A Home in the Heart

[Writer: Manikuntala Bhattacharjya]

” I would rather leave”.

” So suddenly. But why ?”

“Enough is enough. This apple juice of yours will make me unsteady now.”

” Ah ! What nonsense ! Our party’s are get to start. Look at me. I have drunk two pegs more than you. But it has not affected me. Sit down, my friend. Relax.”

“I think we should close for today why must you drink after you get boozy ? Fear Allah, Ghalib. Allah hears not the prayer of one who is drunk.”

The friend’s words made Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib nor with daughter. So loudly he laughed that it is not only shoot his entrails but also started his wife Umrao who was in her inner apartment, she put off work in hand and was all ears to know the reasons for such rejoicing. What could provoke such loud laughter ? It’s not was forty days since their child died.”Yes, their child cried only once after it was born, and then it left this would. The husband’s uproarious laughter only intensified the pain in the aching void in Umrao Begum’s heart. She kept her ears alert and looked toward the window. As usual, today also her husband’s friend got together in the drawing room for drinking apple juice. With the after-affect of the loud laughter still present in his throat, Ghalib said, “Sir, I have this glass of apple juice in my hand for what else than should I pray to Allah ?”

“Ah ! How could you say such a thing, Ghalib ?  That is why your home is without a child even today. Fear Allah, oh, fear him, well , I am gone !”

One could hear the sound of a door creaking and someone going out. They body of Umrao Begum, grown weak both mentally and physically, became wet with sweat. Her heart began to beat fast. She felt as if her head was reeling. She immediately took to her bed.

” Allah ! O omnipotent, omniscient lord ! You know all. Forgive my man. O, forgive him”.

Thus she pleaded. Tears rolled down her cheeks.

Umrao Begum’s father, Elahi Khan was a famous Urdu poet. But he was not like Ghalib. Only when words create a tumult is the heart of a person, the beauty of this earth sparkles in the eyes, and the soul made eloquent by feelings, then, and then alone, the restless stream surges out of the man’s pen. For that is it necessary to depend upon a cup of grape juice or to depend upon such sacrilegious thought ?

“Bless us, O Allah, you know the radiant and loving poetic soul much better than the man named Asadullah Khan. Bless him, O Allah !”

Once more the door of the drawing room creaked and one could sense someone going out. Begum Sahiba became anxious and rose from her bed and went near the window. The charpoy and the two seats were vacant. No one was there at the moment. Preoccupied with the thought after man who had gone out , she came to the sitting room. The wine cups were empty. There was nothing anywhere in the room.

Softly the Begum sat on the charpoy. She knows where her husband is likely to have gone. What could she do ? Even since her marriage when she stepped into this house, has she been able to create a cute of attraction ……………….Five times including the present one, the bodies of new born babies have gone out of this house.

The sky was scattering moon light, cold moon tight Begum Sahib felt like looking up at the moon. The poetic soul of the husband could have felt the ardour of life in the matchless beauty of nature itself.

The women sighed heavily. By now Ghalib must be there in Chunnajan’s mehfil.

Yes, it’s a fact. Ghalib can create enchanting magic with words. He‘s a poet of the royal court. He is addicted to wine and ghazal. The roof of the drawing room has shown cracks. Colorful lights do not burn there. Wine is there, but the last journey of the new born passes through the drawing . Ah ! What a life is this ! After placing his own offspring in the lap of the grave ,he walks in faltering steps from the graveyard to the house of Chunnajan, the dancing girl and songstress. That is a place which is resonant with music, and lively with light and color.

Ghalib advanced irresolutely, and sat as one among many, and picked up a glass of wine. Even after the cup was emptied he looked fixedly in the directions of the dancer. It is not that that hand which is holding a wine glass can only write poetry. With this hand he wants to show his own progeny the light of life.

