Illusory Wife


Madhavi boarded the train from Jadavpur Station. During this time of the day the train is usually empty and she was able to manage a window seat within two minutes. Madhavi loves this journey from Jadavpur to Baruipur, especially the days when she occupies a window seat. Cool air messes up her hair and she silently watches the train passing through lush green landscapes, unknown villages, unknown abandoned stations; where the train never stops. She can see schools, wells, farms, muddy roads; small ponds with women washing clothes, abandoned houses, solitary temples all through her way. The scenery gives her a queer sense of calmness. The cool breeze makes her feel pleasant and tranquil and she almost transcends to a new world, which is far away from the world where she actually lives. Maybe, this is one of the reasons why she looks forward to this journey every Thursday. Her journey to meet Kutti Mama.

Kutti Mama is her mother’s youngest brother. Madhavi first came to meet Kutti Mama in Baruipur three years back. A year after her second daughter Tumpa was born. Soon, it became a ritual for Madhavi to meet Kutti Mama every Thursday afternoon. In the last three years hardly twice she was not able to come. Once when her elder daughter Rumpa contracted chicken pox and when Madhavi herself had a bad food poisoning after eating some charanamritto(water offered to God) brought by her mom-in-law from some mandir.

She feels a sort of independence when she comes to meet her uncle. Here, her identity is not that of Kaushik’s wife or Rumpa-Tumpa’s mother or even her parent’s daughter. Here she is Madhavi, she is herself. Incidentally this is also the only time when she commutes by public transport. Kaushik doesn’t like his wife travelling by local train or bus. It hurts his ego. Kaushik in many occasions have expressed his displeasure over her coming to Baruipur, but after eight years of marriage Madhavi has learned to ignore.

The train stopped at Bagha Jatin station and she saw people rushing towards the gate. Few latecomers were holding the railing of the window that she was seated beside, to get a better grip to board the running train. Few men rushed into the compartment and took seats. Today the train is quite empty. The route has become very familiar to her. Even the crowd is familiar unlike the first day when she let go three trains because they were over-crowded.

Three years back when she boarded the train, it was for the first time after her marriage that she was going alone anywhere by public transport. She was used to travelling by car and obviously felt quite nervous. The crowd made her condition even worse but she was determined to go. After getting down at Baruipur station she had asked one or two vendors where she would get a rickshaw to go to “Antara”. The rickshaw puller who took Madhavi to Antara was quite helpful. On their way the rickshawwalla started chatting with her. He asked her many questions like whom she was going to meet, where she came from. He also asked her “Is your Mama complete pagla??” While asking he stressed on the word pagla (mad). At some other time she would have felt irritated with such questions from complete strangers, but today she somehow enjoyed it. After her marriage the only questions she was asked were about her husband, children and her in-laws. For the first time a man was asking her something in which her past, her roots were involved. She felt happy to realise that she had a separate identity apart from being Kaushik’s wife.

As a child Madhavi was not really close to her uncle. She met him only on few occasions, while visiting their native home at Bolpur to meet her didima (maternal grandmother). Kutti Mama even on those occasions hardly spoke to anybody. Madhavi still remembers her mother’s warning not to disturb Kutti Mama. Her mother used to take her to the corner of the house and warn her not to go near Kutti Mama as he may bite her. She used to get confused with these warnings. Why would a grown up man bite her all of a sudden.

Inspite of those warnings Kutti Mama never bit anybody. Today when Madhavi goes to meet him, when she sits near him, touches his hair, feeds him the food she always cooks and brings along with her, those very warnings really amuses her. She laughs in her mind thinking about them.

When Madhavi wanted to meet Kutti Mama for the first time, she had to face quite a lot of hurdles. The matron of the mental asylum “Antara” was reluctant to allow Madhavi meet her uncle. Her uncle was admitted here by Madhavi’s Mejo Mama. The asylum had a rule to register the names of relatives who would be allowed to meet the patient. They usually issued a visiting card to those relatives. Madhavi’s  name was not in the list of relatives. So the asylum administration simply wouldn’t accept her proposal to meet him. Desperate as she was at that time she called up her Mejo Mama in London.

