Friday, 10 August 2012

Birthday





They hardly talked to each other when they were in  Naba Nalanda school in Lake Gardens, Calcutta.

Chandni Bangur and Moumita Halder  studied in the same class for five years, but somehow they did not go beyond the customary “Hello” to each other.  Last year , both of them passed class 10th and got themselves enrolled in the prestigious La Martinere for Girls School  in Park Circus.   When they saw each other  on the first day in class 11th , they seemed relieved. They became fast friends.
So, when Chandni  joined the Andersons Swimming Club ,  Moumita also wanted to do the same.  She pleaded with her mother and father.

“Ma ,  I want to learn swimming . And the Lake is so near our house. The coach is also very good.  Chandni has joined just a week ago and she already knows how to float. Please, please, please Ma “  
All Bengali’s have a nick name and a “good name”. The nick name  is used by the family members and  home friends and the “good” name is used in school, college and the friends therein.  Moumita’s nick name was “Mishti”  which meant sweet.


Mishti’s  mother Anindita did not budge.   “No Mishti.  You know how your father worries for you.  If you are late even by 5-10 min, he stands near the gate looking at the watch. So, he will never agree for the swimming classes.  Why don’t you join the badminton classes instead ? And you also know how expensive Anderson’s Club is … “ Mishti grimaced.  Always, always this is said. And Mishti and her elder brother Baptu’s lips were sealed when the “expense” thing came up. 

 Mishti’s father, Alok Halder worked for the Eastern Railway, Howrah Division as a lower division clerk.  He was a hardworking and sincere man and was always appreciated for his work by his supervisor. Last year when Alok went to Delhi to collect the Minister’s Award, Mishti , Baptu and Anindita had accompanied him.  They were so proud when he collected the shield. The photograph of the award ceremony was framed and it adorns the prime location on the drawing room wall of their staff quarters in Lake Gardens.

Baptu studies in the 3rd year of  Mechanical Engineering Course in the Jadavpur Engineering College. Both Mishti and Baptu are bright students.  Alok taught Maths and Science to both of them till they were in class 10th.  As a routine, Mishti and Baptu  did at least ten maths problems daily which Alok corrected when he came back from office at 6.30 pm.  He would sit with his bowl of Muri and call “Mishti… ! Bring your Maths exercise book”.   And when both the siblings scored good marks in Maths, he would look at Anindita and say “See… they are my children.. ! If a person does not know maths, then they are useless  …

When Mishti scored 95% in class 10th and Baptu got into Jadavpur Engineering, both Anindita and Alok went to Kalighat,and after worshipping, they distributed sweets to the destitutes.

When Alok returned from office that day, he sensed something is wrong.  He opened his shoes and  kept them in the small box like cupboard below the sofa.  Mishti was sitting on the sofa pouring over a book. Anindita was in the kitchen cooking dinner. “I am frying some peanuts for your Muri”   Anindita said.   “Ok. And see that I get more peanuts than Mishti …... “ Alok said expecting the usual retort from Mishti.   Mishti was silent.  She put her book down and with her eyes brimming with tears blurted out  “ I want to learn swimming Baba -  in the Anderson’s swimming club. I will pay for the fees on my own. You remember I had told you that Babli Kakima wanted me to  teach Maths to Sonai.  I will teach him on Sundays and the money which I will earn will be enough for me to join the swimming coaching. And I promise I will never be late after my classes. God Promise!  Baba … Please do not say no….. “

Next week , Mishti joined the Anderson swimming club. She got a brand new swimming costume as a gift from Baptu.   She did not take up the assignment for teaching Sonai.  

Every Saturday and Sunday morning at 8 am, Chandni and Mishti met below the Gulmohur tree beside the lake and then walked towards the swimming club together.  Both of them were fast learners and the coach encouraged them to learn new swimming strokes.  After one hour of swimming , when they were ravenously hungry, they opened their lunch boxes and shared their food.  

“Moumita, I am fed up of sweets. Please have this pastry . “  Chandni said  eyeing Moumita’s tiffin.

 “Well, then you have to eat the home made chow-mein“ Moumita said.

“Aunty makes such lovely chow-mein ! Heavenly “  said Chandni – closing her eyes and relishing the food.

“The Pastry seems to be from  Kathleen… very nice… ummm “ said  Mishti.

