Shishir - 2023 Stories - Rathin Bhattacharjee


Life, the Leveller

By Rathin Bhattacharjee


"..........Punarayegamanayo cha." Playing kitkit with my bestie, Sujata, in the courtyard, I looked up to see my grandfather, reclining majestically on the easy chair, bidding adieu to his departing son and daughter-in-law. Grandpa looked gorgeous in his silky gown, tied in a bow with the silken thread around his waist. Grandfather was reciting those incomprehensible lines in Sanskrit as Baro Jyatha (eldest uncle) was leaving his ancestral home in Central Calcutta for his Australian home with Jyathima, his foreign wife, close at heels.

Jyathima looked serene in a red sari. While the cab was waiting at the doorstep, what really caught my attention was the red vermilion mark in the middle of Jyathima's forehead, shining like the emerging sun in the eastern horizon. Grandfather was now translating the mantra into English for Jyathima's benefit. The words ``Come back again" caught my ears. I had heard from my Baba that there could never be anyone as brilliant, as generous and as unfortunate as my grandfather.

I had heard it from my father, the youngest son of grandfather, that his father had just completed his Master's in English from The University of Chattogram in Bangladesh when they all had to shift to West Bengal due to the communal riots of the 1940s. Grandfather, the third of the four sons of my great grandfather, was a brilliant student all along. He missed getting First Class in the Master's just by a few marks. This happened when the British Raj had started waning in the Indian subcontinent.

Grandfather had little trouble in landing up with a job on his arrival in Calcutta. He was appointed as a Lecturer of a prominent college in the city. Within a very short span of time, grandfather rose to be the youngest Principal of that college. His charismatic personality along with his outstanding academic career and good looks endeared him to his colleagues and students alike within no time.

Over six feet tall, grandfather towered over the other Bengalis of his time. In fact, with his broad physique and that arrogant face, he struck me as the most handsome man I had seen in her life. I had also heard it from my father that once during the riots, rioters mistook took him for the leader of the opposition and stabbed him on his thigh. Grandfather could have been killed that day had it not been for an act of desperado from his side.

He was trying to rescue a friend from the blood-thirsty attackers when someone threw that dagger from afar. The dagger missed hitting him on the chest by a whisker and struck him on the thigh instead. Grandfather painfully plucked the dagger out and pushed his friend inside an open garage in a frenzy. He then blocked the entrance of the garage with the dagger still held in his hand while blood was oozing out of the cut.

The sight of him standing like that, with little care or concern for his own safety somehow frightened his enemies away. The dagger could still be seen displayed in a showcase for all to see in grandma's room.

But the most unfortunate thing occurred to him when he was dislodged from the post of Principal on a false allegation. Though grandfather took the matter to a court and fought for a decade against the government for his honour and prestige, he could not really be the same man any more.

Through a series of misfortunes, he was inflicted with gangrene in the left foot first, had a pacemaker installed in his chest through a major surgery next. But more than the ailments what really shattered him was the antagonism and envy of his own siblings.

After twelve long years, he was honourably acquitted of the false allegation. The government paid him the money he owed to them for the injustice done to him. But he was mostly confined to the easy chair by then and the promise of a fulfilled life was nipped in the bud by then.


"Didn't you ask for the story of Jash last time, Didi hai? Let me tell you the story then," Grandpa said as he, lying beside me in bed, softly patted my head.

"Who was this Josh, Dadu (grandpa)? Was he as wicked a man as the Satan in your last story?" I asked, turning sideways to make room for him.

"We'll find that out," Grandpa replied, smiling.

"Gangadas, a great Sanskrit scholar, lying in his deathbed, sent for all four of his sons.

'I'm done with all my earthly duties and responsibilities. When your families get extended in due course of time, you all might have a room each constructed on the second floor. I made provisions for that,' he told the sons gathered around his bed in a feeble voice, with his chest heaving.

'This is no time to be talking about that, Baba. We'll discuss the matter at a more appropriate time.' Jash, the third of the four sons of the octogenarian scholar, cried out.

But the great man, having served the purpose of his life, was soon called back to his heavenly abode.

Time fled by. Seventeen years after the demise of their father, one shrieking dawn woke the whole household up and sent everyone scurrying up to the room in the extreme corner of the second floor. Srish, the eldest son, who lived all by himself, had breathed his last. Amidst the heart-wrenching wailings of his widow, the last of his siblings who really loved Jash for who he was, was also gone.

Two years after the death of their elder brother, Harish, the second son of late Gangadas, informed his brothers that now his eldest son, Girish was going to get married, he was thinking of letting him stay with his bride on the second floor provided his surviving brothers didn't object. In other words, he wanted a room to be constructed on the second floor.

Within a matter of six months, another room was standing majestically atop the second floor, adjacent to late Srish's, where his only son, Mahesh, had shifted by then.

