Space By Juri Dutta
Just in front of the window of my house there is a nahar tree. It is not exactly a tree but a plant. Still I call it tree – I say to myself. It is not the time for the advent of spring; still I have seen new leaves growing in the tree – soft, tiny and reddish leaves. I want to touch them, taking them in my hand to feel their softness. I want to enjoy the smell of their relation with the earth to the hilt. Ah! What pleasure! Surprisingly this smell overwhelms me now and then. Time and again I can draw this smell to the core of my heart. Going alone to college, suddenly I got the smell on the footpath near the old building – the soily smell of raw mango. Unconsciously, there gathered in my tongue a saliva – sour or sweet or salty or a kind ofsticky substance – memory of childhood, nostalgia or a dream.
A dream or play – it would have been better if my staying in a well-maintained house 20 feet above the ground is a dream or play. Rishi can’t call it home, perhaps he doesn’t want to. He has himself decorated the costly oil painting brought from Kolkata on the wall of the drawing room. He brought a few nails and a hammer to keep the japi on the middle of the wall. Everyone asks about the crystal statue which he had specially ordered and has placed on the top of the front door. Still he says that this is a house; he can never bring himself to calling this a home. Sometimes I feel that our views are terribly contradictory. I thought of establishing a house with Rishi – a home with Rishi. It is not a material house of brick, stone and cement on a particular plot of land – on a personally possessed plot of land. I used to tell Rishi now and then that I would always like to live in a rented house where there would be diversities, different experiences of various atmospheres. It would be wonderful and exciting. Rishi answered with his natural gravity, “Every woman must or should have a sense of belonging and it’s really sad that this is unfortunately lacking in you.”
Rishi too had a dream, dream of a complete house - a house full of children, their parents and grandparents, a cozy house built on his own land in a way designed by him. Today I can establish a home everywhere. Rishi can’t. It has been three months since I came here leaving behind a house full of people with whom I had always lived. Now I don’t recall who offers the cup of morning tea to my brother. Neither have I remembered who answers my father’s hail, “Hey! Where are you?” Probably in the conscious and unconscious parts of a girl’s mind is situated some invisible power – the power to forget…the power to embrace strangers leaving behind the known and dear ones. They have the power to establish a home wherever they stay, wherever they are kept.
The other day I heard Rishi’s aunt talking to my mother-in-law, “It is good to see the girl adapting herself to the new house.” I need not sacrifice anything or accept pain to endear myself to the new house. Everything came naturally and spontaneously. Being wholly attached to the prayer house, kitchen, bedroom and verandah of Rishi’s parental house, I can separately establish a home of my own 20 feet above the ground. It might be just a rented house for Rishi, but a home of my dream for me. The concept of home in plural seems unnatural to Rishi, but not to me. Girls might have some unfathomable power and perhaps that’s the reason why I can relish both the smell of my mother’s chadar as well as the smell of the imported perfume given by Rishi.
Different smells have always disturbed me. Rishi teased me once, “You have the ability to smell like a dog.” Maybe it is strange to have such an ability. Perhaps that is the reason why I can still smell of soil, smell of dust after a heavy shower even when living 20 feet above ground, walking on the mosaic floor of my house. Rishi does not like to live above the ground on the upper storey of this building; he needs a piece of land to walk. He says, “Only in the dampness of the soil of a personally possessed land can you feel in tune with nature; where no power in the world can snatch away your feelings of oneness with the earth and the world.”
In the face of such tremendously overwhelming feelings the primitivism of man appears insignificant. Still, somewhere in the process of the illusive, mysterious counter-evolution of man there wakes up a wild animal in all of us – primitive, natural, pure and translucent –and beautiful. In the darkness –a pair of shining eyes – wild and primitive – trembling with passion – sweaty bodies – uncontrollable. Gradually a sticky material – sour or sweet or salty - Oh! What pleasure! What fulfillment! The ultimate fulfillment of life and the world – the most intimate of pleasures – and there is nothing else. The power in the face of which all matters of practical concerns dwindle into insignificance. But this feeling is transitory…a dream, reality or play.