They polished off  each other tiffins and spent the next half hour discussing the going ons in their school. How Shivani mam scolded the class when they were talking and how Pooja – the creep – complained to the teacher when Chandni was looking at the time in her mobile. She was not using it but just seeing the time …. the creep Pooja…  

One Sunday,  Chandni came with a small envelope in her hand. She gave this to Mishti and said “ Next Saturday, the 20th of July is my birthday. You are cordially invited “  she smiled and bowed. 
Mishti was apprehensive.  “You live in Alipore. There are no buses which ply in that route..”  Chandni thought for a few minutes and suddenly became excited. “ You know what?” She said  “ After the swimming classes on Saturday, I will take you home with me. After the party, I will drop you. Great ! then we will be able to spend a lot of time together. What fun !”   Mishti -  “ I will talk to my Baba and tell you tomorrow in the school. Bye . See you in the class ”

As Mishti opened the rust colored gate of the railway quarter,  Anindita opened the door with a towel in her hand. “Dry your hair ! NOW !” She scolded. “You know how susceptible to cold you are. Everybody in this household does whatever they llke.  Just because you all know that I am there to do all the chores and look after all of you.” She grumbled.  Mishti snatched the towel from her hand and started drying her hair “ Oh ! Ma ! You are forever fussing. I am fine. I can take care of myself” “Sit down” Anindita ordered.  Mishti sat down on the floor and her mother towelled her hair dry.

“Ma” Mishti started. “Next Saturday is Chandni’s birthday and she has invited me for the birthday party. She has said that she will take me to her home in Alipore after our swimming classes and will drop me back after the party.  Can I go , Ma ? “
“She stays in Alipore and her father owns a garment mill – right? “
“Yes, Ma. Chandni is a very nice girl. She is also good in her studies. In fact she got the highest in English in this exam.  I missed it by just one mark” ,  Mishti made a face.
Anindita went inside the kitchen to cut onions and tomato for the mutton curry.  Every Sunday, without fail,  the Halder family sat down together to have lunch. They loved the mutton curry with potatoes made by Anindita.  Mishti  put her arms around Anindita’s waist and inhaling the spicy aroma of the mutton curry, said “Ahhh ! I am already feeling hungry . When will Baba return ? When will the curry be ready ?  Can I taste it at least ? …. Ma, can I go to Chandni’s place, will you talk to Baba ? “ 
Lunch was served at 2 pm.  The mutton curry was served in a big steel bowl , a plate of potato fry , Salad and rice. Baptu teased  “Ma, why don’t you ever use the Bone China dinner set ? It is forever lying inside the crockery showcase. Let us at least use it during our Sunday Lunch”.  Anindita scowled “No. We will use that only when we have guests. That too very important ones. We did use it when your father’s boss was invited for dinner” .  Mishti joined her elder brother and smiled as she said  “But Ma, we can at least use the new table mats. Babli  Kakima presented us a nice one when she came back from Puri.  See , how old our table mats are !”  Anindita chose a nice piece of mutton and  gave it to Mishti.  “These things are my department. Better not interfere … “ Alok smiled while listening to their banter.  They laughed and enjoyed their food. Their chatting continued long after they finished their food.  This was their usual Sunday lunch routine.