The youngest of the four sons of Gangadas, Ashish, had in the meanwhile moved up with his wife and daughter, Aritra to the third, spacious room built in the extreme southern corner of the second floor. Had Jash constructed a room in the area of what still remained of the enclosed second floor right then, all four of the late scholar's sons would have had a room each on the second floor."

Grandpa paused here before asking me to hand him the glass of water from the stool on my left.

"When Krish, the second son of Jash, expressed his desire to marry a childhood sweetheart, Jash thought it was time to approach his brothers regarding his share of the room to be constructed on the second floor. He convened a meeting to discuss the issue with his brothers and nephews.

Harish was not on speaking terms with Jogesh anymore. So, he sent his eldest son, Girish to represent him at the meeting regarding the construction of the fourth room on the second floor. Other than Girish, Ashish, were also present in his bedroom.

It is still a matter of great speculation even today why Ashish, Gangadas's youngest son and Girish teamed up to thwart any efforts on the part of Jash to have a room on the second floor. Some say it was mainly due to Jash's large family - Jash had five sons and two daughters, that his brothers and nephews felt threatened. Some say the enclosed area between the rooms on the second floor was not wide enough. The construction of another room would have left little space for free movements. While there were others who felt that the brothers and nephews of Jash had always been secretly jealous of his power and popularity.

Whatever the reason might have been, Mahesh, the only son of late Srish, who was also present in the meeting, chipped in, 'Okay. We'll let you have your room provided YOU, Uncle, go out of the house.'

"What guts! What a masterstroke of conspiracy for the youth to be talking like that to his uncle while Ashish, the youngest son of late Gangadas, sat there with the most impassive look on his face!" Grandpa, visibly upset, couldn't help exclaiming. He took another sip from the glass, wiped the tiny droplet of water off the corner of his mouth with the back of his hand before continuing, "When Jash came down from the meeting and shared the news with his family, Krish was heard remarking.

'Don't you worry, Baba. We won't have the room then. I can always find someplace to stay with my family. But I'd give my right arm to see what happens to these ungrateful relatives of yours who want you OUT of the house! '

"Though Jash was heartbroken with the outcome of the meeting, his reluctance to fight his own brothers and nephews must have shattered his self-esteem, leaving him a battered and broken man for the rest of his life.

"What happened to his brothers or that nephew who wanted him out of their ancestral home?" I couldn't help asking.

"Harish, the second son of the scholar, who was diagnosed with malignant malaria, had to be admitted in a nearby nursing home. He developed further complications there and died five days later due to multiple-organ failure.

You see, Trisha," Grandpa said to me, “One of the conspirators who wanted Jash out, died out of the ancestral home.

"His youngest brother, Ashish...." grandfather had hardly mentioned the name of the youngest brother, when I cut him short by asking him to tell me more about that brother.

I liked what he had to say about his eldest brother, Srish. Though Harish was not as nice a man as I expected the siblings of my grandfather to be, something was telling me that Ashish would be different from the others.

Just then my mother entered the room and asked me not to disturb grandpa any more. Besides, as I had school the next day, I had to go to sleep early.
"Go, Didibhai, " Grandfather said, withdrawing his hand from my head. "We'll finish this story tomorrow."

"Promise you will tell me more about Jash and his younger brother, Ashish?" I entreated him as I sat up on his bed.

Grandfather nodded his head as I left his room with mother after she had switched off the light of the room at his request.



"Ashish, the youngest son of Gangadas, was both smart and modern in his outlook, inspired greatly as he was by the brother closest to him, that is, Jash.
He was pursuing his Master's from Calcutta University when he surprised his elder brother a lot one day by telling him about his crush, Rita, the girl next door. Born in a rich family, she was being home tutored. Tall, slim with long hair cascading down her back, she was an exceptionally good-looking girl. From the day Ashish met her, he found her doe-like eyes hypnotic and irresistible. He fell flat for the girl the first time he talked to her.

Soon, he would notice the lovely lady on his way back from the university or while playing cricket with his friends in the nearby field in the weekends. That Saturday, his friend had hit the ball high in the air and the ball descended on the roof of Rita's house. Ashish, in spite of being soft spoken and shy by nature, was the first to run to the house.

The man at the gate, allowed only one of the boys to go up. Ashish was the one in front so, he ran up the ancient stairs of the house. He was getting fed up being unable to find the ball anywhere in the roof when Rita came out.

"What are you looking for? " She asked him as Ashish got startled by the sudden appearance of the beautiful girl he had always seen from a distance. Up close, she looked even more beautiful.

"Our ball landed on your roof while we were playing cricket. But I can't find the ball anywhere. Can you please help me find it? "

"I surely will but what do I get in return? "

The teasing tone in which she asked the question took Ashish completely by surprise. "What can I offer a rich girl like you? I am still a college student and don't even …..." Ashish was cut short by the girl with a glint in her eyes.

