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libraryAfter reading this blog I was inspired. I was inspired to write again, to put aside my fears about criticism and failure and just write because I love it. My writing is mediocre at best so I know there will be critics. This woman explained what I felt, as a child, as an adult, extremely eloquently that she rightly deserved being ‘freshly pressed’

So here’s my offering. I have taken inspiration from my new surroundings but by no means is it wholly accurate. I hope you like it.

The Learned Lady of the Library

Mr Biswas walked leisurely along the red clay path of the well established and relatively verdant complex of Hiland Park. Frangipani blossom and white jasmine filled the early evening air with a sweet heady perfume that brought to mind an old sweetheart who wore flowers in her hair. His cotton-white Kurta, delicately embroidered with the traditional katha stitch of West Bengal, floated comfortably around him in the evening breeze.  The moon was full and rising luxioriously in a quickly darkening sky. Mr Biswas imagined himself in heaven.

Mr Biswas, the retired widower was on his way to one of his very favourite places; the Hiland Park Clubhouse Library. It was the one place he found occupation and solace after his wife’s death two years ago and now it held something more for Mr Biswas…at least, the promise of something more.

He ignored the sleeping street dogs that seemed to have increased in number recently and he ignored the flickering lampposts that stood guard in awkward angles after the Nor’westers hit the city the night before. They needed new bulbs but that did not matter. For now he only saw his destination.  

The Clubhouse loomed large before him, rising out of a makeshift moat. Its glass-fronted façade, with hundreds of rectangular eyes, seemed to question the ex-journalist; “are you ready for this?” they seemed to ask. The answer was a resounding, “Yes, I am!”

Briefly pausing to check the time on his phone, Mr Biswas ascended the wooden steps to the Clubhouse reception and made up his mind that he would take the stairs, rather than the lift to the 1st floor. He wasn’t that old, after all! On the way, he felt his stomach flutter, he wondered if it was indigestion, but concluded it was that mighty emotion, called Love. 

His wife had died of stomach cancer. It was heartbreaking to watch, to feel so helpless against all the pain and inevitability of it all. But when she was gone, although Pranay Biswas would never admit it to anyone, it was a huge relief. In his mind the suffering was finally ended, his wife’s and his own. In the early days of the marriage, Biswas was content but soon became frustrated. His wife was not his equal! She struggled to see the beauty of poetry and refused to read the English novels her husband plied her with. In Mr Biswas’ mind, his wife, although educated, was coarse and lacked taste! The last few years of their childless union was filled with nagging and resentment. Nothing he did pleased her. Nothing she did pleased him. They fought about the most mundane things and when they lay down at night a sleep filled, fumbled grope in the dark was the best they could hope for. In the sweltering heat of Kolkata, Pranay Biswas could find no warmth. 

On reaching the first floor, Mr Biswas checked his refection in one of the gigantic circular mirrors that hung upon the wall. What he saw satisfied him: A full head of hair, white like the cranes that stood on the riverbank, a pleasing angular face, still quite fair with a moderate yet appropriate number of wrinkles for a 64 year old and sharp, discerning eyes that missed nothing!

The double doors of the library opened outwards, automatically; a modern feature that delighted the patrons. To Mr Biswas, it seemed like the doors welcomed him, ready to embrace him, like a father is ready to embrace his daughter’s groom.

The butterflies in his stomach grew worse and his heart pounded painfully in his chest. He was giddy and was glad that the object of his affection could not see the beads of sweat forming on his brow.

He had rehearsed a strategy in his mind for approaching the Learned Lady of the Library (he did not know her name) but his mind went blank as soon as she appeared from behind the shelves titled Bengali Fiction. He quickly ducked behind the Modern Romance section and picked up a book. The lady did not seem to notice and continued to the reception desk to check-in the books that had been returned by other patrons. Mr Biswas cursed himself! What must this Learned Lady think of him? Modern Romance! Tagore would have been clichéd but at least it would have been cultured! He consoled himself with the thought that she may not have noticed.

He had seen the Lady a few times, at least, although always at a distance! He liked the way she seemed so shy when talking to the other staff. He was amazed with the way she just picked up the books and efficiently and effortlessly put them back on the shelves, barely glancing at their titles. He was staggered by the way she patiently scanned each book and their barcode with unspeakable grace but most of all, he knew, with all certainty, that this woman, this Learned Lady of the Library was his intellectual match. He just knew! She worked in a Library, after all!

Today, the Lady was dressed in a pretty pink churidar, fashioned out of cotton, lightly embroidered, very much like the kurta he was wearing. Of course they were made for each other! Her hair hung down her straight back, in a simple black plait. Her parting was free from the red vermillion that signified she might be married and it was impossible to guess her age although she was definitely somewhere between 45 and 55. But Love does not know numbers!

Biswas remembered his strategy and aimed straight for the English Poets section. He quickly found the book he was looking for; a collection of Love Poems by Lord Byron and found the page with the poem that seemed to best describe his dusky Lady, ‘She Walks in Beauty’.  He headed back to the reception desk and plonked his book on the counter.

“This is you,” Pranay whispered nervously to his Lady. They were alone. She looked blankly at the open page. She blushed. This obvious expression of coy acceptance made Biswas want to cover his angel’s face with kisses. He waited, though, as this was not the place.

She spoke, “Sorry, Sar, ami Angreji porte janina.”  I can’t read English.

Biswas was flummoxed.

But just to clarify, there came an impatient voice from right next to his Lady, “Pinky, golpo kore shomoi noshto na kore, tara tari, dui cup cha baana!” Instead of wasting your time chatting, quickly make two cups of tea!

The voice turned to Mr Biswas, “Sorry, if the maid was bothering you. Just this book?”

Devjani Bodepudi


Hiland Park, Kolkata