Lady Chatterjee’s Lover

Quietly and efficiently I have killed all your lovers Utpal. Now it does not matter whether you are with me or with Francesca.

As I opened the door to your place, Utpal, I could smell the sweat of your body. The first time we came close to each other in this ground floor apartment of yours at Manicktola. I was a girl from south Calcutta and I was quite in awe of this strange apartment that you lived in. The building was probably a hundred years old, and different sections of it had been built at different points in time and therefore the house had an awkward but magical shape. The house belonged to your ancestral family but now only you stayed here, as everyone else was either dead or somewhere else. There were eleven rooms in the house but nine of them were locked up and in various forms of disrepair. Your portion consisted of two rooms, a kitchen, a verandah cum dining space, an old fashioned toilet and a small terrace, an uthon as it is called. I grew up in a multi-storied apartment complex in South Calcutta near the Dhakuria lake and for me there was something wonderfully romantic about this dilapidated building where you first kissed me.

You were shy to show me your frail little body but we soon became comfortable in each other’s embrace, in the warmth of each other’s caress. “Are there ghosts in this house?” I had asked you and you had said that there were plenty of them and you will introduce me to them if I married you. We got married and both of us became ghosts Utpal. We lost the spontaneity of our romance, we lost the thrill of meeting in strange places, we became over familiar to each other within a couple of years. We slept with each other but grew more and more disinterested in each other. I slowly but surely came to be familiar with each and every hair on your body, you could predict every word I was about to utter. What happened to those days of you and I waiting for the cinema hall to go dark, what happened to the days when we used to sit for hours in the Maidan, what happened to the days when you and I used to fight over who is going to read the new book first? What happened to your lazy smile, your forgetfulness, your dream of becoming a perfect nobody? I am sitting in your study now, Utpal. That place where you first told me that you are in love with me and asked me for my opinion. I laughed and said you must be joking. You only love your books. This room full of books is what matters to you. In your dreams each day you have sex with your books. How can you be in love with a mortal human being when you have lovers all over the walls of this room? You lighted a cigarette and smiled. You didn’t know what to say. Then you said that all your lovers have made you what you are and that creation wants only me. I looked at you and said, “Can you give up all these books for my sake?” Then I could no more continue the stupid talk and hugged you, and gave you a deep kiss and said that yes, I love you.

I felt so happy that night. I went to sleep but could not. I tried reading a book but I could not. I tried watching television but failed. I thought of calling my friends, but resisted. I felt I was floating in air. As if I was on ganja. Really, I was surprised with myself to some extent. A man has said that he loves me and I was feeling elated? Really? Wasn’t this the most common thing to happen at that age? But Utpal, I tell you, that night I became something like one of those silly Bollywood heroines who burst into songs. I wish I could. I wish I could sing. I floated up. Wherever I turned I could only see your face. I could feel that my life has changed. For that night, for that night Utpal, it was like being on top of the world. Yes, that cliché is the truth. And here I am, in that same study. The lights are off, but there is some light coming in through the hole in the window and I can see the shadows of your books. Yes, those Russian editions of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky and Maxim Gorky. The penguin paperbacks. The complete Sherlock Holmes. Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Dracula by Bram Stoker. Complete works of Edgar Allan Poe. The Satyajit Ray books. The Bibhutibhusan Rachanvali. Your favourite Nabarun Bhattacharya books. Yes, they are all there. Your lovers.

A year ago you gave the key to your strange house and said that you would like me to look after your lovers. You were going away to the US with a job in tech company trying to be responsible, building the financial muscle of our relationship. Only a year, you said, you will be back soon and with your experience abroad you will be able to get you a good job in India. Then I would be able to do my PhD peacefully. You sounded different. Your smile was gone, your casual shirt was replaced by formal wear, you shaved your beard to make yourself look like a corporate official. You said these are just actors costumes, at heart you are Lady Chatterjee’s Lover. You laughed, you kissed me, you buried your head in my breasts. You charmed my parents with your responsible talk about practical side of life as well as impressing them with your knowledge of literature. Baba was particularly impressed by your range of reading on Bengali literature, not just the classics but also pulp detective fiction such as those written by Swapankumar and Panchkari De. I heard my parents talking to themselves that at last their daughter has managed to find the right man. Sensitive, responsible, respectful, financially stable. The right person who will be able to manage their moody and mercurial daughter.

Then you left Utpal. You left to become financially stable and got struck by cupid a little too quickly. Francesca from Italy. You pretended before me, you could not realize what happened, you felt lonely, you wish you could love us both, you are so sorry that you have broken the trust of my parents, you wished me luck, you hoped that we shall mutually divorce and remain best of friends. Yes, of course Utpal, we shall remain best of friends. But before that I have one small task to complete and hence here I am. I am putting all your favourite books in the courtyard, the uthon. Your lovers. Not me, not Francesca, your true lovers. They are all neatly stacked in the courtyard, and here I am pouring kerosene on them. All wet now, Utpal. And now I am lighting the match and I am putting them on fire. Your lovers Utpal, they are slowly burning, right here, right in front of me. The papers and the words in them are slowly crumbling, getting twisted and turning black. They are gone now, only ashes left, a few torn half-burnt pages here there.

Quietly and efficiently I have killed all your lovers Utpal. Now it does not matter whether you are with me or with Francesca. I have collected the photos in my mobile, the entire sequence of events, how your lovers slowly burnt into ashes. I shall be sending them to you now. I hope Francesca will be able to look after you when you will start howling in grief. And, I, assure you a smooth mutual divorce.

Debraj Bhattacharya is a Kolkata-based author. He has earlier edited a volume of essays, Of Matters Modern (2008) and written a monograph, Exploring Marxist Bengal (2016). This story is from his first collection of short stories “Tales from the Margin” now available to buy from Amazon, Flipkart and Barnes and Noble

Artwork by Shamya Dasgupta

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