The Thing With Childhood Love

This is Chapter 25 of The Romantics of College Street, a serial novel by Devapriya Roy

By Devapriya Roy
  • Published 24.11.18, 10:18 PM
  • Updated 24.11.18, 10:40 PM
  • 5 mins read
  •  
Illustration: Suman Choudhury

Recap: Shaarani Sen declines Ronny’s request to play Abala Bose and Lata makes a fragile peace with Manjulika, who warns Nimki not to bring up Ronny in future. And on their way back from Ghosh Mansion, Aaduri gives Hem the lowdown on Lata and Ronny.

Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, arguably the greatest exponent of relationships in literary Bengal, had written in Devdas that childhood love was, for all its intensity, ultimately cursed. It seldom led to happily ever-afters.

“But we are both over 18, Kakimoni,” Lata had replied, softly, suddenly maudlin even though she found the possibility that what they had — that perfect, fragrant, sunset-coloured thing — might be poisoned to be highly remote. She’d buried her nose in the pink pashmina shawl she had stolen that season from Manjulika’s almirah.

When she’d lifted her head, she saw Kakimoni smiling. “Whaaat?” she’d said, and Kakimoni shucked her chin. “That pink is perfect for people newly in love,” she’d laughed. “You are right, it doesn’t apply to those who are not children.” But Kakimoni said that tartly, raising her eyes in the direction of the verandah where Ronny was bickering with Molly over the carrom board, much like a minor. “We’ll find out, won’t we?” she said, “Whether you were children or adults!”

Kakimoni would then heave herself from the bed and go out to their little kitchen, carved out of a nook where a tertiary stairway had been boarded up — the Ghoshes had all divided up their kitchens by then — in order to make them scrambled egg sandwiches with cheese. And Lata would drag herself out of bed and curl up in one of the Bombay fornicators kept outside on the verandah (neither she nor Ronny knew the term then), five of them in a line, and impatiently wait for Ronny to stop playing carrom and revise economics with her. It’s he who needs the revision more, she would huff. But the sight of him and Molly wrapt in play also made for a pleasant picture. Once, unknown to Ronny, she had snuck his camera out of his bag and taken pictures of them.

Where are those pictures? she wonders. Hadn’t Ronny framed one and given it to her?

When they’d broken up, she’d told Kakimoni bitterly, on a weekend she was home with dark circles under her eyes, “You were right. Childhood love is poisoned.”

“Not me,” Kakimoni had replied sadly, enveloping her in a hug, “Sarat-babu.”

***

The Bombay fornicators are long gone.

Lata stands now where they used to be lined up and watches as the lights over the courtyard come on. It was Ghosh Mansion all this while; now, in the blink of an eye, it is transformed from a decaying house in a decaying neighbourhood into an unfamiliar place, a new continent, one where happiness and success and glory are all a handspan away for the taking.

After Lata’d taken charge of the Molly-AJ wedding, along with the army Nimki had summoned from the massive contacts list on her phone, Ghosh Mansion had suddenly come alive in the last two days. Given the paucity of time, the rooms on the ground floor were all locked up for the evening in lieu of being cleaned (Lata kept a roster of the keys and promised the various owners of said rooms that it was a temporary matter). The corridor and the courtyard leading to the naach ghar were scrubbed clean. “Not even a speck of dust should be visible to the Marwaris,” Nimki was heard shouting every 10 minutes or so, “Molly’s mother-in-law has OCD and we better live up to her standards of cleanliness. In any case, Molly doesn’t know any housework. If they see dirty corridors here, they will always link the two. FOR THE REST OF HER LIFE.” Lata had also decided that since there was no time to get the walls painted, a major red herring was required. She cajoled the electrician to create a canopy of twinkling lights over the courtyard.

The effect, Lata now sees, feeling quite pleased with herself, is magical.

Molly steps out of Kakimoni’s bedroom in her engagement outfit and sighs at the lights. She wears a white chanderi full skirt trimmed beautifully in gold, paired with a post-box red choli. Much to her mother’s unhappiness, she’s refused to wear anything around her neck but the plain gold choker that Manjulika and Lata had given her from Manjulika’s own collection and a pair of gold danglers that had been their great-grandmother’s.

