The Intimate Mornings with Mamoni Baideo : Manjeet Barua

Or does it? Everyday, as I keep waiting for her governess to open the door, once the doorbell is pressed, I wonder if it isn’t the feel of relic that is enveloping the whole place. Yes, it feels so and when I sit inside, turning the pages of a magazine or a book listlessly, my eyes wander all over the ‘drawing room’ becoming more and more over the years into some static, motionless place for artifacts to live undisturbed. Paintings by Van Gogh, by Tagore, by others, and many of which are her own portraits, gifts collected from different parts of the world, antiques, photographs and pots and flower vases of different shapes and designs, everything stand quietly in some allocated positions. Is it like a museum? Probably. I can’t stop answering myself thus at times. But the very next moment, it would occur that what this atmosphere could possibly mean - a house like a museum? …Has life stopped for her then? … And soon, I would feel that my assumption has become a fact about her life and amidst all the awards and the artifacts that fill the room, this fact has become the most powerful presence of all in the space of the room. She is a famous writer. And like the paintings and the artifacts, she too has become another prized collection in the house. For me, it’s even more suffocating, suffocating to think that she too is only another artifact! And yet, it could well be my hallucination. I remember that too.

Early in the morning, the whole house is filled with the smell of burning incense sticks. There would be two in front of the bronze statue of Saraswati placed next to the ornamental sofa in the ‘drawing room’. The doors and windows shut tight, the entire atmosphere inside would feel smoky and aromatic. The thick maroon embroidered curtains would be partially open, and streaks of golden sunlight would sneak in, its brightness already mellowed while passing through the glass window panes. And it would be an utterly strange experience for me that one of the streaks of the sneaking sunlight would ever, at that point of time in the morning, fall on the feet of the bronze statue of the goddess, illuminating both the feet and the tiny heap of ash (from the burning incense sticks) that would accumulate at the feet of the goddess! What is that ash – of life turning lifeless, and whose life, mine or her’s?

Mamoni’s voice would float in amidst all of this. Everything is in order, the everyday sameness of the voice would announce to me. It would remind me of Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons, where Anna tells Bazarov that the rigour of daily order is important to prevent life from meandering. But that amounts to life becoming repetitive, Bazarov had protested. That’s precisely the backbone of life, was Anna’s quiet answer. To me, it has ever been a surprise, or more, a wonder that her voice would never fail to carry that sameness day after day, in tone, in pitch and in spirit. Where not to locate the order of sameness – in smile, in health, in gestures or in the topics of discussion? They were everywhere. Yes, there would spring inside me an admiration too for the sameness. But is it because things around my own life lack that stability, lacks any stability? Is it because of my desperate urge… wish to escape from the continuous torment of drift, of experiencing life being a haphazard collection of unknown sequences that creates that screen of admiration in my heart? How beguiling can life be! I live with this amazement that I derive a comfort out of her life, or out of an idea of her life that I have created and which I now perhaps believe to be true and that I despair and fear as well. What lies within, what lies inside her heart, do I not know of it then? … Frequently I have felt the pain of the thought that she perhaps is prodding me to ask and then only listen, just listen to her tale breaking loose, the long held waters of her heart breaking open and wash me over with it. The waters would be salty, never sweet. It would be a deluge and in it I shall never know her beginning or her end. Horizons would be lost forever.… And then, would it be the sameness once again, like stranded in the middle of an ocean, only water and water everywhere? … Ah! Why but the shadow of the idea never seems to part company! It feels like death.

Manjeet Baruah is a research scholar in Delhi University. His Ph.D. is on the sociology of aesthetics in modern Assamese fiction. Currently he is working (research/editorial) at Women's Studies & Development Centre, Delhi University. He has been closely associated with Indira Goswami for several years. He had translated the poems in the book Melodies & Guns, edited by Indira Goswami. His other publications include a collection of translated short stories Comedy of A Spark & Other Stories (Rupa & Co.), and short stories and articles in Indian Literature (Sahitya Akademi), Yatra, Women's Link and Social Action. He can be reached at manjeetbarua@gmail.com)