Even when under the spell of the sticky smell I can feel its transitoriness with sorrow. Even at such moments Rishi can hold himself back. None of us have the weakness of being selfforgetful--- weakness or strength –a dream or play. With primitivism shorn of practicality man can retreat to the villages from towns - from villages to the jungles - from jungles to the caves - from the caves to the void – to nothingness where it is possible to be lost fully. It is a reverse process of evolution from the e-man to human being— from human being to monkey---and then to tiny atoms and molecules. I am told that the dream smells of the love of wild flowers – in Rishi’s words it is a matter of Wordsworthian spontaneity.
Rishi likes season flowers blooming in a planned manner. It seems to me like a love for the well-managed tea-plants in tea-gardens. A tea-garden is a fine place to be in for a couple of days but not for a lifetime.
One day I was walking with Rishi on the newly laid road which cuts across hills – the dusty smell of newly dug soil – an exciting, restless, uncontrollable mind. I was reclining against the high hill and viewing the vastness of the sky – and feeling the insignificance of man and human life in contrast to the eternal sky, moon, hills and rivers. What wonder!
Tearing asunder the limits of this ultra-reality, is it possible to have a state where we would no longer be overwhelmed by any kind of smell? Rishi does not answer this question. Even while returning to the primal state, pressing me against the hill and kissing repeatedly, he did not forget reality. Turning around to see if there was anyone coming even at such moments – the self-conscious man never loses himself. I get my answer there.
I am never upset about my sensitivity to smell. Far away from reality, dwelling in the pleasure world of dreams and fancy, playing with emotions, I suddenly wake up to reality. Just when I was about to be immersed in the smell of my mother’s fish curry, the whistle of the pressure cooker brought me back to reality. Just when I was lost in childhood memories of running around in the paddy fields of merbil, I noticed the blanket covering Rishi’s body slipping off. I covered him properly with it – natural, spontaneous reaction. Life’s like that – real, natural, varied, perhaps all encompassing.
There is a girl called Bhadoi near my parental house in the village. She didn’t go to the school; she used to work in our paddy fields. During those days I liked to go with her to the fields; today I no longer have that desire. Long after, I asked her once, “Bhadoi, aren’t you overwhelmed by the smell of mud in the fields?” She was stunned by my question. After a while she laughed at me. But I was not put to shame. In my sister’s words these are luxuries of the “intellectual”, just a means of passing time for idle people.
There is a particular pleasure in searching oneself in the midst of the dreams, fantasies, and existence of such emotions. This is something different from the pleasure of being in a big house among the loved circle of the near and dear ones. This is different from the pleasure of establishing a home with Rishi – than the pleasure of fulfillment of the material needs – a particular pleasure – a comfort – happiness and peace. Rishi understands it. I feel it. Everyone needs space. And everything needs space --- a well maintained, well disciplined house, an intimate relationship. One needs space for one’s existence, for preserving one’s energy – everywhere and in everything. The nahar tree just in front of my window, the vast sky just above my head, all offer me space. I find myself lost in various smells. In the reverse process of evolution I start my journey to the past and then again return to reality.
Nahar: a kind of tree
Japi: a traditional decorative item in the Assamese household
Merbil: proper noun for a paddy field
Juri Dutta is presently working as a Research Associate in the Centre for Assamese Studies, Tezpur University, Assam. She did her Post Graduation in English and in Assamese from Tezpur University and from Gauhati University respectively. She was awarded PhD from Rajiv Gandhi University in 2007 for her thesis on the novels of Lummer Dai and Yeshe Dorjee Thongchi. She has published articles, poems, short stories in English and Assamese in several leading magazines and journals. She has one collection of short stories published by Angelica Imprints, Guwahati and a book titled Ethnicity in the Fiction of Lummer Dai and Yeshe Dorjee Thongchi: A New Historicist Approach published by Adhyayan Publishers & Distributors, New Delhi to her credit. Her areas of interest include regional ethnic literature, comparative literature and translation studies.
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