By Dipok Sarma
- I study science. And chemistry is my favourite subject, said Ramen.
Ramen Dutt met Anjali Basu during their summer vacation in June. In fact, Anjali was a year senior to Ramen. In his first term in the college Ramen came in contact with a senior student called Nirmal Bannerji, a student federation leader or in other words, a communist. His mother, a widow, was a college professor, a head of the department of English in Southern College in Calcutta. Eventually, Ramen started going to the local communist party office where he met some veteran and new members.
Some of them seemed to him to be well-informed. After a year in 1948, Nirmal Bannerji ,the student leader asked him if Ramen wanted to be a delegate to the first South East Asian Youth Conference in Calcutta. Ramen joined it and met many youths from other parts of the world. Then one day he heard in the radio that the communist party in West Bengal had been declared illegal. Most of the local party leaders went into hiding. But Ramen had still contact with some members. That summer, his mother having been busy at a national academic conference in Calcutta, they could not go to a holiday resort as usual and stayed in the city. One day, Nirmal Bannerji asked him if Ramen could do a favour to the party. It was a courier job for the party. When Ramen said yes, he gave the address of Barrister Pranab Basu in Souhtern Avenue.
When Ramen entered the gravel path, he saw a wide flight of steps up to a front door. He opened the door. A domestic servant came when he asked for Anjali. He led Ramen to the parlour. A large Alsatian dog shambled at his heels, and slumped down on the floor. Ramen was scared but he saw the dog wagging his tail.There were sofas round a glass-topped coffee table. The walls were decorated with paintings on the famous Biblical themes like Moses leading his folks through the dried floor of the Red Sea. Ramen went to the window and looked out at their back garden with rose bushes. Suddenly he heard a footstep and saw the overhead ceiling fan started moving.
A pretty girl in a dressing gown shot a smile at Ramen. She asked Ramen to take his seat on the sofa near her.
- Anjali, she said and added that she had already heard his name. She told him she was a student of his mother. - And you?
- I took arts with math. Even now I have math.
- What sort of math you do in your BA class?
- We do mostly differential and integral calculas, co-ordinate geometry etc. But I took honours in English literature.
- Then you have got a lot to read.
- Do you by any chance know any other European language?
- Yes. I'm learning French.
- For me it would have been good to learn French for my future study of literature. You can do something like comparative literature.
- I can read novels in French. And so far I've
read Andre Malraux and Gide.
- I wish I could. By the way, next Sunday morning they are showing a French film. A Jean Cocteau film called The Beauty and the Beast. Shall we see this film?
- That will be nice
. I'll ring you.
Ramen felt a sudden joy in his heart. His very close friend Pradeep can no longer brags about his dalliance with a girl. Anjali broke the momentary silence. She began:
- Now let me tell you about your job. Come to our house on Wednesdays and I'll give you a small pack to deliver it to some employee in National Chemical at Tiljala. You know where Tiljala is?
- Yes I know. Not far from Ballyganj station.
- Good. Do you ride a bike?
- Yes. I do.
- You'll have to be very watchful in the street. Don't ask any unknown person for directions. Always watch if anyone is following you. Then you directly deliver the packet to the person concerned.Today you'll get a small packet which you must deliver today.
- Yes, I can do it right now.
- I'm coming in a jiffy, said Anjali and left the room. After a few moments she came back with a small packet and gave it to Ramen.
- See you next week.
Ramen went home brought out his bike and rode to his destination and delivered the packet. The job seemed to be some kind of adventure to him. He loved it immensely. Not only that. His friendship with Anjali is a joyful occasion , thought Ramen. That evening Pradeep phoned him to visit him when Ramen said that he had no money. Pradeep laughed aloud and said I saw your purse was thick with dough.
In fact he had money but he gave it to their maid servant as a loan.
- Borrow from someone and come.
But in the evening the maid servant paid him back his money saying that she did not need them anymore. Ramen took a shower and changed his clothes and took a tram to his friend in Bhowanipur. Pradeep Mukherji's father was a wealthy bank manager. They owned a big two-storied house in Roy street. Pradeep took his friend to his room. There he opened a bottle of beer. It was not cold.
Because he could not put it in their refrigerator. They had to drink it stealthily in his room. They began to drink. Pradeep began,
- You know, Sumita phoned me today and said that she wanted to see Moon & the six pence at the New Empire next Sunday morning.
- Isn't it the book by Somerset Maugham about an artist in Tahiti or something?
- It's a famous book. He is my favourite writer.
- Not mine.
- Anyway, I really enjoy her company.
Although Ramen felt like telling him about Anjali, he could not bring himself to talk about her.
- Ramen, will you do us a favour?
- What is it?
- You have to teach math to my brother.
- But he has a private tutor. - Yes. But I want you to teach him as you once did to me. I was so weak in math.
- That I can do anytime. Even now.
- But you have to accept a regular salary from us. That's what my father said.
- No, I can't.
- I can't tell you off-hand.
After the beer, they had their dinner in his room. They felt drowsy when Pradeep said,
- Better stay here tonight. Tomorrow after breakfast I'll drive you home. I go down and phone your family.
Next week Ramen, as usual, went to the house of Anjali when she met him at the door.
- Today we have not anything. But are you in a hurry to go somewhere, said Anjali.
- Not at all.
- Then come up to my room and we'll chat. Isn't it a good idea?
- It is really.
She led him to her room on the first floor. It was a medium sized room with a big window overlooking their garden. There was a bed and a desk and two chairs. A typewriter stood on the desk. There was a big and tall book-case.
They both sat on the chairs and when Ramen shot his glance at a painting of the patriarch Abraham, Hagar and Ishmael, Anjali said:
- You know, these paintings are done by my sister-in-law Sarah, a German Jewish woman, who committed suicide at the end of the war.
- Sorry to hear that.
- She lost her family in Germany.
Then Ramen got up to look at the books. He said he saw some of the books were the same as his mother had. She also had the volumes of Scrutiny edited by F R Leavis.
- Sometimes I think of doing a Phd work on D H Lawrence. I just read only one book which is Sons and Lovers.
- You can borrow Women in Love from me.
Then Anjali rose to her feet and came close to Ramen. They stood facing each other. Anjali kissed him on the mouth. Ramen felt a sensation of pleasure hitherto unknown to him. He held her tight. They both kissed each other deeply. Ramen for the first time experienced his love for a girl. Anjali smashed his world into pieces. And in the splinters he found her.