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GOURIKA – Subhashish Banerjee

Dark clouds were gathering in the North sky; a Norwester was brewing.  Gourika stepped out of her house on Janak Road. She was concerned whether she could beat the storm and be in time for her rendezvous with Anirban. The storm started just as she reached Lake Market. She braced her saree around her waist. Dust and empty cellophane bags floated in the air, people scurried for cover and the tarpaulin covers of the road-side shops were flapping like ears of a raging elephant. A few drops of rain landed on her head. Quickly she summoned an Autorickshaw in an attempt to avoid the rain and dashed into the Kalighat Metro station as the auto pulled on the side of it. Inside, she eased her pace, caught her breath, bought a ticket to Esplanade and waited for the train. The station clock indicated 16:10 as the train rolled in. Gourika found a seat and heaved a sigh. Her thoughts drifted to the unexpected call from her old friend Bishwanath requesting her to meet Anirban at the Peerless Inn in Esplanade. Bishwanath would be waiting for her in the lobby he had informed. 

Anirban Addy, Gourika Banerji and Biswanath Chakraburty were inseparables during their college days. That was nearly 16 years back. Anirban and Gourika were at the Presidency College, while Biswanath was at Scottish Church. The three not only came from different corners of the city, but also from different strata of the society too. Their common passion for radical politics and upright values had cemented their bond. There was hardly any day when they didn’t meet at the College Street Coffee House discussing current politics and the dire necessity to bring in a change in the political thinking of their co-students, over coffee. Clandestinely they also worked to propagate their ideology. They were popularly called by their initials, and the three together was referred to ABC in the student circles. Anirban (AA) was the star. He was revered by his professors and was very popular among the students too. He was a good debater, a boy of few words, morally bordering orthodoxy, a good organizer who stood up strongly against wrong doings.  When he talked, all listened with rapt attention.  Gourika (GB) was cool, idealistic and AA’s conscious keeper; a sort of brakes to his hyper-active energy. Biswanath (BC) was like a bridge between the two and eased up tense situations with his humour and pranks. Rebellion had a lot of romantic aura around it. The three young rebels enjoyed their days in their youthful exuberance, sky kissing euphoria and lost themselves in its turbulent streams.

Love had its own mysterious ways of nestling in hearts. Amidst all the heady political activities, studies, and group meetings Gourika and Anirban found their friendship and political passions taking sweet colours of love. Their friendship ascended, took a paradigm shift, whereby they found that they would not be able to live without each other. Biswanath silently witnessed this development from the sidelines. Days after their final graduation examination the three realised that they needed to choose the paths of their respective lives. BC had to join his family business. Gourika decided to do her Masters in Mathematics at the Indian Statistical Institute, while AA went along with his heart. He joined a Government school as a Physics teacher, and intensified his political activities. Their meetings got scarce. While AA and Gourika met nearly every day, BC hardly found time, though he kept contact. One rainy evening when Gourika and Anirban took shelter below the grand arches of the Princep Ghat, they pondered about their relationship.  Marriage was sacrificed on the altars of dreams that each wanted to pursue. Most painfully for Gourika, they decided to part ways. Gourika felt lost, like a dry leaf in a storm.  She was a girl with steel nerves and with a firm unwavering determination plunged into mathematics. But, deep inside she found it very hard to forget her love. 

Soon after, the movement failed. Anirban was arrested on sedition charges. Biswanath was sad knowing this sudden turn; he kept in touch with her, and through him Gourika kept herself informed about Anirban. Years passed. Anirban was released and he joined the ruling party. Soon he became an important leader and was often in the newspapers and TV. Gourika got her Doctorate in Mathematics and became a professor.

As the public announcement in the train blared that Esplanade station was approaching, she came out of her reverie and got up to disembark. The reason as to why Anirban wanted to meet her occupied her thoughts as she climbed up the metro stairs. It was raining; she felt uneasiness in her heart. She skipped and hopped over the poodles and darted from one shop portico shelter to the other and reached the hotel. 

