May 2015


"You don't mean it!" Nalin felt downcast.

"Very pretty!" Hazra only repeated.

"I must see this girl," Nalin said.

"That should not be a difficult matter," his counselor said while sounding an imaginary coin between his forefinger and thumb to indicate the simplicity of the task.

At the first opportunity, Nalin went and saw the girl. The thought that the girl was engaged to Nondo only fueled his desire to marry her himself. This girl was more beautiful than the girl from Rawalpindi, he thought. Tormented by his thoughts he turned to his counselor, "Hey, how do things stand? Which girl is pretty? This girl, or that girl?"

"This girl," Hazra said.

The reply swept aside all his doubts. This girl had such beautiful eyelashes; that girl was pale in comparison. And what complexion! No, this girl could not be allowed to slip away.

Nalin lay mortified puffing at his hookah. "Hey Hazra, what's to be done?"

Hazra said, "Sir, where is the difficulty?" so saying he once again struck an imaginary coin between his forefinger and thumb.

When a real coin was actually sounded, it bore immediate results. The girl's father, for no apparent reason, quarreled with the groom's father. The groom's father said, "If my son marries your daughter, then .... etcetera, etcetera."

The girl's father was not to be let down. "If my daughter marries your son, then .... etcetera, etcetera."

Nalin did not delay; he was quick to seize the opportunity. He married the girl and laughing over the manner in which he had tricked Nondo told Hazra, "This is the right way to pass BA*, what do you say Hazra? Now, that 'babu' has failed."

After a few days the sound of "dhak", "dhol" and "shehnai" emanated from Nanigopal's house. Nondo's body was smeared with turmeric paste.

Nalin said, "Hey Hazra, find out who is the bride."

Hazra returned with the news that the bride was the same girl from Rawalpindi.

"The girl from Rawalpindi! Ho, ho, ho," Nalin broke into a guffaw. "That gentleman could not find another girl; he had to marry the girl whom I had rejected." Hazra also joined in the hilarity.

But Nalin's guffaw waned in strength over time. It was as though germs had invaded his hilarity. A little doubt began whispering in his ears, "Oh no, it has been a mistake; Nondo has been the luckier." The little doubt grew larger like a leech bloated with sucked blood, and its whisper became shriller. The doubt said, "You can never have her now; in fact, it is she who is more beautiful. You have been outwitted."

When Nalin went indoors for his meal his wife's trivial omissions seemed to magnify and mock at him. He began to feel that it was his wife who had cheated him.

Nalin withdrew the photograph of the girl from Rawalpindi, which he had obtained when the marriage negotiations were underway, and gazed at it intently. "Oh, what grace! I am an ass to have rejected such a wonderful match!"

In the evening on the wedding day, the house was illuminated and music played. The groom stepped out of the house and climbed into a carriage. Nalin lay on the bed feeling very disappointed and tried unsuccessfully to draw some comfort from his hookah; Hazra arrived smiling from ear to ear. He was about to make some well-chosen remark intended to make fun of Nondo when Nalin called for the watchman.

"Watchman," Nalin called out.

Always ready to please, Hazra went and fetched the watchman.

Pointing at Hazra, Nalin told the watchman, "Abhi isko kaan pakadke bahar nikal do (Catch him by the ears and throw him out of the house."

* (Note: The Bengali word for marriage is "biye" which sounds the same as BA; so there is a play on words here).


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