Gajja Gobinda Sarkar had many dreams in his life. When he was young and studying in school he wished to become a doctor like his uncles, Dinanath and Prananath Sarkar. But as years passed by he found numbers and arithmetic to be disconcerting puzzles that he couldn’t solve . They appeared in his dreams as soldiers armed with swords and guns fighting a gruesome battle which he eventually lost. He couldn’t progress beyond lighting a kerosene lamp in his chemical endeavors ; switching on an electric bell or a bulb in his physical pursuits and dissecting a frog or a cockroach to see what lay as entrails in his zoological quests. Disheartened by fate’s cruel blow but not totally broken by his failures he embarked on a new mission to become a teacher. His father, Gopal Gobinda Sarkar was the headmaster of a Boys’ School in his locality. Gajja witnessed with awe the command and respect he enjoyed over all the students and teachers alike in his school and thus fantasized to be like him. With great trepidation he waited for his board exams results to be declared. But here also ill luck followed him and his marks fell much below his expectations. He took admission in a college to earn a bachelor’s degree in arts. He wasn’t just a typical Indian girl who could be married off and so needn’t worry about building a career to feed his family. A respectable job which promised security and a decent pay wasn’t only hard to find but also required good grades,hard work and intelligence in this competitive age. At this very critical juncture of his life , Gajja burnt his midnight oil and walked miles,hither and thither; wearing out the soles of his shoes till he finally secured a job as a clerk in a government run office . This job gave him a feeling of a longed peace and security.
“Gajja is already thirty years old now and has accumulated a substantial amount of money in his bank to see him through life. Its high-time he got married and started a family . I want to see the faces of my grandchildren before I die,” said his mother Sarada one day.
The Sarkar’s House was bedecked with colorful lights,festoons and flowers on the eve of Gajja’s wedding day. A grand pandal was erected on the terrace of the house where the guests were to be fed and a live band was also hired to play music.Relatives and friends assembled from everywhere to participate in the joyous occasion and bless the couple. Indubala blushed and smiled demurely as his sister-in -laws and brother-in- laws joked and made mischief with her and Gajja .
As years passed by they were blessed with a daughter and a son; Gauri and Gautam. Gajja had by now grown a big belly and walked with a languorous stride , swaggering from side to side resembling an elephant, indicative of a man who led a laid-back and content life without great aspirations.
Soudamini and Alokananda Gajja’s sisters were both married;settled in life and busy raising and looking after their respective families . Dinanath had shifted with his family to their newly constructed house at Belgachia and soon Prananath followed suit by relocating to Kalyani. Only Gopal Gobinda continued to live in their ancestral home with his family and parents . They had a large drawing room in which at one corner was a divan bed. After returning from office every evening Gajja would freshen up, change into his pyjamas and kurta; collapse on the bed lazing till he had to get up for his dinner and finally retire to his bedroom for the night. In- between this period his wife would serve him tea and snacks as he leafed through the daily newspaper lying on his tummy with a takia (dumpy pillow) clutched between his arms.He would eventually turn around and lie on his side to watch television for some-while or just doze off to sleep. This formed his daily routine.In the morning he occasionally ventured out to the local bazaar to buy vegetables and other edibles .Then with utmost reluctance and displeasure he bathed and got ready for office.
Gajja was an indolent man who loved to live a relaxed life without much physical exertion . Blessed with an active and obedient wife who looked after all his needs and requirements he was pushed further into a life of leisure.
” What do you feel Gautam, should I attend office today?” he used to often ask his son who was preparing to go to school. This was a common question he occasionally put before all seeking a hint of disapproval as support from them.
Gautam grew up to be a bright boy and in college he was popular . He had a dedicated circle of friends who used to assemble at his home for studies, chatting and other recreational activities. Gajja became a target of their silent amusement. They nicknamed him “a living statute” as they always found him lazing on the divan in the living room whenever they visited their house.
