The Nuisance!

(This is a poor translation of "Aapod", a short story written by Rabindranath Tagore in 1895. The objective is to spur readers to read the original story or better translations. There is a summary of the story on the last page.)

The storm gradually grew stronger in the evening. The lashing rains, the sound of thunder, and flashes of lightning made one feel as though the gods and demons were at war in the sky. The dark clouds raced in all directions like victory flags of the violent battle. The revolting waves on either side of the Ganges began their ferocious dance, and the branches of the big trees in the gardens and orchards splintered and scattered on the ground.

In a Chandannagar garden house, a husband and wife sat talking on a bed in a closed and lamp lit room.

Sharatbabu was saying, "You will become fully well if we stay here for a few more days; then, we can return to our native land."

Kironmoyi was saying, "I am fully well; we can return to our hometown now."

Married readers will understand that the matter could not have ended as tamely as I have reported. It was not a complex issue, yet it was not heading for a resolution because of arguments and counter-arguments. It was going round in circles like a rudderless boat and seemed it would eventually sink in a flood of tears.

Sharat said, "The doctor has advised it would be better to stay here for a few more days."

Kiron said, "Your doctor seems to know everything!"

Sharat said, "You know very well that several illnesses occur in our native place around this time. So, it would be better if we spend another month or two here."

Kiron said, "Does no one fall ill here at this time of the year?"

The past history is as follows: Everyone at her home and in the neighbourhood loved Kiron very much, even her mother-in-law. So everyone was anxious when she fell severely ill. The doctor advised a change of climate. Her husband and mother-in-law had no objection to her abandoning household work, leaving home, and going to stay somewhere else. But the wise and sagacious people in the village felt that all this talk about restoration of health through climate change and the great fuss about the wife's health was only shameless excess of neo-feminism. They raised several questions: Did nobody's wife ever fall severely ill before? Are people immortal in the place where Sharat has decided to take his wife? Is there any country in the world where destiny does not triumph? But Sharat and his mother did not heed these questions; they regarded their dear Kiron's life as more important than all the collective wisdom of the village. People feel such passion for their loved ones in trouble.

Sharat has come and settled in the garden house in Chandannagar. Kiron has also recovered, but she is not fully strong yet. Her face and eyes look doleful and haggard; anyone looking at her would shudder and think, "Oh, she has had a narrow escape!"

But Kiron was a fun-loving and gregarious person. She did not like the lonely life here. She had no household work to do; there were no friends. All that she could do was to move around with her sick body. She had grown resentful of the hourly intake of medicines after measuring the correct dosage level, the hot towel scrubs, and the dietary restrictions. Kiron's resentment was the cause of the turmoil between the husband and wife on today's stormy evening.

So long as Kiron shot back replies to Sharat's questions, both sides were equally matched. But, eventually, when Kiron stopped protesting and sat, turning her face slightly away from Sharat, the helpless husband was left with no more weapons in his arsenal. He was about to accept his defeat when a servant called out from outside the door.

Sharat opened the door. The servant told him that a boat had sunk and a Brahmin boy had swum ashore and arrived at their garden.

Kiron's sulkiness evaporated in a flash when she heard the news. She immediately removed dry clothes from the rack, warmed a bowl of milk, and called the boy inside.

The boy had long hair and big eyes; he had not grown any facial hair yet. Kiron made the boy drink the milk in her presence and asked him about himself.

The boy told her his name was Neelkanto, and he belonged to a folk-theatre troupe. The group was invited to perform at Singhbabu's house nearby. The artistes were arriving in a boat when it capsized. The boy could not tell what had happened to the other members of his troupe; he was a good swimmer and had managed to swim ashore.

The boy did not go away. The thought that the boy had survived by the skin of his teeth made Kiron compassionate towards him.

Sharat felt relieved. Good, he thought, Kiron had found some work to keep her occupied; this state would continue for a few more days. The mother-in-law was also happy in the expectation of earning god's grace by helping a Brahmin boy. Neelkanto was pleased that God of Death had spared him and that Providence had removed him from the theatre group owner's service and handed him to the care of this wealthy family.

But soon, Sharat and his mother started having second thoughts. They felt there was no more need for the boy to stay with them; if the boy were sent away now, it would be good riddance to a nuisance.

Neelkanto began smoking Sharat's tobacco pipe surreptitiously, making a bubbling sound. Unblushingly, he roamed around the neighbourhood on rainy days with Sharat's favourite silk umbrella over his head in the hope of making new friends. He showered such affection on a dirty village dog that it became bold enough to start entering Sharat's neat room uninvited and stamping its presence by leaving the imprint of its four dirty paws on the clean mattress. Very soon, a large number of children became Neelkanto's ardent disciples. That season, the green mangoes in the village orchards did not get an opportunity to ripen.

Kiron showered excessive affection on the boy; there was no doubt about it. Sharat and his mother cautioned her from doing so, but Kiron did not heed their warnings. The boy dressed like a babu in Sharat's old shirts and socks and even new dhoti, shawl, and shoes, which Kiron gave him. Sometimes, whenever she felt like it, she called him to her side for a pleasant conversation; both of them enjoyed it. A maid would dry and brush Kiron's wet hair as she sat smiling on the bed with a betel-leaf box by her side, watching Neelkanto gesticulating and enacting the roles of Nala and Damayanti. The long afternoons flew by quickly in this manner. Kiron used to try to persuade Sharat sit by her side during these shows, but he did not enjoy them; Neelkanto also felt restrained in Sharat's presence and could not give his best performance. Kiron's mother-in-law came to watch sometimes in the hope of listening to stories about gods and goddesses. But her longtime habit of taking a siesta would overcome her devotion and force her to go to sleep.


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