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

A Sojurn in Patience

The title may through you off. Please bear with me, have some patience. After all for last few months that’s what I had been assiduously cultivating.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not an impatient person. Born in a country with few thousands years of history and blessed or burdened with the weight of the past and growing up in a big family, patience becomes your second nature without even realizing.

They say patience is a virtue. May be. For practitioners of patience time moves slow. Trust me, practice it and see for yourself.

Ah, but I am digressing. It’s been slightly more than six years that I started my blog in WordPress. When I joined WordPress it had been forty plus years that I had not taken up the pen to write. Not that I was not writing anything. Hundreds of examinations, thousands of job applications, passport application, visa applications, green card application, naturalization applications, all these must count for something. What I was not writing was words that were buried deep inside me. My subdued passion was bubbling to come out. WordPress gave me an outlet.

And that’s when it hit me. I realized that somewhere in that journey called life I had lost my patience. The words were rushing out in torrents but I didn’t have the wherewithal to sit down at one place and write. The exuberance of writing something and posting it on the blog took over my psyche. No editing, no doing once over, just write and post. I am sure all my posts were crying out for editing but I just didn’t have the patience for that.

There was another revelation to me. I am realizing that while poetry comes naturally to me, I struggle when I have to write prose. One of the reason for that simply is my lack of patience to sit at one place and cohesively put my thoughts to paper.

Then about a year and nine months back something happened. Though the world had been opened to me through WordPress, I was not able to connect with readers of my posts written in my mother tongue Axomiya (Assamese). I am sure there must be wonderful bloggers in Axomiya in blogosphere using WordPress or some other platform. It was just that I was unsuccessful in finding out. Enter Facebook and a whole new world opened out to me. Suffice it to say that my writing in my mother tongue just took off and flourished.

For nearly two years I juggled my time between my blog on WordPress and my posts on Facebook. It was a struggle but I was able to balance my time well between the two worlds. Alas, there is only twenty four hours in the day. Then a few months back I started writing a story on Facebook. I intended to complete it withing two or three parts but somehow the story took wings and continued.

Now after forty four episodes, nearly forty six thousand words, the story is still continuing without an end in sight. So what that has got to do with this posts? Well, the balancing act between WordPress and Facebook is in tatters. I am finding that I am not being able to give as much time to my blog as I wish and I am suffering. I love the world of WordPress, friends that I have made, the beautiful words that I read and the learning. Yes, learning. I have learnt so much from my friends here in blogosphere. The thought that I am not being able to be an active participant here any more is killing me.

I am a pro- choice person by choice but in this particular issue of the story that I am currently posting in Facebook, I am pro-life in the sense that I will like to see my baby come to life. They say a full term for a baby is nine months. I am not there yet but not sure if the baby will be born pre-matured or the baby will be delivered overdue. Only thing I am sure about is that till it is delivered my visits to WordPress will be fe and far between. How I wish I can extend the day to forty eight hours or get and extra set of hands.

Well, as all of our wishes never become reality I only ask from you, my friends here in WordPress and my readers, that please bear with me in my sojurn in patience till I complete my story on Facebook and be back here again. Just have some patience.

As usual rest assured no editing had been done and it is straight from my heart to you.

Pranabendra Sarma, March 2, 2022
San Jose, California

Got first dose of COVID vaccine today.

End of a long wait? Light at the end of the tunnel finally or just the first hurdle crossed? Not sure how I feel. Not that I was waiting with baited breath to be vaccinated. I don’t have any plan of traveling in the near future and was kind of getting accustomed to the constraints of stay at home. Our HMO was falling woefully behind in vaccinating the different tiers ahead of us. Also the fact that my betterhalf won’t get vaccinated at the same time as me was another factor in my lack of enthusiasm to be vaccinated early with my age group.

However when we got an email from the CEO of our HMO that not even fifty percent of the age group ahead of us had been vaccinated and no dates could be estimated about our age groups and we may check other options to be vaccinated, my betterhalf started pushing me to register with the state and the county. Reluctantly I agreed but definitely did procrastinate as much as I could. The state site did not show any prospect but the county health services site did had an opening ten days after registration. All locations and dates prior to that were full.