Her Mejo Mama became surprised and suspicious at the same time. For few days he and his wife thought that Madhavi wanted to meet Kutti only to woe him so that she eventually gets the share of family property that belonged to him. But finally he decided to let Madhavi meet Kutti. He wrote a mail to the asylum administration and also sent them a signed letter of authorization.

Today everybody in Antara knows Madhavi. From the chief Matron to the nurses, the sweepers, the ayyas, even the trustee people know her. She is one of the very few regular visitors who make it a point to meet their relatives who live in the fringes of civilized society. Madhavi has now become a part of Antara. Whenever there is some function she gets invitation. If anybody goes to the Kali temple then the prasad (food offered to God) is saved till Thursday so that Madhavi gets her share. The female nurses often discuss their marital woes and mother-in-law problems with Madhavi. The staff even discuss their pay related grievances with her. To all these discussion Madhavi is mostly a silent audience with some piece of advice thrown in between. Madhavi knows that they don’t tell this to seek her advice, but the very act of telling gives them some relief. Just like the way Madhavi used to feel relieved when she could speak to her counsellor during her post partum days.

Madhavi had post partum depression when both her daughters were born. During her second child’s birth it was severe. She remembers the nights she was unable to sleep and had crying spells. Her husband Kaushik or her mother-in-law was unable to console. Infact their interferences made things worse. From her own family Madhavi had absolutely no one to fall back on.

That was when she first came to meet Kutti Mama. Meeting her mama in a way proved therapeutic for her. Now, after three years it has become a ritual for her to meet him every Thursday. She looks forward to this day of the week. She plans way in advance what to cook for him and shops small knick knacks for him. Madhavi stays excited to meet Kutti Mama however at times she wonders if her Uncle registers her presence at all. But at times she feels that her Uncle also looks forward to the weekly meeting, just like she does.

“Garam chola, garam chola” a hawker was shouting inside the compartment. A man seated on the opposite window called the hawker and asked him to give him chola worth two rupees. Madhavi never buys food sold in the train. She sometimes feels strong urge to buy, but somehow she is hesitant. She is sure that had Kaushik been with her she would have surely bought. He loves to eat all this stuff.

In fact Kaushik loves to eat. Kaushik can only think of food. Although Madhavi herself is also fond of food, she still has other passions. The only thought in Kaushik’s mind is what is he going to eat. So much so that in their wedding night when both were in an intimate embrace, he had suddenly exclaimed “wish there was aloo posto to eat now…I have not had aloo posto for almost two months now”. Kaushik burst out into laughter after saying this. “People would think I am mad, or else who else would think of aloo posto on his fulsajhyar raat (wedding night)” added Kaushik. Madhavi felt hurt but pretended it to be funny.

That was the beginning of her pretentions. Following eight years her job became only to pretend that she was happy, she was enjoying, she was content. In the nights she used to pretend that she was enjoying whereas she was just waiting for the act to get over. Initially she still enjoyed making love to Kaushik, but now it is only a chore, just like washing the dishes or cleaning the potty of Tumpa.

“Didi, o didi. Apnar mobile bajche mone hay (Sister, I think your mobile is ringing)” a woman seated next to Madhavi was calling her. Madhavi was so engrossed in her thoughts that she didn’t hear the mobile ringing. She took her mobile out of her bag. She saw her mom-in-law’s number on the display screen. She was not in a mood to take that call, as she already had an idea what that call would be. She did not want to spoil her mood. She switched the mobile on the silent mode. The mobile rang for sometime and afterwards only a missed call was left.

Her mother-in-law hardly calls her. Whenever she calls it is only to remind Madhavi of some upos (religious fasting) or broto (holy ritual) that she needs to observe. Madhavi dreads those calls. Madhavi was brought up in an atheist household. She doesn’t remember her mother observing any religious ceremony. Even during Diwali her mother never lit candles the way their neighbours in Delhi’s Chittaranjan Park did.

She married Kaushik against the wishes of her parents, especially her mother. Both her parents were lecturers in JNU. Quite naturally her mother had always thought of her son-in-law to be a Professor, scholar, but a travel agent never occurred in her wildest dream. The family background of her would son-in-law also didn’t impress her at all. Kaushik’s father worked as a state government lower division clerk in the Writer’s Building and his mother was a homemaker. Kaushik’s mother’s only job was to cook and feed her son and husband, starving herself most of the days in order to appease numerous gods and goddesses. Madhavi’s mother was aghast at her daughter’s choice of husband.