Biswanath was waiting for her at the hotel lounge. He rushed towards Gourika with open arms as he saw her pushing the swing door in. The old friends hugged in joy. Gourika felt her confidence returning. 

He held her at an arm’s length and said “You look so beautiful Gourika”. 

Gourika blushed and said “You look happy and prosperous BC”.

Biswanath – “Prosperous yes! But! ….” He let the word hang; after a pause he added – “Let’s have some coffee while we wait for AA”. 

Gourika looked at her watch and said — “Another 40 minutes to 5:45. Have we come too early?” 

Biswanath -“Am happy we are early GB. We have a lot to catch up.” He felt his weakness for Gourika stir in his heart. After a pause he added, “Let’s see when he turns up. He is a big man now!” he said sarcastically. 

They took a table in a corner and BC Ordered coffee. Meeting after so many years, conversation took time to flow. BC started thawing the ice by saying “Though we were in touch on the phone, never-the-less we are meeting after nearly 11 years”. 

“Thirteen” she corrected. “Let’s hope it’s lucky for us. Such a lot has changed in the meantime.” She said with a sigh. 

BC – “Yes! The city has changed. People have changed.” Looking into Gourika’s eyes he added, “Your friend has changed too”. 

Gourika felt a pain in her heart, and hid a tear that dropped involuntarily. Composing herself she asked BC – “So! You are now a full-fledged family man with two kids, a doting wife and a steady good income”.

BC (smiling) – “Yes. Nothing to complain GB, but I miss our college days and the excitement and turmoil our movement generated”. After a pause —- “You didn’t marry GB? “

GB — “NO”

BC–  “Why?”

GB took a sip from her cup and said in a sad tone– “AA still occupies my heart. I don’t think I can love and spend my life with another man. I follow his activities on the TV, and newspaper. It pains me that he has changed his political stance to extreme right. I never tried to contact or meet him till this day, and that too am doing because you requested. Remember, whenever we had an argument, you patched us up.”  Taking another sip she continued – “I try to forget him, but I can’t BC.” She paused. “Initially I never made a gender division between me, him and all you boys. One day we were crossing the street to go to Coffee House. I had just stepped on the road when he suddenly wrapped his arms around my shoulder and pulled me towards him away from a bus speeding towards me. He held me few seconds more than required. That was just an incident, but that night I felt his arms around me. I felt a change coming into my heart and body.” She looked at BC in the eye, “It must have been the age BC. We all were unknowingly turning into adults”. 

BC – “Yes, I did observe the mutual attractions between you two, and thought you two will make the perfect couple who will give their all to our cause. You handled him well and reined him whenever he lost his cool and tended to make strategic mistakes.” He lit his cigarette and asked –“What made you split irreparably GB?”

GB — “I noticed few things BC. Remember when we would travel to villages to work for the down trodden? I have seen him taking advantages from the people we visited – a car, good dinner, a comfortable stay. I didn’t like this at all. Many a times I asked him not to be like our common politicians. He didn’t disagree but he could not do away with this habit. To me it was his weakness; he expected people should feel obliged that he was serving them”. 

BC listened patiently.

GB — “By the time the moment came for us to decide about our future, I realised that I cannot be happy with his duality. So we parted. It was very painful for me BC. Probably women drain out their heart entirely in love, unlike men”. 

A pale pathos hung in the air around them. 

A smartly dressed hotel staff came and asked them to proceed to room number 503. Gourika looked at her watch; it was 6:00 PM.

GB looked at BC. “He has come. Let’s go. But GB I will not stay long. I think he wants to talk to you in private”

They walked to the lift.  . 

Anirban opened the door as soon as Biswanath rang the bell. He welcomed them warmly.  

AA – “After so many years we three are together!” He exclaimed putting one hand around BC’s shoulder, and stretched the other towards Gourika. The first time their eyes met, Gourika felt, for a fraction of a second, a soft simmer in her heart and body. Did his eyes have a shy guilt? She thought. 

