I was the youngest of five siblings; my brother studied in St-Xavier’s College and sisters in Beltala Girls School. Dad got me admitted in Class-I of the same school. I thought, I would sit in the same classroom with my sisters and enjoy. As I realised, I would be in a different classroom; I stopped going to school.
Whenever friends and relatives visited us, my parents boasted on their kids’ performance at schools; my elder brother passed matriculation examination in flying colours with letter marks in most subjects; my sisters were also in top ranks of the class. They were very sorry that their youngest son Rom i.e. me wasn’t going to school and won’t do anything in life. I used to feel guilty and continued studying at home as much as I could; I had some books of my own plus a lot from my sisters.
Next January, when my father asked, I agreed to join Beltala Girls School. My father wasn’t willing to get me admitted to Class-I again; he remembered wasting my school admission fee previous year. He requested the teacher-in-charge to test me for Class-II. To the surprise of the teacher and my father, I qualified for Class-II and started going to the school regularly. In my class, there were twenty girls and five boys; usually the boys used to sit in the back-bench; one girl Alka was the class-monitor, who used to ensure that the class is not noisy during the intervals between sessions; boys were usually naughty and noisy. Soon I became a close friend of Pranab, mainly because he lived near our house and we used to return together from the school. The year by year, I got familiar with other friends as well, including a girl named Mishti; she used to sit in the front bench and was always the first to respond to teachers’ queries. I was a bit jealous about her getting the teacher’s attention first; and tried to raise my hand sometimes before she could respond. Thus I was getting better and better in studies; at the annual exam of the year Mishti stood first and I second.
Gradually, Mishti and I started to build trust in each other; if for some reason one fails to attend a class the other would help with notes and explain what was taught in the class. I continued sitting in the backbench and Mishti in the front. At the annual exam of Class-III, I stood first and Mishti second; we got promoted to Class-IV.
We used to have 45-day long summer holidays starting in early May. A week before that on a Saturday, I found the classmates are excited and preparing for something. On Saturdays, we used to have half-days, had no classes after the tiffin-break. On that Saturday, Alka had organised a party for the entire class; each of us was asked to contribute for the expenses; I didn’t have any idea about the occasion till I was escorted by Alka to a decorated seat when a conical hat, usually worn by grooms, was mounted on my head. Minutes later Mishti was dragged to another decorated seat beside mine; she was clad in saree, wearing a bride’s crown. Then Pranab was brought there to play the role of a priest, who muttered some Sanskrit verses and declared Mishti and me a married couple. To celebrate girls made rhythmic sound by moving their tongues within their mouth; some blew conch-shells, boys whistled and clapped. Then all of us had a feast of sweets and snacks.
Then it was time to depart for respective homes, when Alka and a few clever girls said that Mishti was then married and hence won’t be allowed to return home; she must have to live with her husband’s house from then on; this means I must have to take her to my place. Curiously enough, Mishti seemed willing to stay in my place. I was scared that my mum won’t like her youngest 9-year old son to bring a 9-year old bride to a small two-bedroom flat, where my four siblings and my parents live as well and none of my siblings were married yet. So, I suggested we should go to Mishti’s flat first and get permission from her mother; so all students of our class marched to Mishti’s place.
Shrewd Alka went inside to see Mishti’s mother, and told her that Mishti needed to stay away from their house for a week. Mishti’s mother, perhaps, thought that Mishti would stay with Alka and hence made no objection. Mishti’s father died a couple of years ago; Mishti, her four elder sisters and her mother lived in a one-bedroom flat. Her mum was happy to let her enjoy a week’s stay with Alka. Mishti packed her kitbag with books, clothes and other necessary things and came out ready for living with me.
I told my classmates, ‘I don’t dare to persuade my mum to allow Mishti staying in our house; I love Mishti to be around; yet I give up.’ Alka said, ‘Don’t worry! Let all other students go to their respective homes. I’ll take you and Mishti to your house and convince your mum’. And so she did, she went to my mum and told her, ‘Mishti’s mum and all her siblings had to leave for their grandma’s place, because grandma is seriously ill. Mishti has to attend classes for one week before holidays; so Mishti needs to stay somewhere for a week. No other place would be more suitable than here. Mishti is a good student; she will do well with Rom.’
