The soft clay that felt so clammy and velvety against the feet in those paddy fields…Urvija thought in herself while feeling the splashes of the drizzling rain over her flaxen skin that were coming from outside the French window.
This year it had rained heavily sinking Urvija’s heart and soul more. It’s been long…very long that she has stepped out of the mansion.
The pendulum clock banged eight times. It was time for her to leave all the humdrum and rush to the humongous bedroom and be ready in her most enthralling way. Animoy would come any moment and she needs to be within the room before his arrival. And the door will be shut again for the whole part of night.
This wasn’t bad, nights are supposed to be spent in the arms of a lover who had the vigour to satiate his woman, still being in his mid-forties. Animoy Bondhopadhyay her husband was the most renowned Zamindar and barrister within the entire Cooch Behar.
She didn’t mind the confines of that bedroom; it was a tiny part of her prison in that entire manor house. She hadn’t seen the broad light of sun outside that manor except the virgin rays that cascaded every dawn into that Zamindar Bari and would spread all across the veranda starting from the window of her room first. She still hadn’t seen some parts of that humongous household in these many years and even hadn’t met the staff and all the handmaids that worked day and night there. They too had never seen their mistress’s face.
She had to stay with her face covered within a veil whenever she stepped outside her bedroom and only a smaller part of that manor house was she permitted to visit. That included a private small garden with a pond, a luxurious washing area and the dining area where she ate on separate timings, aloof. Even her own mother-in-law hadn’t seen her face and she often thought my son has gone berserk over an ugly peasant’s girl and now he hides her away from the world.
“Her arms and fingers…have you seen them?” One of the handmaids was once found whispering into the ears of another by the young Zamindar. They both disappeared from the manor house that night.
It was half past midnight. The large wooden panes of the French window were making creaking sounds every time they were shutting and opening. Animoy’s hand began to search for Urvija on the other part of his king sized bed. He woke up hastily of being not able to find her on the bed. He sat upright with his eyes probing everywhere into that vast spherical room and was suddenly amazed to see Urvija standing uncovered in front of the window with her long wavy hair falling till her loins.
He rushed towards her almost falling a few times and swiftly covered her bare body with a shawl lying on one of the chairs.
“Urvi”…He slapped her hard on the cheeks.
“Have you gone insane…what are you doing here like this?” He prowled upon her with myriad questions but she seemed to be in a trance, not responding to any of his queries. Not even fearing his wrath like earlier, she stood impassive. She seemed pale and when he touched her forehead it was burning like fire. He lifted her up into his lap and laid her carefully over the bed.
Afterwards this became a regular episode. At midnight Urvija would stand and stare outside the window at that old Banyan tree and would often mumble something inaudible. Six months passed away and Animoy had no clue how to get his wife cured from this bizarre ailment.
The news started spreading like fire; the whole town began talking that the young Zamindar’s wife has a ghost friend. She is cursed. The words came to his ears and Animoy who was not willing to allow anyone into the manor house or would take his wife anywhere for getting her cured began to deteriorate gradually from the inside. He felt helpless to see his wife suffering from a ghost trouble.
“Hey have you heard… the young Zamindar’s wife has a ghost friend whom she talks with every night. And do you know I have also heard that she is like a fairy, a real buxom beauty.” Animoy once heard these words at his work place and this didn’t allow him to sleep the whole night. He drank heavily and dozed off.
The next morning when his personal butler came with a cup of tea and tried to wake him up he found out that his young master had been long dead in his sleep. There were shrills of despair and lament that rose till the heaven for many days. The manor house that was a much quiet place earlier grew even quieter.
“Who is she?” many asked that dawn in the dining area.
“Is she the…?? The handmaids were whispering among themselves.
“Urvija Devi come be seated here”. Animoy’s mother commanded one of the handmaids to take out the chair of the dining table upon which Animoy used to sit.
The children, three daughters of different age, who were earlier prohibited from seeing their mother, gathered around Urvija chirping and dancing. In so many days there was lots of guffawing and tête-à-tête that flowed over the breakfast.
