NAME: Bhikhucharan Yadav
AGE: 37 years
PLACE of BIRTH: Baheri village in Samastipur, Bihar
LANGUAGE: Magadhi, broken Bengali
· FATHER: landless worker, illiterate, dead for 8 years at the time of the story
· MOTHER: house-wife. Studied in village school till 10th standard. Married off when tried to elope with the boy-next-door. Died in 1985.
· 2 older sisters, 3 younger brothers, 1 younger sister
· Wife – dead
· Son – 19 years old whom he had not seen for more than 10 years
CLASS: lower; earlier landless worker, now porter
SCHOOLING: primary school in village till the age of 11(Class 4)
13th May, 1974 – born to Sita Devi and Ramcharan Yadav; 3rd of 7 children, 1st son
11years old – mother dies(smallpox)
17 years old – marries a girl in the next village
18years old – son born
28 years old – father dies. Bhikhu moves to Kolkata. Leaves behind wife and young son(10years old) in search of better jobs. Luggage stolen at railway station. Works as porter.
37 years – news of wife’s death.
Bhikhu, being the first male child of his parents, had a lot of expectations riding on him. But while his father wanted him to work in the fields and earn enough money to recover the lands lost to the local money-lender, his mother wanted him to study and become a ‘bada aadmi’. Due to her insistence, Bhikhu was enrolled into the local primary school. Bhikhu, however, did not share her dreams and was soon bunking classes to go to the nautankis that came to the village.
When 11 years old, Bhikhu had a bad bout of small pox, from which he recovered under his mother’s nursing. She, in turn, was infected fatally, and died. This incident left a deep impact on Bhikhu’s mind as he blamed himself for his mother’s death. This, coupled with his realisation of his earlier disregard of his mother’s dream, filled him with a deep sense of guilt which was to play an important part in building up his personality. Bhikhu’s resolution to fulfil his mother’s dream was, however, thwarted when his father put him to work in the fields with his younger brothers. Gradually, Bhikhu’s sub-conscious tried to suppress these feelings of over-whelming guilt. As a defence mechanism, he developed a rowdy, misogynistic character. His father, in an attempt to ‘tame’ him, married him off to a docile girl of 15. After the initial charm had faded away, he became indifferent to his wife, occasionally beating her when he was too frustrated with life. His son’s birth, less than a year after Bhikhu’s marriage, failed to shake up his emotions in anyway.
Neither did his father’s death. In fact, within a year of his father’s death, Bhikhu left his village for Kolkata. He left behind his wife and 10 years old son. He told everyone that Kolkata provided better employments for him. While this was partly true, he also wanted desperately to get away from the village which always affected him with a sense of claustrophobia and despair. He knew his promise to his tearful wife, that he would return to take them to Kolkata, was a lie, as he wanted to cut himself off from his past life completely and start afresh. He was so guilt-ridden that he promised himself to send regular money to his family once he got a job at Kolkata.
Bhikhu lost his luggage when he arrived at the Howrah station. Rather, it was stolen. Distrustful of everyone, he roamed about in the platform for a couple of days, afraid to set foot in the alien city. A kind coolie offered him a job as a porter after he saw him eyeing his food greedily.
Initially sceptical, Bhikhu soon made friends with his co-workers. In fact, he became some kind of a leader of the men due to his robust personality.
Used to living in a three-roomed hut in his village with his extended family, the vast expanse of the station gave him a taste of freedom which, he realised, he had longed for all his life. Free from his mother’s dream, free from his father’s expectations, free from the responsibility of his wife and son. The multitude of people pouring in and out of the station made him feel invisible – a feeling which both thrilled and terrified him. He, very diligently, sent money to his family every month. But he took great care never to reveal his address to them. Neither did he ever write to them. He loathed the idea to be saddled with their responsibility again.
But there are times when he is filled with a surge of overpowering sadness, emptiness and guilt. But he has learnt to anticipate such depressions, and whenever he feels the onslaught of such a sadness, he indulges in his hedonistic urges of food and flesh to offset.
At the time of the story, Bhikhu meets an acquaintance of his village at the station by chance, who tells him that his wife had died 6 years back. He comes to know that his son has passed his school-leaving exams with distinction. Bhikhu feels oddly proud of the achievements of his son, whom he has not seen for almost 10 years. He cannot decide whether to go back to Baheri to reconnect with his son or not.