” How many steps does uncle walk in a day ? ” they asked Gautam laughingly. “We have never seen him walk and are curious to know,” they added. Gautam joined in the fun as he was used to his father’s idiosyncrasies.
Soon various ailments took over his body. He was riddled with diabetes , arthritis , high blood pressure and heart disease. These ailments gave him more reasons than before to be pampered and slothful making him crib and complain of ill health as a pretext to the slightest sign of dis-rest and activity on his part.
After his superannuation from work he was seldom found outside his house . Indubala supervised over all his official dealings like going to the bank and post office .Only in rare occasions like attending a close relative’s wedding was he persuaded to set foot beyond his own periphery. He would panic and fall sick many times before the specific day of the journey. In his tension he frequently invaded the toilet. Sitting amidst hordes of people , reveling time was an act which neither amused nor excited him. With each proceeding day his outings which were already rare declined further making him a willing recluse at home.
During the festive season when his sisters came visiting they would sit around him and chat.Their discussions mainly revolved around their health and the diseases they suffered. Gajja as always complained about his failing health and pronounced each disease he suffered as if they were all ornaments , or medals that as appendages he held in his body. His sisters listened to him sympathetically and then recounted their own sicknesses and agonies . Meanwhile their children would listen to their parent’s complaints and make fun of their morbid fascination for illness.
Routine monthly check-ups to the doctor was the only outing Gajja looked forward to eagerly.
” Tell me Mr. Sarkar,how do you feel today?” the doctor asked as a procedure .
Gajja in great details would recall his discomforts mentioning every twinge he suffered in his chest, stomach or back; every pain he felt in his joints and toes. He followed all the instructions that the doctor gave in terms of tests or medicines but would cleverly evade the physical activities he was prescribed.
He was habituated to a peaceful and comfortable existence and any foreseen disruption of his interests would irk his displeasure.
Sometimes Gajja would fall really ill . Bits of dizziness would attack him making him feel breathless and listless and in other times he would call upon sickness.
” I am not feeling well. I won’t last this season.” was a common phrase he mouthed often. He sought attention by such utterances and his need for it grew acute with time. He began to loathe the presence of outsiders at home which made him feel uncomfortable as it broke the rhythm of his phlegmatic existence.Even when his married daughters came visiting with their children he would get fretful after sometime and crop up with various excuses of fatigue and exhaustion thereby gradually alienating all.It wasn’t that he didn’t love his grandchildren but his need for peace, space and solitude was such that all other things became secondary. His wife and servant’s presence at every beck and call; his daily cups of tea and snacks ; his oil massage before his bath ; his timely lunch prepared according to his tastes , thereafter his bowl of fruit salad followed by dinner made him a man of extravagance in his small world and anything that disrupted it wasn’t welcomed for long.
All said and done ; Gajja lived a long life. His son, Gautam had tried to cure his father’s obsession for illness by diverting his interests elsewhere . In his youth ,Gajja had written a couple of short stories and articles for his office magazine which were quite commendable. He tried to harness his father’s latent talent and potential by praising him. Once when Gautam’s father-in-law had come to visit them Gajja had narrated at length certain incidents which occurred in his childhood and youth . They were interesting.
” Sarkar Babu , please write about all these things in a diary so that your grandchildren can enjoy them later in life and remember you fondly” he had argued.
Handed with paper and pen Gajja started writing . He could sustain his interest hardly for a week after which he fell back again to his customary habits. Years of bad practice and neglect had turned him virtually into a feeble minded lethargic man.
Everybody had become accustomed to Gajja’s constant nagging and complaints of ill health.They started to take him lightly as for the last thirty years they had been listening to the same old things .
Once he had become seriously ill but no one seemed to give importance to his constant bickering and complaints . As days progressed he faced difficulties in getting up from his bed and was having breathing problems. It was then that his family got alarmed . He was admitted to a hospital and kept in the ICU . Gradually he started recuperating. His family,friends and relatives came to see him regularly .With so much attention he felt important . A smile flickered over his pale face as he thought,
“Gajja you have made it , yet again.”