 “Mishti, your mother said that you want to attend your friend Chandni’s birthday next Saturday ? Well, what will you give her as a gift ? “  Mishti looked at  her mother and smiled then full of excitement said  “Baba, I have got the recipe of  chocolate cake. I was planning to make a birthday cake for her. My first cake, for my best friend.”   Alok stared at his daughter but did not say anything.
As Alok walked away, he stopped,  hesitated a bit , came near Mishti and said “Think about it. You can gift her a nice pen too ”.  Baptu also nodded his head. “I think Baba is right. Give her a pen. I have bought a very nice one yesterday and I can give it to you, but …… “
-          “What ?? “
-          You have to massage my feet for a week “
-          “Ma… !! See .. Dada always asks for massage…  Why can’t he massage my feet ? “
-          “Well .. !  Then go ahead and spend your pocket money for your gift ..!”
The siblings threw pillows on each other and fought and laughed. 
*******************************************************************
On 20th July, as Mishti packed her  best dress and her white ballerina heels for the birthday party, Anindita kissed her forehead .  “Don’t be late.  Come home latest by 10 pm. We will wait for you to hear about the party” , she smiled. 
A big chauffeur driven Mercedes car was waiting for Chandni and Mishti as they finished their swimming.  The seats were huge and  comfortable and Mishti felt cold in the powerful Air conditioning of the car.  Mishti closed her eyes.  She was floating, she felt.  Uff, but why were the window panes tinted ?  The busy streets looked so artificial. When she will buy a car  , she will never get the window panes tinted.
The car entered “Bangur Niwas” . 
“Good morning didimoni” , the above 45 year old watchman with a big moustache saluted Chandni and Mishti.  Mishti looked at the big garden in front.  So many types of flowers !  The green lawn was neatly mowed and looked like a Persian carpet.  There was greenery all around. Big trees ladern with fruits and flowers.  There was a swing at the centre of the lawn. “Swing !!” Mishti exclaimed. “Chandni, let us sit of the swing !”  Chandni looked mildly surprised . “You like to swing ? OK, lets go . It has been ages since I sat of the swing”.  Mishti dashed towards the swing.
A well dressed lady came out of the big  wooden front door and waited for them to come inside. When Mishti entered the house, she stared in awe.   She had seen such a drawing room only in the movies.  It was a huge hall with spotless white marble flooring,  beautiful carpets , three sets of sofa,  beautiful tables.  The walls were adorned with oil paintings. A crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling.  She was dumbstruck. She was startled when Chandni called her.  “Come on … “
Mishti had never imagined that Chandni was so rich.  There were countless rooms in the three storied bunglow.  Chandni took Mishti’s hand and pulled her into her room . “My room !” she said . “Welcome !”  What a room … !  Chandni’s room was bigger than all the rooms of her Lake garden’s quarter combined.  Everything was pink -the curtains , the wall, the bedsheet.  Chandni’s books were neatly stacked on a teakwood study table. A big teak cupboard , several bedside lamps and paintings were tastefully decorated.  Chandni  showed a  big teddy bear near her bed. “My father gifted this to me  when I was 10 !”  Mishti touched the soft fur  as she sat on the bed.  The AC  was mild and comfortable.  Where was she ? Is this heaven ?  She stared around her wistfully. Chandni is so lucky !
 After Chandni showed Mishti how to operate the bathroom fittings, she had a luxurious bath in the bath tub. Chandni had put bathing salt and foam in the tub and Mishti  was very excited The soaps , the lotions were beautifully perfumed.  After the girls had chicken sandwiches , they lied down on the bed  and chatted and chatted.  They giggled. They teased and tickled each other. It seemed they had become little children.  “But where are the other people ? Chandni’s parents ?”  Mishti wondered.
“Oh ! Mummy has gone to the beauty parlour. You see, we have the party at 7.30 pm.  She will be back soon” . Suddenly Chandni sat up “So silly of me ! Look , it is almost 2 pm ! Let us go and have lunch”.   The dining room was well lit with hanging lights on the huge twelve seater  dining table with a glass top.  Chicken, fish, three vegetables , salad , rice, sweets were kept in the bone-china crockery. Silver spoons and forks were kept.  “Have some more chicken “ Chandni said “I know you love it ”.   The girls were talking and eating , when Chandni’s mother came. She came near them and smiled at Mishti.  “Moumita, I am glad that you could come today. Chandni talks such a lot about you”