NAME: AKHYAYIKA SENGUPTA
AGE: 21 YEARS
PLACE OF BIRTH: BALLYGUNJ, SOUTH KOLKATA
· MOTHER: SNIGDHA SENGUPTA, A SOCIALITE, ONCE ACTRESS IN SOME MOVIES
· FATHER: RANJAN SENGUPTA, CEO IN AN MNC
· GRANDMOTHER: CHHAYA SENGUPTA, HOME-MAKER, DEAD (2005)
RELIGION: NON-PRACTISING HINDU
CLASS: UPPER, HEREDITARILY RICH
SCHOOLING: IN A REPUTED SOUTH KOLKATA SCHOOL, DOING MASTERS IN HISTORY UNDER RABINDRA BHARATI UNIVERSITY
8TH SEPTEMBER, 1989 – BORN, ONLY CHILD
9 YEARS OLD – FATHER’S ADULTERY DISCLOSED
18 YEARS OLD – GRANDMOTHER DIES
19 YEARS OLD – FALLS IN LOVE WITH ZAREEN, A GIRL IN HER COLLEGE
20 YEARS OLD – MEETS WITH AN ACCIDENT WHICH LEAVES HER CRIPPLE FROM WAIST DOWN-WARDS
Akhyayika’s name was chosen by her mother who wanted her to be as distinct as her name. Akhyayika herself, however, liked her nickname, Rai, given by her thamma. Till the age of nine, Ahyayika was brought up mostly by her paternal grandma, or thamma, as her father was mostly on trips while her mother was busy shooting for films. Though sometimes craving for motherly tenderness, Akhyayika had a more or less happy childhood, cared for by her thamma who was a strict but loving guardian. Like her thamma, she held pity and contempt for her mother’s attempts to land leading roles in films. When Snigdha finally gives up on her dream to become the frequent organiser of kitty-parties, that disdain remained, and Akhyayika could never imagine her as someone more than a resident of her house. She considered herself as her grandma’s child, often calling her ‘maa’ in jest sometimes.
At the age of nine, Akhyayika, while fiddling with her father’s cell-phone, comes across a lewd text sent to her father by one of his female colleagues. Not knowing what to do, but having a strong sense of foreboding, she shows it to her grandmother. To her immense surprise, her grandmother, who had always sided with the truth often to the displeasure of others, asked her to keep mum about the whole affair. This incident, more than her father’s adultery, shocked her to the core. Instinctively she gravitated towards her mother, though not revealing the truth about Ranjan to her. Snigdha, however, was too pre-occupied with her life to pay much attention to her daughter’s fragile mental state, and besides taking her to a few movies every month, did little else.
Akhyayika found herself without a friend in her own house. She had always been a quiet girl in school, with few friends. But she now made effort to be popular in school. She invented new and newer excuses to stay away from home, especially from her grandmother. It was at this time that her grandmother was diagnosed with the early signs of dementia. Akhyayika was filled with a deep sense of justice being done. Oddly enough, she had no anger towards her father. All her acts of rebellion had at their root the conviction that it would hurt her thamma, who was, by then, has lost almost all her grip on reality. Her realisation of her sexual orientation was not to much of a shock to her as she knew that thamma would not approve.
When her thamma died finally, incidentally on her 18th birthday, Akhyayika was assailed by very different emotions at once. There was a sense of freedom, but also an utter emptiness. All her actions had been in accordance or defiance of thamma’s presumed wishes. Without her, everything seemed meaningless. It also made Akhyayika question her sexuality.
Such concerns were put to rest once she met Zareen. She was a docile girl from an orthodox Pathan family at her college, one year her junior. Akhyayika fell head over heels in love with her. And she reciprocated. But within a year Akhyayika met with a car accident which paralysed the lower part of her body. Her parents, who were gradually drifting apart through the years, started taking her to different doctors and therapists all over the country, in hope of ‘curing’ her. Zareen was a pillar of strength to her through out, though neither of her parents knew about their relation. Akhyayika did not tell them of this, less from the fear that they would not approve than the conviction that they did not care either way.
At the beginning of the story, Akhyayika is returning from Hyderabad with her parents after a futile appointment with another ‘baba’. The night before Zareen has called her saying that her parents has fixed her marriage and she is going to comply to their wishes. She asked Akhyayika not to contact her anymore.
Bhikhu has decided not to go meet his son. He is too ashamed of how he abandoned his family 10 years back. Akyhyayika has decided to commit suicide as she feels Zareen was the only string attaching her to life.
Bhikhu carries Akhyayika’s luggage from the train to her car. That is how they meet.