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

This is the last boarding call for the flight number…..

This is the last boarding call for the flight number…..

The voice had trailed off and faded long ago. Amongst the milieu of strangers she could only hear her wailing, holding his limp hand, ‘ don’t leave me Aru, don’t leave me alone.

The brightly lit corridor was stark and bereft of any life, quite antiseptic. The faces mouthing routine apologies had long receded inside the closed doors leaving her alone to her miseries. Her tears had dried and left streaking marks on her face, a face aged but still beautiful, any blemishes carefully covered up by well applied makeups, now horribly gone wrong by all her tears. She took out the cell phone from her bag. Who should she call first? Does it matter now?

**

Years ago, in a different time and a different world, these same words had been music to her ears opening the doors to her dream world. Aru was holding her hand as they slowly proceeded to the opening leading her to a new world.

‘Aru, you will never leave my hands, will you?’ She was apprehensive as she was about to leave all she had known in her life till that time and was about to step into a world that she had only read about and heard from Aru during the last few days.

‘I shall never leave you’, said Aru.

‘ Aru, you promise? Promise Aru.’

‘ I promise my darling. I, Arun Dutta, hereby solemnly promise that I shall never leave the hands of Mrs. Anuradha Dutta as long as I live. Now let’s go, otherwise the flight will leave us behind.’ Arun said with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes.

‘Oh, if I only had known to read your eyes then as well as I know now, I would have known you left yourself a wiggle room. You always did’, Mrs. Anuradha Dutta dabbed the corners of her eyes with some kleenex as tears started rolling down her cheeks again. What is she going to tell the kids?

***

Anuradha Miri, better known as Anu to one and all who knew her, grew up in a bucolic village by the side of the river Subanshiri in the foothills of the eastern Himalayas. A brilliant student, she didn’t have much option of schooling at her village and against her father’s wishes she was taken by her maternal uncle to the nearby town, where he lived and worked, with a promise to continue her studies. She hated the town. Not that her uncle didn’t enroll her in school, he did, but with household chores helping her aunt and taking care of her young cousins, she didn’t have much time in her hands for studies. Her teachers loved the sincere student and because of their constant inspiration and her own hard work she shined in her matriculation examination. All her teachers urged her to go to Guwahati, to Cotton College in particular, the premier educational institution of the state. Her father was extremely reluctant, her mother didn’t have much say but due to the push of her teachers and well wishers her father ultimately relented. She was accepted to Cotton and as she was awarded a scholarship, the financial burden on her parents was not that high. However, moving from her village and the small town where she studied to Guwahati was a shock for Anu. She felt lonely and mainly confined herself to her studies. Due to her friendly nature, she was loved by her hostel mates but they more or less left her alone. Her loathing for big cities grew and she often became homesick, crying herself to sleep many nights. After four years, she graduated from college with high honors but this time her father was adamant. No more higher studies. It is time to get Anu married to a suitable groom. Anu was getting mentally ready to a life of teaching in the newly established school in her village. She was happy to be back home.

And then the miracle happened.

****

Arun Dutta was a brilliant student all throughout his studies and after finishing his masters from Delhi University in Mathematics, he was pursuing his doctoral studies in a prestigious university in the USA. He had already finished his coursework and was well into his research when his family wanted to solemnize his wedding. Being from a middle class family, they were looking for a suitable mate for their son. A simple but educated girl with good looks would fit the bill. Arun’s sister Mitali had exactly the most suitable girl for her brother in mind. Anu was her classmate in college and she always had a soft corner for her studious but sincere classmate.

It was mainly due to Mitali’s push and recommendations that Mr. and Mrs. Arun Dutta had flown to USA that day long time ago, hand in hand, to start a new life.

*****

Much water had flown down the Mississippi from the time Arun and Anu had landed in the small university town. Arun had to curb his ambition to go and work for a big name university that he was well capable of doing because of his educational career. Being deeply in love with his newly wedded wife, he was disturbed to see her slowly going into a cocoon of her own world. He initially didn’t realize that big cities frightened Anu. He was busy in his research and Anu kept herself confined to their small one bedroom apartment in the big city. The glow had vanished from her face. Most of the time she would keep to herself, rarely talking to Arun, answering only when Arun asked her some questions.

And then Anu was pregnant with their first child. Arun was happy beyond belief but Anu became more gloomy. One day when Arun came back home from the university, Anu was lying on the bed unconscious with blood trickling down her wrist. She had cut the vein on her wrist.

******

The psychiatrist had talked to both Arun and Anu separately and together many times. Arun, who promised never to leave Anu’s hands till death, had by that time decided to move to the small university town rather than risk another episode of depressive bouts.

Anu was happy again with the wide open spaces of the small town, the house with a big front and backyard and the small rural community. She gave herself completely into bringing up her son and the daughter that they were blessed with after their move to the town. She was a good mother. Many times when Arun felt a tinge of regret thinking of what could have been, it would evaporate the moment he would hear the laughter of his wife and children and contently he would go back to his studies.

*******

The kids had grown up and flown the nest long ago, the boy to the west coast working for a multinational company and the girl to the east coast working for an investment banking farm. Both were married, though Arun and Anu had no way of knowing whether they were happy or not. Though they tried to come home during Thanksgiving or Christmas holidays, it was either one or the other as their spouses had to visit their side of the family too. The grandkids would come sometime during summer but as they were growing up those trips soon dried up. Too many other commitments, rural towns were boring, nothing much to do etc. etc.

Through all these Anu was happy. She was a village girl at heart. Though her heart yearned for her kids and the grandkids, the thought of moving either to the east or the west coast filled her heart with great fear. She had visited both her son and daughter many times with Arun. The clogged roads, the skyscrapers filled her heart with anxiety. She just wanted to come back home to her little corner of the world.

