Life was good.
I had a benevolent boss at work and goddess Shasthi showed kindness upon me at home. The boss had given me a raise, and goddess Shasthi was generous in her blessings regarding additions to my family. Plus, I was the sole beneficiary to the family inheritance. Life could not be better. Prabhavati, my wife, on an average, has religiously been giving birth to one and half children every year as a result of which she succeeded in making me a father of six in just four years. She birthed twins twice.
Despite the rapid growth of the family, we did not feel we lacked anything. However, I soon became the victim of a foolery.
In the fifth year of our marriage, Prabhavati was pregnant as usual. Although the event was routine, it was not easy this time. Because, this time, she died. As was customary, she had gone to her father’s place in Shantipur for the birth. Though both my parents-in-law have long taken leave of this earth, my brother-in-law, Binod, was a medical doctor and Prabha felt reassured going there.
A letter from Binod stated—
“…Because of a sudden onset of eclampsia, Didi passed away in just three to four hours. There wasn’t time to notify you. There were problems with her kidney. Shej-di has taken the children to Sambalpur. You might have received her letter...”Indeed I did. She wrote--
“…What can you do brother? It is all fate. Why don’t you let your children stay with me for a few days? Since I am childless, I can easily look after them. The children are doing well; there is no need to worry.”
Confounded by the news, I applied for leave. As luck would have it, my boss had been transferred and my leave request was denied.
Two months later.
I received another letter from my sister-in-law from Sambalpur. After a myriad of tidbits, she wrote--
"The way she passed, Prabha must have been a devoted wife and a blessed person. She is survived by a vibrant family with a husband and children. However, that said, you ought not to let the family fall apart. It is not the right thing to do. If I may suggest— why don’t you remarry? There is a prospective bride here, quite plump and pretty; if you wish I can initiate the proposal. The girl is to my liking. I think you would like her too.” etc... etc..
After thinking for seven days, and, finishing one entire can of tea and five tins of cigarettes, I succeeded in finding a solution to this classic problem. The solution was not an unusual one.
Part of the reply to my sister-in-law—
“…I have no wish to marry again. I am constantly reminded of Prabha. But family duties are unrelenting; regardless of my wishes. Samsar goes on at its own pace. Being emotional may be justified, but not rational under the circumstances. Besides, according to our scriptures “… maa phaleshu kadachana”. And since you all feel that I should marry again; it is only fair to try once more for the sake of the family. Likes and dislikes in a second marriage? It is sufficient that you like the girl….”
The day of the wedding drew closer. It was to be in Sambalpur. Shej-di was a wise woman. She informed me—“I have sent the children away to Bor-di’s at Lahore. It does not behoove the boys to see a father’s wedding.” I breathed a sigh of relief.
I implored my new boss for a week of leave. Shortly thereafter, I started for the event— alone! How could I share the news of this wedding with anyone! On further reflection, I shaved off my moustache. I am rather dark, and overweight, and on top of that to flaunt my salt and pepper moustache did not seem proper.
The wedding ceremony.
...This veiled girl clothed in the silk bridal attire is to become my wife! Once, I had seen Prabha dressed just like this. Where has she gone? And today another one has come to take her place. I wonder what the state of her “kidney” is!! Various thoughts crossed my mind. Prabha’s face kept appearing before me. Wonder what the children are up to at this moment? Does the soul persist after death? This girl is of considerable figure— sitting very tensely— with bowed head! Hmm, if Prabha’s atman … (Grihanmi, grihanmi..)
As per the rituals, the ceremony was running its course. During Shubho dristi the girl would not lift her veil.
Shej-di commented— “Very shy”. In the bridal chamber too, I overheard— “very shy!” Wrapping and covering herself from head to toe, she turned away and lay on her side. I too slept. Shej-di did not encourage a crowd to gather. Further, the wedding not being the first, people seemed not as eager to celebrate. The girl had no one to call her own. So, Shej-di participated on behalf of the bride’s family as well. The wedding was a lack-luster one.
The actual excitement occurred on the Phul Sojja night.
With hope and apprehension, I entered the room. And there I saw...all six of my children. And holding a newborn on her lap, Prabha seated on the bed! Was I dreaming?
Prabha muttered—“Darn, the victory is Shej-di’s!”
I asked - “What do you mean?”
Prabha countered— “What do I mean?” It had been an awful lot of pain during labor this time. While in pain, I had blurted out— “If I die, it would be very hard on him”. Shej-di had retorted— “Rubbish. Barely three months would pass, before he marries again!” I protested—“He would never do that”. So, a bet was set. The plan was conspired by Shej-di and Binod. I have been living in Shantipur all this time. I arrived just this evening and realized that it has indeed been Shej-di’s victory! The dwarfish lad from the neighborhood was dressed up as the bride. And yes, now you owe Shej-di hundred rupees, since I have lost the bet. Shame on you guys! And by the way, what made you chop off your moustache?”
My state was—indescribable.
Early next morning, whatever was owed to Shej-di was settled. Now, if only the moustache would grow back!
Didi, Bor-di, Shej-di—Didi is elder sister, often abbreviated to -di when added to a name or rank; thus Bor-di is eldest sister; Shej-di is the third in rank, etc.
Samsar—the eternal cycle of life
Shubho dristi—This is a moment in Bengali Hindu wedding where the Bride and Groom see each other. This moment is called Shubho Drishti (auspicious glance)
Phul Sojja—Literally, flower-bed. This is when the close friends, siblings of the groom, decorate with flowers the bed and the bedroom of the new couple, who spend their first night together after the marriage.
“… maa phaleshu kadachana”— From the Gita, which means "Thy business is only with the action, never with its fruits."
“Grihanmi..”—Sanskrit mantra used during the wedding ceremony.
The original story Adwitiya (অদ্বিতীয়া) by "Bonophul" is included in বনফুলের শ্রেষ্ঠ গল্প ('Best stories of Bonophul') (Banishilpa, Kolkata).