Lata looks critically at Molly, straightens her tikli — the sole item from her parents’ trousseau — and then, gently kisses her cheek.

“I don’t know what I’d have done without you,” Molly murmurs into her hair.

“I’m glad I am here. And I hope you and AJ will come to London and stay with me so I can dispense jamai aador and luchis like a grown-up Ghosh.”

Molly squeezed her hands. Boro Jethi’s gold bracelet, studded with pearls and rubies, glittered. It had been a pair that, Lata knew, was given to Jethima, the eldest daughter-in-law, by their grandmother, and Jethima had given her one at her wedding, reserving the other for Molly. “What about Goopy’s bride?” Manjulika had said to Jethima then. “Arre baba,” Jethima had replied conspiratorially, “Goopy’s wife will get a lot!”

“I miss Goopy,” Molly said.

“I was just thinking about him!” Lata exclaimed, “Anyway, now listen, Bobby’s just texted me. They are about 15 minutes away. I think you should go now and sit in the throne room. Guests have arrived. Where’s the entourage?”

Almost as though they’d heard her, Molly’s girlfriends, the old ones from school and college and the new ones from Berlin, all trooped out of her room, where they’d been getting ready. Their individual beauty enhanced by the collective glamour, the girls held themselves erect and frowned in concentration, speaking to each other in code. Lata did not miss a single detail of this pageantry: the wisps of hair slipping out of elaborate hairdos, the silken saris curving and catching at unaccustomed feet. They walked up to the balustrade awkwardly and then, finally finding their stride in their saris, followed Molly down the elaborate staircase, where ancestors in gilt frames looked down at them approvingly.

Lata took pictures on her phone, waving the girls away, exhorting them to mind the way. A few minutes later, as they crossed the courtyard, carefully carefully, doddering on their high heels, saris and lehngas bunched up so that their calves were briefly visible, the lights fell on their youthful faces and covered them with stardust.

From upstairs, in her pink-yellow tussore sari, Lata watched them and marvelled at the fierce brevity of childhood and youth.

Now it was here. Alive and flickering in the stack of Mills and Boon novels under her bed, clattering upon the carrom board, surfacing in the large cupboards in the store room which were perfect for stolen kisses and the third-floor terrace which was perfect for horrible fights.

And now it was gone.

***

First came the ashirbad and then the ring ceremony. The Jaiswals and the Ghoshes and the Germans and the assorted others all mingled happily, eating the delicious (if vegetarian) hors d’oeuvres and drinking gallons of Blue Lagoon.

As regards the food, Boro Jethu had firmly put his feet down. At the Oberoi, they could serve whatever mishmash modern cuisine they wanted to, but at home, it would be old-fashioned comfort food. It was a gargantuan tragedy that the affair had to be made vegetarian. Yes, there would be piles of motorshutir kochuri with stuffed aloor dom and chholar dal with coconut bits. Yes, the old thakurs would whip up family secrets that would never ever be revealed to the Jaiswals. And yes, there would be five kinds of savoury fries, excluding mochar chop and five kinds of mishti, excluding doi. No chatter about calories would be entertained. No dahi vada, golgappa or that sort of rubbish would be served. They were the Ghoshes after all. And there was no question of serving any kind of fancy salad with imported leaves, olive oil and vinegar — only the time-honoured slices of cucumber, tomato and onion on a plate, along with mustard and mayonnaise.

Lata had escaped the vice grip of relatives, who had far too many questions than she could handle and whose comments about how slim her waist still was and how expensive her sari looked were all lined with a certain malice. She now stood in a corner and exchanged notes about the next day with a surly Bobby. (Who looked smoky-eyed and bewitching in a black chikankari anarkali set with mukaish work on it.)

“Who’s that?” Bobby asked, suddenly interested in a man who had walked up to Nimki and had clasped her hands in his. He wore a beautifully tailored suit, in charcoal grey, and suddenly Lata found herself looking away.

(To be continued)

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