Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Bishu Pagla and Tuntuni

Mashi Pishi had shrieked in protest, when Baba had put little Tuntuni, in the arms of Bishu when he stood in one corner of the room, trembling like a leaf. “She’s yours too” Baba had said…and Bishu had looked up at Baba , his face shining like a thousand bulbs…he was in love again…

But that was the only thing “Bishu Pagla” was capable of! Loving unconditionally was the one thing he knew, everybody said. Nobody grudged him anything . “Oh he’s just a madhatter” they would say if they saw him crying unconsolably when the little kitten broke her leg or when he broke into a jig in the first showers of the monsoon. He could run as fast as an arrow, swim like a fish….he was one of nature’s own…Everybody in the neighbourood knew if Bishu was around.

He had the most mellifluous voice in which he sang Robi thakur’s songs. One after the other song he would sing, wandering about aimlessly from morning till night, and everybody would stop and listen. An officegoer who was all stressed about his work, would leave with a smile on his face if he heard Bishu sing, as would bawling babies who would forget to cry and listen to Bishu sing with utter amazement.

But Bishu a.k.a Bishsheshwar was not always like this. He was the tallest , strongest and sharpest boy in Class long before health drinks came into vogue. He was Baba’s best friend in school. They were inseparable. Hedmastermoshai always called them his manikjod…his two jewels. But Baba always credited Bishu. “He was the more intelligent one and would not hear of it if i felt lazy and did not want to complete my lessons. He would finish homework in a jiffy and would keep guard till I finished my own!” Baba said.

Yet fate had something else in store for Bishu. Bishu was only a small boy when his father had passed away, leaving Bishu to his mother’s care. To Bishu, his mother meant the world. He could not bear the thought of anything happening to his mother. No one knows what had really happened on that ill fated day. All they saw was a full grown man lying in a pool of blood and Bishu clutching on to his mother’s lifeless body. They said Bishu slit the man’s throat, with the sickle that lay at the entrance of his home. But no one knew for sure. That was the day, when Bishu stepped into some other world.

Baba had tried, tried hard to jolt him out of his shocked state. But Bishu would stare at him blankly every time he would speak of that day. Baba knew that the pain was so deep that no mortal could heal the wound. Bishu remained in his childlike state, sometimes crying, sometimes laughing calling out to Baba and his mother ocassionaly. The two people he had grown to love.

Baba stayed by his side, and Bishu became a part of his own family.

When Maa came home, Bishu stayed up all night to paint a lovely portrait of her’s, that till date adorns her bedroom wall. Maa had no problem with Bishu around the house. But Mashi Pishi would always complain. They admonished Bishu, shooed him away, when he came to Maa, like a little child asking for food . They told Maa to be careful, of the “batty creature” but Maa being Maa had just smiled. She knew better. She cared for Bishu as one does for a little boy.

When Tuntuni came home, a little pink bundle of joy, Maa’s eyes had searched out for Bishu. Bishu had told her that Tuntuni would come . Maa Baba, the brand new parents took Tuntuni upstairs, while Mashi Pishi made a big din and blew the conch shell and distributed sweets. But Bishu usually the first to participate in any din of any sort, stood in one corner craning over everyone nervously twitching his palms to get one look of Tuntuni. But he couldn’t. Mashi pishi made sure of that.

It is when the din susbsided and Mashi Pishi had taken their leave that Baba called Bishu in. Bishu looked at her and Baba saw in his eyes the love for his daughter, that perhaps was stronger than his and Maa’s. His big sad eyes were tearful and there was a big grin on his face. Tuntuni too who had been fast asleep had for a moment opened her two little eyes and looked up at Maa Baba and Bishu and then in the next moment had fallen asleep with the most beautiful smile on her face, as if secure in the knowledge that all was right in her world.

Baba had insisted that Bishu be a part of the rituals when Tuntuni’s annaprashan (rice ceremony) began. Mashi Pishi’s protests were silenced when Baba gave them one stern look. And Bishu had cradled Tuntuni in his arms. Tuntuni had nestled close to his chest and smiled her toothless grin. Bishu and Tuntuni were best friends from that day on.