"You're so tall. Can I borrow your height? " She asked with the liberty and exuberance of youth, making Ashish break into a smile.

That's how their friendship began. Soon, the two began to run into one another at different places coincidentally.

The first time they went to the cinema furtively was the day when they came out of the hall holding hands. There was a problem though. The girl, Rita, belonged to a lower caste and they both knew that no matter what, Gangadas, a staunch Hindu, and Brahmin, would never accept a low caste girl as his daughter-in-law.

To cut a long story short, Ashish approached his elder brother, Jash, at Rita's suggestion. When Jash heard about the love affair, he knew how his father would react to the news. Even then, he promised to help the love-lorns in whatever manner he could.

Gangadas, by the way, was livid when Jash broached the subject.

"How can you bring this up to me? How did you think I would react? I know the girl's backgrounds. But I can't accept her as my daughter-in-law."

"Why, baba? The girl is from a good family. She is intelligent, charming and friendly. So, what is wrong with her getting married to Ashu?"

"I don't need to justify myself to you. When I said " No", I meant it."

That afternoon, Jash left his father's room in an extremely agitated state. When three weeks later, Ashish got married to Rita in a simple ceremony at Kali ghat. Jash was the only witness from his family.

Things took a turn for the worse when news of the secret marriage got leaked to Gangadas. He decided to cut off all connections with his youngest son and disown him. It was Jash again who came to Ashish's rescue. After a lot of verbal duets, the father and the son decided to accept the erring couple back into their folds provided Ashish with his bride, shifted up to the only room on the second floor. Ashish for some inexplicable reason, came to believe that his elder brother Jash was responsible for the news of their secret marriage being leaked to his father and the unfair manner in which his newly-wedded bride was dealt with. He could never forgive Jash for what was apparently no fault of his own.

After the demise of their father, Ashish started leaning towards his other two brothers more.

"I'm going to have a tube-well dug in my part of the house. I've already talked to Rita's people about my intention, and the plumbers will come and start working on it within a day or two."

Jash heard his youngest brother talking to the other brother, Harish one day. Soon, a washroom was constructed around the tube-well and Ashish did not bother to tell Jash anything about all this.

A few months later, Ashish took Girish, the son of Harish, on a trip to Puri, a sea resort in the borders. When Jash heard his offspring discussing the Puri trip, Jash was dumbfounded. The kids were right. 'Ashish Kaka (uncle) could have at least invited one of them to the trip.'

The final straw was when one evening, Durga, the youngest daughter of late Gangadas, informed her elder brother how Ashish had grumbled about Jash and his supposedly autocratic behaviour.

"Chhorda (brother), why do your sons always come forward like street urchins to pick up a verbal duet with Ashu (the nickname of Ashish) over trivial issues?" Durga asked her brother. "Bibhu told me," she continued, "he could have easily taught a lesson or two to the wild boys had they not been your sons."
Jash was too stunned again to respond to his sister's misconception about his children.

Anyway, relations between the brothers were not the same again till his untimely death at his daughter's residence in Salt Lake.

The second of the persons who wanted Jash out of the ancestral house too breathed his last away from the house.



"Ashish spent the last years at his daughter's place at Salt Lake. He died away from home much before his time! And surprise of surprises, the nephew who wanted Jash out, had half of his tongue cut off when he was diagnosed with cancerous cells spreading to his tongue and around his mouth.

He fell down on the road while out on a morning stroll and was rushed to the nearby hospital. He had a massive stroke on the way to the Apollo Nursing Home. The doctor took a look at the inert body and declared him 'brought dead'.

That's why I say that Life is a great leveller, Didibhai. One reaps the fruits of one's karma. So, be mindful of what you do and speak and how you deal with others, my dear Trisha."

Stretching my hands around his neck, I retorted,

"So you call yourself Jash, Grandpa?"

"Hmn are a smart one, Didibhai. How did you get that?" Grandpa bemused, asked me.

"Because dad says that there can be no better man than you in this world."



Rathin Bhattacharjee from India joined BCSC as an English Teacher in 1990. Awarded HM's Gold Medal in 2018, he is presently the Principal of SXPS, Joypur, India. His forte is writing Romance/Love Stories. He has been published in; StoryMirror; Story Cabinet; Monomousumi; ActiveMuse; World Pulse, Reedsy; FlashFictionNorth;Write Practice; StoryADay and Kuensel. His novel entitled, "The Damon in Doctor's Disguise" on Web Novel has been much appreciated. He has won many Awards including the latest one as the Best Fiction Writer on the topic "Celebrating Her" by ZobraBooks. He loves writing, blogging, podcasting and editing.


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