The house within Ghalib’s bosom crumbled as it were, in rapid succession. How many times, how many times more, would he have to bury angelic babes of his own procreation ? His head bent low under the burden of sorrow. Lower it bent, and lowers still. Just at that moment, Chunnajan held it up. Lifted from the deep gorge of depression he was sinking into. They eyed at each other. The man grew emotional, intoxicated rather.

And he became an irresistible lover. The company of this woman was for him, as it were, the thirst of the Chataka bind. Ceaselessly, irresistible began to flow from his mouth words of deep realization about love and life is the form of snatches of poetry.

Chunnajan became spell bound. She grew compassionate. Today she has been admired by one of the male-dominated society that has considered her so long only as a means of pleasure has treated her as purchasable commodity by throwing coins at her. Today her hungry soul has been worshipped with offerings of love, Chunnajan is now enchanted, like a spell-bound snake. Her proximity of Ghalib’s company, his ardour of love, the flow of his vases, and the impress of his intellect have all combined to make Chunnajan flow with happiness.

“Chunnibai !”

“Who speaks ?”

“It’s me, Mirza Hatim Ali.”

“I see !”

“You had no need of me, it seems.”

Chunnijan is rendered mute. What could she say ? How to utter the name of the poet in front of the person who was once her admirer ! Softly she said, “Well, there is nothing in particular. It was rather late when the mehfil ended last night. So, during day time today ,,,,,,”

“I know. In last night’s mehfil the sayeris of Aasadullah Khan created a marvellous atmosphere.”

“Where is he now ?”

“Who ? The poet ?”

“Yes !”

“Why, he is the poet of the emperor’s durbar. Emperor Bahadur Shah Jaffar has honoured him with the titles of Nizam-ud-daula, and dillir-ul-mulk Nizam a’ Jung ?”

“But where is he at the moment ?”

“You seen to be quite concerned about him, Chunnibai. But there’s no need to be worried, you are not going to get anything from him. The Emperor has given him a fellowship of two hundred rupees and asked him to write the history of the Taimur dynasty.”

“He is not merely a poet. He is humanist, a philosopher, a linguist, and historian to boot. The emperor has discovered true merit.”

” Chunnajan, what’s wrong with you ? Why do I feel as if you have abruptly changed much, as if you are going to neglect me ?”

“No, no, there is nothing of the kind !”

“It is exactly that is going to happen, Chunnibai. Without your knowing it, you had put Ghalib in my place. Ah ? Ghalib ! Ghalib ! He is only a mirage. You won’t get anything from him. I know well Ghalib who has composed eighteen thousand Urdu diwans, a grammar of the Persian language, and Kwati Berhan. Well do I know him ? He is a gambler, an idler, an arrogant Bohemian, and spendthrift, who has not the courage to protest against injustice !”

“Oh, stop it, stop it, I say, it is just insufferable, don’t utter a single syllable more against him.”

“I wonder how he spends his time here, bearing at home his Begum to simmer in penury and pain ? I’m sure he wants to cajole you to get money from you ?”

Chunnajan came out to the verandah. Some colorful kites were flying at a distance as to touch the clouds.

She breathed a deep sigh. Without looking at Hatim Ali’s face, she said softly with difficulty.

“The poet does not sit at any place only, Ali Saheb. He goes to the graveyard also. He stands guard there to five small graves.”

Yes, that’s true, with his own hands, Ghalib has buried five children. How does he return home empty handed from the grave yard ? His home where Umrao Begum is lying almost senseless ? He has no courage. His heart has grown empty; the two hands become bars, and the loving tongue also grown powerless. How could he console Begum ?

Everything before his eyes looks like floating in tears. He walks with unsteady steps to Chunnijan’s room. That seems to be the only soft corner in the world which can rub out the sweat of his forehead, and wipe out the tears that well out of the heart.

Umrao Begum left the charpoy and went in.

On a wall of the bed room, there were three shirts. She searched the pockets one after another, but did not find a single coin there. Early in the morning, after rising from bed, her husband has to be served a glass of sherbet mixed with sugar candy and almond powder.