“Chandni’s mother is so beautiful…”. The trimmed hair, well done eyebrows, glowing skin complemented the  lemon colored churidar which Chandni’s mother wore.  “Chandni told me that you love chicken.  Is it good ? “ Mishti nodded.  “The party will start at 7.30 pm.  Be ready before that” . As her mother went to her own room, the sweet smell of the expensive perfume lingered on.
In the evening, Chandni wore a very beautiful  peach colored sequinned dress. She donned a heeled shoe.   The maid came and helped her with a nice hair band.  Mishti also wore her dress. And they were all set for the party.  
“The party will be really boring.  Please stay near me so that we can talk”
“Ok. But why boring ? “
“Papa’s clients come and it is just business talks. That is why I really really wanted you to come”
“Open the gift which I have given you”
“I already did !! I love the pen ! Thank you !”
The drawing room was decorated with balloons and lights.  The lawn was also lighted up and music was playing.  Waiters were circulating with drinks and snacks. Every now and then , Chandni got a big present and a birthday wish.  After a while Mishti lost count of the gifts which Chandni had received. 
“Where is your father ? “ Mishti asked.
“Come on. I will take you to meet him. He usually comes back at 10 pm , but he is back early today for the party. Papa.. “ Chandni called
“Papa, meet my friend – Moumita”
Chandni’s father was bald and stocky. He smiled at them . “Ah ! Chandni ! Happy birthday ! Your friend is very sweet. Hope you are enjoying the party “   He started saying something , but was pulled into another conversation “Mr. Bangur . How did today’s deal go ?”
“See , papa is so busy. He has to run four textile mills , you know ….”
Chandni kept a fixed smile on her face and kept on commenting on the guests
“See the aunty who is wearing a green chiffon saree ? She will now come to me and say You look sooo beautiful Chandni !! Now you have become a lady !!” 
Mishti could not stop giggling when exactly the same words were spoken. The entire evening Mishti listened to the various anecdotes about the guests and both the girls just enjoyed each other’s company.
“Oh My God ! It is 9.45 pm ! I have to go now “ Mishti exclaimed.
“Stay another 30 min” Chandni pleaded.
“No. I have promised my mother. I have to go now . ”
“Moumita. Thank you for coming. This was my best birthday party ever. Just because you were there with me , I enjoyed it. Hope you like the Agatha Christie book. I have specially bought it for you as a return gift  “ Chandni hugged Mishti
“Come again!” said Chandni’s mother, as she helped Mishti into the car. “Driver, wait till Moumita is inside the house , only then come back” she instructed.
Anindita, Alok and Baptu were waiting for Mishti.  As soon as she entered the house, Baptu snatched the Agatha Christie from her hand. “Wow ! I will read this first”.  “How was the party ?” Anindita asked.  Mishti described everything in great detail.  The lawn, the house, the party, the guests. She went on and on.  After about an hour, Alok hugged his daughter and asked “Did you enjoy yourself Mishti ?
“Yes Baba ! A lot ! ” Mishti beamed.
Her happiness was short lived.

********************************************************************************
Anindita looked at Mishti.  For a few days , she had been very quiet.  She seemed lost in her thoughts. Even when Baptu teased her, she did not repond like her old self.  Anindita was worried.

“Mishti . Are you OK ? Everything well in school ? “
“Yes , Ma.  All is good. I have my exam next week , so have to study”

All was indeed not right for Mishti.  She did not know what to do.  Chandni had invited herself for Mishti’s birthday. Last Monday, during lunch Chandni said “ I know it is your birthday this month.  You came for my birthday, so I will definitely come to your place on your birthday.  You are my best friend !”

22nd August is Mishti’s birthday. This day has always been special for Mishti.  She  waits for this day every year with great expectations. Alok , Anindita and Baptu tease her feigning that they have forgotten the day , but every 22nd Aug,  Alok gets a present for Mishti. Anindita cooks her favourite dishes..  So, when Mishti did not mention about her birthday till a week before 22nd   Aug , Alok and Anindita were worried. 

Mishti looked around her.  The only bedroom they had was occupied by Mishti’s mother and father.  Baptu studied late at night. So he needed the guest room. The drawing room had a sofa-cum-bed. This served as Mishti’s bed during night.  The small dining table had two chairs on the side and the other two were kept aside. When they ate , the table had to be shifted to accommodate the four chairs. The walls needed whitewash.  The blue cotton curtains looked nice about a year ago, but now they should be changed.  How can she bring Chandni here ?

She was not ashamed of her house. Baba worked hard and has given the best education to his children.  She knows that her parents hardly had any savings.  Ma takes a lot of pains to run the household in the fixed budget.  How can she ask them to spend for special food for her birthday? Every year, Ma prepares “payesh” for her birthday. She cannot ask her to buy a cake. Nor does she  want them to buy her any expensive clothes. She is a big girl now.  She does not need any gift.  Baba and Ma have to keep aside money for special guests – like last  month when baba had to invite his office colleagues. But Chandni. What will she think ?  Anyways , let her think whatever she likes.  I will not ask Ma and Baba to do anything special for my birthday.

In the evening, Alok asked Mishti “ Mishti, my big girl , what present do you want for your birthday?”

“Baba, I am a big girl now. I do not want any gift . Oh ! Just one thing.  Chandni will come to our house on my birthday” Mishti said very casually.

On 22nd August,  Mishti opened her eyes and saw her mother, father and brother standing near her bed with a big bunch of  red roses. “Happy birthday to you …” they sang and hugged Mishti.  Mishti touched their feet. 