“Isn’t she beautiful? Now I know why the ghost has fallen in love with her.” One of the female kitchen staff passed a witty comment while doing chores while the other handmaids tried to shush her.
That day passed in a jiffy after breakfast. Urvija wandered around freely inside the entire mansion. She was seeing many parts and nooks for the first time, while being gazed upon with curious eyes by the other inmates of that royal abode. She could feel their gaze over her and even heard the whispering, they were all talking the same thing. “Oh… is she the young queen…isn’t she? But she is cursed, she has ghost trouble”. Urvija smiled to herself while bidding respect to each and everyone she met that day.
Night cascaded gently afterwards. The children, three girls who weren’t allowed to be with their mother from right after being born were allowed to sleep in her bedroom tonight. Their little innocent hearts were already elated and they soon fell asleep listening to their mother’s soft lullabies. Urvija too sank beneath the blanket on that king sized Ivory bed that was made to order as demanded by Animoy. Sleep engulfed her with ease.
At night the giant pendulum clock kept in the alleyway of the manor struck again twelve times. The soothing cool breeze of autumn that has begun flowing in Cooch Behar entered through the French Window of Urvija’s bedroom. Urvija whose eyes were now wide open began to feel the chills on her supple skin and she got down from the bed. Wrapping her silken night coat around her body she went near it and staring at the old Banyan tree outside the window for a while, a deviant smile played upon her face. She closed the window and went back to sleep. The ghost didn’t bother her that night.
Myriad nights passed away after Animoy’s death. Urivija loved the solace inside her colossal bedroom and read books, sewed, knitted and even made few paintings. She was elated and remained lost most of the time in her own world, after the morning rituals were over of her being present in the places as guided and asked by the elder queen also her mother-in-law.
Urvija was still not given the charge or responsibility of any official duties and work of the most renowned Zamindar Bari, in the entire Cooch Behar. And she was in no hurry at all, in fact she was enjoying this newly gained liberty of being completely fearless of any decree that were forcefully implied upon her earlier, by her deceased husband Animoy.
After having her dinner in the zenanna dining quarters where all the children were allowed, Urvija headed straight to her bedroom after gently taking permission from the elder mistress.
“Aaso (you may go)” She replied in the native language with an intense tone.
Urvija came inside her room and closing the heavy wooden doors, heaved a deep sigh…tonight she wanted to finish one of her paintings that she has been working upon from months now. The room was dimly lit and she kept it that way for some time. She went to her closet and took out her silk nightwear. Undressing herself she gently slipped into it, letting her long wavy hair fall loose upon her back and stood by the window again staring at that old Banyan tree for some time.
She then came towards the space where her canvas and palettes were kept. She increased the wick for more light when her eyes all of a sudden fell on a silhouette that was standing a little far from her and was staring hard at her. Seeing the figure Urvija experienced a huge shock and fell few steps back on the carpeted floor.
“Truly…beautiful,” the heavy deep voice of Animoy startled her. He came closer in the light and stood tall in front of her. Same face, same voice and alive. How could it be? Urvija whose eyes were wide open in disbelief, thought to herself.
“But you were de…?”
“Shhhh”… Before she could speculate any further or say anything, he came closer and embraced her. He made love to her. But not compulsive one, much tender which Urvija found different of the earlier Animoy. He then left immediately the room after that moment, leaving Urvija in a bewildered state.
This kept on happening each night and slowly Urvija began to fall in love with this new man in her life. A completely changed personality, she began to spent the after midnight hours with him and he would leave before 4 in the morning when it was still dark outside and even the earth hasn’t woken up.
This new Animoy wasn’t demanding, forceful, aggressive or even hurtful in any way to her, and this made her slowly fall in love with him. But Urvija knew it deep inside that it wasn’t her Animoy, it was someone else. But who was it, who looked absolutely like him but was completely different in nature and behaviour from her deceased husband.
