Paanch Patthar (5 pebbles)

Devika Das

 

Chatni, a 12-year old daughter of Biswa and Rakhi lives with her grandmother in Ballygunge Phari, Kolkata. Kalyani, wife of Late Harinath Chatterjee, and Biswa’s mother dons a white saree with pink border. Chatni is looking at her grandma dress up and has a curious look on her face. “You are looking very beautiful, Dida. Are you going out today?”

Rakhi answers, “Dida is going to meet her childhood friend after 30 long years.”

Really, Dida?

Yes, my dear. Will you come along?

Ma, shall I go with Dida?

Yes, my dear. If Dida doesn’t mind.

Chatni jumps in joy and claps her hands.

Seated on the rear of the taxi, Dida narrates stories about Chitra, her childhood friend. Both Chitra and Kalyani were residing in Behala Chowrasta. Their houses were just four buildings apart. Chitra stayed in #271 and Kalyani stayed in #276.

Chitra still stays in the same house with her son, daughter-in-law and grandson. En route to Behala Chowrasta, the taxi crosses Kalighat and Dida reminisces, “During pujo, Chitra and I came here for special bhog on Ashtami (eighth day of the Durga Puja). The kali mandir in Kalighat is still unchanged.

The by-lanes had been replaced with flyovers and the shops at the nukkad were demolished to build malls. “Chatni, you know, earlier Shankar Da’s tea shop was here. Chitra and I used to return from school and in the evening, we used to come here to eat small samosa and then rush to the park to play.”

She looks out of the window and thinks “The city has changed a lot from our times. The open playground areas have disappeared, the fun of escaping through the narrow by-lanes has faded away.”

The taxi stops outside #271, Behala Chowrasta. The house hasn’t changed a wee bit. The walls are a bit dilapidated now, with colour coming off but the essence is evergreen. She pulls out two 100-rupee notes from her embroidered wallet and hands it over to the driver.

Entering through the gate, she touches the name plate (Mukherjees), sighs with a slight smirk on her face. Nostalgic thoughts run across her mind as she approaches the doorbell. Chatni is delighted to see varied flowers in the garden.

Kalyani rings the bell. Sudeshna, Chitra’s daughter-in-law opens the door. After offering pronam, with a smile on her face she greets Kalyani and Chatni. “Please come inside. Make yourselves comfortable. I will call mother-in-law.”

Chitra rushes inside the drawing room and hugs Kalyani. They embrace each other with eyes filled with tears of joy. Coming out of the embrace, Kalyani says,

“Sorry, I couldn’t come for your 75th birthday as I was unwell. But as soon as I recovered, I rushed to meet you. Here, meet my granddaughter Chatni. You are meeting her for the first time, right?”

“Yes. And he is my mischievous grandson, Bishnu”, Chitra replies.

Bishnu and Chatni go to the backyard. They play ‘paanch patthar, a game played with 5 pebbles.

Sudeshna bids farewell and goes out of the house.

Kalyani requests Chitra to sing a song. Chitra sings “Purano sei diner kotha”, a song penned by the legendary Rabindranath Tagore.

Wow! How wonderfully you sang? Your voice is still the same, sweet as a nightingale.

But, I sing occasionally. After he passed away, my songs give me the strength and purpose to live. A teardrop trickles down her cheek.

Comforting her, Kalyani hands over a packet of choto singara.

Fantastic! Wait, I will bring Kasundi, just like our old days.

Both of them laugh recollecting their childhood mischiefs. With each dip of the singara in the Kasundi and as the tongue licks off the kasundi on the savoury, both close their eyes in tandem and make a face due to the tangy taste of Kasundi. Hearing the grandmother’s laugh, Chatni and Bishnu run towards the drawing room. Chatni asks, what happened, grandmother? Nothing, my child. You know, we used to play 5 pebbles’ game when we were children. We are just remembering those times and laughing. Kalyani and Chatni bid farewell. Chitra says, “It felt great that you came today.

Keep in touch and keep coming often.

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