Gourika kept silent, measuring him. He was wearing an expensive sky blue Fab India Kurta and white pajamas. Gourika noticed the gold chain around his neck and the expensive wrist watch dazzling on his right wrist. He had put on some weight on his tall athletic frame and looked more handsome than what she had seen him on TV. His authoritative stature had a haughty air. Gourika recollected that back in their college days, Anirban’s presence was always imposing, but it was unassuming and humble. 

AA – “How are you Gourika? Sorry I could not keep in touch with you. BC rings me once in several moons. And that’s the only connection I have with our college gang.” He paused as if looking for some reaction amongst the other two. “What will you have? Tea? Coffee? Or”, looking towards BC, “Would you prefer a glass of beer.”? 

BC – (Getting up from his sofa)  “No AA. I don’t drink, and more over I have to leave now. Baranagar is pretty far; its rush hour and raining too”

AA – “I thought since we three are meeting after so many years, we will have a hearty reunion.”

BC – “Am sure we will meet often after this.”

AA – “AH! Sure” adding after a pause,” Are you all comfortable in Baranagar BC? That place is full of goons”

BC laughed out loud. Putting an arm on Anirban’s shoulder he said sarcastically – “Funny isn’t it brother! You all harbour these fellas, use them to win elections and collect money, and now you say they are pests!”

Anirban’s jaws tightened. He kept mum and saw off BC to the door. “Keep in touch BC”. He said as he closed the door. 

Gourika sat watching. She was the University Chess champion and had incorporated many of the chess strategies into her life. This situation was also like a game of chess she felt. “I will play with the black pieces. Let me see how he moves his white pawns to start with” she murmured to herself. 

He came back and sat on a sofa close to Gourika. Gourika stiffened a bit and waited for him to move his first pawn.

AA –“We are meeting after more than a decade, Gourika. You look more beautiful in the lemon yellow saree”. Gourika ignored the compliment and kept quiet, waiting for his next move. AA continued – “Courtesy BC I keep myself posted about you”. After a hesitant pause he added –“I learnt that you have opened a school for slum kids near Jadavpur Station!” 

 GB- “I took to teaching because I felt that for the nation to improve we need good wholesome education. As a professor of a premier Govt. college I felt I was not reaching out to the poor. We spent our youth working for their emancipation. Therefore, I decided to open a school for the slum kids. Let me do my bit for the society, at least.” 

AA- “How do you finance this school?”

GB – “I still stay with my parents. I keep my personal expenses to the minimum. Whatever I save I spend on this school”

AA- “You haven’t married as yet?”

GB- “NO”

AA paused for a moment and said – “I know Gourika you must be bitter against me, probably hate me for what am doing now. Let me explain to you Gourika”

GB – “No AA!” she said with a sigh. “Why should I waste my energy and sleep being bitter with you? You have chosen your path and are apparently happy. It has nothing to do with me.”

She paused and pushed her knight up, and asked “You have taken a totally different path from what we were so passionate about AA. You seem to be very contented with this life Anirban !”  GB kept quiet and realised her knight move has made Anirban uneasy. 

AA—“Gourika, after our movement failed, and I had to spend 4 years in a single solitary dungeon; I contemplated and analysed the reasons for our failure. The grass root cadres, students, workers and farmers were all sincere. So many people gave their lives in vain. The Russian revolution succeeded in Russia and the Chinese revolutions succeeded in China. It was a grave mistake to import the Chinese Revolutionary strategies into India. It was the fault of our leaders. To emancipate the poor I felt we have to change our strategy.” He paused trying to gauge Gourika’s reaction. “It was also the lack of funds. To fight a war we need funds. Where was it?” he added. 

The word funds hit Gourika like a bomb; that was Anirban’s weakness.  But she kept her cool, and said – “So you feel that by the way you are usurping funds by extortions, deceit, coercion, blackmail and by the use of brute official power, you will generate funds and then capture the White citadel of exploitation and salvage our country?”

AA- “Our leader strongly feels so.”

