With the arrival of the trains, a busy day began, as always. And immediately afterwards, a voice as sharp as a train whistle became audible—‘Ogo Giril-er baap, where have you gone, why have you left this unfortunate woman alone in this cruel world?’
The sun hadn’t risen yet; the eastern sky had barely been tinged with red. The high-pitched wailing cut through the greyness, starting in no. 2 rail bosti, grazing the heads of the tiny shacks, and arrowing towards the station. No one else possessed this kind of a voice hereabouts. Everyone realised it was Aamodibala mourning her husband, who had just died. The same husband who had tormented her all their married life. And yet the irony of it was that she had to cry for him now at the top of her voice for fear of being shamed by everyone else if she did not.
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Even a few days ago, before he had taken to his bed, the man would come home drunk every night and beat her up. After all these years of consuming alcohol, it was the alcohol that had consumed him. Back then, Aamodi had screamed at him a thousand times, ‘Die, die, you bastard, release me.’ Now that he was dead, she was feeling much lighter, much less burdened. And yet something was pricking at her heart, which was why Bhegai, Gogon and Bishnu, who were sleeping on platform no. 2, were jolted awake by her harsh wailing at dawn. Some of the hooch supplied by Charan that they had drunk with chicken drumsticks last night was still frothing in their bellies. It would continue to do what it was supposed to till it was expelled through the urinary tract. And so, the languorous haze still clung to their bodies. It would have been pleasant not to wake up so soon. However, they had no choice but to abandon their beauty sleep. This was no time for laziness, for an opportunity for making some cash was here, as the loud mourning signalled. And so they shook off their lethargy and got to their feet.
Everyone knew Jongol Poramanik was going to kick the bucket. He had ruined his liver himself with his constant drinking. Still, he had fought grimly with death for a full five and a half months even after the renowned doctor from KPC Hospital, who charged ten rupees per visit, had given up on him.
The first to abandon the comfortable bed on the platform was Gogon. He hustled the other two, ‘Get up, quick. We need to go at once. The fucker’s died finally, or that whore Aamodi wouldn’t be squealing like a pig. Come on, don’t waste time.’ The reference to a squealing pig wasn’t right, however, for the sound that the pigs made when slaughtered by the cleaners at KPC Hospital was far more grotesque. Unbearable. There was a tune, a rhythm, to Aamodi’s wailing. Just like music, crying had its own melody and beat, tempo and metre. It wouldn’t appeal to the heart unless these elements came together perfectly. Aamodi’s dialogue delivery was quite appropriate in this regard.
It was the rule to lament a near-one’s death. Otherwise, the soul could not rest in peace. Moreover, people said vicious things. ‘Ki niddoy maagi re mairi! The bitch is so heartless she didn’t shed a single tear when her man died.’ And so, Aamodi had flung herself to the floor, flailing her limbs as she wept helplessly, faithfully copying all the heartbreaking scenes she had seen in movies.
Jongol Poramanik was not the kind of person Aamodi should have been shedding tears for. It wasn’t just the fact that he used to beat her up on any pretext. After all, there was no house in the slum where a man didn’t beat his wife. The only exceptions were those men whose wives beat them. So Aamodi had accepted this. But what she couldn’t put up with was his womanising. There was no counting the number of times during their seven or eight years of married life that he had brought a woman into their shanty and taken her to bed with Aamodi watching. He would fetch someone from the station and throw his wife out. ‘Go sleep somewhere else, come back in the morning.’ That was when she had cursed him repeatedly. ‘Die, you bastard, die. I’m pledging a rupee and a quarter for Ma Shetala if only you die of cholera.’
On some nights, when he had passed out from drunkenness, Aamodi had even considered dragging him to the railway lines and dumping him there. No one would suspect anything, so many people were killed this way. An hour of weeping in the morning, and she’d be relieved of all the trouble.
Eventually, she hadn’t had to do it herself; God had listened to her prayers and taken on the responsibility. Aamodi was free now, except that she’d have to maintain social mores by crying and fainting once or twice, or else people would say terrible things.
Aamodi had known that the day for tears wasn’t too far away. Once the doctor had said there was nothing more to be done, she had begun to picture the whole thing in her head. The crying scene that had caught her fancy was from the play Behula’s Journey, where Behula wept buckets with her arms around Lakhinder after his death. But on thinking it over, she had decided that although the tune and dialogue were appealing and it worked on the stage, it would not fit in here. So she had been watching out for which of her neighbours could cry well enough to keep everyone engaged, paying careful attention when Ponchu khuro or Gopen or Hashi mashi from the rail bosti had died. It was paying off today. Anyone who heard her wails, accompanied by carefully curated excerpts from three different dialogues expressing grief, embellished by lines of her own, had to admit this was what mourning should be like. It was worth dying twice over if it could provoke such lamentation.
And so, Aamodi emitted another shriek, ‘Ogo paanonath, o my dalling, if this was what you had in mind, why didn’t you kill me first! Your absence has left me with a dead soul in a living body!’ Her neighbour Shudashi had captivated onlookers with the same words and cadences when she had become Ponchu Nayek’s freshly minted widow. Many still remembered her spectacular mourning.
Excerpted with permission from Imaan by Manoranjan Byapari, translated by Arunava Sinha, published by Eka, Westland.