********

‘ Anu, I booked the tickets. Brian will take care of Ruff, Rose and Billy as usual when we are not here’, Arun had said. Ruff was their cocker spaniel, getting there on age. Rose and Billy were her cats. They were family. They were flying to Los Angeles to attend the high school graduation of Mit, their grandson. Mit was Ajit’s, their son’s eldest. Diti, their daughter along with her kids were flying in from New York. After a long time the whole family would meet. It would be a joyous occasion.

On the cell phone keyboard, Anu pressed the numbers one by one. She called Ajit first. She didn’t know what she was going to say? Where is Arun when she needed him most.

*********

She waited till Ruff died. Ruff was Arun’s baby. He wouldn’t have liked giving up Ruff for adoption. Who would anyway adopt an old dog though Ajit and Diti were insisting on it and make the move at the earliest. Brian had taken in Rose and Billy. Brian was sad to see her move but he understood. Everyone may have to go through something similar one day or another.

Anu went through the list meticulously. The house was given on the market some six months back. Properties move slow in small towns. She had made a trust and the sale proceeds would be deposited there. The trust and the will were explicit so nothing would go into a long probate process.

She went to the backyard, picked some flowers and placed them on Ruff’s grave and bid goodbye.

She locked the front door and opened the realtor’s lock and put the key inside and locked it. She would drop the envelope with the spare car key and instructions addressed to the charity where to pick up the car on her way to her destination. Then she called the realtor. The house no longer belonged to her.

**********

As Anu walked down the long stretch of sand, she realized that she had finally overcome the fear that had dogged her all her life. It didn’t matter now. The doctor’s report had come in after she had decided to move. She never wanted to be a burden on anyone. Why did Arun go back on his promise? Did he think she would be a burden on him in his old age?

The pressure on her ears was unbearable. Her eardrums were about to burst. She thought she was hearing someone announcing ‘This is the last boarding call for flight number ….’. She was not bothered at all. This is the first time she had chosen her flight and it was not going to leave without her.

A small bubble rose from the bottom of the lake and spread out in concentric circles. And then there was silence, dead silence.

***********

At the same time Fiona, Ajit’s wife, was frantically trying to call Ajit that Anu didn’t arrive by the flight as was supposed to be, a park ranger, some thousand miles away from LA, shone his torch light through the windows of a car by a lake shore. Finding no one inside the car, he looked around. A set of footsteps on the sand led him to the lakeshores where the footsteps had vanished. Frantically he called the headquarters for backup help.

whyhistorymatters

Not even the dead will be safe from the enemy, if he is victorious. And this enemy has not ceased to be victorious.- Walter Benjamin

सिफ़र.

Everything and Nothing. And then some words.

ELATE! - Evolve, Love And Transform Everyday!

taking daily steps towards achieving our health and life potential

From The Quill

Aren't songs of grief lullabies to the lost?

Confab With Me

Aphorisms, Poetries, Stories and More...

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

Blog magazine for lovers of health, food, books, music, humour and life in general

Musings

What comes to me as a still, small voice in the atmosphere of daylight and evening. © Mario Savioni and Musings, 2013. Unauthorized use or duplication of this material without the consent of the author is prohibited. Small (100 words or less) excerpts or links are permitted as long as credit is given to Mario Savioni with direction to the original content. Please refrain from “reblogging” posts.

Megha's World

A potpourri of emotions

Expat Journal: Postcards from the Edge

International photographer wandering the globe . . .

Harold Strauss

Poetry of Moments.

Emotional Shadows

where all emotions are cared for!

Words From A Borderline

Poets bleed from the heart and soul

Chèvrefeuille's haiku

A great WordPress.com site

The Hackney Hiker

Adventures in hiking

But I Smile Anyway...

Musings and memories, words and wisdom... of a working family woman

Sweet aroma

Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God...2 Corinthians 2:15

like mercury colliding...

...moments of unexpected clarity

Annette Rochelle Aben

~ Communicator, WordSmith, Artist, Guide, Mentor, Muse ~

dribblingpensioner

Just another pensioner with his thoughts if he can remember them

London Wlogger

Walking blogger exploring London's hidden gems, parks, bridges, landmarks, sights and history!

Be Inspired..!!

Listen to your inner self..it has all the answers..

JUST JOAN 42

poetry and stories about life, the universe, and everything

Specks and Fragments

home of the elusive trope

Seal Matches

Stories & News

yaskhan

Poetry, Photography, haiku,

Geetha Balvannanathan's Blog - Isis Tratum

Poems, thoughts, healing, other art works (pictures, songs and videos not made by me belong to their authors, the rest being mine) © 2010-2046

Haddon Musings

There are 11,507 stories in Haddonfield; this is one of them.

Philip Craddock Writing Portfolio

Daring to Dream: Short stories, poetry & songs. Next target: 300 Followers.

Shawn L. Bird

Original poetry, commentary, and fiction. All copyrights reserved.

Principle Michelle

Training Them Up and Onward

Aidan J. Reid

Sci-Fi Nut First. Thriller Author Second.

Author Don Massenzio

Independent Authors Unite!

BeautyBeyondBones

Because we’re all recovering from something.

Dutch goes the Photo!

Focus Hocus Pocus

Sarah Doughty

Novelist, Poet, Wordsmith

Peace in Darkness

weird alien 👽

Foxes and Magnolias

Poetry for keepsakes, for longing, for letting go.

ronovanwrites

Author, Poet, Blogger, Father, Reader And More

Poet's Corner

Poems, poets, poetry, writing, poetry challenges

Uncovered

Below the surface thoughts to lift you up