Mum knew about Mishti already; so she didn’t hesitate to let her stay at our place. I felt elated and thought of kissing my newlywed bride; but I couldn’t give this news to Mum or any of my siblings, so I touched the feet of Mum and then my forehead; Mishti just followed suit. Mum was happy to see a devoted son and his classmate. Usually I used to have lunch after my return from school on Saturdays. When Mum asked, I said we had some feast at the school, so Mishti and I shared the lunch I was supposed to have alone otherwise. Mum showed Mishti where she would keep her kitbag and clothes; I showed her where she should keep her books etc, close to my stack of books. Mishti sat there and started reading a story book, when I went out to play soccer with my friends.
When I returned from the playground in the evening, my friend Samir was with me. Samir found me in exceptionally good mood and questioned me; I couldn’t but tell him that Mishti was in our flat and why she was. Samir was curious to see Mishti, so was I to know how well she has settled in our place. I found Mishti, clad in a dress, usually worn by my sister; she was cutting vegetables and helping Mum to cook the dinner. Samir didn’t wait long and I called Mishti to the study-cum-bedroom to do our homework together. We enjoyed our first evening of studying together; my sisters were also studying close by in the same room. Then we packed our books and Mum served dinner to all of us; we didn’t have any dining table or chairs; the dinner was served on the floor; we sat on the floor and ate from our respective plates.
After dinner was over, the rooms were transformed into two bedrooms; in one room we two brothers and Dad slept, while in the bigger room slept Mum, my three sisters plus Mishti. All males were in the smaller room while Mum and four girls slept in the bigger room.
Next I woke up on Sunday morning. There was no rush for going to work or school; all my sisters and Mishti were still in bed; I entered their room and raised a hue and cry so that everyone had to be up. Next started the queue for morning chores and brushing teeth, because we had only one bath room.
Let me explain the layout of our flat. The bigger bedroom had a long north facing window. From the door of this room started an alley leading to a cemented open yard on the south. On the west of this alley, a wall separated our flat from the adjacent building. On the east we had the smaller room, where we slept last night. The cemented yard was between the smaller bedroom and the bathroom, adjacent to the kitchen.
I washed my face and brushed teeth and was waiting for my turn for the bathroom, when Mishti opened the door and came out wearing nothing. Mum was in the kitchen, she rushed to wrap her with a towel and whisked her away from the bathroom door; she said to her, ‘The rule of this house is – no one roams naked here.’
I was fascinated by a mere glimpse of Mishti; her physique was so different from mine, yet breathtakingly beautiful; I was surprised to realise that she didn’t have the same tool as I had for responding to nature’s call. Later Mishti told me that in their flat, she lived with her four sisters and mother and was never asked to cover herself. I wished, I stayed there someday as the son-in-law and had Mishti as my wife. I was wondering when I would have Mishti alone with me and see more of her.
The next week, Mishti and I went to school together and returned together. On Monday, I sat in the front bench beside Mishti; but one of the teachers found that we were talking too much and sent me to my usual seat at the back-bench. The whole class smiled, suppressing any outbursts of laughter; the teacher couldn’t guess why.
Summer Holidays started on next Sunday the 3rd May. Mishti and I were discussing how Mishti could stay a few more days with us. Could she stay here for a full month of school holidays, if not forever? About this time, someone was knocking at our door. We came out and found a boy of our age standing there; he said he was my pen-friend Sudhir Mandal.
There was no Internet, Facebook or emails those days, but I used to subscribe to the children section of a newspaper The Basumati, where I was assigned a pen-friend – Sudhir Mandal. 12-year old Sudhir came to visit me during school holidays from a far-away village of Birbhum. At once I called Mum, who took Sudhir inside our flat and offered him some snacks.
Mum discussed with Sudhir and found out that he had no one in the city; only place he could stay here is at our flat. He had come with high hopes of sightseeing. Mum couldn’t send him back to Birbhum. She turned towards Mishti and asked, ‘Is your mother back?’ Mishti said, ‘Hope she’s-‘.
I had to let Mishti go, for accommodating Sudhir at our place. Sudhir stayed with us for 3 weeks. With him, I visited Alipore Zoo, Birla Planetarium, Victoria Memorial Hall and so on. Mishti was with us in each of the outings. We even watched a movie ‘King Solomon’s Mines’ at Metro Cinema; Mishti and I were vying with each other to show off who understood the movie better.
Had to leave girls’ school next year; joined Chakraberia School. Mishti continued in Beltala Girls’. Beltala girls generally avoid naughty Chakraberia boys. No more I met Mishti, till I was invited in her wedding and re-discovered Sudhir as the groom. Mishti, I guess, was twenty then.
50 years later, I told this story in a family gathering, when my eighty-year-old brother said, ‘Remember Mishti and Sudhir staying with us when you were 9-year old; I took you three to Mohunbagan-ground for watching a soccer match; but never knew these stories’.
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