A Beautiful House

The story below was published in the 2022 edition of Luitor Pora Mississippi ( From Luit to Mississippi), Annual Magazine of Assam Sahitya Sabha North Anerica.

A Beautiful House

The last nail was hammered in, the taut wire was strung across the nails and the huge, framed photo hung with utmost care on the wall. It was a photo of a large sunlit house on a hill fronted by a garden and a river flowing languidly below. The sad eyes of Dr. Talukdar glanced once over the hung photo and then closed again. No one in the room could tell if it was a glance of approval or acceptance of the fact that the deed was done

It had been a long journey for Prabal from the muddy fields of his ancestral village to the metropolitan capital city of the state. All throughout the monsoon season the village would be under water. Houses built on stilts to avoid being under water existed precariously, never ever sure if they would survive the next storm. Major mode of transportation during the recurring annual floods was country boats. The local village school situated on higher grounds would survive the calamity but on more occasions then one would be a shelter for domestic animals than students. Prabal knew from his earliest childhood that his ticket from that wretched existence was education. So rare were the days when he would miss classes even on stormy days. Early on he became an expert swimmer to navigate the waters around his house. His parents were worried that someday he would be swept away by flood waters but such was his dedication that if his father or older brothers refused to row the boat to take him to school he would swim to school. Sometimes he would arrive in school only to find that he was the only one present, even teachers did not dare to come to school on those days. People used to call him crazy and call him names behind his back. But young Prabal was not to be deterred. His single minded pursuit paid dividends and Prabal passed his primary school finals with flowing colors securing a scholarship for obtaining the first position in the district.


From that time there was no holding back Prabal. There were no schools for higher education in the village. So his parents were forced to send him to the house of a distant relative in a nearby town. The life in the town was not all rosy for young Prabal. He was forced to do many household chores in the morning before going to his school and after coming back from his school he had to help the lady of the house, who was his maternal aunt in relation, in preparing evening tea and meals. However, whatever little time Prabal could manage he would spend on his studies. It was difficult for him to study late at night as his aunt would scold him for spending precious kerosene by keeping the hurricane lamp on so late at night. So Prabal would get up early in the morning before anyone else and much before his aunt would shout from bed, “Prabal, please make tea for me and uncle.” There were days when Prabal would miss his home, especially during the summer breaks when the school would close for more than a month but he could not study as his aunt would utilize his services for house work full time. If she caught him studying during the breaks sometimes she would taunt him by saying unsavory words: “ look at the genius here, he is going to save the world by inventing this or that”. She was jealous that even though her son and daughter used to go to a better school and were taught by tutors at home, it was Prabal who always used to produce better results. The day when the results were out would always be worse for Prabal because he would be destined for special punishment on those days. Prabal looked forward to the winter breaks when he could go home for a month and would come back to his uncle’s home only after Bhogali Bihu. That month he was a free bird and he would fall in love with his village for a brief period of time but his sight was set higher. The day his high school finals results were out Prabal was finally out of the misery of staying with his aunt. Securing a rank among the first ten in the state, his ticket to the premier institute of the state was punched and he never looked back


Fast forward thirty five years and Dr. Prabal Talukdar and his nursing home were the talk of the town. Married to his medical college sweetheart, Pratibha, herself an eminent physician, the Talukdars were a power couple in town. Their two children, a girl and a boy, both went to out-of-state medical colleges and then for higher studies abroad. Prabal had built a magnificent house in one of the posh localities of the town. Unfortunately as the town started to grow and soon became a metropolitan city, their area started to become waterlogged frequently due to unplanned growth. Prabal used to joke with Pratibha that he left the village but the village did not leave him. Many times during rainy days the ground floor of his grand home would be under knee deep dirty water. Prabal would be angry and often suggest to Pratibha that they should move to a different place in the city. However the nursing home was near their house and Pratibha did not want to move because of the convenience. Sometimes she had to stay in the nursing home late at night after work for emergencies and she could come back home in five minutes after work. So she would demur.


The situation came to a head suddenly. Prabal’s son Mridul, after finishing his MD, decided to stay back and work abroad. It was a setback for Prabal. He always thought that he would pass on the nursing home to his kids once they pass away. His daughter, Nandita was the eldest, came back from abroad after her studies but stayed in New Delhi married to her college sweetheart. They were well settled in Delhi and did not want to come back home to take care of their parents’ nursing home. Mridul had shown some interest but when he finally found his soulmate his plans changed. Prabal still harbored some hope that Mridul might reconsider. He arranged the wedding ceremony of Mridul with his sweetheart in a grand scale in town, even flying in his would-be daughter-in-law’s parents and relatives to town, arranging for them to stay in nice hotels. But as fate would have it, it started raining incessantly from the night before the wedding and by morning the street in front of Talukdar home was like Venice. The wedding became a mess and Mridul was just inconsolable. Then and there Mridul decided not to come back to take charge of the nursing home.