Gourika silently controlled her anger. She got up and walked to the window. It was raining so hard that the Monument looked hazy. Keeping her back towards AA, she composed herself.

Anirban kept sitting where he was. He let Gourika’s out-burst pass. After all he too wanted Gourika. He too didn’t marry and was waiting for her.

Gourika turned around facing AA and asked in a cool voice –“And you think the political line your leader has taken is good”.

AA-“Well”! He paused and answered -“At least it gives us a chance and with the state machinery with us no one can put us into the jails”. He looked at Gourika and added with a foxy smile –“That is why winning elections are so important”.  

GB retorted tersely, “And keep looting and plundering!”  She paused to note AA’s reaction. “Do you not realise that in this process you are creating hordes of anti-socials and corrupt youths. Do you think these goons will transform and fight for our country?”

AA – “We will slowly rein them in when the time comes”

GB ignored and continued, “You have made a section of youth to be your fund raisers, for making your leaders rich and fat. They know no other skill except extortion under political patronage and Government protection. You have corrupted all institutions and filled them with your goons. Do you know that in the process the simple ordinary people are being crushed? Do you know that the young people who want to attain their valued honest goals are fleeing from this State?”

AA – “AH! Gourika, please understand. We have to do many things to win elections and be in power. Once we have secured our political base, we will be able to purify the system”

GB walked towards him and said, “You all are mutilating the basic moral fabric of our society. It will take 1000 years and a 100 Vivekanandas to rectify this damage”. Taking a step closer she asked in ice-cold tone–“Why did you call me here AA? To make me your companion in this plunder?”

Anirban got up, walked closer to GB and said, “I wanted to tell you something very personal Gourika. The image the general public has of me is what they see now. But deep in my heart I still nurture the ideas we grew up with. You know me Gourika”. After a long pause he said in a pleading voice “I want you Gourika. I never needed you more than now”.  Gourika was mellowing down. 

AA continues – “Now, I have no value for this wealth, power and authority I have acquired. I am stuck in this cesspool of corruption. My inner conscious is in turmoil. I don’t want the future generation to look down on me as a political criminal. Inwardly am very lonely and deflated”.

Gourika quietly stepped away from him. She realised that this was neither chess nor any win-lose game. This realisation eased her nerves and she felt sympathy growing in her heart for AA.  She wished Biswanath was here. An uneasy silence filled the room. Outside the wind was still howling, the street lights were hazy.

GB in a cool voice said “AA we are on two opposite sides of a deep abyss. Neither I can go over to you, nor can you cross over to me. Let our mutual love rest as it is now. I don’t want to kill it. Let us accept our love will never bear fruits”, her voice choked.

AA –“NO. NO Gourika. Please don’t say that” he pleaded, “Please give me a chance Gourika.”

GB –“You have seen both sides of the political coin; the extreme left and the extreme right. And in both situations you have not been able to accommodate yourself. You are confused. You don’t even know what you want AA”

 AA thought for a moment and said, “Yes. You are right Gourika. I wish I had a firm mind like yours. That is why I need you more”

GB- “Anirban, in all situations, to achieve your dreams, one has to give up his own self. The candle burns itself up to give us light. You have all the elements of a big leader. But first you have to abandon your material needs and ego and kill that small worm of greed in you.”

AA kept quiet, wondering at Gourika’s wisdom. Windows were opening in his mind. “What would I do Gourika?” he asked in a pleading tone.

GB suddenly knew that she could change AA. She walked up to him, kept her hand on his shoulders lovingly and said, “You have to sanitize your inner self AA. I know you can do it”. 

She stepped closer, held his face between her palms and kissed his eyes. Then whispered in a loving tone “I will wait for you Anirban” 

She looked at her watch, turned back and walked out of the room. The weather outside had pacified down by then, rain had stopped too. She calmly walked towards the Metro station. 

Subhashish Banerjee: Retired mechanical engineer. Short film & Documentary film maker, photographer, traveller, writes short stories and poems. Now studying for a Masters degree in Economics.

Cover Picture : Kolkata Tourism

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