Thi Hamaari Quismat…
Gazal, she says, is one of her favourite genres of song. But why? She wouldn’t reveal. A Gazal, you know, is a poetic expression of the pain of loss or separation, and the beauty of love despite the pain. It deals with an illicit or unattainable love. This love may be directed to a man or a woman. It may or may not have an explicit element of sexual desire expressed through it. Is she lovelorn? It is not known, can only be guessed at this moment.
On Sunday I reached the bungalow on time. Anu was in her beautiful front garden,
sitting on a chair, her friend Nilu beside on another chair. There were three
chairs and an oval table usually used for breakfast and refreshments in the
garden of a posh bungalow. It’s December 15. People put on colourful warm clothes
on such a day. Under the clear sky the garden looked charming. The lush green
grass was freshly mowed. Light blue cornflowers, also known as bachelor’s button,
red button daisies and brownish orchid flowers adorned the garden rich with
insectivorous pitcher plants and lemon plants. The sun is yet to be bright and
the rays were soft. Professionals in the area see the morning late on holidays in
Anu introduced me to Nilu saying,” This is my friend Nilu,I mean Nilima Sanyal.
She is born and brought up here, did her M.A. in English and a PhD on Oedipus complex in the novels of D.H. Laurence from Guwahati University. She teaches in the local college. She is junior to me by 3 years.” We exchanged greetings and namaskar. Nilu offered me to sit on the blank chair, face to face with them. She has an anglicized accent, and began the conversation. She proved to be a foil to my reticent host whom you have to understand mostly reading body language.
“How do you like our place?” Nilu asked. “It’s fantastic, and the bungalow with
the garden is a dream world.” I noticed a cheerfulness hovering over the face of
my host and a smile lingering on her lips. She said,” The credit goes to the
gardener, the amiable Prafullada. I told him of my dream and he laid out the
garden. It’s he who takes care of it.” At this I looked at her, astonished at her
humility when Nilu with all spontaneity clarified,” She is like that. She doesn’t
fail to acknowledge the contribution and good work of anybody.” As the
conversation progressed, I became aware of the Thlumuwi waterfall the sound of which synced well with the buzz of insects and chirp of birds in and around the Toast, omelet and coffee came soon amid the conversation. The domestic help Lila came smiling with the tray. There is a cheerful atmosphere in the bungalow, and I enjoyed it. If there is any gloom, it remains buried in the presence of guests as the cloud is lit bright in the resplendent presence of the sun. I said,” The toast, omelet and even the coffee taste different here…” “How?” Nilu interrupted. “You see, even the taste of food differs in different atmospheres, I mean the human environment.” My host nodded, smiling while Nilu agreed verbally. This is like Anu. She verbalizes less, uses facial expressions more.” Why don’t you have roses in your garden?” I asked my host.
“It was roses, roses, all the way,” she began and said, “I hope you have read the
“Yes, by Robert Browning,” I said.
“Roses are for celebrations, and every celebration culminates into oblivion,” she
“It’s also for love,” I suggested.
“Love is fiction while the fact is rose has thorns,” she clarified.
“In gazals rose stands for love and longing, and you like gazals,” I countered.
“Yes, I like but it’s for their lyric and melancholy,” she was candid.
Then she hastened to ask, “Well, what about your Kolkata, these days?” Is it she
is interested or just to leave the present topic of our conversation? I was
“It’s getting faster, bigger and vaster every day,” I said.
“And less and less humane,” she added.
“Do you believe so?” I asked, really to know her mind.
“You should be proud of your City of Joy. Aren’t the slums increasing and
expanding, and the number of pavement dwellers?” she enquired, meaningfully.
“Asian cities- even the US ones- have these features,” I asserted.
“But none of them is a City of Joy for Dominique Lapierre,” she countered with a
kind of sarcasm.
“Is it you’re bitter about your hometown?” I dared to ask.
“Why should I?” came the apt reply. She was visibly perturbed.
I forgot I shouldn’t put a journalistic question to my host who is not a public
figure and won’t like to be one. Bound within this Lakshman Rekha, how I could
know her mind, I thought, seriously. But I couldn’t go beyond the limit of
courtesy that exists between a host and a guest.