It was the last straw for Prabal. He was heartbroken. He decided to build a house on a hill top so that he would not have to deal with flood waters again in his life. And what a house he built. It was a grand home, situated on a hill, surrounded by gardens all around and the river flowing gently below. It took a few years to build and it took a toll on Prabal’s health. Taking care of the nursing home and construction of the grand home at the same time was not easy at his age. The house was some twenty five kilometers from the nursing home and it was not easy for Pratibha to leave the nursing home and look after the construction. The house warming party of the Talukdar home was the talk of the town. Anyone who was anybody in town was invited to the party. Mridul and Nandita with their families flew in for the house warming. Mridul’s wife was enchanted by the house and the surroundings and for a brief moment Prabal thought that things might work out for the better.


And then the disaster struck. Maybe it was overwork, maybe it was the strain of arranging the grand party or maybe overindulgence of food and drink, Prabal suddenly collapsed to the floor of the large drawing room in front of all the guests. There was utter chaos. Pratibha tried her level best to give her beloved Prabal the urgent medical care that was needed but to no avail. By the time Prabal was brought to the nursing home, he was dead.
Pratibha never went back to the house again. The house was left under the care of an old servant to tend to the gardens and keep the house clean. Whenever Nandita and Mridul would come to town, that was few and far between, they would stay in the house like staying in a resort. Pratibha would visit but would not stay, going back to the old home and her nursing home. She absorbed herself in her work more and more. Her health started to fail and she became chronically ill and became a permanent resident of her own nursing home requiring twenty four seven medical care. Bills started rising and Nandita and Mridul were feeling the financial pinch. It was also not possible for them to leave their professional careers and be a full time caregiver to their mother.


Sitting at the office of the nursing home administrator Kalpana Barua, Mridul told her that the entire fund from the proceeds of selling the home to industrialist, Mr. Agarwala, was deposited in a bank account from where the daily bills for the treatment and upkeep of Dr. Pratibha Talukdar would be transferred to the nursing home account on a regular basis. As a favor he asked Ms. Barua if he could hang a framed photograph of the home built by his father.
“ Ma, look at the photograph on the wall”, Mridul told Pratibha, “ it was our home”. Pratibha just glanced at the photograph and closed her eyes.
“What’s wrong Ma? It’s a photo of the house my father built.”
“ Yes, but he is not there”.
“ Look at the garden Ma. So beautiful.”
“Yes, bereft of children. Now you go and let me sleep.” Dr. Pratibha Talukdar closed her eyes. Her mind was reciting Leo Tolstoy’s “ How much land does a man need” and Tagore’s “Death, you are my beloved lord” as she was slowly passing into a deep sleep from where no one returns.


Mridul had just reached his parents’ old house when his phone rang.
“ Yes Ms. Barua, what happened?”
“ I am sorry to inform you sir that your mother just passed away in her sleep. Even in her death she thought of you. The fund you deposited won’t be needed for her care any more. May I request you for something sir?”
“Yes, what is it?” Mridul was dumbstruck.
“Can we keep the framed photograph of the house. It’s a beautiful house.”
“Yes, a beautiful house bereft of children”, murmured Mridul.


Pranabendra Sarma, January 3, 2021
San Jose, California

River Islands

Brahmaputra with Urvashi on top right and Umananda (smallest inhabited river island) on top left in River Brahmaputra in Guwahati)

That nature bestowed in abundance, we destroy in our ignorance.

Present is all that matters to us, future is someone else’s business.

Taking Stock

This road that lies ahead I had traversed,
Many a times through the ages alone,
Uninvited I come and will leave unannounced,
With memories erased of lives bygone.

I have sailed down this river again and again,
Navigating blind, downstream to ports unknown,
Many a port of call I crossed and stopped in vain,
Alas, the erased memories of yore had let me down.

The path was never paved smooth nor was it sleek,
The road bumpy at times and full of potholes,
Thrill of the journey unknown, adventurous and never bleak,
Continuous cycle of coming and going in the company of eternal souls.

Oh what a fantastic sailing on this ever flowing river called life,
Full of potentials, cyclones and whirlpools, sail without fear and thrive.

Wandering Soul in Search of the Final Destination

Where shall the travel be?
When time is right,
Revealed shall the answe be.

Arrived at what station?
An unfamiliar place,
After a long journey.

Familiarize with the unfamiliar;
In search of the infinite continuum,
This journey is just the infinitesimal dust particle on the road;

Was this the same path traversed before?
What an absurd question,
Will it address the search unknown?