“Today I will take half day leave and pick you up from school. Chandni can also come with us. Your mother has already  invited her by talking to her mother” Alok said.  

“Baba, we can come on our own . We are big girls now !  We will take the 3D/1 bus and come home”

After school,  as both the girls came out of the gate, Mishti saw her father waiting for them.  He had put on his best shirt and pant. “Come on ! The taxi is waiting”,  Alok said and ushered them into the taxi.  Mishti was surprised.

Anindita opened the door.  She was wearing an off white cotton saree with a red border. She had a big red bindi on her forehead, light pink lipstick, kohl in her eyes.

“Ma is so beautiful ! “ Mishti  thought  “She should put lipstick and kohl often. She looks like a goddess”.

“Welcome Chandni !  Come in.  Mishti talks so much about you that I know all about you”  Anindita smiled.

Mishti stared as she stepped inside the drawing room.  The dining table was covered with a lace table cloth.  The bone china dinner set was set on the table. Flowers were kept in the flower vase. She had seen these flower vases only in the show cases.  The table mat set was put on the table. The room looked fresh and sublime. 

“You can go to the guest room and chat if you like”

Baptu’s  belongings had been removed from the guest room.  The room which was cramped in the morning, looked neat and spacious.  A new bed cover was put on the bed. Mishti recollected that Ma had bought this three year back from an exhibition and even after cajoling a lot , she had not used it. Ma was  very possessive about these things.  

“But first we have to cut the cake “  Baptu said , as he brought the cake and put it on the table. It was a Black Forest Cake from Kathleen, the  best bakery shop.  The cake was cut. All of them sang “Happy Birthday to you..” while Mishti blushed.  They laughed, joked and talked.  Chandni was in splits when Baptu mimicked some of his college proffessors and film actors.

Anindita had prepared Chow mien, Fried rice and Chilly Chicken .

Chandni was escatic  “ Oh , Aunty, You make such lovely Chinese food.  I love it” . Chandni also loved the Payesh.  “Will you pack some  Payesh for me Aunty ? It is so nice !”

Alok sang a beautiful song . Baptu played his mouth organ.  Then all of them joined and the soiree of songs continued.  Chandni looked at the happy faces.  “Moumita is so lucky” She thought

Chandni did not want to go home even when it was 10.30 pm.  As she got up to leave, she looked at everybody and said “ I had such a lot of fun. I enjoyed it very very much. Can I come back again ? “

The night was dark.   Anindita  finshed cleaning the kitchen. . Baptu was asleep.

 Mishti lay on her bed.  When she will get a job, she will get the best crockery set for her mother. She will buy lots of good bed covers for her.  She will buy her father the best suit. She will always take care of them just like they took care of her.  She had the best parents in the whole world.   She only was ……… !   Warm tears stinged her eyes.

Anindita and Alok came near Mishti’s bed.  Alok sat beside her. He had a packet in his hand.  He put a hand on Mishti’s head.   “Happy birthday !  I know you wanted the Harry Potter series “.

Mishti sat up.  “Baba” She sobbed  into his chest.  “I am a bad girl , no?  My thinking is skewed, right?”  Tears rolled down her cheeks.

Alok and Anindita hugged Mishti .

“I love you Baba. I love you Ma. Will you also always love me even if I am sometimes bad ? “

“We love you , Mishti.  Always. You are special for us. You and Baptu are the most important people for us. And  do not grow up so soon. You will always be our little girl. We love your tantrums.  Believe me,  we love you just as you are ………….”

Mishti believed them.   She held her mother’s hand while sweet slumber crept in.  Her  face was as blissful as a new born.

The next morning,  when Chandni was leaving for school , she smiled at the watchman when he said “Good morning Didimoni”





8 comments:

  1. I am confused with the last line....(The next morning, when Chandni was leaving for school , she smiled at the watchman when he said “Good morning Didimoni”).....i am not getting it as if this line have some connections with Chandni's life or not or if this is how the article ends.

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  2. :-).

    Well, After visiting Mishti's place, Chandni too had some change in her outlook. She started seeing and acknowledging the facets of life which she had ignored earlier.

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  3. wonderfull article Ananya. I must say you are blesses with so nice writing skills. God Bless you. Keep Writing and posting such good articles to us. They are really inspiring.

    Regards,
    Jyoti

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  4. Beautifully written. happiness is actually very relative..

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  5. Beautifully written. Very touching story.....overflowing with strong sentiments and values. I stand enriched.

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