During world war II, It is an October morning of 1943. Shaholi Das is preparing to leave for her office, she leaves in a house which she rented. It is an old Bengali house. A wooden clock hung on the wall near a wooden switchboard which has black bakelite switches and its showing 0630 hours. Steaming coffee is placed upon a wooden cabinet which has lots of drawers. She is getting dressed, puffed hairs bisecting her head, fatty face with a chubby body, wearing a white saare which has a golden border, large red bindi on the forehead. Every feature of her face is molded with perfection, spotless face. Her house is on the corner of the street. The house turns as the street turns, which gives the house facade a round appearance.
As she gets down, she meets her landlady Durga. She wishes Durga aunty a good morning, Durga aunty wishes her back. Durga aunty is 50 years old widow her husband was in the British Indian Army, died in world war I. She is watering her plants likewise she does it daily at this time. Shaholi called a hand-pulled rickshaw-wala, she told him the destination. After 15 minutes she gets down at the army office.
She step into the office, letters are being fed into the office. There is a mix smell of paper and ink, the sound of old pre-independence era fans running. It is cacophony, the noise of people yelling, a continuous humming sound of people reading letters in low voice feels like thousand of bees are passing by. The great thing about this place is that there is orientation in such disorientation. She takes her seat and starts reading. She flows along with the humming sound and becomes part of the mess.
Her work is simple just to read the letters of soldiers who are writing to their family and friends. This office is not only an army headquarters but also a filtering point to check no soldier is passing any classified information. She read hundreds of letters every day. Every person inside that office is doing the same thing, each person is allotted a particular section of the soldiers, they only filter the letters coming from that section of the soldiers. She waits for a particular letter from a soldier. He always writes to his mother and she read his letter with full compassion, interest, and feeling. She started developing unintentional, inevitable feelings for that soldier.
After a few letters, she could lay her hands on the letter for which she was craving for.
The envelope of the letter reads.
Anit Sharma then Address”
“From Lieutenant Sumit Sharma Army office than someplace”
Inside the letter
“Hey maa, there is dryness in the air winter has started. The war at the peak, orders can come anytime. I would be honored to die for my country but we are shredding our blood for somebody else war and motherland. I want to leave the job and want to be a disciple of the Gandhi Ji and be with you. The food is disgusting, you remember I don’t use to like the food you cook but now I can give away anything for that food. I have a good company, not all are Bengali but that’s is okay.
Letters kept flooding to and fro from mother and son. Shaholi kept imagining about Sumit, about his appearance. The relationship develops in Shaholi’s imagination and as days roll on the relationship keeps getting firm. She is already with Sumit in her imagination. She imagines him little dark, tall, innocent, and rawness drip from his face. His voice has the attitude of the army but also has warmth when he talks to his mother.
After a few months.
A letter was received from Sumit’s mother, but it wasn’t from his mother but the letter is about his mother. His mother lost the battle against TB. this letter is from his uncle and asked to return as soon as possible. By the time this letter is received the cremation is done.
Shaholi’s senior advised her not to pass the letter further as the war is on its pinnacle. She thought if stops coming suddenly Sumit will automatically anticipate the glitch. So she decides to write a letter to Sumit on his mother’s behalf. She is writing to him as his mother but the words and feelings are coming out of her. Her heart is pounding as if it will come out of her chest, it is pumping triple the amount of blood it usually pumps. Her hands are shaking, she is sweating all over, she knows that she is doing wrong. He will eventually get to know the truth, if not today than tomorrow. Her love will be finished before it starts.
So she decided to write something so that they could meet. So she writes that his mother has found a bride for him and he has to marry her and she is in the same city where he is, so she wants him to meet her and Shaholi also mentioned the phone number.
Now, what! The irresistible and endless wait for his call and letter. After a weak, while Shaholi thinking about him, her phone comes to life and ring, and as she picks up the receiver, a voice full of army attitude and a bit of humbleness comes out of the speaker.
“Is this Shaholi Das?” says Sumit.
“Yes!” says Shaholi knowing already who is speaking.
Her heart pumping with full throttle, shaking hands, and the receiver slipping off her hand because excessive sweating, as a result, she holding the receiver with both hands.
“My mother Mrs. Anita Sharma told me to meet you. I hope if you know the reason,” says Sumit.
“Yeah sure, I know why so,” she says with controlling modulation in her voice due to anxiety, they both agree on a commonplace to meet and the time.
Shaholi arrives at the place, where they supposed to meet. It is an English café. After a few minutes, she saw a man little dark, tall, innocence and rawness dripping off his face. She stretched her hand straight as children do when they want to answer first in the class. She calls him in her desperation. He comes to her and in a highly polite manner ask her
“Yes,” she replies.
There is a sudden change in the expression of her as she realized the reality. She is here to confess the truth of his mother’s death and the mistake that she committed. He is here to see his maybe bride that his mother has chosen for him. She suddenly comes to life as Sumit calls her. The café is full of people, everyone talking to their companion without bothering about the world around them, the waiter uttering the menu and order to other customers, the sound of traffic outside, they decided to go somewhere quiet.
After walking for while they reach a garden consequently they take a seat on a bench.
“You know why we are here? Ask Shaholi.
“Yes my mother arranges this meeting, actually we did…” in effect before he could finish.
“Your mother passed away three weeks ago and my senior asked me not to pass the letter of your mother’s death to you for obvious reasons and I wrote you the further letters so that I could meet you and tell you myself. I am the person who filters your letters” Shaholi says this with a blank face and in one go, after a few seconds of silences.
“I am so sorry I was so stupid, I was blind in my selfishness, I didn’t want to lose you, I started falling for you, reading your letters and imagining you.” She explained with all she might.
Sumit looking at her perplexed as if someone pulled the land beneath his feet. He suddenly stood up, whipping in himself, wiping his face with his hands, he is just thinking that his mother has presented the most beautiful gift ever, a second after it the reality hits him like a bullet running through his flesh and bones, the pain is unbearable and the moment is inevitable. He seats down clueless as if he is left in the middle of the ocean.
“She was struggling with TB for long, she told nobody, I am sorry” tears in her eyes and with remorse.
Months after the phone in her bedroom of Shaholi rang to life, she picks up and a voice comes out of the speaker. some sound increase the heart rate, for her it is Sumit’s voice.