Urvija wanted to find out, she wanted to go out and speak to her mother-in-law, the superior queen about this. But what was it that stopped her from going outside the room now. She didn’t feel like moving out an inch from her room any more. She had lost her sleeps, her appetite and even her passion for making her painting which she loved the most to do in her free times. Her body felt more lethargic after every night when he had made love to her, she felt as if he was sucking out her life energy from her body. Yet she was helpless, she rather waited more patiently for the nights to fall and wait for his arrival. His whole presence was charming and ecstatic which she eagerly awaited. His musk odour that got filled inside the room when he entered and stayed on the sheets and on every cloth of her, even on her skin was making her go slowly berserk.
She often tried to ask him, who was he? But he would simply quieten her by saying “Does it really matter? I am with you now, in this moment and that’s all that matters.” And they would then spend the night like two insane lovers who were deeply and madly in love with each other.
One night after he left, Urvija couldn’t get up from her bed anymore. She was feeling weak and burning with high fever. The maids who came to clean her bedroom in the morning often found her asleep and silently they would clean the room without making much noise and would soon leave.
Its’ been months Urvija didn’t come out of her room. Her children who were mostly busy with their tuitions in the mansion and other sport activities often came to visit their mother at night time, too felt that she looked different. Her third daughter, the youngest one who was much attached to Urvija, one night went to their grandmother, the superior mistress and told her about her mother’s poor health.
She assured the little one that she would give the young queen a visit, but got engaged in work and forgot. But today while she was getting ready for breakfast she asked the handmaids to get Urvija ready for breakfast too. She wanted her to join the royal breakfast table from which she had earlier prohibited her from coming, commanded the maids to dress her up in the finest of silk and jewels and bring her to the table at the earliest. She wanted Urvija to meet someone, a special guest.
“But Boro Maa, (superior mistress) she is not well. She is very sick…you must see her by yourself.” One of the handmaids informed in a mellow voice acquiring some courage to speak in front of their mistress.
“Don’t worry; she will be today when she meets that special guest. Tell her that I have asked her to join the table on time.” The elder mistress replied in a shrugging manner of what she had just heard from her maids and commanded them to go immediately and fulfil her orders.
The handmaids made Urvija stand with support, and while they were taking her to washing area, her eyes fell upon the mirror towards the dressing area and she was dazed to see her reflection upon it. It wasn’t her; she stood like an emaciated silhouette with pale skin running all over it. Her jaw line was peeking prominently and those plump pink cheeks were suppressed somewhere inside. Urvija didn’t like her reflection at all and a tear escaped from the corners of her eyes.
That body, that radiant skin, that youth of which she had always taken pride of and used it as an instrument to kill Animoy by making him believe that she had a ghost trouble and wasn’t getting cured by any mean, was lost somewhere. The over possessive husband died in this trauma and Urvija became free. And again now this new man in her life who looked just like him was using her and she was letting him do that. What was this charm of his that she couldn’t say ‘No’ the first night she saw him and he was unstoppable in his desires. Urvija mostly stayed confused, her fast thinking process was hindered, and she felt mostly lethargic as if she was given some kind of sedatives. What was this strange effect of him that was slowly gulping her?
The handmaids left Urvija’s room after grooming her in all the fineries. She then used every bit of her energy to walk gracefully towards the dining area and sat down after paying her regards to her mother-in-law. The superior mistress noticed the changes in Urvija, she looked pale, and there were dark circles beneath her eyes as if she hadn’t slept for days, with a visibly thin and weak frame, only her wavy tresses were still silky and falling gracefully on the ground.
She was observing her carefully from behind her glasses, which Urvija knew yet her mother-in-law uttered not a single word or asked about her well being. Instead she said in a cheerful gusto, “I want to meet you someone very special.” And she made a gesture with her hand. And all of sudden Urvija felt as if a silhouette just appeared from behind the walls. She knew she was again hallucinating seeing him standing in front of her; and it was with bare energy she was able to keep her eyes open. Sleepiness was running through her whole body and her head was rolling from here to there. Yet from her blurred vision she could make it, it was Animoy standing in front of her who now came closer and kept his both hands over her shoulders.
