Many may not know but Jhontu da makes the best Jhal Muri in Calcutta. Maybe he doesn’t know himself. I wonder would that make him proud if he knew.
For 18 years Anindo have been a regular customer to him. On his way to Esplanade Tram Depot he always stops near the Grand Hotel junction and with a faint smile of acknowledgement Jhontu da gets busy to mix all those myriad flavours and a handful of Muri.
Extra Aam chutney and no green chillies. Green chillies cause acidity to Anindo. And after that as sun slowly sets behind Victoria Memorial, Anindo slowly walks toward Tram Depot. It was as if both sun and he knew what lies ahead in the darkness of the night and have stopped expecting miracles long ago.
TR-114.Thats his tram. For all these years he spent most of his evenings serpentining through the neon streets of Calcutta. But it still brought the same excitement inside him.
The soft hum and rattle of the tram, and the occasional electric flashes of the power line, still brings creates the same fervour inside him.
It was a summer evening of long lost year when Anindo saw her.
The evening twilight was losing battle with the growing glows of the street halogens. Both the bogies of the Tram were crowded. Last group of Office babus were in hurry to catch the last ferry to Howrah. And young couples were on their way to the evening show at Metro or Globe Theatre.
That was when Anindo saw her waving her hand frantically to stop the tram. She was wearing a dark yellow sari with maroon embroidery. The starch of the sari was long lost in day long perspiration. But still the folds of the aanchal was neatly held by hidden safety pin.
With eminent tiredness of the sultry day she climbed up the tram and took a window seat.There was a strange melancholy in her eyes. Or maybe it’s just how fatigue looks in those big black eyes. Anindo could see the beauty hidden under the sweat ridden face and beneath the wheatish complexion. It was a beauty that was losing battle to the dust and pollution of Calcutta.
In an instant Anindo knew, he was in love, and he regretted it.
She always wore 2 saris in rotation throughout the week and rotated the same combination of sari every 5 week. By now Anindo could successfully guess what she will wear that day. It was as if without any words they reached a mute agreement. A symphony. A routine.
Year have passed and seasons changed. Every cool breeze of evening reckoned the arriving monsoons. The rain washed streets of Chandni Chowk glittered in the glory of streetlight. Big black umbrellas and tiny pink umbrellas together made a cocoon for lover’s respite.
But today she forgot her umbrella. In the merciless streets of Calcutta Anindo saw her shivering in the chilly breeze. The wet sari was obscenely outlining her most intimate features.
A pang of jealousy passed through his spine for all those men whose eyes seemed to pierce her.
She dint even noticed. She was busy reading a obscure magazine made of cheap grey paper.
In some other year, it was winter in the city. The hazy sun in the evening Maidan failed to provide enough warmth. So the lovers found warmth in arms of each other. Safely wrapped in the descending fog, they dreamt of their happy future.
Government finally found out someone to blame the poor traffic management. In the soon arriving 21st century, trams were to be erased.
Roads were less and people were more. So government came up with a new plan. In the dark underground demon trains will ferry people through the gutters of the city.
Robi da says Doomsday is near. We are day by day moving nearer to hell. They are even naming those demon trains as Patal Rail.
Anindo's marriage was called off 4 days before the engagement. If trams are not there, how will he feed our daughter, they blamed.
Anindo was happy. Tightening his muffler a bit he rattled his tram forward. It was the festive season. Bakeries overflowed with sweet smell and spread it across the streets. Twinkling stars and garlands of light gave the dying city a new zeal to live.
She stood there with her friend and a packet of cheap oversweet fruit cakes. She looked at him and their eyes met.
Somewhere someone skipped a heartbeat. Her friend called out "Archana,Wont you come?"
And Archana climbed in.
Of course, she was Archana, he wondered. What else could she be? She justified the name, she justified the beauty behind it.
Spring was never a season of Calcutta. It mysteriously lost its glory in parts to winter and summer.
All that was left was a few weeks in end of February, when the Babus of Writer's building get the imperial ceiling fans cleaned up for the approaching summer.
The nights still held on to the winter chill.
Archana today sat just behind the driver's coach on the tram. And it was as if Anindo could smell her scent. The export quality roses of Barabazar lost their fragrance to her. It was a scent of a woman.
In the thinning traffic of College Street, Anindo turned to steal glances of her. Maybe he should approach her one day.
But she might get scared. She might even complain. He was nothing but a background prop in her world. Why would she care?
He looked back and she looked up. Their eyes met and recognised. It was gripping, those big black eyes. And then a faint smile of understanding appeared on her lips.
A lips discoloured by those chemical impregnated local lipsticks glittered with the colour of her smile.
It was an acknowledgement, of all those hidden glances over the years, of all those yearnings, of all those dreams that were to come true.
It was a smile of love. Of new promises to be made. Of new life to be led.
Moment broke with a loud shriek. A jolt shook the tram and few flares of electric discharge sprinkled in the streets from over head lines. Anindo held on the brake, and passengers bumped off their seats.
Many have heard of those moments when earth stand still. Today it did. Cars screeched to stop and people stood with open mouth. The breeze from the south was too scared to flow.
Anindo peeked from the window.
She must be 25-26, returning from college maybe. There was still a freshness of life in her face. Maybe death was even confused to engulf her.
There she lay in front of the tram. Eyes closed in a peaceful sleep, but the dark maroon blood overflowing through her nose betraying the illusion.
The brake was bit too late. Life slowly seeped out of her.
Last thing Anindo remembered was running frantically through the by lanes. Behind a reeking smell of a burning tram and a faint roar filled the air.
Anindo ran for his life. Ran till he was exhausted to the point of death. And then he lied down on the concrete streets of Calcutta. Under the glare of a neon light.
Today also Anindo finished his Jhal Muri. The sun has set but the evening glow persisted.
He started his tram. It rattled a bit and then got in rhythm and them started to roll slowly on tracks.
Anindo many times tried to recall the face of that girl. But oddly every time that face transformed into face of Archana.
Today also Archana climbed up the tram and sat behind Anindo. But Anindo looked straight.
His Archana was dead, or maybe his love was.
P.S: Ahh!! its been about 2 months I am off blogger. Sorry for the delay,to anyone who care :) Its a bit of a long post...so apologies if u had to strain ur eye muscles longer.Let me know da guds and the bads in comments!!
P.P.S: Well I am myself not sure about the timeline of my story. But I assume I have tried to restrict it within late 70's to early 80's. Which was times way before I was born, and have no idea of.... so if by any chance u are resided in Calcutta during those times...do let me know the authenticity of the descriptions i used!!