More Postcards from Calcutta
Last evening I went to Prinsep Ghat, at the foot of the second Hooghly Bridge. There is a half-built bridge that juts out into the river but was left incomplete and I walked right up to its brink. It was a cold evening. Prinsep Ghat was hosting a cultural evening with a sitar player. I did not stop to watch. I could only see the river beckoning me from beyond. It was misty and damp, and there was only the sound of the heavy silt-laden Ganges water lapping the bank, leaving it, and coming back again, like the light tongue of a teasing lover.
I lit a cigarette and looked up. Above my head towered the iron bridge, it was dizzying to look up at it. In front of me was the wide river, far ahead there was a jetty moving across slowly. After a long time, I felt like I did not need anything else from life, as if that moment was the coming together of everything I had always believed in and all that I ever lived for.
This morning I met Dr Sengupta, the man who had delivered me in the hospital. He is over 80 now, and a very handsome man indeed. He had come over only to meet me, which I thought was very sweet of him. When he saw me, he put his hand on me head and said, “Tomake eituku dekhechhi (I have seen you when you were tiny), what a beautiful girl you have grown up into.”
Then he said he was writing his autobiography (he is one of the most renowned doctors in Calcutta), and I asked him to narrate some incidents from his life that had touched him the most.
So he started.
I knew his wife had died very young, and he never married again. Today, he said that on his wedding night, she had washed his feet with water, and had wiped it off with her own hair. Call me old-fashioned, but this was so touching that I almost felt like crying. How much they must have loved each other. When she died, he had been around thirty, wealthy, handsome, and about to become one of the biggest doctors in Calcutta. Everyone around him had urged him to get married, but he’d never agreed.
When I asked him today why he didn’t, he told me, “Reshma, she was made of gold, I could have never found a replacement.” And then he paused for a while to hide a tear.
I was stunned. This was the best expression of love I’d heard for a long time. In these days of casual relationships, easy sex, and relationships fraught with doubts and uncertainties, is it possible to find such love anymore? And I am the worse fool for believing in the magic of such things?
So we sat there silently for a while, eighty year old man and twenty-seven year old me, almost three generations apart, each musing about life. He was reminiscing about the perfect unconditional love that he'd received although for a brief while in his life, and me yearning for just one taste of something so distilled and pure... that when I’m not there, at least one man will know that I can never be replaced, and so won’t even bother to look.
Summer Re-run Series
First posted December 26th, 2006