She was alert now and saw a huge smile on her mother-in-law’s aged face when she said, “Urvija…meet Chinmoy my younger son, who has just returned from London and now he would be taking care of all the imperial duties here.”
Urvija who was having hard time concentrating simply nodded in affirmation still held by shoulders by the same man who was coming to her room each night and the same one whom her mother-in-law has just introduced as her younger son.
Chinmoy came down closer to her face and whispered in one of her ears, “You will feel better tonight. Don’t worry I will take all your pain.”
Urvija’s eyes were wet again. She felt helpless with no strength remaining in her body anymore. She understood it was going to be her last night; he would suck the last breath of energy from her.
“Maa…should I help her till her room. She seems a bit weary.” Chinmoy asked his mother who nodded in a ‘Yes’ with a huge smile on her face.
Without hesitance he picked her into his lap and began to walk towards her bedroom. She could only feel his manly strength and curled herself up against his body. She last remembered the giant wooden doors to the colossal bedroom open, then her eyes got shut.
“How do you feel now my child?” Urvija woke up to the voice of her mother-in-law who was gently caressing upon her forehead. She hastily tried to get up to touch her feet and pay obeisance but she stopped her and made a gesture from hand allowing her to stay in the bed.
Urvija shook her head to express that she felt better. She was offered a cup of camomile tea and she enjoyed the freshness in it. While still on the bed as she removed the quilt from her body she noticed a slight bump over her abdomen. She hastily got down and ran towards the mirror and noticed that it was true. She was bearing a child within her. She looked at her reflection and noticed that she looked beautiful. Her skin was blushing in radiance, she looked fuller and healthy. Her face was showing suppleness and youth. She stood bewildered with questioning eyes and looked into the mirror at the reflection of her mother-in-law who was sitting at the corner of the bed.
“Yes…my dear you are pregnant with Chinmoy’s child. He has given you a new life. My son has saved you from being doomed. I am grateful to you for allowing him to be your man and giving us a successor” The elder mistress said, then came closer to Urvija, making her sit on the futon in front of the mirror, and began to comb her long silky tresses.
“But Maa…how can I bear his child. I am not even married to him. And you didn’t have any objection to this relationship and sent him to my room that night. You know I am Animoy’s widow; still you have no objection of his being in my room night after night. I know he is your younger son, they are twins and look the same but how could you just let him take advantage of that face.” Urvija bombarded with these many questions in one go.
“He is not my younger son, I never had any twins. Animoy was my only child who died because of you. I know you killed him by using your beauty and charm to attract the ghost from the Banyan tree and gave my son a heart attack that night. This is what you wanted…were you satisfied?” The superior mistress shouted and began to sob, while Urvija took few steps away from her with awestruck eyes.
Urvija was still watching the old woman’s face in complete disbelief. She never knew there was a ghost in the old Banayan tree, neither had she seen any. It was a make believe story she created and played a game. How could it be even possible? She thought to herself. Finally she was able to think clearly after a long time. She was under Chinmoy’s spell from the first night and had lost her power of any rational thinking.
“It asked for a favour”. The elder mistress continued in an intense voice.
“What favour?” Urvija asked with the most curious eyes.
“Animoy’s body” She replied.
What??? Urvija’s eyes seemed like popping out of the socket.
Her mother-in-law who was sitting silently said again “I agreed and gave it what it needed. An heir it promised and I would also see my son in front of my eyes…alive. Another old man’s body from the village was cremated and I kept Animoy’s dead body hidden inside my room. It vanished the same night and I saw him alive and walking towards your room. My Animoy was back…he cares and loves me even more now.” She explained while wiping her somnolent eyes with the back of her palm.
“How could you allow this Maa…this is insane! You have conjured a ghost from the dead and given it a new life that too in your son’s dead body.” She almost yelled at her mother-in-law. Why…Why you did this?
