— while one may encounter many defeats, one must not be defeated…Maya Angelou
A photograph hung, three quarters of the height, on the west-wall, scrimmed with a mosaic of arbitrary patterns of damp-spots. The window in the south-wall, the most coveted in Kolkata, brings in the morning and evening Azaan every day. Except for an almirah (ornamented with chiseled floral pattern around the engraved mirror of Belgian glass) a pembroke table with a matching fauteuil and a king sized sleigh the room has no furniture. Everything that could not find a place in or on any of these three found a corner in the room. Kanai Karmokar has been staying in this room since he came to the city from his ancestral village. The story which brought him to staying in this room, is a long one and we can keep it adrift for another time. The photograph which hung on the west-wall is of a window in a fort or a mosque may be. It shows a net hanging at a right angle to the window’s plane. The dust and spider web, clasping on to the knots and the spaces in between, somehow captured an inverted image of the window. It appeared to him that there is another window hanging, lying flat on its back, except for that it’s not the real one. Kanai’s room has four ventilators right at the top of each wall. Two of them produce a somewhat eschereque mosaic of the of their filigree and diffused light creates slanting beams on the walls, with their lengths increasing as the sun moves through the day.
Kanai sits at the window all day, looking at the dense, busy alley which houses almost a hundred people on both sides. The railway, which is within five to six metres from the edge of the alley, gets its schedule of local trains running up and down. Kanai’s eyes would stay still on the asbestos trying to see them vibrate as
the trains would speed through the tracks. Some trains slow down from time to time as Kanai gasps as he sees people, even children, jumping down from the train and walking in to the alley, avoiding walking back an extra mile or two from the actual station. There is a fence made out of crisscrossed barbed wire, cushioned with Mehendi shrubs on the inside lining, on the other side of the tracks. That fence extends till the tall water tank from where, Kanai assumes, it takes a right turn. There is a housing complex beyond that fence with tall towers and fancy curved balconies, where occasionally men and women come either to hang their wet clothes or casually stand to catch a look of the alley of small asbestos-laden huts. The hedge fence has inconspicuous openings at one or two places. The people of the alley, most certainly with the knowledge of the administration body of the complex had made them for their convenience. For all the time, Kanai has known this place, he has never seen anyone objecting to those openings, made in the fence.
Mostly women and some men would cross the tracks by foot and walk straight through those openings, presumably for work inside the complex, at least that’s what Kanai thinks. Kanai has observed some elderly women in the afternoon picking up leaves (or shoots may be) from those hedges and bring back to their huts. They would dry them in the sun and take them inside to do some more things which those dried leaves. In the evening he would see a bowl of green pastes (most probably from those leaves) being put in to neatly rolled cones of dried milk bags. Some young men and women would take those cones and small plastic stools and go away every evening to some place, to do what, Kanai has no idea. He has not left the room in a long time. He often waited longer in the nights to see them coming home talking about the food and bakshish in some party like things; those young boys and girls would mention the word sangeet a few times. Some other days he would hear those boys talking about how many hands they did near the plaza. He could never understand the context.
Often he would see a man, whom he waits for, walking down towards his building with another man and a girl. The men and and the girls changed, although he now knows all the the different girls. They would be wearing bright coloured dresses, their lips and cheeks redder than normal, having an uncomfortable swag in their walks alongside those men and that man. These girls did not stay here, at least he never saw them in the morning. Few boys of that alley, hanging out near the tuck shop that sells paan and cigarette, often made strange sounds, somewhere between whistling and a mole’s screech, while those girls passed by them. The man, whom he waits for, often made gestures to them with his hands and fingers, which caused a mini riot of laughter, but that would be all.
Kanai can hear the footsteps on the staircase, every time. He counts till eleven, six times, and then eighteen more and he knows now that they have reached the door. He waits inside the door, ready, his fists clenched hard. He wants to throw the first punch, take that man by surprise. If he knocks him out, the other man and the girl would not dare to stay there any more and then Kanai would have all the time do whatever he wants with the man. He has scores to settle with him.
Kanai hears the door’s lock being turned, he is ready, wound up like a tiger, waiting to spring his punching fist out to the entering man. The door opens, the man reaches for the switch on the left wall and Kanai, with all his might, lands his punch on that man’s cheek. His fist passes through the face of that man like it is made of air. Like a possessed man, Kanai keeps throwing his hands and fists towards that man but he cannot touch him, his hands moving in and out of that man’s body like his body is made of nothing but air. Kanai shouts, screams with agony, cursing that man with choicest expletives, but he cannot land a hand on him. He tires out eventually and leans on to the wall unable to believe, that it happened again. He sees the man leaving with some money that the other man gives him. He can now hear the steps receding away and in his mind the counts start backwards matching almost when they came.
He turns his gaze on the bed now as he gets ready for another bout of fight. The man and the woman undresses, passing innuendos. Kanai knows what’s coming next, he has seen it many times before, yet he waits for them to get in bed for the obvious. The man uses all his animalish power to devour on the woman’s body, ignoring all her requests which turns from pleading to an exasperating groaning.
Kanai jumps on him from the back, trying to choke him from behind, but as always his hands pass through the man’s body. Kanai jumps around him, throwing punches and kicks, shouting, panting in between to catch his breath, but he couldn’t do a thing. After the act is done, the man gets up and leans on the headrest of the sleigh bed. Kanai, who has now retired to his fauteuil near the window, knows that the man will smoke a cigarette. The woman, after laying there bruised and ravaged for sometime, slowly cleans and gathers herself, dresses up and gets ready to leave.
Mouthing those similar words, which he was at the beginning, the man walks out of the room with the woman. Kanai knows, today as well, he failed. Sitting there beside the window, he watches the last local train slowing down to let the people of that alley jump out of it, as they would save a mile’s walk from the station. He will try all of this again, the next time. He must win, someday he will. He is not yet dead, at least that’s what he believes.