Recalling how her teenage years were infested with a variety of admirers, the writer winds up the third instalment of stories about her “lovers”.
The mighty Brahmaputra flowed close to our house. In fact, the city of Guwahati is situated on the banks of the river. On all sides, except one, the city is surrounded by a chain of hills. It is flanked by the Brahmaputra on the last side.
The view from any of the hilltops is spectacular. In those days, much of the city was covered by dense vegetation. It used to look spellbinding. The special tropical beauty of the city enchanted people. Often I used to stroll on the bank of the river along with my sister, and there were admirers even on the bank of the river!
The old river dock under the Ahoms had become a beautiful lake over the years. It is known as Dighalipukhuri (the long lake). It is a beautiful place for people to come out in the evenings and enjoy a walk. My sister and I used to frequent this place as well.
One evening, we found that a tall, handsome man was following us. The streetlights were already on and in the grim glow of the neon lamps, I saw his face. It felt as if he did not know how to smile. He was unaware of that art. His face appeared to me like that of the Shakespearean character Cassius (in Julius Caesar). The line attributed to him in the play, “that lean and hungry look”, also flashed in my mind.
Over the days, it became a regular practice for the man to follow both of us. One day, he came to me and, to my shock, handed me a copy of a Bengali book, Lekhakder Prem. I still have the book with me. What I remember vividly was his one line to me: “You don’t know how to die, but make other people die.” Ever since the day the line was uttered, I stopped visiting the lake altogether.
I remember another guy who came to teach me music and tried to find his way into my heart. He, too, finally left, driven away by one of my braver cousins.
Even in Cotton College, I had a few admirers. One of them, Debkumar Saikia, is still a good friend of mine. He is famous in the world of theatre in Assam today.
Our class used to face the Panbazar crossroads. It was an old room in an old building. There were desks and benches and they, too, were very old, the wood looking polished with over half a century of human touch.
I had taken honours in Assamese literature and took a subsidiary paper in Bengali. Ours was a small batch and in that small batch, we were the only two girls that year with that subject. Nirmali and I used to sit at the two corners of the same bench. Since it was a small class, we were introduced to each other in the presence of our teachers.
Of the teachers, I particularly remember the late Vinay Chowdhury and the late Hemanta Sarma. Both took special care of the students. In those days, teachers considered it a personal responsibility to ensure that their students become better people in the world.
My teachers knew that my father was the former principal of Cotton College. Therefore, for even the minutest mistake that I would make, they would make a reference to my father and say that I am not supposed to make such small mistakes! But there was only love and affection in their whole reference to my father.
About a week or so had passed since our classes began. One day, I saw a poem written on one side of the bench, the side on which I always sat. Nothing was written on the side where Nirmali sat. The poem was romantic and written for me, in my praise. I took out my handkerchief and rubbed it off. The next morning another poem on the bench greeted me when I took my seat. And once again, I took out my handkerchief and rubbed it off.
I felt too embarrassed to complain about it to my teachers and felt equally embarrassed to tell my friends about it. The whole thing went on for many days, and every day I would return home with a handkerchief stained with ink. The maid who washed our clothes finally told me to use a pen that didn’t leak!
After many days, I mustered the courage to tell one of my friends about the entire thing. He took it upon himself to find out those responsible for this activity. And to my surprise, a few days later, the result was there to be seen. Whoever was writing the poems stopped doing it! I asked my friend about the person(s) responsible, but he didn’t mention any names.
Time went by, and many decades later, I went to Cotton College in 2001 as a guest for its centenary celebrations. I also wrote several articles on my college experiences in the different publications that came out as part of its centenary programmes. In it, I mentioned about the episodes when “someone” wrote beautiful poems on my bench but whose identity had remained a secret.
Then, some days later, Debkumar Saikia wrote to me saying he still has some of the poems that he wrote on the bench decades ago for me! I was surprised. In fact, he sent me copies of some of them that were still with him. One of them was:
“I ain’t dead, my Beatrice!
Still, I walk through the storm
My heart emboldened
By the lanes around Cotton College, along the bank of Dighalipukhuri…
Dressed in my blue robe, I pace up and down
In the company…of the night…”