Bishu would cry if Tuntuni ever got the slightest fever or so much as let out a tiny sneeze. Maa always said it was more difficult to calm down an anxious Bishu than to look after Tuntuni if she ever fell sick, like little babies do. He would stand at her bedside and talk to her, telling her stories, singing her lullabies till Tuntuni fell asleep.

Bishu was Tuntuni’s playmate. They played everything from hide and seek to ranna bati together. And when she was tired, she would nestle up to him and say “ Tell me a story Bishu.” To Tuntuni, Bishu was a story jukebox, he even smelt like the old warm books of Dadu’s s study. Sometimes when Tuntuni walked into Dadu’s study she would look up in amazement at all the books that adorned the study of the walls…”You remember every story in every book?” she would ask Bishu…and Bishu would say “ Why yes! Of course…I sleep in one book everyday…didn’t you know?” and both would break into an uproarious laughter.

Bishu told her tales of many a lands. From Hanuman’s tales of bravado to the beautiful princess Anastasia of the west. Stories flew past little Tuntuni eyes. She no longer knew fact from fiction, Bishu had created for her a world in which she could create her own characters, who laughed, sang and danced with her. Bishu took her to the pirate ship, where they would hide in the dock, or sip lemonade with the Famous five or go on a secret mission to Mt Kilimanajro.

But her favourite tale was that of Tuntuni. The one in which she would be clever Tuntuni and he the naughty tom cat who would come to eat up her little ones. And everyday the cat came to eat the little birds who could not by then even open their eyes, Tuntuni would think of a smart salutation, and send off the cat home. This continued for days at end till Tuntuni’s little ones’ learnt how to fly.

One day when the cat came to Tuntuni’s nest, Tuntuni no longer bowed in reverence to the cat. Instead, she called him names and flew away with her little ones in tow, while the naughty cat kept fuming in vain! At the end of the story Bishu would said “Tuntuni pakhi ude gelo! Hulo bababaji jole molo!” (Clever Tuntuni flew away and Hulo was left high and dry). Tuntuni would clap her hands in glee, everytime she heard the story and Bishu would laugh…

He knew his Tuntuni would fly away too. And fly away she did. When prince charming came her way, she knew she was in love. He was like the prince who Bishu had filled her thoughts with, the tender loving face, the strong arms and a heart of gold. It was time for Tuntuni to leave. She knew she had a whole life ahead of her, but her heart ached for Maa Baba and most of all Bishu.

The day she left her father’s home Tuntuni wept as Maa Baba escorted her to her carriage as Bishi had told her would sweep her away. The wedding was just like he had told her, that was of princesses. Her prince would love her too and they would live happily ever after, but Tuntuni knew Bishu would no longer be a part of her life as she knew it….she wept inconsolably when Bishu came to bid her goodbye….For once he was not the one crying.

Mashi Pishi were at it again..making snide remarks but both Bishu and Tuntuni couldn’t care less as they held on to each other. It was as if they knew it was their last ever meeting. “”Tuntuni pakhi ude gelo….” He had said as she left…..she looked back…from the car…..and it swished past her childhood home…. She knew Bishu would sit up there on the doorstep till daybreak, till all the din subsided.

Tuntuni came off to a wonderful land with prince charming. Everything was as beautiful as she had thought it would be, Tuntuni became a storyteller, not like Bishu though. She made a living of telling stories of the real world, of making money, of profits and losses. Sometimes the reality was too stark, and harsh, but she always had Bishu’s tales to delve into for solace. She could still feel like the little girl wrapping her arms around Bishu’s neack asking him to tell her a story.

Bishu would not come onto the phone when Tuntuni called back home. Baba would tell her that he sang and wandered aimlessly and got shooed away by mashi pishi, but he would still look at Tuntuni’s things for hours at end and stare into the space. He slept in Dadu’s study sometimes as he had done when Tuntuni was young.

Yesterday Baba called. When Tuntuni was working on a story of the real world, Bishu had died, peacefully in his sleep. Would Tuntuni come home Baba had asked?

Tuntuni had paused … a thousand images of childhood flew past her eyes as if in a black and white montage….before Baba asked again…. “No” she answered with a smile in her lips and a tear in her eye. “Bishu cannot die Baba. He’s just asleep in one the many book’sin dadu’s study.” She said. The phone went dead at the other end….

Tuntuni went back to her storytelling…of the real world…of real things….