The water molecule of the flowing river,
Does it return again to the same spot
once it merges in the bosom of the sea?

Does not the water molecule in the sea evaporate and
come back again as raindrop,
To the river’s bosom?

The evaporated particle of water as dew drop,
Dancing on the blade of grass,
Swept away to the river by rain;

Does that dew drop know
it traversed this same path before,
To merge into the bosom of the sea?

What is this new identity,
Know this is not permanent,
Why then is this attachment?

Move on, move on,
This wandering is eternal,
In death the address is not hidden;

Who knows when the search is answered,
Will the quest come to a culmination,
The travel of a wandering soul in search of the final destination?

**translated from a poem I wrote yesterday in my mother tongue Axomiya (Assamese).**

Questions Futile

Life is like a flowing river;
Are you life, I asked the river;
The river did not stop
To answer,
It just kept flowing;
My dejected sigh
Failed to ruffle the surface
Of the stagnated pool,
Tadpoles scurrying merrily;
Retorted the frog,
On your way, move;
The crest of the wave
Caught the sunlight,
Twinkled;
Got your answer, it said,
And was gone;
The flowing river marched on,
Carrying the caricature of
My broken reflection,
To a place unknown.

and my futile question remained unanswered.

Feelings of the Heart – a ghazal?

I wrote this ghazal in my mother tongue Axomiya (Assamese) yesterday and tried to translate it to Hindi. After a few futile attempts, I gave up as I just could not maintain the rhythm. Today I tried translating it to English and found that it was flowing much more smoothly though I should not call it a ghazal. I tried to follow the rules as closely as I could but not sure if I succeeded. Hence the question mark in the title. I post the poems in the order written.

Continue reading “Feelings of the Heart – a ghazal?”

Where Words Live

beware ye all who enter here,
words lie around here,
not to soothe thy heart.


here desires are stocked,
and hunger reigns,
quench your thirst at leisure,
when the liquor flows.


open thy mind,
let the exhilaration course
through thy veins,
feel the exquisite pain,
and see thy heart bleed.


immerse thee in the beauty
but beware of the thorns,
thou will be challenged,
may sometimes be titillated,
words may sometimes bite,
but they will not curse,
they will prick, and they may poke,
but they will never incite.


violence is abhorred here,
and love dispensed freely,
so take what you like,
who knows what tomorrow brings,
the glaciers recede,
and the river dies.

Uninvited guest

Update:

Edwin Alvarez was the kid I wrote about in my poem below today.  Please read the request below from his friends trying to arrange for his funeral.

“Hey guys. I believe everyone is aware already that on Friday night there was a boating accident after which our friend Edwin unfortunately passed away. I don’t know however, if everyone is aware that he comes from a very humble family and I don’t know up to what point they relied on Edwin’s income. As far as I know, he was paying for his brother’s education, bootstrapping a business with his dad who works in construction and looking for ways to also help his mother, who is a maid, to find an alternate source of income.
Needless to say this is a life-altering situation that is going to be incredibly difficult for his family to overcome. Eduardo (one of Edwin’s friends who helped us contact his family), started a GoFundMe to help them out with the funeral expenses. Any help will surely be greatly appreciated. Here’s the link https://gf.me/u/ykvm62 . He also mentioned that Oscar (Edwin’s brother) is already aware of this effort.”

I write about current events, my poems are fiction, penned during my flights of imagination. The poem below is based on a tragedy that happened two nights ago.  A young soul was called back too soon by the Lord.  He was my son’s friend.  I never met him but heard about him from my son. A hard working, honest, fun loving friendly guy.  These are the times one questions, why? Why?  I guess there is no answer.

a day in a life of hope

started with fun and frolic,

a boat ride down the river,

azure summer sky pierced

with laughter and singing.

sun moved slowly

to the western sky, Continue reading “Uninvited guest”

Eternity Waits -a set of haiku

You gave me your hand

roses bloomed in the desert

and I lost my mind

*****

River runs to sea

confluence waits eagerly

oblivion waits

*****

Tumultuous sea

dark sky embraces the waves

horizon waits dawn

*****

As gentle waves crash

hot sands wait the cooling touch

thirst unquenchable

*****

Eternity waits

roses fragrance desert nights

time has no meaning


featured image by the author.

A river dies for progress: RonovanWrites Weekly Haiku Poetry Prompt Challenge # 246 Narrow & Minded

This post is in response to Ronovan’s Weekly Haiku Challenge .

River takes own course
Create dams, let power flow
Narrow minded cries
*****
River, narrow, dies
Broad minded man eulogise
Sacrifice worth it
*******
Mind self interest
Narrow vision, pundits say
Unjust criticism
*******
Our God is only God
Non-believers be in hell
God narrow minded?

 

 

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