Madhavi’s mother did not attend the wedding. Three days before the wedding she called from her plush apartment in Brooklyn and warned Madhavi that she can never be happy in this marriage. Her mother didn’t want to witness the disaster in her daughter’s life and thus had decided not to attend the wedding. That was the day when Madhavi was abandoned by her mother for the second time. The first was when her mother divorced her father and moved to the US.

The train stopped at Sonarpur Station. Usual commuters again boarded the compartment. A woman with a small girl came and sat beside her. The girl is almost the same age as Tumpa. Suddenly Madhavi felt a motherly love towards the girl. She gave the girl a smile. The girl smiled back clinging to her mother’s elbow. The mother looked at Madhavi and gave her a smile. For a moment Madhavi missed her daughters. Rumpa is now 6 years old and Tumpa is 4 yrs. Madhavi is almost single handedly bringing up her girls. Kaushik is away in his tours for most of the year. Even when he is not travelling he hardly gets time for his family.

Madhavi reached Baruipur. It took her another 15 minutues to reach Antara. She entered the compound and went straight to Kutti Mama’s room. He was sitting on his bed with his head down. She went near him. She called him softly. He looked up. His eyes were slightly swollen. He said “ Mousumi kaal bari fere ni (Moushumi didn’t return yesterday home).” Moushumi is Kutti Mama’s wife. Actually mama has no wife, he never had one. Moushumi is his imaginary wife.

Kutti Mama had his first schizophrenic attack in college. He started talking to imaginary people. He started mentioning about imaginary friends. That is when he started talking about Moushumi. She was his imaginary wife with whom he started spending sleepless nights. Throughout the night he used to stay awake and constantly talk. Often he used to fight with her, cry for her and even get violent. One day he hit their domestic help with a frying pan assuming that Moushumi had come in her disguise. Madhavi’s grandma lived with him alone in Bolpur. Soon it became unable for her to manage him alone. Kutti Mama was thus sent to Antara mental asylum in Baruipur.

Madhavi’s eldest Mama had died in a car accident long back. Her second Mama lived in London and her Mom had by then divorced her father and moved to USA. Madhavi’s grandmom died heartbroken a year after Kutti Mama was sent to Antara. Madhavi’s father died two years after her marriage. Kutti Mama remained the only relative of her in this country.

Madhavi’s marriage to Kaushik had turned into a farce. They were together only for the sake of the daughters. Madhavi even suspected that Kaushik had ‘other’ company during his trips. Madhavi was only in the house to look after the kids, take care of her in-laws, manage the household and satisfy Kaushik when he came home. Unlike her mother Madhavi didn’t want to leave him as she knew how difficult it is for kids to cope up with separation. Added to that she also didn’t have financial security.

Kutti Mama said “Do you know Mrs Gandhi wants to arrest Moushumi. I am scared Moushumi got arrested yesterday.”

Madhavi was patiently listening to her Mama and trying to comb his unruly hair. She then started feeding him the food that she had brought with her. While he continued “I always tell Moushumi not to get involved in politics but she never listens to me. I ask her to stay at home and take care of the house but she doesn’t listen to me. God knows where she is since yesterday.”

Just then a nurse entered the room. She looked at them and asked Madhavi “apni abar apnar mamar banano gappo shunchen? (Are you again listening to your uncle’s imaginary stories?)”

Banano (imaginary) this word means artificial made up or fake in Bengali. Madhavi wonder isn’t her own marriage to Kaushik as fake as her uncle’s marriage to Moushumi. At least her uncle does not realise that his world is fake.

Kutti Mama said “ tui ektu Moushumi k khuje dekhbi? (Will you go and search?)”

Madhavi said “don’t worry I will look for her”


8 thoughts on “Illusory Wife

  1. Abhik Mukherjee says:

    Beautifully worded…..with such eloquent and vivid images rushing by, which seem like someone has rolled on a long projector which keeps churning visuals and imageries…….as I am from the same place, could relate to it more…..will surely keep on coming here for more such heartfelt stories:)

    Liked by 1 person

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