“Because its’ time for you to pay.” She replied with her brows crooked at the middle of her forehead. Urvija sat down on the bed with her hand on her mouth in sheer shock.
“Look at you! Look how spring is sitting upon your cheeks. You are blushing in radiance. Your youth has revived. He has given you eternity of love. Isn’t this what you have always desired? To be loved and respected as a woman.” Saying this, her mother-in- law walked towards the exit and before leaving she said again, “Accept your fate…it’s only you who have invited the ghost into your life.”
Then she walked away like a squall with her long Banarasi white silk pallu flowing on the floor behind her, matching to her pace.
Urvija who was sitting in a complete disorientated state, thinking that how her mother-in-law could do such a blasphemy? She decided that she will reveal the truth in front of all and was about to leave the room when Chinmoy came inside the room.
Seeing him she stood flabbergasted and didn’t know what to do next. She stood still and quiet. He came closer and gently whispered into her ears, “No one would believe you”.
She looked at his handsome face in complete disbelief. He knew every thought of her. She tried to move away from him when he held her hand and drew her closer. She was fuming with rage and didn’t look at his face. “There is nothing you can do Urvi. I am in love with you and even if you don’t want me, I will make you love me. In fact I have already made you; your heart has my blood. You were dying of a fatal illness in you; I have given you a new life.” And he began to stare at her with love filled eyes.
Urvija was not going to come into his petty talks anymore. She wanted to run away that moment and tell everyone of the conspiracy her mother-in-law and the ghost that had entered into her husband’s body have played against her. She didn’t believe in ghosts and knew that they both were using her own created story against her. She shrugged his hand from her shoulders and tried to run but before she could, the door got slammed on its own and so did the windows of that colossal bedroom and Urvija was trapped again.
Urvija turned back with fuming eyes towards him, but staring at his brown eyes she lost her conscious again and fell into his arms.
With the cascading warmth of the autumn breeze again, the doors of the colossal bedroom opened one dawn, but this time with the sounds of a crying baby. Urvija has given birth to a son. She was overjoyed to see the face of her first son and her fourth child. Her mother-in-law came to give her blessings. The whole Bandhopadhyay Bari was echoing with glee and noises of celebration.
When all the celebrations were finally over, Urvija was left alone in her bedroom to take rest. She fed her baby and went towards the same window that opened towards that old banyan tree. She was staring at it quietly when Chinmoy came inside the bedroom and held her from her waist. She kept her hand over his and said in a soft voice still staring at the banyan tree, “So you use to ogle me from there …right?”
“Ummm…No. Why would I ogle you from a banyan tree?”
Urvija now turned at him and was staring with probing eyes. “You see I just used your story that you used, to kill me. You made everyone believe that you had a ghost trouble and I simply made everyone believe that I died that night.” He said this with a deviant smile resting on his face.
“Animoy??? Urvija uttered in shock.
“Shhhh…Even the walls have ears. No let me be… Chinmoy, the twin brother from London! People believe that I am a good man, who loves you.” He held her hand tighter which she was trying to free from his grip. “You see…I really do love you. And I have changed only for you. I couldn’t stay under my grave without you. I felt so lonely…Urvija.”
He then made her sit on the bed and went closer towards the bedroom doors and closed it. “This is your only world Urvija this room, that window and that banyan tree.”
A tear droplet escaped from the corner of her eyes. After a while she stood and embraced him hiding her head into his brawny chest. He too crossed her arms around her petite body and they remained like that for a long time.
“I love you…she whispered and remained within his hold with her eyes closed.
Urvija had no answers that he was who? Was it really Animoy her dead husband, a ghost or a con named Chinmoy, who looked like her husband? Perhaps he was his twin brother and both her mother-in-law and he were hiding this truth from her. But whatever the truth was, one thing was true that Urvija had fallen in love with him and he treated her like a queen. This was reason enough for her to let those equations remain unsolved.
Within his embrace while she was hearing his beats louder into her ears, again all the windows of her room got shut on their own. This night was again going to be another longest one with that room remaining her only world forever. She was his prisoner for life…