“I understand you shouldn’t. Maybe, I was overcurious,” I said apologetically.
“That’s alright, no problem. Curiosity is not unwelcome,” she assured me,
Nilu pointed out it’s already 11 a.m. My host decided we should now be indoors
for a round of tea to be followed by lunch at 12. Anu religiously follows routine. On holidays, she has her lunch at 12 noon and dinner by 8 p.m. No break of the rule. She is strict in this. As desired by the host, we left the garden for the drawing room. Seated on the sofa, I looked at the Picasso and the Da Vincis, and a silence set in. Nilu called my attention to tea. I felt a shake, awakened, as it were, from a stance. I felt disturbed as the stance was preferable to the tea. But I wouldn’t like them to understand .I took up the cup filled with fuming tea .Even the flavour of Darjeeling could not transport me to the reality of their presence from the world of dream and thought that the paintings brought me to. I felt the slip between the cup and the lip when they tried to hide their laughter at my queer behaviour as I looked on with the cup near the lip without having a sip to read the meaning contained in the paintings.
Guernica, intriguingly, is on the front wall, and the left is occupied by the
Last Supper and on the right wall is Mona Lisa. The weeping woman in the Picasso is in all her harsh ugliness. Why my host has chosen the piece to decorate the front wall is the question which dominates my thought. Is it that she has a strong bitterness in her experience which she finds expressed through the weeping woman? Against what could be the strong sentiment of hers? If it’s so, why has she chosen the other two paintings? What do the women in the other two symbolize for her? Mary Magdalene, consort of Jesus and present in the Last Supper, is courageous, strong willed and compassionate. Does the choice suggest she appreciates the qualities and shares them? But why Mona Lisa with her mysterious smile is her choice? My host always wears a smile. She is tough once she takes a decision. I understand she has determination and courage to decide boldly. But what is the cause? The weeping woman in Guernica has a cause against the Spanish Civil War, Magdalene was with the Christ in critical situations like
the crucifixion, and she was the first to perceive the resurrection of the Son of
God. May we think she embodies anger, compassion and determination? What could be the cause of anger which leads to her determination and her compassion which one
understands from her acts of a Good Samaritan with the local people who have come to look upon her as DIDI (Sister)?
Nilu again awakened me to tell that it’s time for lunch. She has arrogated unto
herself the role of the host while Anu cudgels her brains in her presence. Nilu
is definitely her alter ego.
We were now at the dining table with four chairs. The kitchen keeper had kept the food items on the table. Plates were laid before us three. Dehradun rice gave out enchanting flavour, chicken curry, pineapple-ilish, mung dal, fresh Italian ice-cream were in the menu. Delicious, indeed. My host politely said, “Let’s start, Mr. Bose.” The lunch began. Fish was the first choice to begin with. As we were on the pineapple-ilish, Anu said,” I like ilish. It’s my favourite fish. How do you like the fish, Mr. Bose?’ I said,” Like every East Bengali, I also like ilish.” She appeared to have become happy. “Mr. Bose midway through our conversation at the drawing room you suddenly turned melancholic, I mean thoughtful. Your eyes were travelling from one painting to another,” said my host with curiosity.
“Is it?” I asked, innocently.
“And you stopped talking.”
“Well, I was trying to understand,” I said, perplexed.
“Trying to understand what, the meaning of the paintings?” she asked.
“I don’t know, exactly.” She smiled meaningfully.
“Are you homesick? Kolkata pulls you back?” she was inquisitive.
“No, not that. I remain away from home for months together. I have none to anchor
me. I’m a tramp, you can say,” I explained.
“Maybe, we are not the right persons to be in entertaining conversation,” she
“The paintings are thought provoking and puzzling,” I said to mollify her.
“That’s true,” she said, assured.
“I tried to relate them to your taste,” I pointed out, cautious.
“My taste, you relate to!” she exclaimed, as it were, singed at the suggestion.
“The choice is yours,” I asserted, boldly.
“The choice is meaningless. I’m not after meaning, you know,” she shot back.
“Every choice has meaning,” I said involuntarily.
At this Anu’s smile receded. Put out, she asked me about the taste of the food,
evidently to bury an uncomfortable topic.
[ to be continued… ]