Not finding any money in the pockets, Begum Saheba grew despondent. Nowhere at home did she find a piece of sugar candy. Next day in the work, her husband shall have to be served worn gut. They were all crumpled.

Her heart ached. Her man covers himself with these shirts !

She took up thread and needle, and sat to mind the shirts as best she could. But there was not sufficient light at the spot. So she went near the lamp which was fixed in a hole of the wall, and began to stitch.

After much patient work, the tattered portions of the shirts could be given a semblance of shape. Likewise, a faint ray of hope began to glimmer in her wounded heart.

It was a kind of an ointment. It assumes the form of narrow in dry bones. Yes, this was indeed so. A feeling of being one with life begins to bubble up when on sits down to mend the worn out clothes of a dear one. This indeed is a true feeling. There is no denying it.

Umrao Begum grew emotional. Being by birth the child of a poet, emotion runs in her views. The shirt still bore the fragrance of her husband’s.

For a long moment she stood still pressing the shirt to her bosom. Warm tears began to ooze out other eyes.

Then she was aware of her man opening the door of the drawing room and coming in. Begum wiped her tears and attended to her sewing. “Begum !”

The loving word of her husband made her turn in his direction. He seemed very tired. And lonely. Like a helpless child whose friends do not take him to play with them.

Begum went to her husband, and helped him open his shirt. The condition of that shirt was still worse. At many places the seams were broken. The sleeve was in tatters.

With a feeling of hurt, Begum said, “Mia, please do not go there so shaffily.”

The wife’s words made him laugh. And laughingly did he ask her,” Do not possibly know when I go?”

“I know. That’s why I ask you not to go there poorly dressed.”

“No, you know not. If you know you could not have told me so. No wife can.”

While speaking so, he was about to sit on the bed. The Begum stood in front of him, and softly took her husband’s head into her bosom, and ocalurly said,”I know Mia, I know everything. Yet I would say, don’t go there slovenly. I want you to look handsome in other people’s eyes.”

Ghalib stood still. He remained stock-still for some time. He became emotional with a silent prayer that the emptiness of his Begum’s heart be filled with prattle of children.

Just then a strange noise was heard outsides. Ghalib’s trepidation had cooled by then. Leaving his wife alone, he rushed in the direction of the noise. He discovered to his utter surprise that the roof of Begum’s small bathroom had crumbled down.

Slowly he returned to his room, and hurriedly wrote a letter to his friend Alauddin Khan. The letter road: “Mia, I’m in serious trouble. Cracks have appeared in Begum’s living room, and the roof of her bath room has collapsed. I am in debt with the grocer. You can’t imagine how deep I am sunk in despair.”

Things are going from bad to worse. I’m badly ill-off.

Umrao Begum sat helplessly with her head bent down. What will she cook for the evening meal? Some how she will manage to give her husband a cup of soup and two pieces of  of bread at the most. As a matter of fact, there were six pieces, but Ghalib, even generous in providing for others, gave four of them away in the afternoon to beggars.

She raised her head and looked at Ghalib who was writing a letter. In reality, except for the grief of having no children, they shouldn’t have had any other care. He gambles away whatever little money sometimes falls into his hand. Misery has become for the man some kind of luxury, as if were.

At one time the man quietly went away, and didn’t come back home for that night.

Another day dawned. Begum prepared the glass of sherbet and kept it ready for him. She then became busy tidying and cleansing the household. She began to set his poems in order. All were poems of love. Poems written in praise of man and God and nature and the earth.

Umrao Begum could bear his absence no longer. She grew restless. The man who went out last night has not come back home yet. It’s now mid-day and the man is not to be seen.

She fastened the door with an iron chair, and got out. But where to go? Where would she seek her husband? In the shed of the professional dancing girl?

