As she walked into the train compartment, she saw the gaps in between the bogies. Mrinalini often wondered what would happen if the connecting iron chains would disentangle and the compartment would lose its chain of continuity. As she stared at the ugly black soot-filled track below, she could see her life in those moments when it derailed from its original destination of familiarity.
Mornings in a train still remain her favourite hour to get to the steel wash basin, all the while praying a bridge doesn’t come in the middle of washing her face, making water spill all over her neat cotton dress. As she negotiated the timing of the compartment’s wobble and her clever manoeuvres to prevent unnecessary wetness, she was woken from her unheard thoughts.
The same old man who kept watching her in the compartment came and stood close to the window. He smiled at her as she blew out the water. He told her that you must be like the train, charting new territories and finding resting spots in between to see the changing colour of the sky and the changing landscape.
He said he was Amal. When Mrinalini told him her name, he said it was Tagore’s wife’s name. He told her of the huge Tagore household where Mrinalini lived forever pining for the love of her poet husband.
Mrinalini was only 12 years old when she was chosen to be the second wife in the illustrious Tagore household. She was not highly educated for the progressive Bengali aristocratic household yet she was a quick learner. Her intelligence was never noticed in the narrow shroud of her beauty. Tagore’s Mrinalini after 15 years of marriage wrote her first letter to her husband.
Now as the years have passed the train journey still remains etched in Mrinalini’s mind. She recalled the connection of Tagore’s women and her equal connection to all the beautiful things in her home, she was also one of those things.
Every time she watches a train from a distance what remains is the conversation between Amal and her. He held the strong iron handle as he alighted from the train and waved to her. She waved back to say goodbye. But the remnants of those piercing eyes into her own telling her the truth gets mixed with the loud banging of the tracks and her reality. It silences her yet the muffled scream remains.
As Mrinalini wore her Kaan Pasha which was the traditional undivided Bengal design, one of her favourites, the gold earring held the weight of Ma with her turbulent mutinies of finding herself in the cold hills of terror-stricken Shillong. There were no lockers those days. Ma had a traditional engraved wooden jewellery box. She kept most of her jewels in that box hidden below clothes in the cupboard. Mrinalini knew the hidden spot.
Ma looked beautiful with the Kaan Pasha in the flush of her youth. These traditional ear studs were part of the Shringar of a Bengali woman.
Mrinalini recalled Amal’s eyes. And she thought of her inherent nature of being free, fearless, quick of tongue and always ready to give back as good as she gets.
Mrinalini wore the Kaan Pasha and her Bindi and she knew she could never be the domesticated woman most men seek. She would be crazy to most people, as long as she remained beautiful, eloquent and cerebral.
That is the fate of most of them. How would she be different? The Kaan Pasha covered most of her ear. But the shrill loud voice of reckoning, the jewellery couldn’t withhold.