Ultimately the date arrived today. The location was about ten miles from our house, a twenty minutes drive. As the place was unknown to me, I decided to be little early. The online registration asked to be there fifteen minutes before appointment time but I was forty five minutes before time. Boy, am I glad I did that. When I arrived at the facility and as I was entering the parking lot, I saw two long lines at ninety degrees to each other. From the car it was difficult to figure out which line was for what. After I parked my car, instinctively I moved towards the shorter line. It was also the line nearest to where I parked my car.

The sign near the end of the short line proclaimed “COVID vaccination by appointment only”. I felt good that I am in the right line. Then the elderly gentleman infront of me asked me when was my appointment. I said 11:45 AM. He said his was at 11:15 AM but he was in line for last fifteen minutes or so. Nothing that I could do. A volunteer came and told us to keep our IDs and appointment information ready for verification. A sign near by said Moderna vaccination only. However the volunteer informed us that the Pfizer vaccine was received the day before at the facility and therefore we would get the Pfizer vaccine. Till today, at that facility everyone had got Moderna vaccine. She also told that no fabric masks would be allowed inside the facility and to replace fabric masks with surgical masks that she provided if needed.

At the end of the line, ID and appointment information was verified and a clipboard and pen along with three pages of forms were provided to be filled up and on completion to go and stand in the long line to be ushered inside the facility. Here was the dilemma. There was no table and chair to sit down and fill the forms. People were sitting wherever they could and trying to fill up the forms. I decided to stand in the line and keep filling the form as the line moved. Thank God for the California sun. Though it was warm but better than be at the mercy of the weather gods like much of the US at present. The second line did maintain social distancing but to be honest, the first line fell woefully short in maintaining any semblance of social distancing. Once the forms were completed, staffs and volunteers checked them in the line itself and put a green sticker on top of the form. To the credit of the staffs and the volunteers, they were helpful and jovial and I must say, under the circumstances, they did and excellent job.

At one time only five people were allowed inside the facility. Once I entered through the main door, I thought the wait was over. Hah, it was not so. I think everyone had learnt well from Disney parks to hide the long lines inside from the people lining outside. One more station where the forms were checked and ascertained if people were there for the first or the second dose, those who were there for the first dose were made to stand in another line for registration. Those that were there for their second dose were sent in for vaccination directly from there.

There were six registration booths where the forms were taken, information entered into computers and a sticker with all necessary information was given to be pasted to the front of the shirt and then sent along to be vaccinated.

From that point onward, things moved fast. Health care professional who administered the vaccine to me was a really nice, young lady who answered all my questions thoroughly and before I knew it, it was over. She handed me a small card with the vaccination information and sent me to the appointment station for the second dose.

Following the well laid out yellow brick path, sorry the yellow arrowed path, I arrived at the appointment station, got my appointment date for the next dose, reminded to bring my card with me and I was done.

From the start of the process, that is standing in the first line till being done it took about fifty five minutes. Could the process be improved? Sure, everything can be improved. But without an iota of doubt, from the first encounter with the staff at the beginning of the line till the last person scheduling the second appointment, everyone did their job sincerely and in a jovial manner. My hats off to the health care professionals in the vaccination facility. Well done.

And thus completed my first dose of COVID vaccination. Five hours and still no signs of any discomfort. Soreness of the arm till now is non-existent. So far so good.

I soar to an unknown beyond

far above the clouds

gingerly I tread

my eyes on the rising sun

I soar

riding the sun rays

to an unknown beyond

freed from the bondings

holding me to the earth

I soar

a path unknown

but a journey beautiful

can only imagine

the adventure and

excitement that lies beyond

let me ride the

waves of your love

and for you

leaving behind the

story of my life

I soar

to an unknown beyond

She wants to live

The idea that germinated as a short story became a poem because of my inability to sit still for a long time to write a story. While the words just flow for a poem, I stumble in writing a story. I realized the poem became long. My apologies.

Her name is not important, a Jane Doe will do
At times she was called by various names
Sweetie pie, princes, baby, love, and whore, Continue reading “She wants to live”

Tuesday Photo Challenge – Three

I first thought it was tree
Then I noticed
The prompt was “Three

I only had a photo of trees
As luck would have it
There were three 
So my conscience is free
Please hear my plea
Let me tell the story
Of the three trees

P1000825 (2)_3Trees

Our city forest suggested Continue reading “Tuesday Photo Challenge – Three”


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