She hesitated. Should she go there? Would it behave her to go there? No, no there’s no question of propriety her. From a distance she will ask somebody if her Mia was sitting there. It is there, well and good. She’ll return home, she only wished that no evil befalls the man who was quite sober when he had gone out.

Begum hastened her steps. Just as she was taking the turn at the bend, she saw someone’s burial procession coming. O Allah! Who’s gone? She stood on the side of the road. The procession passed her. Just there others was the shop of Monsoor Mia who sells fruit juice. She asked him,”Who has gone?”

“The songstress. Chunnibai.”

“What Chunnibai? O Allah!”

Begum felt the trusted earth beneath her feet suddenly giving way. Chunnibai, who inspired many a poem of her man, his love, and his passion, is dead ? How to believe it?”

Umrao Begum began to run fast towards Chunnibai’s place.

Yes, just now has passed that way Chunnibai’s funeral procession. And yonder, there , on the side of the road there is Ghalib, sitting crest fallen with his head in between his knees. Ghalib, the poet of the durbar, Aasadullah Khan.

Begum, who was running like mad, stopped suddenly. Yes, there’s no doubt-it’s her own man. He has put on the shirt mended with her own hand the previous night.

“Go whenever you would, but not shabbily, Mia”- these were her words. He is now sitting on the dusty road, with his best shirt on, like a stump on tree.

Begum paused, held her breath, and fondly touched her husband’s hand, and said, ”Get up, Mia. Let’s go home.”

Slowly the man rose and looked at his wife’s face, a face bruised by death. Her eyes were sympathetic.

With the head cast down words he followed his wife. After walking a short distance, Begum said,”All men one day go to the graveyard, Mia.”

The sky was lightening. A smart shower came, even when the sun was shining.

Ghalib halted. Fixing his eyes at Begum’s he soliloquized, “Several times we went to the graveyard. You too, went there. Both of us went there several times. A total of five times. Isn’t it so?”

Begum’s heart grew heavy. Yet she said, “You know everything.” Ghalib began to tread his path again, with the eyes cast downwards. Today everything has grown empty. Even though his wife was near by, he was impassioned for Chunnijan.

Reaching home, he straight away brought out the container of apple juice. But like an alert guardian, Begum caught him by the hand, and protesting said,

“What are you about Mia ? Since last night your stomach is empty. Come, you should first have a glass of sherbet. In the evening, I shall prepare kabab for you. Then you’ll drink.”

“how shall I continue to live, Begum? No one is there around.”

Begum kept quiet. In her very presence, her husband has shown his overwhelming grief at the death of his beloved.

Yet, with great patience, she repeated the old words,”You know everything well, Mia. Now come to the Charpoy.”

She left her husband to rest and relax and went to bring sherbet for him. Outside, it was raining still. The wind was flowing furiously. Perhaps the clouds had shrouded the bright sun. Rain water was pouring in through the leaking roofs. Ghalib closed his eyes and soliloquized. This love along has made me inert, otherwise I could have shown that I, too, be a terrible person.

Umrao Begum stood still with a glass of Sherbet in hand. She sat by her husband and with her scarf rubbed his face. Ghalib opened his eyes and looked at her. That look signified the helplessness of a lonely child, and arid yearning for love and life.

Begum could bear it no longer. She embraced him closely, as if she was stroking a child lovingly, kissed him on the forehead, made eyes on him and said.

“Can’t we start life anew, Mia? An exceptional Peer has arrival at the majhar. By his grace, we shall again have a child, I assure you.”

Peer, durgah, Allah! Ah!

Ghalib giggle. Begum was offended. She detached herself from his abruptly. Her feelings were hurt. “Do as you like,” she said,”but for my part, I will go to the majhar.”

Ghalib looked at her lovingly. It’s thanks to persons like Umrao Begum that life goes on, that man has not gone made despite death and disasters, has repeatedly raised pillars of new civilization on the ruins of the past…..

(courtesy: http://www.monikuntalabhattacharya.com)

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